Fulham 1-3 Chelsea: Spectacular Schurrle extends Blues lead at the top (video)

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Chelsea cruised past West London rivals Fulham 3-1 at Craven Cottage on Saturday, as German international Andre Schurrle bagged his first-ever hat trick for the Blues.

In a timid first half Chelsea were second best but Fulham failed to capitalize on a few half chances, one of which fell to U.S. international Clint Dempsey early on but he headed wide. But after the break Chelsea came to life as Schurrle scored twice in the space of seven minutes after half time. Eden Hazard assisted on both goals as the Belgian star tore Fulham apart with Schurrle finishing superbly.

Then in the 68th minute Schurrle scored his third after good work from Torres, but Johnny Heitinga’s late consolation scuppered Chelsea’s hopes of getting a clean sheet.

With the win Chelsea now go four points clear of Arsenal in second, while Fulham remain rooted to the bottom of the PL standings.

(MORE: Mourinho on Chelsea going four points clear at top: “It is a fake advantage”)

Fulham started the brighter of the two teams and U.S. international Dempsey had a glorious chance to put the Cottagers ahead, but the attacker headed wide in the third minute.

The game was pretty even as Chelsea tried to get a stranglehold on proceedings and Fulham’s ‘keeper Maarten Stekelenburg almost gifted the visitors a goal. The Dutch ‘keeper made a real has of a clearance and Torres looked to be clean through but he stumbled on the ball and dragged his shot wide with other Chelsea players unmarked.

Dempsey was causing Chelsea plenty of problems in and around the box as the U.S. captain dribbled through Chelsea’ defense but was thwarted by John Terry and Gary Cahill with last ditch tackles. Chelsea struggled to get going at Craven Cottage in the first half as the long midweek trip away to Galatasaray looked to have taken its toll.

Just before the break Pajtim Kasami rifled a free kick in on goal but Petr Cech got down to save comfortably and Stekelenburg saved well from Torres, as the West London rivals went in level at 0-0 at half time.

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After the interval Chelsea looked refreshed and in the 51st minute they went 1-0 up as Schurrle played a one-two with Hazard, as the Belgian star clipped a terrific ball into Schurrle’s path, and the German winger slotted coolly past Stekelenburg to put Chelsea 1-0 up. Hazard turned creator again just before the hour mark as he performed a remarkable cross by flicking one foot behind the other and Torres’ header was somehow cleared by Fulham’s defense as the Cottagers held on.

Hazard dazzled once again in the 64th minute and his clever through ball found Schurrle who stayed onside and hammered a low shot into the  bottom corner to put Chelsea 2-0 up and dash any hopes Fulham had of launching a comeback. Soon after Schurrle bagged his third goal of the game, as Torres won an aerial challenge and played the ball through to Schurrle who finished coolly for his and Chelsea’s third.

Late on Fulham pushed to try and get back into the game and defender Heitinga scored his first goal for the Cottagers to make it 3-1, but that’s how it would finish as Chelsea extend their lead at the top of the standings.

LINEUPS

Fulham: Stekelenburg; Riether, Hangeland (Burn, 15), Heitinga, Richardson; Dejagah, Parker (Karagounis, 79), Sidwell, Dempsey; Kasami (Holtby, 62), Bent.

Goal: Heitinga (78)

Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Ramires, Matic; Schurrle (David Luiz, 87), Oscar (Oscar, 78), Hazard; Torres (Ba, 82)

Goals: Schurrle (51, 64, 68)

Baroni fired by Serie A basement club Benevento

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BENEVENTO, Italy (AP) Benevento fired Marco Baroni and named Roberto De Zerbi its new coach after becoming the first squad in Serie A history to lose its first nine matches of the season.

The southern Italian club is the only team in Europe’s five major leagues without a point.

[ MORE: Ronaldo wins Best Male Player at FIFA awards ]

Benevento also announced it fired sporting director Salvatore Di Somma.

The moves on Monday came a day after a 3-0 home loss to Fiorentina.

The Gazzetta dello Sport reports that Benevento will have to pay Baroni 800,000 euros (nearly $1 million) as part of an anti-firing clause in his contract.

Baroni guided Benevento up from Serie B last season.

De Zerbi last coached Palermo nearly a year ago before being fired by the Sicilian club.

It’s the second coaching change in Serie A this season, after Diego Lopez replaced Massimo Rastelli at Cagliari last week.

MLS Cup Playoffs: Atlanta hosts Crew, Whitecaps take on Earthquakes

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34 rounds of MLS action are in the books, and now the real fun is set to begin this week.

The MLS Cup Playoffs have arrived, and 12 teams are firmly in the running to hoist a trophy in December.

[ MORE: PST talks to Justin Meram ahead of the Crew’s playoff run ]

While Toronto FC, New York City FC, the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers will each have the opportunity to watch the first round from their homes, the action all starts on Wednesday and Thursday.

Here’s a look at what to expect when the knockout round begins.

Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls — Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET

The Fire were one of the most intriguing stories for much of the regular season, but Veljko Paunovic’s side enters the postseason limping. Lucky for them, the Red Bulls have been just as inconsistent throughout the course of 2017 — which already saw Jesse Marsch’s club lose in the U.S. Open Cup final.

Paunovic and Co. have lost eight of their last 15 matches, which doesn’t bode well entering the home stretch of the schedule. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls have won just two of their last 10 matches. The Harrison side should be well-rested though for Wednesday’s encounter after starting a mostly second-tier squad in Sunday’s season finale against D.C. United.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. San Jose Earthquakes — Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. ET

The Whitecaps looked to be a sure-fire club destined for a bye in the first round, but things didn’t fall their way on Decision Day. Now, Carl Robinson’s side faces an Earthquakes side that is simply unpredictable.

The Quakes have the second-worst road record in the Western Conference when it comes to acquiring points — holding eight in points 17 matches. However, Chris Leitch has instilled a new-found belief amongst the squad that gives the California side a puncher’s chance.

Atlanta United vs. Columbus Crew — Thursday, 7 p.m. ET

These two sides haven’t met since July 1, so all bets are off about these teams knowing one another. Since that point, Atlanta and Columbus have been two of the hottest sides in MLS and the former moved into a new stadium — which has given opposing sides quite the difficult time.

In their last 10 matches combined, the clubs boast just one loss, which Atlanta suffered at home against Minnesota United. There’s no reason not to expect a great one at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting KC — Thursday, 9:30 p.m. ET

Peter Vermes’ Sporting KC side enters the playoffs winless in their last five, while their counterparts are unbeaten in six. The MLS postseason is often about which team is in the best form at the right particular moment, and right now, it doesn’t look like Sporting KC has luck on their side.

It’s also hard to not pay attention to the fact that the Dynamo have lost just once at BBVA Compass Stadium in 2017, which came on September 9 against the Colorado Rapids.

Carabao Cup preview: Man City hosts Wolves, Chelsea meets Everton

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All eyes will remain on the 11 Premier League sides left in this season’s Carabao Cup, but could a potential upset(s) shake the balance of power in the competition?

Norwich City and Leeds United will be among the teams seeking an upset in the tournament as they take on Arsenal and Leicester City, respectively, on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Cristiano Ronaldo captures Best Male Player at FIFA awards ]

Meanwhile, fresh off of Ronald Koeman‘s sacking, Everton must regroup quickly when they head to Stamford Bridge to take on Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea. The Toffees have taken just eight points in their first nine PL matches, leaving the Merseyside club in the relegation zone.

The Blues are aiming for their sixth League Cup title this season, while Manchester United could also achieve the same feat with the crown.

Here’s the slate of matches for the Carabao Cup Round of 16.

Tuesday (All fixtures kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET)

Swansea City vs. Manchester United
Bournemouth vs. Middlesbrough
Bristol City vs. Crystal Palace
Leicester City vs. Leeds United
Arsenal vs. Norwich City
Manchester City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wednesday (All fixtures kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET)

Chelsea vs. Everton
Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Ham United

Report: RBNY midfielder Felipe, NYCFC’s Harrison could play for USMNT

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The U.S. Men’s National Team has seen a rise in dual nationals representing the Stars and Stripes in recent years, and that trend could continue with two of MLS’ most promising midfielders interested in enhancing their international careers.

[ MORE: PST names Best XI for the 2017 MLS season ]

According to MSG Network’s Kristian Dyer, New York Red Bulls midfielder Felipe Martins is in the midst of a finalizing his American citizenship, while New York City FC attacker Jack Harrison has spoken with U.S. Soccer about potentially representing the U.S..

Martins already has his green card — which opened up an international slot for the Red Bulls this season –but obtaining citizenship in the near future would make him eligible for selection for the USMNT ahead of the 2022 World Cup qualifying cycle.

The 27-year-old had also previously applied for permanent residency in Canada back in 2013 while Martins was with the Montreal Impact, however, his aspirations to represent the nation never transpired.

Meanwhile, Harrison recently represented the England Under-21s in October, but he too could be on track for U.S. citizenship over the next few years if he remains in MLS.

[ MORE: Justin Meram talks Crew’s good form, facing Atlanta and more ]

In Dyer’s report, he notes the rising interest in Harrison from English clubs, though, and a potential move back to the United Kingdom would hurt the former Manchester United academy member’s chances of joining the USMNT.

Harrison is only in his sophomore season with NYCFC, but the young Englishman has garnered plenty of attention after scoring 14 goals and adding 13 assists thus far for the Bronx side.