How Chelsea won the Premier League in September

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WEST BROMWICH – Sure, Chelsea secured the Premier League title on Friday by beating West Brom 1-0, but it was eight months ago when a simple decision truly crowned them Champions of England.

[ VIDEO: Chelsea win Premier League ]

As the PA announcer at the Hawthorns congratulated Chelsea on becoming the Premier League champions on a Friday night under the lights in early May, the first moment I thought of was back in September.

September 24, 2016 to be exact.

After Chelsea had been demolished 3-0 by London rivals Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, five days after losing 2-1 to Liverpool at home, it appeared that Antonio Conte had a huge task on his hands to overhaul this ageing Chelsea squad who had underachieved so badly in 2015-16.

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

He knew it. And he had a plan. He was going to do things his way.

Slamming his fist on the table in the press conference room at Arsenal, Conte was furious. He felt embarrassed, humiliated and was going to make sure he never felt like this again as he’d lost consecutive league games for the first time since 2009.

“I have to solve the situation. That is the most important thing. The situation is that every game we concede two goals, at a minimum,” Conte said, furiously, after the loss at Arsenal. “For this reason, three back or two back or four back, I don’t care. It is important to solve the situations. I must find the right solution for this team because in every game we are conceding two goals. I work a lot to find the right solution.”

He didn’t find the right solution. He found the perfect one.

When asked by ProSoccerTalk after the win at West Brom, Conte agreed that this was THE key moment in Chelsea’s campaign.

“Yeah, honestly. Yes. Yes. Yes,” Conte said. “Because after two bad defeats, not simple defeats, bad, bad defeats, Liverpool and Arsenal. Against Arsenal this game was frustrating for me because during the game I didn’t see nothing of my work, of my idea of football. In that moment it was frustrating for me. I found the strength to change, to take the responsibility to change the system and find a new suit for these players. I think it was the key moment for us. Every single player found in this system the best for them.”

Chelsea’s fans sing his name loud and proud every single game with Conte applauding them back each and every game.

“Antonio, Antonio, Antonioooo, Antonio, Antonioooo!”

Sure, Chelsea have had bumps along the way since that switch with defeats at Tottenham and Manchester United, but the overriding sense has been that every Chelsea player has bought into Conte’s tactics. To be able to get that respect in his debut season in a country where he had never worked before, that takes some doing.

Conte switched to a 3-4-3 formation in the second half of that defeat at Arsenal and Chelsea didn’t concede any more goals, looking more solid, resolute and dangerous on the break.

The code had been cracked. Conte’s watershed moment at Chelsea had arrived. 13-straight wins arrived in the Premier League and an air of invincibility was instilled to not only Chelsea’s players, but also their opponents. The balance was exquisite and Chelsea didn’t show any weaknesses.

Yet that wasn’t the case for the opening months of the season when he’d stuck with what the players were used to. That was a 4-1-4-1 formation with Eden Hazard and Willian allowed to roam free in support of Diego Costa. It wasn’t working, especially defensively, with John Terry, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic exposed on multiple occasions.

So, Conte reverted to what he knew best. The fabled 3-4-3 formation has been in place ever since as the system he used to help Juventus dominate Italian soccer, plus rejuvenate the Italian national team, has worked once again.

Speaking after the game, Conte admitted that switching to 3-4-3 was the turning point.

“That decision changed our season,” Conte admitted. “We had to change and find a new suit for our team. In my mind there was this option to play a 3-4-3 because I knew I had the players to do that.”

Using full backs he’s been able to unleash Hazard, Willian and Pedro to support the often isolated Costa and his three-man central defense with a more composed Cahill on the left, a shackled David Luiz in the center and the machine that is Cesar Azpilicueta on the right, has given a solid base along with the sensational N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic sat in front to create a block of five.

Tough decisions were made and there have been causalities along the way, and high profile ones at that.

Terry, Ivanovic and Fabregas are the biggest names to lose their regular starting spot with Ivanovic leaving in January for Zenit, Terry announcing he will leave in June and Fabregas’ future remains uncertain despite impressive cameo displays. Yet, the way Chelsea has played and dominated games it has led to those ousting’s labelled as necessary rather than becoming huge storylines hanging over the squad.

