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Conte worried about “tired” Chelsea’s lackluster displays

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Chelsea have drawn three games on the spin 0-0 for the first time in club history.

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They are looking solid enough defensively but with so many talented attackers their drought at the other end is concerning Antonio Conte as he said his players are “tired” from their recent run of four games in the last 10 days.

Speaking after the 0-0 draw with 10-man Leicester City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, Conte didn’t want to blame star striker Alvaro Morata who has now gone five games without a goal for Chelsea.

“I don’t think it is only Morata’s problem, also the other players, because we are not scoring goals, we are not conceding, but we are not creating chances,” Conte said.

The Chelsea boss also pointed to many of his team playing in midweek in a tight 0-0 draw against Arsenal in the first leg of their League Cup semifinal.

“I think we played with a lot of top players against Arsenal, and then again today against a very good team. I think a lot of our players were tired,” Conte said. “In the first half Leicester ran more than us, they played better than us. But we knew we were playing against a good opponent, maybe the worst opponent we could have played in this moment. We suffered a lot in the first half.”

Conte’s goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, had to be at his best to keep out Leicester and he admitted that the Foxes were the better team and fatigue played a big factor for Chelsea.

“Obviously we wanted to win the game, and at the end with 10-men we pressed them, but for 70 minutes of the game they were the better team,” Courtois said. “Obviously we all feel a little bit tired, last year we went from week to week, but now we have already played a lot of games. But it’s not excuse, Leicester had more intensity than us and more aggression, they started very offensive and pressed us high up the pitch.”

Chelsea’s poor run of form in front of goal has coincided with Conte’s public spat with Jose Mourinho plus reports regarding his future at the club beyond the end of this season, which seem to be ramping up the pressure on the Italian boss.

This season was always going to be tough for Chelsea after the won the PL in Conte’s debut campaign and didn’t have the distraction of European action.

With Eden Hazard cooling off in recent weeks following his fine recent form, plus Morata’s much talked about cold spell and the big chances he continues to miss, these lackluster displays will do nothing to halt the rumors that Chelsea’s hierarchy are lining up Luis Enrique and Max Allegri to take over in the summer.

Conte failed to totally commit his future to Chelsea when speaking to the media on Friday and the lackadaisical play of his team on Saturday seemed to add to the air of uncertainty around the club. The players being tired has been a go-to answer for Conte this season with Chelsea’s squad stretched to compete in all four competitions.

Let’s get this straight, Chelsea, the reigning champions of England, are in the semifinal of the League Cup, still in the FA Cup and are in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League. Yes, they could fall 18 points behind PL leaders Man City, but their main battle now is all about finishing in the top four.

This seems like a small blip for Conte, but we all know that Chelsea and their owner, Roman Abramovich, act ruthlessly when blips occur.

It’s easy to imagine Conte not being in charge of Chelsea for the third and final year of his current contract.

Cologne’s Hector extends contract despite likely relegation

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COLOGNE, Germany (AP) Germany defender Jonas Hector has shunned reported interest from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund by extending his contract with Cologne – despite the club’s almost certain relegation from the Bundesliga.

Cologne, eight points from safety with three games remaining, says its 27-year-old captain has signed a two-year extension to 2023 instead of using a release clause in his contract.

Hector, who has been at the club since 2010, says, “It wouldn’t have been a problem to switch to another club after this season but it didn’t feel right for me. I belong to Cologne and want to tackle the new season with the team and the fans behind us.”

Cologne sporting director Armin Veh says Hector’s decision is, “a great signal for the team, the club and our fans.”

Klopp talks politics: “Brexit makes no sense”

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Jurgen Klopp isn’t a fan of Brexit and he doesn’t care who knows it.

Liverpool’s German manager has spoken in the past about his disdain towards the vote by British citizens to leave the European Union, with Brexit officially planned for March 2019.

Klopp sat down with the Guardian to chat about a whole host of topics but it was his political views which will get the headlines ahead of Liverpool’s huge UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg against AS Roma at Anfield on Tuesday.

The man who has Liverpool on the cusp of reaching a major European final and comfortably in the top four of the Premier League also admitted that he has a “helping syndrome” and wants to help out everyone and he cares about them greatly.

It is worth letting the words speak for themselves when it comes to Klopp’s comments on Brexit as it is clearly something else he cares a lot about.

Take it away, Jurgen…

“When Mr [David] Cameron had the idea [of a referendum] you thought: ‘This is not something people should decide in a moment.’ We are all influenced by the way only some of the argument is given, and once the decision is taken nobody gives you a real opportunity to change it again. The choice was either you stay in Europe, which is not perfect, or you go out into something nobody has any idea how it will work.

“So you give people the chance to make this big decision. And then it’s a 51-49 [51.9%-48.1%] vote and you’re thinking: ‘Wow, 49% are not happy with the decision that’s going to change the country.’ For the 51%, I’m sure they realized pretty early after the vote: ‘What have we done?’ The two leaders of the leave campaign then stepped aside. It was a pure sign they were surprised themselves by the vote. OK, that can happen. But then, come on, let’s sit together again. Let’s think about it again and let’s vote again with the right information – not with the information you’ve got around the Brexit campaign. They were obviously not right, not all of them. It makes no sense at all.”

“The EU is not perfect but it was the best idea we had. History has always shown that when we stay together we can sort out problems. When we split then we start fighting. There was not one time in history where division creates success. So, for me, Brexit still makes no sense.”

VIDEO: Napoli fans celebrate Juventus win

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It is safe to say Napoli’s fans were pretty happy with the 1-0 win their team secured at Juventus on Sunday.

Kalidou Koulibaly powered home a header in stoppage as Napoli moved just one point behind Juventus, who sit top of the Serie A table, with four games to go. The title race is well and truly on in Italy.

The scenes across Naples after the game were incredible and when the players arrived back at the airport at around 3 a.m. local time they were greeted by thousands of adoring fans.

Take a look at the video below. Wow.


Preview: Everton v. Newcastle

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  • Everton have won seven of their last eight games v Newcastle
  • Newcastle have won four PL games in a row
  • Wayne Rooney has more goals (15) against Newcastle than any other PL team

Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both setting pretty in midtable.

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The Toffees sit in ninth, with Newcastle in 10th and just one point behind Everton with a game in hand. Rafael Benitez has been lauded for taking his newly-promoted side into the top 10 with defensive solidity, while Sam Allardyce has been lambasted for a defensive style of play despite getting Everton out of a relegation fight following his appointment back in November.

In team news Everton have Mason Holgate and Gylfi Sigurdsson out injured, while Newcastle will be without Christian Atsu but Islam Slimani could make his first start.


What they’re saying 

Sam Allardyce on the job Rafael Benitez has done at Newcastle: “From a difficult period they have managed to recover and get in the Premier League and they have turned it around. They have put together a run of games and we’ll see a better Newcastle than we saw up there [when Everton won 1-0 in December]. Rafa has progressed very well. He has always expressed his disappointment with not enough funds – we can all say we don’t have enough funds. What he has managed with the funds he has, particularly in the January months, has been excellent.”

Rafael Benitez on his Newcastle future: “I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time. I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.”

Prediction
Two teams who are very similar in terms of their style of play should see a bit of a stalemate take place at Goodison. 1-1 draw, which is a much better result for Newcastle and will pile more pressure on Big Sam.