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Benitez outsmarts Mourinho as Newcastle beat Man United

Benitez outsmarts Mourinho as Newcastle beat Man United


Riyad Mahrez saw a transfer deadline move to Manchester City fail as Leicester stood firm over their £95 million valuation of him -- and then he refused to train.

Puel says Mahrez needs to get his head right but what's next for Leicester's mercurial talent? ESPN FC's club correspondents have their say on whether their team should consider a summer move.

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Pep Guardiola wants more options out wide to stretch opponents, particularly against tight, defensive teams, which is why Mahrez would be an ideal fit for Manchester City. His ability to beat a player and score goals from the wing would provide an alternative to Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sterling which City don't have, and he has a proven quality to play on the quick counter-attack, which Guardiola's side so often use to good effect. The biggest question mark would be whether he would be effective helping with the high press but the City boss clearly thought he was worth taking a risk on in the January transfer window and may rekindle interest in the summer. -- Jonathan Smith


Mahrez is a good player who would add to most teams in the Premier League, but he is not what Manchester United need. Jose Mourinho has already said he is not looking to buy more attacking players after signing Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal. He has already got Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford to fill the wide roles. Mahrez is productive going forward, but it's debatable whether he would fit into Mourinho's system. Mourinho demands that his wide players work hard defensively -- as Martial, in particular, has found out -- and that is not the strongest part of Mahrez's game. -- Rob Dawson


Mahrez was touted as Philippe Coutinho's replacement during the January window, but sources had told ESPN FC that there was no interest from Liverpool. In terms of his playing style and attributes, the Algerian would be a decent fit in Jurgen Klopp's front three, which is currently looking light of options following Coutinho's departure. But even if Liverpool were to view Mahrez as a stop-gap while prime are unavailable, Leicester's eye-watering asking price for the 26-year-old would mean it's a fair bet that any move would be a club-record transfer. With that in mind, it's likely Liverpool will just continue to pursue their first-choice targets. -- Glenn Price


Chelsea have struggled in attack this season. No one is sure yet if Alvaro Morata is physically and mentally capable of becoming a worthy successor to Diego Costa and, in terms of creation, it often falls upon Eden Hazard to provide all of the imagination in Antonio Conte's 3-4-3 system. Conte is unlikely to still be at Stamford Bridge this summer, but Chelsea's need for another player who can commit defenders and create for themselves and others will be just as urgent. Mahrez fits that bill perfectly, and already has great chemistry with former Leicester City teammates N'Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater. Wages are unlikely to be an issue for Chelsea, though Leicester's valuation would be if they can't be persuaded to compromise. -- Liam Twomey


Of course Mahrez would fit at Tottenham. He's a skilful, speedy match-winner who scores great goals, and that's exactly the kind of player Mauricio Pochettino has been missing from Spurs' front four for over two years. But the club has just signed one in Lucas Moura, leaving competition for places suddenly very healthy, and, if reports are to be believed, the Brazilian cost a mere £70 million less than Leicester's asking price for Mahrez. As Pochettino is fond of saying nowadays, Spurs "sign opportunities" and at the Foxes' valuation, Mahrez isn't one. -- Dan Kilpatrick


Before January, Mahrez looked like a decent option for the Gunners as a replacement for Sanchez. But with the arrival of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsene Wenger already has more attacking players than he can fit into his lineup. Arsenal need to focus on strengthening the defensive side of the squad this summer, and Mahrez simply doesn't fit their needs at the moment. -- Mattias Karen


Barcelona quickly knocked back suggestions they were in for Mahrez in the summer when he was rumoured to have been spotted at El Prat airport. That was before they had signed Coutinho, though, and even if a deal for the Algerian may have made sense then, it certainly doesn't now. Ernesto Valverde already has his hands full trying to work Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele into his side, while Antoine Griezmann is a much more likely summer target.  -- Sam Marsden


Predicting what might happen during the looming summer shake-up at Real Madrid is a mug's game, but at the time of writing it seems very unlikely that the La Liga giants would move for Mahrez. He was mentioned in the local rumour mill during his spectacular 2015-16 with Leicester, but he has mostly slipped from notice now and the Algerian would not have the usual profile preferred by Bernabeu chief Florentino Perez, especially as his country will not be at the summer's World Cup. Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar or Chelsea's Hazard are much more likely targets for the next big Galactico signing. -- Dermot Corrigan


