Premier League Playback: Alarming signs emerge for Chelsea

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Before you read this, remember, Chelsea still has a four-point lead atop the Premier League and they play Tottenham Hotspur in an FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium this Saturday.

[ MORE: Mourinho’s master plan ]

Remember that when reading Antonio Conte‘s damning verdict of his team following their 2-0 defeat at Manchester United on Sunday which breathed new life into the PL title race after two defeats in four PL games for Chelsea.

“It won’t be easy because I think Tottenham are now the best team. They are in good form and they have a lot of enthusiasm. They are feeling the possibility to write history and it is important for us to know this,” Conte said.

“We lost two games but those games were totally different. Against Crystal Palace, we didn’t deserve to lose. Today we deserved to lose the game. We didn’t play a good game and United deserved to win. We have to think there are six finals from now until the end of the season. The league is open and we have a 50% [opportunity] to win the league. It will be good to finish on top of the table and, if so, it means we deserve this. Otherwise we must clap another team.”

Is it just me, or did that statement from Conte seem a little extreme in the aftermath of a potentially damaging defeat at Old Trafford?

[ MORE: 3 things we learned | Player ratings

As soon as he uttered the words “Tottenham are now the best team” in the press conference room at Old Trafford you could hear journalists pounding away at their keyboards as eyes widened and others muttered ‘what the heck is he saying’ following Conte’s comments.

It wasn’t so much a concession that his Chelsea’s team are on the ropes for the final weeks of the season, but it was a warning sign of where this team is at.

Conte was right about Chelsea’s defeat at United. They didn’t deserve to win, or draw, and Jose Mourinho won the tactical battle fair and square as Ander Herrra has probably just allowed Eden Hazard to hop out of his back pocket and Chelsea’s makeshift defense couldn’t handle the pacy duo of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard up front together.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live ]

It wasn’t rocket science from Mourinho, but it was brave and bold and was something a little different than most teams have done against Chelsea this season. Conte and his players will now have to prepare for teams playing two up front against them in their pivotal final six games of the season with their three center backs suddenly under more pressure than they have been since the switch to a 3-4-3 back in September.

Amid reports of a virus sweeping through Chelsea’s dressing room late last week, plus goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois getting injured in an NBA promo video (yes, you read that correctly) the Blues are having some adversity thrown at them. Add in club captain John Terry announcing he will leave Chelsea at the end of this season at the age of 36 to continue playing elsewhere, and a lot is happening right now at Stamford Bridge. Terry’s leadership and experience will no doubt be needed in the final weeks of the season to nudge Chelsea over the line.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

The mentality of this team is strong, as they’ve shown for most of the season and the vast majority of this squad showed that in the 2014-15 title-winning campaign too. Yet given the epic collapse most of these players were part of and the 10th place finish last season, there’s a lingering sense that Chelsea could crumble.

There’s no doubting Tottenham have the tougher schedule remaining but with Spurs winning seven games on the spin, unbeaten at home in the PL and going into an FA Cup semi against Chelsea brimming with confidence, the warning bells are starting to ring for Conte and Chelsea.

It’s time they woke up from this little slump and finish the job. If they don’t, Tottenham will nip in and take it all.


LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

This weekend was so much fun. On location at White Hart Lane, Old Trafford and the Riverside Stadium was the entire NBC Sports Soccer crew as the broadcast team from the USA flew across the pond to link up with everyone.

A great time was had by all, with plenty of laughs mixed in with long travel days, countless pitch-side interviews with some of the biggest names in the PL, plus behind-the-scenes Facebook lives with the gang and much, much more.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

With a studio, pitch-side desk and gantry at each stadium for Tottenham vs. Bournemouth, Man United vs. Chelsea and Middlesbrough vs. Arsenal, the annual trip to the UK delivered big time when it came to drama on the pitch and excitement off it.

Click play on the video at the top of this section to get a glimpse of what to expect in the “I Was There” PL Download special coming up on Wednesday, April 26th at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

You won’t want to miss it.


