More glory on the mind as Chelsea crowned champions

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LONDON — As the sun beat down on west London on the final day of the season, Chelsea hoisted the Premier League trophy into the air amid euphoria.

Increased expectations were also in the air.

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Chelsea had become the first team in Premier League history to win 30 games in a season as Antonio Conte has put together a fluid, rigid machine capable of powering or finessing its way past opponents. There are very few weaknesses to this team and the 3-4-3 system has been a revelation for the champions.

“A lot of emotions today. It is great to finish the season this way, to celebrate a fantastic season,” Conte said. “We won the league with 30 wins and it is very positive for us. Someone could think that this season was easy but this season wasn’t easy. I think we overcame a lot of difficult steps but now for this reason we must be very proud to celebrate with our fans, our family, to have this day together.”

Now, greater challenges lie ahead and even amidst celebrations many were thinking ahead to the FA Cup final at Wembley next Saturday against Saturday.

Conte knows the fans want more silverware, as the supporters who have celebrated 14 major titles since Roman Abramovich arrived expect success.

“Now we have another chance to celebrate this season with a final in the FA Cup,” Conte said. “We all know that this game will be very tough but a great day, a fantastic day. Honestly, it was very difficult to imagine this finale in this season, to celebrate a win in the league but it happened. I think that it happened only because we worked very hard with our players.”

As a brass band fired up the Liquidator pregame outside Stamford Bridge, shirts with “Champions, 17” on the back and scarves, flags and hats littered the crowd. Chelsea have now won the title five times in the past 12 seasons, but this felt different.

There is a new expectant era dawning at Chelsea.

Chelsea’s fans were going to enjoy these celebrations, just like they did after the title-sealing win at West Brom 10 days ago, then the home game against Watford last week.

Leaning against a brick wall at Stamford Bridge with his sunglasses on his head, Chelsea fan Frank O’Brien is one of the many who want to see their team push on, especially after finishing 10th last season just 12 months after securing the PL crown.

Complacency is no longer tolerated at Chelsea.

“If you reflect on last season, it was a massive disappointment considering the season before. With a little bit of organization and bit more self-belief among the group they’ve achieved what they’ve achieved this season and hopefully they will kick on from here,” O’Brien said. “Champions League football next season, even better. I expect the club to purchase a few additional players and hopefully have a really good push for the Champions League.”

A huge poster adorned the back of the Chelsea hotel and retail village which sits behind The Shed End at Stamford Bridge. It simply read “Thank You – Grazie!” and had a photo of John Terry and Antonio Conte hugging.

The subplot to this title celebration was Terry’s final day at Stamford Bridge.

Terry, 36, played in his final game for Chelsea to end his 22-year career with the Blues. Fans wore John Terry’s name and number on their shirts, lauded him after the game and he said an emotional farewell to supporters at the final whistle.

Coming off in the 26th minute to a guard of honor from his teammates, Terry got a fitting farewell as he set PL record for winning five titles as captain and he has won 15 major titles with the only club he’s ever known.

He will always remain a legend of Chelsea and whatever he does next, nothing can taint the bond he has with the Chelsea faithful. He stayed long after any other player to shake hands, sign autographs and hug Chelsea’s fans with his son by his side.

Terry didn’t want this day to end, and neither did Conte who was the last person on the pitch as he carried the trophy down the tunnel and into the dressing room.

Conte’s Chelsea career has only just begun but the fact that he is there, right alongside Terry, on the giant mural (see above) shows how highly he is already regarded.

Chelsea’s fans are delighted with Conte winning a PL title, and potentially an FA Cup, in his first season in charge. But now they’ve tasted success again, they want more.

“When you get consistency with a manager, as well as he’s done this season the challenge for him next season is to push on again,” O’Brien said. “Anything less than winning the Champions League and the Premier League is a disappointment. That’s the way it is in football but I sincerely believe the club will kick on from here.”

As he sipped champagne with the media at Stamford Bridge, Conte already had his mind on the FA Cup final next week. He says Arsenal are the favorites after they missed out on finishing in the top four.

