As it happened: Spain eliminate Ireland; Italy pushed to third


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Thursday’s Euro 2012 slate kicks off with Group C’s pivot game, with Italy and Croatia potentially deciding who will join Spain in the quarterfinals. Of course, Spain is not actually there. They have to take care of business against Ireland in what could be on of the most lopsided matches of the tournament … and even if they do (win, that is), their knockout round spot won’t be clinched. Clearly, we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves.

When Italy-Croatia kicks off at noon Eastern, we’ll pass group stage’s halfway mark. With 12 games down, two of the pre-tournament favorites (Germany, Spain) have stayed on course, one (Netherlands) have donned a life preserver, while a fourth team (Italy) can make its case as a real contender today. A convincing performance against Croatia on the back of their draw with Spain will make us believers.

But first, your daily pre-match reading list:

And now that you’re through skipping over the bullets, here’s Thursday’s action:

(All times Eastern)

1635 – Ireland 0-4 Spain, Final – That was unfortunately predictable. Spain were just too quick, too precise, and too relentless, and it translated to the scoresheet. Spain goes top of the group on goal difference and likely only need a draw against Croatia to win the group.

1620 – Ireland 0-4 Spain – This is sad. Short corner leads to Fabregas dribbling to the right of goal before turning from a sharp angle to power it past Given into the far side netting. This is the type of match I was imagining when I said it could be the most lopsided of the tournament, but I didn’t really think it would happen.

1615 – Ireland 0-3 Spain – Torres gets his curtain call. Cesc Fabregas comes on in what would be a turning point game for Torres. Moments later, Iker Casillas is forced into a save on Robbie Keane.

Spain has 65 of the possession and is outshooting Ireland 23 to 6. Shots on target is 18 to 4.

James McClean’s about to come on.

1612 – Ireland 0-3 Spain – We hinted it could happen pre-game, and it’s come to fruition. Andres Iniesta wins a ball in midfield, David Silva’s there to touch it through the Irish line to Torres, who has 30 yards to set up Shay Given. Finishing into the right of goal. Fernando Torres has his brace.

1608 – Ireland 0-2 Spain Xabi Alonso is off. Javi Martinez is one. Spain’s sense of urgency has waned, and Ireland’s had a few forays forward. Spain’s possession is at 64 percent. They’re outshooting Ireland 22 to 5.

1557 – Ireland 0-2 Spain – A diving punch from a Xavi shot sees Shay Given keep Ireland within two. Spain’s at 63 percent possession and a 19-4 shots edge. They look like they want to pile on some goals, possibly with tiebreaker scenarios in mind.

1550 – Ireland 0-2 Spain – Another goal to open a half, and another one which is a little pathetic. Iniesta is given a ball in the left of area. He puts it on goal, and Dunne punches it right to David Silva at the penalty spot. He take two, three, four touches without a challenge, the defenders frozen in front of him. Finally, a picks out a spot – the lower left hand corner – opens his left foot onto a ball that goes between two sets of legs and beats Shay Given.

1547 – Ireland 0-1 Spain – We’re back, and Ireland has made one change. Jon Walters is on. Simon Cox is off.

1519 – Ireland 0-1 Spain, Halftime – Spain hogged the ball. Possession at 62 percent (per UEFA). Not a ton for Given to do. Expect some variant on this message to repeat, though for now, it’s halftime.

Other numbers: Shots: 14-4, Spain. Shots on target: 10-2, Spain.

It’s only a one goal game, though. Freakiness still in play.

1519 – Ireland 0-1 Spain – Spain hogging ball. Possession at 63 percent (per UEFA). Not a ton for Given to do. Passes are 255-93 in favor of Spain. Expect some variant on this message to repeat.

1511 – Ireland 0-1 Spain – Spain hogging ball. Possession at 61 percent (per UEFA). Not a ton for Given to do. Expect some variant on this message to repeat.

