Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Tottenham

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All eyes on Stamford Bridge on Saturday, as Chelsea hope to extend their lead at the top of the table with a victory over fifth-placed Tottenham (Watch live on NBCSN, 12:30 p.m. ET and online via Live Extra).

A London Derby is always a tantalizing prospect, but with so much at stake, this one could provide a bit of extra intrigue. When Chelsea came to White Hart Lane back in September, John Terry canceled out Gylfi Sigurdsson’s opener, Fernando Torres played like a man possessed and saw himself sent off, and the match ended even. Now, Spurs need at least a point if they want to keep their hopes of playing in the Champions League next season alive.

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Tottenham are currently four points back of fourth, but as Manchester City have two games in hand – three, come the end of the weekend – it’s really more like six. Life under Tim Sherwood has been unpredictable, to say the least. Spurs destroyed Newcastle, only to lose to Norwich before squeaking out a 1-0 victory over Cardiff last week, thanks to a goal from Roberto Soldado.

With Sherwood’s managerial style seemingly boiling down to an ability to pump his side up from the sidelines, is there much hope that his Spurs side will be able to take points from José Mourinho’s men? It’s worth remembering that the Chelsea manager has yet to lose a league match at Stamford Bridge – not to mention the fact that the Blues are undefeated in their last thirteen games, winning ten of those matches.

That leaves Chelsea top of the table – although, again, Manchester City’s games in hand keeps them not quite so comfortable in that position. Mourinho needs a win, and considering he doesn’t need to worry about midweek action, he’ll be gunning for all three points. Samuel Eto’o played all 90 for Cameroon on Wednesday, so Torres, who didn’t get called up for Spain, could very well have the chance to prove himself to all those doubting the striker. And despite Eden Hazard taking a knock while playing for Belgium, it’s expected that the spectacularly in-form attacker will be available for Saturday’s clash.

What they’re saying

Sherwood on Spurs surprise factor:  “Sometimes when the expectation is not with you, it makes it a little bit easier,” said Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood. “Games against Chelsea at the Bridge, Arsenal at the Emirates and Liverpool at Anfield, perhaps the pressure’s off us a little bit and we can cause a surprise. We’re going to the Bridge, and that’s definitely tough, but sometimes expectancy works against you.”

Andre Schurrle on Chelsea’s title challenge: “We have to believe it. I think everyone believes it now. We have worked hard for this,” said the Blues’ midfielder, who scored a hat-trick last weekend in the win over Fulham. “We have to keep going, keep winning like we did at Fulham, then we will see at the end.”

Prediction

It just has to be Chelsea, doesn’t it? Sure, those who love Sherwood’s approach to management would love to see him outwit Mourinho, dealing a blow to the Portuguese’s ego. But Mourinho’s reputation isn’t undeserved, and there’s a reason Chelsea are top. Stability, predictability and yes, even a bit of boredom are likely to win out over the Sherwood roller-coaster.

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

[ MORE: Saul scores stunner for Spain U-21s ]

So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.

WATCH: Spain’s Saul smashes a shot past Italy’s Donnarumma

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Since returning from a loan at Rayo Vallecano, Saul Niguez has been a somewhat under the radar star at Atletico Madrid.

Coming off his best season with Atleti, the 22-year-old Saul is making an even bigger name for himself at the U-21 EURO this summer.

Spain’s Saul scored a hat trick past Gianluigi Donnarumma and Italy on Tuesday, and the second goal was laced with venom.

Getting onto the ball from 30-plus yards out, Saul smashed his shot with enough power that the ball barely had occasion to rotate.

Saul is under contract at the Vicente Calderon through 2022, and has three caps for Spain’s senior team, too. He was rated Atleti’s third-best performer by WhoScored this season.