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UEFA Champions League Preview: Mourinho controversy unlikely to diminish Chelsea’s chances against Galatasaray

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After six months of playing puppeteer with the English media, José Mourinho’s found himself in the unaccustomed position of having to legitimately explain himself. Earlier this week, French broadcast outlet Canal Plus posted a video Mourinho intended to be off the record, one in which he derides the quality of Chelsea’s strikers while flippantly hinting Samuel Eto’o may be three years older than his listed age. In response, Mourinho implicitly called on the rest of the media to summon outrage at their French peers. Too enthralled as Mourinho stood at the corners of irony and Schadenfreude, the European media’s fanned a story that’s overshadowed Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League match at Galatasaray.

“I think you should be embarrassed as a media professional,” Mourinho said, “because, from an ethical point of view, I don’t think you should be happy – not you, but a colleague – is able to record a private conversation and make it public. You should all be a bit embarrassed because it’s against the ethics you have in your work. From an ethical point of view, it’s a real disgrace.”

In a world where Canal Plus decides releasing an unauthorized video of off-the-record comments in inappropriate, Mourinho’s reunion with former talisman Didier Drogba dominates the headlines ahead of Wednesday’s Round of 16 match. The tacit conflict between a Champions League winner at Inter Milan and the man who was fired his European failures with the Nerazzurri for (Gala boss Roberto Mancini) would prompt a vintage Mourinho clash of egos. And with Chelsea sitting atop the Premier League, we’d be debating whether the Blues deserved to be mentioned alongside Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Barcelona among the tournament favorites.

This is where Mourinho’s controversy and Chelsea’s Champions League reality intersect. Mourinho may not have wanted to go on record chastising his strikers, but it’s something we see every weekend. Samuel Eto’o is willing but aging. Fernando Torres remains inexplicable and streaky. Demba Be remains a footnote. The team’s deficient striker position continues to evolve into a reason to study tapes of Rudi Garcia’s Lille to see how Eden Hazard was used through the middle. The Belgian is already the undisputed focal point of Chelsea’s attack.

(MORE: UEFA Champions League Preview: Surging Real Madrid takes 26-match run to Schalke)

It’s why Chelsea’s striker conundrum may end up a red herring. Their position is their biggest weakness, but every team has issues. Even Bayern’s trying to get by with Jerome Boateng in central defense. Chelsea’s trying to make do with Eto’o as their lead striker, but with Hazard playing at his current level, the Blues are more than able to make up for that deficiency. Between him, Willian, and Oscar in the band of three behind Chelsea’s forward, Mourinho has enough potential to make up for his lack of power. Perhaps it’s not a team that’s going to put up a gaudy number of goals, but it is a side that can exploit any opening you give them.

“They have really good, fantastic players who can influence the outcome of a match,” Mancini said on Tuesday. “I believe Chelsea have an 80 percent chance of going through in this competition.”

source: APWith defensive midfielder Felipe Melo trying to protect a defense that lacks elite talents, Chelsea’s sure to create holes, if they want to. On the road in the first leg of a Champions League tie, Mourinho may also employ a conservative approach, knowing his team’s more than capable of both keeping a clean sheet at Turk Telekom and preventing an away goal in London. With John Terry (right), Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta having moved on from their fall stumbles, Chelsea can afford to play for a 0-0 in Istanbul.

“We are going to play to win,” was Mourinho’s customary denial of a conservative approach, “but we know they are strong and have special attacking players – even on the bench they have dangerous players like [Umut] Bulut. They have lots of goalscorers and we know they will attack us.”

In theory, Drogba is one of those threats, as is Wesley Sneijder, who teamed with Eto’o to win Mourinho the Champions League while the three were in Milan. Burak Yilmaz, one of the more prolific scorers in last year’s tournament, also represents a danger, but if the Turkish champions are going to threaten for their second consecutive quarterfinal spot, we’re just as likely to see a random scorer come through on a set piece as we are to get a high-paid stars win one-on-one battles against Chelsea’s talents.

That’s the big risk of Chelsea’s approach. If they play it too close to the vest, they risk a Sneijder free kick beating Petr Cech. They risk one piece of set piece execution putting them on their heels. They risk Drogba doing to them what he did to Bayern Munich in May 2012. There is a reason why Gala, not Juventus, made it out of their group. They’re capable.

But there’s also a reason why Chelsea’s alive and not Juventus. The Blues are a better team, making Turkish champions decided underdogs. And while Mourinho’s fears about his lack of strikers may be distracting, the problem’s not enough to make Mancini wrong about Chelsea’s chances.

Watch Live: Guatemala vs. T&T; Canada vs. Guyana in Olympic qualifying

Canadian players wave to fans after a 2-1 loss to England in a quarterfinal of the Women's World Cup soccer tournament, Saturday, June 27, 2015, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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Group B is set to kick off Thursday night at the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, as Canada, third-place finishers at the 2012 Olympics, begin their quest to qualify for this summer’s games in Rio de Janeiro.

