Mourinho dismisses talk of Tottenham as title contenders

Mourinho dismisses talk of Tottenham as title contenders
Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 October 2020

Mourinho dismisses talk of Tottenham as title contenders

Mourinho dismisses talk of Tottenham as title contenders
  • Spurs have not won a trophy since the 2008 League Cup, and their last league title came in 1961

LONDON: Tottenham coach Jose Mourinho will not countenance them ever “being considered title contenders” despite being two points off Premier League leaders Everton after Monday’s win at Burnley.

Spurs fans could be forgiven for thinking otherwise after the scratchy 1-0 victory at Turf Moor propelled them up to fifth in the table.

They are also the top scorers in the league with 16 goals from six games.

Although considered a member of the “big six” Spurs have not won a trophy since the 2008 League Cup, and their last league title came in 1961.

Mourinho’s predecessor Mauricio Pochettino gave them hope with his development of young players and took them to the Champions League final as well as finishing in the top three on three occasions.

Pochettino’s failure to deliver silverware perhaps lends itself to experienced campaigner Mourinho’s caution.

“I will never consider ourselves title contenders,” Mourinho said.

Harry Kane agreed in as much as it is too early to talk about a title challenge in a season that has offered up several surprising results.

Spurs have provided a couple of them hammering Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford and then letting slip a 3-0 lead over West Ham to be held 3-3.

However, the 27-year-old England striker is optimistic about the future with the present squad.

“We know with the team we have got and the players we have got we can do something special,” he told the BBC.

“It’s still early on (to talk about a title challenge).

“We need to take each game as it comes.

“I know it’s a cliche but we still have a lot to learn and build on but I think nights like this will give us a lot of confidence.

“These are the games you need three points if you are going to be up there at the end of the season.”

Key to Spurs’ vibrancy has been Kane’s understanding with South Korea’s Son Heung-min, the former setting the latter up for their winner.

Kane has already broken his personal record for assists in a Premier League season with eight to set up Son’s eighth goal of the campaign. Kane and Son have now combined for 29 Premier League goals — only Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard managed more, with 36.

Kane puts down his increased creativity to Mourinho.

“When the gaffer came in he said when I drop deep the wingers have to run in behind,” said Kane.

“It’s something I have been doing for a while but I think we are seeing the final product now.”

Mourinho generously shared the credit for Kane and Son’s partnership with Pochettino but added it also stems from the selflessness of Kane — who also cleared a ball off the Spurs line.

“In the last minute he was pressing and sliding tackles, trying to stop attacks,” said Mourinho.

“When you want to win, you do everything for the team.

“There is no space for individuals or no space for prima donnas, Harry has this spirit and he is fantastic.

“He has done amazing with every coach here.

“The way the team plays, he is very comfortable because he is good in the box and also magnificent outside the box.”


Chelsea beat Man City to reach FA Cup final

Chelsea beat Man City to reach FA Cup final
Updated 18 April 2021

Chelsea beat Man City to reach FA Cup final

Chelsea beat Man City to reach FA Cup final
  • Damaging day for Guardiola's team as they lose Kevin De Bruyne to ankle injury

LONDON: Chelsea ended Manchester City’s quest for a historic quadruple of trophies as Hakim Ziyech’s goal earned a 1-0 win to take the Blues into the FA Cup final on Saturday.

A damaging day for City also saw them lose Kevin De Bruyne to an ankle injury just over a week away from the League Cup final, where they face Tottenham, and the first leg of their Champions League semifinal against Paris Saint-Germain.

Chelsea were good value for another impressive win under Thomas Tuchel and will be favorites for the German’s first silverware in English football when they face Leicester or Southampton May 15.

Tuchel could land an even bigger prize in the Champions League just months after replacing the sacked Frank Lampard in January.

His side showed they can get the better of City in what could be a dress rehearsal for the Champions League final should the English clubs see off PSG and Real Madrid in the last four.

The physical demands of City’s bid for a clean sweep of trophies was shown as Pep Guardiola made eight changes from the side that beat Borussia Dortmund in midweek with goalscorers Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez among those rotated.

Tuchel made just three changes and Chelsea looked the far less disjointed side in a bright start.

Timo Werner’s cross was swept home by Ziyech after just six minutes, but the goal was ruled out for offside against the German international.

That proved to be the only shot on target of a cagey first 45 minutes that did little to whet the appetite of a potential reunion in Istanbul for European club football’s greatest prize on May 29.

Despite the number of changes, the ease with which Chelsea were able to spring quick counter-attacks will be of concern to Guardiola with the fearsome duo of PSG’s Kylian Mbappe and Neymar to come.

