Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta believes improved mental strength within the squad has made as much of a difference as their summer signings. “We will see in May. We’re on top of the table but that’s a long way off, but we want as few problems as possible up to then.” The impact of Costa, who Mourinho believes is now over his injury problems, cannot be underestimated so far this season and he gives his team-mates the confidence they will always score. “We’re lucky to have three really good strikers. We showed it when he was out, when Didier (Drogba) and Loic (Remy) came in and were scoring,” added the Spain international. “Now he’s back and scoring. He plays with high passion, he’s always fighting for team, and is even after goals in training – he’s a great finisher. “If we analyse him he scores but helps so much in the team. Even in last five or 10 minutes he was pressing high and doing his job. That’s great for the whole team.” The Portuguese claimed most sides would have been happy to take a draw at Anfield but his team were not as Azpilicueta, back in the starting line-up after suspension, agreed. “I think we are stronger mentally now. The players who came have given us another dimension as well,” he said. “I think you saw that. When the team was losing we were still really strong mentally. “The whole squad know we have to fight together. Some players have more talent, some score goals, and sometimes we have to defend for them – but the main thing is we do it all as a team. “We got it back to 1-1 pretty soon and after that did very well. Obviously we’d prefer not to go behind but that is going to happen at times. “Over the last few games maybe we haven’t played our best football and the scores have been tight but over the whole season you know that everyone can’t keep playing very well and winning easy. “We knew it would be tough here (at Anfield) but we fought so hard until the end – the aim was just to get those three points and we did. “Last year we were so close to winning the title and this year we know it will be tough but that’s what we want. Press Association While striker Diego Costa’s 10 goals in 11 league matches, having added to his total with the winner in Saturday’s 2-1 victory at Liverpool, and Cesc Fabregas’ creativity in midfield have given Jose Mourinho’s side undoubted quality there has been a shift up in terms of character. Mourinho pointed to as much when he praised his team for the ambition they showed at Anfield, especially in the second half having come back from an early Emre Can goal to equalise through Gary Cahill.
“We know we are good enough. “There are only positives you can take from Man United. It has not gone the way we wanted and we could have picked up more points.” It was Sunderland’s first clean sheet since they were hammered 8-0 at Southampton last month and they host Chelsea on Saturday. And boss Gus Poyet, who made 145 appearances for Chelsea, has challenged the Black Cats to end the Blues’ unbeaten Barclays Premier League run. “I think from now until the end of the season it is going to be like that for every single team,” he said. “Everyone is going to try to be the one to beat Chelsea first. “We have an opportunity, let’s see if we can take it. We need to be spot on, not make any mistakes, be organised and be brave on the ball so we are not defending all the time. “There’s plenty of things you need to do very well on the day but we have done that in the past.” The Foxes captain insisted the £8million record signing is not to blame for their goal woes after Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Sunderland. They have not netted in five straight games with their last strike coming in the 2-2 draw with Burnley on October 4. Ulloa was ineffective again against the Black Cats and has not scored in seven games after bagging five in his first five outings. Morgan said: “It’s not just down to Leonardo on his own. It’s a team effort. We’ve all got to chip in and no-one’s scoring at the moment. “Someone else needs to score to take the pressure off him, off the strikers, off the team. I’m sure once that happens the goals will start flooding in. “He hasn’t had a clear-cut chance of late. He is still working hard for the team. His performances have been great. He’s just not getting that chance and I feel for him. “He’s working so hard for the team. His performance all round was fantastic and he set up two good chances.” The point ended a run of four straight defeats for Nigel Pearson’s side but they have not won since beating Manchester United 5-3 in September. Morgan added: “We had a tough start and did so well. Maybe other teams looked at us and thought: ‘Right, they’re going to go on and do good things.’ “That’s not been the case. We’ve stuttered since then. We need to find our confidence again, our belief. I’m sure once we start scoring again it will be back to normal. Wes Morgan defended Leonardo Ulloa after Leicester extended their goalless streak to 500 minutes. Press Association
Chairman Jeremy Peace has also said Berahino will stay with the Baggies and Irvine has now reiterated that stance. He said: “You certainly can’t stop people looking, but the chairman has come out and said Saido won’t be sold in January and I would imagine, as the chairman has said that, that he won’t be sold. “There will be a big focus on him and I expect people will have been looking at him and there will be a lot of people continuing to do that until the end of the transfer window. “We can’t stop them looking but that doesn’t mean we have to take any offers that come in and the chairman has made it fairly clear how he feels about that. “He has said Saido is not for sale so I don’t imagine he is going to change that, whatever comes in. “His goals are important. Everybody needs goalscorers.” Berahino is ready to return for Saturday’s West Midlands derby with Aston Villa after being starting on the bench in last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Hull, which left Albion a point above the Barclays Premier League drop zone. Irvine added: “He was obviously disappointed not to be in the team and I would be upset if he wasn’t disappointed but he has responded in the right way for any professional but he has come in and trained well this week and that’s the best way to deal with this.” Irvine is without Chris Brunt for the weekend after he failed to recover from his hamstring injury. The Hawthorns boss insists their eight-goal striker is going nowhere next month as the Baggies fight relegation. Berahino has failed to scored in his last seven games but was linked with a move to Inter Milan in the Italian media this week. Press Association Head coach Alan Irvine has vowed West Brom will not sell Saido Berahino in the transfer window.
