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.”

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.”

MLS Cup Playoffs: Seattle Sounders 1-0 Sporting KC (video)

Seattle Sounders defender Roman Torres, right, exchanges words with Sporting Kansas City's Kevin Ellis, left, and Soni Mustivar, center, after Sounders' midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (not shown) was given a yellow card for a foul against midfielder Roger Espinoza in the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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The game in 100 words (or less): There’s a ton to unpack here, so we’ll dive right in. The Seattle Sounders topped Sporting Kansas City in the final knockout-round game of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs. Nelson Valdez scored the game’s only goal, an 88th-minute header, but not without supreme controversy. For starters, Valdez was offside as Joevin Jones played the ball into the box, just as Matt Besler was on a free kick for Sporting earlier in the second half. Besler’s goal was ruled out for offside, Valdez’s was allowed to stand. Benny Feilhaber, perhaps in his final game for Sporting, played like a man possessed and so nearly singlehandedly won the game for Sporting at multiple points on the night. Stefan Frei stood on his head and refused to allow such an occurrence. Osvaldo Alonso could have been sent off twice on the night — once on a straight red; once on a second yellow — but finished the game with just a single caution. Up next, the Sounders will take on Supporters’ Shield-winning FC Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

10′ — Zusi hits the post with a strike through traffic — Benny Feilhaber’s through ball to set up this double-chance for Sporting in sumptuous, and fully deserving of a proper finish.

53′ — Besler heads home, but he’s offside — This is about as close an onside/offside decisions get.

79′ — Frei denies Feilhaber after a spectacular run — Feilhaber’s run was mesmerizing, but Stefan Frei’s save was the tiniest bit better.

88′ — Valdez heads home the late winner — If Besler was offside, Valdez was offside. An unfitting end to a thrilling game.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Benny Feilhaber

Goalscorers: Valdez (88′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: D.C. United 2-4 Montreal Impact (video)

CORRECTS DATE - Montreal Impact forward Matteo Mancosu, back, celebrates his goal with Ignacio Piatti (10) during the first half of an MLS playoff soccer match against D.C. United, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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The game in 100 words (or less): There are epic playoff collapses, and there is the MLS Cup Playoffs abomination put forth by D.C. United on Thursday. Playing host to a Montreal Impact side that won just two of its last eight regular-season games and crawled over the finish line, United — winners of four of their last five and one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch — no-showed Thursday’s knockout-round tie, and their season is deservingly finished. Laurent Ciman put the Impact ahead inside the first five minutes, and United never recovered or seemed the least bit urgent with their season on the line. Matteo Mancosu bagged a brace either side of halftime to make it 3-0, and Ignacio Piatti, who was his usual brilliant self — so good, in fact, he made you forget Didier Drogba was unavailable due to injury/dispute over his role as a substitute — added a fourth not long before full-time. Lamar Neagle grabbed a late consolation goal for United, bringing them back to 4-1 before Taylor Kemp fired a laser past Evan Bush for 4-2 late in stoppage time, but that’s as close as they’d get. Up next for the Impact, it’s the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three moments that mattered

4′ — Ciman slots home from a corner for 1-0 — An absolute dream start for Montreal, as Ciman gets front side of his marker and benefits from a fortunate bounce after he scuffs the shot.

43′ — Mancosu slams home Piatti’s cross for 2-0 — Someone tell DCU that the knockout round is most definitely win-or-go-home. Horrific defending. Ball-watching all over the place. This is not the same team that won four of their last five in order to host this game.

58′ — Mancosu heads home at the near post for 3-0 — Steve Birnbaum has not had the greatest end to the 2016 season. Stay healthy, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Matteo Mancosu

Goalscorers: Ciman (4′), Mancosu (43′, 58′), Piatti (83′), Neagle (90′), Kemp (90+4′)

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.