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“Excited” Eric Dier, Tottenham ready to take their chance

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LONDON — All Tottenham Hotspur can do is keep putting the pressure on Premier League leaders Chelsea and hope they crack.

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With Chelsea having a seven-point lead over Tottenham with seven games to go in the PL, a win for Spurs in the early game on Saturday would reduce that lead to four points and then Chelsea head to Manchester United on Sunday for a tough encounter.

The pressure is on.

Speaking exclusively to Pro Soccer Talk from Spurs’ training ground ahead of their clash at White Hart Lane with Bournemouth on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) Eric Dier believes it is a big advantage for Tottenham to be playing ahead of their title rivals once again after they hammered Watford 4-0 in the early game last weekend.

“It is always nice to play first,” Dier admitted. “That was one of the things that was disappointing about last season, the schedule for us and always having to play catch up. That’s quite difficult. Hopefully we can narrow the gap to four points and then hope for them to slip up.”

Dier and Spurs go into this weekends game in fine form as Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have won six-straight games in the Premier League and Dier has scored twice in his last three outings after being “frustrated” with his lack of goals so far this season.

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The 23-year-old Englishman is a key cog in Spurs’ team whether he plays in central midfield or central defense and he believes that although they’ve had some stunning spells over the last two seasons, right now Tottenham are showing their most consistent form yet.

“Last season we had great spells but I think this season what you’ve seen is consistency. If we’re talking about our Premier League season as a whole, we’ve been consistent and I can’t really see a patch where we’ve been through a bad spell,” Dier explained. “It isn’t a case of ‘we’ve lost it’ but it’s a case of Chelsea have done extremely well themselves and went on that amazing unbeaten run. As a season, we’ve been consistent and going into the last period now we’ve been impressive and want to try and keep that up.”

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In each of the past two seasons Spurs have challenged for the PL title and in other years they may have won the trophy on both occasions had Leicester not had an incredible run last season and champions-elect Chelsea having a similar spell this season as they won 13-straight games before losing to Tottenham on Jan. 4 at the Lane.

Even though Spurs may come up short once again, Dier believes that with a new stadium on the way, talented players locked down to long-term deals and a highly-respected management team in place, the sky is the limit.

“We have to focus on ourselves. Keep working hard and keep wanting to improve. I think the club is set up for great things so it’s just a case of us continuing to work hard,” Dier said. “Last season was a bit different because we had some bad spells but this season, as a whole, we can be happy with our season. But we want more and we are going to try and get more in these last games now.”

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Aside from stunning runs for Leicester and Tottenham, one of the reasons Spurs can be forgiven for asking ‘what if?’ this season is untimely injuries. With Harry Kane, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Erik Lamela and Danny Rose, all key players, missing for large chunks of the campaign, Pochettino has had to juggle his squad expertly.

Despite those ailments, Dier has been delighted with the way that other players have stepped in.

“We’ve been unlucky which is quite a contrast with last season because we didn’t have many injuries. We’ve coped well every injury we’ve had. We’ve coped very well and have a strong squad,” Dier said. “Everyone is ready to take their chance when they do and you’ve seen other players step up, the likes of Sonny [Heung-Min Son] who has really kicked on this season and taken advantage of a chance he’s got. Obviously we never want anyone to get injured but at the same time it’s a chance for someone to step up.”

Now, it’s time for Spurs to step up in the final weeks of the season. After the clash with Bournemouth this weekend there’s an FA Cup semifinal at Wembley against Chelsea to look forward to, then three-straight London derbies against Crystal Palace, Arsenal and West Ham before hosting Manchester United.

These are exciting times for Dier and his teammates.

“Everyone is really excited,” Dier said, smiling. “The game this weekend, then the FA Cup semifinal and then we have three London derbies in a week. It’s going to be a really exciting time and everyone is really focused. We are in a good place right now but there’s a lot of work to be done.”

First up: put the pressure on Chelsea this weekend and see what happens.

