Chelsea’s latest canter points to record-breaking title win

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LONDON — 10 points clear with 11 games to play. That says it all.

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“We’re going to win the league!” said Chelsea’s fans towards the end of their 2-1 win at West Ham United in the Premier League on Monday.

It’s not quite time to start tying some blue ribbons on the Premier  League trophy or planning a parade route around west London, but it’s not far off that time either as they became just the seventh team to rack up 66 points or more through the opening 27 games of a PL season.

Chelsea’s ruthless, composed display in their 2-1 win proved just how dominant they have become. Don’t look at the scoreline. It doesn’t tell the full story.

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Antonio Conte‘s side have won 21 of their 27 Premier League games this season, but few were as easy as this.

“I think we played good football,” Conte said. “We created many chances to score the other goals. It is a pity to give away the other clean sheet at the end of the game. It is the second after Arsenal. We must work a bit on this aspect. I am pleased. It is not easy to play after your opponent played and won, when you know that if you drop points in these type of games, you give hope to your opponent to chase you. We played with a good pressure today but our answer was very good. I am very pleased for my players because we played very well and we controlled the game. We conceded not a lot. Our central defenders played very well against these long balls for Carroll, we defended very well. Good compact.”

That pressure will only mount in the coming weeks as Chelsea edge towards the title. With 11 games to go, everyone is waiting for Chelsea to stumble and their tricky games remaining come against Manchester City on Apr. 5 and Manchester United on Apr. 16. By the time the latter game is over, the race to win the league title may be as good as over.

Between now and then Conte knows the pressure is on.

“I think this period has started,” Conte said. “For me 11 games are a lot. Now, this period is very important to relieve the pressure in the right away. When you play the game after, you know your opponent won the game the day before. I am pleased for the commitment, the right mentality of my players. Very focused. They showed me great will to win the game and to suffer in the first half but stayed compacted but didn’t concede great chances to West Ham. Then we scored the goal, controlled the game. In some situations it is better to score more when you have the chances to better the result. I am very happy for the game because today it was.”

The reason Conte is so happy is because every single Chelsea player knew what they were doing from start to finish. They were confident, had a swagger in their step and a ruthless streak to continuously launch rapid counters as well as being able to dictate play and force opponents into mistakes.

Such has been their dominance since their 3-0 defeat at Arsenal back in September — they’ve lost just one PL game in their last 21 — there’s no reason to believe they won’t win all 11 of their remaining PL games.

If they did that they’d finish the season on 99 points, four more than the record points tally they hold from their title win in the 2004-05 campaign. They’d also set the record for most PL wins in a single-season with 32.

It seems absurd to suggest that but it is absurd how strong this Chelsea side is. They simply don’t have a weakness.

Just as much as their counters, continuity has been the key in Chelsea’s stylish canter towards the Premier League title. They’ve used 21 players in the Premier League this season, the fewest in the PL, and Conte has made just 24 team changes to his team.

We all saw last season how keeping things simple led to Leicester City’s incredible success. Chelsea have had the luxury of being able to follow that model with no European games leaving their starting lineup fresh and ready each week. It’s almost as if Conte studied Leicester’s playing style and told his Chelsea team to follow it.

It may not be easy between now and the end of the season (if it takes that long to seal the title) but they look unstoppable.

“It is not an easy ride but they aren’t going to become casual. That is 100 percent. They look very, very serious,” West Ham’s manager Slaven Bilic said. “I can see them staying on top with the quality up top but also with how solid they are and concentrated they are and most of all how physically, the shape they are in… They are 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League table for a reason.”

Conte is trying to stay calm, keeping away from praising individuals despite being asked about stunning displays from the likes of Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante.

He was asked if he trusts his players to see this job through and deliver a title in his opening season in England?

“I must have confidence in this because I think until now we deserve to stay on top of the table and now that we stay it is important to continue to keep this position,” Conte said. “For sure it won’t be easy because Tottenham and [Manchester] City, also Liverpool, two take two points from Arsenal and two points from United today was important. The game started to be less. I think this league will be very tough until the end. I listen to the other coaches of the other teams. They trust to win. This is right to have the ambition. It is important for us to know the others have this ambition, this hunger, this will to fight and stay on top of the league. It won’t be easy. We know this.”