After greenkeepers cleared the waterlogged course so play could restart at 10am, Willett carded birdies on the second, fifth and ninth to reach the turn in 33, before another birdie on the 10th gave him a three-shot lead as Zach Johnson dropped shots on the 11th and 12th. Three-putt bogeys on the 15th and 17th cut the gap to a single shot, but Willett took advantage of the downwind 18th to drive to the edge of the green and pitched to eight feet for a closing birdie. “I looked at the leaderboard on 11 and knew we were three in front,” added vicar’s son Willett, whose best finish in a major is a share of 15th at Muirfield in 2013. “It’s a childhood dream and looking up there it’s still a little bit surreal, but something I’m going to have to get used to, otherwise no point in being up there. “It’s something you need to embrace, otherwise you’re going to have a pretty tough weekend if you don’t like being there. “You can’t really put it out of your mind but it’s pretty cool. Leading the Open is what you dream about. For Brits especially it’s the major you want to win and here at the Home of Golf it’s a little bit more special.” Willett, 27, won the English Amateur title in 2007 and defeated Rory McIlroy in the first round of the Amateur Championship the same year, racing five up after six holes before eventually sealing victory on the 17th. And later that year he and McIlroy were on the same team in the Walker Cup as Great Britain and Ireland lost out at Royal County Down to an American side featuring Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel, Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson. Warren matched Willett’s 69 to boost Scottish hopes of a first home winner since Lawrie’s victory at Carnoustie 16 years ago. “I’m delighted with that,” said Warren, who carded a closing 64 to finish fourth in the Scottish Open at Gullane on Sunday. “It was a long morning. “I had just started my warm up in the rain and the good news came in it was going to be delayed. When we did tee off it was certainly much drier and it was just the wind we had to battle. “The weekend of the Open at St Andrews does not get much better. The game is in good shape, I’ll give it my best and see what happens.” South Africa’s Jaco van Zyl had hit the opening tee shot of the day at 6:32am and had a three-foot putt for birdie before play was suspended. “They tried to squeegee the green but water was rising quicker than they could get it away,” Van Zyl said. “We had the option to putt out but we all stopped, the hole was literally full with water.” England’s Danny Willett claimed the clubhouse lead in a weather-affected 144th Open Championship on Friday, a day which ended at 9:55pm with five-time champion Tom Watson bidding an emotional farewell. A closing bogey, one of five in a row for a round of 80, barely mattered and was instead greeted with a loud cheer as officials and players applauded from the clubhouse steps. In truth it was not the finish Watson deserved with the grandstands largely deserted, but the alternative was a return at 7am on Saturday to complete the round, with those players making the cut to be sent out in groups of three to make up lost time. Willett had finished more than five hours earlier and is 41 under par for his last 10 rounds on the Old Course, adding a 69 to his opening 66 to reach nine under par, two shots ahead of Scotland’s Marc Warren, former Masters champions Zach Johnson and Adam Scott and Robert Streb. Dustin Johnson was 10 under par with five holes remaining, with 1999 champion Paul Lawrie and Jason Day eight under with six and seven holes left respectively. Masters and US Open champion Jordan Spieth, playing alongside Johnson, was five under par after three birdies and three bogeys in 13 completed holes. Former world number one Tiger Woods was five over par after 11 holes and in need of a brilliant finish to avoid missing consecutive cuts in major championships for the first time in his career, the cut predicted to fall at level par. At the other end of the leaderboard Willett was entertaining thoughts of becoming the first English winner of the Open since Nick Faldo in 1992, although his mother Elisabet kept Willett’s feet planted firmly on the ground. “I just had a text message off my mum saying well done, you’ve made the cut,” Willett joked in his post-round press conference. “I’m sure there will be a few messages, I can feel my phone buzzing a little bit right now. But it might be a case tonight of turning the phone off and having a little bit of quiet time.” Press Association As play stuttered to a halt around the course following a delay of more than three hours due to torrential early rain, Watson and playing partners Ernie Els and Brandt Snedeker opted to complete their second rounds in near-darkness. The trio and their caddies – with Watson’s son Michael on his bag – paused on the Swilcan Bridge on the 18th for the traditional photograph before Watson was left alone to take the applause of the spectators who had stayed on to salute the popular 65-year-old.
