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.

English Premier League betting: Liverpool small favorite over Arsenal

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Based on their recent history, one relative certainty when Arsenal plays Liverpool is that they might hit the over.

Ahead of their match on Saturday, Liverpool is even-money at +105 for the win with Arsenal a +240 underdog and a draw listed at +255 at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The English Premier League rivals, who are in a five-team race for three spots in next season’s Champions League, have combined for 13 goals in their past two matchups.

Arsenal, which is 15-5-5 (wins-draws-losses) in the Premiership, will be trying not to concede three points. Key playmaker Mesut Ozil (illness) may be something of a match-day decision for manager Arsene Wegner, and Ozil’s absence would affect Arsenal’s ability to create opportunities for striker Alexis Sanchez.

Liverpool, which is 14-7-5, is dealing with a varied list of injuries. Captain Jordan Henderson (foot) is out , while the status of defender Dejan Lovren (knee) and forward Daniel Sturridge (illness) seems shaky.

Saturday’s fixtures also feature a matchup of two teams drawing bettors’ attention for trending in opposite directions, with Manchester United a -425 favorite against +1100 underdog Bournemouth (with a draw listed at +500).

Manchester United, at 13-9-3, is only two points adrift of a coveted top-four spot. With 35-year-old Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring at an impressive rate, Man U has lost only one of its last 26 matches and has won its last six across all competitions.

They are 4-3-0 (wins-draws-losses) in their last seven matches at Old Trafford against mid-table teams such as Bournemouth, but totals bettors should know that they have scored three goals in only one of those matches.

A continued skein of wins would further lower Manchester United’s price on the top-four finish odds board at the sportsbooks. One of their central playmakers in the midfield, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, should be back from a leg injury, which would help with generating a more flowing attack.

Bournemouth, 7-5-14 in the league, has lost six of its last seven matches in all competitions and has been outscored 12-4 in their last four Premiership matches. The Cherries have also allowed a league-most 30 goals in 13 away matches.

Bournemouth are still four points ahead of the bottom three with 14 matches left, but need to win one soon.

17 trampled to death by stampeding crowd at Angola soccer stadium

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JOHANNESBURG — A crowd stampeded at a football stadium in Angola on Friday, leaving at least 17 people dead and dozens injured.

The accident happened in the northwestern town of Uige when hundreds of people rushed at one of the stadium gates, causing some to fall and be trampled underfoot, according to Angolan and Portuguese media.

Some of the dead were children who suffocated in the stampede, the Portuguese news agency Lusa said. Lusa and Angop, Angola’s state-run news agency, reported a death toll of 17.

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos (pictured above) expressed condolences to the families of the victims, and instructed officials to assist the injured and open an investigation, Angop reported.

Spectators had gone to the stadium to watch the inaugural game between home team Santa Rita de Cassia and Recreativo de Libolo in the national Girabola competition.