“For sure, I trust my players,” Conte continued. “Because my players show me commitment not only during the games but during the week, in every training session, great will to working very hard to improve our work. I trust. Absolutely.”

It’s easy to trust your players when they’re 10 points clear at the top with 11 games to go.

Hernandez, Araujo score in 1st half, Mexico beats Costa Rica

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo scored in the first half, and Mexico overcame the absence of half a dozen players to beat Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifying match.

Hernandez scored on a cross from Carlos Vela to open the score in the seventh and Araujo added a goal on a header in the 45th.

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Hernandez scored his 46th goal with the Mexican team and tied Jared Borgetti as the all-time leading scorer.

With the win, Mexico remains undefeated and has seven points after three rounds to take sole command in the six-nation tournament. Costa Rica stays on six points and is second and Panama is third with four.

The top three teams qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

Mexico beat Costa Rica for the first time since September 11, 2012, when they prevailed 1-0.

Running Away With It

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Christian Pulisic scored and played a part in three other goals as the United States rained goals down on Honduras in a 6-0 win at Avaya Stadium in San Jose early Saturday morning.

Clint Dempsey scored two goals, and Michael Bradley and Sebastian Lletget also scored as the U.S. moved into fourth place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Their next match is Tuesday in Panama.

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The United States men’s national team’s bid to recover their 2018 World Cup hopes got off to a flying start.

Sloppy Honduran defending caused a turnover outside the 18, and Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic in on goal. Keeper Donis Escober got a piece of Pulisic’s shot, but no one followed Lletget to the back post and the ex-West Ham and current LA Galaxy man quickly put the Yanks up 1-0.

The Yanks didn’t stop, and Lletget drew a yellow card when he beat Ever Alvarado down the right flank and forced a take down from the Honduran defender.

Alberth Elis slipped John Brooks’ mark, and the Houston Dynamo man turned to fire on goal. Tim Howard was well positioned to scoop it up.

Lletget turned out to be injured by the Alvarado foul, and Bruce Arena turned to Alejandro Bedoya in the 17th minute.

Geoff Cameron was given a yellow card in the 25th minute for a foul on Roger Espinoza. That gave a free kick to Honduras from 30 yards out, and Romell Quioto fired right at Tim Howard.

Then it was the captain who doubled the lead, as Honduras inexplicably gave him the room to walk across the arc of the 18 to rip a shot across goal. 2-0.

It was Clint Dempsey’s turn in the 33rd minute, after an otherworldly scooped pass from Pulisic.

What. A. Pass. Kid.

Honduras then took a bigger hit: the loss of star attacker Romell Quioto (Houston Dynamo) to an apparent shoulder injury.

Brooks bailed out an out-of-position Gonzalez just before halftime to keep the lead 3-0.

The Yanks needed 15 seconds to make it 4-0, with Dempsey winning a 50-50 tussle and finding Altidore for a flick to Pulisic. He netted his fourth USMNT goal. He’s 18.

Pulisic then won a free kick 25 yards out from goal by embellishing a foul, and Dempsey’s free kick tricked Escober. 6-0. For real.

A scary moment late as a dazed and wobbly John Brooks was forced off despite no apparent injury. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Brooks (Ream, 70′), Cameron (Zusi, 58′); Bradley, Lletget (Bedoya, 18′), Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

Goals: Lletget (5′), Bradley (27′), Dempsey (33′, 49′, 54′), Pulisic (46′)

 

Player ratings from USMNT’s pounding of Honduras

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Battered. Throttled. Eviscerated.

Pick your verb of dominance, the United States likely fit it well in a 6-0 destruction of Honduras at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.

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The win boosts the U.S. in World Cup qualifying after their 0-2 start, but how did the individuals fare? Obviously well.

Starting XI

Tim Howard — 7 — The team just feels in a safer place with the veteran back there. If the U.S. goes to the 2018 World Cup, Howard remains their No. 1 (and there probably never should have been a question. Sorry Brad).

