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Mourinho’s Rooney conundrum

LONDON — Jose Mourinho faces one of the biggest decisions of his Manchester United reign as he weighs up whether to recall Wayne Rooney for the Premier League clash with bitter rivals Liverpool.

The 30-year-old’s troubles have led to a debate about whether he should be used in midfield instead of his long-time role as a striker, while some critics claim he is no longer worthy of his place with club or country.

After crushing Leicester in their first match without Rooney, United were less impressive in a draw against lowly Stoke and Mourinho might be tempted to bring him back at Anfield on Tuesday (3am).

Dwight Yorke, a Champions League and Premier League winner with United, has no doubts Rooney is still a force to be reckoned with.

“People in football have such bloody short memories. He has to get his confidence back and play in the manner we’re used to seeing, banging in goals,” Yorke said.

After losing their last four league meetings with United, Liverpool have a chance to make a statement about their title credentials.

Jurgen Klopp’s side have won four successive matches to climb to fourth place, and are hoping for a different result to the one he experienced when he first took them on after he became Liverpool manager last season.

“My first Premier League game against United was a good game from my side, we could have won the game but we didn’t because Wayne Rooney scored,” said Klopp.

“It will never, for as long as I live, just be a normal game.”

Mourinho tried to cool the rivalry between the clubs when he called for both sets of supporters to respect each other.

“In football, we have some ‘football tragedies’, which is the big match you lost, the mistake some player did and you can make fun of it in a positive way,” the Portuguese told reporters.

“But the human tragedy is something much, much more serious and is the last thing somebody should use on a football pitch.”

Last season, both clubs were fined by Uefa for crowd disturbances and supporters engaging in illicit chanting when they met in the last 16 of the Europa League.

Mourinho was then at pains to make clear that the outcome would not define United’s season, but said he appreciated how much the fixture meant to supporters.

“I’m in England for a long time,” he said. “Obviously I never played this match but I played many times against Liverpool, United. I understand the dimension of the clubs and now I understand better the history between the rivals.

“The season for me is not about the Anfield match though, or Old Trafford in January. It’s about many matches.” — Agencies

Saints look good for misfiring Burnley

SOUTHAMPTON — Southampton striker Jay Rodriguez is racing against the clock to be fit in time to face his former employers when Burnley come calling to St Mary’s today.

The forward is expected to recover in time from a knock and could be in contention to make only his second start of the campaign.

On home soil, the Saints go into the match brimming with confidence as they have suffered just one defeat in their last 14 league clashes with Burnley (Won seven, drawn six).

Further down the field, there are injury worries as well for the home side as midfielder Ryan Bertrand and Portuguese defender Cedric are unavailable as they recover from hamstring and ankle injuries respectively.

This means youngster Matt Targett, 21, and Dutchman Cuco Martina, 27, are expected to start in their places.

Burnley do not have a full strength squad either as they cross their fingers hoping goalkeeper Tom Heaton is fit to face the Saints.

Heaton withdrew from the England squad last week due to a calf problem and is still nursing the injury.

Veteran Paul Robinson is on standby and will be called to guard the posts if he is unable to feature.

Upfront, the Clarets will be missing striker Andre Gray who is serving the third match of his four-game ban for misuse of social media.

The visitors have a wretched record at St Mary’s, winning only once in their last 14 trips to the South Coast, losing seven times.

Burnley are currently languishing in the bottom half of the league standings after posting just two victories in their last 15 Premier League away games, drawing three and losing 10.

The Saints on the other hand have scored in each of their last 13 Premier League games at St. Mary’s for a good run of form in the league.

Forward Charlie Austin has enjoyed mixed fortunes in the last two Premier League games against his former club, scoring twice and also been sent off.

Burnley’s Belgian international midfielder Steven Defour has had a rich vein of form by being directly involved in 80 per cent of his team’s goals this season, scoring one and assisting three of the Clarets’ five goals. — Agencies

We’ve got your back

LONDON — Chelsea star Eden Hazard is backing Antonio Conte to ride out a stormy period.

Reports that the Italian, who arrived at Stamford Bridge in the summer, could be given the boot circled on Thursday after a flurry of bets were placed on him being sacked.

The 47-year-old, however, still has the trust of Chelsea chiefs and Hazard believes Conte can help them reclaim the title.

The Belgium star said: “He is good. We started with three wins, then we suffered two defeats, then we won again. He has tried to instil confidence in the players.

“We are fit because we ran a lot in pre-season. You need to do this to stay at the top. We want to improve and Conte is the right man for the job.”

