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

Leave a comment

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

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

“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.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

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.

USMNT roster announced for pair of World Cup qualifiers

Leave a comment

The regulars are all aboard as Bruce Arena has announced a mostly full-strength roster for the World Cup qualifiers against Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago.

The only true regular missing from the 27-man list is midfielder Jermaine Jones, who is recovering from a knee injury suffered back in early May.

Leading the line are Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey up front, with Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood alongside. Fabian Johnson, Michael Bradley, and Christian Pulisic headline the midfield, along with Alejandro Bedoya and Darlington Nagbe. Kellyn Acosta is called up as a like-for-like replacement for Jermaine Jones.

Along the back, Geoff Cameron is available for selection after navigating a few injuries this past season. John Brooks is back as well after his muscle tear suffered in late April. DeAndre Yedlin is back as well after missing the last pair of qualifiers with an injury and winning the Championship with Newcastle. Fulham’s Tim Ream is called in after showing improvement all season at the club level. Jorge Villafana returns at the thin left-back position, as is DaMarcus Beasley, who is listed as a midfielder.

In goal, Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, and Nick Rimando present an experienced trio, also supported by 21-year-old Ethan Horvath.

The US takes on Venezuela in a friendly on June 3rd in a warm-up to the pair of qualifiers. First, they’ll host Trinidad & Tobago in Denver on June 8th. Then, on just a three day turnaround, they head to the Azteca to play Mexico.

After earning four points in the last international break, the United States sits in 4th position in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The top three teams advance automatically to the 2018 World Cup, while the 4th placed team can qualify via a two-legged playoff against a team from the Asian confederation.


GKs: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFs: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).

MIDs: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

FWDs: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Bobby Wood (Hamburg).

Totti’s loyalty one of the great soccer accomplishments ever

Getty Images
Leave a comment

During the prematch ceremony to celebrate the retirement of Roma legend Francesco Totti, there were fans crying. There were mascots crying. There were family members crying. There were players crying. The man himself was crying.

When 25 years with one club, no celebration can keep back the tears that naturally follow such a glorious career. Instead, an entire stadium paid tribute in one massive outpouring of emotion.

He was never flashy, he was never self-concerned, he never attracted the spotlight. All Francesco Totti did was give and give and give to his club. As the Italian’s career progressed, the game changed around him, with more and more money flowing through a landscape that gave players every reason to change teams as often as possible.

Through it all, Totti stayed put.

Roma’s Francesco Totti enters the field for his final salute to his fans after an Italian Serie A soccer match between Roma and Genoa at the Olympic stadium in Rome (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino).

At the end of it all, 25 years produced 618 league appearances, and 782 appearances overall. He scored 250 Serie A goals on the nose, and another 66 amid all other competitions. Those are just numbers, and Totti gave Roma far more than a laundry list of big numbers.

But for now, we focus on the bookkeeping, because even those are staggering. 250 league goals leaves Totti 2nd all-time in Italy, behind just Silvio Piola, but even the great 1938 World Cup champion never scored more than 143 league goals for a single club. Only three active players have over 100 league goals.

Totti racked up 618 Serie A appearances, his final one a 3-2 win over Genoa that earned Roma a Champions League group stage spot. That total is good for third all-time, one (for now) behind the great Gianluigi Buffon and 29 back of all-time leader Paolo Maldini. Maldini, who retired in 2009, also spent his entire career with one club in AC Milan, an equally commendable accomplishment. But in the modern game, 8 years adrift of Maldini’s playing days, the overwhelming temptations to move clubs make what Totti has done even more remarkable. Plus, he out-lasted Maldini’s career by a year (24 vs. 25 years active).

A note: only two players in the top 30 list in Serie A appearances are still active: Buffon, and 34-year-old Alberto Gilardino, who has played for 11 clubs in his career and is still 104 appearances back of Totti.

Past all the numbers stands a humble man who served one fanbase as loyally as humanly possible. Totti’s accomplishments are not only among the greatest in the history of the game, but it also may never be surpassed by anyone as long as we live.

Mascherano out 6 weeks, will miss Argentina vs. Brazil

Alex Caparros/Getty Image
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano will be out of action for six weeks to recover from a right knee injury.

[ MORE: Luis Enrique leaves Barca with feeling of accomplishment ]

Barcelona’s season is over, but the injury will rule out Mascherano from Argentina’s friendly against Brazil on June 9.

Mascherano injured his leg early in Saturday’s final of the Copa del Rey, when Barcelona beat Alaves 3-1 to defend its title for a third straight season.

He also cut his head during the collision with an Alaves player that produced the leg injury. He returned on crutches to join the team celebration.

Argentina doesn’t play its next World Cup qualifier until it plays Uruguay on Aug. 28.

Courtois aiming at new Chelsea contract after strong season

Clive Mason/Getty Images
Leave a comment

There’s a wide range of players that were integral in Chelsea’s Premier League-winning season in 2016/17, but one of the most underrated was arguably goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

[ MORE: PL clubs may miss on Celtic’s Dembele and more transfer news ]

The Blues shot-stopper started all but two PL matches this past campaign, and now the Belgian international is seeking an extension with the London club.

“Contract talks haven’t opened but I am happy at Chelsea,” Courtois told Sky Sports after Chelsea’s loss to Arsenal at Wembley.

“I hope they reward me with a good contract, then there will be no doubt I will sign it.”

The 25-year-old keeper has been in at Stamford Bridge since arriving from Genk in 2011, but Courtois spent three seasons in Spain on a loan spell.

Courtois likened this PL campaign to his time on loan at Atletico Madrid, stating that while his side’s achievements in the league were everything Chelsea could have hoped for that there was still more the Blues could have done.

“It’s not a good feeling now,” Courtois told Chelsea’s official website. “I had the same thing in Spain when I won the league and then lost the Champions League.

“We wanted to end on a high, now we feel sad. Winning is everything so this is hard to face but we have to try to forget it.”