Manchester United captain Michael Carrick to retire at end of season
It has been a fine couple of weeks for Manchester United, thanks to three straight Premier League wins against Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Liverpool. The team are second in the table and have a nine-point cushion for a Champions League place, which has been the focus in each of the last four seasons, during which they finished in the top four just once.
United are more comfortable this term with eight league games to play and can switch attention to two big cup games at Old Trafford this week against Sevilla on Tuesday and Brighton & Hove Albion four days later.
Saturday brought the second 2-1 win over Liverpool in 18 hours after the club's bottom-of-the-table reserves won by the same scoreline at Anfield on Friday night. United's first team have been held to struggle against the top teams, but have beaten Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool in the league this season.
In fact, United have beaten every team below them at least once this season -- from Spurs in third to bottom-placed West Brom -- and have a (slim) chance to beat leaders Manchester City, as well as Arsenal for a second time, before the season is out.
Moreover, United could also beat City, Chelsea and Liverpool in the Champions League, though they have to get past Sevilla first. Let's hope there's no repeat of what happened at the quarterfinal stage 20 years ago when, after a 0-0 draw in Monaco, Sir Alex Ferguson's side fell behind early at Old Trafford and went out on away goals.
It has been said that Jose Mourinho's pragmatic team lack the dramatic moments of yore, but the second half at Crystal Palace last Monday was as nail-biting as any game in recent years and resulted in a comeback win from 2-0 down that was sealed by a wonder goal in the last minute. This has been far from a boring season; there have been plenty of good games, interesting cup ties and clean sheets.
It has also been said that United are too cautious, that Mourinho is too keen to "park the bus." The accusation was levelled after a 0-0 draw at Liverpool in October but, while the game was frustrating to watch and stalled momentum, a goalless draw at Anfield was a not a bad result.
Nor was the 0-0 in Sevilla three weeks ago; Mourinho doesn't feel that he has the team to attack top sides away from home and it took Ferguson 12 years before he realised a dream of going to Barcelona and having the confidence in his side to take the game to one of the best teams in the world. That classic game, in 1998, ended 3-3.
United go to City next month and are likely to play defensively again. Defeat will almost certainly mean their cross-town rivals clinch the title that day, so maybe the end will justify the means for fans, who have no desire to watch their rivals celebrate the title on derby day. The alternative is to try and bloody some opposing noses by going for it.
It will be for Mourinho to decide but on Saturday at Old Trafford, where United have lost only once all season, they didn't park the bus. While there were no shots on target from either side until Marcus Rashford's epic 14th-minute goal -- and only four in total during the entire game -- the home side was attack-minded throughout. It was also great to see the players run to the fans to celebrate goals, something their manager encourages.
Mourinho went with a 4-2-3-1 formation, which shifted to a 4-4-2 when United did not have possession. He planned to stop Liverpool's talented front three, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, getting the ball and his gambit largely worked: Jurgen Klopp's side, who would have gone above United had they won, were defeated for the first time in seven league games.
Juan Mata played predominantly on the right, but was also on the left at times, and could feel satisfied with his performance as he posed for pictures with fans in his Manchester restaurant on Saturday night. Many others could feel equally pleased: Ashley Young contained Salah, Eric Bailly is back, brilliant and even managed to score past David De Gea. Bailly's central-defensive partner Chris Smalling had another good game and Romelu Lukaku was exceptional in the first half.
It has also been said - rightly -- that atmosphere is lacking at Old Trafford, but that was not the case on Saturday. The noise was as loud as it has been for years with rousing, primal screams of "United!" coming from the Stretford End, as well as J and K stands. Even the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand was bellowing out classic ditties about never seeing Steven Gerrard win the league.
Mourinho was happier with the atmosphere after his recent criticisms, though he didn't appreciate the supporters' reaction to a stray Scott McTominay pass at one point. There didn't seem to be any obvious abuse of the manager's blue-eyed boy, who also had a good game, though composure was not a common emotion among home fans during the last few minutes as Liverpool pushed for an equaliser.
Incredulity greeted the raising of an electronic board to indicate six minutes of stoppage time, but United held on for victory against Liverpool to end a run of four straight draws and a Europa League defeat. It was about time.
Yes, it would have been better had Alexis Sanchez stood out or if Paul Pogba had been fit to start and star, but those two will get plenty of chances to shine and they'll need to. As it was, two goals from Manchester-born United fan to defeat Liverpool will more than do for now.
Bring on the Spaniards by the score, por favor.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.
Liverpool did not perform at their usual level in Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Manchester United. That's partly a result of Jose Mourinho's defensive mastery and partly because Liverpool's players often fail to deliver in the most high pressure situations, especially away from the safety net of Anfield.
