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

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

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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.

Platini vows to return to soccer after “end of long nightmare”

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PARIS (AP) Banned former UEFA President and FIFA vice president Michel Platini says he is planning to return to soccer after Swiss federal prosecutors confirmed he was not being charged in an investigation into possible financial wrongdoing.

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

Platini says in a statement it’s “the end of a long nightmare for my family and those close to me.”

Since September 2015, the former France midfielder had the status of “between a witness and an accused person” in criminal proceedings opened against then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter. No criminal case was ever opened against Platini.

The evidence related to Blatter authorizing FIFA to pay Platini $2 million in uncontracted back salary in 2011.

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

FIFA’s ethics committee also investigated Platini’s request to FIFA for pension contributions he was not entitled to. It was agreed by Blatter and added more than $1 million to Platini’s retirement fund.

Platini was eventually banned for four years, through October 2019. Both he and Blatter denied wrongdoing but Court of Arbitration for Sport judges refused to overturn his ban and that of Blatter’s.

[ UCL FINAL: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The case meant Platini was removed from the UEFA presidency and he was barred from trying to succeed Blatter as FIFA president in 2016.

Platini, a former France captain and coach, says “I will come back: where, when, how? It’s too early to say. But I will come back into football.

“Because football is my life and I deny anyone the right to deprive me of my life,” the 62-year-old Platini says.

Neymar appears in good shape after first week with Brazil

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TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) Neymar finished his first full week of training with Brazil on Saturday in apparent good shape ahead of the upcoming World Cup after foot surgery.

The striker continued his recovery, dribbling and passing at high speed in Brazil’s last training session on home soil before the national team sets up camp in London on Monday.

The Brazilian has been recovering from right foot surgery in March.

[ MORE: Neymar “annoyed” by latest (and constant) transfer speculation ]

Earlier in the week, members of Brazil’s coaching staff said Neymar was fit to train but they tried to reduce pressure on him by saying it would take time until he delivered his best performances.

Left back Filipe Luis said Neymar did well in training but still needs to forget the injury.

“I had a serious injury in 2010 and I came back with fear. In the first chance I had in a game, I went with it all so I could lose that fear. I saw it didn’t hurt and I just forgot,” Luis said. “It will be the same with Neymar, the first time an opponent kicks him … he will forget it.”

In the first training session in Teresopolis, outside Rio de Janeiro, Neymar occasionally dragged his right foot onto the pitch. On Thursday he took his right boot off, sat down for a few minutes and looked upset. Once the football was underway, he seemed as fit as his teammates despite accidentally kicking the pitch with his injured foot. He soon afterward got back in action.

[ MORE: Messi: It would be ‘terrible’ to see Neymar at Real Madrid ]

In the first and only Brazil open training session, with fans screaming his name on the sidelines, a playful Neymar nutmegged right-back Danilo and flipped the ball over Luis’ head.

Throughout the week Neymar showed his finishing was sharpening, especially from close range.

After Saturday’s training Neymar welcomed his girlfriend, actress Bruna Marquezine, and family members to the Granja Comary training ground.

With Brazil players off duty for the rest of the day, Neymar is expected to take some teammates back to his mansion in Mangaratiba, near Rio.

The 20-strong squad will meet again Sunday morning at the Brazilian football confederation headquarters in a visit to their museum.

Players then travel to London hours later and will set up camp until June 8 at Tottenham’s training ground.

Ronaldo hints at exit: “It has been very nice playing for Real Madrid”

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In the minutes after helping Real Madrid win their third straight UEFA Champions League trophy, Cristiano Ronaldo dropped the most unexpected of transfer bombshells on the world.

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

With three more seasons remaining on his current contract, Ronaldo appeared to hint that he expects leave the club this summer, at the age of 33.

“It has been very nice playing for Real Madrid,” he told the television broadcast with tears in his eyes, revealing that he will announce his plans for his future “in the coming days.”

Gareth Bale, who scored Saturday’s winning goal, said something quite similar during his post-game remarks.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Perhaps it’s not the most surprising development on the whole, given his age and the obvious need for a youth movement at the Santiago Bernabeu, but to choose that stage — mere moments after winning his fifth career UCL title (four with Madrid) — to tease something so newsworthy and unexpected was certainly eye-opening.

Gareth Bale hints at Premier League transfer

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Gareth Bale jumped off the bench with Real Madrid drawing 1-1 with Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League final.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Moments later he scored one of the greatest goals in the history of European finals via an outrageous overhead kick, then added another late on to seal a 13th European title for Real.

[ MORE: Mohamed Salah injured ]

Yet speaking to BT Sport after the game, Bale’s mind was quickly on why he didn’t start the game as Zinedine Zidane instead went with Isco and Karim Benzema in support of Cristiano Ronaldo up top.

“Obviously I was very disappointed not to start the game, I felt I deserved it but the manager makes the decisions,” Bale said. “The best I have been doing is to come on and make an impact, I certainly did…

[ MORE: Player ratings | Recap ]

Asked about a potential move back to the Premier League, Bale had the following to say.

“I need to be playing week in, week out and that has not happened this season. I had an injury five, six weeks in but fit ever since. I have to sit down with my agent in the summer and discuss it and go from there,” Bale said.

That sound you can hear is the phone of Bale’s agent ringing…

[ MORE: Ronaldo also hints at Real Madrid exit

Seriously, he has every right to question why he wasn’t playing more often and the Welsh international has been in fine form in recent weeks with six goals in his last four games.

Zidane made the right call because Real Madrid won their third-straight European title but it appears that Bale is getting fed up with being the odd man out at the Santiago Bernabeu.

If that was his final game for Real, what a way to go out. Now the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and others will be battling to bring Bale back to the Premier League, with his former club Tottenham said to have first refusal on buying him but surely they’d be unlikely to afford his wages and transfer fee.