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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.

Ligue 1: Depay’s goal streak hits 5 games; Lyon reeling in Monaco

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MONACO (AP) Lyon won at Dijon 5-2 and moved within one point of second-place Monaco in the French league on Friday.

Lyon’s sixth straight league win kept them level on points with fourth-place Marseille.

The team finishing second qualifies automatically for next season’s Champions League, while the team in third goes into the playoffs. After this weekend, there will be four rounds remaining.

Memphis Depay has scored or created 12 of Lyon’s 16 last goals.

The Netherlands forward opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a close-range volley, and set up the fourth goal for winger Bertrand Traore in the 77th.

Depay almost scored another, just failing to reach right back Rafael‘s cross in the 50th. Midfielder Houssem Aouar followed up and his strike was turned into his own net by defender Valentin Rosier.

Lyon’s other goals came from forwards Nabil Fekir in the 53rd and Maxwell Cornet in the 82nd.


MONACO (AP) — After losing the French title last weekend, Monaco is in danger of throwing away second place after losing at Guingamp 3-1 on Saturday.

The defeat leaves Monaco just one point ahead of Lyon and Marseille as the three sides chase an automatic place in the Champions League with four games left.

Monaco was thrashed by champion Paris Saint-Germain 7-1 last Sunday and the defense leaked easily again, albeit with a little help from one of its defenders.

A makeshift Monaco fell behind midway through the first half after Brazilian defender Jemerson was given a red card for stopping a shot on the line. He was sent off and veteran forward Jimmy Briand netted from the penalty spot for mid-table Guingamp.

Monaco capitulated and trailed 3-0 after 47 minutes. Defender Almamy Toure replied in vain with a consolation goal midway through the second half.


Marseille crushed Lille 5-1 to join Lyon on 69 points. Lyon, which won at Dijon 5-2 on Friday for a sixth straight win, has a better goal difference.

Marseille also has the Europa League and plays the first leg of its semifinal at home to Austrian side Salzburg next Thursday. But Lyon has only Ligue 1 to think about.

Still, Marseille is also brimming with confidence these days, especially winger Florian Thauvin.

He scored twice against Lille to extend his career-best league tally to 19. Greece striker Kostas Mitroglou also netted twice, and forward Lucas Ocampos completed the rout against 19th-place Lille.

In other matches: Amiens won against Strasbourg 3-1; struggling Toulouse beat Angers 2-0, and last-place Metz drew at home to Caen 1-1.

PSG is at Bordeaux on Sunday. Also, Nice is at home to Montpellier, and Saint-Etienne takes on Troyes.

UEFA says Europa League trophy not damaged after being stolen

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA says the Europa League trophy was not damaged after being stolen in Mexico.

The silverware was at a promotional event in the central city of Leon when it was reported by authorities to have been taken from a vehicle.

The theft came ahead of the semifinals of Europe’s second-tier club competition.

UEFA says the “Europa League trophy was in Mexico for a partner event and got briefly stolen. It was quickly recovered and has suffered no damages.”

In the semifinal first legs next week, Arsenal plays Atletico Madrid and Marseille takes on Salzburg.

Serie A: Roma prep for Liverpool by beating SPAL; Benevento win at Milan

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Premier League preview ]

SPAL 2013 0-3 Roma

A few hours after a reserves-heavy Liverpool side played last-place West Bromwich Albion to a 2-2 draw in the Premier League, Roma, the Reds’ UEFA Champions League semifinal foes beginning Tuesday, hammered 17th-place SPAL on the back of goals scored by Radja Nainggolan and Patrik Schick.

Roma shocked the world — and Barcelona — to reach the semifinals, but still have a battle on their hands to finish inside Serie A’s top-four and qualify for next season’s Champions League. Following Saturday’s victory, Eusebio Di Francesco’s side is three and four points clear of fourth- and fifth-place Lazio and Inter Milan, respectively, though both of the chasing sides play on Sunday.

AC Milan 0-1 Benevento

The 2017-18 season has treated AC Milan, who spent massively last summer, far worse than Roma. Following Sunday’s home defeat to first-year top-flight (and last-place) side Benevento, Gennaro Gattuso’s side sits sixth (final automatic Europa League place) and lead seventh-place Atalanta, who play on Sunday, by just two points.

Pietro Iemmello scored the game’s only goal in the 29th minute.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Sassuolo 1-0 Fiorentina

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Cagliari vs. Bologna — 6:30 a.m. ET
Lazio vs. Sampdoria — 9 a.m. ET
Chievo vs. Inter Milan — 9 a.m. ET
Atalanta vs. Torino — 9 a.m. ET
Udinese vs. Crotone — 9 a.m. ET
Juventus vs. Napoli — 2:45 p.m. ET

Barcelona cruise past Sevilla, lift historic 4th straight Copa del Rey

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MADRID (AP) Barcelona became the first team in 85 years to win four straight Copa del Rey titles after blowing away Sevilla 5-0 in the final on Saturday.

Luis Suarez scored twice, and Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Philippe Coutinho also made the scoresheet for Barcelona’s record-extending 30th Copa triumph, and sixth in the last decade.

Sevilla was trying to win a sixth Copa and save a season which will end without any trophies and maybe not even a place in the Europa League next season.

The final took place at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in the capital amid the ongoing political turmoil involving Catalonia’s bid for independence.

There were jeers by part of the Barcelona crowd when the national anthem was played, but the boos were largely subdued by the reaction of the numerous Sevilla fans in the crowd. Spain’s King Felipe VI smiled and saluted the fans after the anthem.

No other team had won four Copa titles in a row since Athletic Bilbao from 1930-33. The only other team to do it was Real Madrid from 1905-08.

Barcelona lost a chance to win the treble when it was eliminated by Roma in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, but it is three points away from winning the Spanish league.