How can Rafa Benítez represent Chelsea after a rant like this?

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baXOtOCMcTc]

This type of rant has come to define Rafa Benítez. The last time we heard one, his Inter Milan side had just beaten Conglese club TP Mazembe in the Club World Cup. It was an occasion when he chose not to celebrate players’ achievements but to deride detractors who had criticized his management of the club. Less than a week later, Benítez was done, Leonardo was brought in, and Inter — the reigning league, cup, and European champions — salvaged a Champions League spot in Italy.

These missives became common in Benítez’s final day at Liverpool. Whether he was hitting out at Manchester United, Chelsea, Alex Ferguson or Liverpool’s owners, Benítez used his limited successes as reason to roll out his resumé and justify his greatness. Now that resumé, a distinguished one that includes a Champions League title, is in danger of becoming an afterthought in the story of a man whose career was undone by a lack of humility.

Today, Chelsea won at Middlesbrough 2-0 in the FA Cup. Boro is a second-tier club in England. The win was more obligatory than triumphant, but in an act of farce, Benítez used the opportunity to make a statement to Chelsea fans. Those banners you make? The dissent you offer? The frustration you have that your club replaced an icon (Roberto Di Matteo) with me, somebody who faded at Liverpool before failing at Inter? All of that is completely unjustifiable, in his eyes.

Welcome to sports, Mr. Benítez. Fans voice their displeasure, especially when the team you inherited is struggling to maintain its Champions League position after showing sights of title contention at the beginning of the season. The team was too flawed to maintain that pursuit, but since being brought in November, it’s unclear Benítez has done anything to improve the team. Having been pulled into a fight for their top four lives, all indications hint they’re worse.

I can only assume Benítez doesn’t realize this; else, he wouldn’t have given this speech. Until Benítez accomplishes something at Stamford Bridge, he has no basis for saying fan criticism is unjustified. And based on the “stupid plastic flags” jab he lobbed at Chelsea fans while managing Liverpool, he can’t expect the benefit of the doubt. If he does, he’s delusional.

But Benítez’s is a strange, self-defined world where none of his failures impact his image. To him, he’s the guy that won titles in Spain. He’s the man who won Champions League at Liverpool. Every opportunity he gets, he reminds us of his greatness, just as he did today. Chelsea fans should have welcomed him as a savior instead of a man of last resort.

In his mind, he’s not the guy that lost Liverpool’s top four spot, something from which the Reds have yet to recover. He’s not the man who ran José Mourinho’s Inter Milan squad into the ground. And he’s not the man who has failed to make any progress with one of the richest squads in the world.

This is a team that still has Petr Cech. They have Ashley Cole and David Luiz. There are players like Juan Mata and Eden Hazard in attack, as well as the slew of complementary pieces you’d expected when you’re coaching one of the most affluent clubs in the world. Do all the pieces fit? Perhaps not, but when you’re a man of Benítez’s self-appointed status, surely you can whip up something. No man worth the resumé he keeps repeating would let this club drift this far off course.

As much as any fans have a right to complain, Chelsea’s do. And as much as any manager in the world should have refrained from using a 2-0 victory over a lower-level side as a platform for outrage, Benítez should have.

Today’s rant is the strangest moment in the now absurd career of Rafa Benítez. Roman Abramovich should reconsider whether he wants this to be the face of his club, even if it’s only for three more months.

Atletico Madrid held scoreless by lowly Leganes

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Diego Simeone was once again flummoxed up front as Atletico Madrid was toothless in a 0-0 draw with lowly Leganes, leaving them seven points behind leaders Barcelona in the La Liga table, and leaving them looking for answers up front as well.

Joao Felix and Thomas Partey were bright, but Alvaro Morata was quieted by a well organized Leganes side as Atletico failed to produce any type of solid chance on net until Saul and Ivan Saponjic each missed decent efforts in the final minutes of play, including the latter’s which came in the 93rd minute and left the hosts with just the lone point. The meek result against La Liga’s 19th-placed team is the most recent setback in a season of spotty performances.

All season long, scoring goals has been an enormous problem for Atleti. They haven’t scored more than two goals in any game since a 3-2 win over Eibar way back on September 1, and have been blanked in eight league matches this year, including two in a row now. They have scored 22 goals this season in La Liga play, a paltry total only matched by eighth-placed Atletic Bilbao and those in 14th and below.

Felix has drowned in abuse from fans over the last month given the team’s struggles, but in all honesty he was the team’s best attacker at the Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday. The young Portuguese forward worked both flanks and earned four fouls, including two in the attacking third. Still, he had little support and was unable to get by a packed-in Leganes defense on his own. Partey was good as well, producing a quality shift in his defensive midfield role but unable to chip in moving forward.

In contrast, Morata was a complete no-show. Producing just two total shots in the 90-minute performance, Morata has now failed to score in three straight league games and owns just two in his last eight. Simeone’s attack was completely devoid of answers, resorting to futily pummeling the Leganes box with crosses, finding a teammate with just six of their 23 attempts. They won just two of seven aerial duels in the Leganes area, and over the 90 minutes produced an expected goal total of 1.02 with 14 shots, including nearly half of that xG value (0.45) on the aforementioned two late chances coming in the final three minutes of play.

