Five key battles which will decide Tottenham vs. Chelsea

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Chelsea has won 13-straight Premier League games. Tottenham has won four-straight and scored eight goals in their last two games.

[ MORE: Conte’s thoughts on Costa

Something has to give when the huge London rivals square off at White Hart Lane on Wednesday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Chelsea aiming to set a new PL record for most consecutive wins in a single-season.

Let’s take a look at five key battles which promise to be pivotal in deciding the outcome of this game as Mauricio Pochettino and Antonio Conte collide.


Jan Vertonghen vs. Diego Costa

This will be a tough, physical battle and although Costa didn’t score against Spurs in Chelsea’s 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge in November, he grew into the game and set up the winning goal for Victor Moses with a surging run into the box. Vertonghen is going to have his hands full and it is highly-likely Pochettino will go back to playing a 3-5-2 system to try and nullify the threat of Costa and Co. The main thing here is that both players keep their cool. Whoever loses their head loses this battle. Costa’s new found focus may give him the edge here as his deceptive pace has seen him breeze by Vertonghen in the past.

Dele Alli vs. N'Golo Kante

This should be epic. Alli is arguably in better form than last season as the reigning PFA Young Player of the Year has scored four goals in his last two games and his link up play with Kane is ripping teams apart. With Kane, the king of tracking runs and shutting down space in front of his defense, marshaling Alli, Spurs’ young playmaker will have to be at his best to create chances. The big question mark around Alli is his temperament as he’s been known to lash out in the past. With Kante set to track his every move, Alli has to stay calm.

Harry Kane vs. David Luiz

Luiz got the better of Kane at Stamford Bridge two months ago and the Brazilian defender has been getting better by the week at Chelsea. The same can be said for Harry Kane at Spurs after a slow start to the season which was disrupted by injury. Kane has now scored three goals in his last two games and has 10 goals in 14 PL appearances this season. He’s Spurs’ go-to man and his ability to drop off and play balls in to the onrushing Alli and Christian Eriksen have proved problematic for opposition defenses to deal with. Luiz has to resist the urge to rush out of his central defensive role to mark Kane.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: Victor Moses of Chelsea and Mousa Dembele of Tottenham Hotspur compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on November 26, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Danny Rose vs. Victor Moses

If Pochettino goes for Danny Rose and Kyle Walker at wing back, this is where the game can be won and lost for Spurs. Rose and Walker have been two of the most consistent performers for Spurs over the past three seasons but Victor Moses is in the form of his life for Chelsea and has been a great find for Conte in his right-wing back role. If Spurs go with a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2, Moses and Rose will go head-to-head in a wing-back battle. Both have pace and trickery and have popped up with vital goals for their teams. It could be a stalemate as both players know they have to hold back and handle their defensive responsibilities.

Kyle Walker vs. Eden Hazard 

On the other flank there will be an intriguing battle as Hazard and Walker clash. Now, Hazard may play a bit further up the pitch but we all know he loves to drift wide and hug the left touchline. Walker loves to bomb forward and that fact suggests Hazard can have plenty of influence on the game and get on the ball. The bigger battle here could be Hazard against Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele as he drifts inside and Spurs’ two holding midfielder slot over to cover the space Walker has left behind, but I’m guessing Walker and Hazard will be seeing plenty of one another on Wednesday.

Lukaku rejects big comparisons: “I can’t say I’m in my prime”

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Romelu Lukaku has bagged a bunch of goals and played on three Premier League teams, but knows there’s another level to his game as he opens up life at Manchester United.

Rejecting comparisons to big strikers like Didier Drogba (because they’re different style players) and Robert Lewandowski (because he’s not yet at that level), Lukaku gave his thoughts about his career’s next steps.

[ MORE: Q&A with Edin Dzeko ]

Lukaku didn’t score in the PL for Chelsea, but has a 17-goal campaign on loan to West Bromwich Albion as well as 15-, 10-, 18-, and 25-goal seasons for Everton.

From Sky Sports:

“I’m 24 years of age, I cannot say I am the complete package, I can’t say I’m in my prime.

“There is still a lot of work to be done and I am delighted there is still a lot of work to be done. That means I can become even better than I am now.”

Lukaku most needs consistency in his game. Even in his massive campaign last season, he twice went four matches without a goal. While it’s possible to have fine performances but not find finish, Everton went 1W-3D-4L in those combined stretches and five of those matches were against bottom half sides.

Something tells us having Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Marcus Rashford setting him up could help, too.

Q&A: Edin Dzeko on Roma, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Champions League

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PST spoke to a quartet of AS Roma players this week as the club contends the 2017 International Champions Cup in the United States with the aim of a profile piece on i Lupi captain Daniele De Rossi’s quest for an elusive scudetto.

That piece came out well, but the conversations with some of his teammates were just as fun. While Kevin Strootman’s resilience and Hector Moreno’s Mexican ambassador status neatly fit into individual posts, our talk with ex-Man City striker and reigning Capocannoniere winner Edin Dzeko works better in Q&A form.

[ MORE: How will Chicharito slot in at West Ham? ]

Plenty has changed since Dzeko scored in Man City’s wild title-clinching finish against QPR. Dzeko talked about his surprising and explosive 29-goal Serie A season, his interest in a UEFA Champions League return to the Etihad Stadium, and a love for representing his home nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Enjoy.

