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.

Juventus underdog against Real Madrid in Champions League Final

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While being champions of Europe in back-to-back years would be unprecedented in modern times, Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo will face the toughest backline they have seen all season against Juventus.

Real Madrid is listed a -120 betting favorite against +100 Juventus with a 2.0 total in their Champions League final matchup for Saturday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. On the three-way moneyline for Saturday’s match in Cardiff, Wales, Real Madrid is offering +155 to Juventus’ +183 with the draw going off at +101, indicating that most sharps see this being a tight match. Six of the last 16 Champions League finals have required extra time.

Juventus, under Massimiliano Allegri, has been a well-oiled machine throughout the competition with only three goals allowed in 12 matches. The Italian squad, which just won a sixth consecutive league title in Serie A, will likely try to contain Ronaldo with a back four that includes the excellent centre-back combo of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chellini.

Juventus should get a boost at midfield now that Sami Khedira is healthy and can pair with Miralem Pjanic as a passer.

Forward Gonzalo Higuain (+900), who is due to deliver in a final and will be facing his former club, has the highest odds of any Juve player to score two or more goals on the Champions League final betting props. Dybala (+1200) offers a better price, though.

Real Madrid comes in with more a pedigree, having won the Champions League in two of the past three years. With Gareth Bale (ankle) admitting he’s not ready to start, Real manager Zinedine Zidane might have to turn to attacking midfielder Isco to complement Ronaldo up front. Real Madrid’s likelihood of controlling the pace likely hinges on its midfield, where Luka Modric has been excellent during their run.

Ronaldo (+550), not surprisingly, has top odds to score at least two goals. Alvaro Morata (+900) is high on the board, although how much of a factor he’ll be with an off-season transfer upcoming is anyone’s guess.

Real Madrid is listed at +300 to score a goal in each half, with Juventus listed at +350. It’s in Real Madrid’s interest to push for an early tally, lest Juventus be able to settle into a defensive shell.

On the first goal scorer board, Ronaldo (+350) and Higuain (+400) are the usual suspects. Real midfielder Toni Kroos (+2000) has also had a hot boot of late, with two goals in his last three La Liga starts.

There is a -115 yes/no prop on whether both teams will score in the game. Only two of the last 12 finals have ended with a shutout.

UEFA Champions League Semifinals Betting: Second Leg Odds and Analysis

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Lopsided semifinal first legs might make a Champions League final between Juventus and Real Madrid seem inevitable, but there is ample betting fodder within that reality.

Both  carry big leads into the semifinal second leg this week. Reigning champion Real Madrid is now a -125 favorite on the Champions League futures board, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Juventus is listed at even money, while their respective opponents, Atletico Madrid and AS Monaco, are each darkhorses at +400.

Juventus, which leads 2-0, is a -165 favorite against AS Monaco (+450) with a 2.5 total for their match on Tuesday in Italy. The draw on the three-way moneyline is listed at +295. Juventus, which can lose the match by one goal and still advance, will likely try to pack it in around its goal, something its done well in European play (two goals allowed in 11 matches).

Juventus also comes in healthy and relatively rested, having rotated their lineup during a league match against Torino last Saturday.

Monaco should have everyone fresh, including teen phenom Kylian Mbappe, but the odds of pushing two away goals past Juventus would seem to be remote. The draw seems like a cagey play.

With the former carrying over a 3-0 lead from the first leg, Real Madrid (+155) and host Atletico Madrid (+160) are in a toss-up game with a 2.5 total in their betting matchup on Wednesday. The draw pays +245 on the three-way moneyline.

Real, led on the pitch by Cristiano Ronaldo, has not been shut out in more than a year. Scoring an away goal would all but seal the win on aggregate (road goals are the first tiebreaker). Atletico, which needs to win by at least three goals, has also had a collective struggle with creating opportunities that forwards Kévin Gamiero and Antoine Grieznmann can put away.

This could be a good match for in-game bettors to track, since Real knows an early goal would force Atletico into a desperate style of game to which it is unaccustomed.

The Champions League final – which is a one-game showdown – will take place at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, on June 3.