From one slick break, Chelsea’s wing backs combined but Ben Chilwell could only slice Reece James’s cross wide.

City got to half-time without any damage on the score line, but suffered a potentially huge blow to their hopes of still clinching a treble of trophies early in the second half.

Just 11 days before the first leg of the PSG tie, De Bruyne appeared to roll his ankle in a challenge with N’Golo Kante and was replaced by Foden.

City were still reeling from the loss of the Belgium attacker when they were finally caught out by the Chelsea counterattack.

Guardiola’s decision to retain Zack Steffen in goal for domestic cup competitions backfired as the American was caught in no man’s land when Werner raced in behind and once again squared for Ziyech to roll into an empty net.

Steffen made some measure of amends moments later to deny Ziyech a second when the Moroccan was clean through.

City took until the final 20 minutes to get going, but their best chance of sending the game to extra time came from a corner as Ruben Dias headed over from close range.

Instead, it was Chelsea who found the net again through Christian Pulisic in stoppage time only for the offside flag to again come to City’s rescue.

But there was no saving a bid for history for Guardiola’s men as they cannot now better Manchester United’s treble of Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup from 1998/99.


Jurgen Klopp admits Liverpool under pressure

Jurgen Klopp admits Liverpool under pressure
Updated 17 April 2021

Jurgen Klopp admits Liverpool under pressure

Jurgen Klopp admits Liverpool under pressure
  • We have to win games and put pressure on teams. That’s all we know and we will try says Klopp

LONDON: Jurgen Klopp admits Liverpool are under pressure as they try to salvage a troubled season by finishing in the Premier League’s top four.

Klopp’s side have failed to defend the Premier League title they won last term and were knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid on Wednesday.

That quarterfinal exit means Liverpool’s only route back into Europe’s elite club competition next season is via a top-four finish in the league.

The sixth-placed Reds have been outside the top four since early February and they slipped as low as eighth before winning their last three leagues games to get back in the race.

Fourth-placed West Ham’s 3-2 defeat at Newcastle on Saturday was a major boost to Liverpool’s hopes.

With seven pressure-packed games left, they would go above the Hammers on goal difference with a victory at Leeds on Monday.

“We just go for it, go and go and go and play our best football,” Klopp said.

“We are of course under pressure as we want to finish in the top four but we don’t know in the moment if we will. We have seven games to prove that and we will try.”

Leeds are coming off an impressive victory at leaders Manchester City last weekend where they played half the match with 10 men.

Klopp is well aware of the threat posed by Marcelo Bielsa’s side and he said: “We should not forget the opponents we face. We won the last three and that’s why we’re still around, still in the fight for the Champions League spots.

“It’s clear we have to win football games. It would be best to win all of them, but they are tough opponents and we have to respect all of them.

“We have to win games and put pressure on teams. That’s all we know and we will try.”

Injury-plagued Liverpool’s recent strong form domestically has been helped by the developing partnership between center backs Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips.

Liverpool have won the four Premier League games they have started together, offering a solution to the defensive issues triggered by long-term injuries to Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez.

“Using the information you have just given me I’d better start them in the next game as well,” Klopp said.

“These things have to develop. There was never a question about their quality, the boys have quality but you have to bring it together.”


Zidane: ‘I’m not a terrible coach, I’m not the best either’

Zidane: ‘I’m not a terrible coach, I’m not the best either’
Updated 17 April 2021

Zidane: ‘I’m not a terrible coach, I’m not the best either’

Zidane: ‘I’m not a terrible coach, I’m not the best either’
  • Real Madrid play away at struggling Getafe on Sunday and Zidane has been able to name only 13 outfield players in the squad for the match

MADRID: Zinedine Zidane defended himself on Saturday against accusations he is a lucky coach but again refused to commit to staying at Real Madrid next season.

An impressive week has put Madrid in sight of winning both La Liga and the Champions League, after they beat Barcelona in the Clasico last weekend before knocking out Liverpool on Wednesday.

Despite sitting one point behind Atletico Madrid, Zidane’s team are now favorites to defend the title they claimed last term in the Frenchman’s first full season back in charge.

It would add to the 11 major trophies Zidane has already won across his two spells as Real Madrid coach, which includes two league titles and three consecutive successes in the Champions League.

Asked if it annoys him when he is called lucky, Zidane said: “I am lucky, it’s true, lucky to be here and to coach this great club. Am I a terrible coach? I don’t think I am terrible, I don’t believe that.

“I’m not the best either, sure, but I enjoy what I’m doing.”