“If you ask me ‘who is the favorite now?’ I can tell you it is Arsenal. Because Arsenal now only has this possibility to find a good season after a win in the FA Cup. For this season we must play great attention. We must find in ourselves the right motivation and the right anger because the game it will be very difficult for all of these reasons. After Arsenal missed the Champions League, we must have or antenna very high and to prepare in the right way. I’m not talking about tactics, I’m talking about motivation in our souls, our hearts. If we have this in the same proportion with Arsenal or more, we have the possibility to win and do the double. Otherwise we risk a lot.”

Conte is always playing mind games and always keeping his squad hunger to achieve. That’s exactly what Chelsea’s trophy hungry fans want to hear.

As Terry hoisted the PL trophy aloft, the jubilation was clear among Chelsea’s fans.

It’s also clear that the expectation levels have risen to their previous lofty heights at Chelsea and now Conte must keep delivering success.

“This is the real danger for us, to think that the season is finished,” Conte said. “If you win or lose, it doesn’t change the situation. We must think as a winner and not as a loser. It is important to celebrate today, enjoy this moment with our families and fans. To celebrate this title but from tomorrow, I am the first to try to push a lot to explain that this season will be great because if we didn’t win the title it would be good. After we win the title it became great. I think this season can become fantastic if we are able to win the FA Cup.

“We must find the right motivation because at this level with Chelsea and Arsenal, the level is the same and in the league we lost a game 3-0 and we won the game 3-1. It is a great target but it is important for us to celebrate but then to find the right fire in our soul to be ready to work very hard this week and prepare and feel in the right way this game. I think for me, the players, the fans, the club, this is a great opportunity to do the double.”

Conte is a Premier League champion but, like everyone else connected with Chelsea, he wants more.

Hodgson vows to sign new Crystal Palace contract

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Roy Hodgson has revealed that he has been offered a contract extension to remain at Crystal Palace beyond the 2020-21 Premier League season, and also hinted that he is highly likely to accept it.

[ MORE: Mourinho: Top-four without Kane, Son would be “something incredible” ]

Following a period of turmoil and instability which saw them drop dangerously close to the relegation zone prior to his arrival in 2017, Hodgson has steadied the ship and guided the Eagles to 11th- and 12th-place finishes in his first two seasons and has them sitting just a point out of 12th with a dozen games to go this season. At no point in his tenure has Palace flirted with relegation, and that’s apparently enough to earn a new deal to remain in charge — quotes from Sky Sports:

“The club have presented me with a contract and although the chairman has been away this week I’ve had a cursory glance through it. It all looks fine to me so I am pretty certain that at some point soon we’ll sit down and get it signed.

“If I am going to stay, it will be because I believe funds will be made available because we’ve had the intention to improve the squad and the team for a while now.

“We all realize you can’t make improvements to the actual team without spending some money. But I would never make those type of demands, because you can’t make any guarantees in the transfer market.

“All you can do is have good intention and if I signed for another year, I would sign because I believed the intentions are true and that something will happen going into the next season.”

As for the transfer situation, that’s something that’ll need to be sorted out in very short order if Palace plan to maintain their current place in the PL’s hierarchy, otherwise they’ll learn a harsh — and quick — lesson about standing still while everyone else is moving forward.

Mourinho: Top-four without Kane, Son would be ‘something incredible’

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Jose Mourinho fancies himself either as a realist or a master of mind games — you be the judge, based on your own level of love or hate for the Portuguese manager — as Tottenham Hotspur embark upon their final dozen games of the 2019-20 Premier League season.

[ MORE: Premier League Preview: Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur ]

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s trip to Stamford Bridge where he’ll take on his former club Chelsea (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), Mourinho attempted to put into perspective the level of heroics that will be required for Tottenham to finish in the top-four.

Perhaps he has a point, given the long-term injuries to Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, forwards who account for 20 of Spurs’ 43 PL goals this season and who will also miss the majority, if not all, of the rest of the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“Tottenham without Harry or Sonny, without one of them, doesn’t win a match since 2014. That means a lot. That means that Sonny and Harry score the majority of goals that Tottenham scores. This season was so, so negatively special that we are going to be without them both at the same time for a lot of matches.

“If we manage to finish top four it’s something incredible. Incredible achievement for the boys. So we have to give everything we have.”

As for their chances of doing, so? Well, let’s just say Mourinho is more than happy to pile the pressure onto others and divert it away from his own team, as he has routinely done throughout his career — quotes from Sky Sports:

“At this moment, Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal, Sheffield United, Wolverhampton, Everton — we are the underdogs.

