Ruben Loftus-Cheek

PL Playback: What is wrong with Chelsea?

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CLOCK IS TICKING FOR CONTE

Guus Hiddink is currently sitting near his phone. We’ve been here before with Chelsea but nobody really expected this with Antonio Conte after he masterminded their title-winning season in 2016-17.

But following their 4-1 defeat at Watford on Monday the speculation surrounding Conte’s future is rife as the Italian manager has seen his side win just three games in their last 10 in all competitions.

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They’ve been humbled by Bournemouth and Watford in the space of a few days, conceding seven goals in the process, and from new signings failing to settle to Conte criticizing the club’s transfer policy and speculation linking him with the Italian national team job, this is not a good situation for the reigning PL champs.

Where has it gone wrong?

Simpy put, Chelsea have failed to back Conte in the transfer market and their system of signing players and letting the coach work with them has once again come back to bite them.

Conte is a fine coach, but that’s all he is, a coach. He’s said that time and time again during his 18 months in charge of the Blues and that isn’t going to change for him, or any other Chelsea manager, anytime soon. Therein lies one of the biggest problems: respect.

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Chelsea’s players don’t seem to fear the wrath of Conte anymore. He ousted Diego Costa last summer for his behavior and booted David Luiz out of the team for most of this season, but how many players truly fear being kicked out of Chelsea if they don’t play well for Conte?

There is also the case of big money summer arrivals Tiemoue Bakayoko and Alvaro Morata enduring tough times recently, with the former having a very bad season and the latter suffering multiple injuries and a lack of confidence after a fine start at Stamford Bridge.

With Ross Barkley, Davide Zappacosta, Olivier Giroud and Emerson Palmeri also arriving over the past two windows, they are hardly players who will get the Chelsea faithful on the edge of their seats. Barkley has the potential but is rusty, Giroud is a stop-gap and Zappacosta is a back-up with Palmeri likely to be the same. All in all, there are no real consequences for the recruitment team at Chelsea who continue to do the deals and sit back and let Conte work with the players on the training ground.

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They have successfully cultivated a wonderful system of developing and loaning out young talent, but is it time for Chelsea’s recruitment policy to change? Are some of the players they’ve brought in really better than Tammy Abraham, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and others loaned out?

The brutal truth is this: instead of going out and spending $250 million on four key new players and keeping their entire title-winning squad from last season together, Chelsea have opted to actually bring in plenty of squad players and only a few key reinforcements as Manchester City and United stormed on with their expensive rebuilds.

They’ve stood still, or even regressed, with their squad weaker this season than it was last season despite the extra demands of European soccer plain for all to see. That is why Conte is upset.

Are we really shocked this is happening again? Just like the Andre Villas-Boas era, or the end of Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge, it’s almost as if Chelsea’s current squad have been conditioned to only perform when a new manager arrives, then drop their levels once a few moments of adversity arrive along with the impending newspaper reports about said manager being fired.

The players will remain, the managers will come and go, and so on, and so forth.

That’s the problem with Chelsea’s current model and although they’ve had great success in bringing managers in for short-term success, Conte calling for continuity and for the hierarchy to put their faith in him is likely to fall on deaf ears.

Conte’s saving grace is that the Chelsea supporters adore him and still sing his name and love his passion on the sidelines. Yet Roman Abramovich and those who call the shots are ruthless and if Chelsea fall out of the top four in the next few weeks, plus are humbled by Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League last 16, that will be that.

And so the Chelsea cycle continues…


WOULD VAR HAVE HELPED LIVERPOOL v. TOTTENHAM DECISIONS?

The final minutes of Tottenham’s 2-2 draw at Liverpool on Sunday where among the most dramatic of the Premier League season so far.

Two penalty kick calls which went in the favor of Spurs were highly controversial, but having seen the replays and analyzed the rules of the game on numerous occasions, you can say that both were given correctly.

It wasn’t easy for Jon Moss and his officiating crew in real time, especially on the first penalty kick awarded to Harry Kane. As our analysts Arlo White and Robbie Mustoe point out in the video above, the audio picked up of Jon Moss having a debate with his linesman Eddie Smart and then fourth official Martin Atkinson via a headset has been highlighted due to Moss mentioning TV monitors a la VAR.

With that system currently not in play in the Premier League, that was an obvious error and has since been addressed by the PGMOL in England, but given the amount of time Moss debated with other officials about what they saw, using VAR would have surely been quicker to sort this out?

Of course, with the arrival of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) for cup competitions in England over the past few months, the video debate is up in the air as people question if it should be used in the Premier League or the World Cup this summer.

I ask you this: would VAR have solved both of these penalty debates on Sunday in a quicker and clearer fashion?