Hugging each and every player on his team on the pitch after they secured the title, just like he’s done after every single win this season, Conte’s passion on the sidelines has perhaps overshadowed his bravery and astute tactics.

After arriving in England for the first time he’s not only rejuvenated his own side but he’s brought a whole new philosophy to the league as multiple PL teams have reverted to a 3-4-3 after seeing Chelsea’s success. Tottenham, Arsenal, Everton, Crystal Palace and even Man United have all used the system with varying degrees of success.

Conte is the master of the 3-4-3 and that’s the main reason why the rest of the Premier League is in Chelsea’s rearview mirror.

A battering by rivals Arsenal was the best thing that happened to Chelsea, and Conte, this season. It won them the title.

Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City

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It’s hard to say that Sergio Aguero is an unforgotten man in Manchester City’s loaded lineup of talented attackers, but sometimes it does feel that way.

[ MORE: PL Roundup — Top three all victorious, Gunners thrash Palace ]

The 29-year-old striker proved his worth once again though on Saturday afternoon at the Etihad Stadium after scoring his second hat-trick of the 2017/18 Premier League season in Man City’s 3-1 victory over Newcastle United.

Although the match never seemed in doubt that Pep Guardiola‘s side would come out on top, Aguero has a way of finding himself in all the right positions, and more importantly, capitalizing on the chances he has when he gets into those spots.

An overwhelming amount of possession — which exceeded 80 percent in favor of Man City — gave the hosts the opportunities that it needed, and City manager Pep Guardiola has full confidence in Aguero, who continues to light up English football in his 200th PL appearance.

“I said we are not going to buy a striker because we have Sergio Aguero and in 2-3 weeks we will have Gabriel Jesus,” Guardiola said after the match. “We are so happy for him. We need a guy who scores the goals.”

The Argentine international is now tied for sixth-place in England’s top flight with seven career PL hat-tricks in his time with Man City.

The true beauty of what Aguero does though isn’t the fact that he scores so many goals, but instead how he manages to score them.

It certainly helps out when you have creative masterminds in the attack like Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane and David Silva, but it’s been Aguero’s genius that has helped pace the Cityzens for so many years now.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The veteran goalscorer kicked things off for City 11 minutes before halftime, after nodding home the slightest header into the far corner.

Aguero then proceeded to score from the penalty spot in the second stanza, before adding his final finish after finding himself in the right position when Sane decided to take on the entire Newcastle backline.

[ MORE: Wenger hails Arsenal, talks Aubameyang move ]

Overall, Aguero’s 16 goals in the PL are third-most this season, only trailing the likes of Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah — who have had superb campaigns in their own right.

One thing is for certain though, if the Cityzens go on to become the “greatest team in PL history” much of the team’s success will — and should be — attributed to its star striker in Sergio Aguero.

PL roundup: Top three all victorious, Gunners thrash Palace at Emirates

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Get caught up on all seven of Saturday’s Premier League fixtures…

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Manchester City 3-1 Newcastle — FULL RECAP

For awhile it looked like a fierce fight, but Sergio Aguero’s hat-trick gave the Cityzens yet another PL win on Saturday at the Etihad Stadium.  Jacob Murphy gave the Magpies a temporary moment of relief, though, as the Newcastle front man finished off a perfectly-executed counterattack. City is once again 12 points ahead of Man United at the top of the table.

Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace — FULL RECAP

The scoreline indicates a rout, and that’s exactly what it was at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners found themselves up 4-0 inside the opening 22 minutes, and that spelt absolute disaster for the Eagles, who haven’t won at Arsenal since October 1994. Arsene Wenger‘s side remains five points outside of the top four, however, that deficit could be increased to eight with Liverpool holding a match in hand.

Manchester United 1-0 Burnley — FULL RECAP

Burnley’s defense is always tough to break past, but Anthony Martial‘s second-half blast off the underside of the crossbar proved to be the difference for Jose Mourinho’s men. The Red Devils are now unbeaten in their last seven matches in all competitions, including Saturday’s PL win.

