Chelsea’s Title Chase (and Where to Eat in London) with Graeme Le Saux

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He’s one of Jersey’s favorite sons. Not that Jersey. This one. Graeme Le Saux knows a little something about English football, making 327 Premier League appearances for Southampton, Chelsea and Blackburn, helping bring the latter a title in ‘94 – ’95. These days Graeme plays the Goose to Arlo White’s Maverick on NBC’s Premier League coverage (Sorry, Lee Dixon, you’re Merlin). We caught up with Graeme via phone this week to talk about Chelsea’s title chase, his favorite gantry in the Premier League, and his (very) short stint working in the kitchen of a high-end London eatery.

MiB: You’ve spoken with Antonio Conte since he took the Chelsea job, and have gotten a sense of the kind of person he is. How has he been able to adapt to the Premier League in a way that Pep Guardiola has not?

GLS: Antonio Conte gives me the impression that he’s a very honest, fair manager, who is happy to confront issues head on, confident in his own opinion. He’s very experienced in dealing with big players, and what he’s done brilliantly is treat everybody fairly. As Pep is finding out, you can have the most incredible CV and philosophy on the game, but ultimately you’ve still got to work with a group and be flexible with them, in terms of your own philosophy. That’s where Conte has been ahead of everyone else.

MiB: The Diego Costa situation. He’s injured. He’s had a bust up with Conte. He’s off to China. All these rumors, yet he’s back in the team and scoring on the weekend. How damaging can this be to team chemistry?

GLS: It can be very damaging. It really can. But I think Conte’s leadership has really helped. And Costa must’ve explained himself to the players, or they would have held him accountable for wanting to leave at such an important stage of the season, if it was true. When he scored against Hull, the whole team went over and celebrated with him. For me, that suggests they’ve accepted whatever he’s said behind closed doors.

MiB: If one of these teams in the chasing peloton were to challenge Chelsea, who do you think it could be?

GLS: Tottenham. Their fundamentals are so good and they came so close last year. That pain serves as good fuel for this season. When I look at Arsenal, I still think they’re not a team with the resilience to keep plowing through the football calendar and come out with more points than Chelsea. Liverpool gives us a lot of excitement, because they score a lot of goals, but there are defensive liabilities. To lose to Swansea the way they did last weekend, with the game tied at two and all of the momentum, that’s damaging for a title run. Manchester United have found some fantastic form, but they fell so far behind at the start of the season. To make up that deficit would be a miracle.

MiB: Now to the important stuff. What’s the best gantry in the Premier League and why?

GLS: Oh my word. Let’s be honest, it’s not like choosing between a Rolls Royce and a Bentley. They’re all quite rudimentary. I’m thinking, probably which ones are the least cold and best position. I know Spurs are redeveloping their ground, but I like their current gantry because you almost hang over the pitch. Everton’s is fantastic as well because you’re stuck out from the middle tier, so you’re connected to the pitch. Either of those would be my pick.

MiB: Best restaurant near Stamford Bridge. What are we ordering?

GLS: One of my favorite restaurants in London is The River Cafe. It’s run by a fantastic chef Ruthie Rodgers. It’s about 10 minutes by car from Stamford Bridge on the River Thames. I’ve actually done a shift in their kitchen when I was a player at Chelsea. I told them I was tired after a game and they said, “You don’t know what tired is. Come do a double-shift in the restaurant.” I took them up on it and worked in the restaurant one day. They had me doing all the dirty jobs. By the end I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to get my boots back on. For a dish, they do the most amazing beef with split olives and ragù lentil. It’s phenomenal.

Manchester City, PSG Champions League favorites entering Round of 16

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Manchester City is the slight favorite in Champions League futures, but Paris Saint-Germain can do the field a solid by bouncing two-time defending champion Real Madrid.

With the Round of 16 beginning next week, Manchester City and Kevin De Bruyne are a +350 favorite on the odds to win the Champions League, followed by Paris Saint-Germain at +400, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The next tier down includes Bayern Munich (+550), Barcelona (+600) and Real Madrid (+800) before a plunge to Manchester United (+1400), Liverpool (+1400), Juventus (+1800) and Tottenham Hotspur (+2200).

The tried-and-true sorting method of fading teams that are focused on winning league titles doesn’t apply. The top four teams on the board all lead by healthy margins. Juventus, running second in Italy’s Serie A, is the only high-on-the-board offering that fits this description.

