Paul Pogba could go straight back in to Man Utd team for Sevilla game

Manchester United secured an FA Cup quarter-final tie with Brighton & Hove Albion in a manner that can only be ­described as straightforward. 

Despite the build-up and aftermath being dominated by ­questions over Paul Pogba – a man who may or may not have recovered from ­illness in time for Wednesday’s trip to Seville – they never looked in danger for a moment against a ­determined, gutsy but ultimately limited, Huddersfield Town team.

They scored twice from ­lightning quick breakaways and might well have had a third were it not for the latest video assistant referee ­controversy. In many ways, this was the default Jose Mourinho performance: contained, controlled, efficient. And about as exciting as reading a washing machine instruction manual.

 Still, Mourinho expressed a ­significant degree of satisfaction with what was achieved. Not least because, due to a sudden flurry of injuries – with Pogba succumbing to a bug on the morning of the match – apart from David De Gea, he was unable to give any of his players the weekend off ahead of the critical Champions League tie in Spain against Sevilla.

“Look, I didn’t rest one single player so we had every player ­available. I didn’t rest anyone, I brought two kids that played yesterday [Friday] 90 minutes because I don’t have another player,” ­Mourinho ­explained, in what may well have been a dig at Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, who recently named only six substitutes against Burnley, insisting he couldn’t call up youth players ­because they had played the day ­before.

"Can we recover some of them for Wednesday? I believe so. I think [Marcus] Rashford, [Ander] Herrera and [Antonio] Valencia have a chance. Paul [Pogba] I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, ­Marouane, [Fellaini], Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] – I don’t think they have any chance, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problem.” Mourinho was, understandably, frustrated by Pogba’s late withdrawl. Not least because he had planned to use him in apparently his favourite position – on the left of a midfield three – in a bid to help him recover some form and ­confidence as the business end of the season approaches. 

Instead, the United manager was obliged to call on the services of the veteran Michael Carrick who, at 36, may be many things – calm, ­accurate, disciplined – but one for future he isn’t.

Still, the United manager will have noted one thing about the way his side brushed aside David ­Wagner’s team: Alexis Sanchez’s eye for a killer pass has not been dulled by his move from Arsenal. 

The Chilean had spent much of the first half looking increasingly dispirited as his team-mates drifted ever deeper in their attempt to smother Huddersfield’s busy ­midfield probing. He could be seen constantly waving colleagues ­forward, when Mourinho might have hoped he had joined them in defensive duties. But just after half time, he took matters into his own hands and supplied the game’s one standout moment: a laser-guided return ball into the path of Romelu Lukaku, who barrelled forward and scored. The Belgian’s finish – as it had been when he latched on to an ­almost equally telling ball from Juan Mata after just three minutes for the opener – was not as true as he might have hoped. 

Oddly, that worked to his ­advantage, as Jonas Lossl in the Huddersfield goal seemed to ­misread his shot, perhaps anticipating a clean strike.

Throughout his career, Lukaku has tended to score goals in patches. And if, with Sanchez providing a new supply of ammunition, he has rediscovered a scoring touch ­temporarily mislaid after his ­blistering start in a United shirt, his timing could not be better. 

Certainly his midfield colleague Nemanja Matic, who spent much of the game scurrying and scrapping but seldom dominating possession, seemed relieved that the Lukaku mojo has resurfaced. “He is important for us,” Matic suggested. “It’s very important for his confidence that he is scoring goals and he is a great striker, very strong and he is still young, I am sure he will be important for us ­until the end of the season.” 

As for Pogba, Mourinho said he had no clue if the Frenchman would be available for the European tie. He could only express hope that his midfield lynchpin enjoys a swift ­recovery. 

While wildcat rumours circulated after their defeat at ­Newcastle United of a dressing-room bust-up were fanciful, there is no denying that the Frenchman has looked out of sorts of late.

While there is relief in the fact his main striker has rediscovered the route to goal, the manager knows that, without a fully committed, fully engaged Pogba, his chances of further advance in Europe are limited indeed.

