Jose Mourinho lauds Chelsea’s defensive solidity, as title charge will come from the back

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LONDON — Deep into stoppage time on Saturday, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho stood on the edge of his technical area gesticulating more in hope than anything else.

His Chelsea side had battled hard against an extremely talented Everton team, and with 92 minutes gone the score was locked at 0-0.

Then Frank Lampard swung in a dipping free kick that John Terry looked to have got a touch on, as U.S. international Tim Howard saw the ball ricochet off his leg and into the back of the net to break Everton’s hearts. Stamford Bridge erupted, Terry and Chelsea’s players wheeled away in jubilation and Mourinho punched the air with delight.

Moments like those win you the Premier League title.

More than that, consistently excellent defensive displays will get you over the line as Chelsea continued to grind out wins and stay top of the standings.

(RECAP: Chelsea 1-0 Everton – Late goal seals crucial win to keep Blues top)

Saturday’s late 1-0 win was Chelsea’s fifth clean sheet in their last six games and stretched Mourinho’s unbeaten home record in the PL to 74 games. While failing to play up the confidence boost a last-minute strike will give his side in the title race, Mourinho lauded yet another top defensive display.

“The team showed big stability, it was another great defensive performance by the whole team,” Mourinho said. “It was the work of everybody, the team is strong defensively. The defensive organization is really strong.”

Chelsea skipper Terry returned to the team after missing three games through injury, and the crucial goal was later awarded to Terry, although it is likely to be examined by the dubious goals panel, as the fans favorite came up with the goods at both ends of the field.

Throughout the match Terry and his central defensive partner Gary Cahill look composed and solid. They both blocked superbly in the first half, as Chelsea’s league best defense looked impenetrable for most of the match as Cech only had one top save to make from Osman’s rasping long-range effort in the first half. Across the board Chelsea’s defense threw themselves into the action and really rolled up their sleeves, as they have done for much of the season.

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Captain John Terry has been sublime all season, as Chelsea have the best defensive record in the PL.

Chelsea’s captain has been instrumental for a team that’s only conceded 21 goals all season but Mourinho waxed lyrical about his entire defense.

“It is not just about John Terry, because the back four all defended superbly,” Mourinho said. “When you have your captain, your voice, he brings complete stability. Terry has a good partnership with Cahill. It was good, we missed him after he has been out for three games.”

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So, what does this late win mean for Chelsea’s title charge?

Mourinho is adamant his team will keep fighting to stay top, and believes every slip up will be punished by those the chasing pack. This is far from over.

“Today if we only have one point, if the teams behind us win, we lose that position,” Mourinho said. “The difference is very small, you win the game you keep the position. You lose the game you lose your position. This is the reality. We just want to try to keep the position. Not to give anything for free to our opponents, the position that is our position. We have to fight, we have to play. To me the better feeling was that the players did everything, the team wanted to win. We were the team that was really trying to win. A point for us is not good. I think we deserved to win.”

After yet another defiant defensive display and a late surge to score, Chelsea keep getting it done the same way. Grinding out wins is the stuff of Champions.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”