Stabilized Chelsea cruise through another in West London Derby

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As much as I’ve hammered Rafa Benítez since his arrive at Stamford Bridge, it’s only fair to confess my opinions are under review. No doubt, Chelsea have struggled for much of the Spaniards tenure in West London, but since buckling at St. Marys on March 30, Chelsea’s performances have ranged from convincing to understandable – both drastic improvements on the manic form that characterized Benítez’s first months.

Today was both convincing and, considering the opponent, understandable, with Fulham offering almost no opposition to Chelsea’s 3-0 West London Derby win. Never in this match, Fulham were quickly pushed deep into their defensive third, with the Blues eventually going in front though David Luiz’s 30th minute laser. An all too easy header just before half allowed John Terry to double Chelsea’s lead, and in the 71st minute, the captain cleaned up Fernando Torres’s flick toward goal to complete a disappointingly easy day for the Blues.

The disappointment’s born from the buildup, this being an alleged derby, though it’s been some time since Fulham-Chelsea carried a rivalry’s intensity. The proximity of the two West London clubs makes derby talk obligatory, but when one side comes out as flat and listless as Martin Jol’s, it’s difficult to see  why we continue to consider this a rivalry. Just as passion can transcend geography to create compelling derbies like Liverpool-Manchester United, apathy can make proximity irrelevant. Particularly since Roman Abramovich made Chelsea one of the world’s strongest soccer brands, the Blues’ rivalry with Fulham’s become irrelevant.

So as Chelsea celebrated three goals from unexpected sources, they did so with the same intensity as they would against Reading, Wigan, or Norwich. And Fulham reacted like a struggling team on the wrong end of another bad result. There was no rivalry-driven pride at Craven Cottage.

But don’t let the lack of opposition detract from Chelsea’s performance. At various points this season (March 30, the most recent), the Blues have been unable to take advantage of opponents like this. Today, they asserted themselves early and, as a result, had one of their easiest matches of 2013. They played with the comfort and control fans imagined when their club added Eden Hazard and Oscar last summer.

It’s the kind of form that’s shone more often since Chelsea lost at Southampton, even if the bottom line results haven’t drastically improved. Over their last five games, the Blues have won three and lost two, though their losses are understandable. One was in Kazan, where Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat was all they needed to advance to Europa League’s semifinals. The other was this Sunday at Wembley, where Chelsea nearly came back to force extra time against a Manchester City team that’d played better than they had in months.

Against Fulham, Chelsea had no such obstacles, part of the reason they’ve vaulted back into third place. The Blues now sit on 61 points – one more than Arsenal and three better than Spurs, two clubs that play like London rivals.

West Brom: Evans relegation release reportedly just $4m

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Jonny Evans has been fantastic for West Bromwich Albion this season, shepherding the Baggies back line while being involved in as many goals as any player not named Salomon Rondon or Jay Rodriguez.

[ MORE: High profile loan for Palace ]

So it would make sense for West Brom to hang onto the player at almost all costs given its status as a team in danger of the drop after its slow start under Tony Pulis has kept its lackluster pace under Alan Pardew.

Here’s the rub: Some big clubs would like to purchase Evans, who has 18 months left on his deal but reportedly no interest in signing a new deal the Hawthorns. Even worse? Monday’s story that a Baggies’ relegation would make his buyout clause just over $4 million.

Defenders who cost more last summer on the Premier League market include Jan Bednarek, Nathan Ake, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Michael Keane, Florian Lejeune, Mathias Jorgensen, Andrew Robertson, Bruno Martins Indi, and many others.

Heck, Evans’ buyout clause is the same price Derby County paid Liverpool for Andre Wisdom. And these fees are all pre-Virgil Van Dijk to Liverpool madness.

Considering only Swansea and Brighton have scored fewer league goals than the Baggies, who are just now committing to a two-striker approach under Pardew, does it make sense for West Brom to sell now?

Evans’ value at 18 months out will be more than it is at 12 months out even if the Baggies avoid relegation, but he’s possibly a lynch pin of the team. And the volatile value for attackers mean the $25-35 million he’d generate may not make for like-for-like value.

It’s not an easy decision, but desperate times call for similar measures. The Baggies have played in four nil-nils this season, and lost 1-0 to relegation rivals Southampton and Huddersfield Town away. Both of the reverse fixtures remain.

