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Premier League Preview: Despite Mourinho’s claims, title hopes on the line when Chelsea visits Manchester City

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If Chelsea can’t beat Manchester City at the Etihad, one might reckon nobody in the Premier League can.

Having scored 42 goals in their friendly confines, Manchester City have a chance to pick up an enormous win to not only go top of the table but shatter Chelsea’s hopes at finishing first.

The two teams meet in the City of Manchester Stadium at 3pm ET Monday on NBCSN and live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.  Coverage will begin at 2:30.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has been at his usual mind games ahead of the match, declaring that Manchester City should have won more titles in the recent years, but also oddly declaring they are “not title candidates” and that the Premier League title is “not what we’re working for.”

He also declared that Manchester City are not the best team in the world as Tottenham boss Tim Sherwood claimed, but instead, “They are lucky,” he declared, suggesting the referees have given them “everything in their favor.”

Lucky or good, Manchester City have a sparkling home record that has been highlighted week in and week out, and yet the longer it extends the more it bears repeating.

Not only do they have 42 of their 68 goals this season at home, but those goals have translated directly into points – a perfect 11 of 11 at the Etihad.

source: Getty Images
Even the calm, collected Pellegrini has trouble keeping his emotions in when he faces off with Jose Mourinho.

There is a history between Mourinho and City manager Manuel Pellegrini.  The former supplanted the latter after just one season at Real Madrid, which left Pellegrini bitter as ever at the lack of a serious opportunity to build a squad of his own.

He’s never let Mourinho live it down, and Jose has always held it over his counterpart’s head.  It didn’t help the situation that the Blues defeated their lighter-tinted opponents in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge in the midst of Joe Hart’s dark days.

Since then, Manchester City have embarrassed team after team at the Etihad, with scorelines like 7-0 over Norwich, 6-0 over Tottenham, 4-1 over Manchester United, and 6-3 over Arsenal.  No doubt Pellegrini would be delighted if he could add Chelsea to that ever-growing list.

However, with Chelsea on their own bit of a run, this could be Pellegrini’s toughest test at home thus far, and he will have to complete the quest without leading scorer Sergio Aguero who popped his hamstring midweek.

That means Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo will take over the reigns in City’s furious attack, something they did earlier in the season when Aguero missed time with the same problem, and the team didn’t miss a beat.

City won all five matches during that stretch, including 2-1 at home over Liverpool, and putting four past Fulham and three on Swansea both on the road. However, they are also dealing with a long-term injury layoff for Samir Nasri, and missing both will seriously impair their attack.

A key player in the battle, thanks to the injuries, may be Stevan Jovetic.  The Serbian has barely featured this season, but the quality summer addition can without question be a spark the team needs with the current nucleus on the sidelines.

Eventually, however, it all comes back to the managers.  Will Mourinho play disciplined defense and look to absorb pressure and counter City when given the chance? Or will they take the bull by the horns and press early? Will Pellegrini let his dogs loose from the get-go and look to shock the visitors, or will they sit back and build from defense?

And finally, Pellegrini will hope he can  get Mourinho off his shoulders and finally gazump the perpetual thorn in his side, but if anyone can stop the City train in its tracks, its Chelsea.  They’ve kept clean sheets at Old Trafford and the Emirates.  Is the Etihad next on the list?

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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