Britain Soccer Premier League

Mourinho and Chelsea happy to thwart Arsenal, as title race tightens

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LONDON — This season the Premier League will be defined by fine margins.

Arsenal’s stalemate with Chelsea at a rain-soaked Emirates Stadium on Monday night personified that tightness, as both London clubs failed to strike in an edgy affair. The Gunners are joint-top of the league at Christmas but failed to win for the third-straight league match, as Chelsea are now just two points behind them in fourth.

With just eight points separating first spot from eighth in the PL, there’s so much to gain with every three point haul… but there’s also too much to lose. That made for an edgy encounter with both sides reluctant to go for broke.

“We came here with the aim not to win the game” Chelsea’s captain and man of the match John Terry said. “But its Arsenal’s home game so it’s down to them to bring it to us. I think with five minutes to go, you have to say, it’s not a bad point away from home.”

As Terry’s comments prove, both Chelsea and Arsenal left it to each other to see who would make a positive move to try and win the game. That never came.

Two of the league’s top attacking teams battled it out in a nervy, and often rambunctious, 0-0 draw which suited the away side better than Arsene Wenger’s men who now haven’t won in their last three league games. Late on Jose Mourinho brought on David Luiz for Fernando Torres to see out the game. Chants of “Boring, Boring Chelsea!” rang out from the home fans, who were frustrated by their own sides lack of ingenuity to break down a typically stubborn Mourinho side.

(MORE: Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea – Stalemate at the Emirates on night of heavy weather, refereeing controversy)

Cheslea’s eccentric manager was happy with the point and he believes both sides were more eager to not lose the game, than go ahead and win it.

“I would say I’m not unhappy, we come to win, we want to win… but we don’t want to lose,” Mourinho said. “Very important not to lose. If we lose we are five points behind the leader, now we are only two points behind the leaders, so that’s a different picture completely. We tried to win but we are not unhappy with a point.”

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A rambunctious affair played out at the Emirates, as both sides cancelled each other out in a top of the table clash.

As for that “Boring, Boring Chelsea” chant, Mourinho had the last laugh as he’s now 10 games unbeaten against Arsene Wenger, plus his team have not lost in tricky away games at Manchester United, Tottenham and now Arsenal.

“I play against them [Arsenal] 10 times and I’ve never lost,” Mourinho laughed. “They should say, ‘funny, funny, Jose’ ten times and they don’t win once. What do you want them to call me?”

In fairness, both sides were slightly, well, boring, as Wenger claimed his players were “nervous and a little edgy” following their defensive relapse in a 6-3 defeat to Manchester City last weekend. There were just six shots on target the entire game and neither ‘keeper had to make a save of note.

Both teams struggled to create on a night when the wind howled and festive cheer was on short supply as meaty tackles flew in, no season greetings in this blood and thunder clash. Frank Lampard smashed the bar with a rasping effort in the 33rd minute for Chelsea, while Olivier Giroud’s close-range effort was deflected over Petr Cech’s crossbar with barely five minutes left in Arsenal’s best effort of the game.

(MORE: Latest Premier League Standings)

The cagey affair threatened to boil over in the second half as a plethora of bookings saw both sides walking the tightrope. Arsenal weren’t happy with a few challenges, especially John Obi Mikel’s on Mikel Arteta in the first half and Wenger thought Theo Walcott should’ve had a penalty.

Mourinho? He laughed the bad challenges off and belittled Arsenal’s qualms over the officiating.

“They like to cry, that’s tradition,” Mourinho said. “I prefer to say that, and I told this to the official, English people, Frank Lampard for example, would never provocate situations like that. Players from some countries, they have that in their blood. This is English football, foreign players are bringing lots of good things and are talented. But I prefer English blood in football and these situation. The English players say come on lets go, let’s get on with it!”

As for the title race both Arsenal and Chelsea find themselves in the thick of it, Wenger and Mourinho are happy with the position they’re in. The players are also relishing a tight and cagey second half of the season, as the festive period ushers in the halfway point with everything still to play for.

“It’s wide open, great for the neutral but not so good for our own fans,” Terry said. “It is exciting because the lower sides are really putting on a show and upped their game. They’ve seen us, Manchester City and Manchester United in the last couple of years run away with the league. That’s not the case this year.”

Klopp played three positions in Liverpool staff team’s draw with Stanford

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC (Photo credit: @StanfordMSoccer)
Photo credit: @StanfordMSoccer
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From the Endearing Jurgen Klopp Tales file, the Liverpool manager reportedly starred in defense, midfield and attack for a squad full of Reds coaches against Stanford on Sunday.

