As Chelsea enter the most pivotal week of Jose Mourinho’s second stint with the club, Dan Levene looks at how a defeat could perversely be the best outcome for the club, but the worst for its manager.If, as former Prime Minister Harold Wilson said, a week is a long time in politics, then a day is an age in football management. Even more so at Chelsea, where 90 minutes can often be an eternity for any coaching career. This week, Chelsea have a series of potentially season-defining matters and Jose Mourinho’s future could not be more in the balance.After the humiliation of home defeat to Bournemouth, the next seven days look set to lay out a pathway for the remainder of the season: with draws at home in the FA Cup, and in European club competitions as well as a trip to table-topping Leicester City in the Premier League.But it is Wednesday night’s visit to Stamford Bridge of Porto which is most crucial to the Blues’ season – standing, as it does, between Chelsea and progression in the Champions League. The permutations are many and complex. But the rule of thumb is pretty much this: win, and Chelsea top the group; lose, and they come third, and are bound for the Europa League.That would result in a big slice of humble pie for Mourinho, who shortly after his reappointment as Chelsea boss in 2013 insisted he didn’t want to win the Europa League, or even play in the competition.That was a clear slight at Rafael Benitez, whose achievement in bringing just that trophy back to Stamford Bridge from Amsterdam was so pivotal in assembling the interim coach’s CV for his present role at Real Madrid. But the Europa League is certainly Chelsea’s best opportunity of getting back into next season’s Champions League – with Mourinho having more or less admitted fourth place in the Premier League will be a leap too far.Mourinho knows and admits the luck involved in winning the Champions League itself, and he has had more opportunities to look back on that good and bad fortune than almost any boss in the game.But few can see past Barcelona, who now look an even better side than the one that romped to glory in Berlin’s Olympiastadion in June.They could await Chelsea in the knockout stages, should the Blues qualify – as could Paris Saint-Germain or Atletico Madrid, who ended their hopes in each of the last two seasons. Drop to the Europa League, and the options broaden to include Molde of Norway, possibly Midtjylland of Denmark, and a trip beyond the Black Sea to Krasnodar of Russia.Yet, in the eyes of UEFA now, the winners of the two trophies are equal – each earning a place in next season’s Champions League.One tough route to remain in the top club of European sides – with the income and attractiveness to players associated with it. One Thursday night meander around the broader continent’s also-ran title-holders, for the same ultimate prize.A no brainer in competitive terms – but what would defeat to Porto do to Mourinho’s immediate job prospects? Should he battle through that, there is the matter on Monday of motoring up the M1 to the King Power Stadium.The very man he first deposed as Blues boss, Claudio Ranieri, awaits with tables somewhat turned. Mourinho says he has given up on targets, and wants simply to win the next match. Given the stakes at play here, is impossible to know whether those who run Chelsea feel the same way about that. –
Still, plenty of the focus centers on the Lakers’ young core. Although he contended “it’s too early to tell” on which player has emerged from that group, Kupchak sounded most impressed with Randle. Kupchak cited Randle’s career-high 25 points and 12 rebounds against Utah this week in what marked his ninth double-double of the season. “He was a man amongst boys. He had several games like that. He has the competitive energy that I’d love to see in young players,” Kupchak said of Randle. “That will get you a long way. He has to continue to grow skillwise on the court, when to bring it up, when not to bring it up and when to get to the hoop and when to shoot. But with that kind of energy and effort, he’ll be in this league for a long time.”As for the Lakers’ other young players?“We’re always prodding them to raise the energy level and play a little bit harder,” Kupchak said. “At this level, everybody’s talented. If you don’t bring it, you’ll fall into a group of ‘somebody that doesn’t bring it but they deserve to be in the league because of their talent level.’ You want to rise above that and you want to raise the bar with energy and effort.”Nance usually offered those qualities. But he has missed the past five games with a bone bruise in his left knee. The Lakers expect him sidelined for the next four weeks.Hence, Kupchak expressed uncertainty on whether he will pursue a free-agent frontcourt player to accommodate Nance’s absence. Since the Lakers have a full 15-man roster, they would have to waive either 25-year-old forward Thomas Robinson or veteran forward Metta World Peace before their one-year deals become fully guaranteed on Jan 10, 2017. “There’s a lot to consider,” Kupchak said. “A big part is Larry’s condition going forward. At first, we thought it was an ACL and he could be out for the season. But knock on wood, it’s a bone bruise and he seems to be getting better quickly.”Can the Lakers improve quickly? Kupchak sounded optimistic partly because of Walton’s presence and efforts to revamp the team’s culture after finishing the previous two years with their worst records in franchise history. “We got better players. Our younger players are a year older,” Kupchak said. “I don’t want to get into comparing last year and this year. But Luke has come in with a strong feel for what culture he wants to develop. I think he’s done a wonderful job.”Kupchak sounded encouraged several players have publicly praised Walton. Yet, Kupchak sensed some potential pitfalls. “There’s going to be rough spots where there are players that don’t agree with him,” Kupchak said of Walton. “But he’s going to learn game to game, season to season how to become a better coach.”Kupchak expects the same from his young players.