Can Mourinho's Chelsea send a message out to the rest of the league?

José Mourinho labels Manchester City ‘clear favorites’ to win Premier League

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Last week, it was Brendan Rodgers. This week, it’s Chelsea manager José Mourinho eager to label Manchester City as title favorites, and while that status is obvious to anybody who’s followed the first half of the Premier League season, it also marks another boisterous claim  in an active week for the Special One.

First there was his ‘like to cry’ gibe at Arsenal, the beginning of the Portuguese coach’s newfound crusade to promote the virtues of Englishness in soccer. Then it was his strange if slightly philosophical remarks about the Luis Suárez-Samuel Eto’o collision at the end of Sunday’s game. Now, the Chelsea manager is going to one of the common gags in the English managerial book, hoping to inflate expectations of the team he’s hoping to slow down.

From the Independent:

Asked whether he was up to his familiar tactic of deflecting attention from Chelsea and trying to heap the expectation and pressure upon a rival, Mourinho was dismissive. “You think I am? You think I’m capable of it? See the [City] squad, see the players, the number of goals, the strikers. Dzeko is the third striker of Man City. Dzeko. Pfff. Do you think I’m putting pressure on? Jovetic, is the fourth-choice striker. Pfff.”

This is the kind of jocularity England’s media missed while Mourinho was gone. Who else is good for a good “Pfff” in a quote, let alone two? What other manager, in the face of being asked about on their tactic to raising expectations, would double down on the whimsy?

But more so than his Arsenal and Suárez complaints, Mourinh0 latest missive may carry an element of truth. Manchester City may not win the Premier League, but right now, less than 12 hours before the league’s second half begins, they’re the clear favorites. While Mourinho’s persona forces people to assume he’s playing games, this game might reflect the league’s actual state of play. City is just that good, right now.

To Mourinho, City quality may keep any media tricks from having an effect:

Asked whether he thought City could feel the pressure of trying to win their second Premier League title in three seasons, he said: “I don’t think so. I think they know how good they are and I think they know they are the clear favourites. I don’t think they feel any pressure.”

Of course, it’s also possible these type of quotes create any pressure; rather, the idea that a few words can have such a profound effect may be little more than media narrative – something that portrays an importance that’s evident on the field.

If Manchester City don’t win the title, it will be because something we can’t currently foresee keeps them from it. Even if Mourinho, Rodgers, and every other manager in the Premier League simultaneously labeled them favorites, City aren’t going to be undone by some headlines and quotes.

USC wins NCAA women’s soccer national championship

Southern California's Morgan Andrews celebrates after scoring a goal against West Virginia during the first half in the NCAA Women's College Cup soccer final, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016 in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
AP Photo/Tony Avelar
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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Katie Johnson broke a tie in the 75th minute and Southern California won the NCAA women’s soccer title Sunday, beating top-ranked West Virginia 3-1 at Avaya Stadium on Sunday.

The second-seeded Trojans (19-4-2) also won the College Cup in 2007.

The Mountaineers (23-2-2) lost for the first time since a 1-0 setback to Georgetown on Sept. 18. West Virginia had a 17-game unbeaten streak snapped, and allowed three goals for the first all season.

Johnson, who also had the winning goal in USC’s 1-0 semifinal victory over Georgetown on Friday, was wide open in front of the net when Leah Pruitt took a pass up the left sideline, beat defender Easther Mayi Kith, and delivered a perfect cross. Johnson simply rolled the ball into the goal to the right of goalkeeper Rylee Foster.

Johnson scored again off an assist from Nicole Molen in the 87th minute.

The Trojans got on the board just 1:22 into play after Julia Bingham directed a corner kick to the top of the penalty box, where Savannah Levin headed the ball forward to Morgan Andrews, whose header from 5 yards eluded Foster.

West Virginia’s Ashley Lawrence, a member of the 2016 Canadian Olympic team, tied it in the 66th minute when she ripped a shot from the top left corner of the penalty box just inside the near post.

After USC took the 2-1 lead, the Mountaineers nearly drew even in the 81st minute on a shot by Heather Kaleiohi that was stopped on a diving save by goalkeeper Sammy Prudhomme.

The Mountaineers outshot USC 21-8 and held a 9-1 edge in corner kicks.

The Trojans joined North Carolina (21 titles), Notre Dame (3) and Portland (3) as the only multiple winners of the College Cup.

USC won its 126th national team title on the same day its men’s water polo team lost 10-8 to Cal in the NCAA final just 45 miles away in Berkeley.

West Virginia, in its first College Cup final, was hoping to claim its first NCAA title in any sport besides its co-ed rifle team, which has won 18 national titles.

VIDEO: 70-yard volley from Chile is nearly impossible to believe

Alejandro Camargo, Universidad de Concepcion
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His name is Alejandro Camargo, and he scored what might just go down as the best goal of 2016 on Sunday: an impossibly perfect volley from well beyond the halfway line.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

Miguel Pinto is the opposing goalkeeper whose long-range clearance, which covered about 50 yards during the final seconds of Universidad de Concepcion’s clash with O’Higgins in the Chilean first division, was taken off the fly, first-time, by the Argentine midfielder to seal a 3-1 victory for the home side.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

“The coach told us Pinto was always playing in advance of his goal, so I closed my eyes and hit it,” Camargo said after the game.

“Hit it and hope” has never looked so good.

Roma fans stay away from derby to protest new security barriers

A view of a huge section of empty seats as Roma fans desert derby in protest over security barriers, during a Serie A soccer match between Lazio and Roma, at the Rome Olympic stadium Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
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ROME (AP) Roma’s most ardent supporters stayed away from the derby match against Lazio in protest at barriers introduced at the start of last season in their area.

Normally filled with supporters waving huge banners, lighting flares and singing, half of the “curva sud” — southern end — of the Stadio Olimpico was left empty for Sunday’s match.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

Three of Roma’s locally born standouts held a meeting with the “ultra” fans during the week. Captain Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi asked the supporters to return, and the club itself has also tried to resolve the matter.

But the appeals had no effect.

In contrast, Lazio fans filled the northern end of the stadium as usual.

The plexiglass barriers were put in place by city officials for security reasons.

VIDEO: “Behind The Badge: Watford FC” — Episode 2

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In Episode 2 of Behind the Badge: Watford FC, watch the players’ recovery after a win against Leicester, a look at the club’s one-of-a-kind internship program and a flashback to a memorable moment in Watford’s history.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

To watch past episodes of Behind The Badge, including last season’s edition featuring a look inside Crystal Palace, head over to the full archive by clicking here.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

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