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.

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.

Ballack acknowledges difficult decision ahead for John Terry

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For the better part of 19 years John Terry has been a staple of Chelsea’s backline.

[ WATCH: Zaha nets first international goal for Ivory Coast ]

With his future at Stamford Bridge becoming more and more in doubt though, it appears it’s time for the 36-year-old to move on from his longtime club, and that’s a decision that another former Chelsea player doesn’t envy.

[ MORE: Everton’s Coleman breaks leg on Ireland duty ]

Ex-Blues midfielder Michael Ballack knows that Terry has options, whether it be in Major League Soccer, the Chinese Super League or even with another Premier League club, but the German says it’s difficult because of what the centerback has meant to Chelsea.

“He is a player with that history and charisma,” Ballack, who spent four years with Chelsea during his playing days, told Sky Sports. “He’s such a Chelsea boy and they love him there.

“I know what it means if your career comes to an end and you’re getting older. You don’t know whether you extend your contract, play for another club or go abroad to America.

“I’m sure he has some options but if you think long-term, you have to feel comfortable with the decision.

For the first time in years, Terry has failed to establish himself as a first-team regular largely due to Antonio Conte‘s three-back system. The 36-year-old has appeared in just five PL matches this campaign, while making 10 appearances overall for the Blues, who currently sit atop England’s top flight and are in position to go for the double with the FA Cup semifinals lurking.

Terry himself has acknowledged that his career is nearing its end, but knowing the competitive drive that has made the Englishman great throughout his almost 20-year career, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll just give up his playing days without a fight.

Gabriel Jesus confident he’ll return for Man City this season

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Gabriel Jesus bursted onto the Manchester City scene upon arrival, but an injury back in February has left the talented Brazilian sidelined ever since.

[ MORE: Everton loses Coleman to leg break on Ireland duty ]

The lively attacker suffered a broken metatarsal last month against Bournemouth, which required surgery, but the 19-year-old remains confident that he’ll be able to feature again this season for the Citizens.

“I don’t know, I have no return prediction,” Jesus told SporTV. “But I hope I can still play some games this season.”

Initial thoughts were that Jesus would miss around three months, all but ending his first Premier League season. Now, Jesus is hoping that he’ll be able to pick up where he left off prior to the devastating injury.

“It’s good,” Jesus said on his road to recovery. “Thank God, the effort, not just mine, but from all the physiotherapists in Manchester, doctors and everyone. It was not easy for me.

“It’s my first injury. Not muscle injury, but it’s the first time something happens that leaves me out of games. So it was not easy.

“But I saw that, of course, no one wants this to happen, but it could be worse. So we operated soon, I decided to operate and give it time.”

In just his first four matches with Pep Guardiola‘s side, the young Brazilian netted three goals and even dethroned Sergio Aguero in the starting lineup.