New Straits Times
Bremen end Frankfurt’s 11-match unbeaten run
Tottenham manager Mourinho says Wales captain shining again after troubled spell
Eintracht Frankfurt’s 11match unbeaten run came to an end on Friday, a 2-1 defeat at Werder Bremen coming just a week after they had stunned Bayern Munich.
Andre Silva gave fourth-placed Frankfurt a ninth-minute lead with his 19th Bundesliga goal of the season.
Only Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski with 26 goals has had a more prolific season.
Bremen, who started the match in 12th place after going three games without a win, levelled in the 47th minute through Czech star Theodor Gebre Selassie although the goal needed to be cleared by VAR.
Rising American star Josh Sargent sealed the three points just after the hour mark.
Despite the defeat, Frankfurt remain fourth and in the Champions League spots but are seven points behind leaders Bayern who have a game in hand.
Eintracht have a five-point cushion, however, over Bayer Leverkusen in fifth place.
Before the match, Frankfurt players lined up and donned shirts bearing the pictures and names of the 11 people killed in a racist shooting spree in nearby Hanau in February 2020.
JOSE Mourinho claims Gareth Bale is “happier than ever” as the Tottenham forward tries to salvage his troubled second spell at the Premier League club.
Bale has been dogged by fitness problems and poor form since returning to Tottenham on a season-long loan from Real Madrid.
But the Wales captain is starting to show signs of his old self after shining in the Europa League matches against Wolfsberger recently.
He could make a rare Premier League start against Burnley today after Tottenham boss Mourinho said he is playing with freedom again after the difficult end to his spell in Madrid, where he won the Champions League four times but was frozen out by boss Zinedine Zidane.
“I think the mental is always a consequence of the physical. If a player feels great, if he is playing 100 per cent and if the feelings are all good, there are no psychological problems or fears or barriers,” said Mourinho.
“When you have little worries and especially when you have a recent history of injuries it’s normal to have some fears and these fears have a consequence. But lately he has been fine.
“It’s just a question of how many minutes he can play and how many days he needs to recover between matches.
“He looks happier than ever, he looks confident. In training you can see he has his confidence back, the way he hits his shots. You could see from his goal on Wednesday. It was a confident shot.
“A player with fear or negative feelings would never have hit that type of shot. To strike the ball that way, I think that strike means a lot.
“It means freedom. It means freedom in relation to the brain muscle. For this you need to be in a good condition. He is in the best condition since he arrived.”
There have been times where Bale would often make himself unavailable, irking Mourinho earlier this month when he pulled out of the FA Cup trip to Everton despite posting a picture on Instagram suggesting he had enjoyed a good training session.
Mourinho insists that Bale knows his body better than anyone and managing him properly could see him have a telling impact as the season hits the crucial part.
“He is a player with a lot of experience and a player with a lot of experience, they know their body better than anyone,” Mourinho added.
“There is no coach, no fitness coach, no sports scientist, no medical that knows better than a very experienced player. We trust his experience and analysis.”
OLE Gunnar Solskjaer believes the race for the Premier League top four will go down to the wire as Manchester United prepare to face Thomas Tuchel’s revitalised Chelsea today.
United were knocked off top spot by Manchester City on Jan 26 and a run of just two wins in six top-flight matches means they are now 10 points behind their rivals.
Second-placed United head to the Etihad Stadium for a Manchester derby clash on March 7 but before then they have back-to-back fixtures away to London clubs, with today’s match against Chelsea followed by Wednesday’s game with Crystal Palace.
“We’ve got Chelsea just behind us, we’ve got City away in front of us,” said Solskjaer.
“Of course we can’t let them run further away if we have ambitions of catching them and we can’t give Chelsea too much hope to catch us either.”
Solskjaer believes United are over their recent wobble ahead of the match at Stamford Bridge, where Tuchel has made an impressive impact since succeeding Frank Lampard last month.
The Blues have yet to lose under the German and can halve the six-point gap to United today as the race for Champions League qualification spots heats up.
“You can see the results, you can see the stats, the possession they’ve had, they keep teams away from their own goal, keep the possession,” said Solskjaer.
“He’s (Tuchel) done really well.
It’s never easy coming into a season halfway through so he must be pleased as well. Hopefully, we can stop that run. That’s my job now.”
The Norwegian predicted a tense battle for Champions League places with a third of the season still to go.
City, United, Leicester and West Ham are currently in the top four but a clutch of teams, including Chelsea and champions Liverpool, harbour ambitions of dislodging them.
“I don’t think the positions will be decided early,” said Solskjaer.
“With this season as well, it’s unpredictable.
“We’ve seen teams going through bad phases then a run and then who knows what’s going to happen with injuries, with how players react to the circumstances.”
Like Solskjaer, Tuchel is well aware of the significance of United’s visit to west London.
Chelsea are unbeaten in eight matches under Tuchel and enjoyed the most impressive result of his reign in midweek when they won 1-0 at Atletico Madrid in the Champions League last 16 first leg.
But Tuchel knows Chelsea’s hopes of securing a top four finish will be dented if United take all three points this weekend.
“Hopefully, we can win, this is what we go for,” said Tuchel.
“We know that it is a big challenge because of their unbeaten away record so far.
“They are a strong team away, they can defend very compact and they are very good in transition. Whoever plays it will be a big challenge to defend all this, to defend counter-attacks.
“The implications are huge. If we get a win out of this game, it is huge and if they get a win, it is huge for them to increase the difference between us.”
This will be the third time Tuchel has faced Solskjaer this season after his former club Paris Saint Germain met United twice in the Champions League group stage.
“It helps that you know the style, strengths, weaknesses and it helps you to prepare but we won’t show pictures from these games to help the team,” said Tuchel.
“We will focus on the last four weeks as always but to have a clear picture from the last two fixtures gives a pretty good impression on the style they want to play, the spaces where they want to hurt us.”
IT is all systems go for the national badminton squad, who departed for Basel yesterday in high spirits for the first event of the season, the Swiss Open, which starts on Tuesday. The Super 300 event is also one of the Olympic qualifying tournaments for the Tokyo Olympics this year.
BA of Malaysia (BAM) coaching director Wong Choong Hann said everyone, except for head coaches — Hendrawan, Indra Wijaya, Flandy Limpele and Paulus Firman, has been cleared for the European circuit, also comprising the All England on March 17-22 and the Orleans Masters on March 23-28.
“We knew from the start that it was going to be difficult as England is still under lockdown, and it was a little difficult to obtain visas for the foreign coaches.
“Regardless, we had time to prepare, and the assistant coaches are more than capable of getting the job done.
“More importantly, all of our players are ready. They have learned from their shortcomings at the Asian leg of the World Tour last month, so we look forward to a good series of tournaments in Europe,” said Choong Hann.
The assistant coaches on the flight yesterday were Tey Seu Bock (men's singles), Loh Wei Sheng (women's singles), Hoon Thien How (men's doubles) and Teo Kok Siang (mixed doubles).
All eyes will once again be on men's singles Lee Zii Jia, who was criticised for his poor outing in Bangkok last month.
Choong Hann, however, is confident that the 23-year-old will bounce back stronger in Europe.
“Yes, Zii Jia had a poor outing in Bangkok, but this is all part and parcel of the game.
“He has improved a lot in training since, and he is all fired up and looks more determined to do well.
“I hope our players will have a good run in the tournaments,” Choong Hann added.