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Why N’Golo Kante will be key in new-look Chelsea’s quest for success

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N'Golo Kante completed his $40 million move to Chelsea over the weekend and the Blues’ new manager Antonio Conte couldn’t be happier.

The Italian manager has made the French international midfield his second signing since arriving at Stamford Bridge — towering Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi was his first — and Kante will become an integral part of Conte’s new-look Chelsea from the get-go.

[ MORE: UEFA releases top player list ]  

At 25 years old Kante is in his prime and is ready to kick on to the next level after leading Leicester to an incredible Premier League title win last season.

Yes, Jamie Vardy scored the goals and Riyad Mahrez often created them but who was the man who won the ball back and then used it so efficiently so the Foxes could attack in the first place?

Ask any Leicester fan, or anybody who watched them closely, and they’ll tell you Kante was the heartbeat of Leicester last season.

[ MORE: Zlatan – “I’ll be God in Manchester” ]  

Conte knows it too and is ready to build his team around the late-blooming defensive midfielder who was playing in the French lower tiers until two seasons ago.

Speaking after Chelsea’s opening preseason friendly on Saturday, a 2-0 loss to Rapid Vienna, the former Italian national team manager spoke glowingly about Kante’s arrival at Stamford Bridge.

“I want to say Kante was a target and for this reason I’m very happy the club bought the player. He’s a good player. He has good technique, fantastic stamina and I like this type of player. If you want to win a team needs this type of player – Kante, Matic and Mikel – that work hard for the team,” Conte said. “We identified him, me and the club together, and I think Kante can give a lot to Chelsea, to enforce a zone which is very important if we want to play with two central midfielders. He showed last season he’s able to play with another midfielder.

“I think with this player we’ve reinforced the squad. All together we are working to improve the squad. We know we have to but we prefer to wait and go for our targets, rather than go with emotion and take the players who don’t adapt to our idea of football.”

Technical director Michael Emenalo has also talked about how Kante is a perfect fit for Conte’s philosophies and the Blues now seem to have the balance in their midfield correct with Kante slotting perfectly into their side.

Kante can play alongside a more destructive player and be the driving force, a la Danny Drinwkater, but is also a player who will run forwards and launch counters without being too creative or scoring goals or adding assists. He just does all of the simple things ridiculously well.

Chelsea have so many attacking talents who can do the rest ridiculously well. If Kante supplied a seemingly never-ending stream of balls to Vardy and Mahrez last season, think of what kind of service he can give Eden Hazard, Willian, Diego Costa and Batshuayi and what kind of damage they can do.

Just like Claude Makelele did in the past for Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and others to flourish, Kante will do the dirty work in midfield to intercept, tackle and set Chelsea on their way. True, he is more dynamic than Makelele was but the duo both play the same vitally important role, especially with so many mercurial talents at Conte’s disposal in his debut season managing in England.

Kante straightaway adds much-needed balance to this Chelsea midfield.

The only issue here is, where does Cesc Fabregas fit in? It seems like his days as a true two-way midfield may be over under Conte, a manager who prefers players in the engine room who can win the ball back quickly and shield the defensive unit. It is fitting he mentioned Kante, John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic in his comments as he clearly sees two of those three playing alongside each other at the start of the season. Fabregas will be pushed higher up the pitch and it is clear the Blues’ midfield now belongs to Kante.

Chelsea will no longer be a talented team of individuals who roll over and surrender just as they did far too easily for much of last season. Conte, and most importantly Kante, will add steel, drive and power to their core.

The Blues have picked up arguably the most influential central midfielder in Europe over the past 12 months and he will be key to their future success as a new era arrives in west London.

Jose Mourinho to take charge of Juventus?

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Do we really think Jose Mourinho is ready for a return?

Multiple reports in Italy claims Juventus’ star forward Cristiano Ronaldo wants Mourinho to become their new manager after it was announced that Max Allegri is stepping down this summer after winning five-straight Serie A titles with the Turin club.

Mourinho, 56, has been out of a job since Manchester United fired him in December, but his status as a serial trophy winner remains intact.

Speaking recently on beIN Sport, where he has been popping up as a pundit on multiple occasions,

“One of the players that I have a great relation with, he plays for a team and he told me, ‘You should come here next season’, and I told him, ‘They don’t love me.’ He told me, ‘You win three matches and they will start loving you.'”

Hmm. Who could he be talking about?

Mourinho didn’t endear himself to Juve’s fans during his time at their rivals Inter Milan where he won the treble, including the UEFA Champions League in 2010. He then added further fuel to the fire as United won late on at Juve in the group stage of the Champions League earlier this season, which then saw Mourinho run out onto the field at full time and goad the home supporters who had mocked him the entire game due to his successful spell at Inter.

Would that stop Juve from hiring him? Probably not. Juve’s CEO Andrea Agnelli is a man who wants success and he wants it now.

Mourinho has also said he plans to be back in a job by this summer, just six months after being fired by United.

He has some time out to reflect on where things went wrong at United and how he can better understand the media demands which surround the game and now it seems like he is ready to dive back in at the deep end.

Juve are one of the biggest clubs in Europe, and everything is in place for them to make another deep run in the Champions League next season, and something drastic would have to happen for them to not win the Italian league in 2019-20.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Mourinho landed at Juve this summer as his defensive tactics suit Serie A and the Italian champs are desperate for success in Europe after bringing in Ronaldo, 34, on a huge salary to win the Champions League. Ronaldo will have a huge say on who the next Juve boss will be, and he is said to not be keen on either Antonio Conte or Maurizio Sarri taking over from Allegri.

If this happens, it would be a lot of fun. Have your popcorn at the ready…

Alaves seeks new coach after Fernandez resigns

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MADRID (AP) Spanish club Alaves says coach Abelardo Fernandez has resigned.

Alaves says it was Fernandez’s decision to leave after leading the modest Basque Country team to an 11th-place finish in the Spanish league.

[ MORE: La Liga results, stats

Fernandez said in a news conference on Monday the club did everything it could to try to keep him, but he felt he “would not be at 100 percent next season” and decided it was best to resign.

Fernandez joined Alaves at the end of 2017, helping the team finish 14th in the league last season, comfortably escaping relegation.

The club had a surprising start to this season, being as high as second in the standings and remaining in the fight for the final Champions League place until about 10 rounds to go.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Transfer rumor roundup: Felix to Man United; Sane to Bayern

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The Premier League transfer window is officially open again and that means one thing: transfer reports are going to start kicking up a few notches.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Here’s a look at some of the latest gossip from around the PL…


Benfica’s teenage superstar Joao Felix reportedly has a release clause of $130 million, and Manchester United are among the host of clubs ready to trigger it.

A report from the Daily Record says that United and Real Madrid are both ready to seal the deal for the 19-year-old attacking midfielder. Per the report United have opened talks with Benfica and their representatives were in Lisbon to see him play for the final time this season.

Felix has burst onto the scene in Europe this season and has helped Benfica win the Portuguese league title. His 20 goals and 11 assists in all competitions this season prove his pedigree, and United certainly need to rebuild their squad. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has constantly spoken about adding young, hungry, talented players this summer, and Felix is touted as the best young playmaker in Europe right now.

This transfer deal would make Felix the most expensive signing in United and Premier League history, and it does make you wonder if a deal is being lined up to offload Paul Pogba to Real Madrid and replace him with Felix.


Manchester City are struggling to keep hold of one of their stars, as a report from the Daily Mirror says that Bayern Munich are increasingly confident of signing Leroy Sane this summer.

Sane, 23, has failed to agree a new contract at City despite being in talks with the club for 18 months and Pep Guardiola has admitted he could leave this summer in search of more game time. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva are City’s main starters in the wide attacking midfield roles, which has meant Sane and Riyad Mahrez have had to fight for minutes off the bench and starts here and there during their historic 2018-19 season.

That has often led to Sane looking pretty unhappy on the sidelines, but when he has got the chance to play he has been pretty good with his best-ever season in terms of goals scored with 16 across all competitions. Coming off the back of his shock omission from Germany’s 2018 World Cup squad, Sane has bounced back well and scored a pivotal goal in Man City’s PL win against Liverpool and a stunning free kick late on against his old club Schalke in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.

Sane moving to Bayern would make sense as legendary wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are moving on, with Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman set to take their mantle and any summer move for Callum Hudson-Odoi now in doubt after his serious injury. The German international has delivered in his three seasons at City, but Guardiola often seems enraged by his penchant for drifting inside with his runs and with the ball instead of staying wide on the touchline.

It seems like the stars are aligning for Sane to return to Germany and be a star at Bayern.

Out of contract Premier League Best XI

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With the 2018-19 season in the books, Premier League clubs are already turning their attention to next season.

Players are coming towards the end of their contracts, with the PL’s summer transfer now open which means some players can move on free transfers when their deals expire, usually on July 1.

Which players are available to pick up at the end of their deals on freebies?

There is always a lot of chatter at this time of the year about who will stay, which players have a one-year option to extend their deals, and which clubs also have that option. Olivier Giroud will stay at Chelsea for one more season, but he would have been the top striker available on a freebie this summer, while Ander Herrera is expected to sign for PSG after announcing he will leave Man United when his contract expires.

However, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding several star names at some of the PL’s biggest clubs. If you are a newly promoted club (Norwich, Sheffield United and one of Aston Villa and Derby County) you are no doubt looking at this list of experienced PL players and getting pretty excited.

Take a look at our “Out of Contract Best XI” below, as several players have yet to agree new deals with their current clubs.


Premier League, Out of Contract Best XI – 4-4-2 formation

—– Michel Vorm —–

Danny SimpsonGary CahillPhil JagielkaNacho Monreal — 

Antonio ValenciaMohamed DiameJuan MataAlberto Moreno — 

—- Daniel Sturridge —- Fernando Llorente —- 

On the bench
Willy Caballero
Leighton Baines
Danny Williams
Ander Herrera (expected to join PSG on free transfer)
Samir Nasri
Bakary Sako
Andy Carroll