Pep Guardiola on nearly signing for Wigan 15 years ago: 'I tried to play in England but I was not good enough!'

Pep Guardiola will finally make it to Wigan’s DW Stadium for competitive action tonight, 13 years after the Manchester City manager almost signed for the League One club as a player.

In one of the more surreal examples of alternate football histories, then-Wigan manager Paul Jewell actually thought he had agreed a deal for Guardiola, then 34, to move to Lancashire as the ex-Barcelona player sought a deal in England towards the end of his career.

Jewell’s hopes ended when Guardiola’s agent called to say he would instead be accepting a more lucrative offer in Qatar, before he eventually moved to Mexico, although tonight’s fifth round FA Cup tie at least gives the Catalan the chance to survey the surroundings he might once have called home. “Yeah, it was years ago,” said Guardiola. “But I was not good enough! That is the truth, yeah. 

“I was old, really old, as a football player to come here. I tried to come here to play in English football but I was not able. The same happened when I came here to Manchester City, with Stuart Pearce. They were so clever!

"They were so clever because I was not good enough!

“Wigan were interested in me, I didn't choose the club. It didn't happen and that's all.” Guardiola’s modesty not withstanding, Jewell recalled his conversation with the City manager differently, in a later interview.

“I got a call from Guardiola’s agent and he gave me Pep’s number so I rang him and left a message,” said Jewell. “Quite remarkably, five minutes later he rang me back. He knew all about Wigan, all about our players – I was really impressed.

“We had a terrific conversation and he told me he would like to come and play in the Premier League. His wages weren’t extortionate and he was all set to come when his agent called me a couple of days later saying Pep had received a mind-blowing offer from Qatar. So it was Qatar or Wigan.”

Wigan have fallen far from their eight-season stay in the Premier League which culminated, of course, in beating City in the 2013 FA Cup Final.

But victories in this season’s competition over Bournemouth and West Ham mean that Guardiola will treat the tie with caution although he is adamant that back-up goalkeeper Claudio Bravo remains his first choice for domestic cup competitions.

That guarantee seems to assure the Chilean of starting for City in Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final meeting with Arsenal - City’s first opportunity to secure one of the four trophies they are currently chasing.

“He’s going to play, Claudio,” said Guardiola. “We are in the Carabao Cup Final thanks to him. So I cannot forget what happened, he saved two rounds of penalties, and the way he played, the safest, in the Carabao Cup. 

“That is the decision this season. The other (competitions), we will see. 

FA Cup Quarter Final draw: Man United handed easy route to semi finals as Chelsea travel to former Premier League champions.

Man United have been handed an easy route into the semi finals of the FA Cup, after the Red Devils were drawn at home to Brighton in the draw for the quarter finals.

United, who beat Huddersfield on Saturday evening to book their place in the next round, will host Chris Hughton’s side at Old Trafford next month.

On the other hand, United’s fierce rivals Chelsea were handed a very trick away test, as Antonio Conte’s side were drawn out away to Leicester, who won the Premier League in the 2015/16 season.

For the other ties, Spurs are to face Championship side Sheffield Wednesday should they find a way past lowly Rochdale at Wembley on Sunday, whereas League Cup finalists Manchester City are to travel to fellow Premier League side Southampton should they manage to beat League 1 side Wigan. It seems as if all the big teams have a pretty decent chance of booking their place in the next round and a place at Wembley, the stadium in which both the semi finals and final are held. Man United, Chelsea and Man City have all won the trophy at least once each since the 2010/2011 season, and with Spurs playing all their homes games at Wembley this season, all sides will be confident of adding the 2018 FA Cup to their trophy cabinets.

It remains to be seen who will favourites to be crowned champions of the competition come May, however following today’s draw, it seems if both Jose Mourinho’s side and Spurs have been handed the most favourable draws out of the biggest four sides left in the competition.

Pogba illness concerns Mourinho ahead of Sevilla trip

Jose Mourinho faces an anxious wait to discover whether Paul Pogba can take part in Manchester United's midweek Champions League last 16 trip to Sevilla after he missed their FA Cup victory over Huddersfield Town.

An unspecified illness saw Pogba withdraw on the morning of Saturday's match in Huddersfield, which United won 2-0 thanks to two goals from Romelu Lukaku as they advanced into the quarter-finals.

United manager Mourinho, whose relationship with club-record signing Pogba has been under close scrutiny in recent weeks, insisted he did not even know what the illness was or how long the France midfielder may be unable to play, having planned to play him in a 4-3-3 system that the player considers his favourite. "I don't know," said Mourinho when asked about the nature of Pogba's illness after Saturday's match.

"When I was told by the doctor this morning that he was not coming, I don't want to know anything else about it -- I have to think who is going to replace him, what I am going to do because we worked hard during the week."

The Portuguese boss added: "Now is the time to think about Paul, to know what happened, why he didn't feel good enough to play, can he play or be available to help us on Wednesday?"

Pogba has reportedly been unhappy in recent weeks at the style Mourinho has adopted, generally playing him alongside Nemanja Matic in a two-man midfield.

But ahead of Saturday's match, Mourinho appeared prepared to meet the wishes of Pogba, who rejoined United from Juventus for £89.3 million ($123.5 million, 100.5 million euros) in August 2016, by playing him on the left side of a three-man midfield set-up.

United still won comfortably, thanks to Lukaku's double, although victory could have been even more emphatic but for video assistant referee (VAR) Neil Swarbrick ruling out a Juan Mata 'goal' late in the first half in an incredibly close offside call. "It was my first experience on the bench but we have VAR in Portugal," said Mourinho.

"It is amazing when the truth comes but also (there are) problems like what happened today (Saturday) which go against the words of the protocol.

"The words of the protocol are something like a 'clear and obvious situation' and for sure it is not a clear and obvious situation, but we know it is experimental and we have to accept, but I am speaking after a 2-0 victory," he stressed.

"The feeling is a bit strange and I was sharing it with David (Wagner) on the touchline which is the moment of doubt. We score a goal, I cannot be happy.

"David concedes a goal but he doesn?t know (quickly) if he goes to half-time at 1-0 or 2-0.

"So we have to adapt to that waiting time and cope with the frustration when that decision goes against you.?

Although Wagner's side benefitted from the VAR in this instance, the Huddersfield manager said he was against the experimental system.

"I said immediately to Jose, during the incident, whatever is decided, whether it goes in our favour or not, I don?t like it," Wagner explained.

"The emotion is killed, the emotion in the stadium, the stands, for us in the dug-outs. It is killed. That?s why I don't like it," the German added.

United have been drawn to face Brighton in the last eight -- a tie that revives memories of the 1983 FA Cup final when they eventually defeated the Seagulls after a Wembley replay.

Brighton, relegated from the old First Division at the end of that season, are currently just two points above the bottom three and Chris Hughton's side suffered a 1-0 defeat in the Premier League at Old Trafford in November.


FA Cup wrap: Chelsea stroll past Hull, Leicester edge out Sheffield United

Last season's FA Cup runners-up Chelsea struck four times before the break to crush second-tier Hull City 4-0 and stroll into the quarter-finals at Stamford Bridge on Friday, while Leicester City also reached the last eight after a 1-0 win over Sheffield United.         

Willian bagged two and Olivier Giroud scored his first goal for the club since joining from London rivals Arsenal, while Pedro was also on target for Antonio Conte's dominant side.

Republic of Ireland international David Meyler had a 51st-minute penalty saved by Willy Caballero as the visitors were denied a consolation goal in the second half.

However, prior to the spot kick, Willian appeared to distract Meyler with a cheeky comment just before the Corkman missed.

Meyler turned around and ruffled Willian's hair - with both men all smiles 

The night's other fifth round tie saw Leicester City also in action against Championship opposition but having to work far harder for their victory over the Blades.

Jamie Vardy struck the only goal after 66 minutes, the fifth game in a row in all competitions he has been on target.

