Danny Drinkwater

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Report: Kante, Drinkwater to reunite at Chelsea vs. Man United

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From Leicester City to Chelsea, N'Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater are finally set to be reunited on the field.

According to a report from The Guardian, Chelsea manager Antonio Conte is set to bring back the title-winning partnership in central midfield as a way to shakeup the lineup following a 3-0 bashing at Roma midweek. Drinkwater has made just three appearances this season for Chelsea after rehabbing from a calf injury that he suffered prior to his deadline-day move.

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If Drinkwater does start alongside Kante in midfield, it could mean a move to the bench for Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoué Bakayoko or a change in formation. Chelsea has continued to use Conte’s preferred 3-4-3 formation but the Blues have struggled when Cesar Azpilicueta plays as a wing back instead of with the centerbacks. That was the case at Roma, when Antonio Rudiger played in central defense.

With Manchester City nine points ahead in the standings, Chelsea’s margin of error in the Premier League has dropped significantly. Perhaps the return of a Kante-Drinkwater partnership can help Chelsea find its mojo again.

Rudiger, Willian score, Drinkwater debuts as Chelsea advances (video)

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Antonio Rudiger and Willian scored to lead Chelsea past Everton 2-1 on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge, pushing the Blues into the quarterfinals of the League Cup.

Danny Drinkwater‘s made his Chelsea debut, but it was Rudiger headed across goal and over a jumping Jordan Pickford to give the Blues a first half lead. Willian was lively for most of the match, and worked a 1-2 with Cesc Fabregas to add to the lead in the second minute of second half stoppage.

They’d need it, as Dominic Calvert-Lewin answered back within minutes of restart after some solid work from Oumar Niasse.

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Everton got into the swing of things to start the second half, and Drinkwater received warm applause when departing after 61 minutes for Cesc Fabregas.

Wily Caballero made an outstanding save on Kevin Mirallas, whose slip in attempting a 69th minute shot may have somehow made it trickier to parry.

Willian and Calvert-Lewin traded goals in second half stoppage to provide some late thrills.

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PL Preview: Chelsea vs. Watford

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  • Chelsea are without N'Golo Kante, Victor Moses (both hamstring) and Danny Drinkwater (calf) is still absent.
  • Watford remain without Younes Kaboul and Sebastian Prodl (both thigh), plus long-term absentees Craig Cathcart, Nathaniel Chalobah and Isaac Success (all knee).
  • Watford have not won against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge since 1986, but the Hornets have won 10 points of a possible 12 on the road. 
  • Chelsea have lost three of their first eight matches this season. No team has ever lost this many of their opening eight matches and still won the Premier League title.

Watford heads south for another London derby with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Hornets have had an amazing start to the season and currently occupy fourth place on 15 points, two points ahead of fifth-place Chelsea, which has lost two-straight Premier League games. The Blues have struggled without N’Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata and there have been reports of grumbles from the squad about dissatisfaction with Antonio Conte‘s training methods, but the Chelsea coach has brushed those rumors off.

Meanwhile Watford is coming off a confidence-boosting win last weekend against fellow Londoners Arsenal, and the club is looking to take down another big club for a second-straight week.

What they’re saying

Watford manager Marco Silva on his team’s start“I want everybody to be really calm. We did really in the first eight matches but it’s too early. We want to continue to work hard every day. Everything changes fast and you need to keep going and treat the next game as the most important. But of course I feel proud.”

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte on being under pressure: “‘Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

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Prediction

Chelsea has its back against the wall but the team’s overall quality should be enough to see them through with all three points against Watford. The Hornets luck runs out in Stamford Bridge as Chelsea hold on for a late win. Chelsea 2-1 Watford

Chelsea facing lineup nightmare as they limp into Champions League play

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With the 2017-18 campaign just two months old, Chelsea has been rocked by injuries, potentially ruining Antonio Conte‘s ability to piece together his famed 3-5-2 lineup that saw the Blues storm to the Premier League title last season.

N'Golo Kante‘s absence thanks to a hamstring injury has seen his midfield torn apart at times, including against lowly Crystal Palace as Chelsea slumped to defeat to the then-pointless Eagles. Fellow former Fox Danny Drinkwater also sits, having yet to make his Chelsea debut with a calf injury vexing the England international thus far.

Wing-back Victor Moses, who has become a star at a position nobody could have seen him excelling at, is also sidelined with a bum hamstring and must be replaced. The Italian boss could call in deadline day signing Davide Zappacosta to fill the role, but it’s not that simple.

[ WRAP: A complete rundown of Tuesday’s Champions League action ]

Complicating matters greatly, Conte has the opposite situation to navigate along his back line. A pair of poor performances in league play has his defense suddenly under fire, thanks to the good form of his replacements who are pushing for more time on the field. With both Antonio Rudiger and young Andreas Christensen putting in solid performances when called upon, there is suddenly increasing chatter that they should be given starts ahead of Gary Cahill, David Luiz, and Cesar Azpilicueta.

