Ricardo Carvalho, Carlos Ruiz

Chelsea all-departure team (2004-present)

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Clearly, I’m a bit fixated on this Didier Drogba-thing, but just let me get it out of my system. It’s not every day that one of the world’s most recognizable players leaves his club (let alone 72 hours after he helped win a European title). I’ve got one, maybe two more posts to go on this. After that, it’s back to our regular scheduled (and probably, closer to home) programming.

But I couldn’t help but thinking about al the other prominent departures Chelsea’s endured since José Mourinho’s arrival (summer 2004). After going through the last eight years’ squads, it wasn’t too difficult to come up with a nice little team:

G – Carlo Cudicini

Before José Mourinho’s arrival Cudicini was one of the premier goalkeepers in England. In the summer of 2004, Petr Cech was brought in, relegating Cudicini to the bench. In 2009, after five seasons deputizing, Cudicini switched to rival Tottenham, where he has served as a backup to Heurelho Gomes and Brad Freidel.

LB – Wayne Bridge

The year before Mourinho’s arrival, Bridge was bought from Southampton for £7 million and Graeme La Soux. By 2006, he was second choice to Ashley Cole, who José had lured from Arsenal. After three years of backing up Cole for club and country, Bridge was brought to Manchester City by Mark Hughes, where he quickly lost his starting spot. He’s since been spent time on loan at West Ham and Sunderland.

CB  – Ricardo Carvalho

The best defender of the Roman Abramovich era, Carvalho come with Mourinho from Porto’s 2004 Champions League-winner. The year he arrived, Chelsea reduced their goals allowed by 50 percent, conceding only 15 times in 2004-05. In the summer of 2010, Mourinho brought Carvalho to Real Madrid, though he has since lost his place in Real’s starting XI.

CB – Alex

Alex’s cannon right foot never got a consistent run in the starting lineup, but with Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry proving fragile during Carlo Ancelotti’s tenure, the Brazilian defender proved a importnat part of a title-winning team. Though he spent three years on loan at PSV, Alex would departure for PSG this winter having played 87 times for the Blues.

RB – William Gallas

Otherwise known as Ashley Cole’s makeweight, Galas proved to be an important utility man for Chelsea, playing across the Chelsea back line before being sent to Arsenal in 2006. In five years at Stamford Bridge, Gallas made 159 league appearances, scoring 14 goals. He went on to captain the rival Gunners before travelling the rarely used road between the Emirates and White Hart Lane.

DM – Claude Makélélé

The man for whom a position has come to be named, Makélélé came to Chelsea as a casualty of Real Madrid’s Galacticos era. At Stamford Bridge he helped usher in a new chapter in contemporary soccer tactics, illustrating the value of the deep-sitting, midfield destroyer. The position has since become known as “the Makélélé role,” nomenclature adopted long before the Zaire-born midfielder moved to Pars Saint-Germain.

CM – Michael Ballack

Unfortunately, Ballack will be remembered as much for accosting officials as he will for his play in midfield, but the then-captain of German proved to be a vital to Chelsea’s transition away from its dependence on Makélélé. A starter in midfield with Michael Essien and Frank Lampard, Ballack help Chelsea claim their third Premier League in 2009-10.

CM – Lassana Diarra

This is the weakest pick of the all-departure team, but thanks to Frank Lampard’s incredibly longevity, there hasn’t been remarkable turnover in Chelsea’s midfield. Diarra’s playing time was a casualty of that stability, the French international making only 13 league appearances from 2005-07. Diarra would see similarly sporadic playing time at Arsenal before establishing himself at Portsmouth after of a move to Real Madrid.

LW – Arjen Robben

Chelsea paid €18 million to get Robben from PSV. They were repaid with nine all-competition goals during the Dutchman’s injury-filled first season. After two more seasons in a tenure that saw Robben collect five major trophies, Real Madrid’s €35 million bid was accepted, taking Robben to the Santiago Bernabeu. In 105 games at Stamford Bridge, Robben scored 19 times.

RW – Joe Cole

Before Joe Cole became an oft-ill-used metaphor, he was a pretty useful player for Chelsea. Moving from West Ham in 2003, Cole would go on to collect eight honors in seven seasons at Stamford Bridge. But as injuries started to pile up, Cole lost his regular place in the team and decided to try his luck at Liverpool starting in 2010. In his time in blue, Cole score 40 times, twice hitting double-digits.

ST – Didier Drogba

Here are the other Drogba stories we’ve put up over the last couple of days, but as you look at this list, ti’s pretty easy to see: Didier Drogba is the most important departure of the Abramovich era.

Watch Live: Sunderland vs. Manchester United (Lineups, Stream)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26:  Anthony Martial of Manchester United and John O'Shea of Sunderland compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford on September 26, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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Struggling Sunderland host top-four chasing Manchester United on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online goal Live Extra) at the Stadium of Light.

The Black Cats haven’t won in their last four games and are four points of safety. Desperation sums up the mood for Sam Allardyce‘s side.

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The same could be said for United as Louis Van Gaal‘s side continue to leak goals and they’re now six points off the top four with just 13 games to go. Speculation linking Jose Mourinho with a summer arrival at Old Trafford continues with LVG’s job seemingly on the line.

Sunderland’s survival hopes took an unexpected hit this week, as winger Adam Johnson had his contract terminated after he surprisingly pleading guilty to a child sex charge in court.

In team news Sunderland bring in DeAndre Yedlin for Billy Jones, while United bring in Morgan Schneiderlin for Marouane Fellaini.  

LINEUPS

Sunderland: Mannone, Yedlin, O’Shea, Kone, van Aanholt, Kirchhoff, Cattermole, M’Vila, Khazri, N’Doye, Defoe. Subs: Brown, Rodwell, Borini, Matthews, Pickford, Toivonen, Honeyman

Manchester United: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson, Schneiderlin, Carrick, Lingard, Mata, Martial, Rooney. Subs: Romero, Love, Weir, Pereira, Herrera, Memphis, Keane.

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.