TOP FOUR BATTLE IS ON

Wins for Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton mean the top four battle is well and truly on.

Things are getting tense and tight.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Liverpool and Man United took care of business after watching Man City blow past Southampton 3-0 on Saturday as Vincent Kompany‘s return to full-fitness was a joy to watch. Suddenly Pep Guardiola‘s City look much more solid in defense and they remain just as lethal in attack.

We’ve spoken about Man United’s tactical beating of Chelsea and Mourinho will feel like his team now have a real chance of making the top four as they sit four points behind Man City and have a game in hand. Add in that the two Manchester clubs face each other next Thursday in the PL and the top four battle is set to intensify further.

Watching on nervously all weekend were Arsenal who beat a stubborn Middlesrbrough side 2-1 after switching to a 3-4-3 formation for the first time in 20 years under Wenger. Along with Everton’s fine form and Romelu Lukaku banging in the goals, there are five teams in the hunt for third and fourth place, even if the Toffees have played more games than anyone else and seem likely to finish seventh given their tough run-in.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

With Arsenal still to play Man United and Tottenham, plus Man City still to play Man United and United still to face Tottenham, things seem pretty set for Liverpool to finish in the top four a Jurgen Klopp‘s men have a kind run-in.

Yet, strange things happen at this time of the season and the top four race will no doubt go down to the wire.


END OF AN ERA AS JT CALLS TIME

As mentioned above, at the age of 36 Terry has decided to end his time at Chelsea after 19 seasons at the club. After coming through the youth ranks the captain of Chelsea will leave a huge void after 22 years in west London.

[ MORE: What now for Terry? ]

Even though he’s missed most of this season through a combination of injury and not being able to usurp Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta from a solid back three, Terry’s impact in the dressing room will still be key, especially in the run-in.

After all, he’s won 14 major honors at Chelsea, lifting 13 of them as captain.

Where does he go next? Reports suggest Major League Soccer, China or other options in the PL are emerging but for now let’s let the words of those who know him best honor a true Chelsea hero.

He will go down as one of the greatest center backs in world history, plus the greatest player in Chelsea’s history and one of England’s finest defenders.

As the banner simply says at Stamford Bridge: “JT. Captain. Leader. Legend.”

The last man standing of an incredible era for @chelseafc. What a pleasure to play with the greatest defender in the @premierleague history. In fact, I'd put him up with any defender in world football of any era. He led the club both on and off the pitch from the moment he made his debut. He set standards for everyone, whether it was demanding excellence in training, fighting for every win or respecting how fortunate we were to play for such a great club. He was, and is, a legend, not just for his talent but just as much for his desire to get the best out of himself and others around him. That's what made him the most successful captain in the club's history. Off the pitch a great friend to not just me but so many at the club and outside of it. The countless things I've seen JT do to help people outside of the game, things that not many see, are what defines him as a man. @johnterry.26 you deserve every accolade you get over the next weeks and beyond and I hope you get what you deserve and lift two massive trophies at the end of the season(just to add to the tally 😂). Whatever you do next I know everyone will respect your decision and I know that the Chels will always be your club. Absolute respect 💙💙👊👊#jt #captain #leader #legend

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From day one you've been a true Leader, when I first met you and didn't know who you were 🙈 ☺️ but said to me "welcome to chelsea" Thought you were a young player from the academy going on pre season tour 😂😂😂 Then I realized who you were from your first speech right before our first friendly game vs @celticfc . You've been carrying this team, this club for 22 years with the same passion, the same desire to win for @chelseafc and our fans. Proud to have been lead by the all time best defender of @premierleague and one of the very best in the world!!!! Thanks for the memories CAPTAIN LEGEND TERRY @johnterry.26 and all the very best for your next challenge. #leaderonandoffthepitch #legend #Goat #chelseafc #johnterry #blues #endofanera #whataneraitwas #winniiiiiiiiiing🏅🏆🏅🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏅🏆🏅🏆🏆🏆🏅🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆

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Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Mourinho: Van Gaal left good team, but I brought belief

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Jose Mourinho and Manchester United are bringing happiness to the Liberty Stadium on Sunday, or at least more of it.