Conte rubbished rumours his Blues reign could end soon.

He said: “I’m trying to find who put the money on me, but it is very difficult!

“It’s difficult to talk about this situation because I am focused on improving the team.

“I have good communication and relationship with the club. I take these with a smile.”

The Blues have endured a mixed start to the season, with 13 points from seven games, leaving them five points off the pace.

Chelsea face champions Leicester at the Bridge today.

The Blues beat Hull 2-0 at the KCOM Stadium last time out and will hope to record another win to get their title charge back on track. — Daily Mirror

Koeman to put aside friendship

MANCHESTER — Former Barcelona teammates Pep Guardiola and Ronald Koeman are reunited at Eastlands today as Manchester City and Everton square up for the first time in the Premier League this season.

Everton manager Koeman is relishing the chance to pit his wits against his City counterpart, who was just setting off on his glorious playing career with the Catalan club when Koeman signed for Barca in 1989.

“I have good memories of Pep,” said Koeman.

“We have a really strong friendship. Sometimes we have dinner and talk about football and life.

“He was really interested in how we play in Holland. I see a lot of it in teams managed by Pep and I like that because it’s the most difficult way to win — play offensive football.

“The surprising thing with Pep was when he was manager of Barca I saw the best Barca team in every aspect of football.”

Everton visit Premier League leaders City with Guardiola facing his first real challenge since arriving from Bayern Munich.

After opening the season with 10 consecutive victories in all competitions, City drew at Celtic in the Champions League and lost for the first time under Guardiola, 2-0 at Tottenham in their last outing.

“City have been very good — maybe not the last game, but it is impressive how they play football,” added Koeman.

“It’s difficult for defending against. But we have had some good examples of teams getting a good result against City.”

Like City, Everton have only lost once in the league this season, going down 1-0 at Bournemouth late last month.

Blues’ Brazilian midfielder Fernando insists his side must recover quickly from their own first taste of defeat.

“We need to learn from the defeat and return to winning ways again so it’s vital we get back to playing the way we have been,” he said.

“It’s always a difficult game against Everton but our goal is always the same — to try and win the game and play good football.”

City’s main injury concern surrounds Belgian midfielder Kevin de Bruyne, who will probably miss the Everton clash in a bid to be fit for Tuesday’s key Champions League meeting with Barcelona.

Meanwhile, Koeman has been boosted by the return to fitness of Romelu Lukaku, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines, while James McCarthy faces a late fitness test. — AFP

Mauricio Pochettino

Spurs enter crucial period

LONDON — Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino reckons his team are entering a seven-game, 23-day period which will define their season.

Spurs laid down a marker by sending Manchester City tumbling to their first defeat of the season before the international break.

But Pochettino insists what happens next will determine whether Spurs will be challenging for the title after last season’s near miss.

“It is very important now, these next seven games,” he said.

“We need to manage all the players. We are working very hard to be right for today, to take the best decisions and not risk losing any players for the next six games.”

Spurs return to action with a trip to West Brom, who held Pochettino’s men to a White Hart Lane draw in April that all but cost the north Londoners the title.

Pochettino knows his team will be the favourites to come out on top in today’s less glamourous trip to the Hawthorns and tried to guard against any complacency as he underlined West Brom’s qualities.

“It will be a tough game, maybe more difficult than Manchester City,” he said.

“If we’re not focused, or if we don’t play with the same intensity, the same passion, we will suffer a lot against a very physical and strong team.”

Spurs also have a Champions League double-header against Bayer Leverkusen, an English Football League Cup tie at Liverpool and games against Bournemouth, Leicester and archrivals Arsenal in the league before the next two-week break.

“The problem is we have 16 or 17 players going away for two weeks (because of the international break) and to put it (the team) together now is a very complicated job,” Pochettino said.

“If you play one game every week — for example, if we play West Brom and then after seven days we play against Bournemouth — it is not a big issue.

“The problem is how you manage Leverkusen, Bournemouth, Liverpool — it is very difficult.

“It is not easy to take the decision because it is not only we must win, but we must also be ready to compete in every game,” he said.

Pochettino claims losing the positive impact of the City win is another downside to the international break.

“If you compete (again) after three days, and Manchester City were the first game in a run of seven, (it is) fantastic because that is a big boost,” he said.

“But it was at the end and then the players go away. Then they return, like Christian Eriksen, who comes back disappointed with the last result with Denmark.