Brighton & Hove 0-4 Chelsea FULL RECAP

When the Blues are at their best, they’re so, so fun to watch. Willian‘s brilliance shone through on the day with a brilliant finish that came after one of the better combination plays you’ll see. Meanwhile, an Eden Hazard brace in the opening six minutes set the tone for Chelsea on the road, while Victor Moses gave Antonio Conte‘s side a fourth in the game.

West Ham United 1-1 Bournemouth — FULL RECAP

West Ham’s improvement under David Moyes has been noted, but they’ll need more goals from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in order to sustain their success. The Mexican international scored his first goal for the home side in nearly three months at the London Stadium, which proved to be critical after Ryan Fraser‘s superb strike had given Bournemouth the lead nearly a minute prior.

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Leicester City 2-0 Watford — FULL RECAP

Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez came up big on Saturday for the Foxes, who pulled themselves up to seventh place in the PL. Leicester has now held five consecutive clean sheets, as Claude Puel‘s club continues to find its best form in the second half of the season. Meanwhile, Watford’s struggles just carry on with the Hornets winless in 10 of their last 11 matches.

Stoke City 2-0 Huddersfield Town — FULL RECAP

Paul Lambert‘s Stoke picked up their first win under their new manager, after goals from Joe Allen and Mame Biram Diouf gave the Potters a much-needed victory to put the side into 17th place. The loss for Huddersfield leaves the PL newcomers just three points above the relegation zone.

Everton 1-1 West Bromwich AlbionFULL RECAP

The result did no favors to relegation side West Brom, however, the discussion of the match was undoubtedly James McCarthy‘s gruesome leg injury, which halted the match for over seven minutes. Theo Walcott made an instant impact in his Toffees debut, setting up Oumar Niasse for the game’s equalizer. West Brom had gone ahead with a Jay Rodriguez finish after just seven minutes after the attacker timed his run in on goal perfectly.

Bundesliga wrap: RB Leipzig slips; USMNT’s Chandler scores

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There’s congestion at the top and bottom of the Bundesliga table, as RB Leipzig fell to Freiburg and Koln continued its long climb back from a horrible start to the season.

[ RECAP: Man City 3-1 Newcastle ]

Schalke can go second with a Sunday win, while Bayern’s table lead could be as much as 16 if it wins its match.

Freiburg 2-1 RB Leipzig

The hosts moved further clear of relegation danger and put the race for second place into severe congestion with a comeback win against third place RB Leipzig.

Timo Werner had put the visitors ahead in the 65th minute, but Janik Haberer and Robin Koch scored four minutes apart to boost all three points for the hosts.

Freiburg is now seven points clear of the relegation playoff spot, while RBL’s 31 points makes it one of six teams within one point between second and seventh.

Mainz 3-2 Stuttgart

Yoshinori Muto scored on both sides of halftime as Mainz came back from 1-0 down and held on to move four points clear of 16th while Stuttgart is ahead of the victors by a single goal of differential.

Wolfsburg 1-3 Eintracht Frankfurt

American midfielder Timmy Chandler scored for the first time in three Bundesliga seasons and Eintracht Frankfurt pulled into a tie for fifth place with a win at Wolfsburg. Sebastien Haller and Luka Jovic also scored for the visitors.

“It’s not such a difficult thing whether it’s my right or left, because I can also play with my left,” Chandler joked after the win.

Hamburg 0-2 Koln

Simon Terodde scored his second and third goals in two matches for Koln, and the visitors continued their climb out of the Bundesliga basement with a third-straight win.