“We have a better feel for who they are, but I want them all to continue to improve,” Kupchak said. “We need to win some games and continue to have a strong locker room and culture.” LOS ANGELES >> The question has hovered over the Lakers’ front office all season. It also remains a question Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak does not want to entertain.Lakers president Jeanie Buss has maintained she will hold executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss to his self-imposed timeline said in 2014 about stepping down if the Lakers did not become a Western Conference contender within three years. Still, Jim Buss recently told Southern California News Group “it would be a mistake on the Lakers’ part to make any switches,” citing the recently injury plagued seasons, the team’s intriguing young core and an up-and-coming coach (Luke Walton). That uncertain dynamic between the Buss siblings could also affect Kupchak, who is in his 30th season as Lakers’ executive and 17th in his current position. “I’m not going to comment on any of that stuff,” Kupchak said respectfully. Instead, Kupchak commented plenty on the various components that determine the Lakers’ long-term future. After seeing the Lakers “maybe exceed expectations a little bit” by flirting with a .500 record through the first 20 games, the Lakers have since lost 14 of their last 16 games en route to a 12-24 mark. Still, Kupchak sounded mindful of a few things. The Lakers’ starting backcourt in D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young missed a combined 20 games with overlapping injuries. The Lakers then took their longest trip of the season that ended with a 1-6 record through 12 days. “It’s just a matter of finding our mojo again and taking advantage of a more friendly schedule going forward,” Kupchak said. “I wish our record was a little bit better. But I love our young group. It’s going to be fun to watch them grow and develop.” Kupchak then raved about the steady growth Russell, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson have shown. Kupchak argued Young should be considered for “Comeback Player of the Year” after becoming more productive under Walton (14.2 points per game on 47.1 percent shooting) than under former Lakers coach Byron Scott through two seasons (a combined average of 10.35 points on a 35.3 percent clip). Kupchak called Lakers guard Lou Williams the favorite for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award after leading the league in bench scoring (18.6 points per game).After signing center Timofey Mozgov to a four-year, $64 million deal last summer, Kupchak argued the Lakers’ center has provided “everything we’ve asked for” with defense, a post-up presence and a mid-range jumper. After securing veteran forward Luol Deal to a four-year, $72 million contract, Kupchak observed Deng “is finding his stride right now” after initial hiccups with his shooting accuracy. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error
The home side forced two corners on the left but both were poorly directed by Grzegorz Krychowiak.But United opened the scoring on 28 minutes as Lukaku returned to haunt his former club.Burke lost the ball cheaply on the Albion right, Marcus Rashford was given too much space and his cross was glanced home by Lukaku, who had ghosted between Jonny Evans and Gibbs.There was a glimmer of hope for Albion on 34 minutes when Allan Nyom crossed towards Rondon at the near post but he was denied by Chris Smalling’s interception.But a minute later it was 2-0 to United as Lingard struck. – Heated –He was set up on the edge of the area by Juan Mata after good work by Lukaku, and Lingard’s low shot struck the leg of defender Ahmed Hegazi and looped past helpless goalkeeper Ben Foster.West Brom already looked beaten but just before half-time Jake Livermore did at least draw a save from goalkeeper David de Gea with a low shot that the keeper held well.There was a heated start to the second half when Rashford went down holding his face after a collision with Hegazi.Replays showed there had been little contact but the United player was booked after leaping up and confronting Hegazi head to head.But that clash did not provide the spark for a fiery second half as United sat back on their lead and Albion were unable to pose any consistent threat.They had a rare chance when Rondon forced De Gea into a routine save with 17 minutes remaining before substitute Chris Brunt fired over the crossbar from the edge of the area.But with 13 minutes to go Albion did grab the goal that gave them hope.Brunt delivered a corner from the left, United failed to clear and Barry profited from an ugly scramble to poke home the club’s first goal under Alan Pardew and his first for Albion.Things might have got worse for United in the closing stages but Brunt’s superb left-wing cross was headed wide of the near post by fellow substitute Jay Rodriguez.Share on: WhatsApp West Bromwich, United Kingdom | AFP | Goals from Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard gave Manchester United a 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion on Sunday as Jose Mourinho’s men kept their faint title hopes alive.Lukaku put United ahead at the Hawthorns and Lingard netted with the aid of a deflection to double the visitors’ lead before half-time. West Brom enjoyed a handy spell of possession midway through the opening half as United lost their way following a decent start. But what looked destined to be a comfortable win became tense when Gareth Barry prodded home a second-half goal for the hosts.And United ended the game defending for their lives before claiming the win that kept them 11 points behind neighbours Manchester City in the Premier League title race.“I think we deserved the win. We were the best team. We controlled the game for a long time,” Mourinho said.“The intensity in the first half maybe we didn’t have in the second half.“West Brom are really powerful in the air. But after their goal we controlled it again.”United made a dominant start with West Brom guilty of squandering cheap possession on a frequent basis.Yet it was the hosts who threatened first in the ninth minute courtesy of a clever backheel from Salomon Rondon to release James McClean on the left.He crossed towards the far post for Oliver Burke, but the winger could not control a difficult ball on his full Premier League debut.United’s first sight of goal came on 14 minutes when Ashley Young angled a dangerous cross from the left towards Lukaku at the far post.Baggies defender Kieran Gibbs made an important header and Lukaku was penalised for handball as he tried to keep the move alive.