Leicester held on to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2012 when they were knocked out by eventual winners Chelsea -- the last time the west London club won the Cup.

Manchester United looking to sign Carrick replacement - Mourinho

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has confirmed that the search for Michael Carrick's long-term successor has started.

Carrick is expected to retire at the end of the season and join Mourinho's coaching staff at Old Trafford. United have been linked with Nice midfielder Jean Michael Seri and Lazio's Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Mourinho has revealed he is already on the look-out for Carrick's replacement.

He told a news conference on Friday: "We need to sign a midfield player because we are going to lose Michael Carrick.

"Of course, we need balance in the team. Yes, we are looking and we are going to try to sign a midfield player."

United's head of global scouting, Marcel Bout, watched Seri, 26, play 90 minutes in a 2-2 draw with Monaco last month.

There were also scouts at Nice's 3-2 defeat to Lokomotiv Moscow in the Europa League on Thursday night. Mourinho may be forced to sign two midfielders if Marouane Fellaini does not agree a new contract. But the United manager is still ruling out a move for an attacking player in the summer, even with the prospect of Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy.

He added: "When some of you keep saying that we are going to buy that striker, that winger, that left winger, that right winger, I told you two months ago.

"You can accuse me of many many things, but you cannot say that I lied to you. When I don't want to say things, I don't say. But I don't take you in other directions.

"I told you a couple of months ago that we don't want to sign any striker or any winger."

Carrick is set to be included in the squad for Saturday's FA Cup fifth-round tie against Huddersfield after making just his second start of the season in the last round against Yeovil.

Angel Gomes, 17, came on as a late substitute at Huish Park and Mourinho revealed another youngster could be on the bench against Hudderfield, with both Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford ruled out through injury.

He said: "Maybe I will have one of the kids on the bench.

"Scott McTominay didn't arrive here from the moon.

"Before he came to the first-team he trained with us many times last season. He came to us in preseason and then we realised that with Andreas Pereira going to Valencia, we decided not to buy another player because we had Scott McTominay ready to step up.

"The objective of having a squad that is not so big is exactly to be open for this.

"This week, for example, we didn't have a few players with injuries and small things we wanted to protect and didn't train with the team and made individual training, the kids trained with us yesterday and before that."

Napoli lose at home, Arsenal and Milan win away in Europa League

Napoli went down 3-1 at home to RB Leipzig, Arsenal and AC Milan enjoyed comfortable away wins, and Borussia Dortmund’s Michy Batshuayi scored twice to secure a 3-2 victory in Europa League last 32, first leg action on Thursday. Italian league leaders Napoli went ahead against Leipzig but slumped to a 3-1 defeat after a Timo Werner brace, Arsenal overcame Sweden’s Ostersunds 3-0 helped by an own goal and Milan won by the same score against Bulgarian champions Ludogorets.

Batshuayi took his tally to five goals in three games since joining Dortmund on loan from Chelsea, with his double against Atalanta hauling the Germans side back from 2-1 down after Josip Ilicic scored twice in five minutes for the Italians.

Nice striker Mario Balotelli also scored two goals against Lokomotiv Moscow only to be upstaged by a Manuel Fernandes hat-trick as the visitors hit back to win 3-2.

Twice former winners Atletico Madrid recovered from an early fright to win 4-1 at FC Copenhagen as Saul Niguez, Kevin Gameiro, Antoine Griezmann and Vitolo shared the goals after Victor Fischer had put the Danish side in front.

FCSB, formerly Steaua Bucharest, beat Lazio 1-0 and Celtic overcame Zenit St Petersburg by the same score.

Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri has made it clear that his priority lies in Serie A and a disappointingly sparse crowd turned up for the visit of Leipzig.

Adam Ounas gave Napoli the lead early in the second half, the Algerian’s first goal for the club, but the away side made the most of shoddy defending to turn the game around.

Werner levelled with an opportunist finish, then Bruma finished off a counter-attack and Werner added another in stoppage time as Napoli were again caught on the break.

Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil were on target at Ostersunds either side of a Sotirios Papagiannopoulos own goal.

Like the Londoners, Milan’s best hope of Champions League football next season appears to be by winning the Europa League. Patrick Cutrone, a Ricardo Rodriguez penalty and Fabio Borini gave them an impressive win at Bulgarian champions Ludogorets.

Balotelli took his tally to 21 goals this term for Nice, where he is in his second season enjoying a new lease of life.

The maverick Italian slotted home after four minutes and converted a penalty in the 28th, sending Lokomotiv keeper Guilherme the wrong way after a Nemanja Pejcinovic handball.

Not to be outdone, Fernandes replied with a penalty before halftime and curled in a free kick to equalise in the 67th before completing his second Europa League hat-trick this term from Anton Miranchuk’s cross.

Athletic Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz, 37, scored twice in a 3-1 win at Spartak Moscow, while their Basque rivals Real Socieded were held 2-2 at home by Salzburg.

Sporting’s Bruno Fernandes, Gelson Martins and Seydou Doumbia scored in an eight-minute spell after halftime as they came from behind to win 3-1 on Astana’s artificial pitch in Kazakhstan where Marin Tomasov gave the hosts an early lead.

The roof was closed for the match with temperatures hovering around minus 20 Celsius outside.


Mane hits hat-trick as Liverpool crush toothless Porto

Sadio Mane scored a brilliant treble as Liverpool romped to a 5-0 thrashing of Porto at the Estadio do Dragao on Wednesday to put one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals.

Mane fired the away side ahead in the first leg of the last-16 clash, before Mohamed Salah's audacious finish quickly made it two.

The Senegalese forward slotted in his second as Liverpool completely outclassed their opponents, with Roberto Firmino adding his name to the scoresheet with 20 minutes to play, before Mane's searing strike completed his first European hat-trick.

Playing in the last 16 of the competition for the first time in nine years, Liverpool are now all but certain to reach the quarter-finals ahead of the second leg at Anfield on March 6.

Eriksen grabs Spurs draw to spoil Higuain show in Turin

Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen pulled Tottenham back from the brink to hold Juventus 2-2 in Turin, spoiling what had looked set to be a Gonzalo Higuain one-man show in the Champions League last 16, first leg in Turin on Tuesday.

Higuain had put Juventus -- finalists twice in the past three seasons -- two goals up within the first nine minutes at the Allianz Stadium.

The Argentine's lightning strike after just 73 seconds was followed by a second from the spot to leave Mauricio Pochettino's English side reeling.

But the 30-year-old missed two further chances to hammer home Juventus's domination in the first half, with his second penalty hitting the crossbar just before the break.

Kane pulled Spurs back into the game after 35 minutes, latching onto a Dele Alli pass to round a helpless Gianluigi Buffon who had advanced off his line, making no mistake alone in front of goal.

It was 24-year-old Kane's seventh goal this season and puts him level with Steven Gerrard for the most scored by an English player in a single Champions League season.

Dane Eriksen whipped in the second with a 70th-minute free-kick after centre-back Giorgio Chiellini fouled Alli, sending it low past a diving Buffon.

The away goals leave Spurs in a strong position ahead of the return leg on March 7 at Wembley Stadium in London.

Ilkay Gundogan dazzled with two goals in Manchester City's 4-0 romp at FC Basel on Tuesday to leave the Premier League leaders on the verge of the Champions League quarter-finals.

Pep Guardiola's side effectively settled the last 16 tie after just 23 minutes by racing into a 3-0 lead at Basel's Sankt Jakob Park.

Their first three goals came in a devastating nine-minute spell thanks to a Gundogan header, a Bernardo Silva volley and a long-range Sergio Aguero strike.

Basel's misery continued just after the break when Gundogan deftly added a fourth from outside the area and he could easily have finished with a hat-trick.

The scoreline gives the Swiss side little hope for the return leg at the Etihad on March 7.

Germany midfielder Gundogan gave Basel a masterclass in defensive midfield play, complementing his two-goal display by repeatedly snuffing out fledgling Swiss attacks.

