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Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Chelsea


Following one of their worst seasons in recent memory, Chelsea will look to rebound from a 10th place finish last campaign.

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The Blues rid themselves of Jose Mourinho and, with the short bridge of Guus Hiddink, have chosen Antonio Conte to lead the rebuild. Most of last season’s stars are back, with Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Cesc Fabregas, and Willian all returning with a view at a return to the Champions League.

The Premier League title is always the goal for the Blues, but this season expectations may be tempered following last season’s debacle and the change at the helm. In addition, the preseason has been a struggle for the Blues. A loss to Real Madrid brought to light a number of defensive frailties, adding to the already uneasy feeling brought on by the early-summer friendly loss to Rapid Vienna.

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Still, this is Chelsea we’re talking about, and nothing short of a Champions League place will be acceptable. Roman Abramovich has brought down the axe for less.

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Chelsea will rebound because…the players are rejuvenated. There is little turnover, with the additions of Michy Batshuayi and N'Golo Kante the only real changes in the squad. All the weight lies on the shoulders of Antonio Conte, the man in charge of bringing new life and passion to the group on the field.

But the Blues will fall short if…things stay the same. This is all about changing as much as possible without changing much at all. The squad is very similar, yet the system will change completely. Kante will be enormously important to this team, and so will Batshuayi if Diego Costa leaves or plays a lesser role. Otherwise, the same players from last year have to jump from 10th to 4th or better, and if Conte can’t fit the pieces together properly, it won’t play out in their favor.

Best Possible XI

—– Courtois —–

— Ivanovic — Terry — Cahill — Azpilicueta —

— Kante — Matic —

— Willian — Fabregas — Hazard —

— Costa —

Transfers In: Michy Batshuayi ($43m, Olympique Marseille), N’Golo Kante ($37m, Leicester City)

Transfers Out: Nathan Ake (Loan, Bournemouth)

Last season: Chelsea was miserable out of the gates, losing seven of the first 12 matches, and never recovered. Jose Mourinho got the sack in December, and Guus Hiddink navigated the slow climb back to 10th at the end of the season.

TOULOUSE, FRANCE - JUNE 26: Eden Hazard of Belgium slides on his knees as he celebrates scoring his team's third goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Hungary and Belgium at Stadium Municipal on June 26, 2016 in Toulouse, France. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Star Player: Eden Hazard – The Belgian was completely invisible for the first half of last season, a large reason why the team struggled in league play. He appeared to find his groove towards the end of last season, and much of Chelsea’s fortunes rest with him. Willian carried the attack last season, and it wasn’t nearly enough.

Coach’s Corner: Antonio Conte comes from the Italian national team, having just guided a squad with less talent to an impressive showing in Euro 2016. He often employed a 3-CB system with Italy, but it fit the personnel. Now, with an aging central defensive partnership, it’s likely Conte will have to change things up to fit the players at his disposal.

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - JULY 16: Head coach of Chelsea Antonio Conte gestures during an friendly match between SK Rapid Vienna and Chelsea F.C. at Allianz Stadion on July 16, 2016 in Vienna, Austria. (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)

PST Predicts: This is a very difficult one to call. Logic says nearly the same squad that finished 10th last season should finish around the same place, but these are players who all severely underperformed at one time and who play on a team that takes no prisoners. A return to Champions League play after a season in the dumps is incredibly difficult, and the defense has gone from a strength to a liability, so Chelsea may have to settle for 5th place, something which could cause friction but ultimately will earn Conte another go.

Everton reportedly set for sale of $28M Lookman

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Will Everton regret its failure to find the right fit for Ademola Lookman at Goodison Park?

The Toffees are set to sell the 21-year-old striker to RB Leipzig this summer for just $8 million more than they paid Charlton for her services, according to Sky Sports.

[ MORE: De Gea wants captaincy ]

Lookman scored five goals with four assists in a half-season loan for RBL in 2018, but could not find regular feature time for the Toffees upon his return.

Yes, the $28 million is still a decent fee, but Lookman is an English striker with U-20 World Cup-winning experience, and was given just three starts from his 21 appearances in the Premier League for Marco Silva‘s men last season (posting two assists in 601 minutes.

Lookman prefers to play left wing, but also operates on the right. Everton has Richarlison, Bernard, and Theo Walcott amongst a relatively deep wing corps.

