Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win vs. Everton

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LONDON — Chelsea had fun in the west London sun on Sunday as they breezed past a jaded Everton side 2-0.

[ MORE: Chelsea, Everton reveal transfer plans ]

First half goals from Cesc Fabregas and Alvaro Morata did the business for Antonio Conte‘s side who put in their best display of the embryonic Premier League season to right the ship ahead of the international break.

The reigning champs are almost back to their best.

Here’s what we learned from Stamford Bridge.


CHELSEA’S RAPID RECOVERY

Whether they were actually hurtling towards another season of turmoil can be debated, but the signs were not good for Chelsea over preseason and early in the campaign.

Things looked a lot better for Antonio Conte in the bright sunshine at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Those reports of him being the favorite to be the next PL boss to leave his position and Chelsea seeking out Thomas Tuchel to replace him all seem rather silly now.

On Sunday they showed why there are the reigning Premier League champions in a dominant display despite still missing plenty of key players like Eden Hazard, Gary Cahill and Diego Costa.

This recovery has been a rapid one.

On the opening day they lost 3-2 to Burnley in a bizarre game where they went down to nine men. They followed that up by beating Tottenham 2-1 at Wembley in a gritty, yet truncated display.

This performance suggested the Blues are back to their best and they could have won by a more comfortable margin had Morata, Pedro and Victor Moses converted second half chances.

Chelsea have recovered rapidly from what many were calling an early-season meltdown. In the final days of the transfer window it appears they will strengthen further with a tough UEFA Champions League group stage challenge coming up, but with star players to return and new signings Tiemoue Bakayoko, Morata and Antonio Rudiger settling in well, things are slowly but surely coming together for Chelsea.


STATIC MORATA DELIVERING

With two goals and two assists, all with his head, in his first two Premier League home games it is safe to say Alvaro Morata is settling in rather well at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea’s most-expensive signing took time to adapt after arriving from Real Madrid for $96.5 million in July but he was given a standing ovation as he was subbed off late on in Sunday’s win.

The scary thing is that Morata has plenty of room for improvement.

He doesn’t charge around like Diego Costa up top and Conte cajoled his Spanish international striker on multiple occasions to try and close down Everton’s defense when they had the ball.

Morata is arguably a much better finisher than Costa and his ability in the air is well-suited to Chelsea’s game with crosses coming in from Marcos Alonso, Willian, Pedro and Fabregas.

As he came off Morata looked either slightly miffed at being substituted or perhaps it was disappointment in his own display.

That proves he knows he can deliver a better all-around performance but while he irons out the kinks and gets used to leading the line in the PL it won’t do him any harm to keep scoring and assisting.


EVERTON’S STRIKER SHORTAGE

Everton boss Ronald Koeman cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines as Stamford Bridge sweltered in the afternoon sun.

His Toffees looked like a side which had played at Man City on Monday and then in the Europa League on Thursday before traveling back from Split, Croatia. In midfield they were sluggish with Tom Davies and Idrissa Gana Gueye giving the ball away and the former was hooked off at half time.

Jordan Pickford‘s kicking was off and center backs Michael Keane and Ashley Williams collided on more than one occasion as they tried to clear the ball. Simply put, it was an off day for an Everton side who looked to be feeling the effects of three away games in seven days.

Yet up front is where the biggest problem remains for Koeman.

In their first three PL games all they have is Wayne Rooney‘s two goals in his opening two PL games back at Everton. Sandro Ramirez cut an isolated figure up top on his own with Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson in support of him. Rooney was booked and looked agitated throughout as he snatched at a shot and was heckled by the home fans just a few days after announcing his retirement from the English national team. The hope is that Rooney’s England retirement would rejuvenate his club career and provide the goals Everton need to achieve their lofty ambitions.

They will need a lot more than that and reports linking them with an outrageous move for Chelsea’s wantaway striker Diego Costa seem far-fetched but given the financial muscle the Toffees have shown this summer nothing seems too outlandish at Goodison Park right now.