Di Maria, subject of serious interest from Paris St Germain, was due to meet up with his United team-mates in San Jose on Saturday. But the British record signing did not catch his plane to California, which will fuel speculation his move to PSG is moving closer. Matteo Darmian, Luke Shaw and Ashley Young performed well in the morale-boosting victory against the European champions in California. David de Gea also put in a strong performance on his first outing of the summer. The Spaniard, who is wanted by Real Madrid, denied Sergi Roberto a goal when the Barcelona midfielder was clean through in the first half, and grew in confidence from there on. After the final whistle, Van Gaal heaped praise on his goalkeeper, who has been out with a back injury, and reiterated that he wants him to stay at Old Trafford for next season despite Madrid’s interest. “Of course I do hope that David de Gea shall stay but in this world of football you never know,” Van Gaal said. “In spite of his injury he doesn’t train for one week, he can show his quality already in this game. “He has showed his quality. “The first chance was for Barcelona. When you stop the first chance, then you can score the first goal, which we did. That is always the difference in the game.” Barcelona did not have Lionel Messi or Neymar in their team, but United still did well to negate the threat of Luis Suarez, Pedro and Rafinha. They rode their luck at times, though. Barca struck the woodwork on three occasions and on another day Rooney’s goal would have been disallowed for a nudge on Adriano just before he headed in Young’s cross. Van Gaal said Barca could not deal with the danger posed by Rooney and Memphis Depay, who played in the number 10 role just behind the skipper. “I think they are always a threat,” Van Gaal said. “That is very important. Barcelona could not cope with the threat of Depay and Rooney.” Van Gaal also found time to praise Januzaj, who scored United’s final goal in injury time after coming on as one of 11 changes on the hour. “Adnan Januzaj was very good,” Van Gaal added. “He always gives an option for his midfielders and defenders and scored a wonderful goal.” Luis Enrique said if it was up to him, Barca would not have even played the match in the US. “As a coach I would prefer not to do tours. I would prefer to stay closer to home,” said the Barcelona manager, who now takes his team to Washington DC to face Chelsea. United, meanwhile, will round their tour off against PSG in Chicago in the early hours of Thursday morning. Speaking after his side lost to Chelsea on penalties, PSG coach Laurent Blanc indicated a deal for Di Maria could be close. The former France coach was initially cagey when asked about the situation, saying in comments reported by L’Equipe: “I have no official news. PSG are looking for an offensive player. Will it be Di Maria? I hope so.” Pushed further, he added: “He (Di Maria) will surely come to the United States, but with which team? He plays for Manchester United at the moment and I hope that if that changes, it will be that he comes to us. We have to have patience a little longer. “It’s not easy, between two big clubs. The outcome is very close, in my opinion.” Angel di Maria failed to board his flight to the United States and therefore did not join Manchester United’s pre-season tour party on Saturday, Louis van Gaal has revealed. “No,” the United manager said when asked if Di Maria had flown to San Jose. “I have heard he is not on the plane. I cannot say anything. He was not on the plane.” United have refused to comment on reports in France that they have agreed to sell the Argentina winger to the Parisian club for 65 million euros (£46million). But the unsettled 27-year-old was not in the US for Saturday’s 3-1 win over Barcelona in Santa Clara and neither was Marcos Rojo, who had been also been given extended leave following the Copa America. The only person who reported for duty who was supposed to was Javier Hernandez, who was playing for Mexico in the Gold Cup. “Marcos Rojo was also not on the plane. He had passport issues,” Van Gaal added. “That I do know. But for Di Maria I do not know why. Javier Hernandez is here.” United maintained their 100 per cent tour record thanks to goals from Wayne Rooney, Jesse Lingard and Adnan Januzaj at the Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night. Press Association
A pictured on Nasri’s instagram account showed him on crutches. The 28-year-old, who has been out with a hamstring problem, has not played for City since a substitute appearance in the 5-1 Barclays Premier League defeat of Bournemouth on October 17. The Manchester City winger has been out of action with a hamstring problem – but he took to social media on Wednesday night to explain he was looking forward to his return. The France international tweeted: “W hat doesn’t kill you make you stronger. I will be back better than ever see you in 3 months.” Samir Nasri has ruled himself out of action for three months – but has vowed to bounce back stronger after his injury troubles. Press Association
