West Brom upset Chelsea, continue Blues’ annual swoon

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Even if David Moyes has his Toffees fifth (despite mounting obstacles), Steve Clarke has been the outstanding manager of the young Premier League season. The former Newcastle, Chelsea, West Ham and Liverpool assistant was handed his first permanent managerial post in June, replacing Roy Hodgson at West Brom. The 49-year-old Scot’s responded by taking the Baggies to fourth place, a three-game winning streak putting the West Midlands club within a point of Chelsea after upsetting the Blues 2-1 at The Hawthorns on Saturday.

For Chelsea, the result continues a fall swoon we’ve been talking about since their struggles against Shakhtar and Liverpool. After a hot start convinced us they were legitimate title contenders, Chelsea has looked more like a team that finished sixth than a side ready to challenge Manchester City. The Blues haven’t put together a good performance since winning at White Hart Lane on Oct. 20. Since, they’ve won two of seven, giving up 15 goals along the way.

The swoon is reminiscent of last year’s stretch that cost André Villas-Boas his job. Starting with a Oct. 23, 2011’s 1-0 loss at Queens Park Rangers, Chelsea won only seven of their next 19 league matches. When Villas-Boas was fired on March 4, Chelsea were in fifth place. Their 46 points from 27 games left them 20 points behind Manchester City.

The year before that, under Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea also stumbled in fall. Beginning with a Nov. 7, 2010 loss at Liverpool (0-2), Chelsea won only two of 11 games, falling from first (where they had sat since round two) to fifth. The team ended the year third but parted ways with Ancelotti, notifying the manager of his dismissal after the team lost at Everton on the season’s final day.

Today in West Brom, two familiar names were at the heart of Chelsea’s disappointment. David Luiz is an immensely talented player (and treated unfairly by the English press), but his penchant for mistakes means he has a long way to go as a defender. His poor marking of Shane Long on West Brom’s opener will draw warranted criticism.

At the other end of the formation, Fernando Torres had another bad game, eventually suffering the indignity of being brought off while his team was chasing a tying goal. The Spaniard has been subpar for so long, there’s little reason to expect he’ll ever be the player he was at Liverpool.

There’s also little reason to believe he’ll ever meet Chelsea’s now tempered expectations. The Blues desperately need a new striker in January if they want to retain their title hopes.

In the interim, they may need to try Daniel Sturridge as their No. 9, as unlikely as that is to work.

Uruguay reaches Round of 16 courtesy of Suarez

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The first two nations have advanced to the knockout phase out of Group A.

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Uruguay reached the Round of 16 on Wednesday with a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia, who has been eliminated from the 2018 World Cup.

Hosts Russia will also reach the knockout rounds with the Uruguay win, thus eliminating Egypt as well.

The Barcelona striker gave Uruguay the lead in the 23rd minute, after a poor read from Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais.

Suarez was given a wide-open finish at the far post off the corner kick for his first goal at the World Cup. The 31-year-old had scored a combined five goals during his last two World Cup appearances (2010 & 2014).

The Uruguyans dictated the tempo throughout much of the match, but Saudi Arabia’s back line held strong for the majority of the game.

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Uruguay will close out group play against Group A leaders and hosts Russia on June 25, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt will tango that same day.

Video: Goalkeeping error grants Suarez, Uruguay gift

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Luis Suarez was clearly upset with his lack of finishing in Uruguay’s opener last Friday, but the Barcelona man is finally on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup.

[MORE: Ronaldo’s early header gives Portugal win over Morocco ]

The veteran striker gave Uruguay the lead in the 23rd minute after a close-range finish off of a corner kick.

Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais came out to try and collect the cross, however, he was slow in his reaction, allowing the ball to slip through to Suarez for the easy finish.

The Uruguayans will reach the Round of 16 with one match remaining if they hold on to their 1-0 lead.

NZ women’s coach placed on leave after player complaints

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) The coach of New Zealand’s women’s football team has been placed on leave pending an investigation of complaints about his conduct from members of the national team.

[ MORE: Senegal holds off late Poland charge for Group H win ]

The complaints centered around tactics Andreas Heraf used in a recent home international against Japan and his comments to media after that match. Players reportedly objected to the defensive nature of Heraf’s tactics in the 3-1 loss.

New Zealand Football chief executive Andy Martin said at a news conference on Wednesday that his organization had received a letter from the New Zealand Professional Footballers Association, containing letters of complaint from 13 national team members.

Defending his approach at a news conference after the match, Heraf said the New Zealand players would never have the “quality” to compete with a team of Japan’s ability and might have lost 8-0 if they had not adopted a defensive style.

Further reports have emerged of player concerns about Heraf’s behavior, including allegations of bullying.

Martin was repeatedly questioned at the news conference about when New Zealand Football first had notice of the players’ concerns about Heraf. He insisted he was not aware of any problems until the letter from the NZPFA containing the players’ complaints was released on Monday.

In a statement, New Zealand Football Chairman Deryck Shaw said player welfare was “of utmost importance.”

“We hold player welfare as a matter of utmost importance and that is why we are conducting a thorough, independent review. We want to ensure we better understand these issues in an objective review. There is no place for inappropriate behavior of any kind with New Zealand Football.”

Ronaldo’s early tally gives Portugal win over Morocco

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It was far from a convincing performance, but manager Fernando Santos and Co. came away with their first win at the World Cup and now sit in the drivers’ seat in Group B.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Portugal earned a narrow 1-0 win over Morocco on Wednesday, after Cristiano Ronaldo’s early header proved to be the difference.

Santos’ group now sits atop Group B with four points, while Morocco is eliminated after losing its first two matches.

It took just four minutes for Portugal to break the deadlock, with Ronaldo once again at the center of the Portuguese attack.

The Real Madrid man brilliantly latched onto a header at the near post off of a corner kick, giving Ronaldo his fourth goal at this World Cup (seventh goal overall).

Morocco did well to insert its presence in the match following the early goal, but various chances from Medhi Benatia and Hakim Ziyech weren’t enough to break past Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio.

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The African side also had a legitimate appeal for a penalty kick in the first stanza, however, referee Mark Geiger opted to play on despite the Moroccan protest.

Morocco continued its pressure in the second half, and Patricio was forced to make an incredible save in the 57th minute when Younes Belhanda headed a cross towards the far corner.

Portugal will close out Group B play on June 25 against Iran, while Morocco takes on Spain