Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Tottenham

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All eyes on Stamford Bridge on Saturday, as Chelsea hope to extend their lead at the top of the table with a victory over fifth-placed Tottenham (Watch live on NBCSN, 12:30 p.m. ET and online via Live Extra).

A London Derby is always a tantalizing prospect, but with so much at stake, this one could provide a bit of extra intrigue. When Chelsea came to White Hart Lane back in September, John Terry canceled out Gylfi Sigurdsson’s opener, Fernando Torres played like a man possessed and saw himself sent off, and the match ended even. Now, Spurs need at least a point if they want to keep their hopes of playing in the Champions League next season alive.

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Tottenham are currently four points back of fourth, but as Manchester City have two games in hand – three, come the end of the weekend – it’s really more like six. Life under Tim Sherwood has been unpredictable, to say the least. Spurs destroyed Newcastle, only to lose to Norwich before squeaking out a 1-0 victory over Cardiff last week, thanks to a goal from Roberto Soldado.

With Sherwood’s managerial style seemingly boiling down to an ability to pump his side up from the sidelines, is there much hope that his Spurs side will be able to take points from José Mourinho’s men? It’s worth remembering that the Chelsea manager has yet to lose a league match at Stamford Bridge – not to mention the fact that the Blues are undefeated in their last thirteen games, winning ten of those matches.

That leaves Chelsea top of the table – although, again, Manchester City’s games in hand keeps them not quite so comfortable in that position. Mourinho needs a win, and considering he doesn’t need to worry about midweek action, he’ll be gunning for all three points. Samuel Eto’o played all 90 for Cameroon on Wednesday, so Torres, who didn’t get called up for Spain, could very well have the chance to prove himself to all those doubting the striker. And despite Eden Hazard taking a knock while playing for Belgium, it’s expected that the spectacularly in-form attacker will be available for Saturday’s clash.

What they’re saying

Sherwood on Spurs surprise factor:  “Sometimes when the expectation is not with you, it makes it a little bit easier,” said Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood. “Games against Chelsea at the Bridge, Arsenal at the Emirates and Liverpool at Anfield, perhaps the pressure’s off us a little bit and we can cause a surprise. We’re going to the Bridge, and that’s definitely tough, but sometimes expectancy works against you.”

Andre Schurrle on Chelsea’s title challenge: “We have to believe it. I think everyone believes it now. We have worked hard for this,” said the Blues’ midfielder, who scored a hat-trick last weekend in the win over Fulham. “We have to keep going, keep winning like we did at Fulham, then we will see at the end.”

Prediction

It just has to be Chelsea, doesn’t it? Sure, those who love Sherwood’s approach to management would love to see him outwit Mourinho, dealing a blow to the Portuguese’s ego. But Mourinho’s reputation isn’t undeserved, and there’s a reason Chelsea are top. Stability, predictability and yes, even a bit of boredom are likely to win out over the Sherwood roller-coaster.

Rumored Neymar for Bale swap: Who wins?

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Who would gain more of an advantage from the rumored, sensational Gareth Bale for Neymar swap: Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid?

Both players are currently problems for their clubs, though neither is known as a true rabble-rouser; Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane wants to be done with the newly-minted 30-year-old Bale, while PSG knows Neymar wants to leave and would love to satiate Kylian Mbappe’s appetite to be the man at their club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

Presumably some money would be headed PSG’s way in addition to Bale, and both clubs would be getting a motivated megawatt star.

Neymar doesn’t turn 28 until February, but the difference in age may be offset by the Brazilian’s track record of injuries.

In fact, his injury status last season combines with an off-field accusation of sexual assault and a red card for confronting a fan to overshadow his production: Neymar’s 23 goals and 13 assists in just over 2300 minutes last season, including five and two in the Champions League (and a goal and an assist against defensively-stout Liverpool).

Bale presents very few personality challenges, and PSG won’t have a problem with his massive wages (especially with Neymar off the books). His numbers have dipped in two of three seasons since his otherworldly 2015-16, but La Liga is a more difficult scoring league than Ligue 1.

Neymar has twice been a Ballon d’Or finalist and, presuming his legal troubles don’t persist, could be a title fight changer in La Liga. Imagine the Neymar, Eden Hazard, and Luka Jovic trying to outgun Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and Luis Suarez? Insane.

We’d say Real would be winning the straight-up swap, and that it’s pretty unlikely to go down that way. So it depends what PSG does with the relative Financial Fair Play freedom that would come with the money that also arrives from Spain. Is it Idrissa Gana Gueye? Someone else who helps take PSG’s Champions League hopes to the next level?

Manchester United in ‘concrete talks’ with Lille over Pepe

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Manchester United are reportedly in “concrete talks” to agree a fee with Lille for much-tracked playmaker Nicolas Pepe.

The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has been linked with Liverpool and Arsenal amongst others, and Lille has admitted he’ll be leaving the club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

United’s reported salvo was around $87.5 million. He’d give them a star who could play across from Anthony Martial or as an attacking midfielder under Romelu Lukaku.

Only Kylian Mbappe and Teji Savanier garnered better season-long ratings than Pepe in the 2018-19 Ligue 1 campaign, and Pepe’s 22 goals and 11 assists stand out from the pack. Only Mbappe had more goals and only Savanier more assists.

Pepe has four goals in 11 caps for the Ivory Coast, and made three starts in Les Elephants’ five-match run at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. He’s a fit for the Premier League, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s system. And if the Red Devils can keep him from Liverpool, well, all the better we’re sure.

Report: Manchester United, Leicester agree to monster Maguire fee

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Manchester United and Leicester City have agreed a fee for Harry Maguire, clearing the way for the English center back to join the Old Trafford set.

That fee is a whopping $100 million, according to Bleacher Report’s Dean Jones. That’s about $4 million more than the world record for a defender, set when Liverpool purchased Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton.

[ MORE: USMNT CB to West Ham? ]

Maguire has been a statistical monster for Leicester City, and he passes the eye test, too.

Manchester United has needed to upgrade its stable of center backs for some time, and now the biggest question is who will work best alongside the 6-foot-4 26-year-old.

The former Sheffield United, Wigan Athletic, and Hull City defender is now 20-times capped by England.

The move could have a ripple effect on the Premier League, as the Foxes have been expected to bid for Burnley star James Tarkowski should Maguire leave the King Power Stadium.

Transfer rumor roundup: USMNT’s Long to London, Newcastle linked with pair

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Could USMNT center back Aaron Long be headed to the Premier League?

The 26-year-old could join West Ham United’s stable of center backs, which includes Issa Diop, Fabian Balbuena, and Angelo Ogbonna.

Sky Sports says that the Red Bulls defender has drawn the interest of Lyon and Fiorentina, but been offered to the Irons should they match his $5 million release clause.

Unable to find a place with Portland and Seattle, Long spent a few seasons in the USL before earning a place with RBNY.

Now 11-times capped by the USMNT with two goals, Long could be bringing his talents to London’s Olympic Stadium.

Elsewhere in the Premier League, Newcastle United has the chance to sign oft-injured Danny Welbeck on a free transfer.

The longtime Arsenal striker, weaned at Manchester United, scored five times in 12 matches last season in a return to injury woes following a 43-match season the prior year.

Newcastle is also being linked with a former defender. James Tavernier has gone on to captain Glasgow Rangers, and the 27-year-old would cost around $10 million.

Surely Steven Gerrard would want more for the defender, but prices haven’t met quality for Scottish Premiership players as we’ve seen with Kieran Tierney at Celtic.