Tottenham, Chelsea rivalry closer than ever

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea are separated by 11.1 miles across England’s congested capital city.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Wednesday’s encounter showed these two London clubs are closer than ever on and off the pitch during the Premier League era and perhaps ever and it may even rival Tottenham’s historic rivalry with north London neighbors Arsenal in years to come.

Thanks to Dele Alli‘s double Tottenham prevailed 2-0 to halt Chelsea’s win streak at 13, just one short of setting a new PL record for consecutive victories.

It was a moment which was made ever sweeter for Spurs after Chelsea fought back from 2-0 down last May at Stamford Bridge to draw 2-2 and end Tottenham’s hopes of pipping Leicester City to the PL title. That was a violent, tribal affair full of red cards and red tackles which highlighted the pure disdain both sets of players and fans have for one another.

Speaking after the game Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino tried to play down the animosity levels between the two London rivals.

“It wasn’t personal. For us that chapter has closed,” Pochettino said of last May. “I think you can see after the game how we shake hands it is all okay. Football is competitive and you try to win. Always, when you start the game they are your enemy and when you finish you move on.”

Most Tottenham fans would disagree. So did the hero Alli as he echoed Harry Kane‘s sentiments earlier in the week that Spurs’ players wanted to end Chelsea’s run of wins and get revenge.

This was personal. They wanted nothing more than to end Chelsea’s bid to complete the greatest wining run the English top-flight had ever since.

Before the game, as a dilapidated train pulled in to White Hart Lane station near the stadium, Spurs fans looked ready for battle, nodding at one another with a wry grin. This was it. They were ready.

“We’ve done it all” and “Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that” sang the Chelsea fans at the start of the game.

They then added in “2-0 and you f***** it up” and “did you cry at Stamford Bridge?” for good measure in reference to the now infamous “Battle at the Bridge” in May 2016 when Chelsea gleefully ended Spurs’ title hopes with their late comeback in a game which meant nothing to them other than pride.

Pride was on full display on Wednesday as tackles flew in during the first half as Danny Rose and Victor Moses comitted to tackles down their flank and Chelsea’s duo Diego Costa and Pedro had a “heated debate” after the former played in a ball which Pedro didn’t run on to.

After one chant from Chelsea’s vocal away support, Tottenham’s fans replied with “where were you when you were s***?” and Chelsea’s fans fired back with “we’ve won it all, we’ve won it all.”

To be fair, they have. Literally every trophy they could’ve won since Roman Abramovich bought them.

But that doesn’t mean Spurs aren’t a rising power not only in London but in the Premier League.

Rising from the former parking lot outside their current White Hart Lane home is a new 61,000 stadium which is looking more impressive by the week. Spurs are ready to compete, or maybe even overtake, the perennial big boys in the PL and with that jewel in the crown of Chairman Daniel Levy ready for the 2018-19 season, it will allow Spurs to get to the next level. Last season’s title push was a taster of what is to come and this season Pochettino’s young squad looked poised to have another crack at it.

The action on the pitch matched the atmosphere at the current White Hart Lane on Wednesday.

Nervous. Edgy. Nasty.

When Alli scored right on half time the home fan were delirious. When he nodded home a second with a near carbon copy soon after the interval, it was bedlam inside the Lane.

Spurs’ fans had waited for their revenge against Chelsea and their burgeoning rivalry — Chelsea beat Spurs in the League Cup final in 2015 and their fiery encounters have really intensified since Spurs’ 5-3 win on Jan. 1 2015 — has the potential to rival their local north London derby with Arsenal.

It may never quite get to that level of hatred but it’s getting there and as Arsenal continue to labor towards title battles season after season, perhaps Spurs and Chelsea will emerge as London’s top contenders for the PL crown with Conte and Pochettino young and Arsene Wenger‘s time at Arsenal set to come to an end sooner rather than later.

The animosity present in the past few meetings between Spurs and Chelsea shows there is potential on multiple fronts to continue to grow.

Wednesday’s game showcased just how evenly matched these teams are on the pitch, with two moments of clever running, creativity and finishing deciding the outcome as two young, hungry managers played very similar formations and their teams played at very similar tempos.

Tottenham’s win blew the Premier League title race wide open and it also took Chelsea down a peg as they’ve won just one of their last 11 PL visits to White Hart Lane.

The latest defeat was as deflating of any of those losses as it scuppered their chance to usurp Arsenal in the record books and also gave Tottenham’s fans bragging rights until the meet again next season.

In this growing rivalry, that’s something which will be savored by the Spurs faithful.

The 2 Robbies: Terriers Triumph And Chelsea Leave It Late

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe start today’s show off by discussing Huddersfield Town’s surprising win against Manchester United (00:20), Jose Mourinho’s measured post-match interview (03:50), praise Manchester City again (10:30), discuss Sean Dyche’s next move (16:10), analyze that exciting match between Chelsea and Watford (18:30) and finally, weigh in on Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham United (27:30).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

La Liga: Barca win to maintain lead, but Valencia won’t go away

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona regained a four-point cushion atop the Spanish league with a ho-hum 2-0 win over visiting Malaga and surging Valencia dismissed Sevilla 4-0 at home on Saturday.

Barcelona faced last-placed Malaga in the closing match of the day, with added pressure from second-placed Valencia, which has won five in a row.

Barcelona is unbeaten after starting with seven straight wins and drawing with Atletico Madrid last week.

Seldom-used Gerard Deulofeu opened the scoring for Barcelona after just two minutes, and Andres Iniesta celebrated his first of the season in the second half thanks to a brilliant assist by Lionel Messi.

Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday.

