Conte on Chelsea’s title run-in: “I like the pressure”

1 Comment

BOURNEMOUTH — The pressure isn’t getting to Chelsea or Antonio Conte. At all.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

On Saturday the Blues strode into the Vitality Stadium and beat Bournemouth 3-1 with minimum fuss, regaining their seven point lead atop the Premier League after Tottenham had momentarily cut it down to four points.

Throughout the game Chelsea’s fans sang “Tottenham Hotspur, we’re waiting for you!” with a smugness which suggests they know the deal has almost been sealed.

Playing after Tottenham in two of their next four games, Chelsea will have to handle seeing their lead diminish for a time before they get the chance to move clear again.

Speaking in his press conference after the game, Conte revealed he thrives on pressure.

“I like the pressure. I live with pressure. If I don’t see pressure, I put pressure,” Conte said. “Because I think that the pressure gives you the best of yourself.”

Conte chuckled after that last statement, smiling as he raised his eyebrows. It is clear the pressure isn’t getting to Chelsea.

Even though they survived an early scare when David Luiz almost scored a spectacular own goal, plus when Benik Afobe‘s shot hit the inside of the post and Bournemouth rallied after making it 2-1, Chelsea carved their opponents open time and time again and had a determination to defend.

They haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last nine PL games, a run stretching back to January, and those defensive mistakes may be the only way back in for their title rivals.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

With the west London club seven points clear with seven games to go, they are running out of time to slip up and let Spurs in. Tottenham have won six straight games in the Premier League as they battered Watford 4-0 in the early game on Saturday.

Even though Spurs are doing everything they can to hunt Chelsea down, the Blues are edging closer to the title in Conte’s first season in charge. It’s so close they can almost taste it.

“I don’t smell the victory because there are seven games to go. We have a schedule that is not easy. We know this. It is important to go game by game,” Conte said. “In this case after the defeat against Crystal Palace, which we didn’t deserved, we played Man City, we can drop points and today against Bournemouth we could drop points. Instead we won both games. We have to continue this way, to play game by game, be focused and concentrate because, for sure, Tottenham has a great desire to win the title. We must have the same desire.”

A trip to Manchester United next weekend could be Chelsea’s biggest challenge yet in the run-in. If Tottenham win and Chelsea lose at Old Trafford, the gap could be down to four points.

Then, if Chelsea slip up at home to in-form Southampton the Tuesday after and Tottenham beat Crystal Palace the following day their lead will be down to one point with four games to go. There are a lot of ‘ifs’ there but Conte and his teams are failing to get ahead of themselves.

While lesser men have crumbled in these type of pressure situations in the past, Conte is feeding from it. So are his players.

That’s why Chelsea are the champions elect.

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez didn’t make the batch of backstops, odd given his one-time switch to the USMNT from Mexico. That made him automatically cap-tied to the U.S., but Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio.

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

Report: German publication has full FIFA corruption report

Photo by Stuart Franklin - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The unedited 2014 report into World Cup bidding published by Michael Garcia has been ‘leaked’ into the press by German publication Bild.

FIFA had released a 42-page version of the report that claimed to clear corruption allegations against Qatar. This “suppressed” report is over 400 pages.

Garcia quit his job as investigator with the FIFA ethics committee in 2014, saying he believed progress in reforming FIFA had slowed considerably.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Bild said it will publish more information and the full report on Tuesday, but the BBC notes a couple interesting facets of the initial release:

  • “Three Fifa executive members were flown to a party in Rio in a private jet belonging to the Qatari federation before the vote for 2018 and 2022 hosting rights.”
  • “Bild’s report includes details of a $2m (£1.6m) sum allegedly paid to the 10-year-old daughter of a Fifa official.”

Before you overreact, the 10-year-old is an incredibly gifted footballer.

The reporter who filed the story says the report shows no proof of a bought bid, but that it is like “a puzzle.”

Giggs has “to put up with” no managerial interviews

Photo by John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images
Leave a comment

How much is playing experience worth to a manager?

Comments from Ryan Giggs have us contemplating that question as the legendary Manchester United man wonders why he hasn’t gotten a shout to manage a Premier League squad.

Giggs, 43, says he’s only spoken with Swansea City regarding a managerial spot since his 2014 stint as interim boss of Manchester United. That’s surprising given the Welshman has been linked with seemingly every job in the British Isles.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

“I spoke to Swansea. It didn’t work out. Because I have said I want to go into coaching and management every job that comes up I am linked with..and then I miss out on the job without having spoken to anyone! That’s frustrating, but that’s football. …“I have done the apprenticeship I have just not done the real thing yet.” (Manchester Evening News).

With respect to his on-field prowess, which at times was nearly peerless, should players like Giggs really be surprised when they don’t get top-end offers? Given the big money nature of the Premier League, why should any club trust it’s future to an unknown?

Patrick Vieira was a heck of a player but started his time in the first chair by going abroad to New York City FC. Even Paul Clement gave Derby County a go before getting a look at Swansea last season.

Now Giggs will probably point to fellow Wales and Manchester United alum Mark Hughes, who was named to Wales and Blackburn posts straight out of his playing career.

But for every story like that, there’s Steve Bruce working for Sheffield United in the old Division One, or Jaap Stam going into the Championship with Reading and having some success in building his name. On the negative side, there’s Gary Neville being thrust into a La Liga role without First Team experience.

So while there’s no guarantee that Giggs isn’t beating down the doors of openings in lower leagues, it seems more likely that he has the option of continuing to wait for someone to bet on his name and potential in the Premier League, or to go for any number of jobs in the lower tier to prove his mettle. There’s risk there, too, to be sure, but he’ll be more easily forgiven for failure in a lower spot than in a higher spot. But from the outside, it’s not something Giggs has “to put up with,” rather a choice.

And to his credit, Giggs feels his work in acquiring his coaching licenses while a player and studying under Louis Van Gaal should be enough for a gig. He’s also fine waiting, according to the article, which is totally acceptable (not that he’s looking for our approval). But we’d love to see former players like Giggs at another squad.

Chelsea sells Traore to Lyon for $11 million

@OL
Leave a comment

Chelsea has officially sold exciting attacker Betrand Traore to Lyon.

Traore, 21, spent last season on loan at Ajax, helping the club to the UEFA Europa League Final.

The 40-times capped Burkina Faso winger scored four goals in 16 appearances for Chelsea in 2015-16, and has 22 goals in loan seasons to Vitesse and Ajax.

[ MORE: Ranking expectations for PL bosses ]

The fee is said to be more than $11 million. Traore joined Chelsea’s academy in 2010 after coming up with Auxerre.

Chelsea will earn 15 percent of any future sale of Traore, and also have the right of first refusal should another team make an offer for the attacker.

Lyon currently has held onto Alexandre Lacazette, and has Nabil Fekir, Memphis Depay and captain Maxime Gonalons amongst its stars. Adding Traore will only help the club’s ambitions in Ligue 1 as well as the Europa League.