Clint Dempsey returning to normal self (and the rest of the day in Europa League)

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It hasn’t been a smooth transition across London for Clint Dempsey, but given the U.S. international had not been training with Fulham prior to his move to Tottenham, it was reasonable to expect a period of adjustment. New coach, new club, new system, and having to recover from a broken routine is a recipe for struggles. That Dempsey was frequently leaving his new teammates to join the U.S. for third round CONCACAF World Cup qualifying didn’t help.

But now in December, the effects of those excuses are started to run out, which is why today’s Europa League performance against Panathinaikos was so encouraging. Dempsey set up Spurs’ opening goal (a 29th score from Emmanuel Adebayor) and forced an own, game-winning goal in the 76th. When he came off in the 80th, Dempsey had been his team’s best performer, Spurs going on to win at White Hart Lane, 3-1.

Beyond his strong performance, what was most interesting about Dempsey’s day was André Villas-Boas’s formation. The Spurs manager deployed a 4-4-2, pushing Dempsey out of the middle, to the same wide left position where he enjoyed much of his success at Fulham. The spot produced one of Dempsey’s best performances since moving to Tottenham.

Don’t expect Dempsey to keep that spot. When Gareth Bale returns to full health, the wide left position will be all his. However, if Dempsey can use this interlude to gain some confidence, he might be able to take some swagger back into his role in the middle of the park.

Other results (by group)

Group A: Liverpool tops the group after their 1-0 win at Udinese (23′ Jordan Henderson) coupled with Young Boys’ 3-1 win over a 10-man Anzhi Makhachkala left three teams tied atop the group with 10 points. Young Boys end up missing out.

Group B: Hapoel Tel Aviv and Atlético Madrid were through before the day started, but a 2-0 home win over Académica combined with the Atleti’s 1-0 loss at Viktoria Plzen gives the group to the Israeli club.

Group C: Borussia Monchengladbach routed Fenerbahçe in Istanbul (3-0) but it didn’t matter. The two teams had already locked up second and first in the group (respectively). Marseille and Cyprus’s AEL are out.

Group D: Bordeaux’s 2-0 win over Newcastle give the Ligue 1 side the group. The Magpies had already confirmed a knockout round spot. Portugal’s Marítimo and Belgium’s Club Brugge go hom.

Group E: Molde’s 1-0 upset in Stuttgart guaranteed the group to Steaua Bucharest, but it was the Romanian club’s draw at Copenhagen that ensured the German side squeaked through in second place, besting the Danes on a tiebreaker.

Group F: Ukraine’s Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk finished a 15-point group stage with a 4-0 rout of Sweden’s AIK, while third place PSV got a for-pride win in Napels, 3-1 over second place Napoli.

Group G: Basel’s 0-0 draw at Genk assured the two club go through, the Belgian’s in first place. Sporting’s match against Hungary’s Videoton was suspended because of a waterlogged field in Lisbon. When it’s played on Friday, it won’t matter.

Group H: Rubin Kazan and Inter Milan were guaranteed first and second going into the day. Each drew on Thursday, Inter at home to Azerbaijan’s Neftçi and Rubin at Partizan Belgrade.

Group I: Another group that was settled two weeks ago. Lyon’s 2-0 win over Israel’s Ironi Kiryat Shmona put them on 16 points, while Sparta Prague finished second after their 0-0 drew at Athletic Bilbao.

Group J: Tottenham finished two points behind Lazio after the Italians win 4-1 in Maribor. Sergio Floccari had two goals. For Spurs, Brad Friedel got the start in goal.

Group K: Ukraine’s Metalist Kharkiv and Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen had already locked up spots one and two. Metalist lost a meaningless game at 10-man Rapid Wien (1-0) while Bayer defeated Rosenborg (1-0) at home. Both Mix Diserkud (Rosenborg) and Terrence Boyd (Rapid) saw time, though Boyd started on the bench.

Group L: Hannover’s 1-1 draw at Levante kept the group in their hands, holding the Spaniards in second place. Steve Cherundolo played the last 20 minutes for Hannover. Helsingborg’s 3-1 win at Twente was meaningless.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”

Boa Esporte goalkeeper back to prison as murder appeal denied

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The risk clearly wasn’t worth it for Boa Esporte.

The Brazilian club signed Bruno Fernandes de Souza in March, not long after the convicted murderer and goalkeeper was released from prison on appeal.

Fernandes, 32, had been jailed for ordering the murder of a lover, who was fed to dogs by the killer. Boa Esporte lost several big sponsors for signing him, but vocally defended the move.

The owner, Rone Moraes da Costa, said he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to revive his career. Fernandes admitted his mistakes but said he wasn’t “a bad guy”.

According to the Associated Press:

“Brazil’s Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to deny an appeal to Boa Esporte goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes de Souza, who was released in March while appealing a 22-year sentence in the 2010 killing of Eliza Samudio.”

So it’s back to jail for Fernandes, and we’ll be waiting with baited breath to hear from Boa Esporte’s owner.

Conte: Chelsea “ready to fight to the end”

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Following Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Spurs and Tuesday’s blowout of Southampton — the 4-2 score line didn’t tell the story of the second half — Antonio Conte is fired up for Chelsea to complete its Premier League title run.

The manager admits that his side was under pressure after Spurs narrowed the table gap to four points last week, but the wins have eased the Blues’ burden.

Chelsea had lost two of four PL matches before the weekend.

From Football.London:

“I think we passed a big, big psychological step after the defeat to United. We lost three points and had to prepare a semi-final against Tottenham and then another tough game in the league. In that moment we had a really important test and our answer was very good.

“We must think that this race is open, we have reached the final of the FA Cup. The situation in the league is totally open. We are ready to fight to the end. We must be proud for the job we are doing and to fight to the end.”

Spurs can bring the gap back to four with a win at Crystal Palace on Tuesday, but have a tougher run-in with five matches to play. As long as the gap is within six points, anything is possible, but the Blues have certainly answered the bell over the past four days.

Chelsea: Big win “feels like a massive step” to title

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“It feels like a massive step to be honest,” said game-changing goal scorer Gary Cahill of Chelsea’s 4-2 win over Southampton at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

Chelsea’s Premier League lead stands at seven points after the win, which saw a dominant second half from the hosts.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Perhaps it was cued up by Cahill’s first half stoppage time header, which boosted the Blues to a 2-1 lead just before the whistle.

Cahill darted in front of Diego Costa‘s scissor kick attempt to power a header past Fraser Forster.

“(Costa) tried to claim it afterward as well,” Cahill said. “When the ball’s just lofted over, it’s dying to be attacked. We went into halftime with our tails up and it was a big boost for us.”

Cesc Fabregas said Southampton surprised the Blues tactically, leading to an entertaining first half that could’ve seen either side ahead before half.

“We needed a little bit of time to adapt to what they did because we prepared for something else,” he said.

Fabregas said the win was big with second-place Spurs watching at home. Tottenham plays at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

“We needed a good response after the Man United game. We have to keep going with five games to go, to keep it up and make the last push. It would be a big shame if now we relaxed. We just have to push now more than ever,” he said.

“It’s a statement for (Spurs), for us, for everyone, but most of all for us.”
Eden Hazard agreed.
“We scored four beautiful goals,” said the Belgian, who scored the game’s first goal. “It’s good to play before and put pressure on them.”