For the first penalty, yes. It would have 100 percent solved any debate over the touch on the ball from Dejan Lovren. There was contact from Loris Karius, even though Kane may have gone down slightly easily, and that part isn’t what is being debated. As for the second penalty kick, VAR won’t have been too more conclusive as the contact was clear but so was Erik Lamela‘s embellishment. It would have been down to the video assistant referee and Moss to debate any other factors, but the penalty kick would still have been awarded as there was no “clear and obvious error” regarding the initial decision.

Moss and the officials deserve praise for getting the calls correct without seeing video footage, even if there was plenty of time taken to get the call right.


NEW-LOOK ARSENAL HAVE MOMENTUM…

Watch out. Here they come.

Yes, it was an Everton side bereft of confidence right now, but the way Arsenal shamelessly battered the Toffees 5-1 on Saturday showed their new-look attack is fired up and ready to push for a top four finish.

Given the recent struggles of Chelsea and the inability of Liverpool and Tottenham to consistently win games in recent weeks, the Gunners have a real chance of eating away at the current five-point gap to the top four.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan grabbed a hat trick of assists on his home debut, the pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang caused problems as he grabbed a debut goal and Aaron Ramsey marked his return to the team with a hat trick with the Welshman almost like a new signing after months out. Mesut Ozil signing a new long-term deal capped off a fine week for Arsenal in terms of acquisitions and some much need stability after months of uncertainty.

Now, crunch time has arrived.

Arsene Wenger has the luxury of being able to prioritize the Premier League top four race in the final months of the season knowing he has already guided the Gunners into the League Cup final in a few weeks at Wembley, plus he can continue to rotate his squad in the UEFA Europa League knockout rounds.

Heading into the north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley this weekend (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Arsenal have momentum and two new attackers ready to run riot in Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang and their arrival coupled with Alexis Sanchez’s departure have given everyone a lift.

Their defensive frailties remain but there’s no doubt that their business in the final days of the transfer window have handed Wenger’s men a chance to get back into the top four race. Can they take it?


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

Loftus-Cheek returns to Chelsea for injury treatment; WC in doubt

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Ruben Loftus-Cheek was enjoying a breakout season at the age of 21, featuring as a full-time starter for the first time in his career while on loan to Crystal Palace and debuting for England in November, before an ankle injury brought everything to a screeching halt last month.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundupMonday | Sunday ]

Now, more than a month later, Loftus-Cheek’s ankle hasn’t improved after a period of rest, and surgery has emerged as a very real possibility should no progress be made over the next month. As such, Loftus-Cheek, now 22, has returned to Chelsea for further evaluation by his parent club’s medical team.

Palace manager Roy Hodgson, just like the rest of us, is living in total darkness — quotes from the Guardian:

“Chelsea insist on having him back there on this period of rehabilitation, so we won’t really know until such time that they release him back to us. The agreement was that he would spend two to three weeks without having a surgical intervention, in the hope that the problem he has will be resolved naturally.

“During that time, Chelsea have insisted they take care of that because they regard him as their player. We will now wait for that period to pass, then he’ll come back to us. We will then test whether or not the injury is still there or whether, as they think, the injury has cleared up. So there’s another 10-14 days to go before I can tell you anything about Ruben Loftus-Cheek at all. I haven’t seen him literally for 10 days.”

With the 2018 World Cup now just four and a half months away, ankle surgery would almost certainly eliminate Loftus-Cheek from consideration for Gareth Southgate‘s squad.

Palace loan: Rakip joins Malmo hero Hodgson

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Erdal Rakip‘s whirlwind season is heading to London.

The Swedish international sealed a permanent deal to Benfica this month, but is set for a loan at Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Rakip, 21, has made 120 appearances with 12 goals for Malmo in betrayal of his tender age, including a career-high nine goals in 2017 as the Swedish champs sealed a fourth title in five years.

Helping seal the deal was Hodgson’s status as Malmo legend, leading the club to five league titles and two Swedish cups. From CPFC.co.uk:

“It will be an honour playing for Roy. He is a legend in Malmö and everyone know who he is,” Erdal added. “Crystal Palace is a fantastic club with a lot of history that plays entertaining football, and was the best option for my development and my career at this stage.

Malmo has lost two big players in the past six months in Rakip and Orlando City midfielder Yoshimar Yotun.

Given Palace’s injuries, players like Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Yohan Cabaye were going to be taxed a lot by the run-in to safety. Rakip will help with that.

Transfer needs for all 20 Premier League clubs

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Everyone could use a Harry Kane or N'Golo Kante, so we’ll try to avoid saying each side could improve at center midfield or striker unless it’s almost absolutely the *case.