1500 – Ireland 0-1 Spain – UEFA claims Spain have only held 57 percent of the possession. That can’t be correct. This game is looking like it could end 1-0 with Spain holding 80 percent of the possession.

1449 – Ireland 0-1 Spain – He did it! Fernando Torres takes the ball off Richard Dunne’s foot and blasts it right over Shay Given for an earlier opener, and Shay Given probably should have saved that. It has a blast from 10 yards out, but it was high over Given’s head. He just needed to get a hand up.

Andres Iniesta plays a great ball for David Silva after some high pressure from Glenn Whelan allows Iniesta space behind him. Silva’s tackled by Richard Dunne how is far too slow clearing the ball. Torres comes in from behind touches it away, with his next touch finding nylon.

1446 – Ireland 0-0 Spain – We have started. Ireland is in green going from left to right. La Roja is in … well, roja.

1436 – We’re just under 10 minutes from kick off. Here are the lineups, each with one prominent change:

Ireland: Given, St Ledger, Ward, O’Shea, Dunne, Whelan, McGeady, Andrews, Duff, Keane, Cox SUBS: Westwood, Forde, Kelly, McShane, O’Dea, Gibson, Hunt, Green, McClean, Doyle, Walters, Long.

Simon Cox is in. Ireland’s best player on Monday, Kevin Doyle, is off. Giovanni Trapattoni: Contrarian. Mad scientist.

Spain: Casillas, Piqué, Ramos, Arbeloa, Alba, Iniesta, Xavi, Alonso, Busquets, Silva, Torres SUBS: Valdés, Reina, Albiol, Martínez, Juanfran, Fàbregas, Cazorla, Navas, Pedro Rodríguez, Negredo, Mata, Llorente.

Fernando Torres is in. If I say the obvious, that this is a terrible decision in light of other options, I either stand to be proven very wrong (he really could score twice today yet still not really be that good) or he’ll stink and I’m not saying anything new. I’ll just say I feel for Fernando Llorent, Alvaro Negredo, Pedro Rodríguez, Cesc Fabregas, Santi Cazorla … and Pepe Reina.

Let’s be honest: Spain’s winning in spite of Vicente del Bosque, at this point. The double pivot? The chaos at striker? The inhibiting allegiances to old guard players?

1431 – Here’s our Offshore drilling on the day’s first match.

The worst: Ireland is such a good matchup for Spain that they’ll probably win 3-0 and give people the impression Del Bosque pushed the right buttons.

I need to calm down.

Lineups coming soon.

1353 – Italy 1-1 Croatia –The final whistle goes, and teams each take one. Croatia hits on four ahead of Monday’s meeting with Spain, while Italy goes into the Ireland match with two points.

Match report is coming. Go get some lunch.

1347 – Italy 1-1 Croatia – We have five minutes of added time because of the smoke break. Croatia’s lost a bit of their edge. This one looks set to be drawn.

1339 – Italy 1-1 Croatia – Eduardo is on. Nikica Jelavic is off. Antonio Cassano is off. Sebastian Giovinco is on. Croatia is still controlling this match.

1331 – Italy 1-1 Croatia – Stay classy, Croatia fans. Flares/smoke bomb on set off create a white cloud in Italy’s end. Play has to stop while the smoke clears.

1329 – Italy 1-1 Croatia – Mario Mandzukic has had a poor game, but for strikers, goals cure all, especially when they’re late equalizers. With his third goal of the tournament, the Wolfsburg attacker has brought Croatia even.

Danijel Prajnic plays a ball left to Ivan Strinic and makes an overlapping run that pulls Christian Maggio away. It gives Strinic room to cross far post, where Giorgio Chiellini has misjudged the flight of the ball. It floats over his head and onto the right foot of Mandzukic, who has time to bring the ball down and bang it home.

It’s a disappointing goal for Italy to allow, but as much as they had allowed Croatia to take the game to them in the second half, they were asking for something like that to happen.

