Three things learned: Chelsea v. Tottenham

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur beat Chelsea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday to end a 28-year wait for a win at their London rivals.

Alvaro Morata put Chelsea ahead in the first half but Christian Eriksen‘s stunner saw Spurs equalize right on half time and two calm finishes from Dele Alli in the second half set Spurs on their way to a historic win, their first in the Premier League era at Chelsea.

Here’s what we learned from a pivotal day in the top four race in a London derby at the Bridge.


DELE ALLI TAKES OVER FOR KANE

Both Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son had helped fill the void left by Harry Kane before Sunday. At Chelsea it was Dele Alli who stood tall as he scored twice in the second half to turn the game on its head.

Dele, 21, scored a sublime first goal on his 100th Premier League appearance for Tottenham as he collected a long ball over the top as delicate as an ice sculptor chiseling the final detail of their latest masterpiece before finishing with aplomb.

His second was a predatory strike, straight out of Kane’s locker, as he hung around in the box and waited for a loose ball to break to him before finishing to make it 3-1.

Eriksen’s equalizer right on half time was crucial as the Danish playmaker spanked home from distance and helped drag Spurs back into the encounter. But it was Alli who did the most damage as he regained the form which saw him win the PFA Young Player of the Year award in each of his first two season in the PL.

After being left out of England’s starting lineups for their recent internationals, Alli seems to have got the message loud and clear. He delivered a timely reminder why he is rated as the top attacking midfield talent 21 and under in Europe.

He stood tall when Tottenham needed him most to all but secure their top four spot as Spurs are the only PL team who remain unbeaten in 2018 with eight wins and three draws. On course for a third-straight top four finish as they will now certainly bring Champions League action into the new White Hart Lane next season, Kane’s goals have been a big part of their success. But Dele Alli, Eriksen and Son have all stepped up when Kane has been missing and on Sunday it was Alli’s turn.


TOTTENHAM RUB SALT IN CONTE’S WOUNDS

This wasn’t the final nail in Antonio Conte‘s coffin at Chelsea, but it was one of the final nails.

Chelsea have now lost five of their last seven games and although they impressed in the first half against Tottenham, they squandered several chances with Marcos Alonso and Willian denied and seemed to be in total control of the game until Eriksen’s stunner on half time.

As for Conte, the Italian coach hasn’t wanted to be around in West London all season long and this defeat for fifth-place Chelsea means they are now eight points off the top four with seven games to go. In other words, Chelsea’s hopes of finishing in the top four are over.

Chelsea’s season is now all but over as their focus will switch to winning the FA Cup. Of course they will try and win their remaining games but this was a massive blow for Conte and should only accelerate either his own departure from Stamford Bridge or at least the plans for life without him from this summer on.

Just under 12 months on from securing the PL title, Conte’s second, and probably his last season, at Chelsea is descending into a huge disappointment.


MORATA REGAINS MOJO

Early on he lost a few aerial challenges against Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen and there were rumblings of discontent among the home supporters. Overall, Alvaro Morata has his mojo back.

The Spanish striker made the most of a mistake from Hugo Lloris to calmly nod Chelsea ahead as he continued his good run of form following a back injury and a dip in confidence which threatened to derail his debut Premier League season.

When Romelu Lukaku went to Manchester United and Morata went to Chelsea in the summer, the debate was around who got the better deal. There’s no question that Lukaku has had a better season than Morata in terms of goals (he has 25 in all competitions to Morata’s 14) or his importance to his team.

But long term, could Morata deliver more than Lukaku?

His hold up play, like Lukaku’s still needs to improve, but he was winning flick ons and making much more of a nuisance of himself than he had done previously. He could have got a shot away early in the second half before Spurs and Dele Alli turned on the magic as a lack of confidence reared its head again, but Morata is showing signs of recovery which will be a positive for Chelsea next season.

With two goals in his last two games, Morata is back to the player Chelsea and Conte thought they had signed to not only replace Diego Costa up front but to improve in that area.

