Antonio Conte humble, yet eager to dine at Premier League’s top table

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LONDON — Two of the brightest and most highly-regarded managers in world soccer square off on Saturday at the Etihad Stadium as Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte collide.

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Manchester City vs. Chelsea (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via is eagerly anticipated as many people’s title favorites lock horns in what should be an intriguing tactical battle with Guardiola and Conte both already stamping their authority on their teams just a few months into their reign.

Speaking at Stamford Bridge on Friday before Chelsea hopped on a train from London to Manchester Conte spoke to the media in a humble manner, playing down his own importance and revealing his admiration and respect for Guardiola not only as a coach but as a player when they met the one time in Italy towards the end of their careers.

With Conte having success at Juventus, plus with the Italian national team despite winning any title, the 47-year-old coach was asked who was more popular; himself or Guardiola?

“For sure Pep,” Conte laughed. “Because Pep won a lot in his career, he won trophies internationally, not only in Spain but also in Germany and now he’s in England. For sure Pep. I think now he is the top.”

When you look around the Premier League at the top managers currently working in big clubs (Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Mauricio Pochettino and many others) that’s high praise indeed from Conte. Yet, you get the sense that he and Guardiola aren’t so different and aren’t so far off one another.

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Talking after Liverpool beat Chelsea in September at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp referred to Conte as the “Guardiola of Turin” for the work he did with Juventus, leading them to three-straight Serie A titles from 2011-14.

What did Conte make of that comparison to Guardiola?

“I think this is a great compliment,”Conte said. “I thought that Klopp said this because I had the possibility in three years to build a clear idea of football with Juventus. It was a good compliment for me.”

Humble is word which sums up Conte well.

He is still getting to grips with his English and is improving every week but he still looks rather sheepish and almost embarrassed when he is talked about in the same breath as Guardiola and the great coaches currently managing in England.

Where does he rank himself among the elite coaches in the Premier League.

“Yeah, but for me it is difficult to give a judgement on myself. It is very difficult. I prefer the other people to be the judge,” Conte said. “I know me very well. I know that I put a lot of pressure, I study a lot of football to create and find solution. I know I put a lot of the time of my day in my work. I know this. Then I don’t know if I am up in this table or at the bottom of this table.”

Conte is clearly not at the bottom of the table but in England his fame has yet to translate to the street. In Italy he would be mobbed for photos while out at a dinner or shopping due to his success with Juve and the Azzurri, however in west London he doesn’t get bothered much. And he quite enjoys that.

“In England it is very different if you compare with Italy. Here they ask with great education to sign a photo. In Italy you can find lots of friends who say ‘come with me, take a photo, come on’ and you are eating at your table and the fans come and sit with you and want to eat with you!” Conte said, laughing. “This is the big difference. I am pleased that when I go for a walk and people ask me to sign a photo, I am pleased and able to take the photo every time.”

Photos aside, Conte has hit the ground running at Chelsea and had just a few days of vacation this summer as he transitioned straight from Italy’s penalty shootout heartbreak in the quarterfinals of EURO 2016 to taking charge of Chelsea and managing in the Premier League for the first time in his career. He has taken to Chelsea quickly and the fans have taken to him, with his name sung loud and proud around Stamford Bridge by home fans in recent weeks as his rapport with them has been built by signals to get behind the team and jumping in and celebrating with them when the Blues score.

But does Conte have to win a title, or even a UEFA Champions League, at Chelsea to get to the same level of admiration that Guardiola has globally?

“I don’t know if you win a league and what you can reach. I have to work with my team to reach the best results for us. I remember our first press conference. Not many people trust in Chelsea and our work,” Conte said. “This must be a great strength for us. To continue to work and change the opinion of the people. For me, I never think of myself. I always think for my team and my club. We win and we lose together.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 15: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea celebrates the goal scored by Diego Costa of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge on August 15, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

With Chelsea on a seven-game winning streak and conceding just one goal in that stretch, Conte’s side are in-form and one point ahead of Guardiola’s City ahead of Saturday’s game. Following their 10th place finish last season as their title defense went horrendously wrong, not much was expected of Chelsea this season under Conte. They’ve exceeded expectations, thus far.

As for Guardiola, plenty was expected of his expensively assembled squad and City have faltered in recent months, winning just three of their last seven Premier League games.

Conte isn’t sure if Guardiola is under more pressure than he is, but he does know that he will continue to put massive pressure on his shoulders and, gradually, on the shoulders of his players who currently sit top of the remier League.