There are creative options here, too. Would Jurgen Klopp sanction a high(ish) profile attacker loan to WBA in order to pair Evans with Van Dijk? Same for Pep Guardiola at Man City?

Palace loan: Rakip joins Malmo hero Hodgson

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Erdal Rakip’s whirlwind season is heading to London.

The Swedish international sealed a permanent deal to Benfica this month, but is set for a loan at Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Rakip, 21, has made 120 appearances with 12 goals for Malmo in betrayal of his tender age, including a career-high nine goals in 2017 as the Swedish champs sealed a fourth title in five years.

Helping seal the deal was Hodgson’s status as Malmo legend, leading the club to five league titles and two Swedish cups. From CPFC.co.uk:

“It will be an honour playing for Roy. He is a legend in Malmö and everyone know who he is,” Erdal added. “Crystal Palace is a fantastic club with a lot of history that plays entertaining football, and was the best option for my development and my career at this stage.

Malmo has lost two big players in the past six months in Rakip and Orlando City midfielder Yoshimar Yotun.

Given Palace’s injuries, players like Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Yohan Cabaye were going to be taxed a lot by the run-in to safety. Rakip will help with that.

Premier League Preview: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

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  • Reds clobbered Swans on Boxing Day
  • Swans six points adrift
  • Reds go third with three-goal win
  • Liverpool leads all-time 23W-8D-11L

Liverpool looks to avoid a letdown when it visits Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Swansea City has managed a win over the Reds in each of the previous two seasons, but was simply crushed by Jurgen Klopp‘s men in a 5-0 defeat at Anfield last month.

WATCH ON NBCSN AND ONLINE HERE AT 3 P.M. ET

The hosts badly need to pick up points, though few expect them to do so on Monday. Skeptics, however, will note that Liverpool under Klopp has been giants against the top teams and often lackluster against the other sides.

What they’re saying

Swansea boss Carlos Carvalhal on springing an upset“I would prefer to be Goliath, I would rather be in his position. But during my career most of the time has been spent in the position of David, and we have been able to do some surprises as David. We have done it often, we are working to make more of them. I was kind of the Goliath when I was with Besiktas and Sporting Lisbon, but during those moments Goliath was a little ill.”

Liverpool’s Klopp on goalkeeper Loris KariusMy favourite solution, always, is that we do it with our boys. They step up, they deliver, they improve. The problem they have is that everyone is watching them (through a magnifying glass) and saying ‘still not good enough!’ I will only mention one name. Everyone talks about him with us and that is Butland. I only saw the game (against Manchester United). Fantastic goalkeeper but was he perfect? No. He wasn’t in that game. But everyone says ‘still better than our boys!'”

Prediction

It’s hard to see this going in Swans favor at all, though we’ll peg them to keep it close on the score board: 2-0 to Liverpool.

Transfer rumor roundup: Schurrle to Newcastle, Spurs

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A new name has emerged on the loan market, as Borussia Dortmund forward Andre Schurrle is reportedly being made available for the second half of the Premier League season.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Newcastle United reportedly leads the pack for the former Chelsea scorer, who is struggling to get time at BVB thanks to a glut of fantastic wingers including Christian Pulisic.

Magpies boss Rafa Benitez has a good relationship with the Westfalenstadion set, having taken Mikel Merino off their hands in August. Newcastle currently uses Christian Atsu on the left wing and Matt Ritchie on the right, but Schurrle can play center forward and Benitez may prefer to use the 27-year-old in the middle of his trident.

But they’ll face competition, and HITC says BVB is willing to pay half of his wages on an 18-month deal to keep him reasonable for some clubs. This could be a boon for Spurs.

Newcastle and Stoke City have also been linked with Galatasaray midfielder Papa “Badou” Ndiaye, with the Magpies said to have bid just a bit higher than the Potters but still under Gala’s buyout clause.

And here’s a wild one, according to ESPN: Chelsea’s rumored pursuit of current Premier League scorers now includes Marko Arnautovic. The audacious Austrian attacker cost West Ham around $35 million when his head was turned from Stoke City in the summer.

He didn’t perform well but Slaven Bilic, but David Moyes has been able to get some fine performances from the powerful Arnautovic. Chelsea has previously been linked with West Ham teammate Andy Carroll, Burnley’s Ashley Barnes, and Stoke’s Peter Crouch as it attempts to find a center forward to ease the burden placed on Alvaro Morata in his first Premier League season.