Three things we learned from Chelsea v Man United

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LONDON — Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as the Blues breathed new life into their Premier League campaign.

[ MORE: Rivalry renewed – Conte v Mourinho ]

Alvaro Morata’s second half header was enough to beat Jose Mourinho’s men with United starting the game well but then pinned back by Chelsea after the opening 30 minutes.

The win sees Chelsea move just one point behind second-place United heading into the international break, while Manchester City’s lead at the top of the table has now been increased to eight points.

Here’s what we learned from a lively encounter in west London.


MORATA A MENACE

Even though he was adjudged to have fouled Phil Jones early on as the United center back shanked a clearance into his own net to score a spectacular own goal, Alvaro Morata had set the tone early.

The Spaniard was a menace for United’s defense all afternoon.

After his comments during the week to the Italian media which seemed to suggest he wasn’t enjoying life in London, Morata needed a big display. He delivered.

Morata’s towering header from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross — the fifth time he and his countryman have linked up this season for a goal and an assist — won the game for Chelsea to lift some of the growing gloom around Antonio Conte‘s side following their 3-0 shellacking at AS Roma on Tuesday in the Champions League.

Morata had missed chances at Roma and at Bournemouth in recent weeks but despite his wastefulness he has eight goals in 15 games for Chelsea. Not a bad ratio for a striker still adjusting to life in the PL.

More impressive than his goal was Morata’s ability to bully United’s defense. In the first half he charged into Jones with a good old fashioned shoulder barge and sent the bustling United center back to the ground.

At times this season Morata’s inability to mix it up in the Premier League has been questioned. As a direct replacement for Diego Costa (a man who “mixed it up” for a living) Morata was said to be soft. On Sunday he was not with the only blot on his copybook getting it all wrong as he raced in on goal in stoppage time when he only had David De Gea to beat.


UNITED TOO CONCERNED WITH CHELSEA

Eden Hazard was a marked man on Sunday with Phil Jones, Ander Herrera and Eric Bailly rotating the man-marking job on Chelsea’s playmaker.

Despite early promise where Romelu Lukaku had a smart turn and shot saved and then Marcus Rashford nodded just over, United were never in the game after the opening 30 minutes. Don’t let the scoreline fool you.

Mourinho was ushering Bailly to step high on Hazard when United had the ball in Chelsea’s half from the very first whistle.

Once again, in a big game, United’s approach was too defensive and this time they didn’t get the result they wanted.

After a 0-0 draw at Liverpool and a 1-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur, Mourinho’s defensive masterclass didn’t work against Chelsea.

Maybe if he focused more on getting the ball to Lukaku and Rashford and involving Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the game they’d have forced the issue more than they did. Lukaku was a spectator for most of this game and will no doubt receive plenty of criticism for once again not delivering in a big game against a top six side, but he had little to no service.

Then again, this was a Mourinho team set up to play away from home in a defensive formation with Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia at wing back, three center backs and two holding midfielders. What else did we expect?


KANTE CONTINUES TO MAKE CHELSEA TICK

The last month has been a long one for Chelsea. That’s because they’ve been without N'Golo Kante.

In the six games Chelsea were without Kante in October, they only kept one clean sheet.

Kante, the reigning PFA Player of the Year, returned from a hamstring injury on Sunday and dominated midfield. The French international was everywhere, snapping at the heels of Lukaku and Rashford whenever they dropped back and stepping into defensive gaps when Gary Cahill or Azpilicueta surged forward.

He also kept Nemanja Matic (who has been a pivotal figure for United since he transfer from Chelsea in the summer) quiet as the diminutive Frenchman dominated in midfield.

We all know how important Kante is but his first lengthy injury spell of the last two seasons since he arrived in the PL proved it.

Chelsea are a completely different team with Kante in midfield and their defensive solidity is down to him. No one player makes a team but one player can make a heck of a difference. See: Kante, N’Golo.

Premier League preview: Man United vs. Newcastle United

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  • Red Devils unbeaten in 31 of last 32 home fixtures vs. Newcastle
  • Newcastle winless in its last six PL matches
  • Lukaku hasn’t scored in United’s last seven games

Manchester United hosts Newcastle United on Saturday from Old Trafford (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) as the Red Devils could potentially welcome back several of it biggest stars for the match.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Marcos Rojo could return for Jose Mourinho’s side this weekend, as Man United looks to bounce back from its 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on Nov. 5.

The ex-Sweden international Ibrahimovic hasn’t appeared in a match since April 2017, after being United’s top goalscorer a season ago.

The Red Devils will have to deal with the absence of Phil Jones at the back, though, as the England international misses out on the match with a thigh injury.

Newcastle will be without Christian Atsu and Jamaal Lascelles, which certainly hurts the squad’s attack, while Mikel Merino and Paul Dummett remain sidelined with respective injuries.

What they’re saying

Jose Mourinho, on Paul Pogba’s status:  “I can say now because he’s back – I don’t like to speak while he’s injured – you can clearly see there is a Manchester United this season before Paul’s injury and after Paul’s injury. There are qualities in our football, qualities that influence our approach in matches, with Pogba and without Pogba. Simple as that.”

Rafa Benitez, on growing pains of being a young side“We are a newly-promoted club that has to settle down in the Premier League. We have a young squad, so it’s a learning process for everyone and losing some games is part of the process. Hopefully we can stop that this weekend, but we know it has to be like this. We have to think that the target is to stay in the Premier League, then after try to go as high as we can in the table.”

Prediction

Newcastle has had its share of struggles this season, and running into a Man United side that is gaining full fitness is a dangerous task. The Red Devils are a tough squad to beat at home, so Rafa Benitez and Co. have their hands full. Man United 2-0 Newcastle

Luiz back in Chelsea squad after being dropped by Conte

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David Luiz‘s pair of stints at Chelsea have been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride of emotions — joyous highs and painful lows.

[ MORE: Pogba, Zlatan back form injuries; available this weekend ]

After returning to the club for a second time in the summer of 2016, Luiz instantly slotted into Antonio Conte‘s three-man backline and was a pivotal part of the Blues’ title-winning team last season.

Much like the second half of his first four seasons at Chelsea, Luiz’s second season (the second time around) has started so hotly. After playing eight of the first 10 games during Chelsea’s ongoing title defense, Luiz was unexpectedly dropped from the squad for the victory over Manchester United.

Now, two weeks later, Conte has announced that Luiz has rejoined the squad and is available for selection when his side visits West Brom on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) — quotes from the Guardian:

“David Luiz is in the squad, yes. [His exclusion] was a technical decision. When it’s a technical decision every player has to react well and accept my decision. It’s normal, this.

“I like to speak about the team and the next game that we have to pay attention to. This is the most important thing, not speaking about a single player. I repeat: I don’t like to speak about a single player.”

Pogba, Zlatan, Rojo return from injuries for Man Utd-Newcastle

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The only saving grace when it comes to injuries is that, eventually (usually), players recover from them and return to the team.

[ MORE: 2018 World Cup Power Rankings — who comes out on top? ]

It’s been a long seven months for the soccer world to be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic (torn ACL on April 20), just as it’s been a painfully long 10 weeks for Manchester United fans following Paul Pogba‘s hamstring injury on Sept. 12. Man United have dropped eight points during the latter’s absence and now coincidentally sit eight points behind Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

A bit of good news on this Friday: United manager Jose Mourinho announced today that the dynamic duo, along with defender Marcos Rojo (knee ligament damage on April 20) have returned to full fitness and will be available for selection during Saturday’s home clash with Newcastle United (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) — quotes from ManUtd.com:

“The players that stayed here and [were] recovering from injuries, even the ones that are recovering from big injuries, they are ready to play — Pogba, Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo.”

“[Ibrahimovic] made a full recovery. Now you cannot expect him to be ready to play 90 minutes or to be ready to play consecutive matches like he did all his career.

“Now he needs time to be back to his level, his fitness, his confidence, his sharpness, his everything. But, from the clinical point of view, to be good and ready is fantastic.”

2018 World Cup Power Rankings — 7 months B.W.C.

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209 days — that’s how long the world is still being made to wait for the opening game of the 2018 World Cup. It’s close, in that all 32 berths have been secured, but still so far, in that the draw is still two weeks away.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s 2018 World Cup coverage | USMNT | Premier League ]

Perhaps then, and only then, will it begin to feel really real.

According to our esteemed panelists — Joe Prince-Wright, Nicholas Mendola, Kyle Bonn, Matt Reed, Dan Karell and yours truly — four clear-cut favorites for the semifinals have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, followed by another six or eight sides with one half of their squad firing on all cylinders but some serious kinks to work out elsewhere.

[ MORE: Round 1 of the WC power rankings | Round 2 ]

Finally, the latest edition of PST’s 2018 World Cup Power Rankings, now featuring all 32 teams qualified for Russia…

Team Points Best Worst
1 (1) Germany 189 1 2
2 (2) Brazil 188 1 3
3 (4) Spain 177 3 5
4 (3) France 176 3 5
5 (8) Argentina 158 4 10
6 (5) Belgium 156 4 10
7 (7) Portugal 153 6 10
8 (11) England 150 5 12
9 (6) Uruguay 141 6 14
10 (9) Colombia 140 7 12
11 (10) Mexico 129 8 14
12 (12) Poland 125 10 14
13 (20) Croatia 118 7 20
14 (17) Switzerland 115 12 16
15 (NR) Sweden 92 16 19
16 (NR) Denmark 86 13 23
17 (NR) Serbia 83 9 28
18 (NR) Peru 80 15 25
19 (15) Iceland 79 15 24
20 (16) Japan 71 16 27
21 (NR) Egypt 66 18 27
22 (NR) South Korea 64 13 32
23 (NR) Senegal 63 17 26
24 (18) Nigeria 58 15 27
25 (19) Costa Rica 57 14 29
26 (NR) Morocco 48 18 29
27 (NR) Australia 45 22 30
28 (NR) Russia 36 20 32
29 (NR) Iran 34 22 31
30 (NR) Tunisia 30 23 31
31 (NR) Panama 19 28 32
32 (NR) Saudi Arabia 9 31 32