Benitez happy to stay at Newcastle if he “has the tools to compete”

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Rafa Benitez is approaching something vaguely resembling sainthood in the northeast of England — with the Newcastle United-supporting portion, at least — but his future remains in doubt as the end of the current Premier League season draws nearer and the next one approaches.

[ MORE: Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the year award ]

Benitez and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have endured an unhappy working relationship for much of Benitez’s 25 months at the club. The Spaniard was true to his word, though, when he stuck around another season after being relegated from the PL in 2016, then again after winning promotion on the Magpies’ first attempt, but he’ll be faced with the same dilemma again this summer, even after guiding Newcastle to a mid-table finish (they currently sit 10th with five games left to play).

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

If he’s not given assurances that he’ll be handed the necessary funds to properly strengthen his squad during the upcoming summer transfer window, the 58-year-old could very well walk away and leave Ashley to play the part of all-too-familiar villain. Or, as Benitez put it this weekend, Ashley could fork over “the tools to be capable of competing” and make everyone, from the manager to the fans, happy — quotes form the Guardian:

“If they [Ashley’s representatives] want to talk to my people [about a new contract,] they can talk. The main thing is to be sure we share the same ambition.

“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.

“We have to be sure to have all the tools to compete and achieve what we want to achieve because Newcastle is a massive football club and we want it to reach its potential.”

Of course, the perfect scenario for everyone involved would have been for any one of the numerous takeover bids to have gone through during the last two years, but as was most recently evidenced earlier this year, Ashley and the Toon can’t seem to quit each other just yet.

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

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Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United

Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the Year award

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LONDON (AP) Mohamed Salah has been voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals in English football in recognition of an incredible scoring return to the Premier League with Liverpool.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

The Egypt forward collected the Professional Footballers’ Association award at a ceremony in London on Sunday, two days before Liverpool’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

It is a reunion with the Italian club he left in the offseason for 42 million euros (then $47 million). The hefty fee appeared to be a gamble for Liverpool but now represents a real bargain.

The former Chelsea player has scored 41 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool – enabling him to beat Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in second place to the PFA award.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane was third.

[ MORE: Man City thrash Swansea in pursuit of points record ]

“It’s a big honor,” Salah said. “I’ve worked hard and I’m very happy to win it.”

Salah is preparing to lead Egypt into its first World Cup in 28 years and he is the first player from the North African nation to win English football’s top individual prize.

“Hopefully I’m not the last one,” he said. “I’m very proud to win and I’ve worked very hard.”

Salah’s impact has been more remarkable given his underwhelming 2014-15 season at Chelsea before being offloaded by then-manager Jose Mourinho. He went on loan to Fiorentina in early 2015 and Roma in 2016, and then on a permanent basis to Roma in August 2016.

Scoring 15 goals and setting up 11 more for Roma convinced Liverpool to bring Salah back to a second spell in England.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw West Brom in final tune-up before UCL semis ]

His goal at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was his 31st in the league this season, tying the scoring record in a 38-game campaign held by Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Luis Suarez.

Suarez was the last Liverpool player to be crowned player of the year by the PFA in 2014 before moving to Barcelona.

It’s a sign of his remarkable impact that Salah secured the award with third-place Liverpool and that none of Manchester City’s newly crowned champions won the accolade.

But City winger Leroy Sane was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.

The PFA women’s player award went to Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, while Lauren Hemp of Bristol City secured the young player prize.

CONCACAF cancels women’s U-17 tournament due to violence

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) CONCACAF has canceled the rest of its 2018 Women’s Under-17 Championship following violence in Managua, Nicaragua, where the tournament began Thursday.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football made the announcement Sunday. The tournament was to have determined the region’s qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay, which starts Nov. 13.

More than two dozen people have been killed since Wednesday according to the independent Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, though the government had acknowledged only nine dead. Dozens of shops in Managua were looted during protests and disturbances sparked by government social security reforms.

The U.S. opened Friday with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and had been scheduled to play Bermuda on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday.