Mr. Hyde shows up as Chelsea falls at Newcastle

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Newcastle may be much improved after spending their winter window hitting “Buy It Now” on French soccer Ebay, but it’s difficult to look beyond Chelsea when trying to explain today’s result. The Blues allowed themselves to go behind on a Jonas Gutierrez header before taking a 2-1 lead through Frank Lampard and Juan Mata just past the hour mark. Yet thanks to two goals from new midfielder Moussa Sissoko, Chelsea leaves St. James Park 3-2 losers and destined to be pulled back into a race for third.

The Blues came into this weekend action with a four-point lead on Spurs for fourth, but returning to London without a point, they’re dangerously close to being pulled into a second successive fight for Champions League. With a draw from Everton (against Aston Villa) and a win by Arsenal (over Stoke City), Chelsea’s now only four-points away from sixth.

Rafa Benitez has been terrible — we know this — but Chelsea’s a team that has always had a strong player leadership culture, one that was able to carry the likes of Avram Grant to a Champions League final. Didier Drogba is gone, but Frank Lampard, John Terry, and Petr Cech are not only still there, they were on the field when Chelsea gave up today’s lead. No matter what you think of Benitez, it’s hard to see how he got in the way of this win, particularly when a bench thinned by injury, suspension, and Cup of Nations left him with no meaningful way to tinker.

Beyond Benítez or the wane of Chelsea leadership, today’s issue is one pundits and followers have been harping on all season. As Moussa Sissoko scored a late double in his second Premier League match, you saw the type of drive, strength, and resolve that would bolster an underperforming Chelsea midfield. How do Spurs end up with a player like Sissoko when taking a flyer on him (or any other player like him) would cost Chelsea a fraction of their transfer budget?

Late in this match, as he became the most important player on the field, you couldn’t help but ask how he was allowed to do that? How can this player that had struggled of late for Toulouse be dropped into the league and, a week later, win matches against the European champion?

MORE: United’s flawed, fabulous season continues at Fulham

Obviously there are a lot of problems at Chelsea right now, but if that question even needs to be asked, those problems might run deeper than we had previously thought. Through most of this season Chelsea’s been a troubled if stably third place side, but while giving up today’s lead they showed the type of perpetual vulnerability that defined last year’s slide. Now it’s worth asking whether the Blues are much better than the team that finished sixth last season.

Of course, there is a big difference. Last year’s slide was make possible but Roberto Di Matteo putting all of the team’s eggs into the Champions League basket. What’s this year’s excuse?

There’s also the possibility Newcastle’s come together. They have Sissoko, Yoann Gouffran and Mathieu Debuchy. Yoann Cabaye is healthy, as is Steven Taylor at the back. This team is better than a 15th place side, even if they’ve rarely looked it.

MORE, EPL Roundup: Fellaini England’s best?

But Chelsea was up 2-1. They are the more talented side. They have the players to close out that game. Chelsea should have taken full points.

For the last two months we’ve likened Chelsea to Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde, but with the team falling back into a race for their Champions League lives, the pressure mounts to find a cure to their constant bipolar transformations. Why is Mr. Hyde showing up more often than Dr. Jeykll?

Klopp: “Nobody thinks about” $100m Van Dijk fee anymore

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Virgil Van Dijk needed fewer than 12 months to justify the $100-million transfer fee Liverpool paid to secure his services in January, at least in the mind of manager Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: Pogba’s agent hits back at critics, dares Man United to sell Pogba ]

Van Dijk, whose price tag remains the world record for a defender, quickly settled in at Anfield and helped the Reds reach the Champions League final inside his first five months at the club. Now, after beginning what will be his first full season at Liverpool, the 27-year-old is drawing praise of the highest order from Klopp.

Following Monday’s 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace, Klopp not only opined that Van Dijk has proven a worthy investment already, but went so far as to joke that perhaps “he was too cheap.” While the gaudy fee grabbed all the headlines back in January, Klopp says, “Nobody thinks about it now” — quotes from ESPN.com:

“Quality costs a specific price. With cars, it’s the case, and with players, too. Nobody thinks about it now.

“He’s a player in this market who is worth it, and maybe now people think he was too cheap. He loves playing with these boys, and that’s the most important thing.”

The Reds are scoring goals for fun once again this season, leaving the defense as the only relative unknown this season. Through two games of the 2018-19 season, they are the only side in the Premier League to not have conceded a single goal.

