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If Costa leaves, will Chelsea remain PL title contenders?

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Rumors have begun to swirl while the manager continues to deny any controversy, so what exactly is going on at Chelsea?

[ MORE: Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea all win big in Saturday’s PL action ]

The Blues handled their business on Saturday with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Leicester City, however, Antonio Conte‘s side was forced to do so without the services of leading striker Diego Costa.

[ MORE: Conte says back injury left Costa out of Chelsea squad vs. Leicester ]

While Conte cited the Spaniard having suffered a back injury during training, several outlets have reported various reasons as to why Costa was left out of the squad that traveled to take on the Foxes. The Telegraph stated that a spat between Costa and the manager has left the striker on the outs and that the Blues are demanding an apology from the 28-year-old if he is to continue with the team moving forward.

Meanwhile, Costa has also been the subject of rampant transfer rumors linking him to China as the next major star to complete a big-money move.

Other than the Spaniard being left out of the Chelsea squad on Saturday there’s been little evidence suggesting that Costa will in fact leave the London club, but if any of the rumors are true it could present a dilemma for the league leaders.

[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies on Costa’s uncertain future ]

So, what would happen if Costa is actually sold or forced out of the club in January?

The 3-0 scoreline at the King Power Stadium was certainly impressive against Leicester, but Chelsea will be facing much stronger competition the rest of the way if they are to regain their status as Premier League champions. The Blues currently have the luxury of holding a seven-point advantage over second-place Tottenham but with Liverpool and Arsenal looming over the coming weeks the table could look drastically different.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 04: Pedro of Chelsea (L) and Diego Costa of Chelsea (R) argue during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on January 4, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Costa is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with as the PL’s top goalscorer, so it would certainly present a challenge if he wasn’t in the fold for the Blues over the second half of the season. His 14 goals and five assists have created a nightmare of a matchup for opposition, and that sort of production likely can’t be duplicated by anyone in the Chelsea squad. At least not at the striker position.

Outside of Costa, Michy Batshuayi and Pedro are the only two strikers that have seen minutes this season for Chelsea. Pedro has lifted his PL stock in his second season with the Blues, scoring on four occasions and adding five assists, but Batshuayi has really struggled to find his footing at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea would likely be able to get away with playing Pedro as the team’s no. 9 against the PL’s lesser sides, but between Costa’s mix of physicality, finishing ability and speed, the difference in the two player’s abilities is great.

Each of the PL’s top six sides are currently separated by 10 points or less — with no team having lost more than one game in their last five — so even with Chelsea’s comfortable gap at the moment the title race is nowhere near over and Costa will play a massive role one way or another in the club’s fate.

Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the Year award

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LONDON (AP) Mohamed Salah has been voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals in English football in recognition of an incredible scoring return to the Premier League with Liverpool.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

The Egypt forward collected the Professional Footballers’ Association award at a ceremony in London on Sunday, two days before Liverpool’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

It is a reunion with the Italian club he left in the offseason for 42 million euros (then $47 million). The hefty fee appeared to be a gamble for Liverpool but now represents a real bargain.

The former Chelsea player has scored 41 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool – enabling him to beat Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in second place to the PFA award.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane was third.

[ MORE: Man City thrash Swansea in pursuit of points record ]

“It’s a big honor,” Salah said. “I’ve worked hard and I’m very happy to win it.”

Salah is preparing to lead Egypt into its first World Cup in 28 years and he is the first player from the North African nation to win English football’s top individual prize.

“Hopefully I’m not the last one,” he said. “I’m very proud to win and I’ve worked very hard.”

Salah’s impact has been more remarkable given his underwhelming 2014-15 season at Chelsea before being offloaded by then-manager Jose Mourinho. He went on loan to Fiorentina in early 2015 and Roma in 2016, and then on a permanent basis to Roma in August 2016.

Scoring 15 goals and setting up 11 more for Roma convinced Liverpool to bring Salah back to a second spell in England.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw West Brom in final tune-up before UCL semis ]

His goal at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was his 31st in the league this season, tying the scoring record in a 38-game campaign held by Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Luis Suarez.

Suarez was the last Liverpool player to be crowned player of the year by the PFA in 2014 before moving to Barcelona.

It’s a sign of his remarkable impact that Salah secured the award with third-place Liverpool and that none of Manchester City’s newly crowned champions won the accolade.

But City winger Leroy Sane was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.

The PFA women’s player award went to Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, while Lauren Hemp of Bristol City secured the young player prize.

CONCACAF cancels women’s U-17 tournament due to violence

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) CONCACAF has canceled the rest of its 2018 Women’s Under-17 Championship following violence in Managua, Nicaragua, where the tournament began Thursday.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football made the announcement Sunday. The tournament was to have determined the region’s qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay, which starts Nov. 13.

More than two dozen people have been killed since Wednesday according to the independent Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, though the government had acknowledged only nine dead. Dozens of shops in Managua were looted during protests and disturbances sparked by government social security reforms.

The U.S. opened Friday with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and had been scheduled to play Bermuda on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday.

The 2 Robbies: “Wenger was the Guardiola of his day”

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle discuss the shock news of Arsene Wenger announcing he will stand down at the end of the season and celebrate the living legend’s career, while also exploring who will take this massive job, then finish up talking about the FA Cup semifinal results.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Juventus 0-1 Napoli: Serie A title race back on… again

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This season’s scudetto race has been very much on, all but over, back on, a mere formality and now, following Sunday’s clash between first- and second-place Juventus and Napoli, on again… all inside the last four or five weeks of this roller-coaster Serie A season.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

Some will say that Juventus have regressed as the majority of their stars are now on the wrong side of 30, while others will say that a young and always-improving Napoli side has closed the gap all on their own and pulled themselves onto level footing with the six-time defending champions. The all-knowing among us will say it’s all of the above.

[ MORE: Barcelona hammer Sevilla to lift 4th straight Copa del Rey ]

For 89 minutes, Saturday’s clash at the Allianz Stadium appeared to be the final nail in Napoli’s coffin, as Maurizio Sarri’s side found themselves hopelessly blunted and unable to break through Juve’s ultra-defensive foundation (4 shots, o on target for Juve over 90 minutes). Kalidou Koulibaly’s thunderous header from Jose Callejon’s corner kick changed all of that, and drew Gli Azzurri to within a single point of Juve with four games left to play.

It’s the first time Juve have lost in league play since Nov. 19 (17 wins in 20 games) and their first league defeat at home since Oct. 14 (10 wins in 11 games, outscoring opponents by a combined 28-3). Napoli are now unbeaten in their last 30 league games away from home (24 wins), dating back to the last time they visited Juventus, Oct. 29, 2016.

Still on Juve’s remaining schedule: trips to take on fifth-place Inter Milan and third-place Roma. As for Napoli, they’ll take on eighth-, ninth- and 10th-place Sampdoria, Fiorentina and Torino, respectively, as well as 16th-place Crotone.

(Ever so slight) Advantage, Napoli?