World Cup team preview: Ivory Coast

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Getting to know…Ivory Coast: Possibly Africa’s strongest contender this year, Les Elephants have a strong squad but surprisingly a weak history as a soccer nation as far as results go.

The Ivory Coast has never escaped from the group stage of the World Cup, with this year being just their third go at the competition.  In addition, they’ve been relative newcomers on the African stage, with just one previous win in the African Cup of Nations (1992) and only in the past four competitions have they put together a string of deep runs.

However, if there’s one knock on the Ivorian team, it’s that years of building from the ground up has seen it run with a core group of players for years now, and that core is aging. The Toure brothers Kolo and Yaya are 33 and 31 respectively, and while the younger of the two seems to just be peaking now, he too may not have many years left on the international stage.

But there is also relief coming.  Wilfried Bony looks poised to take 36-year-old Didier Drogba’s place once the ageless wonder finally calls it quits, with Lacina Traore there to add another young attacking threat as well.  While he’s often a red card waiting to happen, midfield enforcer Chieck Tiote is there to help Yaya Toure if his legs do indeed tire.

It’s a strong squad, both literally and figuratively, and the typically African style of play could take them to new heights in Brazil.

Record in qualifying: The Ivorians dominated its CAF qualification group of Morocco, Tanzania, and Gambia, going undefeated throughout group play with four wins and two draws.  In the knockout round they drew Senegal, and a 3-1 home victory in the first leg gave them room to work with, and they put Senegal down with a 1-1 draw in the second leg. Salomon Kalou finished the competition with five goals, one behind the leading tally of six.

A look at Group C: Ivory Coast could be Africa’s strongest squad, but they also have the best chance to advance for another reason: their group is, at first glance, soft.  It’s not “easy” as there are no easy groups once you get to the big show, but is doesn’t seem to be powerful.  Colombia is facing a defensive crisis, Greece possibly overperformed during UEFA qualification, and Japan has a few top talents but as a team isn’t exactly a contender.

The Elephants have their own issues to deal with, but they look poised for the knockout round should they capitalize on their less challenging group.

Game schedule:

14 June, 21:00 ET, Recife: Ivory Coast vs. Japan
19 June, 12:00 ET, Brasilia: Colombia vs. Ivory Coast
24 June, 16:00 ET, Fortaleza: Greece vs. Ivory Coast

source: Getty Images
Yaya Toure may now be the Ivory Coast’s best player, but it’s impossible to forget about Didier Drogba and his storied career.

Star player: Yaya Toure

Fresh off winning the Premier League title, Manchester City’s Yaya Toure is looking now to lead his country to success as well.  With Didier Drogba likely on the final legs of his international career, the 36-year-old has shown his age this past year at Galatasaray, and it’s Toure’s time to assert his dominance in the midfield.

He’s known for his midfield presence, his incredible precision, and his free kicks, but there’s no doubt that Toure can score goals.  He has a cannon of a right foot, and with 20 goals for City last season, Toure will look to add to Drogba and Bony’s production up front.  With Toure giving defenders yet another body to think about, this attack is dangerous if it fulfills its potential.

Manager: Sabri Lamouchi

French-born and of Tunisian descent, the Ivory Coast position is Lamouchi’s first managerial job after a successful European career came to an end in 2009.  Lamouchi spent time as a player at Monaco, Inter, and Marseille before finishing up in the Qatari league.  He also earned 12 caps for the French national team.

The 42-year-old was appointed just a week before World Cup qualifying began in 2012, but assimilated well into the fold and kept his country from faltering as the continent’s number 1 seed. It was a curious appointment at the time, considering his predecessor Francois Zahoui had just led the Ivory Coast to the finals of the African Cup of Nations, losing to Zambia.  Discussions began to keep Zahoui, the first and only Ivorian to ever coach the team, at the helm but those negotiations broke down and Lamouchi was brought in.

Lamouchi has admitted the hardest part of his job at the moment is taking a squad of players all at completely different fitness levels after the club season and getting them to work together while also leveling out their fitness.  However, his

Secret Weapon: Experience

Experience is often used as a euphemism for “age” and in this case that’s not totally untrue, but it’s impossible to ignore the international careers of many in the squad.  Defenders Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora both have over 100 caps, as does Didier Drogba up front, but those aren’t the only experienced members.

Gervinho and Salomon Kalou both have over 50 caps and are both 27 and 28 respectively, and both are coming off positive club seasons – Gervinho in particular.  Cheik Tiote, Sol Bamba, and Seydou Doumbia all have World Cup experience and are under the age of 30.  This is a team that has been here before, and that should absolutely help them overcome a few weaknesses.

Prediction: Given the opportunity of a softer group, the Ivorians take advantage.  Signs point to a letdown from Greece, and that should allow Côte d’Ivoire to leapfrog and earn their first-ever knockout round berth.

Player ratings: Chelsea v. Liverpool

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Chelsea – Liverpool player ratings: This game ended up being a very straightforward win for the reigning Premier League champions.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

A red card to Andreas Christensen right on half time swung the game in Liverpool’s favor and two goals early in the second half from Sadio Mane sealed a comfortable win for Jurgen Klopp’s side. With big mistakes and star performance, the Chelsea – Liverpool player ratings are extremely mixed.

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Here’s a look Chelsea – Liverpool player ratings as Frank Lampard will be trying to keep things in perspective, while Liverpool and will be keen to keep building momentum.


Chelsea player ratings

Kepa: 3 – Wandering around early on and generally indecisive. Hesitant on the ball over the top which led to Christensen being sent off which forced the decision. Gave the second goal away with a poor mistake. He knows he will not be Chelsea’s goalkeeper with Edouard Mendy coming in soon.

Reece James: 6 – Wasn’t able to showcase his attacking talents from right back and Mane beat him to head home the first goal.

Andreas Christensen: 4 – He was actually playing pretty well until he was sent off right on half time. One long ball over the top set Mane free and Christensen hauled him down with Kepa dallying.

Kurt Zouma: 6 – Steady and tried his best to hold everything together at the back.

Marcos Alonso: 4 – He knows Chilwell is the first-choice left back, and he worked hard but was caught out on a one-two by Firmino and Salah for the first goal.

N’Golo Kante: 6 – One glorious chance to shoot when found in the box but looked for a pass. Struggled to shut Liverpool down.

Jorginho: 4 – A few loose passes, which is unlike him, and the captain struggled to hold down midfield. Missed a penalty kick too.

Mateo Kovacic: 7 – Plenty of mazy dribbles and was the one Chelsea midfield he looked to support the attack.

Mason Mount: 5 – Spent most of his time defending and wasn’t able to impact the game in a positive way.

Kai Havertz: 5 – Some lovely touches and oozes class on the ball, but not involved enough. Subbed off at half time.

Timo Werner: 7 – Always a threat and went close a couple of times in the first half. Caught offside too often. But that’s his game. Won a penalty kick in the second half and never stopped trying.

Substitutes
Fikayo Tomori (on for Havertz, 45′) 6 – Did his best to try and stop Liverpool’s juggernaut and made some decent blocks.
Ross Barkley (on for Jorginho, 79′) N/A
Tammy Abraham (on for Kovacic, 79′) N/A


Liverpool player ratings

Alisson: 7 – Hardly had anything to do throughout the entire game, then he saved a penalty kick superbly. Involved in the red card incident too with his claim and quick throw to turn defense into attack.

Trent Alexander-Arnold: 7 – Always whipping in dangerous balls and a real outlet on the right. Off target with his set pieces.

Fabinho: 8 – Stood in superbly at center back for the injured duo of Joe Gomez and Joel Matip. Could he play at center back now that Thiago is around?

Virgil van Dijk: 7 – Did his job well enough and no uncharacteristic mistakes this week. Almost scored from a set piece situation.

Andy Robertson: 6 – Didn’t see much of him as an attacking threat but worked hard, as always.

Jordan Henderson: 7 – Led by example and a lovely ball over the top which led to Christensen’s red card. Subbed off at half time with a small issue.

Georginio Wijnaldum: 7 – Typically robust display in central midfield. Is he really going to be allowed to leave for Barcelona?

Naby Keita: 6 – Always wants to get on the ball but didn’t really happen for him with Kante and Jorginho around.

Mohamed Salah: 7 – Worked hard to conjure space for himself and teammates. Didn’t score but involved in the first goal.

Roberto Firmino: 7 – The Brazilian forward took a while to get into the game, but created the first goal with a lovely one-two and cross.

Sadio Mane: 9 – Great run to force Christensen to foul him and get sent off. Then headed home the opener in style and scored a second as he chased down Kepa’s pass. Incredible desire.

Substitutes
Thiago Alcantara (on for Henderson, 45′) 6 – Did okay on the ball but did give away a penalty kick on his Liverpool debut for a slight trip on Werner. Not ideal, but not disastrous. Showed his quality in possession.
James Milner (on for Keita, 64′) 6 – Solid as ever and helped Liverpool see out the win.
Takumi Minamino (on for Firmino, 86′) N/A

Leicester – Burnley: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Leicester – Burnley: Brendan Rodgers seeks to become just the 23rd manager to win 100 games in the Premier League, and becoming the fourth-fastest Brit to reach the mark, when Leicester City host Burnley at the King Power Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 2 pm ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

LEICESTER – BURNLEY BROM STREAM LIVE

Rodgers moved one step closer to his century of PL wins last weekend when the Foxes began their 2020-21 campaign with a 3-0 thrashing of newly promoted West Bromwich Albion. Burnley, on the other hand, are set for their season debut this weekend after their opening-day clash with Manchester United was rescheduled.

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Here is everything you need to know ahead of Leicester – Burnley this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Leicester – Burnley (INJURY REPORT)

Leicester will be missing three players Ricardo Pereira (knee), Jonny Evans (thigh), Filip Benkovic (groin) — with absolute certainty.

Meanwhile, Burnley doesn’t have Johann Berg Gudmundsson (knee) or Jack Cork (ankle).


What they’re saying: Leicester – Burnley

Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers, on transfer target Cengiz Under: “He’s a very, very good player. There have been negotiations with the club [Roma] and we’re hopeful there. We need a different kind of attacking player to help out at the top end of the pitch. It’s clear we have pace and power, but I feel we need more football in there.”

Burnley manager Sean Dyche, on the club’s desperate transfer approach: “Lastminute.com — [it] started back in the day of Charlie Austin, two days before the first game of the season. There are many different ways that clubs operate. It is very difficult, it is tricky, but it’s the reality of it. I’ve been here eight years. This is not new news. I’ve been saying this for three years at least, saying we’ve got to stretch, we’ve got to pre-plan. But you can only offer these opinions. I don’t sign the checks, I can assure you.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Leicester (-165) are heavy betting favorites with Burnley (+460) widely expected to simply roll over and concede the three points up for grabs. Even the draw (+290) is though a bridge perhaps too far for the Clarets.

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Prediction: Leicester – Burnley

Leicester managed to shake off the rust and disappointment that was the end of the 2019-20 season (just two wins from nine games during “Project Restart”) and win going away last weekend. On the other hand, Burnley finished with just two losses from their final nine games, and won four of them. We’ll see if either side is in the midst of a trend, or simply a blip on the radar. Leicester 2-1 Burnley.


How to watch Leicester – Burnley stream and start time

Kickoff: 2 pm ET Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Liverpool too much for 10-man Chelsea at Stamford Bridge

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Chelsea – Liverpool: A first-half red card took much of the drama out of a much-anticipated meeting between new-look Chelsea and reigning champions Liverpool on Sunday at Stamford Bridge.

Andreas Christensen was sent off for a DOGSO tackle of Sadio Mane in the 45th minute and Sadio Mane scored twice in the early throes of the second half in a 2-0 Liverpool win.

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Liverpool moves to 2-0 on the young season while Chelsea falls to 1-1.

Kepa Arrizabalaga made a silly error leading to the Reds second goal and will only increase the pressure on Chelsea to seal the arrival of a new goalkeeper (Eduoard Mendy is reported to be en route to London).

Chelsea next visits West Brom while Liverpool is home to Arsenal.


Notes from Chelsea – Liverpool

1. Christensen madness sucks life out of fixture (at least for neutrals): A terrific Jordan Henderson long ball sent Sadio Mane into a race for the ball with Kepa Arrizabalaga, but Christensen was worried about the Senegalese attacker and used a tackle better suited for the NFL games later Sunday. The Blues would play down a man for a half-minute and the entire second half and Lampard would need to withdraw Kai Havertz for Fikayo Tomori. There was little chance the already-shorthanded Blues would get anything done and it only took a few minutes to end the hopes of the game.

2. Werner nearly sours Thiago debut: Jurgen Klopp found it laughable when asked before the game whether Thiago Alcantara could start after arriving from Bayern Munich this week but he was fine to go 45 minutes in the new system. The steady, technical midfielder was as advertised in his Premier League debut until he gave away a penalty to Werner. Alisson, however, stopped Jorginho’s low penalty in the 75th minute and took away any hopes for a grandstand finish.

3. Kepa is a mess: Chelsea knows its need an upgrade at goalkeeper thanks to Kepa Arrizabalaga’s unsteady 2019-20 season, and the Spaniard made two terrible decisions on Sunday. The first was bailed out by Andreas Christensen on the goal line but the second wouldn’t be anything but a Liverpool goal as Arrizabalaga somehow lost track of Sadio Mane, who is pretty good, and passed the ball directly to him in front of goal. Eduoard Mendy is supposed to arrive any day and Arrizabalaga would’ve known this, so why not play Willy Caballero?

Man of the Match

Mane delivered the goals but Alisson Becker made some fine saves including the penalty stop on Jorginho


Chelsea – Liverpool recap

Timo Werner was active in the Liverpool third when the ball got there but the Reds had hold of possession early in the match.

