Chelsea Training and Press Conference

Is Jose Mourinho set for a date with destiny?

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Jose Mourinho has already won two UEFA Champions League titles in his managerial career.

One with FC Porto in 2004, one with Inter Milan in 2010 and the Portuguese gaffer has guided Inter, Real Madrid and Chelsea to eight UCL semifinals in total, a record.

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Ahead of his latest UCL semifinal, this time Atletico Madrid stand in his way, Mourinho may want to win this one more than most. This season the Champions League final is in Jose’s home country of Portugal for the first time since 1967. It will be against the team he just left acrimoniously last summer, Real Madrid, plus he wants to go down in history as the first manager to win three UCL titles with three different teams from three different countries. Only the great Liverpool manager Bob Paisley has won the European Cup on three occasions.

Can the self proclaimed ‘Special One’ guide his makeshift Chelsea side into the final and create history in the process?

Much has been made about Mourinho’s ‘anti-football’ tactics of late, as Chelsea ground out a 0-0 draw away at Atletico in the first leg of their UCL semi and then beat Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield last Sunday. The man from Setubal knows how to get results when it matters, that’s why he is one of, if not the best, manager in the world right now.

“If I want to win 1-0, I think I can. One of the easiest things in football is to win 1-0,” Mourinho said earlier this season.

With the series evenly balanced at 0-0 following the first leg at a feisty Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid, a 1-0 win would see Chelsea through to their third UCL final in club history. How will Mourinho’s men approach their dangerous opponents on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge?

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If Chelsea make it to the final, Mourinho will face his old club Real Madrid.

Atleti has their own charismatic, opinionated and often broody manager: Diego Simeone. There will be a clash of Latin flair on the touchline in West London as both teams pride themselves on a blue collar image, yet also thrive off devastating counter attacks to finish off the opposition. The similarities are striking as Simeone has defended Mourinho’s defensive tactics before the clash after much hype in the media and the soccer community. That said, something has to give.

Mourinho and Chelsea can either shut up shop then pounce to punish Atletico on the break, or they can come flying out of the traps early on with the likes of Willian, Andre Schurrle and Eden Hazard doing the damage. Ramires, John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard and Nemanja Matic will be missing from midfield due to suspension and ineligibility, so that is where Mourinho will have a massive headache.

Rumors of veterans John Terry and Petr Cech rushing back from injury are filtering through. Both trained on Tuesday and on Sunday Mourinho admitted Terry could play against Atletico after previously ruling the duo out for the rest of the season. If those two could make the showdown, it would be a huge boost. As for Atletico, they’ll have Diego Costa primed and ready to sniff out any half chances Chelsea hand him as they stumble towards the Spanish league title. Their 1-0 win over Valencia last weekend was anything but convincing, yet the one thing Mourinho won’t be doing is underestimating the side from the Spanish capital. That is not his style.

Meticulous planning, breaking the game down minute-by-minute and making sure his troops are ready for every eventuality, Mourinho is this thorough for every game. However he’ll be desperate to make sure he hasn’t missed anything in his pregame preparation as he aims to reach his third UCL final as a boss, his first with Chelsea and book a trip back to his homeland to try and finish of the season in style. If Chelsea can negotiate their similarly well-drilled opponents from Madrid on Wednesday, they’ll face a showdown with Madrid’s other team, Real, who Jose knows well after managing them for three seasons.

A chance for revenge and an opportunity to scupper Real’s chances of UCL glory awaits; so does a shot at the only trophy Jose has never won at Chelsea. The scene is set for the ‘Special One’ to have a special night in the capital city of his homeland on May 24.

Can he set up a storybook finale?

What lies ahead for USMNT in January camp?

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Bruce Arena’s reign as the new U.S. national team head coach is well under way and the veteran seems to be enjoying his second stint in charge after 10 years away.

[ MORE: Europe’s 100 most valuable ]

The USMNT have been training in Carson, Calif. over the past five days and a pretty cool behind-the-scenes video of the opening day of training was released by U.S. Soccer (see above) to show how Arena has been getting on.

With 31 players currently in camp, Arena is enjoying himself (banter with DaMarcus Beasley and waxing lyrical about Jermaine Jones says as much) but he already has one eye on the two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama coming up in March.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news

This camp will be key for the MLS-heavy contingent, with the likes of Chad Marshall, Benny Feilhaber, Dax McCarty and Juan Agudelo getting another chance to impress for the Stars and Stripes. So many youngsters have emerged from these camps in the past, with Kekuta Manneh, Keegan Rosenberry and Walker Zimmerman just some of the young talent looking to not only make their debuts but also become regulars in the USMNT setup.

Veterans Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi and others are all around and ready to prove their worth to the new boss too.

Below is a quick look at what lies ahead for his team during January camp (and beyond) as they prepare for two friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica to tune themselves up for the World Cup qualifiers when the European contingent will join the squad.


Training

  • Jan. 11-28 – Carson, Calif.

Friendlies 

  • Jan. 29 – Serbia in San Diego, Calif.
  • Feb. 3 – Jamaica in Chattanooga, Tenn.

2018 World Cup qualifiers

  • Mar. 24 – vs. Honduras in San Jose, Calif.
  • Mar. 28 – at Panama in Panama City

Study reveals Europe’s 100 most valuable players

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur (L) celebrates scoring his sides fourth goal with Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur (R) during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion at White Hart Lane on January 14, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Wait, what?

[ MORE: Title race over for City? ]

A study from the International Center for Sports Studies (CIES) has slapped valuations on Europe’s top stars and both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo aren’t the most valuable.

Hmm.

The guys over at the Football Observatory, the soccer arm of CIES, always do a great job with these kind of studies and below you will find who they’ve ranked as the 100 most valuable players in Europe’s top five leagues.

CIES take players’ performance on the pitch, contract length, age and many other factors into place when ranking them and in the extensive study 10 Premier League clubs have players included as stars from Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur feature.

In total, 38 PL players are in the top 100.

Neymar is the most valuable player in Europe as the Barcelona star has a valuation of $261.5 million, which puts him way ahead of Lionel Messi who sits in second place with a value of $180.6 million.In third place is Manchester United’s Paul Pogba who has a value of $164.5 million, while Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez round out the top five.

Below is the top 100 list in full, courtesy of CIES, with their club, age and when their current contract runs out listed.

Do you agree with their valuations?


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Too early for Guardiola to concede Premier League title?

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Pep Guardiola suffered his worst-ever league defeat as a manager on Sunday as Manchester City were hammered 4-0 at Everton in the Premier League.

Post-game he was understandably glum.

[ MORE: Klopp slams United ]

Guardiola even appeared to concede the Premier League title, as the preseason favorites for the crown have now fallen 10 points behind leaders Chelsea with 17 games to go.

When asked if City’s title hopes were over after a fifth defeat of the season, the Spaniard’s answer was emphatic.

“Yes. Ten is a lot of points,” Guardiola said. “The second one [Tottenham] is three points. We have to see. I spoke to my players the last three weeks or a month, forget about the table. Focus on the next game and try to do our best to win the games and after that at the end of the season we are going to evaluate how our level and performance was — how was the coach, how was the players and after we are going to decide.”

It seems like Guardiola has already decided that the title race is over for City, but has he thrown in the towel too early?

With just five points separating second-place Tottenham with sixth-place Manchester United, it appears City’s primary focus will now be to finish in the top four as a mammoth battle ensues in the final third of the season.

Yet, we have seen some miraculous comebacks from teams in the past to win the title. These stats could give Pep hope.

In the 1997-98 season, Arsenal were 12 points behind United after 21 games of the season (United had played a game more) but roared back to win the PL by one point. And of course, City’s two PL crowns came courtesy of stunning late surges in the season with thanks to Sergio Aguero’s magic on the final day in 2011-12 and then Liverpool’s collapse in the closing weeks of 2013-14.

Pep, don’t lost the faith. It can be done.

However, if City lose to Tottenham next weekend and Chelsea extend their lead over Pep’s boys to 13 points by beating Hull City, it is curtains.

Such is the dominance of the big boys this season, City pretty much have to go unbeaten for the rest of the season to have a shot at winning the PL. Given their recent defensive displays that seems unlikely.

We all know Pep is an idealist when it comes to how he wants his team to play but now we are seeing he is a realist too.

Conte urges players “money is not everything” amid Costa rumors

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 04: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea reacts during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on January 4, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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While new reports are suggesting that China will have to curb its massive spending, Antonio Conte has urged his players that they don’t have to be tempted by the Chinese Super League.

[ MORE: United, Liverpool finish level after late Ibrahimovic equalizer ]

Chelsea currently sits atop the Premier League — seven points clear of Tottenham and Liverpool — but the club has recently been at the center of controversy as star striker Diego Costa has been linked with a move away from the club.

[ MORE: CSL set to limit number of foreign players per team ]

Costa missed his side’s 3-0 win over Leicester City on Saturday after several outlets reported a rift between the Spaniard and Conte.

The Chelsea manager told reporters following the match that Costa wasn’t available due to a back injury he suffered in training, but there has been continued speculation that the 28-year-old could head to China.

Conte has made it clear to his squad though that the quality of competition in England supersedes the money offered abroad.

“The money is not everything,” Conte told reporters. “When you play for a great team like Chelsea, you must be pleased.

“I think we are a great club and it is a great honour to play for Chelsea. For this reason I don’t see [China] as a threat for my players.

The Blues have lost a number of high-profile players over recent seasons to the high spending of Chinese football, including Brazilian duo Oscar and Ramires, as well as John Obi Mikel.

Oscar departed Chelsea this month to join Shanghai SIPG for a reported $72 million.

“I have to look at the past,” Conte said. “Oscar played with us, had a good offer from China and he went.

“But this league is really competitive and every player wants to come and play in this league.

“This league is the first in the world because of a lot of positive things, so I don’t think these offers from China are a threat for our league.”