Top seven moments that defined Chelsea’s championship season

Leave a comment

Today’s 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace confirmed Chelsea’s fourth Premier League title in dominant fashion, leading the league table for a record amount of days.

[ MORE: Chelsea wins Premier League title in record fashion ]

There were plenty of moments throughout this season that steered Chelsea to the top and proved their dominance over the rest of the league. It was evident early on that they were a force to be reckoned with, and that theme played out throughout the year. Let’s take a look back at some of the key, defining moments for Chelsea from this season.

7. The summer transfer window

Things began this summer. With a core of players like Eden Hazard, Petr Cech, Oscar, and John Terry that already made Chelsea a world powerhouse, Jose Mourinho added the likes of Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas, both players who were crucial to the title run.

Matic seemed initially to be an odd one. Sold to Benfica just three years prior for a measly $5.6 million, the Blues brought him back to Stamford Bridge at a $23 million loss, but it undoubtedly paid off. The Serbian proved to be the best defensive midfielder in the English top flight, and he made the PFA Team of the Season. Fabregas, meanwhile, returned to the Premier League after a three-year hiatus at Barcelona. The former Arsenal midfielder was a creative force for the Blues, just missing out on PFA Team of the Season honors and causing pain to Gunner fans who long for his supporting abilities up front.

Chelsea also bought strikers Didier Drogba and Loic Remy, both of which who would prove vital in bridging the gap between injuries. The Blues scored a win in bringing 21-year-old goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois back to Chelsea after a three-year loan spell at Atletico Madrid. There was some initial question over whether he would be content sitting behind Chelsea legend Petr Cech, but Mourinho handed the kid the keys to the starting job, and he didn’t disappoint.

Finally, the key addition was 19-goal man Diego Costa. Battling a hamstring injury all season, Costa led the way in the attack, only caving to the injury late in the season when the title was won.

6. 6-3 win over Everton announces Chelsea as Premier League powerhouses

Despite all their home fanfare, Chelsea had many of their defining moments on the road. The first came at Goodison Park. With two wins in two to start the season, Chelsea went north and torched a usually stout Everton defense. The game proved nervy at times due to Everton’s ability to attack as well, but the visitors weathered the storm and answered every bit of adversity faced.

That man Diego Costa started things off with a goal in the first minute, and he was the one to finish things off in added time as the Blues proved their ability to score goals when needed.

5. Cesc Fabregas assist barrage to start the season

The former Gunner said he came back to the Premier League to win a title, and that he did. He announced his return to the English top flight in flourishing fashion, not scoring goals but assisting them. While Alexis Sanchez was wowing fans at the Emirates, Fabregas was one-upping him with a roaring assist total early in the year. He assisted a pair to open the season in a 3-1 win against new-boys Burnley, and would go on to assist six goals in the first four games.

He would come back to Earth relatively speaking after the opening flurry, but the assists wouldn’t stop there. With four more assists, Fabregas had 10 helpers by the 12th match of the season, an unprecedented assist rate. As Chelsea would establish a more organized, deliberate approach throughout the season, his rate would eventually drop, but this early portion to the season would announce him importance to the squad.

4. Chelsea beats Spurs 3-0 to start the season 14 unbeaten

Most will remember the way Chelsea’s season finished, but it’s hard to forget how it started. The new-look squad formulated together almost instantly, and the Blues went from potential Premier League champions to probable ones quicker than usual. With Fabregas leading the creative force and just about everyone else scoring, Chelsea would go 14 matches unbeaten to start the season before finally losing a game.

The final match of the unbeaten streak in early December was a prototypical Chelsea dominant win over Tottenham at Stamford Bridge. The defense weathered an early spell of Spurs pressure, and two goals in three minutes from Eden Hazard and Didier Drogba put Spurs well behind, and good organization saw things out helped by a late third goal from Loic Remy.

