Juan Mata the hero for Chelsea, as Spaniard sparks second half comeback (video)

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LONDON — It has been a rough start to the season for Chelsea’s Spanish midfielder Juan Mata.

But the diminutive attacker from Northern Spain showed all his mettle on Saturday, as he climbed off the bench at half time to turn the London Derby on its head.

Mata, 25, was playing in just his third league game of the season and made a massive difference to Chelsea’s offensive offerings at White Hart Lane.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has publicly criticized Mata’s recent displays, but chose to bring on the playmaker to change Chelsea’s fortunes in the crucial Derby against Tottenham. And it worked.

“I think this is the way players have to say ‘I want to play'”, Mourinho said. “Conversations with you [the press] is not good, the agents blah, blah, blah, behind is not good. Good is this, the effort that he made against Swindon [in midweek] and the way he changed the team in the second half. And because of that I am a very happy manager.”

(MORE: All-square between the master and his apprentice, as Chelsea fight back for draw at Tottenham)

As for Mata himself, he was delighted to help the team produce a rousing second half comeback, after Spurs dominated Chelsea for vast swathes of a fiery first half.

“Well I just tried to do my best for the team,” Mata said. “From when I came on and that’s what I’m going to try and do until the end. Obviously everyone wants to play. As I said last week, I’m a professional and I enjoy all my teammates and what I want to do is enjoy on the pitch and today I did it.”

Mata played a part in the pivotal moment in Chelsea’s comeback, as his 40-yard left-footed free kick found John Terry at the back post, who headed home the equalizer in the 65th minute. Mata wheeled away in delight and punched the air, he deserved that moment after battling it out with Tottenham’s giants in midfield and forcing his way between the lines of defense and midfield.

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Jose Mourinho is delighted with Mata’s resurgence.

He certainly caused Spurs plenty of problems, and Andre Villas-Boas agreed that Mata’s arrival changed the game.

“Mata played very well, I think he changed the game. He is an extremely creative player, I think he had the impact on the game that Chelsea and Jose wanted. And made another assist for JT to score.”

(MORE: Tottenham 1-1 Chelsea: Lively derby ends in a draw)

Mata’s teammate, Petr Cech, could see things from both the managers and players perspectives, but is over the moon to see the Spanish magician back to his best and pulling the strings for Chelsea.

“If you aren’t doing exactly what he asked you to, then you can’t argue with him, because he is the boss,” Cech said. “It’s a simple as that. But it’s really nice to see Juan play very well the last couple of games and that he looks happy and fit.”

The Spanish international wasn’t even in the squad for Chelsea’s last Premier League game against Fulham, but he proved just how essential he is to their attacking rhythm, as those around picked up their game after half time. Oscar looked much more comfortable cutting in from the left, while Frank Lampard and Ramires also looked at ease dovetailing to support Mata’s roaming runs towards Tottenham’s defense. Last season Mata was the creative hub of Chelsea, scoring 21 goals and adding 29 assists to lead the way.

(MORE: Jose Mourinho fuming at Jan Vertonghen, as Fernando Torres sees red)

On Saturday, Mata made Chelsea a better team with his second half arrival and as Mourinho alluded to in his post-match press conference, Chelsea really should have won the game had Fernando Torres not been controversially sent off.

“In the second half we played very, very well,” Mourinho said. “We played tactically well, we played with a very good spirit and strong mentality. It leaves us in a situation where people are getting their confidence and I think this second half is probably the best we’ve played. Also the first half against Hull City but I think this is our best performance.”

And ahead of their Champions League game in Romania against Steaua Bucharest on Tuesday, Mourinho revealed that Mata will start, after starring in Chelsea’s determined second half comeback.

“I can say this 72 hours in advance, that he plays against Steaua Bucharest. He won that by himself.”

Mata is back in the picture at Chelsea, he’s done it the hard way. But he’s shown the ‘Special One” just how special he can be, with a terrific cameo display.

Sean Dyche signs new contract at Burnley

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Burnley have extended Sean Dyche‘s contract until the summer of 2022.

