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Guardiola hails Conte as “maybe the best” in the world

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There is sure to be a big hug between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola on the sidelines at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Conte’s dig at Tottenham?

Two managers who both arrived in the Premier League last summer for the first time brought big reputations and expectations with them.

Conte has so far lived up to that with Chelsea seven points clear atop the PL table as they prepare to host Guardiola’s Man City (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) on Wednesday.

Speaking ahead of that game, Guardiola believes that Conte may well be the best manager on the planet right now

“My opinion about my colleague Conte is that he’s superb,” Guardiola said. “He was able to make Italy play beautiful football – Juventus too – in a culture where it’s so defensive. He’s an excellent manager, I learn a lot when I see his teams – Juventus, Italy and now. I like to do that because you see what they want to do. Their teams control a lot of aspects. Maybe he’s the best.”

For Guardiola, who is widely-regarded as the best coach on the planet, to say this about Conte shows the level of respect between the duo. It’s hard to argue with Conte’s record as a coach as he led Juventus to three-straight Serie A titles before rejuvenating the Italian national team and now is on the cusp of winning the title with Chelsea in his first season in England as his distinctive brand of play not only gets results but often entertains.

The latter can certainly be said for Guardiola’s City team too, but too often this campaign they’ve made glaring defensive mistakes which is why they’re currently 11 points behind Chelsea. When it comes to the notion that Conte is the best manager on the planet right now, it’s hard to argue with that. Yes, Zidane has won the UEFA Champions League at Real Madrid and so has Luis Enrique at Barcelona, but taking nothing away from their coaching qualities, look at the players they have to work with.

Conte has spoke glowingly about Guardiola’s philosophy in the past and although their rivalry may intensify in the coming years with Chelsea and City set to battle it out for trophies, two of the greatest minds in the game today are being respectful towards one another and that’s quite refreshing.

It may not sell papers, but it’s nice to see.

Who else can lay claim to being the best current manager on the planet? Some would say Jose Mourinho with his incredible record of winning trophies, while others will point towards Diego Simeone, Carlo Ancelotti, Jurgen Klopp, Max Allegri, Mauricio Pochettino or perhaps even Arsene Wenger. Other than that, Conte and Guardiola are at, or near, the top of the tree.

For Guardiola, he could really do with beating Conte’s Chelsea on Wednesday to boost City’s top four hopes and put them eight points behind Chelsea in the title race with eight games to go.

In the earlier clash between these two teams this season Chelsea prevailed 3-1 after launching devastating counter attacks away from home. The game ended with red cards being shown to Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho as a scuffled broke out, so expect this encounter to be testy as Chelsea look to bounce back from a shock defeat to Crystal Palace this weekend and City aim to prove all of their doubters wrong.

Whatever happens on the pitch, we know Conte has a friend in Pep and vice versa.

Pochettino: “Challenge is to keep going” ahead of North London Derby

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Mauricio Pochettino was thrilled to see Tottenham Hotspur’s title push continue with a win over in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

Spurs won 1-0 on a beautiful Christian Eriksen goal from distance, moving back to within four points of Premier League leading Chelsea.

[ RECAP: Palace 0-1 Spurs ]

Pochettino’s men didn’t stop fighting for the winner despite relentless fight from the home side, with improving mettle on display this season.

“Unbelievable. Very good performance. I think second half we played much better than in the first half. It was difficult in the first half for us to move the ball and find the space but we changed the shape at half time and it was more fluid, we started to find the space and started to push Palace deeper and deeper.”

After two tough London Derbies — Spurs fell 4-2 to Chelsea in Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal — Tottenham now has the big one: a visit from Arsenal in the North London Derby.

“It was good to get the three points and be alive in the race for the title. The challenge is to keep going. It is always better to win but it is true [the Arsenal game] is a big derby, perhaps the last at White Hart Lane and I think it will be an exciting game.”

We’re ready for it. Spurs will be favored to pick up all three points, but all bets are off when it comes to the NLD. That’s especially true considering the ticking Top Four clock for Arsenal and the title fight for Spurs.