The injury bug that Manchester City is fighting shouldn’t be a factor as it starts the knockout stage at FC Basel (+50000), the lowest team on the board, on Tuesday. The favorable draw buys Manchester City a little time as it embarks upon trying to be the first English team to make it to March extant in four competitions (EPL, Champions League, F.A. Cup and League Cup).

The matchup between Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid is more the calibre of a semifinal, but the timing might be in favour of the French club. Real Madrid, which hosts the first leg on Wednesday, has been in a funk and has conceded goals in seven of its last eight games – hardly a promising sign ahead of a game against a team with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. In other words, one who thinks Paris Saint-Germain has the goods to be the first French team in 25 years to win the Champions League likely shouldn’t hesitate, since its price will probably be halved (and then some) if it advances.

Suffice to say, the guarantee that either the defending champs or a ballyhooed contender will be out should be a boon to the rest of the field.

Bayern Munich simply does not get enough of a push in the German Bundesliga to be a threat in Champions League, which it last won in 2013. Barcelona offers a great price that might owe to facing an EPL team, Chelsea, in the last-16 as well as lacking major signing Philippe Coutinho for this competition. However, with attacking midfielders Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, they are dangerous. Barcelona will not have defender Gerald Pique in this round, however.

Manchester United (+1400), with its penchant for defense, is a credible darkhorse play since the Champions League format does lend itself to trying to wring out an ugly tie in road legs. Liverpool, who starts away at FC Porto (+10000), should advance but might be too offense-oriented to make a run at European supremacy. Tottenham and Harry Kane, who start away at Juventus, might not be deep enough to juggle top-flight European competition with a race for a top-four spot in the EPL.

The first legs of the Round of 16 take place over the next two weeks. The return legs are slated for March 6-7 and March 13-14.

For more odds info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

EPL Betting Preview: Liverpool hosts Tottenham to headline Matchweek 26

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Matchweek 26 in the English Premier League dovetails nicely with the two futures boards that still offer value – namely, who will join frontrunners Manchester City and Manchester United in the  top four and who will be relegated.

City, 12 points clear of United, offers minuscule minus value as a -50000 favorite to be the outright EPL champion, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Manchester United (-1000) and Chelsea (-700) are also fairly deep into minus money in top-four futures, but Liverpool (-350) needs a result against Tottenham Hotspur (+150) at Anfield Stadium on Sunday to keep its position. The result of that match will factor into the final standings.

The time is probably now to jump on Huddersfield Town (-175) in relegation futures as the Terriers’ six-match winless skid has put them on the cusp of the three-team “drop zone.” The prices on Swansea City (+110), West Bromwich Albion (-110), and Stoke City (+250) have risen due to the bottom feeders’ recent surprise results.

As noted, Liverpool (even) hosts Tottenham Hotspur (+235, +270 draw) in a Sunday matchup between teams that are second and third in EPL scoring. Liverpool had more recovery time than Tottenham after their midweek games and has yet to lose a home game this season, but when the Spurs and Harry Kane (+125 to score) are in peak form, they can break down defenses that are much tauter than Liverpool’s. The over on the 3.0 total is very attainable and it’s worth noting a tie, the more plausible outcome, pays out more than a Tottenham win.

Speaking of Manchester United (-700) it should be able to wear down Huddersfield Town (+1900, +650 draw), even though newcomer Alexis Sanchez hasn’t settled into his new surroundings. The under on the 3.0 total pays -115, which is enticing since United seldom extends itself against lower-placed competition.

Burnley (+1100) is on a nine-match winless streak and Manchester City (-425, +475 draw) is coming in on a four-win streak and nary a care about spotting stars such as Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne due to its light February schedule. Goal lines can be gut-wrenching for bettors but Manchester City pays -120 to cover minus-1.5 goals.

Brighton & Hove Albion (+125) hosts West Ham United (+255, +200 draw) in a matchup with the week’s only 2.0 total. Brighton has scored only five goals in its last 13 home games and West Ham is unbeaten in its last four away games, so there is a case for taking the tie on the three-way moneyline.

Crystal Palace (even) has won or tied eight of its last nine home games, while Newcastle United (+290, +235 draw) limps into the Sunday matchup with only two wins in its last 16 league games. Midfielder Luke Milivojevic should help Crystal Palace grind out a win. The form says low-scoring game, but the over on the 2.5 total pays +115.

Watford (+475), now under new manager Javi Gracia, is winless in six tries against Chelsea (-170, +295 draw), who should come into the Monday matchup with something to prove after a midweek loss against Bournemouth. Alvaro Morata (back) is likely out for Chelsea, so bettors should check the price on newcomer Olivier Giroud to score a goal.

For more odds info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.