All aboard the Rafamobile! Benítez suddenly coach of Chelsea (for now)

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Hours after they parted ways with the man who won them their first European title, Chelsea’s moved on to a man whose reputation hinges on his UEFA Champions League success.

With the appointment of former Liverpool manager Rafa Benítez today, Chelsea’s replaced Roberto Di Matteo, if only in the short-term. Given the job of seeing out the 2012-13 season, Benítez appears to be doing little more than keeping a seat warm for Roman Abramovich’s true ambition – Pep Guardiola.

Here’s the club’s statement:

Chelsea Football Club can confirm Rafael Benitez has been appointed interim first-team manager until the end of the season.

The owner and the Board believe that in Benitez we have a manager with significant experience at the highest level of football, who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives.

The 52-year-old Spaniard is due to meet the players at the training ground in Cobham tomorrow

Those objectives are unlikely to include UEFA Champions League, where Chelsea’s fate now depends on Juventus losing in Donetsk on matchday six. Of course, that could happen, and if it does (while Chelsea beats Nordsjaelland), the Blues will have a man whose reputation has come to rest on his Champions League accumen. If not, there’s always the league, two domestic cups, and Europa League.

It’s a good appointment for everybody except Di Matteo, who likely would be in a job today had Benítez been either unavailable or unwilling to subjugate himself to a temporary position.

Such has been Benítez’s fall. After guiding Liverpool to second in the Premier League in 2008-09, he allowed Liverpool to slip to seventh place, the failure to make Champions League beginning a slide from which the club’s still recovering. Benítez’s subsequent inability to replace José Mourinho at Inter Milan meant the former Valencia boss’s best route to a marquee job was a situation like Chelsea’s.

Let’s also not forget the nature Benítez’s failings in Milan, because they’re particularly relevant to his potential success at Chelsea. We should take managerial hubris and put it aside, because Benítez has likely been dissuaded of notions that had him shrug off his part in Liverpool’s downfall. The state he left Internazionale in was bad enough.

There he inherited an old team coming off a Mourinho-led European title and not only changed how they played but ran his veterans into the ground. There’s more than one similarity to be drawn between that Inter side and Benítez’s new charge. By the time the Nerazzurri took off for 2011’s Club World Cup, they were depleted, mutinous, and out of chances for their ill-fitting coach.

While Benítez is not directly replacing Mourinho in London, he will again be faced with expectations raised by the Special One. Even after Di Matteo delivered the one prize José couldn’t claim, standards at Stamford Bridge reflect the demands of a man five years gone. If Benítez is going to retain his job, he has to claim the league, FA Cup, or Europa League. And as Di Matteo’s travails show, even that might not be enough.

Because if Benítez is to win silverware during his Stamford Bridge residency, it will likely be through the same pragmatism that characterized his most successful times at Anfield. It’s not ugly, it’s not anti-football, but it’s also not Barcelona. And for whatever misguided reasons Roman Abramovich is using to fuel his decisions, Chelsea’s owner won’t be happy until his team is playing the brand of soccer he’s wanted since the day he bought the club.

The lack of style undid Mourinho. It undid Di Matteo. And it will likely undo Benítez, regardless of results.

The one thing that could keep Benítez in London past May 2013 is if Guardiola goes elsewhere, because for everything we’ve heard about Abramovich’s lust of Pep, we’ve heard little of reciprocation from the former Barça boss. We know he prefers England. We know he prefers London. We also know that he’s unlikely to make any decisions until early-2013, if not later.

All of which makes the treatment of Di Matteo more curious. Replacing a club icon with a former rival is precarious enough (though Chelsea fans will likely recognize Benítez’s qualities). To do so when it’s unclear if lack of a striker or thin central midfield are the real problems hints Di Matteo was never going to be embraced by Abramovich. It didn’t matter that Di Matteo’s Champions League troubles came in a group with two of the top eight teams in Europe. That he lost provided Arbamovich an out from a man he never truly wanted, even if it made more sense to keep him until the Guardiola question was resolved.

With no answers in sight, Chelsea fans are best served concentrating on the present. They aren’t the best team in England, but they’re capable of competing for the title. Perhaps Benítez will bring something new out of them. Cup competitions have taken on a special meaning for the Blues. They’re still alive in both. And even if Europe only offers Europa League, the team has enough young, exciting talents to make that congestion-inducing tournament worth a Chelsea-supporters’ time. There’s still plenty of light in this 2012-13 tunnel.

Roberto Di Matteo won’t be driving them through it, but it’s time to move on. All aboard the Rafamobile.

Dortmund release update on Pulisic’s future. Should he leave?

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Christian Pulisic’s future at Borussia Dortmund has been under constant speculation in recent weeks.

This should keep that chatter going…

[ MORE: Pulisic hits out after USA’s defeat ]

Dortmund’s sporting director, Michael Zorc, has said that the USMNT star will be with the Bundesliga giants “at least until the end of the season” as his contract nears its end.

Pulisic, 20, is under contract with Dortmund until the end of the 2019-20 campaign, but reports have surfaced in recent days linking him with a move to both Chelsea and Liverpool in the Premier League. A transfer fee of around $90 million has been mentioned if Pulisic was to move in January, with any potential transfer fee dwindling if he moves into next summer without signing a new deal at Dortmund.

Zorc has said Pulisic will remain at the club until the end of the current campaign, as the German side are top of the Bundesliga and flying under Lucien Favre.

“We have known these rumors for many years. We plan at least until the end of the season with him,” Zorc told Kicker.

Pulisic lost his place in the Dortmund team for the 3-2 Der Klassiker win over Bayern Munich, as the emergence of English teenager Jadon Sancho and a few injuries has seen the Pennsylvania native endure an up and down start to the season.

Pro Soccer Talk spoke to Pulisic in London ahead of the USMNT’s game against England and asked him if staying at Dortmund was still his preference over a move to the Premier League.

“The Bundesliga has been a great platform for me especially and you can see other young guys as well it has been a great league. They trust in their young players. Dortmund has been an unbelievable start to my career. 100 percent,” Pulisic said. “It still is a great spot and that is why I am able to be a big part of this team and continue to grow. I think a lot of young players see that and they’re also moving to the Bundesliga and doing well there. Right now I’m finishing out, I’m still under contract with Dortmund, I am still enjoying every moment of it. Obviously we are having a great year, so I am enjoying it as much as I can. And when the time comes that is when I have my talks with Dortmund and see what I want to do moving forward.”

With Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and others circling, Dortmund could well look to cash in on Pulisic in January. But as they’ve shown in the past, they’d rather keep on to star players until the very last moment and forfeit extra funds from a transfer fee: see Lewandowski, Hummels and Gotze to Bayern.

Is now the right time for Pulisic to arrive in the Premier League? It appears a January move could be the right situation for everyone.

Dortmund would get a huge transfer fee, Pulisic would leave the German giants close to winning the title (they sit four points clear right now) and one of the Premier League giants not only has a hugely talented player but also a hugely profitable one when it comes to a commercial standpoint.

It appears that Pulisic’s mind is definitely made up that he will one day play in the Premier League. He isn’t shy in saying that but many believed he would remain in the Bundesliga for a few more seasons.

This situation is a fast moving one and Pulisic’s next move will likely be the biggest of his career. If he remains at Dortmund and battles for a starting spot he could risk losing playing time, but the same could be said if he moves to Chelsea or Liverpool given their potent attacking lineups.

Tottenham would probably seem like the best fit for him right now, but Chelsea seem to be more serious suitors.

Pulisic could also play regularly right now at Stamford Bridge, with Willian and Pedro hardly spring chickens and there is also the potential for Eden Hazard to depart in the next few years. Plus, Maurizio Sarri‘s attacking, possession-based philosophy would suit Pulisic’s skill set a little better than the raw pace and power of Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool. And trying to get in front of Firmino, Mane and Salah would surely prove extremely difficult for Pulisic right now.

It seems like he has two options: stay at Dortmund and sign a new deal. Head to Chelsea and start a fresh challenge after four years in Germany.

There should be no rush for him to make this decision but if he doesn’t sign a new deal at Dortmund by January, the chances of him moving to the Premier League will increase exponentially.

How will USMNT line up v Italy?

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The U.S. men’s national team play Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday to end their 2018 campaign.

[ MORE: VAR to be used for Italy-USA ]

Over his 13-month spell in charge interim head coach Dave Sarachan has introduced more debutants than any other USMNT head coach in history in their first 11 games at the helm, and he is expected to give a few more youngsters a chance to shine for the Stars and Stripes.

