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Conte finally has selection issues with Costa, Kante suspended

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LONDON (AP) Deprived of probably his two best players this season, Chelsea manager Antonio Conte finally has some selection issues to consider as the English Premier League leaders aim to extend their winning run to 12 games.

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Top scorer Diego Costa and midfield enforcer N'Golo Kante are both suspended for the home match against Bournemouth on Monday.

During Chelsea’s winning streak that started on Oct. 1 and has put the team six points clear in the standings, Conte has made a total of just six game-on-game changes in personnel and used only 13 players as starters. His goalkeeper, three-man defense and wing backs have remained unchanged throughout, for example.

Selecting a lineup has been pretty straightforward for Conte, until now.

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“For this reason, it’s a good test for us,” the Italian coach said Thursday. “It’s important for this test to evaluate the group situation, also to have the possibility to play some players who until now are not playing a lot or to find another solution.

“It’s important what my eye is seeing this week.”

Chelsea needs three more wins to break the Premier League record (13) for consecutive victories in a single season, held by the Arsenal team of 2001-02. For a coach in his first season in English soccer, it’s some achievement by Conte.

The hectic festive schedule is proving a headache for many Premier League teams, as they face three games in eight days, including two matches inside 48 hours in some cases.

Chelsea, however, has its three games over 10 days, and has a four-day break between its first and second games (Bournemouth on Dec. 26 and Stoke at home on Dec. 31) and another three days without a game until Tottenham away on Jan. 4.

Also helping is the fact that Conte’s men don’t have to leave London over the festive period.

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Conte gave his players three days off this week in a bid to manage the squad’s physical and mental fitness and after what he described as a “real intense period” of fixtures.

Yet, the schedule is Chelsea’s friend this season, given the team isn’t playing European competition and has already been eliminated from the League Cup.

If Conte stays loyal to the 3-4-3 formation that has brought Chelsea its 11 wins in a row, his central-midfield two will likely be Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic while Michy Batshuayi is expected to replace Costa as the striker.

Batshuayi’s only starts since joining from Marseille for 33 million pounds (then $44 million) in the offseason have come in the League Cup. All 10 of his appearances in the league have come as second-half substitutes, with the Belgium international scoring one league goal.

“It’s not easy to arrive in this league and play,” Conte said. “It’s difficult to adapt, this league is very tough and physical. I think Michy is working very well. We must work with him to help him to improve, and the next step is to play more.”

Manchester clubs release statements after terror attack

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The City of Manchester is united.

Both Manchester United and Manchester City released statements on Tuesday as a suicide bomber struck Manchester Arena late on Monday, killing 22 and injuring 59 as families and young children walked out of an Ariana Grande concert.

United’s staff held a minute’s silence before training and have canceled all media activity ahead of their Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm on Wednesday, while City’s Etihad Stadium is being used as a support center as part of the ongoing relief effort in the northern English city.

It has also been reported by the Daily Telegraph that the wife and two daughters of Man City manager Pep Guardiola were at the concert but were unharmed.

Below is the statement from United.

Everyone at Manchester United is deeply shocked by last night’s terrible events at the Manchester Arena. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected, including our supporters, club staff and members of our community such as the children from our Manchester United Foundation partner schools who were attending the concert at the Arena. Club staff are ready to help the police and other emergency services in any way that may be required at this challenging time for our city.

And here is a statement from City.

The thoughts and prayers of our ownership, Board and everyone at Manchester City are with the people of Manchester and all those affected following the horrifying events of last night’s Manchester Arena attack.

We have offered our full support throughout the night and this morning to the leaders of the City of Manchester itself and to the Emergency Services who are doing so much to support our city in these most challenging of circumstances.

The Etihad Stadium is being used as a support centre following the tragic events and Greater Manchester Police have advised that anyone needing assistance relating to the attack can access that help at the Etihad Stadium via Gate 11.

Man United honor attack victims ahead of Europa League final

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Manchester United’s players and coaching staff held a minute’s silence ahead of training on Tuesday at their Carrington base in Manchester.

Following the terrorist attack in Manchester late on Monday where a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured 59 at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena, United will not hold a press conference and other media activities on Tuesday ahead of the Europa League final in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Europa League final against Ajax on Wednesday will still go ahead as planned at the Friends Arena in nearby Solna, with UEFA releasing a statement reassuring fans that there was no security threat in the Swedish capital.

“UEFA is shocked by last night’s attack in Manchester. Our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those affected. There is currently no specific intelligence which might suggest that any of the UEFA Europa League final activities in Stockholm may be the target of attacks.

“UEFA has been closely working with local authorities and the Swedish FA for many months and the terrorist risk had been taken into account since the very beginning of the project. Furthermore, a number of additional security measures were implemented following the attacks in Stockholm last April. Due to the tight security arrangements, UEFA urges fans to arrive at the stadium as early as possible, as detailed checks will be made at the entrances, resulting in potential delays in accessing the stadium.”

United released the following statement early on Tuesday morning following the attack, while many of their players and key figures in the soccer world have been sharing their condolences on social media.

Everyone at Manchester United is deeply shocked by last night’s terrible events at the Manchester Arena. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected, including our supporters, club staff and members of our community such as the children from our Manchester United Foundation partner schools who were attending the concert at the Arena. Club staff are ready to help the police and other emergency services in any way that may be required at this challenging time for our city.

Soccer world reacts to the Manchester attacks

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NBC News is reporting that at least 19 people have been killed and another 50 are injured following a possible suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.

Multiple senior U.S. intelligence officials who are monitoring British authorities told NBC News that preliminary reports indicate that a single explosion took place outside the arena on the southwest side opposite the train station. The explosion occurred as the concert ended, catching people as they exited.

Soccer clubs, players and personalities around the world are reacting to the horrible event.

Juventus purchases Cuadrado from Chelsea

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If you didn’t realize Juan Cuadrado still belonged to Chelsea, you’re forgiven.

The Colombian attacker will complete his second season at Juventus after the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid, and won’t be headed back to Chelsea afterwards.

Juve has purchased Cuadrado, and the fee is $22 million, and Juve will pay it over three seasons. Cuadrado, 28, is now signed through 2020 with The Old Lady.

Cuadrado first went on loan to Juve in Aug. 2015, and has eight goals and 18 assists in 83 career appearances with the club.

Chelsea bought Cuadrado from Fiorentina for around $32 million in the January 2015 transfer window, but made just 14 appearances with the club.