The stats seem to show that Lookman simply had trouble getting the ball at Everton in comparison to RBL. Maybe he needs to be a bigger part of the show, and we’ll find out whether he can do that with Tyler Adams and Co. in Leipzig.

De Gea hopes for Manchester United captaincy

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Given his seemingly biannual links to returns to Spain and bigger paydays, it might be a bit of a surprise to hear Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea preach up the badge.

Aside from a stumble late last season, however, the 28-year-old has been a dynamo at Old Trafford for several managers.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

He’s also been through the wringer from his early days struggling to find his form in the Premier League, and now has 362 appearances in the Red Devils shirt to go with trophies from the PL, FA Cup, League Cup, and Europa League.

So, yeah, he’s qualified to lead. And as we wait for United to announce his new expensive contract, De Gea is speaking out on his delight in captaining the team and hopes of doing so on a full-time basis.

From Sky Sports:

“I need to show that on the pitch and try to help the young guys know what Manchester United means and that’s important. We have to improve a lot. We are Manchester United; we need to fight for trophies.

“When you put on this badge, that’s what it means – fight for everything, give your best and bring the team again to the top.”

Is there a case to be made for anyone else on the current roster? Probably not, at least not in the form of players who will be expected to suit up nearly every match.

Chicago adds 2010 World Cup qualifying hero Bornstein

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There’s probably part of you who thinks Jonathan Bornstein is on an MLS staff somewhere, that he’s about 46 years old, and the news that he’s joined the Chicago Fire means he’s taken a coaching role like Josh Wolff (who is only 42. Don’t age shame).

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And we’ll admit that “Chicago adds Jonathan Bornstein” gave us similar vibes, because, hey, didn’t this cat score an amazing, World Cup berth-clinching goal against Costa Rica at RFK in 2009? Yes! He was! I was there with my sister and a couple of buddies, and it was awesome.

Bornstein was, however, just 25 then and a member of Chivas USA (That was an MLS team, young bucks). Bob Bradley drafted him out of UCLA and turned him into a left back.

Now 34 and still a left back, Bornstein spent 2010-present outside of the United States. He’s played in Mexico for Queretaro, Tigres, and Atlante, as well as Israel last season with Maccabi Netanya. He won a Copa MX, a Supercopa MX, and an Apertura title while south of the border.


“We began pursuing Jonathan back in January but, unfortunately, his insertion into the lineup made him too invaluable to his former club,” said Chicago Fire President and General Manager Nelson Rodrίguez. “In addition to providing a steady presence and competition on the field, we believe Jonathan will be an excellent mentor for our younger players.”

As a returning USMNT international, even no caps since 2011, Chicago had to send $50,000 to Columbus for the top spot in the allocation order.

Bornstein will hope to help Chicago turn around a miserable season which began with such promise. Chicago has been extremely unlucky this season, with a difference of minus-11.7 between expected goals and goals scored.

And I will continue to remember nearly throwing my beverage miles into the air from the upper deck at RFK. Thanks for the memories, Jonathan.

Barcelona exec on Neymar: “We aren’t looking at it”

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Neymar’s reported discontent at Paris Saint-Germain has caused rumors to fly this summer about if he could leave, and where any potential destinations could be.

His old club Barcelona is thought to be a major contender to rescue the Brazilian superstar from his misery, but that may be dead in the water after Barcelona vice president Jordi Cardoner again claimed the club has no interest in his return.

“The president already spoke about it,” Cardoner said from Tokyo where the club is in preseason. “There is no Neymar saga. There is a lot of talk and he doesn’t appear happy there but we aren’t looking at it.”

This is not the first time Cardoner has gone public to deny Neymar rumors. Even as far back as last October, Cardoner said “No one on the Barcelona board has talked about the possibility of bringing back Neymar, right now we can’t talk about it because no one has even mentioned it.”

Cardoner is not the only Barcelona member talking down a potential Neymar return. New arrival Antoine Griezmann also made statements claiming the club would struggle to make it happen even if they wanted to. Speaking about possibly linking up with Neymar with Barcelona, the former Atletico Madrid striker spoke highly of Neymar’s playing ability, but admitted it would take some significant time to complete. “We have to get it done first because it is a difficult transfer, but he is a great player,” Griezmann said from Tokyo.

Neymar has had a troubled past 12 months, facing rape charges in Brazil, suspensions in both European and domestic French competitions, and even taking Barcelona to court last year for payments he believed he was owed.