“We have ambitions to be there but we are one, two, three points behind Chelsea, so they have an advantage to all of us. That’s obvious. It’s not a big advantage but it is an advantage.

“Chelsea, in this moment, are favorites for the fourth position, considering Leicester has nine points more at this stage of the season.”

Over the course of their next nine PL games, Spurs will face all six sides currently within five points of fourth place. They will almost certainly be without both Kane and Son for the vast majority of those critical six-pointers.

USWNT pushed in depositions: Could they beat the German men?

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Carli Lloyd was pushed over and over on differences between women and men.

[ MORE: USWNT seek over $66 million in damages from U.S. Soccer ]

“Do you think the women’s national team could beat the German men’s team?” U.S. Soccer Federation lawyer Noah Finkel asked during a Dec. 20 deposition.

“I’m not sure,” the two-time FIFA Player of the Year replied.

Finkel inquired about a 2015 email interview Lloyd conducted through her agent’s assistant with the website Sportskeeda.

“You wrote men are faster and stronger, right?” Finkel probed.

“Yeah, if you take those away, yeah, it would be a contest,” Lloyd said.

Again and again, members of the champion U.S. women’s team were pushed to detail distinctions between their sport, which they dominate, and the men’s game, where the Americans struggle.

Lawyers for the USSF are trying to show it’s OK to pay the women differently than the men because the competition is different. The sides made excerpts of depositions public in court filings Thursday night.

“The tone during depositions is reflective of the kind of condescension that many USSF officials employ when talking to the players about pay and workplace conditions,” said Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the players, “including the plainly disrespectful and sexist attitudes from USSF and their representatives during CBA negotiations when they refused to offer anything close to equal pay.”

[ MORE: Premier League TV, streaming schedule ]

The women sued last year, alleging the USSF violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 in reaching what they say is an inferior collective bargaining agreement with the women than the deal struck with the American men. They are seeking more than $66 million in damages.

The federation maintains the women have many benefits the men lack, including guaranteed salaries, health insurance, paid child-care assistance, pregnancy and parental leave, severance pay and access to a 401(k) retirement plan. Men get paid by the game and tournament, most earning the majority of their income from their club.

Reigning FIFA Player of the Year Megan Rapinoe was questioned about her response in an interview she gave to Pod Save America in which she said: “Our pay structure is different. We play different games. We’re different rankings in the world. Like, it’s just apples to oranges.”

The USSF said that from fiscal year 2009 through fiscal year 2019, the women’s national team had gross revenue of $101.3 million for 238 games, an average of $425,446, and the men grossed $185.7 million for 191 matches, an average of $972,147. The women had a $27.6 million net loss over 11 years and the men lost $3.13 million.

“The international soccer environment in which the MNT players compete is far more competitive by many measures than that in which plaintiffs compete,” the USSF said in one of its papers filed with the court. “The MNT players have lower odds of succeeding in the face of such greater competition. In short, MNT players must achieve more and/or better results against tougher competition in order to qualify for, and succeed in, tournament competition.”

Barring a settlement, the trial is scheduled to start May 5 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The women’s five-year labor deal runs through 2021 while the men play under the terms of a contract that expired Dec. 31.

[ MORE: In the Mixed Zone with JPW: Episode 1 ]

During her deposition on Jan. 15, former U.S. coach Jill Ellis testified she was told the men got chartered flights at times and the women didn’t. The USSF spent about $10.7 million on hotels for the men and approximately $7.3 milllion on the women during the fiscal years 2012-20. Air travel was about $6.3 million for the women during that period and $14.3 million for the men, many of whom play in Europe. The USSF increased first- and business-class travel for the women in 2017.

Speaking during her Dec. 20 deposition, Lloyd talked about personally training with the Medford Strikers’ under-18 boys team in New Jersey.

“It’s different in the sense that men are bigger, stronger, faster. That’s their makeup. There’s no — there’s no denying science in that regard,” she said. “But I am the most skillful player there. So if you take their speed and athleticism and their strength away, it’s the same game.”

Former USSF President Sunil Gulati, speaking during a Dec. 17 deposition, used a comparison with an NBA star to point out differences.

