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.

CCL: Toronto wins; Wild Herediano comeback

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Leave a comment

On a single-digit Tuesday that severely limited the attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC dueled in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Jonathan Osorio’s second half goal put the Reds in front and Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist and the visitors take a 2-0 decision back to Ontario.

The best chance of a preseason quality first half saw Dominique Badji flub the best chance of the stage into the feet of Alex Bono.

Toronto took the lead, nabbing the away goal through Osorio’s header of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. And the Atomic Ant got on the board with a goal of his own off an Auro assist with 17 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Georgia teen heading to Schalke ]

Tuesday’s other first leg saw Herediano and Tigres play to a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica, with the Liga MX visitors taking a pair of away goals but shocked by a pair of stoppage time concessions.

Francisco Meza scored in the 15th minute and Lucas Zelarayan seemingly put it to bed with 15 minutes to play.

But Yendrick Ruiz converted a 90th minute penalty kick before ex-DC United forward Jairo Arrieta did this ahead of the Feb. 22 second leg in Mexico.

Another American heads to Schalke: Zyen Jones

@KingZyen
Leave a comment

Schalkamerica?

Bundesliga mainstays Schalke have added yet another American, this one 17-year-old Zyen Jones of Atlanta United. Jones is a forward with the U.S. U-17 national team.

Like Josh Sargent, who signed his deal with Werder Bremen on Tuesday, he’ll head overseas and sign a pro contract on Aug. 25, his 18th birthday.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Jones will join several potential USMNT teammates in Gelsenkirchen, including injured senior team midfielder Weston McKennie and youngster Nick Taitague (19). Forward Haji Wright is on loan at Sandhausen.

Report: Simon Dawkins making move to Minnesota

Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Loons are taking a flier on Simon Dawkins.

The London-born Jamaican international hasn’t done a ton since returning to MLS from Derby County, and turned 30 over the offseason, and Paul Tenorio says the player is on his way to Minnesota United.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Dawkins scored 14 goals between 2011-12 with San Jose, but scored just five times in his return to California and was blanked in 14 appearances last season. He registered just 10 shots in those matches.

The left winger would join an attack with Christian Ramirez, Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay, and a pair of Generations Adidas forwards: Abu Danladi (2017 SuperDraft) and Mason Toye (2018).

Champions League Weds. preview: Sevilla-Man Utd, Shakhtar-Roma

Martin Rickett/PA via AP
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho says Manchester United is one round away from having legitimate hopes of winning the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

That makes the Round of 16 tie against Sevilla — beginning Wednesday in Spain — a bit of a dream qualifier for the Red Devils.

“I normally say that Champions League dreams start around the quarter-finals and not yet in the last 16,” Mourinho said on ManUtd.com. “Last 16 still looks a long way to go. When a team reaches the quarter-finals, I think it’s the moment where even the teams that are not favourites – which is our case – they start realising that anything is possible.

The injury-hit side got a bit of a boost on Tuesday in Sevilla, where Paul Pogba, Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera all trained ahead of the first leg.

As for the hosts, manager Vincenzo Montella admitted that he hopes Pogba won’t play, and joked that he’d prefer to tie up and “padlock” Alexis Sanchez in a bid to defend against the Chilean star.

The final Round of 16 tie to start will be Roma’s pairing with Shakhtar Donetsk, with the first leg taking place in Ukraine.

Shakhtar hasn’t played in some time, but the great equalizer is the bitter cold at Donbass Arena, where the temperature is set to be between 21 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit come kickoff.

Don’t worry, Roma fans, Daniele De Rossi is busy breathing fire into any teammates angling for excuses:

“The cold weather could affect things a little because we’re not used to it but at the end of the day it comes down to how well you perform out there. We must be mentally ready from the get-go because the cold might hit us in the opening minutes.

“If it was that much of a factor, these teams would win the Champions League every year. You don’t go through because of the weather.”