Eden Hazard and (maybe) Hulk: Chelsea makes their play for third place

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Before we get to the summer’s most anticipated European soccer signing, allow me to give you a brief synopsis of the day on Twitter: People complain the entire day about mixed messages from (soon to be former) Lille awesome-o Eden Hazard (the word “troll” is prominently used); Hazard finally announced (above) and people refuse to believe him (maybe he means any all-time winner); some of the least funny jokes ever ensue; Lebron James comparisons begin.

As a peripheral member of the mainstream media, I offer this: We are not funny, but we wish we were. On days like this, Twitter is no more useful than sitting at a local bar at 9 p.m. after the editors at your local rag take solace in alcohol (or maybe that was just my experience as an editor).

Now, the news:

source: Getty ImagesHazard to Chelsea: Spectacularly good talent set for mildly surprising move

Eden Hazard seems intent on joining Chelsea. After over year’s worth of speculation linking the Belgian wunderkid to the club, “the champion’s league [sic] winner” beat out Manchester City and Manchester United to sign the best player in Ligue 1.

Some background: Hazard was much sought after last year but said he would give then-league champions Lille one more year. In the middle of the season he said he would move to England, with the two Manchesters thought well-positioned to get his signature. Chelsea, however, went and won Champions League and (more importantly) secured their spot in next year’s tournament. And London’s only a two hour flight to Brussels.

City supposedly offered Hazard a salary of over $18 million per year. United’s offer wasn’t close, but the fact that they stayed in the race showed Hazard’s interests went beyond money. Expect Chelsea’s wages to fall between City’s offer and the near-$12 million the Red Devils put forth.

How good is this guy? Really good. The final transfer fee could end up anywhere between $38 and $62 million (depending on the details and how those details are reported).  The season before last (2010-11), he posted seven goals and 10 assists in Ligue 1, winning player of the year. This year, he had 20 goals and 15 assists. Obviously, he won player of the year again.

He increased his goalscoring by nearly 200 percent the year after being voted the league’s best player. That, in addition to the demand generated by the three pursuing clubs, have driven both the wages and transfer fee.

Where will he play for Chelsea? Anywhere in the front four, though he’ll probably settle in on the left. In the André Villas-Boas-era, that was Juan Mata’s spot, but since Mata has been deployed centrally. Though Hazard can play through the middle, he’s not a Premier League number nine, nor is he likely to see time on the right after Hulk arrives in London.

Incredible Verdão: Hulk could cash in on name, move to Chelsea

Oh, did I mention Hulk? That’s right. Speculation has reached a boiling point surrounding Porto’s fortunately nicknamed striker, a man who has been linked with Chelsea for longer than Hazard. He was also linked with a lol-tastic, $80 million bid from Russia’s Anzhi Makhachkala – the same team that bought Samuel Eto’o.

No, this one is nowhere as certain as Hazard’s move, so everything below is pure speculation, but …

Who knows how much Hulk will cost, but the prices floating around seem more linked with his name than his play. Those prices: Sometimes you’ll see numbers far north of $50 mllion.

The Brazilian forward is a very good player but probably not one of the top 20 strikers in the world; however, he’s almost always cited by rumors as being an elite capture. He’s not.

Hulk has a thunderous left foot, has scored 57 goals in two years for Porto, but there are some questions. He plays as a right forward but doesn’t project as a very good winger. Despite his size (a barrel chested 5’11”), he does not play as a strong number nine. His production also dipped after Porto sold Radamel Falcao, yet he’s likely to be very expensive (at least, in terms of transfer fee).

Ideally, you would have a right back who can provide width while Hulk cuts onto his left foot. Branislav Ivanovic is not that guy, but Ramires overlapping from midfield? That could work.

Hulk should be a good Premier League player. But you don’t pay $50 million for a good Premier League player.

Despite Hulk’s shortcomings (and the high price Chelsea’s likely to pay for them), Chelsea is a much-improved team, should they acquire him and Hazard. It’s not enough to catch City or a healthy United, but it is enough to distance them from Arsenal or Spurs …

Provided they hire a coach.

Klopp puts Liverpool’s blown lead down to unwatered grass

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Jurgen Klopp puts Liverpool’s blown two-goal lead at 20th place West Bromwich Albion down to water.

[ RECAP: WBA 2-2 Liverpool ]

The Reds boss, who rested Roberto Firmino, Dejan Lovren, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and his usual fullbacks, is peeved that West Brom didn’t water the Hawthorns pitch at halftime.

Liverpool went ahead 2-0 late in the second half when Mohamed Salah equalled the single season Premier League goal record.

But the Baggies struck twice in the final 11 minutes and out shot the Reds 13-9 over 90 minutes to pluck a point.

That sort of performance can serve them well in the Championship, Klopp said, clearly displeased with both teams.

“It was a difficult game as the pitch got drier and drier,” he said. “West Brom decided not to water the pitch at half-time and that makes it difficult. It makes a massive difference. A team like West Brom do not need a wet pitch, they can do it next year playing on a dry pitch in the Championship.”

This wasn’t about dry turf, but Klopp will have wanted to avoid discussing Liverpool’s quarter-hour regression to a side that struggles to defend and blows lead.

All that said, he only had one of his preferred back four on the field, and a UEFA Champions League date with Roma ahead on Tuesday. But competitors are competitors and cannot dodge distaste for dropped points.

He’ll be fine given a few days, saying the match stings now but won’t affect their upcoming Anfield night in the UCL.

Watch Live: Watford vs. Crystal Palace

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
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Crystal Palace can all but clinch Premier League safety with an away win over Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Palace’s twin tower strikers Christian Benteke and Alexander Sorloth are on the bench against the Hornets, who have captain Troy Deeney and Stefano Okaka up top.

LINEUPS

Watford: Karnezis; Mariappa, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deeney, Okaka. Subs: Gomes, Britos, Femenía, Janmaat, Richarlison, Sinclair, Gray.

Crystal Palace: Hennessey, Ward, Tomkins, Sakho, Van Aanholt, Loftus-Cheek, Milivojevic, Cabaye, McArthur, Townsend, Zaha. Subs: Speroni, Kelly, Wan-Bissaka, Riedewald, Lee, Benteke, Sorloth.

West Brom 2-2 Liverpool: Baggies fight back

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  • Salah equals Liverpool’s club-record of 31 PL goals in a single season
  • Liverpool unbeaten in last 10 PL games v. West Brom
  • West Brom eight points from safety 

West Bromwich Albion fought back from 2-0 down late on to draw 2-2 against Liverpool at the Hawthorns on Saturday as Jurgen Klopp‘s men threw away three points.

Liverpool led 2-0 with goals from Danny Ings and Mohamed Salah but West Brom fought back in the final 10 minutes as Jake Livermore hooked home and Salomon Rondon equalized with a header.

Despite the point West Brom are still eight points off safety with three games to go and remain bottom of the table as they can be relegated on Sunday if results for Swansea and Crystal Palace go against them. Liverpool lost ground in the race for second place with the late collapse.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Liverpool got off to a perfect start as a short corner set Mane free and his cross into the box found Georginio Wijnaldum who set up Ings to slam home his first PL goal for Liverpool since 2015. What a moment for the England international who has been through injury hell.

Soon after Salah cut inside from the right and curled an effort towards the top corner which was deflected just wide.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Ings nodded over a difficult chance, Salah sent a free kick just wide and Ings had another effort well smothered by Ben Foster, but West Brom battled their way back into the game as James McClean‘s effort across goal was almost tapped home by Jay Rodriguez.

Liverpool were just about worthy of their half time lead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The second half featured a few flash points early on as Craig Dawson appeared to bring down Ings in the box but nothing was given, then Ahmed Hegazi appeared to punch Ings off the ball but referee Stuart Attwell missed the incident.

Salah then seemed to put the game beyond doubt as he finished off a through ball from substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to give Liverpool a 2-0 lead and take this tally to 41 for the season in all competitions.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

West Brom gave themselves hope late on as a looped ball to the back post found Rodriguez and he hooked it back in for Livermore to make it 2-1.

The Baggies then equalized as Rondon headed home to set up a wild finish, but they couldn’t grab a dramatic winner as their relegation from the Premier League is all but confirmed.

Arsenal reveal plan for Wenger’s successor

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For the first time in almost 22 years Arsenal will have to start a managerial search.

And if you believe the reports, Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis has been busy on this for at least a few months with candidates lined up.

[ MORE: WENGER’S DEPARTURE 

Speaking at a press conference on Friday after Wenger’s announcement that he will step down as Arsenal’s manager at the end of the season, Gazidis revealed the qualities he and the Arsenal board are looking for in a new manager.

“Tomorrow we have to start thinking about how we move forward. We are going to take what Arsene has given us and continue the values he has instilled,” Gazidis said. “It’s going to be a condensed summer with the World Cup in the middle of it. Having clarity sooner is better. We want someone who plays progressive, exciting football that gets people interested and excited in games we play. Another significant piece is how the candidate represents the club and it must be someone who gives youth a chance.”

That’s a pretty long wish list, Ivan.

The crux of this is that Arsenal want to get this sorted quickly but it seems like they may wait until after the World Cup to see who’s available.

Joachim Loew would be the main man they would wait for, but the likes of Carlo Ancelotti and Brendan Rodgers could come in soon and get started on LAW (Life After Wenger) ASAP.

Rodgers seems to tick the most boxes out of the candidates mentioned so far, with the current Celtic boss always keen to promote youngster and he has always produced exciting, attacking teams at Liverpool and Swansea in the past.

Yet Ancelotti would be a safe hire with his glut of trophies and his experience of managing huge clubs, something owner Stan Kroenke would surely favor in order to safeguard his investments. Get ready for weeks of speculation about Wenger’s successor but it appears Arsenal want to move on quickly as Gazidis has a big decision to make.

But as we saw when Sir Alex Ferguson was replaced at Manchester United, the man replacing a legendary figure such as Wenger will have a huge task to steady the ship, let alone turn Arsenal back into a top four force.

Perhaps the second manager to come in will have greater success as younger managers, and former Arsenal midfielders, Patrick Vieira and Mikel Arteta have been mentioned.