Conte challenges Eden Hazard to match Ronaldo, Messi

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Antonio Conte is high on Eden Hazard. Very high.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

With the Belgian wizard now back to full fitness following ankle surgery in the summer, Hazard whipped in a delightful cross for Alvaro Morata to head home as he played a pivotal role in Chelsea’s impressive 2-1 win away at Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League in midweek.

This doesn’t surprise Conte. At all.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s monster clash with title rivals Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) the Italian manager said he believes he can help Hazard reach the same levels as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

“In every game he finds a way to be decisive: to score or to make an assist for a team-mate. I love this from him, and I ask it of him because, [when it comes to] a player with his talent, it’s important to ask him to be decisive every game. If God gives you this talent, you must exploit it. My task is to try and push him to be decisive in every moment, in every game,” Conte said.

“Sometimes, if Eden scores one goal, he’s happy and then, if there is another situation, he prefers to make an assist rather than scoring twice. I see with Ronaldo that if he scores once, he wants two, three, four. It’s the same for Messi. So, yes, Eden can improve. It’s not about being selfish. I don’t like selfish players. I like players who are used to thinking about the team and are used to thinking about ‘us’, not ‘me’. Eden is not selfish. He’s a player who loves to play football. I like this behavior, this attitude. But, for sure, I like to repeat to him that in every game he must be decisive.”

So, the challenge is for Hazard to be selfish and raise his game to the same levels of Ronaldo and Messi. Doing so in the Premier League could be difficult, purely from goals and assists output, but Hazard’s impact on his Chelsea team can be the same, and has been the same, as the star duo Conte is challenging him to match.

Hazard is still just 26 years old and he is approaching his prime. He scored 14 goals in 34 PL appearances last season, his best-ever return in the PL where his previous best was 14 goals in each of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns.

The Belgian winger was voted as the PFA Player of the Year in 2014-15 and he recaptured that form last season to lead Chelsea to another Premier League title.

His next challenge is to lead Chelsea to European glory under Conte and the Italian manager knows he can do it. For Conte, and Chelsea’s fans, the fact that Hazard is back on board will make them believe anything is possible, especially given his burgeoning relationship with Alvaro Morata.

Landon Donovan unveiled by Club Leon

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Landon Donovan was unveiled to Club Leon fans at Estadio Leon on Monday night.

The former USMNT star and longtime LA Galaxy forward came out of retirement for the second time to sign with the Liga MX side this past weekend. Leon finished 7th in the Apertura table, losing to Tigres in the first round of the playoffs. They currently have a perfect six points through the first two Clausura matches, sitting second in the table with a +3 goal differential.

Fans were allowed into the stadium for free, and they packed the lower stand on one end, waving USA flags and holding large “L” and “D” cutouts, and the fans faced a massive board on the field that read “I DON’T BELIEVE IN WALLS.” Chants of “U-S-A” rang out through the stadium before the unveiling.

ESPN reporter Tom Marshall pointed out that the last time the club had such a large event to welcome a player, it was in January of 2013 when the club brought Mexico captain Rafa Marquez in from the New York Red Bulls.

Donovan will don the number 20 for Club Leon.

Report: Rimando to return to RSL

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USMNT veteran and current MLS free agent Nick Rimando will reportedly return to Real Salt Lake for a 12th season with the club, according to a report by Goal.com’s Ives Galarcep.

The report states he received interest on the free agent market from both Los Angeles clubs, but the 38-year-old will return to the club he has made 350 appearances for.

Rimando came to Real Salt Lake from D.C. United in 2006, and has made at least 24 league appearances in every single season since. He has also made 22 playoff appearances for the club across eight playoff campaigns.

He last received a USMNT cap in January of 2017 in a friendly against Serbia, but was part of the 2018 World Cup qualification squad throughout 2017 backing up Tim Howard. Overall, Rimando has played 22 times for the US national team, with 14 goals conceded and nine clean sheets.

The report also states that Kyle Beckerman will return to Rio Tinto Stadium, with the veteran also testing the free agent waters but deciding to re-sign. The pair will be two of just four players left on the roster from the 2009 MLS Cup winning team.

Report: Aubameyang hands in transfer request at Dortmund

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According to German publication Bild, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has handed a transfer request to the Borussia Dortmund hierarchy.

Arsenal is the latest club linked with the Gabonese striker, with reports earlier this month of a deal to send Aubameyang to China. He has reportedly asked to leave Dortmund multiple times this January, and has been turned down thus far, and it’s causing problems. Aubameyang was suspended by the club for one match for missing a meeting last week, a match that ended in a goalless draw with Wolfsburg.

[ MORE: Man United, Chelsea battle for Alexis Sanchez ]

“We had a very heated discussion,” said Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc after the suspension was announced. “He hasn’t behaved like this for years, he’s always been very professional. What has happened is very tolerable, there will be some fines, too. It’s not necessary to talk about a transfer, but it’s clear that things can’t continue like this because some important things are in jeopardy, and that there is tension inside the squad.”

The price tag, according to recent reports, would be around $76 million, and he would be purchased with money from the likely outgoing transfer of Alexis Sanchez.

Arsenal transfer guru Sven Mislintat is reportedly driving the deal, having signed Aubameyang at Dortmund during his days as a scout from Westfalinstadion. However, there is buzz among the British media that Arsene Wenger is unimpressed by Aubameyang’s recent insubordination and has expressed his concerns.

Emre Can says new Liverpool contract still a possibility

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Liverpool midfielder Emre Can is out of contract this summer, but says he could still sign back on at Anfield despite heavy rumors of his departure.

Still just 24 years old, the German came over from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer of 2014 and has improved in each of his four years at Liverpool, flourishing under Jurgen Klopp as a strong passer and versatile player who can be used in midfield or defense. With that, he has reportedly turned down a number of new contract offers, and Juventus is reportedly in the lead to sign him to a free transfer.

[ MORE: Arsenal should follow Liverpool’s rebuilding example ]

Can is eligible to sign a pre-contract agreement with anyone from now until the end of the season, but he says that doesn’t mean he will leave.

“My agent is looking after everything but I am here until the summer,” Can said. “I haven’t signed anything with anyone. I am talking with everyone. Of course I am talking with Liverpool. Why not? I still have a contract here. It is an amazing club. What can I say? My agent does the rest. I just concentrate on the scene, on my performance and the football. I will give everything for this team.”

The loss of Philippe Coutinho this winter is an obvious blow to the Reds, but an argument could be made that the loss of Can would hurt just as much if not more, as stout defensive midfielders are hard to come by. However, the arrival of Naby Kieta this summer could ease the blow of the German’s potential departure. Should Can stay, partnering with Keita in midfield could prove masterful as Liverpool looks to continue building towards a title challenge. Currently, Can has paired with Giorgino Wijnaldum in Liverpool’s midfield in recent weeks, and the club is on a five-match win streak that has seen them shoot into third place in the Premier League table.