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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.

Morata: London is stressful; “I would never have left Juve”

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If you see Alvaro Morata in a pub in London anytime soon, give him a hug.

[ MORE: Lukaku defended by Mourinho ]

Morata, 25, has been talking about life in England’s capital city after his summer transfer from Real Madrid and it’s safe to say he is still adjusting.

Speaking to Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, Morata revealed he finds life in London a little too stressful and also waxed lyrical about Italy (where his wife is from) as Chelsea prepare to play AS Roma in a UEFA Champions League clash on Tuesday.

“I’m fine. I live in downtown Chelsea. London fascinates me with its multi-ethnicity, the coexistence of cultures and religions, but I do not see myself living here for very long. Too much, too much stress, too many metropolises,” Morata said. “Italy for a Spaniard is the best country to live. You have everything: beauty, history, art, cooking, fashion. I would never have left Italy and Juve. The disappointment [of leaving Juventus] was enormous, I found myself back to the starting point. They [Real Madrid] treated me like the guy I was before the two Italian seasons.”

Very interesting.

On Monday, Morata spoke to the media in Rome alongside his manager Antonio Conte ahead of Chelsea’s game at the Stadio Olimpico.

The Spanish international striker wanted to clarify his comments and said he would signed a “10 year” contract if Chelsea offered it to him.

“Maybe there was a connection problem. I’m really happy here and enjoying London with my wife,” Morata said. “When I finish my career, I prefer to come back to my country. I prefer the place where I was born, that’s normal. When I say London is a stressful city, I’m talking about the traffic and a lot of people. It’s an incredible city.”

“If Chelsea proposed 10 years, I’d probably sign it. I’m happy with everything. If I make good and improve, I can stay here more than five years.”

Conte then said he knows Morata is happy in London and that he’s a good person.

Hmm. Okay then. I guess that’s the end of it…

Morata has settled in the Premier League as if he’s played there his entire career with six goals in eight PL appearances so far. It did take him a little while to get settled but he is producing top displays under Conte and is doing a mighty fine job of replacing Diego Costa after his departure to Atletico Madrid.

The Spanish striker admitted the main reason he signed for Chelsea was to work with Conte, his former manager at Juve during a two-year spell from 2014-16, but with Conte’s future questioned on multiple occasions already this season, it seems like Morata would be quite happy to follow his manager out of the door and return to Italy.

Inter Milan? Juve? AC Milan?

Rose, Gacinovic to Man United; Alli, Griezmann to Barca?

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It’s nowhere near January 1, but Manchester United (of course) have been linked with moves for two wide players.

Danny Rose continues to be linked with a move away from Tottenham Hotspur with the England international left back still out injured and his comments at the start of the season about wanting to be “paid what he deserves” still rings true.

With Ben Davies filing in ably for Rose over the past six months, that could persuade Daniel Levy to cash in on another full back if United offer over $60 million for the 27-year-old. Italian outlet Tuttomercatoweb say Jose Mourinho will come in with a fresh bid for Rose in January after missing out on him in the summer.

Another wide man United are keeping on eye, according to the Daily Mirror, is Eintracht Frankfurt winger Mijat Gacinovic.

The 22-year-old is regarded as one of the top attacking talents in the Bundesliga and it would explain why Mourinho was spotted in Austria last week wearing a baseball cap as he looked on sheepishly from the stands. Serbia (who have since qualified for the World Cup) lost 3-2 to Austria in a 2018 World Cup qualifier and Mourinho was said to be watching Gacinovic closely.

Gacinovic scored two goals in his first three games for Serbia and comes from the same youth team as Dusan Tadic at Vojvodina. With a deal for Ivan Perisic not coming to fruition following a summer-long chase, Mourinho could well swoop for the promising winger.

Quite why he needs another wide man with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata all capable of playing those positions is beyond me. But Jose usually gets what he wants.


Tottenham’s Dele Alli has been linked with a move to Barcelona and Real Madrid as Barca turn their attentions away from Philippe Coutinho.

According to Sport, Alli, 21, is a key target for both Barca and Real and Real are also eyeing up a move for Harry Kane. Of course, we would be taking about monstrous transfer fees for both of these Tottenham and England stars but given Alli’s recent dip in form, perhaps Spurs would be more wiling to cash in on him compared to Kane.

Barcelona are said to believe that Spurs cannot keep hold of both of their star attackers and that enticing Alli away from north London, just a few weeks after he changed his agent, could be a lot easier to do.

Another star attacker said to be interesting Barca, according to Mundo Deportivo, is Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann.

The Frenchman decided to stay at Atleti last summer once their transfer ban was confirmed but now that Diego Costa is back at Atleti from January onwards, it is believed Barca will try and swoop in to meet Griezmann’s release clause of $117 million before July 1 when it doubles for the remaining five years of his contract at Atletico.

Griezmann, 26, looked set to move to Manchester United in the summer but Barca will be keen to make him their main man and his record of 86 goals in 167 games for Atleti has seen his star rise over the past three season.

Barca are keen to exploit this loophole in Griezmann’s contract and after all, they now better than most about the risks and rewards of release clauses.

PL Playback: Opening Power Rankings

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Now seems like the perfect time for the first set of Premier League Power Rankings for the 2017-18 season, right?

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

With seven games gone and the two week international break upon us, it is time to focus on who has impressed and who has struggled in the opening months of the campaign.

So much has happened in August and September and now it is time to take stock.

[ MORE: PL standings | schedule

Here it goes.


#1 Manchester City: Imperious. Kevin De Bruyne is running the show. Even with Aguero, Mendy and Kompany out injured Pep’s men have found a way to blow opponents away with 22 goals scored. Marquee wins over Chelsea and Liverpool showcase the current mood of invincibility around them and they’ve also won both games in the Champions League. Guardiola has so many attacking options and Ederson has finally solved his problem in goal. The title favorites have delivered early on, once again. Now, can they keep it up?

#2 Manchester United: Jose Mourinho is building this thing his way. It’s working. Romelu Lukaku has seven goals in seven games and although Paul Pogba has gone down injured so many others are stepping up. Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata and even Marouane Fellaini are chipping in with goals and in true Mourinho fashion they look as solid as a rock at the back with Nemanja Matic shielding the defense. United have won both of their Champions League games too and Mourinho is exuding confidence with 21 goals in seven games.

#3 Burnley: What. A. Start. Sean Dyche’s men are unbeaten away from home and have won at Chelsea and Everton and drawn at Liverpool and Tottenham. Not bad, especially after selling two stars over the summer. The Clarets are establishing themselves as a true contender to finish in the top 10 and have flown under the radar all summer. No surprise there but with captain and star goalkeeper Tom Heaton out long-term, their positive away results are even more impressive.

#4 Watford: Marco Silva’s side are dynamic going forward and have a solid base to build from. Their counters catch out opponents and in Richarlison they’ve found a gem. Losing Nathaniel Chalobah is a blow but they have a deeper squad than in recent years. Silva’s reputation as one of the best young managers in the game is undoubted and the Portuguese coach has Watford’s fans dreaming of challenging for a Europa League spot. Why not?

#5 Tottenham Hotspur: Mauricio Pochettino’s side have put aside their Wembley woes (they still haven’t won at home in the PL) to win four times on the spin on the road to start the season. The last time that happened they won the league and cup double in 160-61. Just saying. Harry Kane scored 13 goals in eight games for club and country in September and is on fire. Spurs will challenge for the title again and they’ve also won their opening two Champions League games. Wembley aside, a fine start.

#6 Newcastle United: Rafael Benitez is working his magic at Newcastle. The Magpies are hard to beat and at home they can take on anyone. Joselu could be the man to score the goals they need to not only survive in the Premier League after promotion but also push for a top 10 finish. Some fans are dreaming of a challenge for Europe but that seems a little far-fetched. Still, the newly-promoted Magpies will be satisfied with their start.