Zidane’s contract at Real Madrid runs until the summer of 2022 but doubts remain about whether he will continue beyond the current season.

He resigned unexpectedly in 2018 after winning the Champions League and has been linked with taking charge of the French national team and Juventus, where he spent five years as a player.

“I don’t think about the future,” said Zidane. “I don’t know what will happen, you can have a five-year contract and leave tomorrow or the opposite. I’m happy and thinking about tomorrow’s game.”

Real Madrid play away at struggling Getafe on Sunday and Zidane has been able to name only 13 outfield players in the squad for the match.

Madrid announced on Saturday that Ferland Mendy has a calf problem while neither Eden Hazard nor Dani Carvajal were deemed ready after recently recovering from injury.

Zidane has only four fit defenders, with Sergio Ramos out injured, Raphael Varane unavailable after testing positive for Covid-19 and Nacho Fernandez suspended. Casemiro is also banned after being sent off against Barcelona.


Yuka Saso shoots 2nd straight 64 for 2-shot lead over Ko

Yuka Saso shoots 2nd straight 64 for 2-shot lead over Ko
Updated 16 April 2021

Yuka Saso shoots 2nd straight 64 for 2-shot lead over Ko

Yuka Saso shoots 2nd straight 64 for 2-shot lead over Ko
  • Saso, who turned pro in November 2019, plays primarily on the Japan LPGA Tour, and is ranked 43rd in the world
  • Lydia Ko, the former No. 1 and two-time major champion, has not won since 2018 but may be the hottest player on tour

KAPOLEI, Hawaii: Yuka Saso shot her second consecutive 8-under 64 on Thursday to take a two-shot lead over surging Lydia Ko after two rounds of the Lotte Championship.

Saso, who’s playing on a sponsor’s exemption, made seven birdies in her first 10 holes to catch Ko, who shot 63 earlier Thursday at Kapolei Golf Club. The 19-year-old from the Philippines then birdied the 16th and 17th holes to reach 16 under.

Not bad a player in her sixth LPGA Tour event who’s uncomfortable with the Hawaii wind.

“I’m trying to get used to it,” Saso said. “The wind is still strong. Like I said yesterday, I don’t really like windy conditions. I’m happy I’m able to play good even if I don’t really like it.”

Saso, who turned pro in November 2019, plays primarily on the Japan LPGA Tour, where she has won twice, and is ranked 43rd in the world. Her best previous LPGA score was 69, and her highest finish was 13th at the US Women’s Open last December.

Ko, the former No. 1 and two-time major champion, has not won since 2018 but may be the hottest player on tour. She has played her last three rounds in 24 under.

Ko shot a final-round 62 last week at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration, to finish runner-up to Patty Tavatanakit.

“Coming into this week, obviously coming off the best round in a really long time, I kind of didn’t know what to expect,” Ko said. “Obviously you feel like your game is moving in the right direction, but you don’t want to kind of slack off. Having a good round under my belt yesterday definitely helped. This is a golf course where especially when the wind is down it’s pretty gettable.”

Fourth-ranked Nelly Korda was five shots back along with So Yeon Ryu, Hyo Joo Kim and Luna Sobron Galmes, who plays primarily on the Ladies European Tour. Sobron Galmes had 10 birdies while shooting 64.

US Women’s Open champion A Lim Kim was 10 under after a 64, joined by Ally Ewing and Brianna Do, who shot a career-low 66.

Do’s caddie for the week is Tadd Fujikawa, the longtime Hawaii pro who made the cut at the PGA Tour’s Sony Open as a 16-year-old amateur in 2007.

Fujikawa is home to play next week’s Mid-Pacific Open and practices regularly at Kapolei. He’s known Do since they were 12 years old.

“Most of the time,” Fujikawa said with a smile, “she listens pretty darn well.”

Seventeen-year-old Rose Zhang (68), the world’s top-ranked amateur, was 9 under.

Brooke Henderson, the 2018 and 2019 Lotte champion, was eight shots back after her second straight 68. She has hit all 36 greens in regulation.

Amy Yang had a hole-in-one on the 12th hole, the third ace on tour this year.


5 talking points from uninspiring start for Saudi clubs in AFC Champions League group stages

5 talking points from uninspiring start for Saudi clubs in AFC Champions League group stages
Updated 16 April 2021

5 talking points from uninspiring start for Saudi clubs in AFC Champions League group stages

5 talking points from uninspiring start for Saudi clubs in AFC Champions League group stages
  • Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ahli failed to register win between them on home soil

RIYADH: The first round of games in the AFC Champions League is over. Al-Nassr got the ball rolling for Saudi Arabian teams on Wednesday night with a disappointing 0-0 against a hard-working Al-Wehdat from Jordan.

The following evening, Al-Hilal drew 2-2 with AGMK of Uzbekistan while struggling Al-Ahli went down 5-2 to Iran’s Esteghlal.

There was plenty to talk about, but here are five things we learned.

1. Sloppy Al-Hilal need to get back to basics

It is often best not to read too much into opening games but playing the Uzbekistan debutants in the first match at home should have given Al-Hilal a winning start. The problem is that the three-time champions seemed to think that it would come easily.

AGMK may not be the strongest of teams in the tournament but there was no doubt that they were going to work hard, fight for every ball, and be well-organized. If Al-Hilal wanted three points they would have to fight for them.

Yet it was a lackluster performance from the Riyadh giants who were sloppy at the back, lacked concentration, and allowed the opposition to grow in confidence.

The jury is still out on new coach Rogerio Micale and while there remains a long way to go, Al-Hilal need to get the basics right.

The next game against Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai on Sunday should be a different affair and may suit Al-Hilal more. Under Mahdi Ali, the visitors have plenty of options in attack and there should be more space and more opportunities to score but if the backline is not tightened up, the 2019 champions will not be going very far in 2021.

2. Stop Hamdallah and it is possible to stop Al-Nassr

Abderrazak Hamdallah was the tournament’s golden boot winner last year with seven goals that helped Al-Nassr reach the semi-finals, when only a penalty shootout loss to Persepolis prevented a place in the final. The Moroccan marksman was also the top scorer in the Saudi Pro League with a magnificent 29 goals.

This year has not been quite so prolific, though injuries have not helped. Yet Al-Wehdat worked hard and defended deep and in numbers to deny the 30-year-old time and space anywhere near their goal.

With Argentine playmaker Pity Martinez missing through injury, Hamdallah did not quite have the support he needed, and it was clear that if the north African can be prevented from scoring, then Al-Nassr can struggle to find a way through. Hamdallah barely had a sniff of goal, a weak second-half header apart, and without his cutting edge, the Saudis never really looked like scoring.

3. It already looks like damage limitation for Al-Ahli

After six straight defeats in the league, there was hope — rather than expectation — that Asia would offer a respite for last year’s quarterfinalists. It was not to be as they lost 5-2. Esteghlal of Iran were always going to present a tough challenge and so it proved to be.

Newly appointed coach Laurentiu Reghecampf was full of excuses after the dismal showing and talked about referees, Ramadan, injuries, and a lack of time with the squad. There is no doubt that there are issues with the team that will need time to sort but the basic problem was that Al-Ahli were second-best all over the pitch.

With only the group winner sure of a place in the next round, it is already looking tough for Al-Ahli. What they do not want to happen is for Asia to be a continuation of home form. It may not be about getting to the knockout stage but just stopping the rot.

There is another tough game on Sunday against Al-Duhail of Qatar and by whatever means necessary, the Jeddah giants have to avoid defeat.

4. Expansion already vindicated

This year, the tournament has expanded from 32 to 40 teams, opening it up to more countries. There was some dissent that widening the net would weaken the standard but that has not been the case.

Debutants FC Goa of India, AGMK, and Tajikistan’s Istiklol all pulled off good results against teams with much more history and pedigree in the competition. And then there was Al-Wehdat of Jordan keeping the talented Al-Nassr at bay.

Long may this continue as all of Asia benefits when standards rise and if one of the new boys can sneak into the last 16, that really would be an encouraging sign.

5. Xavi now stands in the way

While Al-Wehdat were making their first appearance in the competition and may prove to be a tough nut to crack, there was a sense that Al-Nassr carelessly dropped two points in the opening game with the next two opponents providing tougher tests.

The first is Al-Sadd. The dominant Qatari champions, who went through their domestic season undefeated under coach Xavi Hernandez, are tipped as one of the favorites for the trophy. Yet they were second best for much of their match against Foolad as they came back late to snatch a 1-1 draw.

New Al-Nassr boss Mano Menezes would have had mixed feelings watching the game. Al-Sadd did not look as impressive as many expected but Foolad would have deserved their win had they not let in an 89th-minute equalizer.

Xavi said: “I talked about how difficult this group was. This is the AFC Champions League, and we are playing against the best teams in Asia, this is the reality. We are going to improve, recover, and keep going.”

That is the worry. Foolad look good while Al-Sadd will surely improve. Al-Nassr need to up their game and quick.