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.

Baroni fired by Serie A basement club Benevento

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BENEVENTO, Italy (AP) Benevento fired Marco Baroni and named Roberto De Zerbi its new coach after becoming the first squad in Serie A history to lose its first nine matches of the season.

The southern Italian club is the only team in Europe’s five major leagues without a point.

[ MORE: Ronaldo wins Best Male Player at FIFA awards ]

Benevento also announced it fired sporting director Salvatore Di Somma.

The moves on Monday came a day after a 3-0 home loss to Fiorentina.

The Gazzetta dello Sport reports that Benevento will have to pay Baroni 800,000 euros (nearly $1 million) as part of an anti-firing clause in his contract.

Baroni guided Benevento up from Serie B last season.

De Zerbi last coached Palermo nearly a year ago before being fired by the Sicilian club.

It’s the second coaching change in Serie A this season, after Diego Lopez replaced Massimo Rastelli at Cagliari last week.

MLS Cup Playoffs: Atlanta hosts Crew, Whitecaps take on Earthquakes

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34 rounds of MLS action are in the books, and now the real fun is set to begin this week.

The MLS Cup Playoffs have arrived, and 12 teams are firmly in the running to hoist a trophy in December.

[ MORE: PST talks to Justin Meram ahead of the Crew’s playoff run ]

While Toronto FC, New York City FC, the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers will each have the opportunity to watch the first round from their homes, the action all starts on Wednesday and Thursday.

Here’s a look at what to expect when the knockout round begins.

Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls — Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET

The Fire were one of the most intriguing stories for much of the regular season, but Veljko Paunovic’s side enters the postseason limping. Lucky for them, the Red Bulls have been just as inconsistent throughout the course of 2017 — which already saw Jesse Marsch’s club lose in the U.S. Open Cup final.

Paunovic and Co. have lost eight of their last 15 matches, which doesn’t bode well entering the home stretch of the schedule. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls have won just two of their last 10 matches. The Harrison side should be well-rested though for Wednesday’s encounter after starting a mostly second-tier squad in Sunday’s season finale against D.C. United.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. San Jose Earthquakes — Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. ET

The Whitecaps looked to be a sure-fire club destined for a bye in the first round, but things didn’t fall their way on Decision Day. Now, Carl Robinson’s side faces an Earthquakes side that is simply unpredictable.

The Quakes have the second-worst road record in the Western Conference when it comes to acquiring points — holding eight in points 17 matches. However, Chris Leitch has instilled a new-found belief amongst the squad that gives the California side a puncher’s chance.

Atlanta United vs. Columbus Crew — Thursday, 7 p.m. ET

These two sides haven’t met since July 1, so all bets are off about these teams knowing one another. Since that point, Atlanta and Columbus have been two of the hottest sides in MLS and the former moved into a new stadium — which has given opposing sides quite the difficult time.

In their last 10 matches combined, the clubs boast just one loss, which Atlanta suffered at home against Minnesota United. There’s no reason not to expect a great one at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting KC — Thursday, 9:30 p.m. ET

Peter Vermes’ Sporting KC side enters the playoffs winless in their last five, while their counterparts are unbeaten in six. The MLS postseason is often about which team is in the best form at the right particular moment, and right now, it doesn’t look like Sporting KC has luck on their side.

It’s also hard to not pay attention to the fact that the Dynamo have lost just once at BBVA Compass Stadium in 2017, which came on September 9 against the Colorado Rapids.

Carabao Cup preview: Man City hosts Wolves, Chelsea meets Everton

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All eyes will remain on the 11 Premier League sides left in this season’s Carabao Cup, but could a potential upset(s) shake the balance of power in the competition?

Norwich City and Leeds United will be among the teams seeking an upset in the tournament as they take on Arsenal and Leicester City, respectively, on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Cristiano Ronaldo captures Best Male Player at FIFA awards ]

Meanwhile, fresh off of Ronald Koeman‘s sacking, Everton must regroup quickly when they head to Stamford Bridge to take on Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea. The Toffees have taken just eight points in their first nine PL matches, leaving the Merseyside club in the relegation zone.

The Blues are aiming for their sixth League Cup title this season, while Manchester United could also achieve the same feat with the crown.

Here’s the slate of matches for the Carabao Cup Round of 16.

Tuesday (All fixtures kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET)

Swansea City vs. Manchester United
Bournemouth vs. Middlesbrough
Bristol City vs. Crystal Palace
Leicester City vs. Leeds United
Arsenal vs. Norwich City
Manchester City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wednesday (All fixtures kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET)

Chelsea vs. Everton
Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Ham United

Report: RBNY midfielder Felipe, NYCFC’s Harrison could play for USMNT

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The U.S. Men’s National Team has seen a rise in dual nationals representing the Stars and Stripes in recent years, and that trend could continue with two of MLS’ most promising midfielders interested in enhancing their international careers.

[ MORE: PST names Best XI for the 2017 MLS season ]

According to MSG Network’s Kristian Dyer, New York Red Bulls midfielder Felipe Martins is in the midst of a finalizing his American citizenship, while New York City FC attacker Jack Harrison has spoken with U.S. Soccer about potentially representing the U.S..

Martins already has his green card — which opened up an international slot for the Red Bulls this season –but obtaining citizenship in the near future would make him eligible for selection for the USMNT ahead of the 2022 World Cup qualifying cycle.

The 27-year-old had also previously applied for permanent residency in Canada back in 2013 while Martins was with the Montreal Impact, however, his aspirations to represent the nation never transpired.

Meanwhile, Harrison recently represented the England Under-21s in October, but he too could be on track for U.S. citizenship over the next few years if he remains in MLS.

[ MORE: Justin Meram talks Crew’s good form, facing Atlanta and more ]

In Dyer’s report, he notes the rising interest in Harrison from English clubs, though, and a potential move back to the United Kingdom would hurt the former Manchester United academy member’s chances of joining the USMNT.

Harrison is only in his sophomore season with NYCFC, but the young Englishman has garnered plenty of attention after scoring 14 goals and adding 13 assists thus far for the Bronx side.