Chelsea's Juan Mata reacts during their game against Swindon Town in their English League Cup soccer match at the County Ground in Swindon

Fit, value, circumstance: Initial reaction to Mata’s potential $65 million United move

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That Chelsea would even consider selling Juan Mata to Manchester United speaks of the depths to which the Red Devils have fallen, but since we’re completely embracing the extremes of this post-Alex Ferguson climate, we might want to consider the scenario that’s emerged Tuesday evening. That possibility has Mata, out of favor at Stamford Bridge ever since José Mourinho’s began picking favorites, moving to Manchester for $65.8 million (£40 million).

Setting aside the story’s veracity (it is a soccer rumor, after all) and that eye-bulging price, Mata would be an ideal fit for a United team that’s lacked creativity all season. With the absence of Wayne Rooney forcing 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj in from the wing to play behind Danny Welbeck, the club’s lack of playmaking options has been exposed. While some would say Shinji Kagawa’s a logical solution, David Moyes’ inability to craft a role for the talented Japanese international underscores the need for Mata. For as baffling as Mata’s exclusion as been in Stamford Bridge, Kagawa’s has been equally puzzling in Stretford.

When Rooney and van Persie return, Mata can play behind each, though the Spaniard’s defensive liabilities mean Rooney would have to pick up the slack. But given the lack of creativity in United’s team, that’s a tactical risk Moyes and Ed Woodward should accept. While Mata’s acquisition might require more imagination in how the Red Devils set up their team, the potential rewards shouldn’t be ignored.

If United is able to pull off the move, it would be adding one of the most productive players over the Premier League’s last two seasons. During that time, Mata recorded 18 goals and 30 assists in league play. Expand the scope to all competitions, and the Spanish international’s scored 32 times while setting up 55 others between August 2011 and May 2013.

This year, however, Mata’s been lost. Mourinho’s offseason arrival cost him his starting spot, with the 17 appearances he has made producing only one goal and three assists. Also linked with Paris Saint-Germain, Mata’s been a constant fixture on this month’s rumor mill, and with his team, having put a concrete price on one of their most talented players, speculation about Mata’s Chelsea future is bound to increase.

There are two big questions about the potential move. The first is whether the possibility even makes sense, but given the outlet (The Guardian), two trusted reporters in the byline, and the level of specifics in the report, this looks like one of the more solid transfer reports. Short of a direct quote from one the deal’s principals, there’s little more you could ask from a transfer rumor.

The destination makes sense, too. For the last decade, it would have been difficult to imagine Chelsea and United swamping such a high-profile talent. United’s swoon to seventh place, however, puts the prospect in a different light. Instead of helping a fellow title contender, Chelsea would be casting Mata into the battle for fourth. With the Blues done with United for the season, there’s no chance Mata could hurt Chelsea’s title hopes.

source: Reuters
Struggling in their first season under David Moyes (pictured) Manchester United have fallen from first to seventh in the Premier League. Only the league’s top four finishers qualify for UEFA Champions League. (Photo: Reuters.)

The money, however, is the second big question. Should United pay a club record $65.8 million for Mata? As far as on-field effects, few players are probably worth that money, but the players who can change games come at a premium. Although he hasn’t changed a game in a few months, Mata still carries that reputation. Particularly if PSG are still interested, Chelsea can justify setting an outrageous price.

From United’s point of view, this could be spun as a somewhat cost-conscious move. If the difference between seven and four (perhaps no Europe and Champions League) is acquiring somebody like Mata, the transfer fee could be justified. Going out in the Round of 16 last year, Manchester United made $46.8 million in Champions League revenue. If obtaining Mata also decreases the likelihood of a sell off that would preclude qualifying beyond 2013-14, the 25-year-old’s cost could be seen as a means to secure a financial end.

But that reasoning further underscores how much has changed in eight months. In May, Mata was an indispensable player for Chelsea. Now, his best use might be generating more room between Chelsea’s spending and the Financial Fair Play margins. And for Manchester United, they’ve gone from running away with the Premier League to pursuing players who can salvage their Champions League hopes. Unfortunately, those players are extremely expensive, with their scarcity meaning the Red Devils may have to line a rivals’ pockets.