The Belgium striker, only on the field because of a potentially serious injury to Dejan Lovren from Craig Gardner’s reckless knee-high tackle, fired in from distance with the aid of a deflection in the sixth of eight additional minutes after the Croatian’s lengthy treatment. Manager Jurgen Klopp had previously been critical of the fans leaving early because of lack of faith in the team’s ability to recover losing positions but not on this occasion. Striker Divock Origi’s added-time strike snatched a point for Liverpool in a controversial 2-2 draw at Anfield. The German turned around to the Main Stand and vigorously pumped the air before, at the final whistle, gathering all his players together and walking towards the Kop hand-in-hand in a gesture of thanks. Origi’s goal secured only a point but it felt like more than that considering what had gone before. Despite taking an early lead through Jordan Henderson’s first goal since April 4 they were undone by two set-pieces – a long-term Achilles heel – as goalkeeper Simon Mignolet’s blunder allowed Craig Dawson to equalise before Jonas Olsson nodded in a second. Klopp’s side thought they escaped on the stroke of half-time when an Olsson goal was ruled out for offside, after considerable confusion created by the officials, only for the defender to net the winner 17 minutes from time – which added to the Gardner tackle did not add up to a great day for referee Craig Pawson and his officials. At least Klopp’s decision to leave out Lucas Leiva in order for Henderson to make his first league start since August 17 paid off with a well-worked goal midway through the first half. Philippe Coutinho, who should have opened the scoring early on after returning to the starting line-up for the first time in six matches after a hamstring problem, floated over a left-to-right cross which Adam Lallana headed down for his captain to sweep home. Liverpool had utilised the diagonal ball regularly but it was usually aimed at Christian Benteke without much success; the closest the Belgium international came to scoring was when he shot wide on the turn after chesting down Alberto Moreno’s pass. The big striker had actually been more effective at the other end defending set-pieces but his usefulness was cancelled out for West Brom’s equaliser when Mignolet pushed his compatriot out of the way as he came to claim Chris Brunt’s corner, missed the ball and saw Dawson ram home the loose ball. Mignolet’s decision-making did not improve when he chased a wayward Gardner cross out to the touchline, preventing it going out for a throw-in but almost being caught in possession by James Morrison. Added time brought the most contentious moment of the game when assistant referee Roger West, who had already been on the receiving end of criticism from Klopp for failing to even make a decision when the ball went out for what the German felt was a throw for his side, did not flag despite three players appearing to be offside when Olsson scored. Several seconds of confusion followed with even Liverpool’s players unsure what to do next before there was clearly some intervention transmitted via the officials’ earpieces as Pawson walked over to his linesman, who only raised his flag after the official had blown his whistle to rule out the goal. Klopp just laughed but Baggies boss Tony Pulis was furious. Olsson finally got his goal, nodding in Brunt’s near-post corner, in the 73rd minute before Pawson missed Gardner’s reckless tackle on Lovren which left the Croatian screaming in pain with a gashed knee and potentially worse damage. Emre Can dropped into central defence to allow Origi to come on and, after Lallana had shot straight at Boaz Myhill, Origi capitalised on the lengthy injury time with a rasping, deflected drive. TWEET OF THE MATCH “1-0 not even close.If you score 2 goals against WBA at home and with their record you gotta win!Defending against set plays/corners Is awful” Former Liverpool striker John Aldridge @Realaldo474 gives his verdict on the 2-2 draw. PLAYER RATINGS LIVERPOOL Simon Mignolet: 4 Nathaniel Clyne: 6 Martin Skrtel: 6 Dejan Lovren: 5 Alberto Moreno: 6 Emre Can: 6 Jordan Henderson: 7 James Milner: 6 Adam Lallana: 5 Philippe Coutinho: 6 Christian Benteke: 5 Substitutes Jordon Ibe (on for Coutinho, 72): 6 Divock Origi (on for Lovren, 79): 6 Roberto Firmino (on for Lallana, 86): 4 WEST BROM Boaz Myhill: 6 Craig Dawson: 6 Jonas Olsson: 6 Gareth McAuley: 7 Chris Brunt: 6 Jonny Evans: 7 Craig Gardner: 5 Darren Fletcher: 6 James Morrison: 6 James McClean: 5 Salomon Rondon: 4 Substitutes Ricky Lambert (on for Rondon, 90): 4 STAR MAN Jordan Henderson – Led from the front on his first league start since August, scoring the opening goal and providing perpetual motion in midfield. MOMENT OF THE MATCH Jonas Olsson’s disallowed goal had everyone scratching their heads as the officials obviously realised they had made a mistake after the event and contrived to get the right result by circuitous means but making a fudge of it all the