The United boss says the club’s turnaround is emotionally-based, and that the cupboard certainly wasn’t bare when he took over the Red Devils last summer.

[ MORE: Fellaini red  had “a bit of acting” ]

United finished fifth in the Premier League last season, tied for fourth with Man City and 15 points back of Arsenal. Mourinho’s men sit in the same spot this year, but are in the semifinals of the Europa League, have won the League Cup, and have the door open to the Top Four.

So what’s different? Here’s the boss, from the BBC:

“I think Mr. Van Gaal left a good group of boys with very good relations between them.

“[But] I think they missed happiness, they missed trust, belief, this extra bit that brings resilience, brings fight and they have it [now].”

It’s been a bit of a roller coaster with the Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luke Shaw drama, but — like any new manager — Mourinho did have to sort the club. Now we wonder whether he’ll keep it happy or hit a traditional rut by Year Three (assuming he gets there, and United should be very good next season).

Spurs confirm Wembley as 2017-18 home

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May 14 will indeed be the last time Tottenham Hotspur takes the field at White Hart Lane.

Club chairman Daniel Levy has announced that Spurs will play all of its 2017-18 home matches at Wembley Stadium, and that WHL will be demolished in the offseason.

Spurs have a new venue under construction next door to WHL, calling the venue “the heart” of regeneration plans in the region. From TottenhamHotspur.com:

“This marks a momentous day in our Club’s history as it is the day we formally agreed the demolition of our beloved White Hart Lane.

“The Lane means a huge amount to each and every one of us and we needed to gain greater certainty on the delivery of the new stadium before we made the final decision to commence with the decommissioning of our iconic, historic home for some 118 years.

‘We shall ensure that we give the Lane a fitting farewell when we play our last match here on May 14.”

West Ham’s final match at Upton Park was a memorable one last season, thanks not just to the off-field but the on-field as well. The Irons came back to beat Manchester United 3-2 on a Winston Reid goal.

With Manchester United coincidentally (?) serving as the visitor on May 14, with Top Four if not title implications likely still in play, sign us up for a comfortable seat in front of TV.

Pochettino: Derby matters, but this is about title not “Totteringham”

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Mauricio Pochettino is a focused boss, one many of us wouldn’t mind as our manager.

The longtime Espyanol man knows a thing or two about being relegated to second fiddle in town, with Catalan rivals Barcelona enveloping the spotlight 99 times out of 100.

That’s why he’s not even bothering with treating Arsenal and “St. Totteringham’s Day” — the Gunners’ annual celebration of clinching a spot above Spurs in the standings — like anything than a derby date.

“I really don’t think about which position Arsenal are in. My view and focus is to try to win every game and try to win the Premier League.

“For me (finishing above Arsenal) is not a motivation. The motivation for me is to win because it’s a derby and I know what it means to win a derby. My motivation is to try to win some titles with Tottenham, and my players improve every day and show we are better than the opposition.”

Spurs as a club is growing in big ways, and aiming to sit atop the Premier League standings every year. Yes Premier League derbies are important, but aiming to finish above a rival versus above all rivals is short-sighted. Pochettino’s got it right.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 35

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The Premier League games continue to come thick and fast with 10 matches on the slate this weekend.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

West Brom 2-0 Leicester City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Man United 2-0 Swansea City – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Middlesbrough 1-3 Man City – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM

Crystal Palace 3-1 Burnley – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Stoke City 2-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Tottenham 2-1 Arsenal – (Sunday, 11:30 am. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Sunderland 1-2 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM

Southampton 2-1 Hull City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Watford 2-1 Liverpool – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Everton 2-1 Chelsea – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM