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Three reasons why Chelsea can win the UEFA Champions League

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Chelsea’s domineering display against Galatasaray on Tuesday night proved Jose Mourinho’s men are the real deal in the UEFA Champions League.

Relentless pressure in midfield, clever counter-attacks and clinical finishing all played out in front of a yet another stingy defensive display.

(MORE: Chelsea cruise past Galatasaray, as Blues make Champions League quarters with 2-0 win)

The West London club are likely to be the Premier League’s only representatives in the last eight of the UCL, (barring a valiant fightback from Manchester United against Olympiakos on Wednesday) so they’ll be flying the St. George’s flag in Europe for the rest of the season.

But how long will that be for? Here are three reasons why Chelsea can go all the way and lift the ‘big eared’ trophy in Lisbon on May 24.

  • Solid defense

Chelsea have only conceded four goals in eight UCL matches this season, and have kept five clean sheets. With John Terry and Gary Cahill marshaling central defense, Petr Cech racking up 100 appearances in the UCL, plus Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic steady and dependable at full back, many of Europe’s best offensive sides will struggle to break down the ‘Blue curtain’. We all know Mourinho loves a 1-0 win and to rub it in the faces of his opposition, there will be plenty of that as Terry and co. throw themselves in front of crosses and shots until their little hearts are content. Add in the fact that Chelsea have now conceded they won’t be an expansive, glitzy side just yet, and they will play to their strengths to beat Europe’s elite. Solid defense, with clinical finishing, that should be the plan.

  • Experienced players leading the way
source: AP
Chelsea’s veteran core are augmented by a stable of young stars. Can the Blues go all the way with Terry, Lampard and Cech leading the charge?

In any walk of life, experience goes a long way. As we mentioned, Cech has 100 UCL appearances to his name, Frank Lampard has 73, then John Terry has 99 and the list goes on and on. Against Galatasaray Samuel Eto’o scored his 30th Champions League goal, just the 14th player to reach that milestone, and all of this adds up to giving Chelsea the edge when it really matters.

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Of course having too much experience (a.k.a. oldsters who are struggling to get around the pitch) won’t work, but the Blues have a great mix of youngsters who are contributing and learning from their veteran leaders. Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian augment the experienced core around them, as most of these players have “been there, done that” in the UCL and lifted the trophy before. That counts for an awful lot in the last eight and beyond.

  • The ‘Mou factor’

Love him, hate him… we all know Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho is a born winner. The man who has already won two Champions League titles in two different countries (with FC Porto and Inter Milan) is eager to add a third to his collection, with many believing he’d prefer a UCL crown over the PL title. Regardless, Mourinho will set up his team to annoy opponents and pounce on the counter to devastating effect. This is the environment where the ‘Special One’ earns his corn and sets himself above the rest. With a large squad challenging for two titles, he will have to be a master of alternating lineups and using certain players only in Europe or the PL exclusively. Rallying calls aren’t really his thing anymore, so it would seem, and with a strong core of leaders Mourinho doesn’t have to give vast monologues of tactical instructions in the locker room to get his point across.

Instead it’s the finer details, as Jose knows better than anyone, which push you over the finishing line to win a UCL crown. Chelsea have a long way to go until a second UCL title arrives in West London, but with Jose on board, I like their odds of getting through two more rounds and at least reaching the final in Lisbon. In Jose’s homeland of Portugal, he may become the first manager in history to win the UEFA Champions League with three different teams from three different countries. That’s the ‘Mou factor’.

Chelsea’s Courtois says FA Cup or Champions League final a must

Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea FC
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Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is used to big matches, whether at Stamford Bridge, with the Belgian national team or during his loan to Atletico Madrid.

[ SPORTSWORLD: Courtois “standing tall” at Chelsea ]

If he doesn’t get one or two of those contests by the end of this season, a bad season will become an utter failure.

Courtois says it’s a long way to the Top Four, but Chelsea hasn’t given up on that hope. Regardless, he’s targeting wins over Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League, respectively.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“After that we play in the Champions League and FA Cup against two great sides and we have to try to win those games because the only way to save our season is to reach the final in one or both of them.”

Chelsea’s star has fallen this year, but this is still largely the team that won the Premier League last season. Courtois’ goals are not unreasonable.

LIVE – West Ham vs. Liverpool in FA Cup 4th round replay

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 30:  Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool is watched by Dimitri Payet of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on January 30, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Two Premier League teams clash in the FA Cup on Tuesday with a place in the last 16 on the line.

