Romelu Lukaku set to return from injury; Steven Naismith the silver-lining

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For Everton fans it was bad when Steven Gerrard thumped home Liverpool’s opener in the January 28th Merseyside derby but it was doubly painful when Romelu Lukaku collapsed to the ground holding his ankle.

Initially it looked like ligament damage but those fears were later removed when it was diagnosed as a bad sprain. And now, after three weeks of care, the Belgian striker is healthy and ready to go.

“Romelu Lukaku is fully fit now and it’s just a matter of making sure that we get him back to his level of match fitness that he needs,” Everton manager Roberto Martinez explained on Tuesday.

While the Toffees will be without Lukaku this Saturday when they face off against the striker’s parent club, Chelsea, the loan star is set to return on March 1st against West Ham United.

“It helps in a way that he’s not available for this weekend because this game may have been a little bit too early for him to be involved with the team. But now we’ve got nearly two weeks to make sure that he’s fully fit for the next home game and that’s very much a realistic target.”

In Lukaku’s absence Everton defeated Aston Villa 2-1 and lost to Spurs 0-1 in the league, while also defeating Swansea City 3-1 in last weekend’s FA Cup.

The silver-lining from Lukaku’s injury is that an unlikely hero has emerged among the Toffees in Steven Naismith. The plucky Scot scored the game-winner against Villa just four minutes after being substituted into the match, a move he replicated against Swansea when he came on in the 61st minute and put away the match-winner in the 65th.

Naismith is one of those players who, given his look and lack of size, takes an unfair amount of grief. But the winger-come-striker has the uncanny ability to score big goals (see his history in the Merseyside derby) and is a constant menace to opponents. A religious hustler with a decent touch, clever ideas and the will to insert himself into the most dangerous situations, Naismith is the archetypal ‘super sub’.

On Sunday, Naismith suffered a concussion after taking a strong blow to the head from Swansea’s Jordi Amat. After the first replay was shown on TV, there was little question Naismith was in trouble. His eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed to the ground. It was yet another incident of a Premier League club failing to immediately remove a head injured player but Naismith, ever the warrior, continued on for a few minutes before becoming so out-of-sorts that he just plumped down on the turf.

If healthy enough to go on Saturday, Naismith may lead the line for the Toffees. More likely he’ll provide that pest-like punch off the bench when 6’8″ Lacina Traore needs a breather.

VIDEO: Pedro scores stunning goal for Chelsea

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Not a bad way to start the Premier League weekend…

12 minutes into the first game of Matchweek 9, Chelsea’s Pedro curled home a stunning effort into the far corner and off the far post after a corner was played short to him.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

A simply stunning goal from the Spaniard which you can watch in the video above.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Watford in top five clash

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Chelsea host Watford at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as fifth and fourth clash.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea are without a win in three games in all competitions and some pressure is starting to build on the Blues as they’ve fallen further behind the two Manchester clubs atop the PL table.

As for Watford, Marco Silva‘s men are in fourth place and aiming to keep up their impressive away form in the PL this season with three of their four wins coming on the road.

In team news Chelsea’s injuries are piling up with Victor Moses and N'Golo Kante missing but Alvaro Morata does start after recovering from his hamstring injury, while Watford start Troy Deeney up top after his impressive cameo against Arsenal last week.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Rudiger, David Luiz, Cahill; Azpilicueta, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Alonso; Pedro, Morata, Hazard. Subs: Caballero, Christensen, Ampadu, Zappacosta, Musonda, Willian, Batshuayi

Watford: Gomes; Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenia, Cleverley, Doucoure, Holebas; Pereyra, Deeney, Richarlison. Subs:

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!