Elsewhere
Hertha Berlin 1-1 Borussia Dortmund — Friday
Borussia Monchengladbach 2-0 Augsburg
Hoffenheim 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen
Bayern Munich vs. Werder Bremen — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Schalke vs. Hannover 96 — Noon ET Sunday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 18 14 2 2 40 12 28 7-1-0 7-1-2 44
 Bayer Leverkusen 19 8 7 4 39 27 12 4-4-1 4-3-3 31
 RB Leipzig 19 9 4 6 31 28 3 6-2-1 3-2-5 31
 Mönchengladbach 19 9 4 6 30 30 0 6-2-2 3-2-4 31
 Borussia Dortmund 19 8 6 5 40 25 15 4-2-3 4-4-2 30
 FC Schalke 04 18 8 6 4 29 24 5 5-3-1 3-3-3 30
 Eintracht Frankfurt 19 8 6 5 24 20 4 2-3-4 6-3-1 30
 FC Augsburg 19 7 6 6 28 25 3 4-4-2 3-2-4 27
 1899 Hoffenheim 19 7 6 6 29 27 2 5-3-2 2-3-4 27
 Hannover 96 18 7 5 6 27 28 -1 5-3-1 2-2-5 26
 Hertha BSC Berlin 19 6 7 6 27 27 0 4-3-3 2-4-3 25
 SC Freiburg 19 5 8 6 20 33 -13 4-5-1 1-3-5 23
 VfL Wolfsburg 19 3 11 5 22 24 -2 2-6-2 1-5-3 20
 VfB Stuttgart 19 6 2 11 16 24 -8 6-1-2 0-1-9 20
 FSV Mainz 05 19 5 5 9 24 33 -9 5-1-4 0-4-5 20
 Werder Bremen 18 3 7 8 14 21 -7 2-3-4 1-4-4 16
 Hamburger SV 19 4 3 12 15 28 -13 3-2-5 1-1-7 15
 1. FC Köln 19 3 3 13 14 33 -19 2-1-6 1-2-7 12

Man City 3-1 Newcastle: Aguero with perfect hat trick

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  • Aguero nets thrice
  • Bags second half PK
  • City table lead at 12 points
  • Newcastle two points clear of 18th

Sergio Aguero scored three times to continue his mastery of Newcastle United as Manchester City bounced back to post a 3-1 win at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Jacob Murphy scored a second half goal to pull Newcastle to within one before Aguero finished his second hat trick of the season. The Argentine scored three and posted an assist against Watford on Sept. 16.

The win gives Man City 65 points, 12 more than second place Manchester United, and improves their goal differential to 51.

Newcastle sits 15th with 23 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Newcastle high-pressed to start, and troubled Ederson was happy to see Oleksandar Zinchenko defy a Christian Atsu cross in the first 90 seconds.

The Magpies had a 3-5-2 which was five at the back when City had the ball (which was often). Leroy Sane seemed most poised to trigger a City goal, but it remained scoreless after a quarter hour.

Raheem Sterling scored an offside goal to complete a lightning counter attack, with David Silva‘s splendid pass denied an assist by the linesman’s rightly raised flag.

Silva was fouled on the edge of the 18, and Kevin De Bruyne presided over a dangerous free kick from the right only to rifled the ball over the goal.

Newcastle backstop Karl Darlow made a save a moment before City went ahead, as Aguero just deflected — we’re talking hair not head — a De Bruyne cross home.

Darlow made a fine save on De Bruyne in the 40th minute, and another just before the break as Newcastle limited the damage to 1-0.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

City again had trouble coming through Newcastle’s tight defense, and Isaac Hayden stopped a promising pass from Sane in the 61st minute.

Paul Tierney awarded a penalty to City in the 62nd minute when Raheem Sterling dove under a Javier Manquillo challenge, and Aguero placed a perfect penalty past a correctly guessing Darlow.

Murphy then got his first goal for his club on the counter, chipping Ederson after a seeing-eye pass from Ciaran Clark put the ex-Norwich man 1v1 with the goalkeeper.

Darlow denied Sterling with an outstanding diving save after Sane’s terrific cross was turned toward the Magpies’ goal.

Newcastle could’ve had it at 2-2 when Ederson stopped Mo Diame’s hard shot but spilled the ball back to the Magpies, only to save Ayoze Perez’s rebound work.

De Bruyne and Aguero both missed curling far post efforts in bids to restore the two-goal cushion. Aguero completed his hat trick thanks to a terrific Sane assist in the 83rd minute.