Koeman’s insistence that he still needs a striker in the final four days of the transfer window is legitimate. Rooney teed up Sandro in the second half but the Spaniard hesitated and had his shot blocked when clean through. Sigurdsson and others buzzed around but there was no cutting edge, no real threat up top in a narrow 3-4-2-1 formation for the Toffees.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ademola Lookman are top young talents who possess pace and can possible score 5-10 goals per season, at best. But if Everton are to challenge for the top four, as they hope to, they’ll need more than that.

There is a Lukaku-sized hole in Everton’s attack and no matter how many top-class attacking midfielders they have, they’ve simply lacked a cutting edge in the final third and weren’t near Chelsea’s box often enough.

Prince William’s dilemma: Royal Wedding clashes with FA Cup final

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The date for the Royal Wedding between Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle has been set and there’s a bit of a dilemma for Prince William: it’s on the same day as the 2017-18 FA Cup final on May 19, 2018.

Why does that matter?

William has been the president of the English Football Association for the last 10 years and he, along with other members of the Royal Family, usually attend the showpiece final at Wembley and hand out the trophy to the winning team.

Not this time.

With the date confirmed on Friday for the Royal Wedding takes place at Windsor Castle on May 19, specific times have yet been announced for the ceremony. Could that mean a late dash from the wedding to hand out the trophy at Wembley for Prince William? If his beloved Aston Villa make the final, maybe it’s not out of the question…

In a statement to the BBC, the FA had the following to say about the “fixture clash” in May:

“Everyone at The FA is delighted for HRH Prince Harry and Megan Markle with the announcement of their wedding at Windsor Castle next year. Saturday May 19 promises to be a wonderful day with a special royal occasion followed by English football’s showpiece event, the Emirates FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. With millions coming together to watch both events at home and around the world, it will be a day to celebrate.”

The life of a royal isn’t all fun and games…

Guardiola eyes January deals after winning Manager of Month

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Scary news: Manchester City are looking to improve in the January transfer window.

Pep Guardiola confirmed on Friday that Premier League leaders Man City will look to buy a new central defender in January.

City, currently on a record-breaking 15-game winning run and sitting 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League table, have Nicolas Otamendi, Vincent Kompany, Eliaquim Mangala and John Stones as their center backs, but both Stones and Kompany have been out injured recently.

Speaking to the media ahead of City’s clash with Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com), Guardiola revealed he is keen to add defensive reinforcements.

“We speak about (January signings) with the club and Txiki Begiristain (the club’s director of football),” Guardiola said. “We have just three guys in central defense. We don’t want to sign someone for a few months. We want to sign them for years and we have to make sure it’s the right guy.”

Who could come in?

Virgil Van Dijk and Jonny Evans were both linked with moves to Man City in the summer and it is an area of the pitch City clearly want to add in. Southampton have said that van Dijk will not be leaving this season but if a massive offer arrives in January then it may be tough for the struggling Saints to turn it down this time after VVD wanted to push through a move to Liverpool in the summer.

As for Evans, he is playing week in, week out at West Brom but his future remains far from clear with Arsenal and Man City both looking to add the former Manchester United center back in the summer.

Aside from transfer talk, Guardiola was also named the Premier League Manager of the Month for November earlier on Friday, with the Spaniard winning the award for the third-straight month.

Only Antonio Conte had achieved that feat in PL history before but City’s boss isn’t getting ahead of himself as many have already handed his team the 2017-18 Premier League title.

“Tomorrow is an important game. Spurs are so tough. Last season and this season. Nothing is going to change – we are not going to win the Premier League tomorrow, we are not going to lose it either,” Guardiola said. “It’s important to play better, that is the most important thing. The record will always stay there until one day it is broken. I am happy not with the results but the way we play. Statistics are good but I have the feeling we can be much, much better.”

Gulp. City being better than they already are? That is a scary thought…

Mourinho: Eric Bailly out; United may look to buy in January

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Jose Mourinho has revealed that Eric Bailly requires ankle surgery and will be out for up to three months for Manchester United.

The Ivorian center back has been missing since early November after suffering the injury on international duty.

Bailly, 23, hasn’t recovered as quickly as United would have liked and his injury is more serious than originally thought.

“He [Bailly] goes to surgery, the decision is made,” Mourinho told MUTV. “I don’t say (he’s out) for the rest of the season but it’s for the next two or three months.”

