Britain Soccer Premier League

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

Leave a comment

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.”

source:
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.”

Premier League Preview: Arsenal vs. Stoke City

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02:  Stephen Ireland of Stoke City shoots a volley during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Southampton at the Emirates Stadium on February 2, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Arsenal has won last 14 matches against Stoke
  • Gunners are currently unbeaten in last 13 PL fixtures
  • Stoke has gone unbeaten in eight of last nine matches

Arsenal looks to remain hot on Saturday as the Gunners host Stoke City (10 a.m. ET, NBCSN and streaming via NBC Sports Live) from the Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners remain in contention at the summit of the Premier League as Arsene Wenger‘s side sits second behind league leaders Chelsea on 31 points. In addition to Arsenal’s recent success in the PL, the Gunners have progressed to the final 16 in the UEFA Champions League as well, making 2016/17 a potentially strong year for the London side.

Alexis Sanchez continues to lead the way for the Gunners attack, with the Chilean international notching 11 goals so far this season. In his last 25 PL matches for the club, Sanchez has either scored or assisted on as many goals for the Gunners.

[ MORE: Everton heads to Vicarage Road to face Watford ]

Stoke remains without several top pieces in its lineup, including U.S. Men’s National Team defender/midfielder Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross, however, Bruno Martins Indi and Marko Arnautovic are expected to play for the Potters.

The Emirates has not been friendly to Stoke though in recent years, with the Potters only scoring three goals in their last eight visits while conceding on 19 occasions.

What they’re saying

Arsene Wenger on Arsenal’s progression throughout the season: “We have a good team dynamic, we have a very strong team spirit and we have more maturity, definitely. Unfortunately, the teams around us have more as well. You can assess the Premier League as very open and very interesting… December is a very important month and for us even more because we have some big games. Stoke is another challenge for us [to show] that we can reset, refocus and continue our development and take the points.”

Mark Hughes on Stoke’s solid play against PL’s top sides“In the past as a club we’ve struggled to get results at places like Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge but we’ve been able to do that in recent times. This is the only one left standing so it would be great to get it out of the way. Our recent form is good and we’re in good heart so confidence is high, that is huge in football, so we’ll be able to benefit from that. It’s up to us to restrict them to minimal chances and make sure we’re creating chances when going the other way.”

Prediction

The Gunners can make it 14 straight matches unbeaten on Saturday, and while Stoke has done well to start the season, it’s highly likely that Arsenal will continue its winning ways. Alexis Sanchez is a Golden Boot contender in England, while the backline has improved every match for the Gunners. While the club has received its deserved criticisms in the past for faltering at critical junctures of the season, 2016/17 could be the year that Arsene Wenger and co. break through in the PL. Arsenal 3-1 Stoke

Premier League Preview: Watford vs. Everton

WATFORD, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 09:  Jose Holebas (1st R) of Watford scores his team's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Everton at Vicarage Road on April 9, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
Stephen Pond/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Everton are unbeaten in 11 straight matches vs. Watford (all comps)
  • Troy Deeney is one goal shy of 100 in Hornets kit
  • Toffees have won just one of last nine in PL

Watford hosts Everton on Saturday (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and streaming via NBC Sports Live) from Vicarage Road as the two clubs look to keep pace in the running with the Premier League’s top six.

The Hornets have lost three of four in the PL and currently sit 11th in the table on 18 points. In that span, Watford has been outscored 11-4, including the team’s brutal 6-1 defeat at Liverpool in early November.

Etienne Capoue leads the way for Watford in the goals department, with five on the season, while Troy Deeney has three of his own and sits just one away from notching his 100th for the club. Defending his been a bit of an issue though for the Hornets — who have conceded 24 in 14 matches — with only four teams allowing more goals this season.

[ MORE: Swansea remain committed to Bob Bradley despite struggles ]

Everton could potentially have to deal without Yannick Bolasie for the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury, while Seamus Coleman is expected to play after sustaining a head injury a week ago.

The Toffees enter Saturday with just one win out of their last nine, and while one point separates Ronald Koeman‘s side from sixth place Manchester United, a victory is very much needed for the Merseyside club. While Romelu Lukaku continues to carry the load up front for Everton with seven goals thus far, the Toffees rank mid table in terms of goals scored this season (17).

What they’re saying

Walter Mazzarri on importance of upcoming fixtures for Watford: “It’s very important. The next six games will probably decide our future and decide if we are going to be in the Premier League. It will decide in a certain way, if we are going to be up or playing in a different way and struggling more. These games will decide this. We have been unlucky on injuries and have been in a bit of an emergency for a couple of months.”

Ronald Koeman on Everton striker Romelu Lukaku’s form: “You can have a good run of scoring goals and then have a bit of time where you don’t really get big chances to score. The players around him need to create more and he can improve in his movements – it’s a team question to create more chances. But if he gets the chances, we always know he will score goals.”

Prediction

Both sides enter Saturday’s encounter in desperate need of a victory, but Everton’s last time out against Manchester United was a bit more encouraging. It won’t be an easy task to take points at Vicarage, however, I expect the Toffees to come away with something against the struggling Hornets. Watford 2-2 Everton

Strootman has 2-match ban for Rome derby melee lifted

ROME, ITALY - DECEMBER 04:  Kevin Strootman of AS Roma celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and AS Roma at Stadio Olimpico on December 4, 2016 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ROME (AP) Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman has had a two-match ban lifted on appeal, clearing him to play key matches against AC Milan and Juventus.

Strootman had been banned for instigating a melee after scoring during Sunday’s Rome derby.

After the goal and an extended celebration, words appeared to be exchanged as Roma’s players walked back onto the field alongside Lazio’s bench.

[ MORE: MLS Cup Final preview ]

Strootman appeared to toss water from a bottle at Lazio’s Danilo Cataldi, who reacted by tugging the neck of Strootman’s shirt as the Netherlands midfielder walked away.

That prompted both benches to get involved.

Cataldi, who had been on the bench, was given a red card while Strootman was shown a yellow.

The two-match ban was decided on Monday, with league officials deciding that Strootman simulated falling to the ground after Cataldi grabbed his shirt.

However, the football federation’s appeals court determined that the simulation could not be proven.

Besides a one-match ban for the red card, Cataldi’s full punishment has not been announced yet.

Roma won the derby 2-0.

The second-place Giallorossi host Milan on Monday and then visit Serie A leader Juventus.

Watford “Behind The Badge” airs third installment; Catch up on Episode 2 here

Leave a comment

Catch up on Watford’s look “Behind The Badge” ahead of Sunday’s third episode of the four-part glimpse into one of the Premier League’s promoted sides.

The Hornets sit 11th, currently 7 points clear of relegation danger, and are giving fans a better idea of what’s been going on at Vicarage Road.

[ MORE: Behind the Badge archive

In an exclusive series, NBC Sports followed around the Hornets in a very similar fashion to HBO’s Hard Knocks which joins the preseason camp of one NFL team each summer.

Below is the schedule for the three remaining episodes on Watford, which you can watch on NBCSN and live online via NBCSports.com in the coming weeks, plus a link to watch episode one in full from last week.


First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Embedded above
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Follow @NicholasMendola