PST: Obviously we know your quality from having scored 25-plus goals three times in seasons at Wolfsburg and Manchester City, but what was it like going from 10 goals to 39 in your second season at Roma?

Edin Dzeko: “It was definitely one of the best in my career. When you get up in your years you are supposed to go down, but actually I’ve gone up. I felt good and from the beginning of preseason I trained hard and it was an important season after getting to know the qualities of the teams and players in the league after my first season in Italy. Last year was big proof of it and like it always is, it was harder than it looked.”

PST: You’ve won the Bundesliga and the Premier League, the latter twice. Last season you shaved Juventus’ table advantage to four points. Can this be the year?

Dzeko: “I have hope that I can do the same in Italy. It’s definitely not easy with Juventus having it the last few years and not selling, only buying new players. Last season was really good for us. We were very close but we still dropped some easy points against the small teams and that cost us at the end. Next year we play Champions League. We changed coaches and a few players left and others came so we have to gather up to the new style of the coach and the new players have to learn what it is to play in Italy. Hopefully this season can be better than last, but we have to go step-by-step.”

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

PST: Wolfsburg had never won, and Man City hadn’t in 40-plus years. Can those experiences help in pushing Roma to its first scudetto since 2001?

Dzeko: “Hopefully. Also when I went to City and we won the first and second title, the team was probably was one of the best in England where it’s also not so easy to win the title. I have another three years contract in Rome and this town and these fans deserve a title. It’s such a shame, every year without a title for this club.”

PST: What would it mean?

Dzeko: “It would mean everything. Hopefully we will manage to do this in the next few years, but it would mean everything to them. I’d habe a lot of good feelings if Roma would manage to win the title. It would be amazing for all the players. They will love us and never forget. The people in Rome, they live for football. They live for us.”

PST: Hector Moreno mentioned that hunger in training was evident in just the few days he’s been there.

Dzeko: “You have to be hungry for good things because it’s a new young team, a new coach, and the team is step-by-step building itself in new directions. We lost four, five players from last seasons so it’s never easy to bring seven, eight new players and immediately work it out. So this preseason is important.”

(Photo by Marco Rosi/Getty Images)

PST: You’re Bosnia and Herzegovina’s all-time leading scorer, and you seem to relish international breaks and pulling on the shirt. 

Dzeko: “I’m proud of myself for what I’ve achieved because I remember when I was young and I was looking to the players, my idols, who were playing with Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s something special, we can take it to heart and I’m proud that I can be the idol of some young boys in Bosnia that can still believe they can do some good things and positive stuff in the future. When someone from our small country goes out and plays in a league like Italy, it gives the confidence for the rest of the young people that they can know that everything is possible.”

PST: You’re also pretty active in causes around Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dzeko: “It’s important for me because it’s my country, it’s the country that gave me everything, where I grew up for 18 years before I left for Czech Republic first and then Germany, England, Italy. I want to help the people who need help because I have the possibility to do it. I will always be there for them and I’m also the UNICEF ambassador that makes me even more proud because I love kids.”

PST: Finally, Roma is in a different pot than Manchester City for this year’s UEFA Champions League. Would you like to be drawn with your old team, or prefer the clubs stay separate?

Dzeko: “I would love it, to be fair. I would love to go back there and even against City I bring so many good memories from the beautiful days and my connection with the fans and club. I would definitely look forward to it.”

Reports: Swans rebuff Everton bid for Sigurdsson; want $65M

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What’s $7-13 million amongst peers?

Swansea City has reportedly shot down either a $52 and/or a $58 million Everton bid for Gylfi Sigurdsson, offers that falls shy of Swans’ $65 million asking price.

$65 million? Why that’s almost Benjamin Mendy money.

Either way, with Sigurdsson absent from Swansea’s U.S. tour, a move seems predetermined.

[ SERIE A: Can De Rossi help Roma catch Juve? ]

The BBC says Monday’s offer was the $52m price, and that it was Everton’s first offer, though The Guardian says it’s a second $58m bid from Everton for the Icelandic playmaker who almost single-handedly ensured the Welsh side’s Premier League status last season.

Reports of an initial $52 million bid also came earlier this month.

Sigurdsson, 27, scored nine goals last season and teamed with Fernando Llorente to form a potent duo. He first made his PL impression with seven goals during a half-season loan from Hoffenheim, and moved to Spurs for a tumultuous two seasons.

He’s since recorded seven-, 11-, and 9-goal seasons for Swans.

Everton has spent big this summer and look set to have the depth to compete in both the Premier League and UEFA Europa League.

VIDEO: Chicharito talks West Ham signing, opener at Manchester United

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Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is back in the Premier League, and will debut for his new club at the home of his old club.

The league schedulers didn’t know the Mexican striker would be a member of West Ham United on Opening Day, but nonetheless have the first weekend ending with an 11 a.m. ET kickoff between the Irons and Red Devils of Manchester United at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: How will Chicharito slot in at West Ham? ]

Combine a new home with an old haunt, and you’ve got one fired up Little Pea:

“A little bit more than my teammates probably, of course to be back to Old Trafford to start this adventure this season with my new team. It’s gonna be a very important one and I’m going to be very happy to be there.”

Hear more from the latest West Ham buy below: