Gary Cahill

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Conte: Champions League harder for English teams

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“Everyone realizes that was a freak season for us but we are back in it,” Gary Cahill said of Chelsea’s return to the UEFA Champions League.

The captain sounds composed enough, but his manager is striking another tone as the Blues prepare for a Tuesday visit from Qarabag.

[ MORE: Palace makes change ]

Antonio Conte, dare we say, sounds a bit nervous when it comes to this managerial go-round as compared to his UCL runs with Juventus.

From the BBC:

“Now I think the English team has another difficulty because the league is tough here. Before the Champions League you would rest but it is not easy in England to do this.

“We are ready and we need to rotate the players of my squad and they must be involved. We are starting a path and to build something important. You need to grow step by step to be like Real, Bayern and you don’t create a big, strong team easily.”

Maybe the first part is worth discussing, but the second is not. Though its loan strategy does deprive Chelsea of massive depth, there’s no question its 2012 UCL title is closing than it appears in Conte’s rear view mirror.

For what it’s worth, Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho echoed the sentiment, though he claims it’s England’s lack of winter break which most hurts the side (and he says he likes the Christmas period).

Chelsea will have to face Atletico Madrid and Roma later in the competition, so this is a nice start for the Blues. Conte will be more concerned with Sunday’s visit from Arsenal.

Chelsea 2-3 Burnley: 9-man Blues nearly come back

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  • Cahill sent off early
  • Vokes nabs brace
  • Ward scores stunner
  • Morata subs on, scores, assists

Reigning champions Chelsea posted an absolutely miserable first half performance reminiscent of  2015-16, and Burnley held on against the 10- and then 9-man Blues for a 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Alvaro Morata’s entry into the game absolutely flipped the script for Chelsea. He scored off a Willian assist and then helped David Luiz to a goal with five minutes to play.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Chelsea controlled the first 13 minutes, but saw a major obstacle in the 14th minute when Gary Cahill went studs up into Steven Defour. Little contact was made, but intent was enough for a sending off.

Antonio Conte had to bring off Jeremie Boga, and Andreas Christensen took a spot in the back three, leaving Chelsea with Antonio Rudiger, Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Christensen, and Marcos Alonso as backs.

Soon after, Vokes had a goal called offside.

His second chance would stand, as he chopped a half volley past the mark of David Luiz and the dive of Thibaut Courtois. 1-0 and up a man for Sean Dyche‘s visitors.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

That wouldn’t be the end of the harsh vibes at the Bridge, and Stephen Ward scored a goal Burnley fans will never forget when he laced a gorgeous shot from an unlikely and tight angle to make it 2-0.

Vokes made it 3-0 at the break, and Conte was fuming. Chelsea was stunned.

The Blues didn’t come pouring out of the gates, either, though the hour mark saw a decent chance and shouts for a penalty as Burnley got extra chippy. Alvaro Morata made his debut, and was chopped down for a yellow card by Ben Mee in the 64th minute.

Turns out Morata can play, and his diving header met a classy bit of playmaking from Willian to make it 3-1 in the 69th minute.

Morata was a half-yard offside when he slid to tap home a Christiansen cross that could’ve made it 3-2 in the 73rd.

Chelsea went down to nine men via a red card to Fabregas with about 10 minutes to go. That didn’t stop the Blues from making it 3-2, as Morata flicked onto Luiz for a cool finish.

Conte names Gary Cahill new Chelsea captain

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As expected, Gary Cahill has been named Chelsea’s next skipper following the departure of long-time talisman John Terry this summer.

[ MORE: Mourinho rules out speculation of Bale joining Man United ]

While Cahill is no stranger to captaining his side — which he did for much of last season — the honor has been bestowed upon him on a full-time basis now by manager Antonio Conte as Chelsea prepares for the 2017/18 Premier League campaign.

Conte insists though that while Cahill is the man to wear the armband going forward that the rest of the squad’s elder statesman must also take on leadership roles to help guide the club as they pursue back-to-back PL crowns.

“I think also we can have other captains in our team, it could be [Cesar] Azpilicueta, [David] Luiz, and also, in the future, it could be Thibaut Courtois, Cesc Fabregas,” Conte told the Evening Standard.

“I think every single player must improve in this [being personalities in the dressing room] and take more responsibility because we lost big players and we need now to find these new players to create this fundamental for Chelsea. It is very important for our future success to create this base.”

Chelsea players praise Conte for title, turnaround in first season

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One thing is certain without a shadow of a doubt: Antonio Conte‘s players love love playing for him.