United have plenty of options at center back with Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo all around, but all three have been out with injuries during this season. That said, Bailly is by far United’s most consistent and reliable defender and having him out until February or March is a big blow for Mourinho.

As for the January transfer market, Mourinho may not go and buy a replacement for Bailly but he did hint at perhaps doing some business in the January even though he isn’t the biggest fan of the mid-season window.

“Not a big defender of the January market,” Mourinho said. “There are players and situations you have the chance to do and you shouldn’t lose them. I don’t like January market just to buy.”

United have been linked with a January move for Antoine Griezmann but Mourinho refused to comment on speculation linking the French international with a move to Old Trafford.

Griezmann looked set to move in the summer with United, Barcelona and PSG all interested in signing the striker, but with his manager at Atleti, Diego Simeone, saying that he will now be able to leave Atletico if the right offer comes in, surely United will be looking at bolstering their attack if the right deal can be done.

Buying in January, especially for a player of Griezmann’s caliber, usually comes at a premium but what if he has a great summer with France at the 2018 World Cup? His transfer value would surely rocket then.

With the Red Devils 11 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City, they will need something special to claw back points in the second half off the campaign. Griezmann’s arrival would make everyone sit up and take notice, even if United don’t exactly need to boost their attacking talent.

Simply put: if a player of Griezmann’s caliber becomes available, as it appears is the case, you need to pull out all of the stops to try and sign him.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s future at United appears to be over, so maybe if they can move the Armenian playmaker on and free up some cash to bring in Griezmann (a good friend of Paul Pogba) then a deal can be done. With Atleti not qualifying for the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League, it appears the Spanish club are willing to let Griezmann leave after he handled the summer of transfer speculation admirably and remained with the La Liga outfit during their transfer embargo and move to a new stadium.

Conte on “lucky” Man City; expects to “suffer” v. Southampton

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Antonio Conte appreciates Manchester City’s incredible recording breaking 15-game winning run but admits there is an element of luck helping out Pep Guardiola‘s men too.

[ MORE: Wenger on Ozil, Wilshere ]

Conte, who took Chelsea on a 13-game winning run last season before losing to Tottenham Hotspur on Jan. 4 when they could’ve equaled the previous record, is still hoping that his side can challenge for the title despite being 14 points behind Man City.

“They are a good team but to have 15 wins in a row, you must be also lucky because in many games they won in the last minutes. When you have this type of run, for sure, you must also be a bit lucky but they are deserving this,” Conte said.

Jose Mourinho also pointed to the “luck” being in Man City’s favor and it something which is said quite a lot when a team goes on an incredible winning run. But are City really “lucky” to have grabbed late wins against the likes of Bournemouth, Huddersfield, Southampton and West Ham throughout the run? Or do they just have players who are mentally focused and can deliver in key moments? It’s probably a mixture of those factors.

Conte then went on to say that his team could still defend their PL title despite City’s record-breaking start to the season.

“We must find the right way to contend the title. Not only us but Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool,” Conte said. “Time is moving on and they [Man City] are continuing to win. In the last nine game we won 7 games, drew one and lost one. The distance, the gap still improved for Manchester City. It is possible to draw away to Liverpool and lose one but now we are 14 points behind.”

So, that’s not so much a title concession from Conte but him pointing out that it will be very tough for his team to claw any points back on City. Still, it’s a little different from his comments after their loss at West Ham last weekend when he seemed to all but concede their title chances.

“So you’re saying there’s a chance….”

Heading into Chelsea’s game against Southampton at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) Conte also said he expects his team to suffer against Saints.

“Tomorrow will be very difficult,” Conte said. “Southampton are a good team with a lot of good young players with a great future and will make us suffer. They are a good team.”

In terms of Chelsea team news ahead of the game Conte revealed that David Luiz is suffering from swelling in his knee and has no return date set, while Alvaro Morata could return to the lineup after being left out for the midweek win at Huddersfield.

The Italian coach also said he will sit down with others at Chelsea to discuss potential targets in the January transfer window soon, but that the final decision on new players coming in was not his.