Barcelona benefited from a flagrant referee misjudgment to get its go-ahead goal against Malaga. Left back Lucas Digne was allowed to center the ball after it clearly crossed the byline, and Deulofeu acrobatically back-footed it inside the net.

Despite the blow, the visitors got back up and managed to neutralize Barcelona for most of the first half, but lost striker Diego Rolan just before the second period. The Uruguayan import was forced off by injury.

Without Rolan, Malaga lacked bite in its pressure of the home backline, and Barcelona was able to polish ball circulation and find Messi with more frequency.

Messi received a clean pass from defender Javier Mascherano, drew the defense, and dropped a perfect pass for Iniesta, whose shot was deflected by defender Roberto Rosales on its way to the upper left corner.

Malaga surrendered and Barcelona dominated the rest of the way.


Gonzalo Guedes opened the scoring for Valencia near halftime with a majestic strike from outside the box after deftly outmaneuvering two defenders on the chase.

Simone Zaza added his eighth league goal after the break with a spin and low cross shot. Santi Mina came off the bench and scored the third with just five minutes to go, finishing off a speedy counterattack for the hosts.

But the show was all Guedes, and the Portuguese midfielder rounded off his great game with the closer, subtly poking the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico in added time.

Sevilla has lost three in a row in all competitions. Managed by Eduardo Berizzo, the team started off red-hot in La Liga but has floundered lately, ranking fifth.

 

Serie A: Napoli’s perfect season ends after draw with Inter

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MILAN (AP) Napoli’s perfect start to Serie A finally came to an end on Saturday in an enthralling 0-0 home draw with Inter Milan, the only other unbeaten side in the Italian top flight.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

There were plenty of chances at the San Paolo, and Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was kept busier than his Napoli counterpart Pepe Reina.

It was the first time since April and a 2-2 draw at Sassuolo that Napoli has failed to win in Serie A.

Napoli remained top of the standings, two points above Inter and six above Juventus and Lazio, which face Udinese and Cagliari respectively on Sunday.

[ TACTICS SESSION: Inside the brilliant mind of Kevin De Bruyne ]

Napoli was looking for a ninth successive league win. It was boosted by Lorenzo Insigne passing fit to start after injuring a thigh on Tuesday in the Champions League defeat at Manchester City.

Inter was full of confidence after Mauro Icardi’s hat trick helped it win last week’s derby against AC Milan, but it hadn’t won in Naples in 20 years.

Napoli almost went in front but Handanovic pulled off a stunning double save to deny first Jose Callejon and then keep out Dries Mertens’ rebound attempt from point-blank range.

Handanovic then kept out an effort from Insigne following a great ball over the top from Marek Hamsik.

[ MORE: Mourinho — “We deserved the punishment of defeat” to Huddersfield ]

Inter went close shortly before halftime but Reina did well to fingertip Borja Valero’s close-range attempt over the bar.

Insigne had more chances after the break, going closest with a curling effort just past the right post.

Hamsik also fired narrowly wide, and Handanovic parried a powerful shot from substitute Piotr Zielinski.

Mertens should have won the match for Napoli in the final minute but Handanovic was again on hand to keep out his close-range volley.

Tactics Session: Inside the mind of Kevin De Bruyne

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If not for Harry Kane‘s prolific scoring of goals during the early days of this season, Kevin De Bruyne would almost certainly be the early runaway favorite for 2017-18 Premier League Player of the Season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

Alas, Kane, the one-season wonder that he is, seems hellbent on cracking the century mark in the PL this season, rather than waiting until 2018-19. This sets up what should be a thoroughly exhilarating seven-month battle between two polar opposite players — Kane, the goalscorer; and De Bruyne, the assist machine.

On Saturday, NBC Sports’ Robbie Earle delved into the mind of De Bruyne (above video) in light of last weekend’s 7-2 thrashing of Stoke City, during which De Bruyne notched another pair of assists to take season tally to five through eight games. Later on Saturday, De Bruyne added another in Man City’s 3-0 victory over Burnley.

[ MORE: Matchday experience — behind the scenes at Southampton ]

The first thing pointed out by Earle is the recovery — though deployed as more of a central midfielder on the day, De Bruyne sits wide with City in possession high up the field, just waiting for the opportune moment to surge forward and join the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero (now that he’s back from injury). When Jesus’ ball is too lightly weighted, De Bruyne reacts quickest to make the recovery.

From there, his head is up and scanning the entire field. One touch forward, and he’s already accounted for the positioning of each of his teammates, as well as the Stoke defenders, and every pocket of space into which he’ll either carry or play the ball. He knows the precise spot on the field he must get to in order to pull the defense to him, thus opening the necessary space (and time) for the final man — Sane, in this instance — to make his run in behind.

[ MORE: Mourinho — “We deserved the punishment of defeat” to Huddersfield ]

This is the part of De Bruyne’s game which he does better than anyone else in the world right now; no one can hold a candle KDB’s timing and vision — not Henrikh Mkhitaryan, not Isco, not Mesut Ozil, not even his brilliant teammate (and fellow six-assist man) David Silva. He’s almost operating at peak-Andres Iniesta level right now, which makes KDB and Co. appointment viewing every weekend.

Even now, after creating the passing lane and providing Sane the extra half-second to get level with his man before accelerating past in the blink of an eye. Even then, having seen the pass he has to play, there’s still the (major) matter of threading the needle through and around four defenders. On this occasion, the perfect pass is nearly 15 yards in front of Sane, and far less than that distance in front of the goalkeeper. An inch or two too short, it’s cleared by the right back; and inch or two too long, and the goalkeeper collects it easily.

As usual, no player in the world comes close to matching De Bruyne’s genius.