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.

Serie A roundup: Roma pips Napoli for 2nd, Lazio falls

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Francesco Totti’s legendary career came to a close in fitting fashion as Roma scored a last-minute winner to secure 2nd place in the Serie A table.

On the final day of the season, Napoli’s win at Sampdoria moved them momentarily into second, but Roma snatched the spot back as Diego Perotti scored in the 90th minute to beat Genoa 3-2. Totti had come on as a 54th minute substitute.

[ MORE: Francesco Totti’s career achievements make him an all-time great ]

The win saw Roma end the season on 87 points, one above Napoli’s 86. That puts Roma into the Champions League group stage, while the third-place finish for Napoli places them in next season’s Champions League playoff round. They finish the season with a dominating 4-2 win over Sampdoria that saw four different Napoli goalscorers find the back of the net.

Below the Champions League battle, Atalanta held onto its fabulous fourth-place finish as Lazio fell 3-1 at Crotone. With Lazio already down 2-1 midway through the first half, Angolan defender Bastos received a second yellow card. Down to 10 men, Lazio still controlled the majority of possession but saw themselves outshot, only able to pop off three shots on target. The loss has no significant bearing, as both Atalanta and Lazio qualify for the Europa League group stage, while AC Milan seven points adrift in sixth makes the Europa League third qualifying round.

AC Milan finishes the season a point above rivals Inter despite a 2-1 final-day loss to Cagliari. The game was tied 1-1 down the stretch, but Gabriel Paletta was sent off with 15 minutes remaining, and Fabio Pisacane scored three minutes deep into stoppage time to give Cagliari the win.

Inter, meanwhile, finished the year on a high note as they hammered Udinese 5-2, most notably on a brace from Eder. Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic also scored in the win, while the fifth came on a late own goal. Inter finished the year on 62 points, five less than last season’s 67 which was good enough for fourth place.

Elsewhere, Fiorentina finished a disappointing season with a disappointing 2-2 home draw with last-placed Pescara, while Palermo beat Empoli 2-1 and five goalscorers helped Torino pound Sassuolo 5-2.

USMNT roster announced for pair of World Cup qualifiers

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The regulars are all aboard as Bruce Arena has announced a mostly full-strength roster for the World Cup qualifiers against Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago.

The only true regular missing from the 27-man list is midfielder Jermaine Jones, who is recovering from a knee injury suffered back in early May.

Leading the line are Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey up front, with Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood alongside. Fabian Johnson, Michael Bradley, and Christian Pulisic headline the midfield, along with Alejandro Bedoya and Darlington Nagbe. Kellyn Acosta is called up as a like-for-like replacement for Jermaine Jones.

Along the back, Geoff Cameron is available for selection after navigating a few injuries this past season. John Brooks is back as well after his muscle tear suffered in late April. DeAndre Yedlin is back as well after missing the last pair of qualifiers with an injury and winning the Championship with Newcastle. Fulham’s Tim Ream is called in after showing improvement all season at the club level. Jorge Villafana returns at the thin left-back position, as is DaMarcus Beasley, who is listed as a midfielder.

In goal, Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, and Nick Rimando present an experienced trio, also supported by 21-year-old Ethan Horvath.

The US takes on Venezuela in a friendly on June 3rd in a warm-up to the pair of qualifiers. First, they’ll host Trinidad & Tobago in Denver on June 8th. Then, on just a three day turnaround, they head to the Azteca to play Mexico.

After earning four points in the last international break, the United States sits in 4th position in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The top three teams advance automatically to the 2018 World Cup, while the 4th placed team can qualify via a two-legged playoff against a team from the Asian confederation.


GKs: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFs: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).

MIDs: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

FWDs: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Bobby Wood (Hamburg).

Totti’s loyalty one of the great soccer accomplishments ever

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During the prematch ceremony to celebrate the retirement of Roma legend Francesco Totti, there were fans crying. There were mascots crying. There were family members crying. There were players crying. The man himself was crying.

When 25 years with one club, no celebration can keep back the tears that naturally follow such a glorious career. Instead, an entire stadium paid tribute in one massive outpouring of emotion.

He was never flashy, he was never self-concerned, he never attracted the spotlight. All Francesco Totti did was give and give and give to his club. As the Italian’s career progressed, the game changed around him, with more and more money flowing through a landscape that gave players every reason to change teams as often as possible.

Through it all, Totti stayed put.

Roma’s Francesco Totti enters the field for his final salute to his fans after an Italian Serie A soccer match between Roma and Genoa at the Olympic stadium in Rome (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino).

At the end of it all, 25 years produced 618 league appearances, and 782 appearances overall. He scored 250 Serie A goals on the nose, and another 66 amid all other competitions. Those are just numbers, and Totti gave Roma far more than a laundry list of big numbers.

But for now, we focus on the bookkeeping, because even those are staggering. 250 league goals leaves Totti 2nd all-time in Italy, behind just Silvio Piola, but even the great 1938 World Cup champion never scored more than 143 league goals for a single club. Only three active players have over 100 league goals.

Totti racked up 618 Serie A appearances, his final one a 3-2 win over Genoa that earned Roma a Champions League group stage spot. That total is good for third all-time, one (for now) behind the great Gianluigi Buffon and 29 back of all-time leader Paolo Maldini. Maldini, who retired in 2009, also spent his entire career with one club in AC Milan, an equally commendable accomplishment. But in the modern game, 8 years adrift of Maldini’s playing days, the overwhelming temptations to move clubs make what Totti has done even more remarkable. Plus, he out-lasted Maldini’s career by a year (24 vs. 25 years active).

A note: only two players in the top 30 list in Serie A appearances are still active: Buffon, and 34-year-old Alberto Gilardino, who has played for 11 clubs in his career and is still 104 appearances back of Totti.

Past all the numbers stands a humble man who served one fanbase as loyally as humanly possible. Totti’s accomplishments are not only among the greatest in the history of the game, but it also may never be surpassed by anyone as long as we live.

Mascherano out 6 weeks, will miss Argentina vs. Brazil

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano will be out of action for six weeks to recover from a right knee injury.

[ MORE: Luis Enrique leaves Barca with feeling of accomplishment ]

Barcelona’s season is over, but the injury will rule out Mascherano from Argentina’s friendly against Brazil on June 9.

Mascherano injured his leg early in Saturday’s final of the Copa del Rey, when Barcelona beat Alaves 3-1 to defend its title for a third straight season.

He also cut his head during the collision with an Alaves player that produced the leg injury. He returned on crutches to join the team celebration.

Argentina doesn’t play its next World Cup qualifier until it plays Uruguay on Aug. 28.