Jose Mourinho vs. Andre Villas-Boas... who will come out on top?

Premier League Preview: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea have only won once in their last seven league trips to White Hart Lane
  • Tottenham have averaged the most shot per game (21) in the Premier League
  • Only one of Chelsea’s last 25 league goals has been scored be a recognized striker, Fernando Torres last May vs. Everton

This London derby has a whole host of subplots this season, as both teams are desperate to make a statement for capital domination early in the campaign.

Tottenham face Chelsea on Saturday (7:45am ET, watch on NBCSN and live online via NBC Sports Live Extra) knowing a win will momentarily take them top of the Premier League table. As for Chelsea, they need to get some kind of momentum going after winning just one of their last four games in Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge.

But we mentioned the intriguing subplots surrounding this capital clash, so let’s break it down.

In the build up to this game, everyone is talking about the strained relationship between Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas and the man who was his boss for so long, Chelsea’s head coach Mourinho. AVB was employed as a coach under Mourinho at FC Porto, Inter Milan and Chelsea, but has revealed this week that they aren’t friends anymore.

That should crank up the intensity a few notches.

Then of course, there is the fact that both teams are fighting to get into the top four, with Chelsea aiming to win the title and Spurs happy to snatch a Champions League berth. Both clubs are capable of that, and winning this game would send out a big message to the rest of the league. AVB and Mourinho’s squabbling aside, this match will be an intriguing encounter between Spurs’ new boys and Chelsea’s new philosophy that the ‘Special One’ is trying to foster at Stamford Bridge.

As for injuries, Chelsea will be without Marco van Ginkel after the Dutch winger tore his ACL against Swindon in the League Cup on Tuesday, while Brazilian midfielder Ramires is also a huge doubt after picking up a knock. Tottenham have no fresh injury worries after resting Danny Rose and Aaron Lennon in the 4-0 League cup win over Aston Villa.

Spurs’ new-look side, boasting the likes of Paulinho, Roberto Soldado, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen, will look to pile more pressure on Mourinho and Chelsea with a win on Saturday.

Can the apprentice defeat the master? AVB’s Spurs vs. Mourinho’s Chelsea will be one heck of a battle.

What they’re saying

Andre Villas-Boas on his relationship with Jose Mourinho: “I don’t lose any sleep. We had a great personal and professional relationship before. We don’t have that now. Our break-up point was because I was full of ambition to give him something extra and I wanted further involvement from the job I was doing at that time. I felt I could give him much more. But he didn’t feel the need for somebody near to him or in another position as an assistant, and because of that it was decided that it was time, after Inter Milan, to continue our careers apart.”

Jose Mourinho on his relationship with AVB: “I don’t discuss this with the media. It’s a personal thing. I don’t care what he says. I’m not here to do that. I’m not interested. I am not a kid – if I have a problem with someone I go upstairs, we speak and we have lunch.”

Tottenham’s Paulinho on facing Brazilian teammates against Chelsea:There is a level of affection there, a friendship between us all. But when we step onto the field of play we are there to defend ourselves and defend our team so I will be there fighting for Tottenham Hotspur. It’s a big match here in London, and in Brazil, where many people will watch, and it’s important for us, as a stepping stone also to win more games.”

Chelsea defender Gary Cahill on the new approach Mourinho is bringing in: “It was a tough week, especially when we lost back to back. But we’ve responded really well. Two wins, two clean sheets. Happy days at the minute. He [Mourinho] really expects you to defend and know where to be. Not just the back four, but everybody when we lose the ball. I don’t mind playing higher. It’s difficult to play high against people with real, real pace. (But) I’m quite comfortable with playing high and I think the lads are.”

Prediction

This game will be a cagey affair, as both teams know the importance of not losing. Tottenham have won eight of their nine games so far this season, only conceding once in a narrow defeat to Arsenal. I think Spurs’ attack is taking time to gel and they may find it tough against a Chelsea side that has their backs against the wall. Jose Mourinho’s men have a hugely talented squad, and it’s only a matter of time before everything clicks into place. They have so many experienced players who step up to the plate when it really matters, so for that reason I think the Blues will edge this one at White Hart Lane.

Klopp hopes for speedy solution in club, fans’ ticket-price dispute

Liverpool's fans wave flags during the English League Cup semifinal second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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From his time at Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp is used to a much more positive, family-like, everyone-pulling-in-the-same-direction atmosphere at his club of employment, so the present goings-on at Liverpool understandably have the Reds’ first-year manager feeling more than a little uneasy.

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Saturday’s late 2-2 draw with Sunderland wasn’t the first time Liverpool fans have headed for the exit before the final whistle, leaving Klopp feeling all alone, but it was the first time the fans have departed from Anfield early in a pre-planned, organized manner (Klopp missed the game himself with appendicitis). The Anfield faithful didn’t walk out on 77 minutes due to their team’s poor performance — Liverpool were 2-0 ahead at the time — but in protest of steadily rising ticket prices, which were unveiled at $111 per game to sit in the 132-year-old stadium’s new main stand next season.

Klopp, coming from the Bundesliga, where a season ticket at clubs the size of Bayern Munich and Dortmund doesn’t cost much more than a single-game ticket at many Premier League grounds, understands the fans’ frustration. At the end of the day, though, he works for the club, which is why he just wants the whole thing settled quickly, for the sake of his squad — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s not what we want. What I know is everyone in the club has a big interest in finding a solution for this. We don’t want people to leave the stadium before the game is finished.”

An LFC TV appearance by Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre, in which he was expected to answer fan-submitted questions, was consequently canceled on Monday due to the ongoing dispute.

West Ham want Payet to sign new contract for fear of losing him this summer

Dimitri Payet, West Ham United FC (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Dimitri Payet is going to be a red-hot commodity during this summer’s transfer window, there’s no doubt about it.

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Given he’s currently contracted to one of the Premier League’s “smaller” clubs — in comparison to some of the giants which are bound to be interested — West Ham United, there’s a decent-to-good chance he could be wearing a different club’s shirt come August. Especially if the 28-year-old attacker shows up and shows out at this summer’s European Championship in his native France.

If I can foresee the interest in Payet, then so too can the executives at West Ham, which is why manager Slaven Bilic took to the press on Monday to convey his desire for Payet to consider signing a new, increased contract at his earliest convenience — quotes from the Guardian:

“We are moving, the club is moving, with the new stadium, with the revenue and everything. We have to move and the most important move is to keep your best players and to add some new players who are needed and Dimitri Payet is our best player — I have no problem whatsoever to say that. Of course, I would love to have him happy, long term, at the club.”

Of course West Ham want Payet to sign a new deal immediately — doing so would accomplish two things in the club’s eyes: 1) increase the likelihood he remains at the club next season, or 2) insure the club receives a higher transfer fee for the player if he leaves in the summer anyway. The more total money remaining on his West Ham contract, the more they can demand of a prospective buyer.

[ MORE: Ronaldo commits himself to Real Madrid through 2018 ]

From Payet’s side — unless he has absolutely zero desire to move to a club like Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United, where he’d likely be paid close to $200,000 per week — he’d be crazy to sign a new contract at this point. Not only would it make a move this summer more difficult, but a strong showing at EURO 2016 could be worth another $15,000 or $20,000 per week on a new contract with West Ham (his current contract is rumored to be close to $100,000 per week).

With as many as five seasons still remaining on his current contract (a one-year club option can be exercised at any point), and his stock perhaps at an all-time high, the next six months could hold Payet’s last chance to get really, really paid before he hits the downside of his career.

USWNT players’ union responds in USSF lawsuit

FILE - In this Sunday, July 5, 2015 file photo, the United States Women's National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. Soccer Federation’s original lawsuit against the union for its champion women’s national team has been sealed after the governing body realized it had disclosed the home addresses and email accounts of many players, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
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(AP) — The union that represents the Women’s World Cup-winning American national team opposed an expedited schedule in the lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Soccer Federation last week, insisting no collective bargaining agreement exists.

The federation sued in an attempt to establish it has a contract with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association that runs through this year’s Olympics until Dec. 31. The union maintains the memorandum of understanding agreed to in March 2013 can be terminated at any time.

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The USSF filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago asking for an expedited schedule, and the submitted opposition papers Monday that claim “facts asserted in the motion are nowhere near accurate and are hotly disputed.”

The union also maintains the USSF knew about the disagreement since July but did nothing about it.

An initial status conference is set for April 4.

Lionel Messi to undergo tests for lingering kidney problems

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds the ball during a quarterfinal, second leg, Copa del Rey soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi is to undergo medical tests to assess a recurrence of kidney problems.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup | Barca win on Sunday

Messi missed the Club World Cup semifinal in December due to a renal colic, an abdominal ailment often related to the presence of kidney stones within renal ducts.

Barcelona says in a statement Monday that the tests to be conducted by Tuesday at the latest, are “to assess the evolution of the kidney problem he suffered last December.”

[ MORE: Champions League returns next week — KO round matchups ]

The statement says Messi will resume training with the squad on Wednesday, when Barcelona travels to Valencia for the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals in which it carries a 7-0 lead.