1324 – Italy 1-0 Croatia – Slaven Bilic makes his first chance, bringing on Danijel Pranjic for Iven Perisic. Italy has already made a move, bringing off Thiago Motta, whose head bounced off the turf, for Ricardo Montolivo. Italy’s not made what looks like will be a regular substitution: Toto Di Natale for Mario Balotelli, who has been mostly good but also showed some poor decision-making.

Most of this half has been played in Italy’s half. They’ve been unable to break out on counters, meaning Cassano’s been a non-factor.

1311 – Italy 1-0 Croatia – The Croats have come out strong, putting a number of shots toward Gianluigi Buffon, though none have seriously troubled him (and few have actually required his intervention). Modric is attacking more than distributing, but he still can get anything out of Jelavic of Mandzukic. The game’s paused now as a firework/flare is thrown onto the field. Croatian plays go over to plead that their supporters cease being idiots.

1301 – Italy 1-0 Croatia – We are back, and as good as Italy were in the first half, Croatia is one cross, one beat defender, one header away from canceling out a first half were they were second best.

1250 – Italy 1-0 Croatia, Halftime – Pre-game we talked about this being Italy’s chance to assert themselves as real contenders. They absolutely are playing to that level. Andrea Pirlo has been great – possibly asserting himself as the tournament’s best player, to this point. The combination of him an Antonio Cassano form a great, creative center to the club.

The stats: Possession: Italy 11-3; Shots: Italy 11-3; Shots on target: Italy 6-3.

1247 – Italy 1-0 Croatia, Halftime – Intermission, and Italy goes in deserved leaders. While there were spells where it seemed Croatia was building something, there was never a point where you felt them the better team. By the end of the half Italy was in firm control of the game.

1239 – Italy 1-0 Croatia – The best attacking spell of the match ends with a great Pirlo strike from left of goal, giving Italy the lead.

One minute before, Italy pushes for a goal that only some Stipe Pletikosa heroics keep out. A Pirlo ball for Cassano sees Cassano find Claudio Marchisio in the left channel with a brilliant ball. A nice touch set him up for a shot that’s remarkably blocked by Pletikosa. The rebound goes to Marchisio, who sees another shot blocked, but on the clearance, Croatia gives up a foul.

From two yards outside the area, just above the left corner of the penalty area, Pirlo gets a ball up and over the wall, beating a valiant effort from Pletikosa, putting Italy in front.

1233 – Italy 0-0 Croatia – The play’s been a little more event than the second 10 minutes, but just past the 30 minute-mark, Italy is still creating the better chances. The greatest danger comes when they can get the ball to Cassano in transition, but when that doesn’t happen Pirlo is still doing a good job of moving the ball around. They haven’t been holding enough of the ball to get Thiago Motta and Claudio Marchisio forward much, but when they do (as they did a few minutes ago), it creates nervy moments for Croatia.

1222 – Italy 0-0 Croatia – For the first time, we see Croatia putting together the passes they’ll need to use to get in and out of that Italy defense. They end up putting a cross in from the left that sees Nikica Jelavic and Giorgio Chiellini are tangled, and a foul’s given on Croatia. On the restart Croatia regains possession and quickly comes back down the right, with Darijo Srna putting a dangerous ball near post. Nobody getson it, and Gianluigi Buffon swallows it up.

1216 – Italy 0-0 Croatia – Mario Balotelli’s movement is terrorizing Vedran Corluka, who again looks terrible. Both Cassano and Pirlo have been able to find him quite easily. Croatia, going forward, look contained. In defense, they seem like they’re just hoping Italy doesn’t execute.

1201 – Italy 0-0 Croatia – We are underway. Italy’s in blue, moving left to right. Croatia is in white.

1158 – Teams are shaking hands. We’re minutes away from kickoff.

1127 – Today’s lineups:

Croatia: Pletikosa, Strinić, Ćorluka, Schildenfeld, Rakitić, Vukojević, Modrić, Srna, Perišić, Jelavić, Mandžukić SUBS: Kelava, Subašić, Šimunić, Buljat, Vrsaljko, Vida, Pranjić, Badelj, Dujmović, Kranjčar, Kalinić, Eduardo.

Italy: Buffon, Maggio, Chiellini, Bonucci, Motta, Marchisio, Giaccherini, De Rossi, Pirlo, Balotelli, Cassano SUBS: Sirigu, De Sanctis, Ogbonna, Balzaretti, Abate, Barzagli, Montolivo, Diamanti, Nocerino, Di Natale, Borini, Giovinco.

Croatia is unchanged, and it Italy, despite days of speculation Cesare Prandelli would make up to three moves. If Prandelli’s willing lie to us about a piddling soccer lineup, what else is he willing to do?

I feel so used.

My picks today (I don’t think I’ve gotten a pick right yet): Italy 3-1 Croatia, and Spain 4-0 Ireland. That seems wild … maybe I’m getting punchy.
ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.

Bayern signs Odriozola on loan from Real Madrid

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich signed Spain right back Alvaro Odriozola on loan from Real Madrid on Wednesday to help ease its defensive worries after a spate of injuries.

[ MORE: Eriksen holds talks with Levy; Inter “still confident” ]

The Bavarian powerhouse said the 24-year-old Odriozola signed a deal to the end of the season after successfully passing a medical examination.

“We decided to fulfill our head coach Hansi Flick’s wish to strengthen the defense and decided for Alvaro Odriozola,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said. “We’re very happy with the transfer and thank the management at Real Madrid for the very friendly and cooperative talks.”

Bayern defenders Niklas Sule, Lucas Hernandez and Javi Martinez are out with injuries and 23-year-old Benjamin Pavard — a center back — had been filling in at right back. Odriozola’s arrival will free the French player to return to his usual position.

[ MORE: Cavani “will go to Atletico Madrid” if PSG let him leave ]

Madrid paid a reported $33 million to sign Odriozola from Real Sociedad in 2018, but the winger has barely played since. He made only four league appearances this season, with Dani Carvajal preferred at right back.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane gave the go-ahead for Odriozola’s transfer on Tuesday. Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao were also reportedly interested.

Odriozola has one goal in four appearances for Spain.

Bayern is hoping to claw back a four-point deficit on Bundesliga leader Leipzig to claim a record-extending eighth straight title.

Eriksen holds talks with Levy; Inter ‘still confident in this deal’

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Christian Eriksen met with chairman Daniel Levy on Tuesday in his latest attempt to secure his Tottenham Hotspur exit during the January transfer window, according to a report from Sky Sports.

[ MORE: Levy reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale ]

Eriksen already has a pre-contract agreement with Inter Milan in place, but the Danish playmaker and the Serie A club are hopeful of completing the signing this month. Inter submitted a $14.5-million bid (plus bonuses) for Eriksen earlier this week, but Levy is said to be holding out for his $22-million valuation, fully guaranteed, of the player.

Eriksen’s agent is also expected to meet with Levy following Wednesday’s Premier League clash with Norwich City (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) in yet another attempt to broker a deal between the two clubs.

[ MORE: Cavani “will go to Atletico Madrid” if PSG let him leave ]

Inter Milan chief executive Giuseppe Marotta remains optimistic that an agreement can be reached this month, as he told Sky Italia, “We’re waiting and we’re still confident in this deal.”

In the Mixed Zone: Chelsea v. Arsenal

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LONDON — To make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.

[ MORE: In the Mixed Zone ]

The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world.

We will tell you what they are saying and the kind of antics going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Here’s the scene from pitch side at Stamford Bridge in the hour or so after the full time whistle blew between Chelsea and Arsenal, as their crazy end-to-end clash ended in a 2-2 draw after late drama, red cards and superb solo goals.

