Leicester helicopter tragedy left players drained – Evans

Leicester defender Jonny Evans admits he and his team-mates needed the international break to try and refocus on football following the King Power Stadium helicopter tragedy.

Evans says the players were left “mentally drained” as they tried to come to terms with the helicopter crash that claimed the life of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and four others last month.

The Foxes made an emotional return to action against Cardiff just seven days after the crash, claiming a 1-0 win at the Cardiff City Stadium before immediately flying out to Bangkok for Srivaddhanaprabha’s funeral.

The squad spent less than 48 hours in Thailand before returning to the UK for their goalless draw at home to Burnley the following weekend – their first match at the King Power Stadium since the tragedy.

After a two week break for internationals the 2016 Premier League champions take on Brighton at the Amex Stadium on Saturday with manager Claude Puel saying its time for the squad to focus on football.

Reflecting on what had been an emotional and traumatic few weeks, Evans admitted it had taken its toll on the players but hopes some time away from club football during the international break has helped the recovery process.

“You can’t keep playing on that same high emotion every single week,’ said the former Manchester United defender. “Obviously every game we go into there’s a huge determination to win, but in those two games [Cardiff and Burnley] there was heightened emotion in most players and it’s very, very hard to play like that.

“You have to keep your emotions at a certain level at the right times in games and it’s important that we do that for the rest of the season.

“The break probably did come at a good time. It wasn’t until I’d gone away on international duty that I realised how emotionally drained and tired everyone would have felt.

“It was a tough couple of weeks, but I thought everyone dealt with it really well, the club as a whole and the players. Now we’ve come back it’s important for us to re-focus and continue playing well.”

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Chelsea, not Arsenal, are Tottenham’s biggest rivals – Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino believes Tottenham’s biggest London rivals are Chelsea, not Arsenal.

Spurs will square off against both sides in the next week, with the Blues traveling to Wembley to face them this Saturday.

After a midweek clash with Inter in the Champions League, Tottenham then travel to the Emirates to renew their rivalry with the Gunners next Sunday.

Spurs currently are sandwiched between their London competitors in the table, a point behind third-placed Chelsea and three ahead of fifth-placed Arsenal.

But while Spurs and Arsenal have historically been one of London’s fiercest rivalries, Pochettino believes Arsenal’s dip in performance in recent years has made the Chelsea clash a bigger match.

“It’s a good signal our fans want more every ­season and with rivalry, always you look at the teams above you,” Pochettino said.

“For us, Chelsea, Arsenal and West Ham have been our ­biggest rivals. But I think that has changed a bit because of our positions in the table.

“In the last few years Chelsea were always on the top and ­Arsenal, after 21 or 22 years, were below us again.”

Tottenham finished ahead of Arsenal the last two seasons, and finished above the Blues last season as well.

A victory on Saturday would take them ahead of Chelsea in the table, and give them their first set of consecutive wins over the Blues in the league since 1987.

They are also looking to become the first team to inflict defeat on Maurizio Sarri’s men in the Premier League this season. 

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Mourinho headed to Belgium to seek solution to Lukaku scoring drought

Jose Mourinho revealed he travelled to Belgium during the international break as he seeks a solution to Romelu Lukaku’s scoring drought for Manchester United.

After scoring 27 goals in his debut campaign at Old Trafford following his £75 million ($96m) move from Everton, Lukaku began this season in equally fine form with four goals in his opening five games.

However, since scoring in a 2-1 win at Watford in mid September, Lukaku has failed to hit the back of the net in 10 matches in all competitions.

The 25-year-old was subsequently dropped to the bench for the 2-1 win against his former side Everton last month.

He was also named among the substitutes for the 3-1 Manchester derby defeat at the Etihad Stadium last time out, winning a penalty 30 seconds after coming on that was converted by Anthony Martial.

Lukaku’s struggles at Old Trafford are in sharp contrast to his form for Belgium, where he has scored four goals in his last five appearances.

That prompted Mourinho to fly to Brussels during the international break to try and find out why the striker was flourishing for his country but struggling for his club.

Mourinho declined a face-to-face meeting with Belgium boss Roberto Martinez, instead speaking to the Spaniard on the phone.

The Portuguese also watched Belgium’s dramatic 5-2 Nations League defeat to Switzerland – though he didn’t get to see Lukaku in action.

The former Anderlecht forward missed the game in Lucerne as well as the friendly against Iceland in order to undergo treatment on a hamstring problem that caused him to miss games against Bournemouth and Juventus earlier this month.

“I went, fundamentally, to be with Lukaku, to feel him, to see his situation, his injury,” Mourinho told reporters.

“Roberto invited me to meet him, which I decided not to because I don’t like to disturb people before matches, but I was with Roberto on the phone trying to feel, trying to understand the problem and evolution of the problem.”

Lukaku has been passed fit for Manchester United’s game against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday, though it remains to be seen whether he will be named in the starting XI or will once again have to settle for a place on the bench.

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Sanchez doesn’t want to leave Manchester United – Mourinho

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho doesn’t think Alexis Sanchez will seek to leave the club in January and has backed the forward to turn his form around.

The Chile international was considered quite a coup for the Red Devils when he made a high-profile move from Arsenal last January.

However, the Chile striker has struggled for consistency at Old Trafford, at times looking a shadow of the player who thrived during his four years at the Emirates Stadium.

The 29-year-old has started just five Premier League games this campaign, scoring just once as a substitute against Newcastle in October, and hasn’t completed 90 minutes for the club since the opening game of the season.

He returned to the starting line-up for wins against Bournemouth and Juventus but was dropped back to the bench for the Manchester derby defeat last time out.

To make things worse for Sanchez, he missed a penalty for Chile during their 3-2 friendly defeat to Costa Rica last week.

Sanchez’s struggles in the north-west have inevitably led to speculation about his future. Reports have suggested he is unhappy at Old Trafford due to Mourinho’s playing style and a lack of friends within the club, with a possible move away in January mooted.

Mourinho has been quick to play down such suggestions, insisting he has heard nothing to suggest the former Barcelona man is unhappy at the club.

The United boss accepts there is room for improvement in his game, but is confident the forward is on the right track.

“He has never told me that he wants to leave. He never told me that he’s not happy to stay,” Mourinho told reporters.

“He is playing like the team. He is improving, like the team is improving, when he plays he is giving us his personality.

“His desire is to play and to produce for the team and [he is] trying to adapt to the way we play and vice versa.

“Can he do better? We all can do better. I can do better, he can do better, all the players can do better.”

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Forget Pochettino, Simeone and Sampaoli: River wizard Gallardo’s is Argentina’s finest tactician

If pressed to name the most successful Argentine coach currently active, Diego Simeone or Mauricio Pochettino would top many football fans’ lists. Both have achieved impressive success at relative outsiders, re-establishing Atletico Madrid and Tottenham, respectively, as challengers at the top of the table.

Jorge Sampaoli, too, might make the argument, despite his recent abortive attempt at taking Argentina to World Cup glory; Marcelo Bielsa too, for pure experience and enthusiasm, deserves to be in the discussion.

But, in reality, one man wins out hands down. River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo has almost single-handedly ushered in a golden age for the Argentine club and what’s more, has done so on a fraction of the budget enjoyed by some of his illustrious contemporaries.

The Copa Libertadores final against Boca Juniors, which will conclude on Saturday with the second leg in River’s Monumental, marks Gallardo’s 11th final in the Millo hotseat, an astonishing record considering that he took over just four-and-a-half years ago.

Even more impressively, seven of those have ended in victory for his club, including the 2014 Copa Sudamericana title, Libertadores success the following year and consecutive Copa Argentina triumphs in the past two years.

Indeed, River are also in the hunt for another final appearance if they can prevail over Gimnasia in the Copa Argentina semi, to be played on Wednesday; a win there and against Boca and a trip to the final stages of the Club World Cup in December would push him up to no less than 13 finals before 2018 is out.

No less notable is his knack of getting the best out of young – and not so young – talents, maintaining River’s status as an enviable breeding for players destined for top European clubs.

Matias Kranevitter; Ramiro Funes Mori; Lucas Alario; Sebastian Driussi; Gabriel Mercado; Emanuel Mammana; Eder Alvarez Balanta; Marcelo Saracchi; German Pezzella: all have moved on for multi-million dollar transfer fees, easing the Argentines’ chronic debt situation which threatened to engulf the club just a few short years ago.

Now Gonzalo Martinez and Exequiel Palacios are set to follow that same path, while Colombian playmaker Juan Fernando Quintero, considered an overweight, lazy liability on his arrival at the Monumental at the start of 2018, was transformed into the Cafeteros’ star of the World Cup and a scintillating match-winner.

Matias Biscay Marcelo Gallardo River Copa Libertadores 03052018

One would think that such constant turnover of personnel would impact negatively on River’s on-pitch showings, a fear belied by Gallardo’s record of three Libertadores semis and two finals in the four editions he has disputed.

How, then, does ‘El Muneco’ – in his day a wonderfully stylish No. 10 who starred for Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco among others but was unlucky enough to see his international career coincide with that of genius pair Ariel Ortega and Juan Riquelme, reducing his cap tally to a still-respectable 46 – continue to thrive in such hostile environs?

Essentially, Gallardo is an uncanny reader of the game. While most of his adversaries on the bench in South American football are rigid in their tactics or simply reactive, the River boss gauges each opponent and tweaks his strategy in turn.

River’s habitual 4-3-3 formation under Gallardo is flexible enough to push out on the front foot and look to dominate possession or soak up opposition pressure and hit hard on the counter, with the likes of Martinez and Rafael Borre particularly adept at making space out of nothing and punishing defenders.

In the first leg against Boca, the coach sprang another surprise. Wary of the Xeneize’s powerful midfield, Gallardo added a third central defender to his line-up and simply bypassed that hotly disputed zone.

Having dispatched the Xeneize with ease in the Bombonera just a matter of weeks earlier with a wholly different set-up he showed no reluctance to change his plans, chalking up yet another tactical victory over the rather less studious Guillermo Barros Schelotto, even if the two teams eventually cancelled each other out in a 2-2 draw that leaves the tie on a knife-edge.

Gallardo GFX

It is no surprise, then, to see Argentina clamouring for his services. But Gallardo, perhaps just as unsurprisingly, has no inclination to jump into that particular vipers’ nest for the time being: pointing to the contract he has at the Monumental until December 2021, he is committed to extending a tenure that at nearly five years is almost unheard of in the pressure cooker of South American football.

“Right now I am not thinking about the national team, I have plenty on my mind with River,” he said when asked about the chance of succeeding Jorge Sampaoli back in October.

“After that, I think any renewal can only be a good thing, but there must be a solid structure and base to create that renewal.”

Monaco, too, made tentative enquiries over their former player when sacking Leonardo Jardim in October, before ultimately opting for Thierry Henry. Each suitor has so far been rebuffed by either River or Gallardo himself, neither wishing to break this incredible run of success.

Another Libertadores win, however, would raise the coach’s stock even higher, and force Europe’s elite to pay close attention to the 42-year-old whizzkid.

Gallardo has already done his part in sending scores of stars across the Atlantic; sooner or later the time will come to follow his former charges and prove that he is more than the match of Pochettino and Simeone in winning games.

The Copa Libertadores final second leg will be streamed LIVE right here on Goal [UK ONLY] from 8:00pm GMT.

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