Bayern president Uli Hoeness is keen for more German internationals at the club. That's where the Bavarians' transfer focus headed last summer with the additions of Niklas Sule, Serge Gnabry and Sebastian Rudy to their star-studded squad. And in January, Bayern beat keen competition from Premier League clubs and Barcelona to sign the hugely talented German midfielder Leon Goretzka from Schalke. Goretzka's arrival in the summer adds another attacking midfielder to the mix, so Mahrez is simply not needed. Bayern will be looking to offload midfielders rather than sign them, with Arturo Vidal looking the most likely to depart in the summer. And even if there was a hole in the squad, Bayern are not renowned for signing players of dubious character, if all the mess surrounding Mahrez's failed move to Guardiola's Manchester City is to be believed. -- Mark Lovell


As good a player as he is, there is no longer space for Mahrez at PSG. With Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar in the Ligue 1 leaders' front three, there is no obvious starting berth for the Algeria international at Parc des Princes. A return to France could still be a good idea as there are a few stages in Ligue 1 bigger than his one in Leicester but Paris is no longer one of those options. -- Jonathan Johnson

NEWCASTLE -- Jose Mourinho has said his decision to substitute Paul Pogba during the defeat to Newcastle was not because of an injury.

Pogba was replaced after 66 minutes with United 1-0 down at St. James' Park, a result that left Mourinho's team 16 points behind Manchester City.

There had been speculation in the build-up that the 24-year-old suffered an injury in the warmup leading to the midfielder cutting short his preparations for the game.

But Mourinho insisted afterwards Pogba was fit to play and was replaced with Michael Carrick because he wanted someone "to do the simple things."

Asked if Pogba was injured, Mourinho told Sky Sports: "No, no, no, nothing. No, no problems."

Pogba was also substituted during his last start -- the 2-0 defeat to Tottenham 10 days ago. He was left on the bench for the 2-0 win over Huddersfield last weekend before returning to the team against Newcastle.

Mourinho was critical of his team's defending for Matt Ritchie's goal in the second half, a situation Pogba contributed to by failing to jump with Florian Lejeune to win Jonjo Shelvey's free kick.

Pogba was substituted moments later but asked to talk about the former Juventus man's performance, Mourinho declined to single him out.

He said: "I don't analyse players individually.

"We train we work, we organise, the players have their individual jobs when they defend zonal.

"The players they know there is responsibilities but I am pretty sure you already watch that goal on TV a few times, I didn't.

"So you know more than me and you know who lost the challenge in the air, you know clearly that so I think it is bad if you don't put me in a position where I have to criticise a player. By yourself you make your own analysis."

Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.

NEWCASTLE -- Jose Mourinho blasted his team's defending as Manchester United slipped to defeat against Newcastle at St. James' Park.

Matt Ritchie scored the only goal of the game in the second half to leave United 16 points behind Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

Ritchie scored after Jonjo Shelvey's free kick into the penalty area was knocked down into his path.

Referee Craig Pawson awarded the initial free kick after booking Chris Smalling for diving.

Mourinho refused to blame his centre-back afterwards, but did criticise his defenders for allowing Ritchie the space to score.

He told a news conference: "It is a free kick and not even from a dangerous position.

"It's really far from the goal, clearly the positions were and the players know the positions they have to be, but we missed the challenge in the air.

"I remember clearly without TV a Newcastle player jumping and two of my players looking at him and staying on the floor so the guy won the ball in the end and the second ball was in the face of David [De Gea]."

Smalling was penalised for diving after trying to run the ball out of defence.

The incident happened under Mourinho's nose on the touchline and the United manager insisted he had no problem with Pawson's decision.

He added: "No complaints.

"I don't like to complain about referees in this situation.

"A little bit like the first goal against Tottenham, I could complain that the goal is illegal that [Harry] Kane was already 10 metres inside our half, but I think it's more logical to complain about our mistake in the long ball.

"I don't know if it is a free kick or not, what I know is that we missed a challenge in the air and we missed the second ball and I coach my players, not the referees.

