Chelsea gets their Benitez breakthrough at Sunderland

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Chelsea had not won a league match since Oct. 20, and although some people will note today’s 3-1 win was only against struggling Sunderland, the Blues have managed to drop points against other teams they should have been over the last seven weeks. Today’s performance was a good one, and with an 11th minutes open play goal from Fernando Torres getting the team off them off the mark, the Blues finally have reason to think things are going in the right direction.

It was their second straight plus performance, though everybody expected them to take care of business mid-week against Nordsjaelland. That they almost went down to them in the first half (conceding a penalty with the score 0-0) underscored how these slups feed on themselves. No, the Danish champions had no business winning at Stamford Bridge, but as bad as the Blues have been struggling this fall, the hosts were ready to bring the result into play.

Since Petr Cech’s save of that penalty kick, Chelsea’s outscored their opponents 9-2. Today they got a second goal from Torres — scoring from the spot in first half stoppage time — before Juan Mata’s 49th minute insurance goal (set up by Torres) put the match away. Adam Johnson’s 66th minute goal rounded out the scoring.

It does seem Rafa Benítez may have some things working. Fernando Torres was very good today, and given the striker’s history with the former Liverpool boss, it’s likely Benítez is contributing to that. Torres now has four goals in as many games under Benítez. Victor Moses seems to be a permanent fixture in the midfield’s attacking three, though Oscar did come on early today for an injured Oriel Romeu. Despite the tweaks in attack, the defense continues to post decent results.

The caveat, of course, it that it’s only Sunderland, who for some time has played as bad as anybody in the league. But everybody has to play the Black Cats, which means everybody will have their chance to correct course should they meet Sunderland in a slump. Chelsea took advantage of the opportunity and now, as they head to Japan, have a chance to consolidate momentum. They’ll face Ulsan or Monterrey before a likely matchup with Corinthians then return to England to face Aston Villa and Norwich City. By the time the Blues visit Goodison Park on Dec. 30, they could be in a purple patch.

The way the Premier League is developing, that momentum may only go to a fight for third place. Seven matches without a win may be too much to stay in this title race, but for a team that finished sixth last year, that would be notable improvement. And with Tottenham, Arsenal, and Everton all likely to contest the league’s last two Champions League spots, Chelsea won’t be able to cruise back into Europe.

But after snapping a seven-game winless run in league, Chelsea can be afforded a moment to reflect on the present. The worst may be behind them.

Day Four: All the action from the U20 World Cup

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South Korea and Venezuela clinched berths in the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup on Tuesday, while Germany and Argentina have surprising work to do after two matches in South Korea.

[ MORE: Allardyce steps down at Palace ]

South Korea 2-1 Argentina

Barcelona B man Lee Seung-woo helped South Korea take a 2-0 lead, then hold on for the win and group lead over England.

England 1-1 Guinea

Chelsea youngster Fikayo Tomori scored a wild long range own goal to cost England the three points, but the Blues are still well-positioned to advance out of the group stage. Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook scored for England, and it was a beaut.

Venezuela 7-0 Vanuatu

Seven different Venezuelans have scored through a pair of shutout wins, with Caracas’ Sergio Cordova the only one to bag a pair.

Mexico 0-0 Germany

Germany has just one point through two matches, thanks largely to Pachuca’s Abraham Romero’s seven saves. Mexico was outshot 12-6.

Porto, Watford, Hull? Marco Silva in demand

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Marco Silva is one of the hottest properties in management, months after eliciting cries of “Who?” following his appointment at Hull City.

While those cries may have been a tiny bit myopic given his time at Sporting CP and Olympiacos, the 39-year-old is now visible to the world despite Hull’s relegation.

[ MORE: Real Madrid nabs $50m teen ]

Silva will be back in England to meet with Hull on Wednesday, but a clause in his contract that said he could leave if the club was relegated gives the Tigers very little hope.

Rumors have him wanted at Watford, and he’s also been linked with a number of other jobs including Southampton (should the club part ways with Claude Puel).

However, the former right back is also reportedly a target of one of the biggest clubs in his home country: Champions League side Porto.

UEFA Europa League Final preview: Manchester United vs. Ajax

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Jose Mourinho’s big European gamble takes center stage on Wednesday in Sweden, when Manchester United attempts to topple young Ajax in the UEFA Europa League Final.

United’s chances for UEFA Champions League qualification, a magnificent opportunity, are overshadowed by the pall cast over Manchester by sinister terrorist attacks at a pop concert that killed and injured many on Monday night.

Alas, there’s soccer to be played, and Mourinho is looking to make it a trio of shiny items in his first year on the job. United beat Leicester City for the Community Shield, then topped Southampton in the EFL Cup Final en route to Sweden.

United’s well-documented dearth of healthy defenders will march out one more time on Wednesday, with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones tasked with manning the center of the back line. Expect Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian out wide.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Despite the injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mourinho’s attack is going to give Ajax fits. Marcus Rashford has been next level for most of the second half of the season, and United will also likely feature Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba atop Ander Herrera.

If someone is going to break United down, it could be midfield wizards Davy Klaassen and Lasse Schone. The creative middle men have a variety of options to find with the ball, including on-loan Chelsea man Bertrand Traore and Danish teenager Kasper Dolberg.

But how will they deal with United’s attack? Sure Ajax has stopped Lyon, Schalke, Copenhagen, and Legia Warsaw, but United and Mourinho? That’s another challenge for Peter Bosz and his men.

Ajax won the 1992 UEFA Cup, and this is United’s first ever trip to this particular final. The Red Devils are heavy favorites, and we expect United to prevail. Don’t sleep on Juan Mata heroics. Call it 3-1.

Allardyce resigns, opening up intriguing vacancy at Palace

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Sam Allardyce is walking away on top outside the relegation zone.

The veteran Premier League manager, 62, resigned his post as Crystal Palace on Tuesday, weeks after leading another team to safety.

The move ends a tumultuous eight months for Allardyce, who was fired as England manager after an undercover sting exposed unethical dealings with agents.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

It also comes about an hour after somebody wrote that Crystal Palace should move on from Allardyce. What a jerk, that somebody.

Rarely at a loss for words, here’s Big Sam from cpfc.co.uk:

I want to be able to savour life while I’m still relatively young and when I’m still relatively healthy enough to do all the things I want to do, like travel, spend more time with my family and grandchildren without the huge pressure that comes with being a football manager.

This is the right time for me. I have no ambitions to take another job, I simply want to be able to enjoy all the things you cannot really enjoy with the 24/7 demands of managing any football club, let alone one in the Premier League.”

All kidding aside — and I’m far from a Big Sam fan — congrats to the man on walking away to enjoy the finer things in life. He had a heck of a run, and we’ll see how long he can resist being away from the fray. Cheers, Sam.