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.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

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Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

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That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?