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.”

UEL: Saint-Etienne hope Beric comes to the rescue vs. Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Kevin Monnet-Paquet of Saint-Etienne in action during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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PARIS (AP) While Zlatan Ibrahimovic was scoring a hat trick in Manchester United’s win over Saint-Etienne in the Europa League last week, Robert Beric’s 11-minute substitute appearance at Old Trafford was barely noticed.

Still reeling from a hamstring injury, Beric’s cameo had little impact as Ibrahimovic ended Saint-Etienne’s 10-game unbeaten run in Europe by 3-0.

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Beric’s condition has improved since the heavy loss, and he featured in a French league game in Montpellier last weekend. The 1976 European Cup runner-up is hoping that’s enough for Beric to help it overturn their deficit against United on Wednesday in the last-32 return leg.

Beric, a versatile center-forward capable of playing with his back to goal and creating, joined Saint-Etienne last season. He’d scored 27 goals in 34 matches in his final season with Rapid Vienna, but was unable to replicate the feat in the French league because his progression was abruptly stopped by a serious right knee injury.

He is expected to start at Geoffroy Guichard Stadium after his teammates managed to force United goalkeeper Sergio Romero into only a single save from 14 shots last week.

“Beric is so skillful and astute in front of goal that we all want to give him a starting nod,” former Saint-Etienne striker Herve Revelli, now a club ambassador, told L’Equipe.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

United was carved open at times, but the French club was made to pay for its blatant lack of efficiency. Revelli insisted Beric can make a difference.

“He is likely to put our chances into the back of the net,” Revelli said.

With an estimated budget of close to 70 million euros, Saint-Etienne simply can’t afford the services of a world-class striker. When he joined the 10-time French champion for a reported six million euros, Beric became the third most expensive player signed by the club.

A humble player and a man of few words, Beric is somewhat the opposite of the self-infatuated Ibrahimovic.

Unlike Ibrahimovic, who once said he will be “God of Manchester,” Beric rarely speaks about himself and his rare comments on social networks are limited to praise of his teammates and Saint-Etienne fans.

Beric, who scored the last of his three league goals this season back in September, is not yet fully fit and should not be able to last the whole match. But Revelli is counting on his instinct for goals.

[ MORE: Guardiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” ]

“With him in a finisher role, I firmly believe in our chances,” said Revelli, Saint-Etienne’s all-time best scorer.

Saint-Etienne needs to find a way to stop Ibrahimovic, but history does not favor the home side.

During his time in France with Paris Saint-Gernain, Ibrahimovic was the scourge of Saint-Etienne, scoring 14 goals in 13 games in all competitions. He now has 17, including three hat tricks.

“It’s difficult to neutralize him. There is a possibility that we will set up an anti-Ibra plan,” Saint-Etienne coach Chirstophe Galtier said. “I don’t know what’s inside Zlatan, but for sure he likes to play against us. It’s not easy to score a hat trick in a European Cup game.”

Champions League Wednesday: Leicester’s last stand; Porto-Juve

SEVILLE, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 21:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City looks on during a press conference ahead of the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg against Sevilla FC at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on February 21, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Previewing Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League round-of-16 action…

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Leicester City vs. Sevilla

There’s no two ways about it: Leicester’s season — and perhaps their status as a Premier League club — is quickly spiraling out of control. The Foxes, just nine months after winning the PL title, sit 17th in the league table, one point clear of relegation, with 13 games still to play. Chances are, they won’t be back in the Champions League anytime soon, making Wednesday’s round-of-16 first-leg clash away to Sevilla all the more a monumental moment in the club’s history.

Where has hasn’t it gone wrong for Claudio Ranieri‘s side this season? If you’re of the mind that one player — N'Golo Kante in Leicester’s case — doesn’t make a team himself, then we’ll have to go one step further in diagnosing the stunning regression seen at the King Power Stadium this season: Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who combined to score 41 goals in the PL last season, have managed all of eight together in 2016-17. It’s the loss of Kante, though, that has left the defense forever exposed (43 goals conceded in 25 PL games, after conceding 36 in 38 all of last season), and the goal-getters forever feeding on scraps (24 goals scored, compared to 68 last season).

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]


Porto vs. Juventusfrom the AP

Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci will be left in the stands for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Porto as punishment for his outburst aimed at coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Allegri announced the move on Tuesday at the pre-match news conference, saying he had agreed it with club officials as “a fair decision, out of respect for the squad, the fans and the club.”

Bonucci became embroiled in a heated argument over substitutions with Allegri after a 4-1 win over Palermo on Friday.

Allegri also will punish himself for his angry reaction to Bonucci, announcing a donation to charity.

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer
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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”