“Now our job is to be more than coaches, but to be psychologists too.” — Agencies

Fifa address pressing agenda

ZURICH — Fifa executives will make a final decision on World Cup reform in January after weighing up three proposals on Thursday, as president Gianni Infantino pushes plans to grow the lucrative tournament.

A 48-team proposal, favoured by Infantino, would see the 16 group winners of a qualifying round automatically book a place in the tournament, while an additional 32 teams would compete in a new pre-tournament play-off.

From the play-off, 16 nations would then move on to the World Cup itself.

“We’ll keep an open mind and an open spirit and maybe we don’t change anything and maybe we change everything,” Infantino said after the first of the two-day council meeting.

Calls to expand the showcase tournament, a vital source of Fifa revenue, have been criticised over fears it would dilute the quality of World Cup competition and add new fixtures to football’s already packed calendar.

Infantino, a 46-year-old lawyer and former Uefa No 2, has made growing football globally, improving transparency and increasing Fifa income top priorities of his administration.

While World Cup reform is key to his agenda, Infantino on Thursday also announced that US$4 billion (RM16.7 billion) had been earmarked to develop football globally.

The Palestine Football Association have written to Infantino this week calling on Fifa to demand the Israeli Football Association expel clubs based on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law.

Infantino told AFP last week that the issue was “one of (his) highest priorities”.

The Council meeting is due to hear a report on the Israel-Palestinian issue from the head of Fifa’s monitoring mission to the area, South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale. — AFP

Mueller happy with Bayern’s form

BERLIN — Bayern Munich’s Thomas Mueller says there is no need to panic as the Bundesliga leaders look to get back to winning ways when they play Eintracht Frankfurt away today.

The Bavarian giants have 16 points from a possible 18, but two games without a win equates to something of a mini-crisis for Bayern, who are three points ahead of Hertha Berlin.

However, the slight dip in form is not a concern for Germany forward Mueller.

“With a new coach, we won our first eight games, but not our last two and suddenly there’s a fire under the roof,” he said.

“We’re still top of the table, will certainly qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League, so there is no need to panic.”

Frankfurt lost at Freiburg two weeks ago, but are unbeaten at home in their last six matches.

Frankfurt have failed to score in their last eight games against Bayern, dating back to 2011, and Bayern have won seven of those league encounters with one goalless draw.

The Frankfurt match is set to see Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski and Frankfurt’s Alexander Meier go head to head.

The attacking duo have dominated the league’s goalscoring charts for the last three years.

Having broken their run of five straight defeats to climb off the bottom of the table, Schalke 04 are at Augsburg today as their coach Markus Weinzierl returns to his former club.

Schalke hammered Borussia Moenchengladbach 4-0 last time out with new signing Breel Embolo scoring twice to bump Schalke up to 16th.

Having assumed Schalke’s place at the bottom, Hamburg are at Moenchengladbach this weekend.

New coach Markus Gisdol is looking for Hamburg’s first win of the season in his second game in charge, while Gladbach will target a boost ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League match at Celtic.

Along with Bayern, Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig are the only teams in Germany’s top flight that are still unbeaten.

Hoffenheim host Freiburg today in the south German derby while Leipzig are at Wolfsburg tomorrow. — AFP

Lionel Messi (6)

Barca to avoid international hangover

MADRID — Argentina’s pain is Barcelona’s gain as Lionel Messi returns for the Spanish champions when Deportivo la Coruna visit Nou Camp today after being sidelined for three weeks with a groin injury.

Messi missed Argentina’s World Cup qualifiers against Peru and Paraguay as La Albiceleste’s struggled without the five-time World Player of the Year.

He is expected to be eased back into action as a second half substitute.

Meanwhile, Luis Suarez could make way for Paco Alcacer having played twice for Uruguay in the past week.

Neymar will definitely start as he returned to the Catalan capital early due to his suspension for Brazil’s 2-0 win at Venezuela on Tuesday.

A 4-3 defeat to Celta Vigo two weeks ago leaves Barca fourth in the table.

Real Madrid face the toughest task on paper of the title contenders as they travel to Real Betis aiming to snap a streak of four consecutive draws.

Zinedine Zidane’s men have a growing injury crisis as captain Sergio Ramos is set to be sidelined for up to six weeks by a knee sprain suffered in Spain’s 2-0 win at Albania in midweek.

Luka Modric is also out for the rest of the month due to knee surgery, whilst influential holding midfielder Casemiro is missing due to a fractured fibia.

“This match is very important for us to say — ‘we’re still there’,” said midfielder Toni Kroos after penning a new contract until 2022 on Thursday.