It is believed the Englishman was on a 12-month rolling contract, but given the Clarets being around the top six for most of this season, plus Dyche linked with previously vacant positions at Everton and Leicester, the Lancashire club have moved to lock down the “Ginger Mourinho” long-term.

Speaking to Burnley’s website about signing the new contract, Dyche, 46, was delighted to commit himself to the Turf Moor club.

“I am quite young in management terms. I am still learning and still improving, I believe, so for my personal reasons, as well, I think it’s the right place to be,” Dyche said. “It’s a very good environment and I enjoy it and I enjoy the connection I’ve had with this area. There’s lots of work to be done, but I’m definitely ‘in’ for the work to be done.”

Dyche has been in charge of Burnley since October 2012 and has led the Clarets to two promotions to the Premier League, building a solid squad and turning his team into a steady PL club while balancing the books. A recent bad run of form has seen Burnley drop to eighth place, but they are still comfortably in line for their best-ever finish in the PL era.

We can get used to hearing Dyche’s gravely voice for many years to come as he now has the chance to build on his success at Burnley.

In the Premier League only Arsene Wenger and Eddie Howe have been in charge of their clubs longer than Dyche, as continuity has bred success at Burnley.

Arnautovic joins Lanzini, Carroll, Antonio on injury list

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Multiple reports claim that Marko Arnautovic could be out for several weeks with a hamstring injury.

West Ham’s striker played the full 90 minutes in their 1-1 draw with Bournemouth last weekend but scans appear to show the Austrian international could spend over three weeks out, according to the London Evening Standard.

The Hammers are already without strikers Andy Carroll and Michail Antonio, plus attacking midfielder Manuel Lanzini who came off against Bournemouth with a hamstring injury and will be out for several weeks.

David Moyes now has to rely heavily on Javier Hernandez, Diafra Sakho and Andre Ayew, all of whom have been linked with moves away.

West Ham face Crystal Palace, Brighton and Watford in their next three Premier League games, as well as facing Wigan in the FA Cup this weekend.

Arnautovic has been flying in recent weeks, with four goals and three assists in his last four appearances in the PL. Lanzini scored twice in the recent win at Huddersfield and the duo have been a main reason why West Ham have climbed to 11th place in the table with just one defeat in their last nine PL games.

Building a team: LAFC kicks off with its first practice

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Diego Rossi drew the attention of scouts worldwide last year while playing a prominent role in Penarol’s championship season in his native Uruguay.

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So why would a touted teenage striker choose to continue his rising career at Los Angeles Football Club, which has never played a game and hasn’t even revealed its jersey?

“To write the history,” Rossi said Monday after the first training session in franchise history.

Nearly 39 months after a deep-pocketed ownership group secured Major League Soccer’s 23rd franchise, LAFC finally took the field on a sunny January morning at UCLA for its inaugural workout under coach Bob Bradley.

The club doesn’t yet have a fully stocked roster or a finished stadium, although both of those projects will be completed shortly. Building a true team will take a bit longer, but Bradley is confident he has a group that can make an immediate impact in the growing North American league.

“I’ve seen a lot of first days, but I thought overall, there were some good signs,” said Bradley, the former boss of Swansea City and the U.S. national team. “Of course, I see all the things that still need work, so there was a little bit of yelling and screaming and demonstrating, but that’s all part of the work every day.”

Bradley is the only coach in MLS history to win a title with an expansion club, leading the Chicago Fire to a championship in 1998. He hasn’t coached in his domestic league since leaving Chivas USA in 2006, but LAFC seems to have the ingredients to build another compelling team immediately .

LAFC might not have jerseys yet, but Rossi’s shorts featured a No. 9, underlining his expected role as the striker. The No. 10 shorts were worn by Carlos Vela, the versatile Mexican playmaker who left La Liga’s Real Sociedad to become LAFC’s first designated player.

Rossi and Vela could be a compelling tandem, but they’re only part of a roster already studded with international talent including Belgian defender Laurent Ciman, Egyptian midfielder Omar Gaber, Costa Rican forward Marco Urena, Ghanaian forward Latif Blessing and Americans Benny Feilhaber and Walker Zimmerman.

“The (other) players’ names come pretty easy to me,” said Feilhaber, a UCLA product who had mixed emotions about leaving Sporting Kansas City after five seasons. “We’re still getting to know each other, but it’s fun to get out on the field with players that are as talented as this. We’re just getting our feet wet, but it’s going to be exciting.”

Gaber played for Bradley on the Egyptian national team, and he was excited when LAFC acquired him from FC Basel in Switzerland’s top league.

“Once they started to speak with me, I felt they are so professional,” Gaber said. “I felt for sure I had to come. Yes, maybe it’s a risk to be with a new club, but we have very good players, coaches and staff. The people are so professional. We have big ambitions, and we want success. I am sure we will achieve good things together.”

LAFC isn’t done building, either.

Rossi filled the club’s second DP spot, but a third remains open. The club hasn’t decided whether to fill it now or after the World Cup, but there’s little doubt LAFC has the financial might to contend for top MLS-level talent.

The club’s resources also will be on display in late April when Banc of California Stadium opens in downtown Los Angeles. Located next-door to the historic Coliseum, LAFC’s privately funded, soccer-specific home is expected to be a festive gathering place for LA’s burgeoning downtown population of relocated professionals and locals alike.

After a handful of preseason friendlies, LAFC will open its first season with six road games, starting in Seattle on March 4 and including its first date with the LA Galaxy on March 31.

“I’m excited about the potential of this club,” Vela said. “I think it’s going to be incredible.”

Chelsea update on transfer deals for Dzeko, Palmeri

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Chelsea are keeping their cards close to their chest when it comes to the potential arrival of Roma duo Edin Dzeko and Emerson Palmeri.

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It has been reported that Chelsea have bid $72.5 million for the pair, with Dzeko, 31, fitting the ball for the target forward they’ve been searching for.

Speaking to the media ahead of Chelsea’s League Cup semifinal second leg at Arsenal on Wednesday, Conte was tight-lipped over the approach for Dzeko and left back Palmeri.

“I don’t know. As you know very well about the transfer market, if there are news the club will inform you,” Conte said.

As for Roma, they have acknowledged that Dzeko, the former Manchester City striker, has been impacted by the talks surrounding his future.

Speaking ahead of their game against Sampdoria on Wednesday, manager Eusebio Di Francesco had the following to say about Dzeko’s future.

“As things stand at the moment, he will. Obviously I’m going to have to assess things and see what frame of mind he’s in. I’ll speak to him about it,” Di Francesco said.

With Roma fighting for the Italian title and in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, it’s tough to understand why they would want to offload Dzeko in January. However with Dzeko now 31, Roma could recoup all of the $40 million they paid to Man City (and then some) for the Bosnian forward in 2015. That’s a decent deal for them after getting two-and-a-half seasons and 61 goals in 117 appearances in all competitions (46 goals in 88 Serie A games) from Dzeko.

The man who won the Premier League title twice with Man City may also feel like he has a little left to prove in England as he fell behind Sergio Aguero and many others in the pecking order towards the end of his time at the Etihad Stadium. It is also believed Dzeko will almost double his wages if he moves from Roma to Chelsea.

With Peter Crouch and Andy Carroll mentioned as potential signings for Chelsea as Conte looks for a big man to mix up his attacking options, Dzeko is by far the most prolific name mentioned and he must have previously impressed Chelsea this season after scoring twice against them in a 3-3 Champions League draw at Stamford Bridge in October.

Alvaro Morata is out of form and has struggled with injuries, plus Michy Batshuayi has struggled to deliver whenever he has stepped in so far so this season, getting a reliable back-up striker has become the main aim for a Chelsea side in third place in the Premier League table and still in the FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League.

As for Palmeri, the deal for the Brazilian born left back, 23, will see him become a valuable squad member and add depth at left wing-back with no real options to back up Marcos Alonso. Think of a left-footed Davide Zappacosta who steps in admirably for Victor Moses at right wing-back whenever needed.

With Cesar Apzilicueta now a permanent fixture at center back, Conte needs help at left back, especially as he revealed on Tuesday that a loan deal for Kenedy to Newcastle United is all but complete.