same. VIEW FROM THE BENCH Jurgen Klopp’s explosion of joy at Origi’s equaliser was the release of 60 minutes of pent up frustration after watching his side labour to throw away an early lead. Bold substitution in sending on a striker for an injured defender paid off. Counterpart Tony Pulis spent the whole game shouting and cajoling his side and it almost paid off. MOAN OF THE MATCH Referee Craig Pawson and his two officials, as a whole, had a poor day with a bizarre passage leading up to the eventual disallowing of Jonas Olsson’s offside goal and allowing Craig Gardner’s reckless challenge which injured Lovren to go unpunished. WHO’S UP NEXT? Watford v Liverpool (Premier League, Sunday December 20) West Brom v Bournemouth (Premier League, Saturday December 19) Press Association
Chelsea host Scunthorpe in the FA Cup third round on Sunday, before league games at home to West Brom and Everton, and Courtois insists all is not lost. “Obviously if you win the FA Cup or the Champions League maybe it will still be a positive [season],” Courtois said. “Success is a big word if you play until now not very well except the last three or four games. “But still with the FA Cup or maybe the Champions League it could be a positive season if we end up in the top four or top six. “We have to go step by step. Some teams are close together. If we beat West Brom and Everton we could be maybe eighth or ninth in a few weeks. “Everything can change very fast, we just need the results.” Oscar, Willian and Diego Costa were all on the scoresheet at Selhurst Park for Hiddink’s first win since being appointed as Jose Mourinho’s successor just over two weeks ago. Costa and Oscar, both struggling under Mourinho, now have five goals between them since the Portugese left while Cesc Fabregas, another to lose form earlier this season, was also much-improved against Palace. Courtois also admitted the Blues’ mentality has changed under new manager Guus Hiddink, who is now unbeaten in three games after Sunday’s 3-0 win at Crystal Palace. The victory leaves Hiddink’s men nine points off West Ham in sixth and 13 adrift of Tottenham in fourth but the performance suggested they may yet be capable of a late surge towards the European spots. “It’s something psychological and sometimes it changes with little changes. Maybe we needed a little change to pick up our level,” Courtois said. “In football it’s always like that. When results are not good the first thing they look at is the manager. But I don’t think it is only the manager, the players have to take responsibility as well. “We were the ones who were not playing as well. With a new manager some things changed. Maybe with some players the mentality changed.” Courtois added: “We of course know we were responsible as well. We had team meetings where we said, ‘okay, the manager has gone, but we are responsible as well and we need to pick up our levels because we are not good enough for being a Chelsea player’. Now we are stepping up our game.” Hiddink led Chelsea to FA Cup glory when he took temporary charge at Stamford Bridge in 2009 and the Dutchman already appears to have imposed a sense of stability at the club. “Obviously training is a little bit different – the approach he has sometimes in how he wants to train,” Courtois said. “Maybe sometimes a bit more tactical, a bit less, different types of little games we play or shooting the ball to give confidence to the strikers. “Sometimes he is more outside of the training, more observing and leaving the training more to (assistant first team coaches) Steve Holland and Eddie Newton. “He just steps in when he thinks he needs to explain something to the team. When he explains he explains it well. Every manager has his way of working.” Chelsea want to add their former striker Didier Drogba to the club’s coaching staff but negotiations have proven difficult, given the 37-year-old remains under contract with Major League Soccer at Montreal Impact. “I had a very good relationship with him last year. He was great for the dressing room and our team,” Courtois said. “If he comes back as a coach it will be a great addition to all the team.” Thibaut Courtois believes Chelsea can still deem this season a positive one if they secure a place in Europe and win a trophy. Press Association
The 25-year-old Uruguay international headed for Portugal following Sunderland’s capture of Ivory Coast international Lamine Kone on Wednesday evening and could make his Sporting debut against Academica at the weekend. Coates joined the Black Cats from Liverpool, initially on loan, in 2014 and made a permanent move to the Stadium of Light last summer. Press Association Sunderland have confirmed that defender Sebastian Coates has joined Sporting Lisbon on loan for the rest of the season. He made 32 appearances for the club, but has been sacrificed as manager Sam Allardyce attempts to rebuild his squad while balancing the wage bill to meet Financial Fair Play regulations.
A family in Georgia is currently mourning the lost of a child after their 6-year-old […]