Weston McKennie, Kenny Saief and Luca De La Torre are all out of the squad due to injury, so Sarachan has 23 players to choose from.

Italy boss Roberto Mancini has hinted at a much-changed lineup for the Azzurri, so we could see the U.S. experiment a little in what is expected to be Sarachan’s final game in charge before a new permanent head coach is put in charge.

Below we take a look at a few options for Sarachan at Luminus Arena on Tuesday.


Option 1: Possible USMNT lineup (4-3-3)

—– Horvath —–

— Moore — Carter-Vickers — Long — Villafana —

—- Acosta —- Adams —- Gall —- 

—- Weah —- Sargent —- Pulisic —-


Option 2: Possible USMNT lineup (3-4-2-1) 

—- Horvath —-

—- Carter-Vickers —- Long —- Brooks —-

—- Moore —- Adams —- Delgado —- Acosta —-

—- Pulisic —- Lletget —-

—– Sargent —–


Evaluation

Sarachan talked up Evan Horvath last week and it would be cool to see the youngster who plays in Belgium for Club Brugge get another shot to play for his national team in Belgium. We know what Brad Guzan can do, so why not give Horvath some minutes? In defense, the lack of another left back leaves Sarachan with a problem. Does he play Jorga Villafana for the second time in a few days ahead of his monster trip back to the West Coast to play for Portland in the MLS Cup conference final? Probably not. Yedlin could slot over to left back, or maybe Sarachan switches to a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation and has someone like Acosta or Adams who can get up and down the flank. Ahead of their Eastern Conference final showdown, giving Guzan, Aaron Long and Tyler Adams a rest may also be beneficial too.

In midfield Tyler Adams, Lletget and Delgado should all get a run out after not starting against England, while up top Josh Sargent is no longer an injury doubt so Christian Pulisic could support him and Tim Weah in attack with Bobby Wood given a rest. I’d go with Option 2 from above and play as many players who didn’t start or feature against England at Wembley as possible. At this point, get as many players international experience and hand over the reins to the next man (ahem, Gregg Berhalter).

VIDEO: Watch Romelu Lukaku rap

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Romelu Lukaku has been spitting some rhymes.

The Manchester United and Belgium striker, 25, tried his hand at rapping, in partnership with Puma and BR Football.

Before you chime in with comments about Lukaku ‘missing a beat’ or ‘not finishing his verse’ have a listen and see if he has what it takes to make this a side gig.

Most intriguing part of this for me: his Belgian accent disappears and is replaced with an American twang.

Below is a look at Lukaku in full flow, on the mic.


West Ham to expand their London Stadium home

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West Ham United will finally get to use the full capacity of their London Stadium home.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

After moving into the venue used for the 2012 Olympics in London for the 2016-17 season, the Hammers have seen their capacity capped to a maximum of 57,000 for home games.

Amid plenty of unrest about the stadium move from home fans, the light at the end of the tunnel was that the Hammers could compete better financial with the perennial giants of the Premier League as they would almost double their attendances at Upton Park.

The east London club released a statement on Monday confirming they can now expand their capacity to a maximum 66,000 seats and will be able to start selling 60,000 tickets for games straight away.

“West Ham United and its landlord E20 have today agreed a plan which allows the Club to sell additional seats for their matches thereby ending the litigation surrounding the capacity at the London Stadium. Both parties are delighted to have taken the first step towards the Stadium reaching its potential of up to 66,000 capacity, to their mutual benefit, and would see it become the largest in London and the second largest in the Premier League.

“The arrangement means that, subject to regulatory permissions, the Club will be able to sell up to 60,000 tickets for their games as soon as possible and leaves scope to expand up to 66,000 seats for future matches.”

This is pretty huge news for West Ham, who will able to add almost 10,000 extra seats on a matchday.

If the stadium does reach the 66,000 capacity level in the coming months, it means that only Old Trafford will have a larger capacity among club teams in the UK. West Ham will jump ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham in London in terms of stadium size and will have the biggest home venue of any London team.

Bragging rights for this type of thing is a big deal and West Ham have been hoping to expand ever since they moved in.

With a waiting list for season tickets after 50,000 were sold following their move from Upton Park in 2016, more of the Hammers faithful can now watch their team week in, week out.

Whatever their feelings on the move to the London Stadium, if West Ham’s fans are 100 percent behind their team then this venue has the possibility to be extremely intimidating.