LONDON: Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho will be among the most highly-concentrating viewers of Champions League action this week.
Mourinho has conceded that the Premier League title is out of reach. Neighbours City are 16 points clear after United’s 1-0 defeat at struggling Newcastle under another former Real Madrid manager in Rafa Benitez.
This was their second defeat in three league games and leaves Mourinho and his troops with ‘only’ the FA Cup and the Champions League with trophy potential.
United launch their second round tie against Sevilla in Spain next week with a much-strengthened squad after the arrival of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal in exchange from Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Sanchez has featured regularly in United’s line-ups ever since his arrival to familiarise himself with his new team ahead of the serious European business. Not that this did United any good at the end of a week in which the club marked the 60th anniversary of the Munich air disaster.
United were fortunate to reach half-time at 0:0 at St James’ Park. David Gea had to make one fine save from Jonjo Shelvey and referee Craig Pawson was wrong to deny Newcastle a penalty when Dwight Gayle was upended by Chris Smalling. Antony Martial wasted the Red Devils’ best chance.
Early in the second half Sanchez also wasted a chance on the break before Matt Ritchie put Newcastle ahead with his first goal for the club. Paul Pogba was at fault for failing to react to Ritchie’s break through the centre of United’s defence.
The France midfielder appeared still to have been handicapped by a muscle injury collected in the warm-up before the game. He was immediately substituted by Mourinho, more than an hour too late. Mourinho switched Sanchez from the right wing to play in the centre of attack behind Romelu Lukaku but all in vain.
Apart from Ritchie and midfielder Shelvey the other Newcastle hero in their first victory over Manchester United in five years was debutant goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, on loan from Sparta Prague.
Mourinho praised Newcastle’s effort, saying: “They fought like animals and I mean that as a compliment. It wasn’t going to happen for us. We made a defensive mistake and then Newcastle gave their lives to keep a clean sheet.” He denied any issue with Pogba’s fitness.
Liverpool head back into Champions League action encouraged by a 2-0 Premier victory at Southampton which lifted them to a fifth win in eight games and to within two points of second-placed Manchester United.
Manager Jurgen Klopp had Wednesday’s Champions League visit to Porto on his mind when he selected his team at St Mary’s. He left England midfielder Jordan Henderson out of the matchday squad altogether to keep him fresh.
Klopp said: “He’s not injured but he gets a rest. It was hard to decide but it gives him the opportunity to make a real session instead of sitting on the bench today.”
Emre Can thus took over the captain’s armband while Virgil Van Dijk played in central defence only six weeks after leaving Southampton for Liverpool. Van Dijk is one of three important additions to Klopp’s European squad along with fit-again right back Nathaniel Clyne and England under-21 winger Danny Ings.
They all reason to celebrate after six minutes when Mo Salah provided the assist for Roberto Firmino to shoot Liverpool ahead with his 12th Premier goal of the season and 20th of the season. Shortly before half-time Firmino returned the favour with the return backheel which set up Salah for a second strike.
Inbetween the goals Southampton had threatened fitfully only to be foiled by Loris Karius. Liverpool’s established No1 goalkeeper blocked one shot from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg with his chest then made two more fine saves to headers from Southampton’s ex-Monaco newcomer Guido Carillo and then from England under-21 midfielder James Ward-Prowse.
Karius could be especially pleased with his all-round performance. It was from his clearance that Liverpool constructed the move from which Firmino scored the opening goal.