"I have to be more disappointed with my players by losing the challenge."

The result means Mourinho is still waiting for his first Premier League win at St James' Park.

It was also a victory for his rival, Rafael Benitez, which lifted Newcastle, who had not won a home game in the league since Oct. 21, out of the bottom three after slipping into the relegation places earlier in the day thanks to Huddersfield's 4-1 win over Bournemouth.

Mourinho said: "First of all Newcastle players and staff, they gave what they have and what they don't have and that is the beautiful thing in football.

"I think they came here today to fight for a point, but they found themselves in a position of winning 1-0 and in that moment they went to all their limits of their efforts of the sacrifice and everything a manager likes to see in his team.

"I can imagine that Benitez is more than pleased with the effort of his players.

"Were they lucky? Yes they were, but sometimes you attract that luck with your state of mind and after the 1-0 they fought for their lives and that is a beautiful thing in football."

Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.

Man United enjoyed a great week of results, with teams around them dropping points, and did enough to win this game but it was Rafa Benitez's side who got the only goal. Anthony Martial suffered a particularly frustrating afternoon in front of goal, while Jose Mourinho has still never won at St. James' Park.


Watching Ashley Young nutmeg Jonjo Shelvey was entertaining but that was about as good as it got for United's fans. Their side bossed possession and Newcastle relied on last-ditch defending, but that's little consolation.


There was no cutting edge or urgency about United's attack until the game had gone, while Paul Pogba put in another anonymous performance and Chris Smalling's display was laughable.

Manager rating out of 10

5 -- Mourinho persists with a 4-2-3-1 formation but it's not working. Why would you need six defensive players against Newcastle? That said, the manager can't take responsibility for his players failing to take easy chances.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK David de Gea, 6 -- Made a great stop to deny Shelvey and didn't have anything else to do; he had no chance with the goal.

DF Antonio Valencia, 5 -- Got forward often enough but didn't add anything of value to the attack. Not called upon often in defence.

DF Chris Smalling, 2 -- Should have conceded a penalty in the first half and gave away the free kick -- for diving! -- from which Newcastle took the lead. He surely won't still be at the club next season.

DF Phil Jones, 5 -- Made an important and brave block to deny Shelvey but could not do anything to prevent Newcastle's winner.

DF Ashley Young, 5 -- Sloppy in possession at times but forced a decent save from goalkeeper Martin Dubravka with a powerful shot.

MF Nemanja Matic, 5 -- Played a fantastic ball to Martial that should have set up a goal. Confusion between Matic and Pogba over marking led to Newcastle's goal.

MF Paul Pogba, 4 -- Another anonymous performance; Mourinho isn't using him properly but that still doesn't excuse going missing in the way he did.

FW Anthony Martial, 4 -- Had an excellent opportunity to put United in front but fluffed it, then couldn't make the contact he needed with a free header. He was also twice denied by goal line stops.

FW Jesse Lingard, 5 -- Had United's first shot on target and was lively as usual but had little decisive impact on the game.

FW Alexis Sanchez, 6 -- Got behind the defence on a few occasions and could have claimed an assist when heading into Romelu Lukaku's path. Showed great skill to move between defenders and could also have won a penalty.

FW Romelu Lukaku, 5 -- Delivered a perfect cross to Martial that should have resulted in a goal and played in Sanchez, who delayed his shot. It was a similar story when Lukaku had his best chance of the game.


MF Juan Mata, 5 -- Replaced Lingard and could have set up a late equaliser with a low cross.

MF Michael Carrick, 5 -- Replaced Pogba in his first league game of the season but was no better than the French international. Had a late chance saved.

MF Scott McTominay, NR -- Replaced Matic and burst in to the box in the last minute but was denied.

Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.

NEWCASTLE, England -- Three quick thoughts from Manchester United's shock 1-0 defeat to Newcastle  at St. James' Park on Sunday.

1. Manchester United slip up again

Manchester United are second in the Premier League. Someone should probably do a tour of the 18 clubs below them and give them all a stern talking to, because it says much more about the rest of the division than it does about United.

They are still there despite this 1-0 defeat to an excellent and dogged Newcastle, the only goal coming in the second-half from Matt Ritchie. As sound as the home side were, Jose Mourinho's men were awful, and they won't stay in that position for long if they keep up this level of performance.