10-man Red Bulls hold off Atlanta United at home

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Atlanta United’s five-game winning streak went up in smoke as the New York Red Bulls pulled off an incredible 1-0 victory.

Playing down a man for around 65 minutes, the Red Bulls shutout Atlanta United’s high powered offense in front of 18,495 fans at Red Bull Arena. Tom Barlow, in just his second appearance with the Red Bulls, scored the game-winning goal in the 65th minute off a header at the far post, one that left U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Brad Guzan rooted to his line.

[READ: Pep: Domestic Treble harder than UCL]

Tim Parker was shown a straight red card in controversial fashion, after grabbing Josef Martinez’s left arm with Martinez in front of him just outside the box. Martinez was clearly pulled back but continued running and eventually got a shot off that Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles parried away.

Referee Robert Sbiga then decided to call the play back and award Atlanta United a free kick outside the box. After what seemed to be consultation with his assistants, Sbiga then showed Parker a straight red card, likely for denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) while Martinez was through on goal.

The outcome is a massive one for the Red Bulls. It’s been a rough season, with the loss of both Jesse Marsch and Tyler Adams and the poor form of Bradley Wright-Phillips up top. Wright-Phillips was out on Sunday and another attacker Andreas Ivan, went off with an injury in the first half as he was about to be substituted off anyways following the red card.

Alejandro Romero Gamarra, Kaku, has made his feelings known that he wants (or wanted) to leave the club. His form hasn’t been stellar this season either.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s finally found its way back into the win column and is looking more like the juggernaut from last season, especially with five-straight shutout wins. It’s all back to zero today though, with the defeat at the Red Bulls on a perfect grass pitch up a man.

Mbappe hints he could leave PSG

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Kylian Mbappe accepted his award as the Ligue 1 MVP, dedicated it to Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and then mentioned he could be off soon to another club.

Wait, what?

Yes, following Mbappe accepting his award, the French star and World Cup winner stated he hoped he could continue his career at PSG but left open the possibility of moving to another club that allows him to take the next steps in his career.

[READ: Kompany to join Anderlecht as player-manager]

“This is a very important moment for me, I arrive at a first or second turn of my career,” Mbappe said, via L’equipe. “I’ve discovered a lot of things here, I feel that maybe it’s time to have more responsibility. I hope it may be at Paris Saint-Germain, it would be with great pleasure, or perhaps elsewhere for a new project.”

Mbappe later clarified his comments, stating he was looking for more responsibility. “If it’s at PSG, that’s good. If it is elsewhere, it will be elsewhere for a new challenge.

“For me, it was time to say it. I am someone whole: when I say something, I think it. For me, it was the right time to say it. That’s it, I said it!”

It’s unclear why exactly Mbappe used this moment to put some pressure on PSG. Perhaps its to remind them that the club needs to be successful in its transfer endeavors this summer, so it can compete deep into the UEFA Champions League. With Neymar injured and a central midfield ravaged by injuries, PSG capitulated and somehow fell to Manchester United in the Champions League Round of 16, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

There’s no reason why PSG can’t dominate the Champions League like it does Ligue 1, especially with the attacking trident of Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani. But of course, against better competition, the inferiority in mentality and in talent along the backline has started to show.

So, where could Mbappe go? There’s very few places that could effectively match both his salary and his competitive goals. It’s the usual suspects, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and perhaps Manchester City, should they be interested in it. More recently, while Man City has spent big, it’s been on signing multiple players on $50 million transfers, as opposed to one player on a $200 million transfer, for example.

It’s unlikely, but an intriguing option would be Liverpool. If the club somehow came up with the funds, imagine Mbappe playing alongside Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, with Roberto Firmino coming in to spell either of the three over the course of the season. Mbappe would likely make up that one-point difference between Liverpool and Man City, and if that’s what it takes for Liverpool to finally win the title, it could be worth the initial massive investment.

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

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Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

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Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

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Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

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Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.