Thankfully for Conte, he can once again call upon the services of talisman striker Alvaro Morata, not worrying about the poor form of Michy Batshuayi who had such a bright start to the season.

[ PREVIEW: A full look at Wednesday’s Champions League slate ]

So, his options are thus: he could either call in Davide Zappacosta to fill Victor Moses’s role without changing the base 3-5-2 with Morata and Pedro up high, leaving Rudiger and Christensen on the bench while hoping that Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas can manage in midfield better than against Crystal Palace. Or, he could shuffle the deck completely and shift to another formation.

Another option presented is a 3-4-3, with Morata by himself in the middle flanked by Willian and Pedro, leaving the central midfield pairing even more exposed. However, that option allows the possibility of patching that midfield by pushing David Luiz or even Rudiger forward, allowing another defender to see the field likely in place of Fabregas. That puts more creative duties on Bakayoko’s plate, or sees the Frenchman fall to the bench, although swapping the defensive midfielder for a central defender seems to have little benefit.

These lineup choices are of the utmost importance as Chelsea meets AS Roma in Champions League play on Wednesday, because a victory would give them a perfect nine points out of nine, leaving them with tons of wiggle-room with three matches remaining. That five-point cushion would present the Blues with the ability to rotate the squad moving forward, a luxury so desperately needed with the injury problems and questions to sort out at the back. That could be invaluable not only to Chelsea’s Champions League standing but also their increasingly questionable Premier League health as the Manchester clubs continue to show stunning form at the top of the table.

PL Sunday preview: Chelsea host Arsenal; Rooney returns to OT

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Gigantic top-four implications in game no. 1, and a “real legend” returns to his old haunt in game no. 2 — Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures are nothing short of must-see TV.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City unstoppable; Liverpool, Spurs held ]

Chelsea vs. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

This is Arsenal’s new reality, six times minimum this season: Thursday night Europa League, followed by an even greater challenge, PL opposition, less than 72 hours later. Suffice to say, much rides on Arsene Wenger‘s side re-establishing themselves as a Champions League club next season. Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge, where the Gunners will take on the defending champions in fine form (three straight wins after an opening-day defeat), is the type of game in which they’ve squandered what might be seen as “bonus” points in recent seasons.

Sunday could also see the return of Eden Hazard to the starting lineup, quite an untimely occurrence from Arsenal’s vantage point. After playing the final 30 minutes of Tuesday’s CL thrashing of Qarabag, the Belgian superstar is nearing full fitness after three months on the sideline due to a broken ankle suffered in early June.

“For sure he’s improving,” Conte said. “Having this patience with him is paying off. He is very close to being totally fit. We have to continue in this way. I have to make the best decision for the team and the players, but he is improving a lot and is very close to being 100 percent fit.”

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: Danny Drinkwater (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Francis Coquelin (hamstring), Santi Cazorla (achilles); PROBABLE: Aaron Ramsey (knock), Mesut Ozil (knock)

[ MORE: Guardiola salutes Aguero’s brilliance, but has one complaint ]

Manchester United vs. Everton — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Not only does Sunday’s meeting between Manchester United and Everton mark the return of Wayne Rooney to Old Trafford, the arena in which he thrilled and dazzled for 13 years, but also Romelu Lukaku‘s first clash with his former club following his $97-million transfer this summer. Familiarity (typically) breeds contempt, though Sunday should prove a joyous reunion for so many familiar faces.

After essentially swapping frontmen in the summer, the start of the 2017-18 season has produced drastically different sets of results for Man United and Everton. Take, for example, Toffees boss Ronald Koeman, who’s already feeling a bit of pressure after spending nearly $180 million this summer.

“It is not the time or the place to criticize the players,” Koeman said. “I have to criticize myself because the team was not prepared. It is a big lesson. I thought that was happening after the third goal against Tottenham at the weekend but I need to ask myself the question what I did wrong.”

As for Jose Mourinho’s men, for the first time since the Portuguese took over last summer, all is well at Old Trafford. Back in the CL (where they’re flying high) and battling with Chelsea and Manchester City in the race for the PL title, last week’s 2-2 draw away to Stoke City is the still-young season’s only blemish. Lukaku has already paid off in the form of five goals (four in the PL), while the youthful duo of Anthony Martial (21 years old) and Marcus Rashford (19) each have a pair of PL goals to their name. United, along with no one other than Man City, have conceded just twice this season.

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (hamstring), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Luke Shaw (fitness), Marcos Rojo (knee) | Everton — OUT: Ross Barkley (back), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), James McCarthy (knee), Yannick Bolasie (knee)