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Liverpool, who have based themselves on the sunny, warm Stanford University campus as part of their preparations for the 2016-17 Premier League, took on the collegiate side and played the youngsters to a 1-1 draw.

Klopp failed to get his name on the scoresheet, though the former Mainz striker had one golden chance turned away by Stanford’s goalkeeper. The same couldn’t be said for physiotherapist Ruben Pons, who scored from beyond the halfway line on a mishit long ball over the top.

With all the goodwill Klopp has banked with Reds fans in his first nine months at the club, he’s now only a PL title away from securing his place as an eternal Liverpool legend.

Liverpool will take on Chelsea in each side’s first International Champions Cup fixture Wednesday night (11 p.m. ET) in Pasadena, Calif.

Former Fergie assistant Phelan wants Hull job — “I want to be a manager”

SCUNTHORPE, ENGLAND - JULY 23:  Hull City interim manager Mike Phelan prior to kick off in the pre-season friendly between Scunthorpe United and Hull City at Glanford Park on July 23, 2016 in Scunthorpe, England.  (Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images)
Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images
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Following Steve Bruce’s sudden and unexpected resignation this week, Hull City find themselves without a first-team manager 20 days before the 2016-17 Premier League opener, which will pit the PL newcomers (again) against the reigning PL champions (not again) Leicester City on Aug. 13.

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The man presently in charge of the club, Mike Phelan, who served as Sir Alex Ferguson‘s no. 2 for a number of years at Manchester United, has essentially no first-team managerial experience, but he’s eager to cut his teeth and wants the job anyway — quotes from the Hull Daily Mail:

“I want to be a manager. I don’t really see why I shouldn’t want to be a manager. Time will tell. That decision doesn’t sometimes come down to you.

“I’ve had a small chat and I was asked if I would carry on being in charge for now. We have games, we have preparations, we’ve still got three weeks to go.

“My job is no different to what it has been except now I’m stood on the touchline in games doing my bit. We just have to do our job, there’s nothing else we can do until the powers that be make their decisions.”

Here’s why it’s (obviously) crazy for the club to delay a final decision any longer than absolutely necessary: with every passing day, important preparations for a PL season, a campaign in which the Tigers will almost certainly be fighting for their top-division status, are being undertaken by an interim boss who, based upon the daily whims of an outgoing owner, may or may not be the man to lead Hull into that 38-game battle.

Phelan previously served as interim manager for Norwich City in 2015, for a period totaling four days.

Int’l Champions Cup: Aurier scores twice as PSG throttle Inter Milan

Paris Saint-Germain's Serge Aurier, right, gets a shot past Inter Milan goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, left, in the first half of the International Champions Cup soccer match at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., Sunday, July 24, 2016. (Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard via AP)
Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard via AP
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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) Serge Aurier scored twice and Paris Saint-Germain beat Inter Milan 3-1 on Sunday at the University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium.

Layvin Kurzawa also scored for PSG on a free kick in the 61st minute in the International Champions Cup match. Stevan Jovetic scored for Inter Milan on a penalty kick in stoppage time following the first half.

Autzen Stadium, the home football field of the Oregon Ducks, hosted the match, part of the International Champions Cup. Real grass was laid down on the artificial turf field, obscuring the yellow `O’ at midfield.

The International Champions Cup is an exhibition tournament involving 17 teams playing on four different continents. It serves a tuneup for the regular season.

Inter Milan was coming off a 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake earlier in the week in Utah. Striker Mauro Icardi played in that match, and was given the day off against PSG.

Paris Saint-Germain, which beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1 its last time out on July 14 in Austria, is embarking on its first season under Unai Emery, who took over for Laurnet Blanc. In addition to the new manager, PSG will also need to adjust to the departure of enigmatic forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who signed with Manchester United earlier this month.

Ibrahimovic had 38 goals in 31 French league games last season, helping PSG to a fourth successive title. On Sunday midfielder Javier Pastore wore No. 10.

Angel Di Maria, Edinson Cavani and Thomas Meunier entered as subs for Paris Saint-Germain in the second half.

Di Maria had just returned to his club team earlier in the week after taking some time off following the Copa America tournament. He played for his native Argentina in the final, which Chile won on penalty kicks.

David Luiz apparently did not make the trip to Eugene from Los Angeles, where PSG was training.