#7 Arsenal: After a tough start with defeats at Stoke and Liverpool, Arsene Wenger has steadied the ship with four-straight clean sheets in the Premier League. Suddenly Arsenal look a much better defensive unit and Alexandre Lacazette is looking like a great buy up top. Alexis Sanchez is also starting to return to his best form which suggests the Gunners will be challenging for a top four spot, even though they have the rigors of the Europa League to overcome. We’ve been here before with Arsenal but they seem to be more robust than in recent campaigns.

#8 Chelsea: A real topsy-turvy start for the reigning champs. After a tumultuous summer due to the Diego Costa situation and Antonio Conte seemingly unhappy with a lack of transfers, they lost to Arsenal in the Community Shield and to Burnley in their PL opener. They followed that up by beating Tottenham away and put in impressive displays against Everton, Leicester and Stoke. Alvaro Morata has hit the ground running in the PL and Eden Hazard is back to his best but the defeat to Man City was a reality check. Still, two wins from two in Europe and a great win at Atletico Madrid shows what they’re truly capable of. Back-to-back titles seems like a big ask and there are still question marks over Conte’s long-term future.

#9 Huddersfield Town: Opening up the season with two wins was perfection for David Wagner and his side, and their fans, have captured the minds of the Premier League. A 4-0 hammering at home against Tottenham in their first real test showed them how ruthless the league can be but if they can press midtable teams throughout the season as they have in the early weeks then they will be just fine. The Terriers have kept four clean sheets in seven and will be tough to beat and if Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre can strike up a partnership then maybe they can push for more than just staying up in their debut PL campaign.

#10 Stoke City: The Potters have had a really solid, albeit slightly bizarre, start to the season. A win against Arsenal and draw against Manchester United at home proved they can mix it with the big boys but defeats at Everton and Newcastle in tight games proved they can still improve defensively although having Jack Butland back fit is a huge bonus. Defensive injuries have been hard to deal with for Mark Hughes’ men but new signings Jese Rodriguez and Eric Choupo-Moting have added something extra in attack.

#11 Brighton & Hove Albion: Chris Hughton’s men are pragmatic and likeable but you wonder where the goals will come from on a consistent basis. Pascal Gross and Anthony Knockaert are both talented playmakers but if Tomer Hemed goes down injured they are struggling big time. If they can make it to January above the relegation zone then surely owner Tony Bloom will make plenty of funds available for a new striker, or two. A very commendable start to their first-ever Premier League campaign with home wins against West Brom and Newcastle.

#12 Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp’s side are already seven points off the PL leaders and the same old defensive issues are hampering their progress. Philippe Coutinho is back scoring stunners and the pace of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah has been ripping teams apart without much reward. Two draws to open up Champions League play have been frustrating and despite dominating games missed chances have been costly. The standout display was the 4-0 hammering of Arsenal but that seems like a long time ago. Is the Klopp-effect wearing off?

#13 West Bromwich Albion: Tony Pulis’ men won their first two games of the season but haven’t won since. They were unlucky to lose away at Arsenal but threw away a two-goal lead in their most recent game at home against Watford. That’s incredibly unlike a Pulis side and you get the sense another big slump like the one they suffered in the second half of last season isn’t far off.

#14 Southampton: New season, same problem for Southampton. Mauricio Pellegrino’s side have dominated most of the games they’ve played in, even against Manchester United, but have scored just five goals in the first seven games of the season. Two of those were penalty kicks in the same game. Virgil Van Dijk is back on board but Saints feel a little bit like a team who has plenty of talent but are missing a ruthless streak. That’s incredibly dangerous and talk of a relegation battle is being whispered, perhaps incorrectly, by some fans.

