Three things learned from Chelsea’s win at Bournemouth

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BOURNEMOUTH — Chelsea will not be stopped.

The Blues went to Bournemouth and won 3-1 on Saturday, regaining their seven-point lead atop the Premier League table after Tottenham had momentarily cut it to four.

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Antonio Conte‘s men dealt with the pressure piled on them by Spurs and breezed past (in the end) a stylish yet leaky Bournemouth side to stay on track for the PL title with seven games to go.

Here’s what we learned from a sun-drenched evening down on the South Coast.


BIG BOYS DELIVER

Eden Hazard scored a sublime goal to put Chelsea 2-0 up at the Vitaliy Stadium. N'Golo Kante snapped into tackles and even had his first-ever Premier League assist. Thibaut Courtois made a stunning save early on to deny David Luiz scoring a horrendous own goal.

All of the stars who needed to step up for Chelsea did.

Bournemouth didn’t play badly, far from it. They created chances with Benik Afobe‘s shot hitting the inside of the post and coming out, plus Jack Wilshere (more on him further down) seeing plenty of the ball and creating problems for Chelsea.

Had Luiz’s nervous clearance just a minute into the game flown in, Chelsea would’ve been in for an uncomfortable encounter.

With the seven-point gap to second-place Tottenham regained for now, throughout the encounter on the south coast of England Chelsea’s fans sung”Tottenham Hotspur, we’re waiting for you!”

Spurs are waiting for a Chelsea slip up but it appears the Blues will keep doing just enough to grind out wins. The magic number of wins now stands at five and it seems like Chelsea cannot be stopped. If Spurs beat West Brom next Saturday in the early game and Chelsea slip up at Manchester United next Sunday then the title race could be back on. For now, it seems over.


COSTA CONUNDRUM

Diego Costa had one of those days against Bournemouth. He’s having them a lot lately.

Chelsea’s Spanish striker has now scored just four goals in his last 13 appearances for the Blues and his slack hold up play, failure to take chances and constant tumbles seem to be infuriating Conte.

It’s true that Costa’s sublime turn set up Chelsea’s opener as he sliced his shot and it deflected off Adam Smith and in. But apart from that, a few decent bits of hold up play were the only noticeable contributions he made. Costa missed a sitter in the 55th minute as Alonso’s perfect cross from the left flank found him at the near post but he completely missed his kick. His manager stood on the sidelines holding his head in disbelief. He’s been doing that a lot lately.

With Hazard having four of Chelsea’s last seven goals in the PL, he’s carrying this team offensively. Costa isn’t contributing much and seems low on confidence following the saga which rumbled on at the end of January amid reports of a back injury, training ground bust up and a big-money move to China.

It sounds slightly harsh to say after Costa has scored 49 goals in 81 PL games for Chelsea over the past three seasons, but perhaps Conte will perhaps be eager to move him on this summer if the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata do become available.


WILSHERE WONDERFUL

Bournemouth always try to play through midfield, no matter the opposition or the obstacles before them. In midfield they have a player capable of controlling the tempo of any game on the planet: Jack Wilshere.

This was perhaps one of Wilshere’s best games in a Bournemouth shirt as he is now back in the starting lineup consistently and is at the hub of the Cherries midfield.

With his future still uncertain about next season — he’ll likely return to his parent club Arsenal but Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe wants him to stay permanently — Wilshere at least seems to be back to his best.

Flashes of brilliance throughout this game reminded us of the quality the England international possesses.

In the first half his sublime ball through to Ryan Fraser was followed up by a flicked ball with the outside of his right boot to play in Josh King for a breakaway. In the second half Wilshere clipped a ball down the line from an impossible body angle which picked out Afobe. He has the deft touches to confuse the most talented defenders and is able to caress the ball with ease, yet he does take chances in dangerous areas sometimes but is ironing out those mistakes.

Now, as has always been the case, he just needs to do it consistently and stay injury free. The next seven games will be huge for Wilshere if he can get back into the England squad this summer and then set himself up for a big season with Arsenal, Bournemouth or whoever in 2017-18.

At the age of 25 we have to stop talking about Wilshere’s potential. His class is undoubted. We just need to see it more.

Dani Alves fires back at Diego Forlan

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After Neymar and Edinson Cavani’s penalty drama that has blown up over the last few days and potentially led to Neymar’s exclusion from the PSG squad this weekend, Uruguayan legend Diego Forlan went on sports radio in his home country to not just back his former international teammate Cavani, but also throw a pair of Brazilians under the bus.

Forlan obviously denounced Neymar’s role in the dispute, but he also picked out Neymar’s club and country teammate Dani Alves for favoring his countrymate.

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“What doesn’t make any sense is what Alves does, he doesn’t give the ball to Cavani and then gives it to Neymar as if he were his [explitive]. Cavani deserves respect. He has been scoring goals for years, taking penalties. There has to be respect. Neymar would not have done that with [Lionel] Messi. He didn’t want Cavani to take the penalty. He was like a little boy annoying him.”

Well, as you can imagine, Alves did not take kindly to being sucked into the fray, and fired back as a result. “I don’t know what match you were watching,” Alves wrote on Twitter, “but for your information, I didn’t take the ball away from any of my teammates. It was just the opposite, it was taken from me!

“And also for your information, the last penalty kick for PSG was mine. So shut your trap and stop making drama in my name.”

This whole situation has blown up more than most penalty disputes (which happen relatively often) likely due to the international affiliations. With the decades-old bad blood between Brazil and Uruguay, it’s no surprise that people are taking sides. Forlan swept up another Brazilian in the mix, and understandably he did not appreciate the cheap shot.

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Liverpool

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  • Leicester City has won 2 straight home PL games vs Liverpool
  • Jamie Vardy has 5 goals in 3 PL games vs Liverpool
  • Liverpool leads the PL with 40 shots on target this season

Jamie Vardy is good to go for the Foxes as they welcome Liverpool to the King Power Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 a.m. ET on NBC or live online via NBCSports.com).

These two teams matched up midweek in League Cup play, with Leicester City winning 2-0, and they did so without Vardy who missed out with a groin strain. He’s since recovered, and will likely play a part. Christian Fuchs and Leonardo Ulloa are also ready to go, with Fuchs back after an eye injury in training, while Ulloa took a knock to the head midweek but is ready to go.

The Foxes need a win in the worst way, as a loss would leave them with their joint-worst point total through the first six matches of a top flight season since 1994/95, the year they were relegated.

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Liverpool, meanwhile, has issues of its own to sort out. They are winless in all competitions since August 27th, and on a larger scale, Jurgen Klopp is taking heat for having less points than Brendan Rodgers did through his first 73 league games of his Liverpool tenure.

The Reds are also facing a bit of injury trouble, with Dejan Lovren still out with back problems, while Joel Matip and Emre Can both suffered slight injuries in the midweek loss and are questionable for Saturday. Should all those miss out, the already leaky defense would prove even more porous.

What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on Liverpool chasing the ball: “We come too close together in the situation where the first ball is going after a throw-in and it means for the second ball we don’t have a good formation. We need to get more natural in these things because it’s not that difficult to be honest but it happens too often. Now we have to work and then it will be even more difficult to create something against us.”

Craig Shakespeare on Jamie Vardy vs. Liverpool: “Is he a bogeyman? I am hoping so. Sometimes strikers will have good memories of playing against certain teams. Centre forwards go through these purple patches and everybody would like one who can get you 20 goals a season.”

Prediction

If anything is certain in a Liverpool match, it’s that the first goal doesn’t matter. Since the start of last season, the Reds are tops in the league with 20 points from losing positions. However, they’re also fifth in the league in that same timeframe with 20 points lost from winning positions. With that in mind, a wild game is likely in store, but with the inconsistent form for either side of late, it’s tough to pick a winner. A 2-2 draw is a likely result.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 17 of its last 23 Premier League games
  • Alvaro Morata has 3 goals and 2 assists, all with his head
  • Stoke has lost just 1 of its past 7 home games vs defending champions

Eden Hazard is back and at full strength as Chelsea travels to the Britannia to take on Stoke City Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

With Hazard back and Diego Costa finally shed to Atletico Madrid, the Blues have positioned themselves to make a run at the Premier League’s top spot. Chelsea has not lost since their Opening Day misstep against Burnley, and despite firing a blank in last weekend’s 0-0 draw with the Gunners, Chelsea is still just three points off the top spot, and will look to put pressure on the Manchester clubs.

In addition to Hazard, the Blues also get Temoue Bakayoko and Pedro back in the lineup as well, although David Luiz is suspended after his late red card last weekend.

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This season has been a roller coaster ride for Stoke City, having picked up four points against Arsenal and Manchester United, but also losing to Newcastle and Everton, plus a very disappointing defeat midweek to Bristol City in the Cup. The Potters are missing a host of defenders, with Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross both injured, plus Kurt Zouma ineligible to face his parent club. Kevin Wimmer is also touch and go with a hamstring injury, not expected to be available.

What they’re saying

Mark Hughes on Chelsea’s discipline issues: “Chelsea at the moment look like they are getting yellow and red cards more frequently, but that might be just an anomaly, something happening in the moment. I don’t think it is prevalent in their team. They are just strong when they need to be. It is not going to be tactic we are going to irritate them with, to step over the line, because if I’m honest I don’t think I’ll have the players to do that.”

Antonio Conte on Stoke: “The most important thing for us is to go game by game. Tomorrow it will be a really tough game. We must prepare very well this game in all the situations, tactically, physically, to be disciplined. Stoke won against Arsenal and then drew against Manchester United. It means Stoke is a really good team.”

Prediction

Stoke City has given tough teams trouble, and could again if Maxim Chupo-Moting shows up at his best again, but it’s much more likely that Chelsea will ease by in this game. The Potters have fallen off slightly this season, and while their draw against Manchester United shows they pack some punch, it won’t be enough to see off a Chelsea side buoyed by the return of Eden Hazard. Chelsea could win their opening three Premier League away matches for the first time since 2009…their third away fixture of that campaign was a 2-1 victory at Stoke, so we’ll go for the same scoreline here.

Hope Solo says she has settled grievance with US Soccer

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Hope Solo has settled a grievance with U.S. Soccer over her suspension from the women’s national team following comments she made at the Rio Olympics.

The settlement was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. The 35-year-old goalkeeper was suspended for six months and her contract with the federation was terminated after she called the Swedish team “a bunch of cowards” following the U.S. team’s quarterfinal loss.

Details about the settlement, reached last month, were not released. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Players Association filed the grievance on Solo’s behalf.

In a statement provided Friday to The Associated Press, Solo reiterated her regret over the comments.

“As I expressed in my apology to the Swedish captain immediately following the match, I have tremendous respect for the Swedish team, and in describing the style of play, I used a choice of words that was both offensive and not at all what I had intended to convey,” she said.

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“We have amicably resolved the matter and are moving forward in a positive way,” she added.

U.S. Soccer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Women’s Soccer Team Players Association declined to comment.

Solo anchored the team in goal for the 2015 Women’s World Cup victory, allowing just three goals in seven games with five shutouts during the tournament – earning her a second straight Golden Glove Award.

For her career, Solo has made 202 total appearances with the national team, with 153 wins and an international-record 102 shutouts.

The defending champion U.S. women were ousted from the Olympics last summer when Sweden advanced 4-3 on penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw.

Solo’s “cowards” quote came immediately following the loss. Sweden went on to play in the gold-medal match against Germany.

Solo told the AP in an interview late last year that she spoke to coach Jill Ellis and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati following the loss, and felt that the issue was put to rest. After she returned to the United States, she said she was blindsided by the announcement about her suspension.

She said she believes U.S. Soccer wanted her off negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. Solo has been an outspoken advocate for equal pay and was among the players who filed a complaint against the federation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging wage discrimination.

“Let’s call it what is, which is a firing,” Solo told AP then. “It was a termination of my contract effective immediately with severance. That is a firing. It wasn’t a suspension, that’s what they told the media because it looked better. But I got fired. I got fired for what they say was using the word `cowards’ but in reality they got rid of an adversary in the fight for equal pay.”

U.S. Soccer said at the time that Solo was suspended following a culmination of actions, and separately her contract was also terminated with the team.