Chelsea players praise Conte for title, turnaround in first season

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One thing is certain without a shadow of a doubt: Antonio Conte‘s players love love playing for him.

[ MORE: Full “Chelsea Champions” reaction, here ]

Following Chelsea’s 1-0 victory away to West Bromwich Albion on Friday, a result which clinched the 2016-17 Premier League title for the Blues, Conte’s players were full of praise for the impact he’s had in his first season at Stamford Bridge.

365 days ago, two months before Conte had arrived, Chelsea sat ninth in the PL table; they would slip one more spot and finish the season in 10th. While they’re all thrilled to have won the PL title already this term, there’s still an FA Cup double to be won.

[ MORE: How Chelsea won the PL title in September ]

David Luiz‘s first spell at Chelsea was full of highs and lows, but the Brazilian left the club in the summer of 2014 amid lots of the latter and returned last summer with fans expecting more of the same. What they hadn’t accounted for, however, was the Conte effect — quotes from the BBC:

“I am happy. Very happy. It is my first Premier League title. When I decided to come back here I dreamed to win the Premier League. I am very happy because my dream came true.

“Tonight was a great game but we did it. We work hard every day to have these moments.”

“[Conte] likes to work, works with passion every day. I am happy for him. He deserves it because he is working hard every day.”

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Perhaps no player has improved more noticeably returned to his own previously great heights than Eden Hazard, who chipped in with 15 goals and 5 assists in the PL this season (just 4 and 3 in 2015-16) — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s amazing to celebrate with the fans. The game was so difficult. We are very happy.

“We talked a lot about the manager already, he is fantastic and we work a lot in training. Full credit to him and the players. We lost to Arsenal and then we went on an unbelievable run.

“That’s when we said that we can win the league.”

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Gary Cahill replaced John Terry as the club’s full-time captain this season as Terry was quickly phased out of the first-team squad early in the campaign. The two England center backs said after the game that they’d share the honor of being first to lift the trophy — quotes from the BBC:

“It feels amazing. It is a special moment. I thought we deserved it over the season. We worked very hard and have been the better team. It is fantastic to wrap it up with a couple of games to go, it is very difficult in this league.

“We didn’t want this to drag on. We had the opportunity today to win the league and it was a pinch yourself moment in the tunnel before we went out.

“We played maybe a bit nervy because we knew what was at stake but showed experience in the end and wore them down.

“We felt confident in the dressing room all season. There is a danger you start believing you are champions when you are not.

“The league is in the bag, it is an amazing achievement for everyone involved. These are moments you need to cherish. I can’t wait to get my hands on that trophy.”

Still waiting for these Premier League summer transfers to hit

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They seemed like hits at the time, but some significant summer transfer buys are are struggling in the Premier League.

[ MORE: LAFC close to signing third DP ]

Whereas Mohamed Salah, Nemanja Matic, and Alvaro Morata have been solid pickups, and even lesser moves like Kurt Zouma to Stoke and Grzegorz Krychowiak to West Brom have hit the spot, some purchases just have not panned out at their new clubs.

Some aren’t getting playing time, while others aren’t hitting their stride, but here are some moves which just haven’t paid off (yet).

Andre Gray, Watford — The striker has two goals and two assists, but has had problems keeping hold of the ball and has the same amount of goals as defender Daryl Janmaat and midfielder Will Hughes despite playing about 300 percent of their minutes.

Marko Arnautovic, West Ham — The ex-Stoke player was a menace in a midweek draw against Arsenal, but Arnautovic has managed just one goal for the Irons this season. That’s equal to his amount of red cards.

Renato Sanches and Roque Mesa, Swansea City — Sanches hasn’t been able to get into the squad despite being one of the more talked about loans of the summer; Mesa may be coming around in recent weeks, but was an unused sub or not in the squad in 10 of Swans’ first 13.

Jese, Stoke City – The Real Madrid attacker was almost certain to take time to adjust to the Premier League, but his match-winner against Arsenal on Opening Day remains his lone marker.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Liverpool — His deadline day move to join Liverpool, supposedly to play centrally, seemed a head-scratcher. He’s only recently seen consistent minutes in a more central role despite Liverpool having loads of problems there. Maybe that’s on Jurgen Klopp, but we’re still scratching our heads.

Report: Galaxy close to scooping up thrice-capped USMNT keeper

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The LA Galaxy may be turning to its Cali Clasico rival for a new goalkeeper.

Reportedly denied in its pursuit of longtime Vancouver backstop David Ousted, the Galaxy are said to be close to scooping up thrice-capped USMNT keeper David Bingham from San Jose, according to ESPN.

[ MORE: LAFC close to signing third DP ]

The deal would reportedly cost LA between $200,000 and $250,000 in TAM.

Bingham, 28, lost his starting gig to Clemson product Andrew Tarbell this season, and the latter looks intent on keeping the position.

The Galaxy have not had a long-term answer in goal since Jaime Penedo left the club in 2015 (though 24-year-old Jon Kempin showed some very good things last season). Bingham would be a fine addition for a Galaxy team that hemorrhaged the second-most goals in MLS.

FIFA worried about government interference in Spain

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Concerned about the independence of the Spanish soccer federation, FIFA said Friday it will send a delegation to the country to investigate government meddling.

FIFA said in a statement written in Spanish that it had recently sent a letter to the federation “expressing our concern for the situation that the federation is going through and reminding (its officials) that, according to the Statutes of FIFA, all member federations must manage their affairs independently and assure that there is no interference by third parties.”

Spanish newspaper El Pais reported earlier Friday that the FIFA letter warned of a possible suspension because of the government’s push to hold elections following the arrest of federation president Angel Maria Villar in July on suspicion of corruption.

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

According to El Pais, FIFA is concerned that the government’s interest in federation elections could be considered outside meddling and break its rules. If the national federation were to be suspended, Spain’s team would not be allowed to play at next year’s World Cup.

FIFA’s statement made no mention of a suspension or other punitive measures.

But the scare was big enough for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to say that Spain will not miss soccer’s biggest event.

“I am sure that Spain will go to the World Cup in Russia and that it will win it,” Rajoy said at a news conference in Brussels.

FIFA added in its statement that “in the coming days” it will send a delegation, which will include representatives from UEFA, to Madrid to “observe and analyze the situation” of the Spanish soccer federation.

The federation said in a separate statement that its interim president, Juan Luis Larrea, had spoken with FIFA and UEFA officials at the World Cup draw on Dec. 1 and that he had passed on their “enormous concern” to Spain’s minister of education, culture and sport.

The Spanish federation said it was waiting for the ministry to set a date for a meeting.

Spanish police arrested Villar, his son, and two other soccer officials in July on suspicion of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Villar was replaced by Larrea, the body’s treasurer for three decades. Critics of Villar argue that elections are needed to make a clean start for the institution that has been tarnished by the scandal.

Newcastle linked with targets as Benitez begins transfer quest

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Newcastle United’s players have canceled their Christmas party, as manager Rafa Benitez admits he’s working on January gifts for the St. James’ Park set.

The Magpies have one point from their last eight matches, and face Arsenal, West Ham, and Manchester City in the run-up to the New Year, closing off a run of five matches in 16 days with Brighton and Stoke.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City vs. Spurs ]

Benitez says he’s begun talks with managing director Lee Charnley about the January window. The team is expected to make moves whether Mike Ashley completes a reported sale of the team or not. From Sky Sports:

“At this time it is just to talk about ideas,” he said. “You might say ‘I would like to sign this player’ and someone will say ‘£40m’ – maybe it is not realistic.

“The main thing, we had this conversation, then we have to move forward quickly. I don’t know the details but at least we were talking about that. We have to progress and it is so obvious that we have to improve things.”

Newcastle has been linked with a number of notable names a few weeks from the start of the January market, including Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, prolific Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun, as well as Liverpool’s Danny Ings and Manchester United’s Luke Shaw.