Premier League Preview: Man City vs. Tottenham

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  • Spurs aiming to win seven-straight PL games
  • Man City 10 points off leaders Chelsea
  • Tottenham beat City 2-0 in October

A massive clash between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur takes place on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

Pep Guardiola has all but conceded the Premier League title following City’s humbling 4-0 defeat at Everton last time out, but Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino are on a roll with six-straight PL wins under their belt and are seven points off leaders Chelsea.

Guardiola and Pochettino clashed as both players and managers during their time living and playing in Barcelona (Guardiola at FC Barcelona and Pochettino at Espanyol) and after Guardiola’s dominance in Spain and Germany as a coach, it is Pochettino who goes into this game as the favorite with Harry Kane and Dele Alli in superb form for in-form Spurs.

[ VIDEO: Spurs’ stunning new stadium

In team news City will be without the suspended Fernandinho but Gabriel Jesus could make his debut, while Spurs will be without the injured duo of Jan Vertonghen and Erik Lamela.

What they’re saying

Pochettino on Spurs’ improvement since he took charge: “It’s true that now we are in a very good period and all that is related to Tottenham is exciting – you can see here, the new stadium, the squad – all that is happening is very positive. It is true that in two-and-a-half years before I arrived here, you related Tottenham some good, some not so good and today it is looking like we are the best team in the world. That is very good. The hard work is to keep that feeling. It will be difficult but we will try.”

Guardiola on Tottenham’s style of play: “Tottenham dominate really high and are one of the best teams in the Premier League. They are quite similar to Chelsea but they move a little bit more. They know exactly where the other players are. They have the quality to move in small spaces.”

Prediction

Somehow I just think Man City will come out flying after all of the recent criticism and put in a big performance. In the big games this season they’ve stood up, beating Manchester United and Arsenal and leading against Chelsea before collapsing in the second half. Call me crazy, but I think Pep’s men will bag a big 2-0 win to momentarily close the gap to Chelsea to seven points.

Klopp says Liverpool have “had things harder” than title rivals

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Jurgen Klopp is happy with the resilience shown by his Liverpool side as they’ve won just once in five games in all competitions so far in 2017.

[ VIDEO: Spurs’ stunning new stadium ]

Klopp’s men have drawn two Premier League encounters, while a weakened Reds side also drew with lower league Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup third round (before beating them in a replay) and lost at Southampton in the first leg of their EFL Cup semifinal.

Ahead of their clash with Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) Klopp believes his team are battling through well after having four games in 10 days.

“In recent weeks we’ve had things harder than any of the other top teams and I’m really pleased with how my team has coped,” Klopp said. “We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Klopp has come under criticism for fielding weakened teams against Plymouth and Southampton in the cup competitions, but surely Liverpool’s focus has to be on the Premier League and challenging for the title? If they beat bottom of the table Swansea on Saturday then Klopp’s side will momentarily go four points behind leaders Chelsea who play against Hull City on Sunday.

Still, Klopp complaining about the amount of games Liverpool has to play is nothing compared to what the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal will face in the coming weeks. With European action starting back next month, plus all four of the aforementioned sides still in the FA Cup (Manchester United are also in the EFL Cup too), Liverpool won’t be the club complaining about a fixture backlog.

The Reds may be struggling to stay on top of things right now but this time next month Klopp can have no complaints as Liverpool’s competitors battle with severe fixture congestion. That said, there are plenty of theorists out there suggesting that Klopp’s Gegenpressing methods often leave his teams tired towards the end of the campaign. If that is the case then Liverpool must get as many points on the board as soon as possible, starting with what looks like an easy home win against Swansea on Saturday.

There is never an easy game in the Premier League and it seems like Klopp knows his players are feeling the strain after a busy few weeks.

Tottenham’s stunning new stadium taking shape

Tottenham Hotspur has released the first images of the premium experiences inside their new stadium.  One of the premium spaces, the Sky Lounge on level nine, will offer panoramic views of the pitch and across London. The stadium is set to open in 2018, but premium packages are now available to buy.
Tottenham Hotspur
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LONDON — Over the past few months Tottenham Hotspur’s new 61,000 stadium adjacent to their current White Hart Lane home seems to have been rising another 10 meters into the sky on a weekly basis.

