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A strange fit for Napoli, Rafa Benítez’s Chelsea tenure finally comes to an end

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Most Chelsea fans saw a bit of good news hit their Twitter timelines on Monday, with a picture being send around social media marking the end of the club’s Rafa Benítez era. Though some fans eventually warmed to Benítez, the vast majority were either conflicted or antagonistic, so although they knew their time of conflict would soon end, proof of its passing would have been met with relief.

At the same time, Napoli fans were forced to embrace a reality of an uncertain future, their club having officially welcomed the controversial Spaniard as their new head coach. For a team who finished second in Italy and have reason to hope they team can push on, today’s must have been sobering news.

Word of Benítez’s move to Naples had been circulating for some time, but until Benítez finished his responsibilities with Chelsea’s brief U.S. tour, Napoli supporters could try to convince themselves the deal would fall through. However, after this weekend’s match at Yankee Stadium, all that was left was to dot i’s and cross t’s. Benítez was destined to replace Walter Mazzarri.

And with this image of Benítez shaking hands with Napoli President Aurelio Di Laurentiis, the tenuous transition finally begins.

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I’ve made my newfound ambivalence toward Benítez known, but for new visitors who don’t want to go back through the PST archive, I’ll reiterate: I feel as if Benítez has earned himself another chance, one that shouldn’t require him resorting to a ‘take what I can get’ attitude. I’m not sure I felt the same before he was fortunate to find a role in West London.

He underperformed at Chelsea, Inter Milan, and in his last days at Liverpool, but over the last three months at Stamford Bridge, he showed the qualities of a man capable of forging a stable united. Were I at Málaga and looking to replace Manuel Pellegrini, I’d strongly consider him. He might work well at a place like Schalke, when he could take a talented team and establish a foundation that would address inconsistencies. Among club who don’t have obvious job openings, places like Marseille, Sevilla, Lazio, Hamburg would also be a fit for a boss with Benítez’s qualities, and if it wasn’t for the circumstances of Benítez’s past, clubs like Everton and Valencia would also fit nicely onto that list.

Napoli, however, is a very peculiar case. The departing manager, Walter Mazzarri, played almost exclusively three at the back, employing an attractive style that leveraged the abilities of Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik, Goran Pendev and Blerim Dzemaili to pick opponents apart, often in transition. In contrast to Benítez’s style, Napoli’s is not one you would readily call controlling or robust. Their’s was a more open game.

With Mazzarri having moved to Inter, Napoli’s style is going to change. And if the Neopolitans lose Cavani, they’ll have to reload, a process in which Benítez is likely to have great say. As opposed to a Chelsea job that was about ostensibly about correcting course, Benítez will have to chart a new one.

At one time in his career, he was capable of doing that. His accomplishments at Valencia and Liverpool speak to it, but having painted more confounding pictures at Stamford Bridge, the San Siro, and his last year at Anfield, Benítez’s appointment at Napoli becomes a litmus test. If you feel the man is capable to recapturing the magic, there’s little reason not to hire him. If you believe the more recent evidence, he seems an bad fit for the job.

The only other time Benítez faced the tactical test of the Italian league, he drove a European champion to mid-table before walking away from Inter Milan. De Laurentiis has elected to cast this as an aberration, but for a team returning to Champions League, you can’t help but ask if they couldn’t have found a better fit.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

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PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.

FA Cup roundup: Burnley, Crystal Palace advance to 4th round

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17: Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace (C) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Andros Townsend of Crystal Palace (L) during the Emirates FA Cup third round replay between Crystal Palace and Bolton Wanderers at Selhurst Park on January 17, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in FA Cup third-round replays…

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Burnley 2-0 Sunderland

Sam Vokes and Andre Gray grabbed goals for Burnley, who opted for a largely first-choice lineup in Tuesday’s replay. Sunderland, meanwhile, went with a mix-and-match bunch and slumped to six games without a win (all competitions), meaning they can focus solely on Premier League survival from here on out. Burnley will host Championship side Bristol City in the fourth round next Saturday, Jan. 28.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Crystal Palace 2-1 Bolton Wanderers

Sam Allardyce picked up his first win as Palace boss, courtesy of a Christian Benteke brace scored nine minutes apart in the second half, as the Eagles came from behind to beat League One side Bolton at Selhurst Park. James Henry put the visitors three minutes into the second half, but Benteke hit back in the 68th and 77th minutes to improve Allardyce’s record to one win, two draws and three losses (all competitions). Palace will host Manchester City in the fourth round next Saturday.

Tuesday’s FA Cup scoreboard

AFC Wimbledon 1-3 Sutton United
Barnsley 1-2 (AET) Blackpool
Fleetwood Town 0-1 Bristol City
Lincoln City 1-0 Ipswich Town

AFCON: Ayew propels Ghana to victory; Egypt struggle vs. Mali

FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 21:  Andre Ayew of Ghana celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Germany and Ghana at Castelao on June 21, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ghana 1-0 Uganda

PORT-GENTIL, Gabon (AP) Andre Ayew scored a penalty as Ghana beat Uganda 1-0 on Tuesday in a lackluster opening to the four-time champions’ bid for a first African Cup of Nations title in 35 years.

Ghana took control of Group D after seven-time champion Egypt struggled in a 0-0 draw with Mali in the other group match.

Ghana has three points, Egypt and Mali one each and Uganda zero.

Ayew, a West Ham winger, netted in the 32nd minute after Asamoah Gyan was held back by Isaac Isinde in the penalty area in Port-Gentil.

Avram Grant, a former Chelsea manager, is looking to lead Ghana to a second successive final but go better than 2015 when his team lost to Ivory Coast.

Uganda has also finished runner-up in the continental championship but the trip to the final in 1978 was the last time it qualified until making the Gabon event.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Mali 0-0 Egypt

Later, 44-year-old Egypt goalkeeper Essam El Hadary became the oldest player in tournament history when he came on for injured Ahmed El Shenawy midway through the first half.

El Hadary, who celebrated his birthday two days ago, is participating in his seventh African Cup, having picked up winners’ medals in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Egypt’s standout forward Mohamed Salah struggled and was replaced midway through the second half.

Mali, looking to improve on its third-place finishes in 2012 and 2013, produced many more chances.

Egypt failed to qualify for the last three editions of the tournament.

Wednesday’s AFCON schedule

Gabon vs. Burkina-Faso — 11 a.m. ET
Cameroon vs. Guinea-Bissau — 2 p.m. ET