Jorge Villafana — 7 — Tidy passing and a low-risk game from the Santos Laguna man.

John Brooks (Off 70′) — 7 — An early error before recovering to be his usual free-clearing, athletic self. Scary injury took him out late, as he looked dazed. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

Omar Gonzalez — 5  — He wasn’t bad, but Gonzalez is still a positional question mark. Bailed out a couple times by Brooks.

Geoff Cameron (Off 59′) — 6 — Out of position and a bit hobbled, he wasn’t at his best.

Michael Bradley — 7 — One of his better USMNT games in a long time.

Sebastian Lletget (Off 17′) — 8 — Scored, then got hurt on a roasting run down the right.

Darlington Nagbe — 6 — One or two electric moments in the first half, but overall a quiet enough night for the Timbers man.

Christian Pulisic — 9 — Hard to not to hand the kid a 10. He’s quite frankly the most exciting American talent in the history of the program.

Clint Dempsey — 10 — Along with Howard, the sort of player you knew would make sure this game ended with three points. The fact that he nabbed three goals, too, is just a bonus.

Jozy Altidore — 7  — Pretty darn good night holding up the ball, and passed as well as ever, but did he drop a bit too deep too often? The answer is probably, “Who cares? They won 6-0, dude.”

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 18′)  — 6 — Typical high energy, space eating job in the middle of the park from the Union man.

Graham Zusi (On 58′)  — 6 — Good late clearance preserved the shutout.

Tim Ream (On 70′)  — 6 — Interesting to note that Arena went to him over Walker Zimmerman or Matt Besler.

Three things to take away from USMNT 6-0 Honduras

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The United States men’s national team pulled a Leicester City.

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That’s a joke with truth wrapped around it, because the Yanks have had plenty of time and even a pair of friendlies to respond from the firing of Jurgen Klinsmann.

But in their first serious match without their old coach, the U.S. looked a team renewed and unleashed. Now the Americans may find themselves back in an automatic World Cup qualifying spot with a win on Tuesday in Panama.

Things change.

Vindicated

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and all of the USMNT players waited months and months to get the chance to answer their critics following a pair of embarrassing losses to open the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Sure, having Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, and Tim Howard back helped a whole lot, and the seasoning Christian Pulisic is getting at Borussia Dortmund is unquestionably good for an 18-year-old.

But there’s little doubt Michael Bradley and Co. were fired up to silence their critics. Whether they admit it or not, this is a bunch that was stung by those who said they failed their old coach.

Most expected the U.S. to get a point or better against Honduras, but to do it the way they did is an unexpected bonus. A win in Panama on Tuesday would boost them into the Top Three.

And don’t worry, the old boss was pleased for his former charges.


The future is now…

I Tweeted the following after a late second half pass from Pulisic, and there was little disagreement.

Pulisic won’t be credited with an assist for his shot which rebounded to Sebastian Lletget for the opener, but he will walk away with his fourth international goal and two proper assists.

One was an absurd scoop to Clint Dempsey’s chest, and the other was a long avenue that shouldn’t have existed. Still, Pulisic found that street and provided an absolutely dynamic force all over the park.

There have been U.S. teens at big European clubs, and U.S. teens who’ve made impacts on the national team, but never both at the same time and never both at this level. Pulisic is for real, and finding his ceiling is an adventure we’re all undertaking with great enjoyment.


…But the legends sure helped

Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard will go down as two of the most important players in United States men’s national team history.

Actually, they may be duking it out for Nos. 1 and 2 when it’s all said and done.

Dempsey’s hat trick was his career in a nutshell. The first saw him body off a defender while collecting a Pulisic pass off his chest, then lashing a shot with power despite said defender dragging him down.

The second was a burst of speed to run onto Pulisic’s through ball and classic calm in the face of an onrushing keeper, holding onto the ball before sliding it home from an acute angle.

The third was this free kick. A bit aided by goalkeeper Donis Escober, but such is life.

And don’t sleep on Howard’s early performance as Honduras tried to find some sort of foothold in the match. Always well-positioned, the team just feels safer with the Colorado Rapids man between the sticks.