Like Tottenham’s current Premier League title challenge, momentum is building.

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On Thursday Pro Soccer Talk was invited to check out the new premium seating options at the stadium which will become the largest club venue in London when it opens in 2018, and also home to at least two NFL games per season from 2018 until 2028. The National Football League will become a big part of this stadium when it is up and running.

The tour included augmented and virtual reality, as a virtual tour around the swanky Tunnel Club area, H Club and Sky Lounge were backed up by the incredible pitchside view of the 17,000 one-tier south stand which will resemble something similar to the Kop at Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall, making it the largest single-tier stand in the UK.

[ PHOTOS: Check out Spurs’ new stadium ]

Hanging out in Lilywhite House, Tottenham’s club offices currently in the shadows of the cranes which encircle the new stadium, manager Mauricio Pochettino spoke to the press on Thursday ahead of their massive clash against Manchester City this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Pro Soccer Talk asked Pochettino if the project at Tottenham is further along the line than he expected at this point and the Argentine coach said they are currently “a thousand miles ahead” in football terms compared to the 2014-15 campaign when he took charge.

“I don’t know, that is too difficult for me to judge because we are ambitious and we want to win every game. I think if we go backwards to our first season and we now start to see, analyse and judge and I think we are a thousand miles ahead but in football it’s about belief, it’s about faith, it’s about working hard and it’s true that the club has moved on in two-and-a-half years,” Pochettino said. “That was our expectation – to push and move the club quickly, but sometimes it’s not possible.

“It’s true that now we are in a very good period and all that is related to Tottenham is exciting – you can see here, the new stadium, the squad – all that is happening is very positive. It is true that in two-and-a-half years before I arrived here, you related Tottenham some good, some not so good and today it is looking like we are the best team in the world. That is very good. The hard work is to keep that feeling. It will be difficult but we will try.”

I have to admit I felt slightly dizzy as I popped on the virtual reality goggles, such was the vividness of the experience as I took a trip around the premium areas of the new stadium. It felt like I was there walking around, bumping into fans enjoying a drink and then I walked out (using a controller to guide me) of a tunnel and into the stadium bowl itself. What a view.

tunnel-club

What struck me was just how close you still are to the pitch at the new White Hart Lane. In many new stadiums across the globe that isn’t the case. One of White Hart Lane’s best current features, and most favorable for Spurs, is how close the fans are to the pitch and that in turn creates an intimidating and inspiring atmosphere.

The new White Hart Lane is set up to not only be a place where the premium experience is mind-blowing, but also where the average fan can generate a phenomenal atmosphere. It all knits together perfectly as the premium seating is located on the east and west stands and the atmosphere will be generated by Tottenham’s hardcore fans behind both goals.

One of the most impressive premium areas is the Tunnel Club, where you can see the players walking out for games in a one-way window as you see in many sporting venues in the U.S. but this is the first-time you can experience anything like this in the Premier League. It will cost a cool $11,681 to have a season ticket there, which can only be bought in pairs. So, $23,362 all in for a season. However, getting the chance to see Harry Kane and Co. in the tunnel in the final moments before kick off, plus maybe a bit of a scuffle at half time or full time with opponents after a fiery encounter, can you really put a price on that?

“It’s dangerous, dangerous,” Pochettino laughed when asked about the Tunnel Club view. “Because there have been a lot of things in the tunnel. It is for that reason that it will be very expensive.”

Overall, premium seating can be purchased for as little as $109 per game, while suites can be purchased by companies and not only used on matchdays but also during the week as their hub.

But this project is about more than creating more luxurious seats for Spurs fans.

stadium-south-transport

It is no secret that the area surrounding Tottenham’s home is one of the most deprived in London. It hasn’t received much funding from the council or government and if it wasn’t for this new stadium project — dubbed the Northumberland Development Project — then the area wouldn’t have a bright future.

Now it does as Spurs are the main stimulus for regeneration as over $360 million is expected to be generated for the area each year.

