Will Chelsea’s savvy rebuild win them the Premier League title?

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One of the most famous TV sitcoms in England is called Only Fools and Horses. In that long-standing show the main protagonist is named Del Boy, a South London street merchant who is a wheeler-dealer extraordinaire. No matter what lies in front of him, ‘Del’ always seems to land on his feet.

Right now in West London, Jose Mourinho is proving himself to be a modern day Del Boy.

This summer Chelsea’s manager has performed one of shrewdest overhauls in Premier League history. Veterans Ashley Cole, Samuel Eto’o and Frank Lampard are gone, plus Romelu Lukaku and David Luiz left for a massive profit. In came star striker Diego Costa, midfield sensation Cesc Fabregas, talented goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois back from a loan spell, legendary forward Didier Drogba on a free and Brazilian defender Filipe Luis.

Mourinho managed all that and made a profit Del Boy would be proud of. His squad is now truly starting to take shape.

[RELATED: PL season previews]

Since returning to Stamford Bridge last summer Mourinho has been threatening to overhaul Chelsea’s roster and finally he has done so. One of the greatest coaches in soccer history doesn’t get much wrong, but he should have wheeled and dealed last summer when he arrived. Now that he has, are Chelsea the favorites to win the Premier League? The bookies have them down to win the PL and those chaps usually aren’t too far off the mark. That, plus the optimism of fans in West London, points to the fact that this could be Chelsea’s year.

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Can Jose mastermind more silverware for Chelsea this season? He needs to.

The Blues have not won the PL title since 2009-10, when Carlo Ancelotti was in charge. Mourinho won no silverware last season and the pressure is slightly on the man they call the ‘Special One.’ Chants of “your not special anymore, your not special anyyyymore!’ rang around stadiums last season as Chelsea huffed and puffed their way to a third place finish. Mourinho waved away those shouts from the terraces whenever they arose but he is all in this season. This is his team. The 51-year-old has signed new players and has cast aside plenty of stars to mold his unit together. Last year he brought in the likes of Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah during the season and shipped out the hugely talented Juan Mata. Many questioned what he was doing.

[RELATED: Mourinho: Fabregas is the future]

Mourinho knows what and who he wants and has constructed the strongest squad in the PL over the summer. Now it is all about execution and giving the right players the chance to flourish. He referred to his players as “kids” many times last year and that famous reference to the Blues being ‘a small horse that needs milk to run and jump. Next season we will be ready to race.’

Below is what I think is Chelsea’s best starting lineup, plus seven subs, as Mourinho’s horse is ready to run.

Chelsea’s best starting lineup

Cech

Azpilicueta—Cahill—Ivanovic—Luis

Matic—Ramires

Oscar—Fabregas—Hazard

Costa

Subs: 
Courtois (GK)
Terry
Willian
Schurrle
Salah
Drogba
Torres

source:
New signing Cesc Fabregas has been dubbed “the future of Chelsea” by Mourinho.

This team has the potential to obliterate the PL this season. If Diego Costa settles into life in England quickly, which his style of play and attributes suggest, Chelsea could have the final piece of the jigsaw they’ve been looking for. 25 plus goals from a striker. Fabregas is a genius in a central midfield role and his balls should supply Costa with plenty of chances to score. The problem area at left back has been plugged with Brazilian Filipe Luis and there will be a right ding-dong battle for the goalkeeping jersey between veteran Petr Cech and one of the world’s most outstanding young goalkeepers, Courtois.

When you look at the lineup above and the likes of John Obi Mikel, Marco Van Ginkel and Victor Moses aren’t even making the bench, you know Chelsea got a lot stronger over the summer. After going to the UEFA Champions League semifinal last season, they can do one step further and make the final this season, although you sense success domestically is what Mourinho is after. He wants to win it all and he has to win something during this campaign or his second stint at Chelsea could come to an abrupt end for the man who proclaimed on his return last summer that he wants to remain at Stamford Bridge for 10, 15 years or more.

Mourinho has managed Real Madrid, FC Porto and Inter Milan. He has won silverware at all three but Chelsea is where he became a household name. Just like Del Boy, Mourinho put in the man hours and is a hero because of that. Del Boy slaved away for decades selling whatever he could to get by and one day he hit the jackpot and was worth millions. All his dreams had come true… then he blew it all and he’s back to where he started. South London, hustling to make a living and always trying to reinvent himself. The TV show ended without us ever getting to see if Del Boy made it back to the riches he so craved.

Jose Mourinho is back at Chelsea searching for the silverware he won in his first spell at the club. Unlike Del Boy, we will get to see if Jose succeeds or fails this season and beyond. This season he has gone for broke in search of glory. It’s a case of all or nothing for the ‘Special One’ in the second season of his second stint in charge at Stamford Bridge.

To borrow one of Del Boy’s most famous catchphrases, as it seems rather poignant, “he who dares, wins.”

Pep sticking with Bravo for final: “Locker room more important”

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Petr Cech and Ederson will watch from the bench as their clubs start the League Cup Final on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola announced that Manchester City will turn to Claudio Bravo between the sticks against Arsenal, which has already appointed David Ospina as its backstop for the final.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

And if you think Pep, having seen his side lose to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup, should go back to Ederson for the final, he gets it.

“You can have an opinion, I am the manager. We are here for Claudio. He saved two lots of penalties. He deserves to play in the final. The locker room is more important than the final.”

The points aren’t completely independent, of course, but at this point the final is pretty darn important as Man City could see its trophy potential drop from 4-2 in little more than a week’s time.

Bravo has played just 45 minutes in the Premier League, against Liverpool in relief of Ederson, but has been the man for each of eight League and FA Cup matches.

City has just one clean sheet in that group, but won the seven matches apart from the 1-0 Wigan defeat. Two of those, against Wolves and Leicester, came in penalty kicks.

Arsenal gets AC Milan in Europa League Round of 16

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Arsenal’s path to the UEFA Champions League just got a whole lot tougher.

[ MORE: Arsenal loses 2nd leg, advances ]

Already eight points back of the Premier League’s Top Four, the Gunners have drawn Gennaro Gattuso’s AC Milan in the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16.

The first leg is March 8 at the San Siro before moving to the Emirates a week later.

Milan is currently 7th in Serie A despite its big-spending summer, and faces a similar problem to the Gunners; Gattuso’s men need to make up eight points on Lazio and seven on fifth-place Inter Milan.

Elsewhere, Moscovian sides CSKA and Lokomotiv got no favors with trips to Lyon and Atletico Madrid, respectively.

Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund will be pleased to see Red Bull Salzburg, while the latter’s sister club, RB Leipzig, was held apart from it by a draw with Zenit Saint-Petersbug.

Here’s the draw in full.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16
Lazio vs. Dynamo Kiev
RB Leipzig vs. Zenit St Petersburg
Atletico Madrid vs. Lokomotiv Moscow
CSKA Moscow vs. Lyon
Marseille vs. Athletic Bilbao
Sporting Lisbon vs. Viktoria Plzen
Borussia Dortmund vs. Red Bull Salzburg
AC Milan vs. Arsenal

CCL: Lodeiro from 45; Royer’s diving header — SEA, RBNY lead (video)

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After 45 minutes of their respective CONCACAF Champions League knockout-round quests, things are going unnervingly well for the Seattle Sounders and New York Red Bulls.

[ MORE: FC Dallas disappoint in CCL; Club America flying ]

If you’ve watched Major League Soccer teams try, try and try again — only to eventually fail in spectacular fashion — in CCL over the years, you might say things are going a little too well.

There’s still another 45 minutes to be played on Thursday — plus the return legs next week — but both the Sounders and Red Bulls hold 1-0 halftime leads, and the vitally important away goals which come with it. Nicolas Lodeiro’s 45-yard, first-time lob of the Santa Tecla (El Salvador) goalkeeper in the 15th minute has already been eternally etched into the memories of Sounders fans.

Just 15 minutes later, Daniel Royer perfectly executed the diving header and got on the end of Bradley Wright-Phillips’ curling ball into the box to Jesse Marsch’s side ahead of Honduran side CD Olimpia.

Villarreal DF Semedo charged with attempted murder

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MADRID (AP) A Spanish judge has charged Villarreal defender Ruben Semedo with attempted murder and ordered him to be temporarily detained without bail.

Court officials in Lliria say on Thursday the Portuguese player is also charged with assault, robbery, illegal detention, and illegal possession of firearms.

Semedo testified before a judge on Thursday, and left the court in handcuffs.

The 23-year-old Semedo was detained early Tuesday, accused of tying up, assaulting and threatening another man last week. Authorities say he and two other men allegedly held the victim captive while they robbed his apartment.

Semedo’s agents told Spanish media the player denies any wrongdoing.

Villarreal on Tuesday said it was investigating Semedo and would take appropriate disciplinary action.

Villarreal signed Semedo from Sporting Lisbon last summer for a reported fee of $17 million.