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.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

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

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.