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N’Golo Kante should be a Ballon d’Or finalist

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Over the last two seasons, no player has been more important to his team’s title runs than N'Golo Kante.

That’s especially true considering the soon-to-be 26-year-old midfielder has done it with two teams: 2015-16 Premier League champions Leicester City and current leaders Chelsea.

[ MORE: West Ham 1-2 Chelsea | 3 things ]

The Blues lead the table by 10 points with 11 matches to play, a figure that could shrink to eight once Manchester City plays its match-in-hand on Wednesday.

Chelsea still plays Man City on April 5, so the title race isn’t completely dusted, but it’s difficult to imagine a relatively healthy Blues side doing anything but lifting the trophy come May.

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The only guy on Chelsea’s side who did that last year was Kante.

In fact, the diminutive destroyer has lost a total of six league matches as a starter dating back to the start of last season. He boasts a record of 40W-13D-6L between the two sides, and that’s without mentioning that France is unbeaten with him in the lineup since he broke into the side last March (They’re only loss was the EURO 2016 final against Portugal, in which he inexplicably didn’t make the XI).

[ MORE: JPW’s take from London Stadium ]

Kante was at it again on Monday, disrupting West Ham attacks like a chessmaster. The Frenchman was several steps ahead of anything the Irons tried, and it’s a marvel to watch his decision-making in darting to the right spot to kickstart Chelsea’s opener. If we had slow-mo, we’d do it, but check out how quickly he figures out where the ball is going before springing the counter attack with an interception and pass.

Eden Hazard‘s work to score the goal understandably gets the gloss here, and Kante’s far from alien to that phenomenon. Kante should’ve been the Player of the Year in the Premier League last season, and that went to then-teammate Riyad Mahrez.

Heck, he probably should’ve been a Ballon d’Or finalist. France teammate Antoine Griezmann joined Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on the list. It’s hard to gripe with that trio, excepting they all play in the same league and all have better teammates to pick up the slack in an absence.

Not to mention, with apologies to Caen, he essentially came out of nowhere to do it. Even his fee when sold to Chelsea was understated; Reportedly maxing out at $39 million, Kante was less expensive than Chelsea teammates David Luiz and Michy Batshuayi, as well as at least six other PL buys (Paul Pogba, John Stones, Leroy Sane, Shkrodan Mustafi, Sadio Mane, Granit Xhaka).

Antonio Conte has done a marvelous job directing traffic as Chelsea boss, and this is a club that won the PL title two years ago. Luiz has returned to Stamford Bridge in spectacular fashion and deserves a post of his own, but there’s a good argument to be made that Kante trumps both newcomers as the most influential part of Chelsea’s rebound (though the answer is more likely 1- Conte 2- Kante 3-Luiz. There’s also little as fun as Conte-Kante).

It would be a shame if Kante failed to get a look at the Ballon d’Or in a year without a major European international tournament, but there’s a chance he gets overlooked due to Chelsea’s lack of Champions League play. That’s tough; the little man from Paris is presently the most complete player in the game.

Marco Silva leaves Hull; Premier League clubs lining up

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Marco Silva came to the Premier League, he saw the PL, but he didn’t conquer the PL — at least, not yet.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

It was announced on Thursday that the 39-year-old Portuguese manager, who took over last-place Hull City in January, has left the club after succumbing to relegation from the PL. Silva, whose stock rose quickly during his brief stay in England, signed a contract that ran only through the end of the season should they be relegated, thus he’s not sure on options these days. Hull would have undoubtedly welcomed him back for a run at promotion from the Championship next season.

As recently as Wednesday, Silva was expected to be named the new boss at Porto, though various reports stated that talks between the manager and club had broken down.

[ MORE: Terry “couldn’t care less” about criticism of his farewell ]

Watford and Crystal Palace, both of whom are manager-less after Walter Mazzarri was fired and Sam Allardyce resigned, respectively, are said to be extremely interested in Silva’s services.

David Luiz “took a risk” to return to Chelsea, PL — and it paid off

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You should always bet on yourself, and that’s exactly what David Luiz did last summer in returning to Chelsea and the Premier League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Whether or not you succeed is secondary to believing in and backing yourself to to do well in an situation, no matter how difficult. When Luiz left Chelsea in the summer of 2014, he did so as something of a joke in PL circles — his eccentric playing style had caused him to commit a number of memorable sometimes-hilarious gaffes which eventually branded him a liability as a “defender.”