Aurier, who played in the 2014 World Cup for his native Ivory Coast, left-footed the rebound of a free kick off goalkeeper Samir Handanovic into the bottom left corner.

Inter Milan evened it on Jovetic’s penalty kick into the top right corner in extra time following the first half. The penalty was awarded when Lucas Moura was called for a handball.

Aurier had a good chance in the 57th minute but his shot hit the crossbar. A few minutes later, Kurzawa struck a perfectly placed free kick that Handanovic couldn’t reach that put PSG in front.

Aurier’s second goal was a header off a cross from Alec Georgen in the 87th minute.

Is MLS MVP a three-horse race at the All-Star “break”?

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco laughs after being named Major League Soccer's 2015 Most Valuable Player in Toronto, Wednesday, Dec.  2, 2015. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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With the 2016 MLS All-Star Game set to be played Thursday night (versus Arsenal, at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif.), it got me thinking about the race for this year’s Most Valuable Player award. (If MLS is going to continue holding the All-Star Game every year — and they are — it should include an actual break, as is the case in all other America sports.)

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While the field is a small one at this point of the campaign, it’s also much closer than it was last year, when Sebastian Giovinco took home the honor in an absolute landslide of a vote.

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

The reigning MVP is on pace for something of a come-down in his second season in MLS, but when you put up 22 goals and 16 assists in your debut campaign, can you really expect to replicate that kind of production from one year to the next? Still, 11 goals (on the most shots in the league – 124) and 7 assists through 20 games (Giovinco has played in 19) has him on pace for 18 goals and 12 assists. Of course, when you consider he snapped a skid of eight games without a goal with a hat trick Saturday night, and that he’s unlikely to endure such a slump through the final 14 games, 18 and 12 should be considered the proverbial floor.

TFC have scored just 25 goals this season, and Giovinco has scored or assisted 18 of them (72 percent).

As for TFC’s present standing and how that impacts Giovinco’s MVP candidacy, fifth place through 20 games is a disappointment considering this was to be “the year” where they were less of a collection of talent, and more a functional team. Of course, injuries (and national team call-ups) have robbed the Reds of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Will Johnson for lengthy periods already. That TFC find themselves presently a playoff team, and a measly six points back of the Eastern Conference’s top spot with two games in hand, should benefit Giovinco’s case more than hurt it.

David Villa, New York City FC

This one’s pretty simple: NYCFC weren’t supposed to be anywhere near the top spot of the East this season, yet that’s where they find themselves at the break, and Villa has spearheaded their unlikely run by scoring 13 goals (most in MLS – on 117 shots – 46 more than the next-closest player) and one assist through 22 games (Villa has played in 21). The question is this, though: will Patrick Vieira’s side still be there come the end of the season? So much of Villa’s claim to MVP is that he’s been the best player on one of the best (and certainly most surprising) teams in MLS this year.

If they’re to fall back into the pack (they’re just two points clear of the New York Red Bulls following Sunday’s 4-1 derby disaster, and only four points from fourth), Villa will quickly fall from MVP candidate to “the best best player on a subpar team.”

New York City FC forward David Villa, left, and New York City FC defender Chris Wingert celebrate Villa's early goal during the first half of the match between New York City FC and Toronto FC, Sunday, July 12, 2015, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
(AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact

The Impact have, for my money, the most complete roster in the Eastern Conference. Didier Drogba is arguably the most dominant goal-scoring force MLS has ever seen (8 goals in 12 appearances this season; 11 in 11 last year), and the depth in midfield and defense is unparalleled, yet Piatti has been the unrivaled star through the first 20 games of the season (he has played in 18). His 12 goals and 5 assists are rivaled only by Giovinco’s numbers, and he’s been a far more consistent contributor than the Italian (never more than three games without a goal, while playing as a non-forward, unlike Giovinco).

The knock on Piatti has always been his inability to stay healthy and approach a pace of 30 appearances in a single season. Finally consistently healthy in 2016, he’s taken his short-term production and replicated that same kind of output over 90 percent of his team’s games this season. If he can reach 30 games played this year, Piatti has the best chance of stopping Giovinco from becoming the first back-to-back MVP winner in league history.

Montreal Impact's Ignacio Piatti, left, of Argentina, scores a goal as Vancouver Whitecaps' Kendall Waston, of Costa Rica, defends during first half MLS soccer action, in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Sunday, March 6, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

On the fringe, with a chance to catch the leaders: Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls – 5 goals, 12 assists), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers – 9 goals, 5 assists)