Palace 0-1 Spurs: Eriksen saves the day

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  • Sakho stretchered off
  • Eriksen rescues title hope
  • Spurs four back of Chelsea

Palace made them work for it.

Tottenham Hotspur didn’t exactly sends chills down the spine of Chelsea with its performance, but Spurs found a way past tricky and in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday at Selhurst Park.

Christian Eriksen‘s pretty goal sealed the three points for Spurs, who have five matches to chase down four points from the Blues.

Palace sits 12th, seven points clear of 18th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Two in-forms started with confidence, Harry Kane lashing wide of the frame for Spurs and Wilfried Zaha driving Palace on the right wing.

Another in-form Eagles attacker, Christian Benteke, did well to create space and hit a low shot that forced Hugo Lloris to ground.

Victor Wanyama was on yellow when he slid to intercept Andros Townsend, taking the Englishman to the turf. Jon Moss gave Wanyama a harsh warning, but did not produce the red card.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Moussa Sissoko and Son Heung-min were called upon soon after the break to liven up Spurs attack.

The substitution that stood to shake up the match was Palace center back Mamadou Sakho, who was hurt with about 40 minutes to play.

Eriksen stung a shot across goal for the eventual winner, a rare moment of class from a three-match day that didn’t quite fit the standard of the Premier League.

Arsenal 1-0 Leicester City: Only an own goal

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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  • Chances at a premium
  • Monreal forces Huth own goal
  • Arsenal moves sixth
  • Foxes six clear of drop

Nacho Monreal‘s desperate shot ricocheted off Robert Huth‘s chest and gave Arsenal a 1-0 win over Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

Entertainment value wasn’t high over the course of the match, as Arsenal had trouble piercing Leicester’s congested back four.

Arsenal is now three points back of Manchester United and four behind Man City before Thursday’s Manchester Derby.

Leicester is six points clear of 18th and has played one less game than most of the teams chasing them.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Arsenal had most of the ball to start the match, but needed to make the first big stop. Petr Cech kept the match goalless when he flew to stop a left-footed whip from Riyad Mahrez.

At the other end, Mesut Ozil set up Theo Walcott for a chance that prodded a solid save from Kasper Schmeichel.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Wilfried Ndidi was again a monster in the middle third for Leicester, arguably the main reason the Foxes have rebounded from their relegation plight.

Arsenal had a chance pushed away from danger by Robert Huth after Alexis Sanchez misjudged his time on the ball in front of goal in the 56th minute.

Schmeichel then dove to slap away a deflected Francis Coquelin shot.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Laurent Koscielny went down in pain after landing awkwardly in the 79th minute, leaving a gap in space that Shinji Okazaki would’ve exploited were it not for a block from Gabriel Paulista.

Leicester’s Yohan Benalouane should’ve seen red with 10 minutes to play following a leaping boot to the back of Olivier Giroud, but only a foul was given.

Ndidi made a sliding intervention on Mesut Ozil in the 85th minute, another terrific bit of work from the Nigerian.

That’s when Huth’s unlucky moment lifted Arsenal to the lead.

Middlesbrough 1-0 Sunderland: Derby honors and a bit of life

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  • Boro’s first PL win since Dec. 17
  • Smoggies move within six of 17th
  • Sunderland on verge of relegation

Marten De Roon snared Middlesbrough new hope at safety and a derby win as Boro scored early to complete a season sweep of Tees-Wear Derby rivals Sunderland on Wednesday.

The 1-0 win means Sunderland is 12 points back of 17th place Hull City with five matches to play. Hull has four matches left.

For Boro, it’s six points back of Hull but a devastating run-in that includes Man City, Chelsea, Southampton, and Liverpool.

The win was USMNT backstop Brad Guzan‘s second of the Premier League season, the first coming in the reverse fixture.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

De Roon tilted the Tees-Wear Derby to Boro’s side with an opening goal that could signal the end of Sunderland’s slim safety hopes.

Stewart Downing tempted 2-0 with a hard low shot that Jordan Pickford did very well to save with a leg.

Sunderland did find a bit of danger when Didier N’Dong forced Brad Guzan into a save, but Billy Jones nodded over the frame.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]