#15 West Ham United: Slaven Bilic is under serious pressure despite the Hammers battling back in several games and grinding out two home wins. Javier Hernandez has, as expected, delivered goals, but it doesn’t seem like West Ham’s players are with the manager. Bilic’s contract runs out at the end of this season and he is unlikely to get a new deal. That’s creating all kinds of instability. The Hammers look set for another season in midtable, at best.

#16 Swansea City: The main problem for Paul Clement’s team is scoring goals. That’s what happens when you sell your two leading goalscorers from last season over the summer. Wilfried Bony has yet to get firing and Tammy Abraham is doing his best to chip in when he can. The Swans have ground out plenty of clean sheets on the road and surely their luck in front of goal will eventually change. The big problem for Clement is that they don’t look like scoring in most games.

#17 Bournemouth: Eddie Howe’s side lost five of their opening six games and naivety is creeping into their game once again. They led against Manchester City and Everton but ended up losing both games. The Cherries did seem more free-flowing in the final third against Leicester and should have won easily, so maybe things have finally clicked. A worrying start but whenever people have written them off over the past two seasons in the PL they always seem to have an answer. Now is the time for experienced campaigners Jermain Defoe and Asmir Begovic to step up.

#18 Leicester City: Plenty of people are worried about the Foxes, and rightly so. Craig Shakespeare’s side have had a tough start, schedule wise. They lost to Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool and then drew games at Huddersfield and Bournemouth which they should be winning. One win so far says it all and Shakespeare should perhaps start thinking about well and truly breaking up the title-winning team, apart from Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki. Leicester could be in a relegation battle.

#19 Everton: Awful. Dreadful. Disappointing. The Toffees are in real trouble and all because of one thing: their failure to replace Romelu Lukaku. The pressure is mounting on Ronald Koeman already after he brought in three No.10s in Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen but failed to address his biggest need. Hammerings by Chelsea and Tottenham, plus at Atalanta in the Europa League, were amplified by a worrying home defeat to Burnley in the PL. The surprise package of the season so far. And not in a good way. They would be bottom of our rankings if it wasn’t for the record-breaking exploits of our next team…

#20 Crystal Palace: The worst start in top-flight history says it all. Seven defeats on the spin. Zero goals score. Frank De Boer fired after four games and Roy Hodgson hired to try and steady the ship. Well, the ship is taking on water at an alarming rate and the Eagles could soon be cut adrift. Christian Benteke’s injury hasn’t helped matters and the period between November to December will truly decide if they can save themselves. Terrible times at Selhurst Park but they are only five points from safety.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Morata has a warning for Chelsea’s Premier League rivals

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Alvaro Morata believes his fast start to life in the Premier League at Chelsea is only a taster of what is to come.

[ MORE: Who is the PL’s most complete striker? ]

After scoring a hat trick at Stoke City on Saturday in Chelsea’s 4-0 win, Morata spoke to reporters about the chances he missed and admitted he could have had five goals to his name.

The Spanish striker, 24, is clearly not content with simply replacing Diego Costa at Chelsea.

“I am happy with my start in the Premier League but I can do better,” Morata said. “I had two chances at the end of the game against Stoke [but didn’t take them]. I also need to improve my physical condition to be as good as possible.”

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Can do better. Six goals in your first six Premier League games is a pretty decent return, Alvaro.

Still, you can see what he’s saying. Morata has looked good in fits and starts so far this season but his undeniable quality is there for all to see. He scored three goals and added two assists with his head before Saturday’s breakout where he proved he can also score with his feet.

Morata struggled against Arsenal 10 days ago as he seemed isolated up top and the physicality of the Premier League seems to still surprise him at times.

It is still early days for the Spanish international who joined for $77.8 million (which could rise to $93.9 million) but the way in which he accelerated past Stoke’s defense on his first and second goals, then finished coolly reminded us all that of his schooling at Real Madrid and Juventus.

Morata is now undeniably a contender for the Golden Boot and looks like a more refined, agile replacement for Costa. His quickness of thought and elegance has replaced the brute force and desire of Costa and it seems like it will work out just fine.