There was something sadly predictable about how events unfolded at Old Trafford. It was everything that Liverpool supporters feared it might be and showed once again why this is the most stressful fixture in the calendar for supporters of both teams.
Even though Liverpool were (bizarrely) favourites going into the game, this was always going to be the most difficult fixture of the season for them for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, Old Trafford is not a venue where Liverpool tend to have much success. Additionally, for all the criticism they have received about their style of play, United went into the game with a two point lead over Klopp's men. Throw in the "Mourinho factor" and the omens were not good, despite the recent good form of the Merseysiders.
Liverpool just didn't look like themselves. The recent defensive improvement proved to be yet another false dawn as they conceded two soft goals to long punts up the middle of the pitch. Dreadful, and not just from the regular scapegoat-in-chief Dejan Lovren either. The blame is collective.
It wasn't just the defence that failed to perform. Players who have been running roughshod over opponents all season looked nervy and hesitant against United and repeatedly either chose the wrong option or simply failed to execute the kind of pass they usually make as a matter of routine.
Over the years Mourinho has been like Kryptonite to free flowing attacking opposition. Nobody can shut down a potent attack like he does and Liverpool have suffered -- and continue to suffer -- at his hands more than most. So much so that you get the feeling that he's in Liverpool's heads now and that is as much of a contributing factor as anything he does tactically.
Mourinho knew how to stifle Liverpool's prolific attack and he managed to subdue 32-goal Mohamed Salah in a way that nobody has managed so far this season. United were able to cut off the supply line to him and when the ball did reach Salah he was denied any time and space and was usually dispossessed fairly quickly.
Liverpool had no answer to it and failed to create anything of note, despite enjoying almost total domination of possession after the break. That the second half was played almost exclusively in United's half should not be seen as a sign of control or dominance by Liverpool, however, as Mourinho was more than happy for them to have the ball.
Although the self proclaimed "Special One" clearly has a big ego, he does not seem to care in the least what anybody thinks of his methods and that makes him all the more dangerous to sides such as Liverpool, who thrive against teams who want to attack them. The end always justifies the means for Mourinho and if he needs to incur the wrath of the Old Trafford crowd by replacing two-goal hero Marcus Rashford with the unpopular Marouane Fellaini, he'll do it without a second's hesitation.
Rashford had caused Liverpool a lot of problems, yet Klopp would surely have preferred the dangerous attacker to have stayed on the field and for United to look to extend their lead, or at least venture out of their own half once in a while.
Perhaps other coaches would have done so and Liverpool might have found a way back into the game as result of it. Pulling back a two-goal deficit against a Mourinho team fully entrenched in "thou shalt not pass" mode is difficult enough at the best of times, but when crucial refereeing decisions are also going against you and your best player is in Ashley Young's pocket then you have no hope.
The result harms Liverpool in terms of local pride and it makes Champions League qualification for next season that bit more difficult. Victory would have seen them go second but defeat meant they ended the weekend in fourth spot looking over their shoulders at Chelsea.
Losing to United always hurts more because of the rivalry, but Liverpool need to shrug it off quickly and bounce back by beating Watford this weekend. Saturday's loss was a setback but Liverpool's league position remains strong and they still have this season's Champions League to look forward to.
When the draw is made for the quarterfinals later this week the one team Liverpool should want to avoid is United. Some supporters might be hoping for an opportunity to set the record straight and exact some revenge. Those supporters are, with all due respect, crazy.
Most sensible Reds would like to avoid it at all costs, but it feels somewhat inevitable now that the teams will meet again this year, possibly in a semifinal which would invoke memories of Liverpool's titanic battles with Mourinho in his Chelsea days.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.
BOURNEMOUTH, England -- You would bet the house on some forwards scoring a one-on-one with the goalkeeper but until recently, Son Heung-Min was not among them.
Son has an impressive armoury -- pace, a strong shot, ability to play with both feet -- but time has too often been his enemy. He has scored the half-chances, those instinctive snapshots when considering your options is not an option, but crumbled when he has thinking space. His early miss in last season's defeat to Monaco, which set the tone for Tottenham's failed Champions League campaign, is one example.
Banishing that kind of reputation can take years but Son might have managed it in a fortnight. He has scored seven goals in four matches and in each of Spurs' last two Premier League games, against Huddersfield and Bournemouth respectively, he's calmly rounded the goalkeeper to finish the kind of chance he might previously have missed.
In Sunday's 4-1 win at Dean Court, he had plenty of time to either square the ball for Erik Lamela or continue alone and he picked correctly, skipping around Asmir Begovic for Spurs' crucial third goal. "At first I wanted to pass to Coco [Lamela] but I wasn't sure because the defender was close to him," said Son after the match. "If I pass badly, it looks bad. I wasn't sure but I'm confident to score goals."
Son's improvement in these situations is no accident. He's aware that his finishing has previously been erratic and has worked on it relentlessly in training, staying behind for extra shooting sessions with the obsessive Harry Kane, one of those players for whom one-on-ones never seem in doubt.
"He's rewarded for all the work he's done since he joined Tottenham," said Spurs captain Hugo Lloris of Son. "Now, in one-on-one [situations], he can make the difference at any moment. It's important to have that type of player in the team. He's got a lot of ability in front of the goal."
With Kane is facing a spell on the sidelines -- over the next few days, Tottenham's talisman will discover the extent of an ankle injury suffered at Bournemouth -- Son's finishing will be even more important to Spurs' ambitions in the FA Cup and Premier League.
The South Korea international has previously deputised for Kane as a central striker, scoring five goals in the four games Kane missed with an ankle problem sustained almost exactly a year ago, and he is happy to play up-front when required. Fernando Llorente is out-of-favour after one league goal all season and Son is expected fill Kane's boots in Saturday's FA Cup quarterfinal at Swansea, a game that has taken on more importance since their Champions League elimination.
"I'll play striker or winger," he said. "The manager has the choice to pick me at striker, left wing or right wing."
Son Heung-Min has gone from strength to strength at Spurs and will be even more important in Kane's absence.
Son's form over the past two weeks comes after he was surprisingly benched for the Champions League round-of-16 first leg against Juventus. In the past, the 25-year-old has been upset when left out of the biggest games, and he considered leaving Spurs for that reason after his first season at the club in 2015-16. He cannot have been impressed to be named among the substitutes in Turin and then again for the league game at Crystal Palace, when Mauricio Pochettino turned to January signing Lucas Moura before him as Spurs pushed for a goal.
Son's form in the four matches since that 1-0 win at Selhurst Park has made him undroppable again and although the response has been down to him, Pochettino deserves credit for resting him at the right moment.
"I'm enjoying it but last season I enjoyed a lot. First season I had a bit of a tough time but I enjoyed. Premier League is not an easy league, it's one of the best. I need to just enjoy every day, every week. That's what I say. It's always the same answer," said Son.
If Son cannot yet claim to be a Pochettino favourite, he has gradually endeared himself to the Spurs fans and on Sunday, the travelling support adapted Cockerel Chorus' 1973 hit "Nice one Cyril" -- an ode to Spurs left-back Cyril Knowles ahead of that year's League Cup final -- to "Nice one Sonny."
"I like it, honestly, and I'm really thankful they made the song for me," said Son. "I felt goosebumps. I'm really, really thankful for it. I feel at home, you know. Everyone supports me, even when I play bad. I'm a really luck guy to play in the Premier League and have so many fans, so many supporters. This is a really lucky guy."
Watching at Bournemouth, it felt like the chant is here to stay and, on current form, Son is too.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.
MANCHESTER -- Michael Carrick has confirmed this will be his last season as a player at Manchester United.
The midfielder has revealed it is "likely" he will join Jose Mourinho's coaching staff in the summer.
He has been restricted to three starts after undergoing a heart procedure in September and the 36-year-old, who arrived from Tottenham Hotspur in 2006, will hang up his boots at the end of the campaign.
The Old Trafford club captain told a news conference on Monday: "There comes a time, wether you like it or you don't like it, that your body tells you it is time to stop playing football. That's pretty much where I'm at. It's something that you have got to accept."
Mourinho has said he would be keen to add Carrick to his first-team coaching staff and the former England international admits there is a good chance he could be on the bench from next season.
He added: "It's kind of been sorted out, but we're still talking about it so there is nothing to totally confirm yet. It's looking likely."
Carrick has played a limited role for United this season after undergoing a routine heart procedure following a League Cup tie with Burton in September.
He has since started FA Cup games against Yeovil and Huddersfield and, ahead of the Champions League round-of-16 second leg with Sevilla at Old Trafford on Tuesday, he insists he is keen to play a part on the pitch between now and the end of the season.
He said: "I had a problem during the Burton game during the second half. I had a few tests after that and the same problem came back on the Sunday of that week in training.
"I had the procedure the following week. It took a little while to get over. There were some times there, two or three days, when I wondered whether I would carry on playing or not, is it worth it or not?
"But that quickly passed and I got back fit. I wanted to finish on my own terms so I was determined to get back fit.
"I've been training hard and we'll see what happens for the rest of the season."
Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.