The only black mark against him was a late yellow card after a clash with Basel's Ivory Coast veteran midfielder Serey Die.

Basel head coach Raphael Wicky opted to play a back five when the host were defending, but the ploy only failed to keep City out for the first 14 minutes.

Having already had an earlier effort tipped over the bar, Gundogan got in front of Fabian Frei to power home his header when Kevin De Bruyne whipped in City's fourth cover of the game.

The visitors' second goal followed just four minutes later.

Bernardo Silva chested down Raheem Sterling's deflected cross and fired past Basel goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik. With Basel's defence buckling, Aguero, who terrorised Leicester City in the Premier League last Saturday with four goals in a 5-1 rout, hit his 29th goal of the season.

Basel defender Leo Lacroix stopped Fernandinho, but the ball fell into Aguero's path who hit the bottom corner from outside the area on 23 minutes.

It was the Argentinian's 14th goal in 11 games in 2018.

It finished 3-0 at the break, but City could have ended the first half with two more goals as Sterling forced Vaclik into a desperate scramble and De Bruyne volleyed wide.

Basel made a bright start to the second-half, but Gundogan left the Swiss with a mountain to climb when he hit the top right-hand corner on 53 minutes.

Sterling made way for Leroy Sane four minutes later on the left side of City's attack.

The German winger is back just two weeks after an ankle injury, well ahead of the predicted six the club had forecasted which Guardiola admitted has surprised him.

With half an hour to go and the tie effectively won, Guardiola took off De Bruyne, saving the Belgian for Saturday's league game at Wigan and the League Cup final against Arsenal on February 25.

With 15 minutes left, Gundogan was only denied the first hat-trick of his career by Vaclík's determination.

Sane sprinted down the left wing and although he was tackled, Agüero scooped up the loose ball and set up the German, but Gundogan's low shot was gathered at the second attempt.

At 4-0 down and the clock ticking, Basel finally started to test City.

Forward Dimitri Oberlin fired wide and winger Mohamed Elyounoussi shot at City goalkeeper Ederson as Basel chased a consolation goal in vain.

Chelsea beat West Brom to move back into top four

Two goals from Belgian wizard Eden Hazard and another by Victor Moses earned Chelsea a 3-0 home win over struggling West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League on Monday, easing pressure on coach Antonio Conte following two defeats for the champions.

The lively Hazard twisted his way goalwards in the 25th minute before playing a neat one-two with new signing Olivier Giroud who held off defenders to place the ball for the Belgium international to smack it past goalkeeper Ben Foster.

Moses added Chelsea’s second after sprinting down the wing and laying the ball off to Cesc Fabregas, whose flick was deflected back into the Nigerian’s path.

Hazard’s second goal wrapped up the points as Chelsea moved back into the top four. In the 71st minute, he received a pass from substitute Alvaro Morata, and jinked past defender Jonny Evans to lift the ball into the net.

Chelsea have 53 points from 27 games, one point ahead of London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and a point behind third-placed Liverpool in the race for Champions League qualifying spots.

A beaming Conte, whose side had lost their previous two Premier League games at home to Bournemouth and at Watford, hurried round the pitch after the whistle, shaking hands. The Italian, who won the title in his first season in charge, has had a strained relationship with the club hierarchy since last summer after disagreements over buying players and British media suggested he would leave at the end of the season.

But his players, so lacklustre against Watford, looked energised after a week’s rest. France international Giroud, who joined last month from Arsenal, provided a target man and combined well with Hazard and Fabregas.

He left the pitch to applause in the 70th minute, his head swathed in bandages after he was kicked in a goalmouth melee in the first half. “He is a great target man,” Hazard told Sky Sports. “Maybe one of the best in England. So we can pass the ball and go around him. He is a good point of reference. We have plenty though as we have him, Alvaro and I can play striker also.”

It was a miserable night for Alan Pardew’s West Brom side, who have won once in their last 25 Premier League games. Despite a lively start they managed one shot on target.

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