[ ARSENAL-CHELSEA: 4 things | Player ratings ]

*Pretty much everyone really could use a striker. Apologies in advance.

Arsenal

Jack Wilshere‘s return to form and fitness helps their center midfield, but Arsene Wenger seemingly hasn’t found his answer in the middle of the park whether the addition of Mohamed Elneny in the past or Granit Xhaka this season. Laurent Koscielny‘s surprising recent struggles also show just how few answers the club has behind him at center back.

Bournemouth

Need to find that leading scorer either Jermain Defoe or Joshua King was supposed to be, or find the playmaker who puts them in position to start burying goals again.

Brighton and Hove Albion

Offensive players of any kind, as the league’s worst offense has allowed teams to focus on Pascal Gross.

Burnley

A versatile midfielder who can play centrally or on the left would solve multiple problems. Center back insurance would help, too.

Chelsea

Cheekily, we’d suggest bringing some of its many stars back from loan, as Kurt Zouma (Stoke) and Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Crystal Palace) have been mighty influential at their clubs. It’s more about personage than positions with Chelsea, as Alex Sandro of Juventus has been mentioned often. Will Ross Barkley change his mind about the Blues, or vice versa?

Crystal Palace

Still need an answer at striker behind Christian Benteke and Bakary Sako, and the injuries to Scott Dann and Jason Puncheon mean they could use help essentially everywhere.

Everton

The Toffees have made no secret of their need for a finishing center forward. No other team needs a positional upgrade more than Everton at CF.

Huddersfield Town

An upgrade at center back seems the prime need for David Wagner‘s men.

Leicester City

A center back to pair with Harry Maguire, and depth down the right side. Both become secondary to playmaker if Riyad Mahrez leaves the King Power Stadium.

Wes Morgan and Robert Huth (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Liverpool

Virgil Van Dijk solves a lot, but the club could stand to upgrade the position beyond him and Joel Matip. Instead, Jurgen Klopp might buy more attackers. An alternative to Jordan Henderson would be nice, but would also be superfluous with Naby Keita arriving in the summer.

Manchester City

Center forward depth in the short-term with Gabriel Jesus injured, and left back cover might be on Guardiola’s mind. Another center back seems likely to arrive this month or this summer.

Manchester United

Jose Mourinho could add anywhere outside of goalkeeper and his attacking trident. Left back remains a priority, especially if he sells Luke Shaw.

Newcastle United

The Magpies need a more effective Premier League striker than Joselu or Dwight Gayle, an improved left back, and a box-to-box center midfielder. Rafa Benitez will reportedly hunt for a goalkeeper, too.

Southampton

Still need a center back, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mauricio Pellegrino attempt to find a solution for any spot besides the one occupied by Oriol Romeu.

Stoke City

The Potters have allowed a league-worst 47 goals, and it’d be worse without Jack Butland. A left back is needed, as is either a defensive mid or right back depending on where they want to deploy Geoff Cameron (which means they also could use cover for both in case injury).

Swansea City

With a new manager you can pick a position, and Swans may want to improve it. The priority will be players who can produce goals, as Fernando Llorente and Gylfi Sigurdsson were not adequately replaced.

Tottenham Hotspur

Another winger? Spurs may have the least amount of needs in the league outside of Man City.

Watford

Full backs might be top of the list.

West Bromwich Albion

The Baggies have to find a better way to utilize big forward Salomon Rondon, who is quite gifted. Maybe it’s a partner striker, maybe a playmaker.

West Ham United

Up the middle, besides forward. The Hammers will look to address center back and center midfield. They are alright out wide and across the top.

Swans 1-1 Crystal Palace: Spoils split at Swansea

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  • Palace converts penalty
  • Swans level through Ayew beauty
  • Swansea remains 20th

Jordan Ayew scored a sensational second half goal to give Swansea City a share of the points in a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday.

Luka Milivojevic converted a penalty for Palace’s lone goal.

Swans finish the day four points back of 17th place West Ham, while Palace is two points ahead of the drop.

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Tammy Abraham thought he’d played Luciano Narsingh in for a penalty kick, but the referee was unmoved when Jeff Schlupp‘s challenge took down the Dutchman.

An uncharacteristic bumble from Wilfried Zaha in the Swans’ box stopped Palace from a 34th minute lead. And the Ivorian just missed with a toe poke redirection in the 41st.

Yohan Cabaye lorded over a stoppage time free kick, but a training ground routine for Zaha did not yield a dangerous cross.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek sold a penalty kick, and Palace had a chance to go ahead in the 59th minute. Milivojevic finished with power.

Swans started to buzz as the half wore on, and Ayew gave Swans a deserved equalizer on a day his brother scored back in London. Ayew worked around a defender and let fly an arrow to level the score.

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