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.

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.