“LeBron James doesn’t get a bonus for getting 15 points and for the Lakers finishing out of the playoffs,” he said. “The expectations for him are different based on who they’re playing against, what – who he is, what the level is.”

Premier League Preview: Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur

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  • Chelsea (41 points) sit 4th in PL table
  • Spurs (40) chasing, up to 5th
  • Last meeting: Spurs 0-2 Chelsea

Jose Mourinho is set to make his latest triumphant return to Stamford Bridge, this time for the first time as the manager of Tottenham Hotspur, one of Chelsea’s bitter London rivals, in the first fixture of the Premier League weekend on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Not only does the Mourinho storyline carry significant weight ahead of Saturday’s showdown at the Bridge, so too does the two sides’ increasingly tight battle for a top-four finish. As recently as Jan. 17, Chelsea enjoyed a nine-point lead on Tottenham, but the Blues’ current run of just one win from their last six PL games has seen that advantage shrink to a single point with the very real possibility of flipping two points in the opposite direction once the full-time whistle blows. On the other hand, Spurs would already be miles clear if not for dropping a combined seven points from three games against the current 12th-, 19th- and 20th-place sides in recent weeks.

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Both Chelsea and Spurs are currently enduring injury crises which have just about crippled their respective attacking units. Frank Lampard‘s side has been without Christian Pulisic since New Year’s Day, while both Callum Hudson-Odoi (hamstring) Tammy Abraham (ankle) also missed this week’s defeat to Manchester United. As for Mourinho’s selection issues, Harry Kane (hamstring) has been out since Jan. 1 and will continue to be sideline for at least two more months, and now Son Heung-min could miss the rest of the season after breaking his arm during his two-goal outing in the dramatic victory over Aston Villa last weekend. Son had scored at least one goal in each of his last five appearances (all competitions).

Spurs have scored 43 PL goals this season; Kane and Son combined for 20 between the two of them. Dele Alli, who sits just behind them with seven, has scored just once in his last seven league games and 12 games across all competitions — coincidentally, Alli’s drought began one game before Kane tore his hamstring — after enjoying a red-hot resurgence (four goals in three games) on the back of Mourinho’s appointment. To compound matters, Spurs have had 48 fewer hours to recover and prepare for Saturday’s early kickoff, with Chelsea playing Man United in league play on Monday and the north London side suffering a narrow defeat to RB Leipzig in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Injuries/suspensions

Chelsea: OUT – Christian Pulisic (groin), Callum Hudson-Odoi (hamstring), N’Golo Kante (leg), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (fitness); QUESTIONABLE: Tammy Abraham (ankle), Andreas Christensen (face)

Spurs: OUT – Harry Kane (hamstring), Son Heung-min (arm), Moussa Sissoko (knee), Juan Foyth (groin)


Projected lineups

Chelsea: Caballero — James, Zouma, Rudiger, Azpilicueta — Jorginho, Mount, Kovacic — Willian, Pedro, Abraham

Spurs: Lloris — Aurier, Sanchez, Aldeweireld, Davies — Winks, Ndombele — Lo Celso, Alli, Bergwijn — Moura


What they’re saying

Lampard, on various injured players: “Christian Pulisic is still not fit. I can’t give you an exact date. It’s a difficult injury and we’re working on that. … Tammy has trained the last two days probably at about 70 percent having not trained much recently. He’s in the squad but I’ll have to make a decision on whether he’s fit. … N’Golo is not fit. It’s a muscle injury, similar to the one he came off with against Arsenal recently. Hopefully three weeks, something around that.”

Mourinho, on returning to Stamford Bridge: “To go back to play against Chelsea is the same as to play against West Ham or Crystal Palace. It’s the same for me, exactly the same. The situation is clear, I’m here for about three months, in three months I don’t think about myself, I think about the club, I think about the players and I think about the effort that the players made to be in this position now. We were 12 points behind fourth place. I remember in my first week speaking with the players about not having targets, let’s go match after match and get as many points as possible, because if we were thinking about being 12 points behind, we would lose immediately the motivation that we needed to try to climb such a difficult mountain.”


Prediction

Throw out the injuries to some of this game’s brightest attacking stars along with the fitness and fatigue concerns, because Chelsea v. Spurs almost always delivers a thrilling, goal-filled game. There will be at least three goals, including a late winner to Chelsea.