Chelsea approves Jose Mourinho’s desire to play ‘B Squad’ against Liverpool

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One glance at this weekend’s fixture list and there’s one Premier League match that sticks out – Sunday’s clash between Liverpool and Chelsea.

For Liverpool, the match long appeared to be a massive hurdle in their march to the title, as the Reds need to take seven of a possible nine points from their last three matches.

For Chelsea, the match appeared to be a last-ditch chance at chasing the title until earlier this week where it became clear that the West London club viewed the fixture as a headache, more than anything else. Despite the Blues 2nd place status in the Premier League if they should win at Anfield they would still need Liverpool to lose one of their final two matches, against Crystal Palace and Newcastle. A Chelsea win on Sunday would therefore serve merely as a means by which 3rd placed Manchester City can coast back into the title race.

And in case you hadn’t noticed, Jose Mourinho is not huge on doing Manuel Pellegrini any favors. Which is why earlier this week ‘The Special One’ announced his intent to play a weakened squad against Liverpool, his punishment for the Premier League’s decision to hold the match on a Sunday rather than a Friday or Saturday.

“We represent English football and are the only team in European competitions,” Mourinho explained after the 0-0 draw with Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals of the Champions League. “Spain has four and gave them all the conditions to try to have success, so I know what I would do. But I’m not the club. I have to speak to them. I would play with the players who are not going to play Wednesday.”

“The fact that the (Liverpool) match is on Sunday, I think puts the problem not in my hands but in the hands of those who decide the game should be on Sunday and not Saturday or Friday.”

Mourinho was not entirely committed to the idea, however, noting that he would need the backing of owner Roman Abramovich and the Chelsea board if he was to follow through with the B Squad plan.

On Thursday, the Chelsea hierarchy green lighted the plan.

That means Frank Lampard and Mikel John Obi, who are suspended in Europe on card accumulation, are expected to start along with the cup-tied Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah. Branislav Ivanovic, who was banned in Tuesday’s match, is likely to partner Gary Cahill in central defense due to John Terry being ruled out for the season with an ankle injury. That means Cesar Azpilicueta will move to right-back and Ashley Cole is expected to be handed his first start at left-back since January 11th. Mark Schwarzer will replace the injured Petr Cech in goal while the injured Eden Hazard is expected to remain sidelined and Samuel Eto’o is out with a knee issue.

So much for a title-tilt.

 

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE