Mourinho responds to report Napoli rejected €103m Manchester United Koulibaly bid

Jose Mourinho refused to be drawn into speculation over his interest in Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly following Manchester United’s 2-2 draw with Southampton.

Mourinho found himself shorthanded in defence after injuries to Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly, with Victor Lindelof already sidelined, left the manager with just a pair of healthy centre-backs.

The result was Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay, normally midfielders, lining up either side of Phil Jones in the heart of defence, and the Red Devils conceding twice in the disappointing draw.

The poor result came on the same day a report from Corriere dello Sport claimed Manchester United had a world-record bid for a defender of €103 million (£91m/$116m) rejected by Napoli as the club attempted to land Koulibaly. 

In his post-match media conference, Mourinho was asked about that rumour but refused to give a definitive answer on the matter, saying the Senegal international is another club’s payer.

“I cannot answer to your question,” Mourinho said. “If is true, if is not true, I cannot answer to your question.

“Maybe your question is the first one about the market and maybe the next press conference I have two more questions, and maybe the next press conference I have three more.

“The only thing I can tell you is Koulibaly is a Napoli player. And I don’t speak about players from other clubs.”

Koulibaly signed a new contract over the summer tying him with the Serie A side until 2023, but that has not stopped reports of teams trying to land the Napoli star.

The defender has reportedly drawn interest from numerous sources, including his former manager Maurizio Sarri, who now leads Chelsea.

Mourinho has long been reported to have been after a central defender, with links to Toby Alderweireld and Jerome Boateng popping up during the summer.

However, the Manchester United boss was left frustrated as the Red Devils did not land his targets in the market before the close of the summer transfer window.

Despite the presence of David de Gea, the Red Devils have conceded 23 times in the top-flight on the season, which makes them the sixth worst defensive side thus far in the Premier League.

Seventh in the table, 16 points off rivals Manchester City at the top of the table and six back of Chelsea for fourth, Mourinho’s side are next in action Wednesday against Arsenal at Old Trafford.

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Football winter breaks 2018-19: When do La Liga, Premier League & top leagues pause for Christmas?

The festive period is not too far away, which can either mean three matches a week in the lead-up to the New Year or a break from football on television for several weeks.

A handful of European clubs are luckily enough to be given a Christmas break, but others are not so lucky. Goal takes a look at when football will take a pause this winter.

When does the Premier League break for Christmas?

The Premier League does not currently observe a Christmas break, and there is no break in fixtures across the festive period.

The English top-flight is, notably, the only major European league to not observe a break, and the December and January schedule is the opposite of a resting period – with as many as three games played during the course of a seven-day span to accommodate all the fixtures.

Figures in football have lamented the lack of a break during the holiday period, as leagues such as Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and La Liga all witness a break during the winter season, enabling them to return to crucial Champions League last 16 action in the new year prepared and well-rested.

The notoriously congested Christmas period fixture schedule puts a massive physical strain on Premier League footballers, though it will all change during the 2019-20 season, when the first winter break in the Premier League is set to take place.

It will also align itself with the new TV deal rights that were announced earlier this year, while also prepares itself for the Qatar World Cup in 2020, which will force the Premier League to take a winter break into account as the competition will be held from December to January.

When does La Liga, Serie A and other top European leagues break for Christmas?

The big-four other European leagues aside from the Premier League all observe a short winter period, and you can view their holiday breaks below.

Players in the Bundesliga are those who benefit from the most generous break, with a monumental 22-day resting period from club duty during the festive calendar.

Country Break starts Break ends Duration
Germany Dec 20 Jan 12 22 days
France Dec 20 Jan 6 16 days
Italy Jan 6 Jan 21 14 days
Spain Dec 23 Jan 3 11 days

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Solari gains momentum as Madrid ride their luck against Valencia

Taken at face value, Santiago Solari’s Real Madrid project is going swimmingly. With a 2-0 win over Valencia in La Liga on Saturday, the coach has six wins from seven games in all competitions. 

The Argentine is balancing the ship which was sinking under Julen Lopetegui and the European champions have scored 19 goals during his reign, conceding just five. 

With just one blip, a bizarre 3-0 defeat by Eibar on November 24, Solari’s brief reign has thus far been a roaring success when it comes down to facts and numbers. Madrid have qualified for the Champions League last 16 as group winners, and although they are fifth in La Liga, sit provisionally just three points behind league leaders Sevilla. 

The Santiago Bernabeu saw some encouraging signs during their victory over Valencia, with Dani Carvajal in particular impressing. 

The right-back has recently returned from injury and looked fit as he tore into Valencia down the right, an attacking threat which Los Che could not handle. 

It was Carvajal who forced the opening goal, with his cross headed into his own net by Daniel Wass. 

And the defender surged forward in the move that led to the second, finished by Lucas Vazquez. 

The Spanish winger was another impressive performer, building on his goal against Roma on Wednesday in the Champions League with another here, showing energy and grit. 

Lucas Vazquez Real Madrid Valencia La Liga 01122018

And Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who excelled in the Italian capital, had another evening to be proud of, repelling anything that came his way. 

But that Courtois needed to be at his best highlights a big problem for Madrid – their porous defence. 

Solari’s side dominated in the first half, albeit in part due to Valencia’s extremely limited showing, enjoying what has become for them a rare comfortable half of football in the Spanish top flight. 

However they were unable to add another goal to back up their control and when Valencia found the courage to attack after the break, suddenly Madrid were on the ropes. 

The visitors created a string of inviting chances which could have seen them not only level but move ahead of the hosts, were it not for profligate finishing and Courtois. 

Santi Mina, who has been in good form recently, blazed over the bar when sent through on goal, while Gabriel missed from close range at the back post. 

Courtois produced a phenomenal save to deny Belgium striker Michy Batshuayi after he was played in, leaving the Chelsea loanee in disbelief. 

Eventually Vazquez grabbed the second for Madrid which made the final minutes more comfortable, but on another day they could quite easily have thrown the game away. 

While the victory suits Real Madrid just fine, along with the general change in momentum since Solari took charge, nobody should be fooled – they are still riding their luck and have a long way to go. 

Santiago Solari Isco Real Madrid Valencia La Liga 01122018

At least the coach gave midfielder Isco Alarcon an olive branch, bringing him on for the final 13 minutes after reports the pair have been at loggerheads. 

Isco, whom Solari left out of the squad to face Roma, was bright after coming on, showing he has not downed tools despite the fractious relationship he has with his boss. 

Given Madrid’s defensive fragility Solari would be wise to get the playmaker onside, because until he can sort out the back-line, Los Blancos will have to keep coming up with goals to outscore opponents who will be more clinical than Valencia.

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Real Madrid 2 Valencia 0: Wass own goal sets up narrow win

Real Madrid battled to a 2-0 home win against Valencia in LaLiga thanks to an early own goal scored by Daniel Wass and a late Lucas Vazquez strike.

Isco was back in the squad after being left out entirely for the Champions League win at Roma in midweek, but Santiago Solari again opted not to name the Spain playmaker in the XI.

Marcos Llorente thrived in midfield in Isco’s absence but Madrid needed an eighth-minute intervention from Wass to take the lead on Saturday.

Dani Carvajal crossed from close to the byline on the right wing and Wass sent an attempted clearing header flying past goalkeeper Neto, while Thibaut Courtois was in fine form at the other end.

Vazquez – who also scored in the 2-0 win over Roma – slotted in the decisive second for Madrid with seven minutes to go, the goal surviving a lengthy VAR review, to claim all three points.

Madrid started well and took the lead in just the eighth minute, albeit in fortuitous circumstances.

Carvajal won back possession deep in the Valencia half and delivered a chipped cross to the front post that Wass could only guide into the roof of his own net.

Neto made a brilliant save to deny Gareth Bale and a long-range Dani Parejo shot was easily dealt with by Courtois.

Valencia should have equalised in the 53rd minute, Santi Mina racing onto an excellent Parejo ball over the top of the Madrid defence but hitting his shot too high to trouble the Belgium goalkeeper.

Another Parejo ball caused chaos in the Madrid box but, arriving at the back post, defender Gabriel was stretching and sent his volleyed effort flying over the crossbar.

Madrid almost extended their lead in the 72nd minute when substitute Marco Asensio was teed up by Llorente, Cristiano Piccini making a sensational block to stop the shot.

After Courtois brilliantly denied Michy Batshuayi, Isco was introduced for the last 10 minutes, with Karim Benzema then teeing up Vazquez for the clinching goal to ensure Madrid moved up to fifth in the LaLiga table.

What does it mean? Baby steps for Madrid

Last weekend’s 3-0 loss at Eibar, after he won all four games as interim coach, showed Solari did not have a magic wand. But Madrid have now won back-to-back games without conceding and they are only three points off the top of the LaLiga table.

Llorente a pass master again

The absence of Toni Kroos and Casemiro due to injury has created an opportunity for Llorente and he has taken his chance with Isco out of favour. Having excelled against Roma, Llorente was terrific in midfield again and completed 95.2 per cent of his attempted passes, and 100 per cent in the opposition half.

Wass leaves Valencia a mountain to climb

There was some bad luck involved in Madrid’s goal, but Denmark international Wass got himself in a poor position. The versatile midfielder deserves some sympathy, though, as he was being played in an unfamiliar full-back role by Marcelino, who has not won at the Bernabeu since 2006.

What’s next?

Real Madrid are at home again on Thursday when they welcome Melilla in the Copa del Rey, with Valencia hosting Ebro in the same competition two days earlier.

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Ronaldo sets 60-year Juventus best as scintillating start continues

Cristiano Ronaldo has made the best start to life at Juventus of anyone in the last six decades, as he added to his tally in an easy defeat of Fiorentina. 

The former Real Madrid man went into Juve’s Saturday clash as Serie A’s second top scorer for 2018-19 behind Genoa’s Krzysztof Piatek, who has netted 10 so far this season. 

But he drew level with the Poland international 11 minutes from the end, scoring from the spot to seal a 3-0 win over the Viola in Florence. 

Rodrigo Bentancur and Giorgio Chiellini had struck earlier to put the Bianconeri in a commanding position. 

With 10 goals in the first 14 Serie A matchdays, Ronaldo has proven that he has lost none of the goalscoring instinct that made him a legend at Madrid. 

And what is more, he has also equalled an old record in Turin that has stood since the 1950s. 

Not since the great Welsh wizard John Charles in 1957 has a Juve player managed double figures inside the first 14 games of a league season. 

Juventus now sit 11 points clear of nearest Scudetto rivals Napoli, who have a game in hand, and look good value to win their eighth consecutive title in Italy’s top flight. 

Impressively, the Old Lady seem unconcerned whether they play at home or away, marking almost identical perfect records. 

Juventus and the only unbeaten team in 2018 in away games among top-5 European Leagues teams, also picking up an average points record away from home in 2018 (2.7).

Thanks to Ronaldo’s contributions among others, they have scored at least two goals in all seven away matches played in the current Serie A season.

Their current mark of 40 points after 14 matchdays in the current Serie A season is additionally a record in the history of the competition.

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