[ MORE: Full “Chelsea Champions” reaction, here ]

Following Chelsea’s 1-0 victory away to West Bromwich Albion on Friday, a result which clinched the 2016-17 Premier League title for the Blues, Conte’s players were full of praise for the impact he’s had in his first season at Stamford Bridge.

365 days ago, two months before Conte had arrived, Chelsea sat ninth in the PL table; they would slip one more spot and finish the season in 10th. While they’re all thrilled to have won the PL title already this term, there’s still an FA Cup double to be won.

[ MORE: How Chelsea won the PL title in September ]

David Luiz‘s first spell at Chelsea was full of highs and lows, but the Brazilian left the club in the summer of 2014 amid lots of the latter and returned last summer with fans expecting more of the same. What they hadn’t accounted for, however, was the Conte effect — quotes from the BBC:

“I am happy. Very happy. It is my first Premier League title. When I decided to come back here I dreamed to win the Premier League. I am very happy because my dream came true.

“Tonight was a great game but we did it. We work hard every day to have these moments.”

“[Conte] likes to work, works with passion every day. I am happy for him. He deserves it because he is working hard every day.”

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Perhaps no player has improved more noticeably returned to his own previously great heights than Eden Hazard, who chipped in with 15 goals and 5 assists in the PL this season (just 4 and 3 in 2015-16) — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s amazing to celebrate with the fans. The game was so difficult. We are very happy.

“We talked a lot about the manager already, he is fantastic and we work a lot in training. Full credit to him and the players. We lost to Arsenal and then we went on an unbelievable run.

“That’s when we said that we can win the league.”

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Gary Cahill replaced John Terry as the club’s full-time captain this season as Terry was quickly phased out of the first-team squad early in the campaign. The two England center backs said after the game that they’d share the honor of being first to lift the trophy — quotes from the BBC:

“It feels amazing. It is a special moment. I thought we deserved it over the season. We worked very hard and have been the better team. It is fantastic to wrap it up with a couple of games to go, it is very difficult in this league.

“We didn’t want this to drag on. We had the opportunity today to win the league and it was a pinch yourself moment in the tunnel before we went out.

“We played maybe a bit nervy because we knew what was at stake but showed experience in the end and wore them down.

“We felt confident in the dressing room all season. There is a danger you start believing you are champions when you are not.

“The league is in the bag, it is an amazing achievement for everyone involved. These are moments you need to cherish. I can’t wait to get my hands on that trophy.”

Everton 0-3 Chelsea: Pedro stunner downs sleepy Everton

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Neither side looked up for the game, until Pedro was.

This game was billed as potentially Chelsea’s toughest test left as they march towards the title. With both teams struggling to produce anything on goal, the Spaniard stepped up in the 66th minute and ripped a fantastic strike past Maarten Stekelenburg and into the top-left corner to put Chelsea through at Goodison Park.

Everton was off to a flyer as 20-year-old Dominic Calvert-Lewin cut into the box and fired off a shot from a tight angle that wrong-footed Thibaut Courtois and cannoned off the post. The Blues also missed a good chance as Eden Hazard got around Maarten Stekelenburg to his right, but despite the open net to shoot at, the extremely tight angle forced Hazard into the side-netting.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

That was it though, as the first 45 minutes devolved into a brutal midfield battle, with neither side truly asserting its dominance. One of the only good efforts on net for either side in the first half came in the 23rd minute as Romelu Lukaku chested down a long ball and rifled a low shot on net from a long way out, and with Courtois just off line, the ball skittered agonizingly wide.

Everton looked to foul Hazard every time he got on the ball, so Chelsea hoped to work through the middle with Diego Costa and Pedro, but they did not produce a good chance before the halftime whistle.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The second half began where the first half left off, with little in the game. Diego Costa was eventually given his customary booking for a studs-up challenge on Stekelenburg as the ball came through and the Everton goalkeeper went to boot it away.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Finally, the moment of the game arrived as Pedro cut to his left outside the top of the box and lashed a shot that scorched into the top corner and put Chelsea through.

Everton had no response, and the Blues would double the lead with 11 minutes left as a free-kick came off Romelu Lukaku and fell to Gary Cahill at point-blank range, turned in for a 2-0 lead. There was a moment of concern for Chelsea fans down the stretch as David Luiz sat on the pitch multiple times seemingly massaging his groin, replaced eventually by Nathan Ake.

It all fell apart for the Toffees, as Chelsea added a third with minutes remaining. Diego Costa released substitute Cesc Fabregas, and his cutback to fellow sub Willian near the six-yard box left the Brazilian with a clean finish.

The three points for the Blues see them seven points clear at the top of the table, while Everton remains in seventh, with no danger below them but failing to take the chance to jump Arsenal before the North London derby.