“Having a string of draws is not a good thing.

“In Dortmund (2-2) or Las Palmas (2-2) we clearly played well, even better perhaps than certain matches which we won.”

Atletico were the form team before the international break with six wins and a draw at the Nou Camp in their last seven games taking Diego Simeone’s men to the top of the table on goal difference.

By contrast, winless Granada travel to the capital with just two points so far this season and having already sacked coach Paco Jemez.

The Andalusians have turned to Lucas Alcaraz for his third spell in charge of the club to lead them to safety.

However, anything other than defeat would be a huge surprise at the Vicente Calderon as Atletico have kept seven clean sheets in their last eight games and boast La Liga’s top scorer in Antoine Griezmann up front.

Third-placed Sevilla have a chance to go top for at least a few hours when they visit Leganes today at lunchtime.

To do so, though, Sevilla need to end a 22-game streak stretching back 17 months without a La Liga win away from home. — AFP

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Kumar: Aussies were just too good

KUALA LUMPUR — Daunted by the higher standard of play and a lack of fitness were reasons Malaysia had a forgettable outing at the just-concluded Australian Hockey League (AHL).

This was the assessment of veteran goalkeeper S. Kumar who has kept goal for Malaysia since 1999.

“It was our first time in the AHL,” said Kumar.

“The quality of the Aussie players, their basic skills, higher fitness level and strong physical presence were evident from the start,” he said.

In the Malaysians’ defence, Kumar said they did not have enough training before the trip.

Most players were busy with the Malaysian Hockey League, while some were also involved in the TNB Cup final on Sept 25. AHL was from Sept 29 to Oct 9.

The Malaysians drew the first game 1-1 with New Zealand Futures.

After that, they lost 5-2 to the Queensland Blades, which boast veteran Aussie players
Jake Whetton and Daniel Beale.

“Lack of cohesion put paid to our chances in the first two games,” lamented Kumar.

“We were surprised at the level of hockey and it took us a couple of games before we won our first match,” he said.

That was against NT Stingers whom the Malaysians beat 3-1.

This was followed by a 5-2 loss to NSW Waratahs and a 4-1 thrashing by Victorian Vikings.

The Waratahs had three national players — Tom Graig, Matthew Dawson and Flynn Ogivlie.

Victorian Vikings boast up and coming internationals like Andrew Philpott and Chris Ciriello.

“What I observed in Perth is they have a good development programme,” said Kumar.

Despite the dismal results, the Malaysians did come back with two wins — the other was a 3-0 victory against Canberra Lakers.

The experience should hold them in good stead for the 10-day Asian Champions Trophy (ACT) in Kuantan from Oct 20.

“We will be better as we have improved our game. The seven games we played there have given us valuable insights into our shortcomings,” claimed Kumar.

“The positives were we never gave up. Guys like Najib Abu Hassan and Najmi Farizal gave their all. I believe we can do well at the ACT and achieve our target of making the final,” he said.

With 248 caps and at a ripe age of 36, Kumar is as motivated as ever to represent the country.

“I love to don national colours. As long as I am able to play and the team need me, I will answer the call,” he said.

Malaysia play Pakistan in the ACT opener on Thursday at 6pm.

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Star on the rise

KUALA LUMPUR — BU Dragons have been making waves since the start of the Junior Purple League (JPL) on Sept 23.

The club, who are making their debut, are guided by former national player Tan Bin Shen.

They have in their ranks world junior No 1 Goh Jin Wei but it is little-known Letshanaa Karupathevan who is making waves.

Two days ago, the 13-year-old defeated the more experienced Yu Chieh from Taiwan, 11-8, 11-9, 11-6, 11-8, 11-10 to help Dragons beat Puchong United 12-6.

“I was not pressured to win as I just wanted to do my best. The age factor did not affect me,” she said.

“They gave me the chance to play in JPL and I was keen to repay the club’s faith,” said Letshanaa.

She might be small in build, but the SMK Damansara Utama student has big plans.

“My first target is to be the best world junior player. After that I wish to reach the heights of Lee Chong Wei,” she said.

Letshanaa has the makings of a champion as she won the gold medal in the MSSM girls’ singles category last year and girls’ singles at last year’s Under-12 100Plus GP National Junior Circuit.

Her elder brother, Jothiswaran is also playing for the Dragons, while her older sister, Bhirentha is training with the national junior squad.

Bin Shen admitted Letshanaa has what it takes to be a top player.

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