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West Brom upset Chelsea, continue Blues’ annual swoon

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Even if David Moyes has his Toffees fifth (despite mounting obstacles), Steve Clarke has been the outstanding manager of the young Premier League season. The former Newcastle, Chelsea, West Ham and Liverpool assistant was handed his first permanent managerial post in June, replacing Roy Hodgson at West Brom. The 49-year-old Scot’s responded by taking the Baggies to fourth place, a three-game winning streak putting the West Midlands club within a point of Chelsea after upsetting the Blues 2-1 at The Hawthorns on Saturday.

For Chelsea, the result continues a fall swoon we’ve been talking about since their struggles against Shakhtar and Liverpool. After a hot start convinced us they were legitimate title contenders, Chelsea has looked more like a team that finished sixth than a side ready to challenge Manchester City. The Blues haven’t put together a good performance since winning at White Hart Lane on Oct. 20. Since, they’ve won two of seven, giving up 15 goals along the way.

The swoon is reminiscent of last year’s stretch that cost André Villas-Boas his job. Starting with a Oct. 23, 2011’s 1-0 loss at Queens Park Rangers, Chelsea won only seven of their next 19 league matches. When Villas-Boas was fired on March 4, Chelsea were in fifth place. Their 46 points from 27 games left them 20 points behind Manchester City.

The year before that, under Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea also stumbled in fall. Beginning with a Nov. 7, 2010 loss at Liverpool (0-2), Chelsea won only two of 11 games, falling from first (where they had sat since round two) to fifth. The team ended the year third but parted ways with Ancelotti, notifying the manager of his dismissal after the team lost at Everton on the season’s final day.

Today in West Brom, two familiar names were at the heart of Chelsea’s disappointment. David Luiz is an immensely talented player (and treated unfairly by the English press), but his penchant for mistakes means he has a long way to go as a defender. His poor marking of Shane Long on West Brom’s opener will draw warranted criticism.

At the other end of the formation, Fernando Torres had another bad game, eventually suffering the indignity of being brought off while his team was chasing a tying goal. The Spaniard has been subpar for so long, there’s little reason to expect he’ll ever be the player he was at Liverpool.

There’s also little reason to believe he’ll ever meet Chelsea’s now tempered expectations. The Blues desperately need a new striker in January if they want to retain their title hopes.

In the interim, they may need to try Daniel Sturridge as their No. 9, as unlikely as that is to work.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.

Emre Can back in the Liverpool side ahead of Europa clash vs. Villarreal

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14:  Emre Can of Liverpool battles for the ball with Idrissa Gana of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park on February 14, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Emre Can has recovered from an ankle injury and will be in Liverpool’s squad for their Europa League semifinal against Villarreal on Thursday night.

The German international has not played since April 14 when he was forced off in the Reds’ wild 4-3 win over Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool prepping for Villarreal ]

Giving his team update on Wednesday, manager Jurgen Klopp said Can is back in the team, although captain Jordan Henderson is still out. The Reds enter the second leg trailing 1-0 on aggregate.

Another positive note out of Melwood was the return of Danny Ings to first-team training. The 23-year-old striker signed with Liverpool last summer, but managed just eight appearances before having his season end to a torn ACL in October. Ings is still far away from his full return, but it was a good sight to see him back on the pitch and making progress in his recovery.

Disappointed Pellegrini rues lack of offense in Man City’s loss to Real

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 04:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City reacts during the UEFA Champions League semi final, second leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester City FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 4, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images )
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Manchester City put in an uninspired performance against Real Madrid on Wednesday, losing the match 1-0 and falling out of the UEFA Champions League.

[ RECAP: Real Madrid 1-0 Man City ]

The match was decided by just one goal, but the scoreline was flattering to City as they failed to create any kind of real chances at the Bernabeu. Over the two legs, City managed just two shots on target.

While City were wildly disappointing in the second leg, manager Manuel Pellegrini did not think the match was that one-sided, saying both teams struggled on the attack.

I am disappointed because I think that was a very close game with two teams who did not create many chances. The two teams were working with no-one making a difference.

It is not the best thing changing a defender very early but I don’t think we had any problems in defence, we had problems creating, same as Real Madrid. They did not create many chances.

Real Madrid was not in top form, but they still could have scored three or four goals on Wednesday. Joe Hart had to come up with some big saves to keep things close, as the England goalkeeper was by far City’s most valuable player throughout the tie.

[ MORE: Liverpool preparing for Europa League match vs. Villarreal ]

The absence of David Silva through injury certainly hurt City’s attack, but there was very little service moving forward from the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure. The poor play in the midfield left Sergio Aguero stranded alone up top, nearly invisible in the second leg.

Without service, Aguero was forced to track back to try and find the ball himself, leaving City no options to hit on the counter. For a tie between two of the most expensive teams in the world, neither side was truly impressive, but City surely disappointing.