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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.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE