Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. West Bromwich Albion

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  • Baggies have won just one of their last 15 league games in London
  • Only Chelsea and Man City have 100 percent home league records so far this season
  • Mourinho is unbeaten in 65 Premier League home games with Chelsea

Up until last weekends hiccup at St. James Park, things have been ticking over smoothly for Chelsea.

Jose Mourinho’s squad rotation has been having the desired effect, as they won six straight games in October across all competitions.

But that 2-0 defeat to Newcastle last weekend saw Mourinho lash out at his team as he claimed that he made “11 mistakes” when selecting his starting lineup.

When West Bromwich Albion visit Chelsea on Saturday (10am ET, watch live on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports Live Extra) the Blues will be hoping to record a comfortable home win to try and close the gap on league leaders Arsenal to two-points before the Gunners visit Manchester United on Sunday.

Obviously Mourinho’s men are built to challenge in all competitions, with the PL, UEFA Champions League and Domestic Cups all in sight. But the lack of continuity constant chopping and changing (watch PST Extra above for more on that) brings has seen his side fail to light up the league so far… even though they’re sat in second place.

(WATCH – PST Extra: Talking Manchester United vs. Arsenal, Chelsea’s struggles and the South Wales derby)

In the lead up to the game, much of the talk has been about Eden Hazard and the fact that Mourinho left him out of Chelsea’s squad for the 3-0 UCL win over Schalke in midweek. The Belgian international apparently traveled to a foreign country when he wasn’t supposed to and then lost his passport while he was there. That infuriated Mourinho, who says Hazard has apologized and he’s now in contention to face West Brom

As for the Baggies, West Brom are comfortably sliding back into mid-table after a tricky start and Mourinho’s former assistant manager Steve Clarke has put the Midlands club back on course. A win at Manchester United and a draw at home with Arsenal in the past few weeks has shown that WBA can hang in with the big boys, and the emergence of youngster Saido Berahino has given Clarke’s team a massive boost.

(MORE: Preview – Norwich City vs. West Ham United)

Injury wise, Chelsea will be without Fernando Torres who has a thigh injury, which means Demba Ba or Samuel Eto’o could start. West Brom winger, and former Chelsea youngster, Scott Sinclair will miss out on a return to his former club after suffering a hamstring strain. Another former Chelsea man, Nicolas Anelka, is also doubtful but Victor Anichebe is fit again.

What they’re saying

Mourinho on meeting his former assistant Steve Clarke: “I am very happy to meet Steve Clarke again. It will be a difficult game because he organizes his teams well. He was more than an assistant coach… in charge of training methodology, sessions, match preparation. We stay in touch but not speaking about our jobs directly. Every game Steve Clarke plays I wish he will win, but tomorrow that is not the case which is strange.”

Steve Clarke on how his side can beat Chelsea: “A win wouldn’t mean anything to me other than the fact it’s another three points for the Albion. It would be a good scalp to take, winning at Stamford Bridge and beating Chelsea, but that’s it. I think if we’re 100 per cent focused, and concentrated and play at our maximum, then we have an opportunity to compete with any team in the Premier League and that’s what we have to focus on.”

Prediction

On paper this looks like being a big win for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. But after that slip up against Newcastle last week and a few disturbing signs in the last few weeks, there will be nothing routine about this. West Brom have gone to Manchester United and won, and have several attacking talents who can wreck havoc, with the likes of Anichebe, Sessegnon, Brunt and others who can deliver a shock. I think Mourinho’s men will grind out a win but it may not be pretty.

Transfer rumor roundup: Van Dijk to Chelsea, Ox to Anfield

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More and more players are being linked with Manchester United, but — believe it or not — the Red Devils aren’t the only club seeking talent.

DiMarzio is reporting that Antonio Conte is close to securing the services of Southampton center back Virgil Van Dijk, insisting the Dutch back is Conte’s top choice ahead of Juventus power house Leonardo Bonucci (which isn’t to say there isn’t room for both). The price? An eyebrow-raising $77 million.

[ MORE: Confederations Cup scenarios ]

Meanwhile, Conte is selling talented Bertrand Traore outside the Premier League. A solid season on loan at Ajax upped interest in the 21-year-old striker, and L’Equipe says it’s a $22 million move to Lyon for Traore.

How much do you think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is worth? Liverpool may think his value is as high as $32 million, as The Independent reports that Arsenal is prepared to sell the Southampton Academy product to the attacker-heavy Reds.