Shaky play from Kepa Arrizabalaga nearly put Liverpool in front as Mohamed Salah beat the keeper to a loose ball and crossed for Roberto Firmino only to see Andreas Christensen block the in-tight effort for a corner.

N’Golo Kante and Werner both wasted promises chances in the first 20 minutes, the latter’s wayward touch allowing Fabinho to break up the play.

Mason Mount couldn’t reach a long ball from Marcos Alonso in the 23rd, Liverpool tested in its organization.

Werner drove to the arc to snap a shot toward Alisson that bounded wide of the Liverpool goal. He badly missed a chance to finish when an offside Kai Havertz slid the ball through the 18.

Christensen was initially given a yellow for tackling Sadio Mane in the 45th minute in what could’ve easily been a red card.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Lampard took Havertz off at the break in favor of Fikayo Tomori, while Jurgen Klopp responded by handing a debut to Thiago Alcantara in place of Henderson.

The Reds breakthrough took less than five minutes, Mane turning a header home after Salah slid Firmino into the right side of the box for a cutback.

Kepa handed the game to Mane on a platter with a terrible decision in the 54th. Goodnight, right?

Maybe not. Werner kept grinding and won a penalty off Thiago that withstood VAR review but not Alisson’s right paw. The Liverpool keeper waited out Jorginho’s slow run-up to keep this sheet clean.

Alisson then denied Tammy Abraham in the 84th minute, Chelsea still hoping to produce a miraculous comeback.

Van Dijk saw a late chance corralled by Arrizabalaga in the 87th.

3 things we learned: Chelsea v. Liverpool

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Chelsea – Liverpool wasn’t exactly the goal-fest we expected and in the end it was a very straightforward win for the reigning Premier League champions.

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A red card to Andreas Christensen right on half time swung the game in Liverpool’s favor and two goals early in the second half from Sadio Mane sealed a comfortable win for Jurgen Klopp’s side.

Here’s a look at what we learned from Chelsea – Liverpool as Frank Lampard will be trying to keep things in perspective, while Liverpool will be keen to keep building momentum.


Hunger of Sadio Mane underlines Liverpool ambition

The hunger with his runs, his passes and his finishing and his general desire to score goals and win games is incredible. Sadio Mane forced the red card which changed the game and scored twice early in the second half to kick Chelsea while they were down. Mane got my vote for the Football Writers’ Association player of the year in 2019-20 and the work he does often goes unnoticed. On his second goal, the way he reacted to giving the ball away epitomized him. He hunted down Kepa and intercepted a pass and slotted home into an empty net. Mane is often the least lauded forward out of Mohamed Salah, himself and Firmino. But his hunger in this game is replicated in most games. Liverpool fans appreciate Mane’s desire and the fact that fire is still burning bright proves how hungry this team are to win back-to-back titles.


Defensive Chelsea show Liverpool too much respect

We get it. Chelsea were without new signings Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell and Hakim Ziyech. Christian Pulisic is out injured. Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy isn’t officially a Chelsea. All of that led to an extremely defensive and tentative display from Lampard’s side. Kai Havertz struggled out wide once again, while the defensive issues remain for Chelsea as Kepa had a nightmare on the red card situation and for the second goal. Aside from individual errors, the setup from Chelsea was too defensive from the start. They tried to hit Liverpool on the counter with the pace of Timo Werner and it almost worked a few times in the first half but their usual attacking swagger was totally missing. With a host of new players to come into the lineup, plus the injured Christian Pulisic to return, Chelsea will be better in the coming weeks and months. However, the respect they showed reigning champions Liverpool here was too much and underlined just how far they have to go to become genuine title contenders.


Kepa knows his time is up; new boys will take time to gel

It is sad to see a player struggling so much with confidence but that is Kepa right now. The Spanish international goalkeeper is the most-expensive goalkeeper on the planet but his shaky displays continue and Senegal international Edouard Mendy is expected to join from Rennes in the coming days. Kepa played like he knew his time at Chelsea is up. He wandered around the penalty box early on, didn’t command his area and gave the second goal to Sadio Mane on a silver platter with a poor pass. Kepa has never settled at Chelsea and the best thing he could probably do for his career is move on as soon as possible. As for the other new boys, Havertz will take time, Werner looks more than okay and Ziyech, Chilwell and Thiago Silva will now all be expected to deliver right away. Often it doesn’t work like that and Liverpool’s lone new boy, Thiago Alcantara, gave away a penalty kick after coming on at half time for his debut. Adapting to a new team in a new league and in a new country isn’t easy, even for superstar talents. So often it takes much more time than most expect. That is not good news for Chelsea who have spent close to $275 million this summer on new talent.