Usain Bolt hopeful of contract after first session in Australia

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GOSFORD, Australia (AP) — Star sprinter Usain Bolt says he passed up the chance to trial with clubs in Europe before accepting an offer to trial for a professional contract with the Central Coast Mariners in Australian football’s A-League.

[ MORE: Pogba’s agent hits back at critics, dares Man United to sell Pogba ]

Bolt trained with the Mariners for the first time on his 32nd birthday Tuesday, taking part in light passing drills and agility tests in front of a gallery of almost 100 reporters and photographers.

He has pledged to stay with the club for an “indefinite” trial period in the hope of achieving his long-held ambition to play professional football, a year after his retirement from the track.

The eight-time Olympic champion has trialed unsuccessfully with clubs in Germany, South Africa and Norway but is optimistic of breaking through with the Mariners, who finished last in the most-recent A-League season.

[ MORE: Woodward to appoint director of football at Manchester United ]

Mariners head coach Mike Mulvey said he is happy for Bolt stay with the team for a year if that is what he needs to fulfill his ambition.

Bolt said he had specifically targeted the A-League.

“We got offers from teams in Spain, France and stuff like that,” Bolt told reporters. “But for me it’d be harder because you have to learn a new language. It wasn’t in the top division.

[ MORE: Klopp: Let’s not worry about sending statements to Man City ]

“Australia is somewhere I enjoy coming. This is a start and I’m really appreciative of everything the Mariners have done.”

Asked in what position he hoped to play, Bolt said he is “good at center forward but open to playing anywhere on the park.”

“I look forward to scoring as many goals as possible and bringing home the trophy,” he said. “But I’m just trying to get over the first hurdle now, that’s to get a contract.”

Pogba’s agent hits back at critics, dares Man United to sell Pogba

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Mino Railoa, the agent of Paul Pogba, has emptied a can of gas onto the already-raging inferno that is Manchester United, daring the club to sell his superstar client if anyone around the club is unhappy with his performances.

[ MORE: Woodward to appoint director of football at Manchester United ]

Raiola’s comments came Tuesday morning, in the wake of harsh — but fair — criticism over Pogba’s performance in Man United’s 3-2 defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday. United legend Paul Scholes merely echoed much of what the 25-year-old Red Devils captain said of himself and his teammates during post-game interviews.

“There’s a lack of leaders in the team. We thought Paul Pogba might be the ideal candidate to be that leader, but he wasn’t there today. He had another really poor game. He’s so inconsistent.

“Pogba’s playing the ball out of play, he’s overhitting passes, he’s hitting passes short, he’s getting caught in possession.

Still, it didn’t sit well with Raiola, thus he launched a Twitter attack early Tuesday morning, facetiously advising Scholes to “become United’s sports director and advise [chief executive Ed] Woodward to sell Pogba.”

The reality is, of course, that every time Pogba completes a transfer, Raiola pockets a massive windfall of cash. It was reported that he received a $29-million agent’s fee following the Frenchman’s move from Juventus to United in the summer of 2016.

[ MORE: Klopp: Let’s not worry about sending statements to Man City ]

Gary Neville and Mike Phelan, Scholes’ former teammate and assistant manager, respectively, wasted little time in hitting back at Raiola. Jose Mourinho, who spent the latter part of the summer criticizing Pogba — and plenty of his teammates — has not yet weighed in on Raiola’s comments, but his response will undoubtedly arrive in short order.

The five-alarm fire burns brighter and hotter than ever before.

Reports: Spurs’ USMNT back Carter-Vickers moving toward loan

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American defender Cameron Carter-Vickers may be set for another loan from Tottenham Hotspur to the English second tier.

CCV, 20, played 17 times each during loans to Sheffield United and Ipswich Town last season, scoring a goal with two assists for the Blades.

[ MORE: Klopp on beating Palace ]

He’s made four Cup appearances for Spurs, all in 2016-17 and all 90-minute performances at center back.

Carter-Vickers also has four USMNT caps, and is likely to get a call-up for next month’s friendlies.

Reports have linked the center back with defense-starved Swansea City, a return to Ipswich Town, or a move to Sheffield Wednesday. All have hopes of promotion to the Premier League, though the latter two have started poorly.

CCV is behind Jan Vertonghen, Davinson Sanchez, Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier, and probably Juan Foyth on the Spurs depth chart.