Meanwhile, Serge Gnabry‘s wild journey looks to have another stop despite a purchase from Bayern Munich this summer. Gnabry was one of Germany’s heroes at the Olympics and left Arsenal for Werder Bremen last summer. He thrived, and earned a deal to Bayern, but Kicker brings quotes from a Hoffenheim player that are hopeful of a loan for this season.

Messi offers to pay $558,000 to avoid 21-month jail sentence

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi has offered to pay an additional fine of 500,000 euros ($558,000) to ensure he avoids a 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud that a judge is expected to suspend, a Spanish state prosecutor said Friday.

State prosecutor Isabel Lopez Riera told The Associated Press the fine-for-time deal was presented by Messi’s lawyers to the judge who will rule on whether to suspend Messi’s sentence – as is widely expected. Lopez Riera said she has told the judge that her office is not opposed to the deal.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

Lopez Riera said Messi’s lawyers have made a similar offer for the Barcelona player’s father, Jorge Horacio Messi. He is offering to pay 360,000 euros ($402,000) to avoid his 15-month sentence for helping his son cheat on his taxes.

In Spain, prison sentences under 24 months for first-time offenders can be suspended by a judge.

The government attorney representing Spain’s Tax Office in the case will also be able to weigh in on the proposed deal. As state prosecutor, Lopez Riera is impartial in the case as a defender of the public interest.

Last year, a court in Barcelona found Messi and his father each guilty of three counts of defrauding tax authorities of 4.1 million euros ($4.6 million) from 2007-09. The unpaid taxes were from money made through endorsement deals, not Messi’s salary paid by Barcelona.

Messi was fined 2 million euros and his father 1.5 million euros. Both were originally sentenced to 21 months, but his father’s sentence was later reduced to 15 months.

In the last two weeks, Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo and former Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho have been accused by a Madrid-based state prosecutor of having defrauded Spain’s Tax Office of millions of euros (dollars) in unpaid taxes.

Both have denied wrongdoing.

WATCH: Pair of inspiring Academy videos from Men In Blazers

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Men In Blazers produced a pair of videos on two teens from rival academies that should give all young players a sense of gratitude and inspiration for their chances in American soccer.

New York City FC Academy center back Prince Amponsah and New York Red Bulls Academy destroyer Amadeo Chapru-Tate get the mini-doc treatment from Roger Bennett.

Amponsah comes from Ghana, and his family moved to the United States where their son found his way to the youth national team.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

Chapru-Tate comes from Haiti, adopted by his parents after a three-year process. His first game saw him score an own goal, but that was not a sign of what’s to come for the 15-year-old.

Confederations Cup: Scenarios before final group matches

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Seven of eight nations remain alive for the knockout rounds after two-thirds of the group stage at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.

Only New Zealand has been eliminated, though the underdogs aren’t the sort of nations who will quit ahead of its group finale against Portugal.

That’s one of two Saturday matches, along with Russia versus Mexico, with two more on the docket for Sunday when Germany meets Cameroon and Chile duels with Australia.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

We’ve seen zany finishes at the Confederations Cup before, as the U.S. beat Egypt 3-0 and Brazil topped Italy 3-0 on the final day of group play in 2009 to send the Americans past Italy and into the knockout rounds despite a tournament-opening 3-1 loss to the Italians.

Group A

Draws will be enough to send Mexico and Portugal into the knockout rounds, with Mexico currently leading the group by virtue of a single goal scored (The two sides drew 2-2 in the opener).

We mentioned New Zealand’s status as a wild card, but hosts Russia will be under immense pressure against Mexico. The cynic will note that the tournament’s location could help the Russians beyond simple home-field advantage, while a bigger cynic may not that Mexico has been the beneficiary of plenty of officials’ whistles and non-whistles in recent years.

The safe bet is Portugal to win and Mexico to advance via draw or win.

Group B

No one’s safe, but Chile is feeling very good about its chances coming into Sunday’s match against Australia in Moscow. The Chileans battered Australia at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and a draw would give them a place in the next round.

The Socceroos need a two-goal win to pass Chile and assure a spot in the next round. A one-goal win could also do the trick for Australia if Germany loses and Australia outscores the Germans (who currently hold a one-goal advantage).

Germany knows it’s result-and-in for them, while Cameroon faces the longest odds. Not only do the Africans need to upset the Germans, but they need a two-goal win and help. If Cameroon won by one, it would fail to pass Germany.