Throughout the unbeaten run, Chelsea outscored its opponents 31-11, and picked up six clean sheets, opening an early six-point lead at the top of the table. Most impressively, the club won all seven of its home matches, as the fortress of Stamford Bridge would become a storyline of the year.

3. Late Burnley draw sends Mourinho into famous “Minute by Minute” rant

Jose Mourinho was the centerpiece, the cornerstone, the heart of Chelsea’s title winning squad. When Chelsea win, he pours praise on his players, but when they don’t, he famously looks to deflect criticism by drawing attention to himself. It usually works. When Chelsea were controversially sent down to 10 men against Burnley at Turf Moor, and consequently gave up a late equalizer, Mourinho went into one of his more famous rants of the season, one that many will remember.

Mourinho referred to “moments” in the match that he believed important decisions went against Chelsea. “I’m punished when I refer to these situations. I don’t want to be punished,” Mourinho said after the game. “There are four moments where you can write the story of the game — minutes 30, minute 33, minute 43, minute 69. Don’t ask me more questions, please.”

The postmatch antics usually worked. In this case, with the Blues in the middle of a 14-match unbeaten run of which they currently reside, they would win their next match against West Ham and six of their next seven.

2. Blues defeat Manchester United 1-0 with 29% possession

With the title nearly in their grasp, Chelsea would not falter down the stretch. Coming into their mid-April matchup, Manchester United had won four matches in a row to solidify a top-four challenge highlighted by a rejuvinated attacking flair under Louis van Gaal.

Chelsea, as they have done all year, would bring that attacking flair to a screeching halt. Owning just 29% possession to Manchester United’s 71%, Chelsea would take the lead before halftime on a goal from Eden Hazard and would clamp down after that, snuffing out the Red Devils and leaving van Gaal to bemoan his inability to create chances and break down an organized and composed Chelsea defense.

1. Chelsea draws 0-0 with Arsenal amid “boring boring Chelsea” chants

Despite the early season goals, Jose Mourinho built his system on attacking only when necessary. With Arsenal needing a win to scrap together any kind of title challenge, the Chelsea manager decided that attacking in this case simply wasn’t necessary.

With all three strikers in Costa, Drogba, and Remy injured, he formulated a brilliant defensive plan that Arsenal simply could not break down. They weathered attack after attack and would not concede, causing the home fans at the Emirates to serenade the Blues in chants of “boring, boring Chelsea” with the game dragging on. The neutral fans may have lost, but Mourinho won the day. The Blues manager capped it off by answering postmatch questions of the chants with “not winning a title in 10 years, that is boring.”

The shared points ended any form of title race, and all but ensured the Blues would raise the trophy at the end of the season.

Zidane quizzed on Pogba: “We know what we want to do”

AP Photo/Rui Vieira
Leave a comment

Zinedine Zidane’s open flirtation with Paul Pogba continues, as the Real Madrid manager was asked about Manchester United’s star midfielder again on Saturday.

“We need to respect everybody, but the only thing I can say from the club is we know what we want to do,” Zidane said. “Something could happen before the end of August. We could have some changes.”

[ MORE: Wolves beat Man City in pens ]

On paper the purchase of Pogba makes sense to reloading Real, but the problem here is the sheer amount of paper the Madrid side has spent on players this season.

While sales of James Rodriguez, Dani Ceballos, and Gareth Bale could put Real in okay position regarding Financial Fair Play, buying Pogba would move the needle hard in the other direction considering the club has bought Ferland Mendy, Eden Hazard, Eder Militao, Luka Jovic, and Rodrygo.

Plus, Florentino Perez likes to buy only one Galactico per transfer session, and Hazard is undoubtedly this summer’s model.

That said, Real has assets that United could use in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s overhaul of the Old Trafford set.

UEFA gives partial stadium bans to Bulgaria, Romania for fan racism

Leave a comment

NYON, Switzerland (AP) Bulgaria will have to close part of its national stadium for European Championship qualifiers against England and the Czech Republic because of fan racism.