With a Champions League matchup against Liverpool on the horizon, Simeone has plenty to sort out as Atletico Madrid looks to challenge both domestically and in Europe.

FOLLOW LIVE: Man City, Man United, Liverpool in FA Cup

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It’s a big Sunday slate in the FA Cup fourth round as Manchester City, Manchester United, and Liverpool all take the field, each with their own time slot. Click the link below to follow along with the action.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

Fulham and Tranmere have already knocked off Premier League opponents. The Whites took down Aston Villa 2-1 in the third round on Harry Arter‘s absolutely stunning winner with 16 minutes to go, while Tranmere topped Watford just three days ago in extra time of their replay.

Manchester City has delivered a strong starting lineup at the Etihad to face Fulham, with David Silva, Riyad Mahrez, and Ilkay Gundogan all in the eleven, while 19-year-old Spanish defender Eric Garcia also appears alongside Nicolas Otamendi. Fulham, meanwhile, is struck by injuries at key places, with talismanic striker Aleksandr Mitrovic out as is the goalscorer Arter from last round.

Full Sunday FA Cup schedule

Manchester City v. Fulham – 8:00 a.m. ET
Tranmere Rovers v. Manchester United – 10:00 a.m. ET
Shrewsbury Town v. Liverpool – 12:00 p.m. ET

Transfer rumor roundup: Mari to Arsenal; Defoe makes permanent Rangers move

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors, including those involving Premier League outfits.

[ MORE: Premier League January transfer needs ]

Arsenal are reportedly hours from adding a defender to Mikel Arteta‘s squad.

Flamengo’s Pablo Mari has reportedly arrived in London and set for a medical at Arsenal, Sky Sports reports. The 26-year-old Spaniard will join the North London side for the remainder of the season with an option to buy.

It won’t be Mari’s first time signing for a Premier League side, however.

In 2016, the center-back signed with Manchester City, but never featured for the defending champions, instead making appearances for Girona, NAC and Deportivo La Coruna on loan.


Jermaine Defoe is not returning to Bournemouth.

On Saturday, Rangers announced that Defoe signed a pre-contract to join Rangers on permanent basis in the summer.

The storied 37-year-old English striker has 20 goals in 57 appearances since joining the Scottish giants last January on a 18-month loan. Defoe’s new contract runs through the 2020-21 season, a one-year deal.

“It’s fantastic news,” Rangers manager Steven Gerrard told the club’s website. “It’s something we have been working on over the weeks and it is great to finally get that done and dusted.”

“He is an incredible professional with the way he goes about his work on and off the pitch – he is a credit to himself and his family. And also on the pitch, which is the main thing. He is still contributing heavily – he is a major part of this group, this team and this squad and hopefully together we can go and share some success as I think he deserves that.”

This season, Defoe has scored 16 goals in 28 games.


Crystal Palace are in talks to sign Belgium international Yannick Carrasco, according to Sky Sports.

Carrasco, 26, wants to leave Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang and is currently training in Belgium, ahead of a return to European play.

Carrasco has scored 24 goals in 52 appearances since making a move to China from Atletico Madrid in February 2018.


Norwich City are actively pursuing Danel Sinani, according to the Daily Mail.

The 22-year-old Luxembourg winger is out of contract with Luxembourg side FC Dudelange this summer. If the parties involved can’t reach a deal this week,  the Canaries are reportedly ready to propose a pre-contract agreement.

Mourinho hints Spurs to sign Lo Celso permanently: ‘I think the boy is earning the decision’

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Tottenham Hotspur loanee Giovani Lo Celso is closer to permanently stay in North London than he is to return back to Sevilla.

[ MORE: Spurs, Saints draw and force 4-th round FA Cup replay ]

The 23-year-old Argentine, who arrived at Spurs from Real Betis last summer on a season-long loan, experienced a rocky start in the Premier League. Lo Celso – with only 44 minutes of English top-flight playing time under his belt – suffered a hip injury with Argentina, ruling him out two months in the fall.

Since, the attacking midfielder has worked his way up Jose Mourinho’s pecking order, featuring heavily in the Portuguese’s scheme over the past few months. Most recently, on Saturday, Lo Celso displayed his well-balanced virtues in Tottenham’s 1-1 draw with Southampton in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Following the match, Mourinho addressed questions on whether or not his club is going to sign the midfielder on a permanent contract. Praiseworthy of Lo Celso’s learning abilities, Mourinho hopes the midfielder will be a part of the club’s long-term plans.

“It’s not an obligation, it’s an option,” Mourinho said of Lo Celso, who is reportedly available at reduced price of $35 million. “I think the boy is earning the decision. He’s making an easy decision for the club to execute the option.”

“Incredible evolution since I arrived,” he added. “Barely played a game, I think he played against Red Star Belgrade, with me a little bit difficult to come in the first few weeks. But he understood what we wanted. Good learner, good kid and I think by himself he made the decision that the club is going to execute the option. That’s normal, he earned it.”

With Christian Eriksen on the verge of departing the London side, Mourinho and company will have additional funds to land Lo Celso this winter before his price spikes in the summer.

Everything points to the creative midfielder having a future in London, but will Spurs brass follow suit and make it official soon?