Chelsea hits another low in loss at Southampton

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Nobody could blame Rafa Benítez for trying to balance Chelsea’s priorities on Saturday, but after losing at Southampton with a weakened XI, the Blues boss has put his team in a terrible position. Chelsea are now in fourth place, only two points above Arsenal, while give back the head start built under Roberto Di Matteo. Even worse, the team now seems set to fight on three fronts, with an interim manager steering a regressing side potentially prioritizing cup competitions over a top four finish.

Look too deep into that statement and it becomes unfair to Benítez, as it wasn’t unreasonable for him to think a half-strength Chelsea could get win at St. Marys. Had he suspected his team could lose 2-1, Benítez surely would have started Eden Hazard. Or David Luiz, Demba Ba, Ramires, or Ashley Cole (wow, this list is long). He wouldn’t have started Marko Marin or Fernando Torres, and Yossi Benayoun – who (amazingly) was on the pitch at fulltime while Ba sat on the bench – wouldn’t have made the trip at all.

Instead, Benítez saw his excessively weak team given up first half goals to Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert, with only John Terry’s 33rd minute conversation getting his team on the board. At fulltime, it was hard to argue Chelsea deserved more than their 2-1 loss to Southampton.

Chelsea, with one of the most expensive playing squads in the world, were outshot and out-possessed by a team that came into the day battling relegation, and while those indicators don’t necessarily tell you how the match unfolded, they strongly suggest a team whose talent should roll through St. Mary’s failed to dictate the teams of the game. The Blues didn’t control play. They lacked urgency. They just weren’t that good.

source:  And that’s becoming a common refrain with Chelsea. Yes, there are frequent glimpses of the team’s talent, hints Rafa Benítez may have some idea of how to steer this barge home. But four months into his time at Stamford Bridge, Benítez has taken a third place team in Champions League that was on course to win the League Cup and crashed out of both competitions while allowing his team to be drawn into a fight to finish top four. This is not the level the club imagined when they bought Eden Hazard.

All of these references to Chelsea’s talent, wages, expectations – they got old months ago. Nothing’s changed. Ever since Benítez came on board, we’ve been able to recycle the same post: huge talent; deep pockets; few results; no apparent plan. Under Benítez, Chelsea have become a bloated, clumsy seal, destined to lose hope and roll off its iceberg, sinking out of significance.

He may hope silverware, be it the FA Cup or Europa League, will create a legacy. Just as he walked away from Inter Milan with faux redemption after winning the Club World Cup, Benítez may dream of lifting a trophy and thumbing a nose as he walks out the door. Nobody remembers that Inter was mid-table when he left, he might think. He may be kidding himself into believing nobody will remember fifth place if Chelsea snare Europa League or an FA Cup.

Putting aside the fact Chelsea have the type of resources to avoid either-or scenarios, finishing top four is much more important than winning the FA Cup. It’s much more important than winning Europa League. Finishing top four may not give Benítez the line on his resume he can spin going forward, but the Champions League money is much more important to the club.

On Saturday, Benítez’s priorities were wrong. His team didn’t play well, and he made poor choices while trying to get a response. As a result, Chelsea are only two points ahead of Arsenal, and they’re worse off today than they’ve been at any other point of the season.

Europa League Preview: Everton, Milan look to make group stage

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Everton look to make it back into the Europa League group stage for the first time since the 2014-2015 season and it has a two-goal advantage heading into the second leg of its tie.

Ronald Koeman and co. travel to Croatia to face Hadjuk Split Thursday having won the first leg at Goodison Park, 2-0. Everton is coming off a hard-fought draw on Monday with Manchester City and will be on short rest heading into the match.

Elsewhere in Europa League action, AC Milan take its 6-0 aggregate lead to Skopje, Macedonia as the legendary club looks to return to the group stage of a European competition for the first time since 2013-2014.

Here’s a look at all of Thursday’s Europa League matches, with the current aggregate scores:

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EFL Cup Rewind: Southampton, Newcastle knocked out by Championship sides

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Last season, Southampton made it to the EFL Cup final. This year, it’s a different story.

The Saints were bounced by Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-0 at home on Wednesday in the second round of the cup. Joining Southampton of Premier League sides going home early was Newcastle, which lost 3-2 after extra time at home against Nottingham Forest.

Four other Premier League sides did advance to the third round, as Stoke City, Huddersfield Town, West Ham United and Burnley all won their fixtures.

Here’s a look at the rest of Wednesday’s EFL Cup action:

Blackburn 0-2 Burnley

Cheltenham 0-2 West Ham

Huddersfield 2-1 Rotherham

Newcastle 2-3 Nottingham Forest

Southampton 0-2 Wolverhampton

Stoke City 4-0 Rochdale

Breaking down who each Premier League team could face in the UCL Group Stage

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The UEFA Champions League group stage lineup is complete, with five Premier League clubs making the list.

On Wednesday, Liverpool joined Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United in the group stage after beating Hoffenheim, 6-3 on aggregate in the playoff qualification round.

Thursday’s Champions League draw (2 p.m. ET) will place clubs into groups of four, where they’ll play three matches at home and away.

Here’s a look at the four coefficient pots and who each Premier League club could face:

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Follow Live – Texas Derby, Cascadia Cup headline busy night of MLS action

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Welcome to MLS Rivalry Week.

The surging Houston Dynamo could move to first place in the Western Conference with a win over rivals FC Dallas while the current first-place side, the Seattle Sounders travel north and across the border to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The Dynamo have made an impressive turnaround under coach Wilmer Cabrera and he’ll have the trio of Ricardo Clark, Alberth Elis and star forward Erick Torres available to face Dallas after missing the Dynamo’s match at Vancouver last weekend, which ended 2-1 in favor of the Whitecaps.

FC Dallas are in its worst form of the season, winless in its last four games, but the team will be extra motivated to beat its rivals.

El Capitan is on the line after draws between FC Dallas and the Dynamo in two matches earlier this season.

Meanwhile up in Vancouver, the Whitecaps host a Sounders squad that pulled out a last-gasp victory last weekend over Minnesota United. While the team is in great form on the road recently (two wins and two draws), the top story heading into the game is the unexpected absence of Joevin Jones, who left the Sounders for his home in Trinidad and Tobago ahead of the upcoming international break.

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On the other side, Fredy Montero faces his former club and carries an interesting record into Wednesday’s match. Of his 35 MLS goals, 11 have been scored against Cascadia Cup competition.

Here’s a look at Wednesday’s action:

Full schedule

Columbus Crew vs. LA Galaxy – 7:30 p.m. ET

D.C. United vs. Atlanta United – 7:30 p.m.ET

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo – 8 p.m. ET

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union – 8 p.m. ET

Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 10 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Seattle Sounders – 10 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids – 10:30 p.m. ET