UEFA issued the order, saying Bulgarian fans were racially abusive during a 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic and a 3-2 loss to Kosovo last month.

Bulgaria hosts England on Oct. 14 and the Czech Republic on Nov. 17.

Romania has also been ordered to close part of its home stadium for a future under-21 game after UEFA ruled its fans behaved in a racist manner during the European under-21 championship last month.

Another racism case against Latvia was dropped.

UEFA also handed out various fines to Romania, Ukraine, and Greece for rowdy behavior by fans.

Transfer rumor roundup: Everton join Zaha chase; Matuidi to Man Utd?

Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A roundup of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors from around the world, including those involving a few Premier League clubs…

[ MORE: PL refs told to defer to VAR more, go to the monitor “sparingly” ]

Wilfried Zaha is one of the most wanted men in England, with Arsenal reportedly hot on his trail all summer. An deal between the Gunners and Crystal Palace is yet  to transpire, though, which has perhaps left the door open for Everton to sneak through and sign the 26-year-old Ivory Coast international.

Arsenal would obviously pay more in wages, but are yet to meet Palace’s valuation of their talisman. If Everton is the club that calls with the requisite figures on offer, it wouldn’t be the worst landing place for Zaha. With Arsenal yet to make a meaningful signing this summer, and the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny already gone or on their way out, the 2019-20 season could see the Gunners take a step back, opening the door for — you guessed it — Everton to break into the top-five… or -four.

Speaking of Ramsey, his arrival at Juventus has perhaps made Blaise Matuidi surplus to requirements, which means he could be available for cut-rate price.

Manchester United seem to be perennially in need of influential central midfielders, especially this summer after the departure of Ander Herrera and the failure of a signing that was Fred last summer. Man United have reportedly been in contact with Juve about the 32-year-old, as have Paris Saint-Germain and Everton.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is another midfielder who’s been linked with United, but he’ll likely just as much as, if not more than, the $59-million fee paid for Fred. Milinkovic-Savic seemed a surefire target for the world’s top clubs after a star’s showing at last summer’s World Cup in Russia, but the 24-year-old remained at Lazio and is still yet to move 12 months later.

Patrick Cutrone was one of Europe’s breakout stars of the 2018-19 season, now the 21-year-old AC Milan forward is reportedly high atop Wolverhampton Wanderers’ shopping list this summer. He won’t come cheap — Milan are expected to demand nearly $30 million — but he could offer some serious insurance in the event of an injury to Raul Jimenez.

PL refs told to defer to VAR more, go to the monitor “sparingly”

Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images
1 Comment

Premier League interim chief executive Richard Masters says that referees have ben instructed “to use the referee review area a bit more sparingly” and rely on the numerous video-assistant referees (VAR) at their disposal to make simple calls upon review when video review is instituted in the PL next month.

[ MORE: Lukaku latest: Man United reject $67-million bid from Inter Milan ]

Following the 2019 Women’s World Cup, where far too many trip to the monitor were made by the center referees, the PL is keen on ensuring that “the Premier League or English football [is not] interrupted, or the pace of the game [is not] changed.” It sounds very much like a “less is more” approach  — quotes from the BBC:

“I think fans want to see those clear and obvious mistakes changed and put right. But they don’t want to see the Premier League or English football interrupted, or the pace of the game changed.

“I think the only difference you might see is the referees using the referee review area a bit more sparingly and relying more on the VAR for the more subjective decisions.

“But we are putting something new into the Premier League and if it needs to be refined or improved or tweaked we will look at it when the moment arises.”

In theory, this should work quite well for the PL. Many of the decisions that referees go to the monitor to review themselves could easily be made by the “fifth official.” If it’s obvious to the VAR and he/she can make the call with 100 percent certainty, the center ref should always take their decision in the name of keeping the game flowing. If the VAR isn’t so sure, or it’s a more subjective call that should be made by the person making 99 percent of the game’s calls, go to the monitor. But do so quickly.