Safe to say one set of players were more keen to stop and chat with us than the other, as Arsenal’s players must have a secret exit…

10:30 p.m. (local time): Mixed Zone opens on the side of the pitch at Stamford Bridge, just in front of the dugouts as a flimsy advertizing board is put up. Chelsea’s players are warming down in the background. With Pedro, Batshuayi, Alonso and Mount running sprints up and down the pitch on a chilly west London night. To be fair, I may join them. Cannot feel my hands after two hours or so sat outside tapping away at a laptop…

10:35: Reece James is the first player to walk the mixed zone, walking a little gingerly and dodging behind the sponsorship boards as he is looking sheepish. The young defender, dressed in a tracksuit, missed the game through injury but Frank Lampard confirmed it was nothing serious.

10:38: One of just a few Arsenal players to walk through the mixed zone (seriously, have they borrowed Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak!?) Rob Holding has a big smile on his face as he says hello. A late sub, Holding spent a ridiculous amount of time warming up on the sidelines as it looked like he would come on in the first half but Granit Xhaka played very well at center back.

10:42: Next up is current Chelsea striker (for how much longer?) and former Arsenal star Olivier Giroud. Asked about a reported move to Inter Milan and if this was his last time on the pitch at Stamford Bridge, Giroud laughed when journalists said “Arrivederci” to him. Giroud won’t speak about a move to Inter Milan, which is understandable as he didn’t make it onto the pitch. But maybe with Tammy Abraham picking up a knock he won’t be allowed to head to Milan after all…

10:45: Talking of Milan, Andreas Christensen looked very moody and magnificent as he strode past the media like it was a catwalk in the famed fashion capital of Italy and the world. A tough night for the young Danish center back once again, as Chelsea’s fans were very nervous every time he got on the ball and the Blues were guilty of giving up possession cheaply at the back.

10:48: Robert Pires has been seen gliding around the press areas as he works for French TV. Imagine him on the wing for this Arsenal side! My word, that man could open a can of beans with his left foot…

10:51: With a lull in the players walking through, we popped into the press conference room to hear from Mikel Arteta. Sporting a lovely turtleneck sweater, Arteta was beaming when asked about the character of his young side as they played for over 60 minutes with 10 men and looked the more likely to win it late on. Arteta singled out Bakayo Saka, Granit Xhaka, Hector Bellerin, Alexandre Lacazette and Gabriel Martinelli for special praise but admitted his entire team showed the desire he is asking for as they look to turn things around.

“The togetherness and leadership they showed today, this is what I wanted to see. It’s very important for the development. We are in the a process and are going in the right direction but I think tonight is a special night for everybody,” Arteta told BBC’s Match of the Day. Right on, Mikel, right on.

Arsenal skipper Hector Bellerin, who was lauded by the away fans after his late left foot swinger grabbed them a point, talks about their progress under Arteta in touch circumstances with so many players injured and out of position: “The second half had been very tough for the team. You could see the spirit in the team. I am very proud and the manager I’m sure is very happy with how we responded with 10 men.”

BTW, Bellerin’s cockney/Spanish accent is absolutely amazing. That is all.

10:54: Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic strolls through as he rolls a suitcase. One journalist is clearly a fan but is upset he doesn’t stop often: ‘Mateo is such a nice guy but he never stops to talk. The worst thing about it? He speaks five languages, so he could speak to every media member here!’ If I was Kovacic I’d be showing off my incredible linguistic skills. Shortly after him is little N’Golo Kante, who slipped to allow Arsenal to make it 1-1. Kante, shy as ever, had his head down as he rolled his miniature suitcase alongside the side of the pitch.

10:55: Oh, this is very interesting. Tammy Abraham limps out of the tunnel area and hobbles along the side of the pitch. He took a late whack and has been icing his right leg. “Tammy, you can’t get injured!” jokes one journalist as he intimates that Abraham is their only real option up top. “Mate, don’t, I know, I know” is his reply with half a laugh and half a grimace.

10:57: David Luiz, usually a shoe in to stop and talk, didn’t stop and that was understandable. His return to Chelsea saw him sent off but his team rallied to pick up a draw as TV cameras showed him in agony late in the game, watching the action on the smallest TV in history in the tunnel area. It was Luiz’s fault for giving away a penalty kick as he brought down Abraham as he tried to make up for Mustafi’s error. But there was mutual respect in the mixed zone because Luiz is one of the good guys who always stops. He will stop next time, for sure, we hope…

10:59: Okay, a quick pop back into the press conference room as the final few stragglers come out. Frank Lampard is up and looks like Christmas has just been canceled. He questions Chelsea’s game management after going 2-1 up late on and bemoans their lack of creativity in the final third. When then ask him for an injury update on USMNT star Christian Pulisic and if he thinks the Pennsylvanian Messi would have made a different to unlock this Arsenal defense.

“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said, as he nodded in realization.

When will Pulisic be back?

Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.

“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard added.

11:04: Back outside in the cold, Kurt ‘Happy’ Zouma and Michy Batshuayi walk through together and the former is living up to his name as he is beaming with a massive smile as he says hey. Can’t help but think that Zouma will be back in the Chelsea team for their FA Cup clash against Hull this weekend, and probably the trip to Leicester City next weekend.

11:09: Hear he is, the nicest man in football. Cesar Azpilicueta (Dave, to the Chelsea fans) is smiling and laughing as he emerges from the tunnel. “I’m not speaking to you guys, nothing for you!” he jokes as he looks over to the mixed zone. He does go and have a chat with Chelsea TV as he puts on a comically large set of headphones. Azpilicueta, who put Chelsea 2-1 up late on as it looked like being the winner, then shows off his amazing language skills as he talks to English radio, outlets from the Middle East, then speaks in French to RMC and Canal+ and chats in Spanish to one journalist. He then speak to us about Pulisic and how important it is that he returns to full fitness. In a nutshell, Azpilicueta is an impressive dude.

“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said. “After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies. In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”

Here he is speaking in French because he can.

11:15: Senior Chelsea officials are then seen ushering guests out and there are plenty of handshakes. Journalists chatter about who it is, maybe a new owner!?

11:16: The flimsy advertizing board is gone. The stadium is pretty much empty. The Mixed Zone is closed as frost descends on freezing London.

Cavani ‘will go to Atletico Madrid’ if PSG let him leave

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Edinson Cavani has made up his mind and knows which club he will join this month — if Paris Saint-Germain agree to sell, that is — according to the Uruguayan striker’s father.

[ MORE: Chelsea admit they miss Christian Pulisic ]

Cavani has standing offers to join multiple clubs during the January transfer window, most notably from Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, but the most difficult hurdle appears to be convincing PSG to let him go. According to the player’s father, Luis, Atleti is the 32-year-old’s preferred destination — quotes from Sky Sports:

“He wants to join another club in Europe. That would please me that he plays here (at Atletico), yes. (Diego) Simeone wants him now (in January). The head coach of Paris Saint-Germain has also said he needs him to help compete in the Champions League.

“But PSG do not want him to go to Atletico Madrid if he finds an agreement. I think there is a strong chance he will go to Atletico, the option to join the club (Atletico) always remains in June.

“There are lots of other clubs but when you give your word to a team, you respect it. If tomorrow, if he is available and Atletico still want him, I think he will sign. He is a player who needs time to play, and today he only plays four or six minutes per game. PSG are treating him unfairly.”

Chelsea’s desire to acquire a goalscorer of Cavani’s caliber will have only increased following the ankle injury suffered by Tammy Abraham, the Blues’ only consistent option at the position, during Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal. The severity of Abraham’s injury is not yet known.