After two seasons at Paris Saint-Germain, where he won everything that French football has to offer, Luiz was given an opportunity to return to England and prove wrong so many who had doubted him. It was a “risk,” according to Luiz, but an opportunity he couldn’t pass up — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was winning everything in Paris. I was there for two years and won all the titles in France. I had a great life, great credibility with the club. … I had everything.

“But then I took a risk to come back to the one country that was not that happy with me. Where they always criticized me a lot even after winning the Champions League, the Europa League or where I’d played all the games. That’s why it was a risk. And I love the risk. If you don’t take risks in your life — in your professional life but also in everyday life — you never feel anything new, so I [chose to] taste something new. I don’t like to stay always with the easy life, but I’m happy now because I took the right decision.”

Antonio Conte, the manager who sought to bring Luiz back to Stamford Bridge, heard what everyone was saying about the 30-year-old Brazilian international, and he couldn’t believe his ears — quotes from the Guardian:

“I heard a lot of bad things when he arrived, that he was ‘not a defender.’ But we were sure we were signing a really good player we could lift up again to be one of the best defenders in Europe and, I hope, in the world. He has good technique, he’s strong, he starts our possession and has the personality to do this.”

[ MORE: Terry “couldn’t care less” about criticism of his farewell ]

Luiz was a standout performer for a title-winning side with the third-best defensive record in the PL this season.

Conte and Luiz – 1, Everyone else – 0.

Cristiano Ronaldo could face tax-fraud charges in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Spanish prosecutors are considering whether Cristiano Ronaldo should face charges over allegations by the country’s tax agency that he defrauded the authorities of 15 million euros ($16.7 million) between 2011 and 2014.

Prosecutors said Thursday they have until the end of June to decide whether to charge the Real Madrid star, based on evidence from an investigation by tax officials.

The alleged irregularities were mostly related to money that Ronaldo had in the Virgin Islands.

Tax officials said Ronaldo adjusted his tax declarations and paid an extra 6 million euros ($6.7 million) in 2014.

Prosecutors said that if they decided to charge him, and if the Portugal captain was subsequently found guilty by a court, he would face a prison sentence of at least 15 months. However, it would be unlikely he would go to jail as a first-time offender.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was convicted of tax fraud last year.

Terry: “I couldn’t care less” about 26th-minute farewell criticism

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John Terry is a man who… well, let’s just say, does things his way.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

For instance, remember the time Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League, by beating Bayern Munich, in penalties? Remember Chelsea’s post-game celebrations, which saw Terry, who was suspended for the final at the Allianz Arena, joyously jumping around with his teammates wearing his full kit, shin guards and all?

Was it over the top and a bit silly? Sure it was, but was anyone hurt or genuinely upset by it? Of course not. On Sunday, as Terry said goodbye to the only club he’s ever known (apart from a six-game loan spell at Nottingham Forest in 2000), he toed the line between what’s acceptable and what’s outlandish. Just like in 2012, Terry caused a minor uproar, and just like in 2012 he “couldn’t care less” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I couldn’t care less, I promise you. All I care about is celebrating with my Chelsea fans. Me and them have a wonderful rapport and have done for 22 years. Nothing that people write or say can ever get in the way of that.

“If that’s the way I want to go out, that’s the way I go out because I’ve been here 22 years, I’ve won so many trophies — so if I wanted to play one minute and come off, I would have done.

“I wanted to play 26 minutes because the shirt number means a lot to me and the supporters so as long as they are happy – and I was over the moon with the reception – I promise you I could not care less.”

“It was an unbelievable send-off from the supporters to help me to celebrate 22 years at the club.

“I’m very grateful to them, and it was something I will never forget. It was so emotional after the game, I was in bits.”

There’s something to be said about the success that Chelsea have had as a club, and the way its recency leads them to feel they are perceived by the outside world. Other clubs, “bigger,” most historic clubs — Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, for example — have been winning trophies pretty regularly for decades, while 70 percent of the major trophies (14 of 20) won in the club’s history have come since Roman Abramovich bought the club 14 years ago, in 2003. Chelsea is a 112-year-old football club.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

Chelsea’s players and fans are so clearly away of their bought-and-paid-for status, thus everything is celebrated on the grandest scale, almost as if to legitimize their accomplishments (which stand up just fine on their own two feet) and standing within the hierarchy of English football. “Contrived” (and admittedly so) is the word that comes to mind and best describes Terry’s send-off.

No one in this space is saying there’s anything wrong with that, but everyone connected to Chelsea must realize and accept that it looks silly to supporters of the aforementioned long-time giants, and they’re going to be pointed at and laughed at every time they do it.