West Ham United welcome Liverpool to Upton Park (Follow live, 2:45 p.m. ET) following the 0-0 draw between the teams at Anfield 10 days ago.

[ LIVE: Follow West Ham-Liverpool here

Slaven Bilic‘s side will fancy their chances of getting past an injury-hit Liverpool squad and creating another famous FA Cup memory in their final season at the Boleyn Ground. With Dimitri Payet in contract negotiations about extending his stay at the Hammers, can the French playmaker lead them to a big win?

After missing Liverpool’s late collapse on Saturday during the 2-2 draw with Sunderland due to a bout of suspected appendicitis, manager Jurgen Klopp will return to the dugout. The German coach has already guided the Reds to one Wembley final during his debut season in charge as they face Manchester City in the League Cup final in less than three weeks time.

The winner of this clash will travel to second-tier Blackburn Rovers and they’ll be heavy favorites to reach the FA Cup quarterfinals.

Click on the link above to follow the game live, plus we will have a recap, reaction and analysis following the encounter in east London.

State of the USMNT: What is Klinsmann’s best XI for World Cup qualifiers?

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With the U.S. men’s national team ending their January camp with two narrow friendly wins over Iceland and Canada, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff will now be sitting back and thinking: “What did we learn? Who impressed? Who struggled?”

Or something like that.

[ MORE: American takeover at Everton update

Each year the January camp provides domestic based players — mostly from Major League Soccer but a sprinkling of other guys too — with the chance to impress Klinsmann and his staff in close quarters for multiple weeks in California. Many current U.S. regulars earned their stripes in January’s gone by and have established themselves ever since.

This January was no different as the experienced core of players — Michael Bradley, Matt Besler and Jozy Altidore among them — showed their class and several promising players worked hard to get minutes in the friendlies.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

However, despite some glimmers of hope from youngsters such as Jordan Morris and Jerome Kiesewetter, what we learned about the USMNT heading into the two CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualifiers in March is that the established players remain the best hope for success. Sure, the likes of John Brooks is impressing in the Bundesliga, Matt Miazga sealed a move to Chelsea and Lee Nguyen took his chance in January camp, but the old guard should remain in place through this next batch of World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala home and away on Mar. 25 and 29 and the Copa America Centenario this summer.

Question marks remain regarding some veterans, which could keep the situation a little more fluid than it should be.

One of those is Tim Howard with speculation of him moving away from Everton mounting plus a straight-up battle between Howard and Brad Guzan for the starting spot, while Clint Dempsey‘s status with the national team still seems to be somewhat clouded. Overall, though, the settled core of players who played together at the World Cup — plus or minus a few who have performed consistently over the last 18 months — should be kept together by Klinsmann. During last summer’s Gold Cup disappointment there was plenty of experimenting, especially in defense, but now is the time to settle things down and realize the following guys are the players you should count on going forward.

Below is my selection — feel free to select your own in the comments section — for the best XI available to Klinsmann, plus seven subs, assuming everyone is fit and available.

USMNT’s Best XI as of Feb. 9, 2016

—– Howard —–

— F. Johnson — Cameron — Besler — Ream —

—- Bradley —- Williams —-

—- Bedoya —- Dempsey —- Zardes —-

—– Altidore —–

Subs: Guzan, Brooks, Jones, Yedlin, Nagbe, Morris, Johannsson

Ahead of huge title clash, influential Leicester scout transfers to Arsenal

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Ben Wrigglesworth might not be a man you’ve heard a lot about, but he has been influential in helping Leicester City’s unlikely charge to the top of the Premier League.

Now, he’s been poached by Leicester’s main title rivals: Arsenal.

[ MORE: Spurs, Arsenal to battle for title?

Ahead of the monster clash between the Foxes and Gunners at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) the man who unearthed the likes of Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante has transferred to Arsenal and is now their First Team Video Scout.

Wrigglesworth, Leicester’s former Head of Technical Scouting, announced he would be leaving the Foxes via his Twitter page (see below) and he has now accepted a new role as part of Steve Rowley’s team at Arsenal.

It is believed he will not only help with the scouting of players but will also analyze Arsenal’s first team and the opposition.

[ MORE: Recapping Week 25 in the PL ]

Arsenal will unveil a new player performance center at their training HQ this summer and have recently purchased a soccer data company based in America, statDNA, to help them with scouting and player analysis.

With several Premier League teams now having huge player databases monitored by a team of talented individuals — often, like Wrigglesworth, with no pro playing experience — scouring the globe for the next bargain, the Moneyball vibe is strong.