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.

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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.

Jurgen Klopp already wants a piece of Man City next season

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Manchester City may have run away with the Premier League title this year, but Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp can’t wait for a clean slate to try and challenge City’s title defense next season.

The Reds are into the Champions League semifinals and also looking to finish the Premier League season strong in a battle for positioning in the top four, but when asked about next year, Klopp was giddy.

“Of course I don’t fear the challenge,” Klopp said in his prematch press conference ahead of Liverpool’s Premier League visit to West Brom on Saturday morning.

The German made it clear he wants a piece of Manchester City next season. “This year, if City plays a normal season – which they didn’t do – then it would have been really close until the end because we are now all close together.”

“United is four points ahead [of Liverpool], Tottenham is two points behind. It’s a real fight for these positions. All big six pretty much delivered this year but City delivered the best. We will see. It’s difficult to deal with success as it is difficult to deal with other things in football but I’m pretty sure they will be strong again.”

Liverpool is one of only two teams to beat City in league play this year, with Manchester United being the other. Klopp and company torched the City back line in a wild 4-3 victory that ended City’s 22-match unbeaten run. Ultimately, though, Klopp knows they have to look at the entire season as a whole to best the defending champs next year, not just their matches against each other.

“It’s not important how good City will be, it’s about how we can get all the other points, plus the points we got so far again,” he said. “That’s the job to do. That is why it is always possible that it is closer. But are they able to dominate? They don’t have a limit to spending and all that stuff so I don’t know.”

VIDEO: Goalkeeper sends Memphis Depay flying with skillful touch

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Former Manchester United attacker Memphis Depay has one of the brightest spots for Lyon this season that sees them battling with Monaco and Marseille for 2nd place behind a dominant PSG. He has scored 15 goals and assisted 11 others this Ligue 1 campaign, adding to his tally just four minutes into Friday’s 5-2 win over Dijon, the sixth win in a row for the club that pulled them within a point of Monaco.

However, there was a moment to forget for Depay in the victory as well.

With the score still at 1-1 in the 19th minute, Depay was sent high up the pitch to press Dijon goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet, owner of the leakiest net of the Ligue 1 season. Nevertheless, sometimes the underdog prevails, and that’s what happened as Depay flung himself at the ball to put Reynet under pressure.

One silky touch by the netminder was all it took for Depay to end up on his backside.

The 24-year-old Dutch winger has had a fantastic season and one that could potentially propel him back to the biggest stage and a bigger paycheck, but for now, we can all poke fun at his misery in the moment.

Dortmund admits interest in signing Batshuayi permanently

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Michy Batshuayi might be out for the season with a serious ankle injury, but he may have already done enough to earn a permanent move to Borussia Dortmund.

The Chelsea striker moved on loan to the Bundesliga side in January and made an immediate impact, scoring two goals on his debut, and ultimately wound up with seven goals in 10 Bundesliga games before his ankle injury brought his season to a close. Now, the Dortmund front office is speaking very highly of the Belgian goalscorer, not so subtly hinting that they will take an aggressive approach this summer.

The interest to sign him is there,” said Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke. “But first we have to wait and see who will be Chelsea’s coach next season. Then we’ll start looking.”

Chelsea has Antonio Conte currently at the helm, but there are strong rumors that the Italian will depart at the end of the season as the Blues sit comfortably outside the Champions League places. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is known for his quick trigger, and despite Conte winning the Premier League just last season, this year’s disappointment will likely not be tolerated.

That yet-to-be-determined future has a significant impact on Batshuayi’s future, as Watzke mentions. The new Chelsea boss could take a liking to Batshuayi, which could complicate his permanent move. In addition, it’s possible that current players on the Blues roster could depart, like Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud, or Willian, making Batshuayi’s place at Chelsea more tenable.

There’s plenty to be sorted out in the coming months, but with Batshuayi’s 10-game performance at Westfalenstadion at the forefront of Watzke’s mind, it’s clear there will be potential here as the summer draws near.

Sessegnon scores 15th as Fulham equals Man City unbeaten mark

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Fulham equalled the longest unbeaten run in the English top four tiers this season as it defeated sixth-placed Millwall 3-0 on the road to increase its streak to 22 games without a loss and moving the club into position for automatic promotion.

The Whites have not lost since December 16th when they fell 1-0 to relegation-threatened Sunderland. The unbeaten streak matches Manchester City’s run of 22 games to start the Premier League campaign before a 4-3 loss to Liverpool in mid-January broke the spell.

Highlighting the match was the game’s opening goal from 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, the young defender’s 15th goal of the Championship season. Just a week ago, Sessegnon was named a finalist for PFA Player of the Year alongside Harry Kane, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling. Also scoring in the win was Newcastle loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic who has bagged 11 goals in 15 matches since moving to Craven Cottage on Deadline Day of the winter transfer window, sparking talk of a possible permanent move should the Whites find themselves promoted at the end of the season. Fulham has not trailed a single second since he stepped on the field for his club debut.

Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has the team firing on all cylinders, outscoring opponents 49-14 during the unbeaten streak and racking up 56 out of a possible 66 points, with just five draws blemishing an otherwise perfect record. The club has scored first in 15 straight matches, and has not trailed since drawing level in the closing minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hull City on December 30th. The only teams in the top four leagues to score more goals than Fulham since Jokanovic took over are Liverpool and Manchester City.

USMNT defender Tim Ream has been arguably the club’s most valuable player during the streak, locking down a defense that has picked up 11 clean sheets during the unbeaten run. Ream has played in all but two league matches this season, completing the full 90 minutes in all 41 of his appearances thus far. He has been voted Man of the Match five times this season by the fans on the team’s official website, most recently in a 1-0 victory over Reading on April 10th. He also grabbed the award in a 2-0 win over Championship title winners Wolves on February 24th, a game that saw the Whites out-possess and out-shoot the league champions. Ream had this stunning goal-line clearance in the victory over Millwall on Friday, saving Fulham’s bacon with goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli on the ground after an acrobatic save.

Fulham still has work to do in the Premier League promotion picture, despite the spectacular form. They sit in 2nd position as it stands, leading Cardiff City by two points, but Cardiff has yet to play this weekend, giving them a massive two games in hand. Fulham could ultimately be done in by a slow start to the season that saw them win just twice in the first nine matches of the season as the squad adjusted to a host of new additions. In addition, Fulham suffered a disappointing draw last time out against Brentford as the Bees scored in the 94th minute to deny Fulham all three points, a massive blow to their automatic promotion hopes. Still, Fulham would be considered favorites in any potential playoff run, with Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and Millwall currently the other teams in playoff positions.

There’s plenty on the line for the club over the next few weeks. Should Fulham fail to gain promotion, it could be a massive blow to the club as Sessegnon could be lured away from Craven Cottage, with Jokanovic and playmaker Tom Cairney also likely to garner speculation of a departure over the summer if the club was to remain in the Championship.