West Brom 0-1 Chelsea: Batshuayi’s late goal wins the title

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  • Batshuayi’s 2nd PL goal wins the title
  • Baggies held on for dear life for 81 minutes
  • Conte’s debut season ends in a title

After taking over the Premier League lead on Dec. 11, it was always going to end this way: Antonio Conte‘s first season in England has resulted in a sixth first-division title (fifth in the PL era) for Chelsea.

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

Friday’s 1-0 victory away to West Bromwich Albion, in which Conte’s side was held in check for more than 80 minutes, was the final nail in the coffin of Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea’s closest competitors, and now they can’t be caught.

The Blues’ first-half chances amounted to little more than a pair of speculative efforts from just outside the 18-yard box early on, and a moon-bound blast from Diego Costa two minutes before halftime. Pedro spotted a narrow corridor through a sea of bodies and fired toward goal, but the Spaniard’s effort went just wide of Ben Foster‘s left-hand post. Cesc Fabregas also failed to test Foster, as his low, bouncing effort from near the corner of the penalty area flashed across the face of goal and wide of the opposite post.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Chelsea bent in transition as West Brom threatened on the counter on three notable occasions during the first half, but refused to break. David Luiz and Gary Cahill eventually arrived in the nick of time to clear danger each time Chris Brunt and Salomon Rondo asked of them.

The second half began with Foster making a spectacular diving save to deny Victor Moses. The Nigerian wing back unleashed a low, flat-line strike across the face of goal which would have found the inside netting if not for Foster’s fingertips at full stretch.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The deluge of Chelsea chances continued five minutes later, as Eden Hazard raced past Jonny Evans inside the penalty area and cut the ball back toward Pedro atop the six-yard box. Craig Dawson intervened and cut out the cross but redirected it toward his own goal which Foster had long since vacated. If not for Claudio Yacob‘s clearance off the line, an own goal might have clinched the title.

Rondon threatened, again on the counter, in the 70th minute. For the first time in months, a scenario in which Chelsea might not win the title seemed to have presented itself as the Venezuelan raced past Chelsea’s backline before skying his effort well over the crossbar. Two minutes later, another West Brom counter presented Nacer Chadli a chance to help his former club, Tottenham, but the Belgian’s low, driven shot went just wide of Thibaut Courtois‘ right-hand post.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Michy Batshuayi broke the deadlock in the 82nd minute, when Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross found the Belgian striker inside the six-yard box. Batshuayi finish came from the slightest of touches, and Foster so nearly made the save, but the ball bounced underneath him and into the back of the net.

Zouma signs new Chelsea contract, is immediately loaned to Stoke City

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Kurt Zouma‘s long-term future is secure at Chelsea, but his short-term future will be away from Stamford Bridge.

The France international centerback signed a new six-year contract with Chelsea and was promptly sent out on a season-long loan to Stoke City. Zouma made just three starts and nine total appearances last season as he came back from a torn ACL suffered in February 2016.

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“It is fantastic Kurt has chosen to commit his future to Chelsea,” Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo said in a statement. “He has shown his talent since joining us three years ago, and has returned from a serious injury with a fantastic attitude.

“Now he has the opportunity to play regularly in the Premier League and we will be monitoring his progress closely while he is at Stoke.”

The move to Stoke will give Zouma a new experience, playing for a mid-table side in the Premier League, and it will be interesting to see where he fits in at centerback, battling with American Geoff Cameron and Englishman Ryan Shawcross.

Even with John Terry leaving the club, Zouma was likely to be second-choice in the back three for Chelsea and if he wants to make France’s squad for the 2018 World Cup, he’ll have to play regularly.

 

 

 

Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea

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Chelsea FC will have another Spanish international leading the front line, with Diego Costa likely on his way out of town.

The club announced that Alvaro Morata has completed a transfer from Real Madrid, signing a five-year contract at Stamford Bridge. The BBC reports the transfer fee at nearly $78 million.

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“I am so happy to be here,” Morata said in a statement. “It’s an incredible emotion to be part of this big club. I am looking to work hard, score as many goals as I can and to win as many trophies as possible.”

Morata emerged as an option to replace Costa after Romelu Lukaku decided on joining Manchester United over his former club Chelsea. Morata, who was a Manchester United target at first, then turned his sights on London after becoming disillusioned in Madrid, playing second-fiddle to Karim Benzema.

Despite not being first-choice up top, Morata scored 15 goals in 26 La Liga games and another three in the UEFA Champions League, which Real Madrid went on to win over Morata’s former club Juventus. Morata started for Juventus the last time the club had been in the Champions League final.

Despite being just 24, Morata is emerging as one of the world’s top forwards. He has nine goals in 19 games for the Spanish National Team and now is the right time for him to experience the challenge of the Premier League, where the games come thick and fast and the pace of the game is a step up from what he’s experienced in Spain and Italy.

However, the tactical knowledge he’s learned in both places should help him in England, where he can position himself between the opposing centerbacks.

 

Report: Neymar tells Barcelona teammates he’s off to PSG

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Brazilian star Neymar isn’t keeping his future plans under wraps, at least when it comes to his current club teammates.

According to a report in French newspaper Le Parisien, Neymar has started telling his Barcelona teammates that he’s intends to join Paris Saint-Germain. Spanish publication Marca meanwhile is reporting that Neymar’s teammates are trying to persuade him to stay in Catalonia for the season.

The Le Parisien report adds that certain officials at Barcelona believe the transfer is imminent and are resigned to losing one of their stars this summer. The report also said that it was a “decisive step” that Neymar was on board with the deal, going along with his father and agent.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

Rumors intensified over the past few days as reports emerged in Spain that Neymar had agreed on a contract with PSG, and all that was awaiting was PSG exercising Neymar’s release clause, worth nearly $260 million (€222 million). On paper, PSG’s Qatari owners can probably afford that tremendous sum but it still remains to be seen whether PSG will see this move over the line.

Should Neymar move, it would break transfer records for the price of the deal as well as shock the world, as Neymar seemed settled and happy in Barcelona playing alongside the likes of fellow South Americans Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Neymar and Barcelona are currently in New York training ahead of the club’s friendly match in the International Champions Cup against Juventus Saturday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Liverpool complete signing of Hull’s Robertson

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Liverpool has added to its defensive depth with the signing of one of Scotland’s bright young stars.

The club announced the signing of left back Andy Robertson for a reported $10.4 million, which can rise to $13 million with add-on clauses.

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Robertson made 33 appearances for Hull City last season in the Premier League, scoring a goal and assisting on two others. While Robertson is joining Liverpool, midfielder Kevin Stewart is heading the opposite direction, joining the Championship club for a reported $5.2 million.

Robertson will likely compete with Alberto Moreno for the starting left back position, and with Liverpool competing in the Premier League plus three cup competitions, depth at every position will be crucial when injuries and fatigue sets in.