This was a victory that will mean a little more to Rafa Benitez than most. At the final whistle Benitez lingered on the pitch, thanking the home fans and soaking up their acclaim. And who can blame him?

The early stages were broadly scrappy, with Newcastle fashioning slightly better chances, Kenedy and Jonjo Shelvey stinging the palms of David De Gea. United had plenty of the ball but their work in the final third was disjointed, the final pass often going awry as Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez grasped for inspiration.

But Anthony Martial had the clearest chance of the half, ten minutes before the break: Nemanja Matic did a passable impersonation of Kevin de Bruyne with a beautifully threaded pass through the Newcastle defence, but debutant keeper Martin Dubravka stayed solid and saved Martial's shot.

Newcastle were denied a clear penalty just before half-time when Chris Smalling took down Dwight Gayle right in the corner of the area, prompting everyone not in red to howl injustice. On the touchline, Benitez just laughed at the unfairness of a cruel universe.

United had a goal disallowed at the start of the second-half, a push ruling out Romelu Lukaku's header. But it was Newcastle who took the lead with 25 minutes left: Florian Lejeune nodded down a free kick (awarded after Smalling dived) from deep, it fell to Ritchie in an utterly absurd amount of space in the box, and he buried the shot.

Mourinho made changes to strengthen his midfield, and United almost broke through with a goalmouth scramble that Dubravka -- who on this evidence might have solved Newcastle's goalkeeping uncertainty -- somehow kept out.

United attacked until the end, but couldn't break through. As the final whistle went, 50,000 Geordies screamed with joy. For a moment, it felt like the mid-1990s in St. James' Park.

2. Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic fail to convince in poor United midfield

Signing Alexis Sanchez was something of a no-brainer for Manchester United. Even considering the cost, it would be foolish to pass up a player of his quality. But the point remains that a left-sided forward was not the area of the team that needed the most attention in the January transfer window.

Mourinho started this game with Jesse Lingard in a slightly deeper role than usual, to form a midfield three with Pogba and Matic. The point was presumably to get the best from the former, but in some ways it highlighted the paucity of options available to do that: that is not where Lingard does his best work, and it was notable on a few occasions how they were struggling in midfield.

It didn't help that Pogba was quiet, possibly carrying an injury -- he left the prematch warm-up before everyone else and was withdrawn immediately after Newcastle's goal.

But the main problem was Matic, who aside from that delicious pass to Martial in the first-half, was terrible. Another pass -- this one five yards, theoretically to Antonio Valencia, that instead bobbled out for a throw -- was more representative of his day.

At one point in the second-half Phil Jones screamed at someone in midfield -- Lingard, Matic, it was difficult to tell exactly -- for failing to track runners, leaving the defence exposed. Even from 50 yards away, you could clearly see the violent shades of puce the defender's face turned.

Matic's role is arguably the most crucial in this United team, because a 4-3-3 gets the best from Pogba, Lukaku and probably Sanchez too. But for it to work they need a fully competent defensive midfielder. But after a decent start to his time at Old Trafford, Matic is not doing that now.

Until United solve their problems in midfield, any hopes of catching Manchester City next season seem unlikely.

3. Jose Mourinho beaten by old adversary Rafa Benitez

It is not a startling revelation that Mourinho and Benitez do not always get on. The former has never met a sly insult that he didn't like, if it can be directed at a rival, and Benitez has been on the receiving end of both.

The two have both managed Inter, Real Madrid and Chelsea, and Mourinho has never been shy of reminding everyone about his superior record at all three.

Before this game Benitez had only won one Premier League game against Mourinho, but it will always stick in the United manager's craw that he did get the better of him in those two Champions League semifinals, back when it felt like Chelsea and Liverpool played each other every week.

This week Benitez played down the rivalry a little, in particular the "mind games" that are often mentioned between the two.

"If you say something and the other manager says something and you win the game, the assumption is that you are winning the mind games. No, sometimes your team is better or the other is better and that is it.

"Even making mistakes or losing the mind games, you can win the game. It is like this."

Even with that in mind, you suspect this win tasted all the sweeter for Newcastle's manager.

Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.