Guyana versus Trinidad and Tobago is up first (6 p.m. ET) from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Tex, followed by the Canadians, who will take on Guyana (8:30 p.m. ET) in the nightcap.

[ WATCH LIVE: Guatemala vs. T&T live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

[ WATCH LIVE: Canada vs. Guyana live on line on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The U.S. women’s national began its Olympic qualifying campaign in impressive fashion on Wednesday with a 5-0 victory over Costa Rica, while Mexico jumped to the top of Group A with a 6-0 victory over Puerto Rico.

Sunderland terminate Adam Johnson’s contract after guilty pleas in sex case

Sunderland winger Adam Johnson arrives at Bradford Crown Court, England, Wednesday Feb. 10, 2016. Johnson has pleaded guilty in court to one count of sexual activity with a child and another of grooming. The 28-year-old Johnson, who has made 12 appearances for England, denies two charges of sexual activity with a girl under the age of 16. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE
Peter Byrne/PA via AP
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SUNDERLAND, England (AP) Sunderland has fired winger Adam Johnson after he pleaded guilty to grooming and sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl at the start of his trial.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Johnson, who has played 12 times for England, continues to deny two further counts of sexual activity with a child.

Sunderland dismissed Johnson ahead of his trial resuming on Friday at Bradford Crown Court.

[ MORE: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Sunday’s top-four battle royal ]

In a statement, Sunderland announced Thursday that “in light of Adam Johnson’s guilty pleas, the club has today terminated his contract with immediate effect.”

The former Manchester City player joined Sunderland in 2012 for 10 million pounds (now about $14.5 million).

Week 26: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Top-four battle royal

Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, right, lifts the ball over Leicester City’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel but fails to score during their English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City at the White Hart Lane stadium in London Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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Whoever says, “No one could have ever predicted Leicester City would be top of the league on Valentine’s Day,” is wrong.

One group of Premier League savants knew: the PL schedule makers, which is why this Sunday shall henceforth be known as “Super Duper Mega Uber Sunday,” as it’s 3rd versus 1st, and 4th versus 2nd.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Top-four battle royal, part 1

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — Sunday, 7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

Will Arsenal “Arsenal it up?” Will Leicester finally fall apart and blow the PL title, as they were supposed to have done weeks months ago? The battle of narratives in so strong in this one. Are Leicester really title favorites? Upon further review, they are. No PL team has won more points away from home this season than Leicester (28). Is another giant-slaying on the cards for the Foxes? At this point, who would be crazy enough to doubt them?

[ MORE: PL schedule, stream links ]

Top-four battle royal, part 2

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Sunday, 11:15 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

The last time Tottenham were ahead of Man City this late in the season will have to have been the final day of the 2009-10 season, when Spurs qualified for the UEFA Champions League just ahead of City. Heading into Sunday, a single point is all that separates the sides. When they met earlier this season, Spurs hammered City, to the tune of 4-1. The importance of three points speaks for itself, as either side could surge into a commanding place in the title race with a victory on Sunday.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings | Schedule | Stats ]

Man United’s top-four hopes hanging by a thread

Sunderland vs. Manchester United — Saturday, 6:45 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

As the PL’s top-four teams have kept winning in recent weeks, so too have Man United, to an extent. With that, the Red Devils are no closer to Champions League qualification today than they were three weeks ago before their mini-run of 11 points from six games. Only Aston Villa (10), who are rock bottom of the league, have won fewer points at home this season than Sunderland (12). United are currently six points back of 4th, so with at least two of the four sides ahead of them guaranteed to drop points on Sunday, it’s a big, big weekend for United to take of their own business and apply a little pressure.

[ MORE: The latest on those Mourinho-to-United rumors ]

The Fallen On Hard Times But Someone Has To Win (Maybe) Derby

Crystal Palace vs. Watford — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET (Premier League Extra Time)

When 2016 began, Crystal Palace were 5th in the PL. Unfortunately for them, the clock also struck midnight on what had been a hugely successful season to that point — five losses and one draw since, and they’re now 12th in the league table. The story is eerily similar for Watford, who were 7th after a Boxing Day draw with Chelsea — five losses, a draw and a win later, they’re 10th. A single point is all that separates Saturday’s combatants desperately hoping to regain their early-season form.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Is Roberto Martinez’s employment under review? It might be

Everton vs. West Bromwich Albion — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

Everton will be a fascinating club to watch as the 2015-16 season winds down. There’s essentially no chance of them finishing in the top-four or -five (12 and 6 points back, respectively), and they look essentially the same side that massively disappointed en route to an 11th-place finish last season — they’re atrocious and hugely naive defensively, which has been a characteristic of Roberto Martinez-managed teams since, well, the beginning of his managerial career. $100 million is a lot of money to spend over four transfer windows without any discernible progress.

Men In Blazers podcast: Leicester, Spurs continue to defy the odds

Men In Blazers - Sept. 22
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Rog and Davo break down Leicester City’s 3-1 win at Manchester City, marvel at Spurs going second in the table, and talk about the headlines surrounding the mid-table clash between Chelsea and United.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

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