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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.

Bayern signs Germany midfielder Goretzka from rival Schalke

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich signed Germany midfielder Leon Goretzka on Friday on a free transfer from Bundesliga rival Schalke effective from next season.

Bayern said the 22-year-old Goretzka signed a four-year deal from July 1 through June 2022.

Schalke, which Goretzka joined in 2013 from hometown club Bochum, said the player informed the club this week of his wish to join Bayern when his contract expired.

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“We think we did everything in the last months to convince Leon to stay with us,” Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel said. “In the end, it wasn’t enough.”

Schalke had long been engaged in trying to get Goretzka to extend his contract, but was aware of reported interest from Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Liverpool.

“We’re very happy that Leon Goretzka, a German international with big potential, has decided in favor of Bayern despite big-name international competitors. This way it’s ensured that Leon Goretzka remains in the Bundesliga,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.

Goretzka scored 19 goals and set up 13 more in 130 appearances for Schalke.

The club had previously expressed its displeasure with Bayern making public statements about its player after Goretzka was praised by sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic and coach Jupp Heynckes.

Heidel said “we don’t need to hear every day from the Munich people how good our player is.”

Goretzka has six goals in 12 games for Germany.

Pele hospitalized overnight in Brazil

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The most famous soccer player in the world had a scare last night as he was hospitalized in Brazil for “severe exhaustion.”

Pele, 77, was set to travel to London this weekend to be honored by the Football Writers Association, though it looks like that trip has now been postponed.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, Pele collapsed and was taken to a hospital in Brazil where he has undergone a series of tests which appear to point to severe exhaustion,” a FWA statement said. “He remains on fluids while doctors monitor his recovery.

“Thankfully, there is no suggestion of anything more serious than exhaustion.”

Here’s to hoping Pele makes a full recovery.

[MORE: USMNT centerback heads to Championship club]

USMNT centerback Carter-Vickers heads to Ipswich Town on loan

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Cameron Carter-Vickers has a new club to call home for the next five months or so after a rough first half of the season.

Tottenham announced Friday morning that it had loaned the U.S. Men’s National Team centerback to Championship club Ipswich Town for the rest of the season. Carter-Vickers spent the first five months of the season at fellow Championship side Sheffield United, starting 17 times though he struggled recently as Sheffield won just one game he played in during the month of December, losing three and drawing one.

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Carter-Vickers was then recalled earlier this week and now has a new home with a mid-table Championship club, with a new chance to impress. Hopefully Carter-Vickers can recover his form and continue to grow, potentially latching on to another Premier League side next year or breaking into the Tottenham first team.

There’s another interesting American tie-in to this. Carter-Vickers appears to be a short-term replacement for Ipswich Town’s Tommy Smith, who the club states is headed to join the Colorado Rapids ahead of the 2018 MLS season.

Sanchez, Mkhitaryan transfer still up in the air

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The player-swap/trade/transfer between Arsenal and Manchester United still appears to be heading towards completion, but it was further delayed Friday.

Multiple reports in England state that while Alexis Sanchez seems set to move to Manchester United, Henrik Mkhitaryan has yet to agree to move the other way, as talks between the player’s agent and Arsenal continue. Mkhitaryan was seen training at Manchester United’s practice facility on Friday, and because the latest delay, both players would be unable to debut for their new teams this weekend after missing the Premier League registration deadline.

[MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks]

Arsenal hosts Crystal Palace Manchester United travels to Burnley, both on Saturday at 10 a.m. (Watch Arsenal live on CNBC, Manchester United live on NBCSN, and both live on NBCSports.com)

The London Evening Standard reports that Mkhitaryan would command a $242,000-per-week salary but that as of Friday morning he had yet to undergo a medical for the transfer. Arsenal reportedly still wants a transfer fee included for Sanchez, while Manchester United would prefer to just swap the two players.

It’s also looking as if that won’t be Arsenal’s only business in the transfer market. While it seemed like a far-fetched rumor at first, the links between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Arsenal have only grown stronger in the past few days, and the Gabon international appears to be in the Gunners sights. It appears that Bordeaux’s young striker Malcolm is now off the table.