“I must be honest I don’t know. I know that I put myself under great pressure on every situation,” Conte said. “I try to work, try to win always, also when sometimes you understand this is very difficult bu I put a lot of pressure on myself. Also I try to start to transfer this pressure on my staff and also to start to push this pressure on my players.”

With his Chelsea team written off at the start of the season, slowly expectations levels are starting to rise and many of the doubters are turning into believers of Conte’s project in west London.

“Before we are working for ourselves, our club, our fans to show we love this shirt, love this club,” Conte said.” It is normal when you are a great team like Chelsea and when you play and you are a manager of this great team, the expectation is high. Sometimes it is right to be high. Sometimes you have to wait because you are building something important. I repeat, now it is important to continue to work and show that Chelsea can fight for a place in Champions League or fight for the title and fight the best teams in the league.”

Rojo’s reaction to Sanchez joining Man Utd was priceless

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Speaking to an Argentine publication while on duty, the Manchester United defender shared a number of interesting tidbits.

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The first, and perhaps funnier one, came from a family visit to Manchester for the Christmas holiday, as Rojo set off a bunch of fireworks in his neighborhood, one he did not realize was shared with United legend Alex Ferguson.

Rojo said Ferguson saw him the next day and congratulated him on “the light show,” with the defender quipping that he thought he might be on his way out of the Old Trafford set-up.

But the more quotable translation comes from the Argentine learning that Chilean superstar and Premier League rival Alexis Sanchez was traded Arsenal red for the same hue at United.

Rojo said Sanchez has turned out to be a lovely guy, but that doesn’t change his initial shock at the news. From TYC Sports, translated by The Mirror,

“Every time we came up against one another, whether in internationals or when United played Arsenal, I would give him a good kicking – and he did the same to me.

“On top of that I used to insult him, and he would reply in kind. So when I learned that he was going to join United I said: ‘Oh, ******* hell, no, now this guy’s going to be here’.”

It likely happens more often than we know, given the competitive nature and furious tackling at the highest level. The old cliche “You’d love him if he was on your team” leaves out the fact that he’s also no longer on the opposition, beating you up.

Not to mention, there’s always that opening conversation, “Hey, that thing I said about your parents…”

Bradley, TFC not freaking over winless start (video)

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Toronto FC is Major League Soccer’s reigning champion, coming off one of the finest seasons in league history, and perhaps the best hope yet for a CONCACAF Champions League title.

It’s also in last place after three Match days in the 2018 season.

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That’s a tough juggling act, at least emotionally. Given the long and forgiving MLS season, TFC is going to be fine. But the Reds also have a group of players and executives not exactly known for resting on laurels.

TFC has not scored in losses to Columbus and Montreal, but rang up four goals over two matches in knocking UANL Tigres out of the CCL.

So on one hand, yeah, unprecedented success for the club. On the other…

“It’s certainly not ideal to look at the table for the next 13 days until we play again,” Bradley said. “On the other hand it’s been a busy start and we’ve gotta use the time over the next little stretch to regroup mentally, physically for what we hope is a really busy time.”

To recap: Yes, TFC deservedly advanced to next month’s CCL semifinal tie with Mexican monster Club American. No, they aren’t happy to lose a pair of league matches (even if they could’ve easily taken results in both with two favorable bounces).

“Let’s be a little bit honest and also say in the moment that while there have been things in these two league games that haven’t been good enough, we’ve been a little bit unlucky in terms of balls rolling across the goal line and some big chances that we haven’t been able to score on. You have to look at it from all angles. We’re certainly not happy,” Bradley said.

Young backs Man United teammate Shaw to become star

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Ashley Young‘s performances on the field and in training have helped keep Luke Shaw off the field, but the veteran winger sees the potential in Shaw that manager Jose Mourinho may not.

Per the BBC, Young said that Shaw could be among the “best in the world” at his position. Shaw was substituted off at halftime of Man United’s 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion in the FA Cup and was publicly criticized by Mourinho after the game, sparking controversy and plenty of conversation in the media over the past 48 hours.

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“I want to see him doing well,” Young said. “It’s like all players, you just have to get your head down and work. He’s a fantastic player. He can be one of the best in the world.”

Shaw has struggled to make an impact and live up to expectations since making a $42 million move from Southampton to Old Trafford in 2014 as a 19-year-old. Shaw has made 99 Premier League appearances over the last four seasons for Man United but he’s been marginalized this season with just seven appearances.

When he moved to Man United, he likely looked at the 2018 World Cup as a goal, in which he could cement his place as the England left back of the future. Now, he’ll almost surely be watching the tournament from home, wondering what went wrong along the way.

Top Free Agents Available for MLS clubs

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We’re three weeks into the season and MLS teams can now take stock in what they have, and what they’re missing.

Thanks to the demise of the North American Soccer League as well as the increased allocation money available to MLS clubs, there are a whole host of MLS-level players who have suddenly found themselves unemployed as we get towards the end of March. Some of these names could very well impact MLS clubs, if not at the very least provide depth.

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Let’s take a look at some of the available players who are waiting for a call, in no particular order:

Jermaine Jones

A lightning rod for his play on the field and comments off it, Jermaine Jones is a former UEFA Champions League player with many years of U.S. Men’s National Team experience.

It’s kind of shocking that he hasn’t landed with a club, though part of that could be because the LA Galaxy were ready to move on, his outspoken nature, and the fact that he’d like to stay with his family in Los Angeles.

However, if LAFC or the Galaxy change their mind, or Jones agrees to move to another market, he could absolutely add value in a team’s midfield, either as a starter or a spot starter.


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Jacob Peterson

After a stellar goal-scoring college career at Indiana, Peterson developed into the kind of hard-working, hard-running forward that is perfect in Peter Vermes’ system in Kansas City. While he didn’t always light up the scoresheet, Peterson was always there to provide defensive pressure to opposing backlines, run the channels to open up space for his teammates, and score a few goals himself.

The 32-year-old scored six goals in 21 appearances for Atlanta United last season and could absolutely be a strong option for a club off the bench.

Chance Myers

Peterson’s former teammate at SKC, Myers has never fully found his pre-injury form since he tore his Achilles’s tendon in 2014. The speedy right back made just one appearance for Portland – playing behind the terrific Alvas Powell in 2017, but if he’s finally overcome some of the injury problems, he provides a really experienced, well-tested defender to any club in need of some back line experience.

Simon Dawkins

Dawkins second spell with the Earthquakes didn’t go as well as his first. After spending a pair of seasons with Derby County in the Championship, Dawkins returned to San Jose in 2016 on a Designated Player contract but managed just five goals and two assists over two seasons, with no goals or assists in 2017. If Dawkins is willing to take a pay cut, he’d be a great speedy asset for a team struggling to create offense.

Gideon Baah

The 26-year-old centerback never worked out in two injury-plagued seasons with the New York Red Bulls. Baah was in preseason training with the LA Galaxy but wasn’t offered a contract. If he’s over his injury troubles, an MLS team can do worse than a player capped for Ghana and still in his prime.

Kevin Alston

A former first overall selection who has been called up to multiple January USMNT camps, Alston has been through a lot during his playing career. He’s suffered plenty of muscle injuries but the toughest was when he was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a rare but treatable form of leukemia. Thankfully, Alston recovered and spent the last two seasons with Orlando City, mainly playing for Orlando City B in 2017. If given a chance, Alston provides a very experienced mind as an outside back, and could provide plenty of guidance to a team filled with young players for a season or two.

Bobby Burling

The veteran centerback had his option declined at the end of the 2017 season with the Colorado Rapids but he was part of the Rapids side that defended its way to second in the table. While injuries have shortened his career, Burling could be a solid depth signing for a club in need of a hulking centerback.

Patrick Nyarko

The speedy winger had a rough 2017 after a strong 2016 in the red and black of D.C. United, and was let go at the end of the season. Though he’s now 32-years old, Nyarko can still provide a spark from the wing and change the game off the bench. His goal record and assist record doesn’t lie, with 24 goals and 49 assists in 236 career regular season matches.

Josh Gatt

It appears that the injuries may have finally caught up to Josh Gatt. The former high school prodigy who signed with SC Rheindorf Altach (over a commitment to Indiana University) as an 18-year-old, suffered three successive torn ACLs during his time with Molde. Gatt made his way back to the U.S. and featured for both Minnesota United and the Colorado Rapids, failing to make a difference for either club.

Perhaps the expectations were too high, but if his knee is feeling good, Gatt can provide the kind of game-changing speed that teams desire. Hopefully he can get one last shot.

Danny Szetela

Szetela has enjoyed a brilliant last few years with the New York Cosmos, but with the Cosmos not playing professional soccer in 2018, Szetela should have been a candidate for any club looking for a solid central midfielder. The former U.S. international can still raise his game to the MLS level, and his calmness under pressure will help any club should they pick him up.