Over 3,500 new jobs will be created in various capacities thanks to the project, with the London Academy of Excellence opening up a site in the complex this year, plus housing, shops, bars and restaurants all adding to the matchday experience around the Lane.

Local companies and produce will be used and infrastructure will improve drastically in this forgotten section of north London.

Much like the Barclays Center rejuvenated Downtown Brooklyn and the surrounding areas, you can expect Tottenham High Road to be unrecognizable in years to come as the entire area gets a massive boost and gentrification takes place.

When it comes to the NFL, a separate artificial turf pitch is ready for NFL games right away as the grass pitch Spurs play on will slide out and be looked after in a designated area outside the stadium bowl. Four separate locker rooms and areas just for the NFL teams visiting will be built and it will bring over $160 million in extra revenue to the area over the 10-year deal.

With the NFL looking to bring a franchise to London in the years to come, everything is set up to house a potential London NFL team at the new White Hart Lane.

nfl-wide-image

With this incredible stadium rising from the ground at a rapid rate while the old heart of Spurs sits in its shadows on adjacent ground, there will be a nod to the old White Hart Lane in the “Tottenham Experience” museum. That is set to guide fans through just what the old stadium was like and some of the original White Hart Lane buildings and monuments will still be kept.

The past will still be present.

Striking a balance between bringing in cutting-edge technology and keeping tradition is difficult in the modern era, but so far Spurs seem to be hitting the nail on the head.

Plus, Spurs’ new home will feature the world’s first stadium micro-brewery which will produce 1 million pints of craft beer per year and 10,000 pints per minute and also the longest general admission bar in a UK stadium at 86.8 meters long. It will also have a cheese room, artisan bakery and Michelin star dining. Cheers indeed.

Exciting times ahead for Tottenham and their local community as one of the most ambitious stadium projects in Premier League history continues to take shape.

Chelsea confirm Diego Costa available for selection

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Diego Costa is once again available for Chelsea.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

In his press conference on Friday, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte revealed that Costa would be available for selection against Hull City at Stamford Bridge on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Costa, 28, is Chelsea’s leading scorer in the Premier League with 14 goals and five assists and he also leads the PL charts in scoring. However, he was not in the squad for their 3-0 win at Leicester City last weekend after news broke of a possible training ground bust up with Conte and his staff amid a back injury.

Since then reports have stated that clubs from the Chinese Super League were offering Costa over $368,000 per week which may have unsettled him, but after training on his own earlier this week and then rejoining the team in the past few days he is now ready to return and lead Chelsea’s title charge once more.

Speaking to the media, Conte revealed that Costa is no longer struggling with a back issue and is fully fit to participate for the Premier League leaders.

“He is available for the game against Hull City. He started to have a training session on Tuesday with the rest of the team. He trained very well. He trained very well. He is good fitness. His pain in his back, he hasn’t had pain in his back. For this reason he is available for the game against Hull City. On Sunday and Monday Diego trained not for himself but for Tuesday to have the training session with us. He trained with a fitness coach. Not alone.”

Conte also stated that he usually has a chat with his players every week with his players, both individually and together. But what about Costa’s future after plenty of links with a move to China? His agent Jorge Mendes was reportedly discussing a move to Tianjin Quanjian which broke down last week and Conte believes Costa will remain at Stamford Bridge for the rest of this season.

“I think the player wants to stay at Chelsea, he is happy to stay here and play for us,” Conte said. “I don’t see any problem with our team. I heard a lot of speculation about Diego, but now the most important thing is he trained with us this week, he does not have any pain in his back and can play.”

This is a massive boost for Chelsea as they look to extend their seven point lead at the top of the table, but Conte wouldn’t confirm if Costa was fit enough to start against Hull.

“Diego is an important player for us. We all know this. When he stays in a good form he has always played for me,” Conte said. “I will see on Sunday [if he starts against Hull]. I don’t want to give an advantage to our opponents.”

With Costa’s mind seemingly back on matters at Chelsea despite a monster contract offer from China lingering in the background, news that he is back fit and ready to score goals will send a shudder of disappointment through Chelsea’s title rivals in the Premier League.