Conte enjoys first Chelsea victory as new identity develops

Leave a comment

LONDON – Chelsea’s new manager Antonio Conte jumped into the stands to celebrate with the home fans at Stamford Bridge as his managerial debut in the Premier League ended in dramatic, glorious fashion.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Diego Costa calmly found the bottom corner of the net in the 89th minute to send Conte and Chelsea’s fans wild, as the Italian manager marked his opening game as a coach in England with a memorable moment and three points in a 2-1 win against West Ham United.

[ MORE: Bilic plays down Costa incident ]

Speaking to reporters after the game, Conte revealed the moment he walked out at the Bridge was just as special as when he saw Costa’s low shot hit the back of the net.

“It was fantastic,” Conte said. “I have to say thanks to Chelsea’s fans because the welcome was fantastic. To see the Italian flag in the stand, I had a bit of emotion with me and my wife and my daughter. It was fantastic, this welcome. I hope that with the work with my players, to repay this welcome.”

New signing N’Golo Kante improved as the game wore on for Chelsea and Conte made a point of going up to the French international midfielder and hugging him at the final whistle.

ProSoccerTalk asked Conte about Kante and the Italian midfielder revealed just how important he is to the Blues.

N'Golo Kante is a great player, a great buy and is important for the team,” Conte told ProSoccerTalk. “He is a player who has a good technique but fantastic stamina. He is able to cover a lot of space in the pitch and he is able to help always the teammates. We are happy for his performance but I am happy with the performance of all the Chelsea players.”

It wasn’t just Kante he hugged at the final whistle, he hugged most of his Chelsea players as the passionate former Juventus and Italy boss is already showing signs of fostering a real togetherness with his players after just a few months in charge.

That new identity and fast counter-attacking style is already developing.

“I think every manager, when he arrives at a new club, he tries to bring his football philosophy. We are working only one month with the players but I am pleased. Tonight I saw the right intensity and the players always tried to find the situation that we can find during the training session,” Conte said. “It is important to bring something different compared to last season. I think every manager brings his football philosophy. For this reason, I am very happy for the behavior and attitude of the players. They are putting themselves in the team. I think to have a great team this is important. The players with great talent have to put themselves in the team.”

Chelsea played a 4-1-4-1 formation with Eden Hazard cutting in from the left and Willian dangerous on the right. Nemanja Matic and Oscar played just in front of Kante and Conte was incessantly screaming at his central midfield duo to get on the ball and turn as soon as they could. Costa delivered the winning moment and has boss said that he didn’t feel like his striker deserved a second yellow for a late challenge on West Ham’s Adrian late in the game. Conte, of course, praised Costa’s passion as the Spanish international dug deep to grab Chelsea the win.

Fast transitions when winning the ball back are one of Conte’s most recognizable traits and that was evident from his Chelsea team on his PL bow.

ProSoccerTalk asked West Ham’s manager what he thought of Chelsea under Conte and the Croatian manager was mightily impressed with what his counterpart has created in just a few weeks at in west London.

“I was impressed,” Bilic revealed. “We started better the first 15 minutes but then it was exactly what we expected, for them to be on their toes and be aggressive and to use that individual class, especially on the half counter attacks in a situation where we lost the ball and gave the ball to them in a part of the pitch where you simply can’t do it. It was a very energetic Chelsea.”

Chelsea could be set to add to their squad too, with Conte revealing the club is working hard behind-the-scenes to try and bring in new players, while he revealed he is “happy” with Cesc Fabregas’ attitude despite the Spaniard being named on the bench but not brought on against the Hammers.

The likes of Romelu Lukaku have been linked with a $80 million move to Chelsea and Conte called the current market “crazy” as they look around for new additions.

“About the transfer policy, it is important to have a contact every day with the club. This is a very crazy market. Very crazy. The club knows my idea. It is important to find the right solution to improve this team. Not to buy only for buying,” Conte said. “Now we are awaiting for the right solution to improve the team but I am very happy to have these players because they show me every day great attitude, great work rate, great behavior. I am very glad. With two weeks until the end of the transfer market, we pay attention and if we find the right solution to improve the team it is okay.”

Dest decision to stay with the U.S. significant for future

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the shrill of the referee’s whistle on Friday night, with Sergino Dest expected to be on the field, his decision to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team will be final.

There have been plenty of dual-nationals before him and there will continue to be dual-nationals after him. But Dest’s decision to stay with the U.S. is a significant one for multiple reasons.

First, there’s the whirlwind past six months he’s had. Before the summer began, Dest was a solid member of the Jong Ajax team, which is effectively the reserve side, though it plays in the Dutch Second Division. For the U.S., he started in four of the five games for the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team as it advanced to the FIFA U-20 World Cup quarterfinals this past May and June, beating France U-20s along the way.

After a strong preseason, suddenly Dest found himself promoted to the Ajax first team. Then, suddenly this then-18-year-old kid was starting for Ajax, first in the Eredivisie and then in the UEFA Champions League, and he was impressing. After not noticing him or not bothering to call him in to national team camps in the past, suddenly Ronald Koeman was interested, and Ajax coach Erik ten Hag was pushing the Oranje on Dest.

While the U.S. has recruited players from Germany, England, and Mexico among other countries in recent years, it’s rare that the player hasn’t been coveted as well by the bigger – or local national team compared to the USMNT. So it says something that the USMNT is such a welcoming place that Dest felt comfortable enough when making his decision to stick with what he knew.

Also, while the Tyler Boyd decision to play for the USMNT wasn’t seen as a huge recruiting coup – he had played in friendly matches for New Zealand in the past – Dest’s decision, considering that he plays at Ajax and gets minutes in the Champions League – is on the level of the Jonathan Gonzalez deal. Gonzalez of course decided to go with Mexico, but due to a loss of form and injuries, that decision hasn’t fully panned out over the past 12 months. Dest, meanwhile, has the opportunity to cement himself as the right or left back of the future for the U.S.

A player this young is usually not put in this position where they have to choose, but Dest – with official FIFA matches coming up – basically had to make his decision this month or risk being out of the USMNT and the Netherlands for multiple training camps.

Ultimately, while Dest’s decision is a great sign for the USMNT, it’s only the start. There’s plenty of American-born players that the USMNT is losing out on, especially to Mexico. Players like Efrain Alvarez, and Gonzalez are two players who could make a difference for the U.S. moving forward, but have chosen – Alvarez for now – to play for Mexico. Other current USMNT youngsters such as Richie Ledezma, Sebastian Soto, Alex Mendez, and Julian Araujo could all potentially play for another country as well, leaving the U.S. vulnerable should they leave.

And another caveat. Dest is only 19-years old, and it’s truly impossible to predict whether he’ll be the next Steve Cherundolo for the USMNT – owned the right back slot for more than a decade – or a short-term fix before an injury or loss of form keeps him away from the team.

So U.S. Soccer is on the right track with the commitment from Dest, but it still has an awful lot to do to keep growing the USMNT player pool.


Berhalter: No “like-for-like” replacement for Pulisic

Getty Images
Leave a comment

U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter may not be feeling any more pressure after the USMNT’s disappointing 2-0 defeat at Canada last month. But his task to beat Canada in the return match on Friday in Orlando became even more difficult with the loss of Christian Pulisic to injury.

Speaking at a pre-match press conference, Berhalter noted that there’s no one on the current USMNT team that could replace exactly what Pulisic brings – excellent dribbling, high soccer IQ, dynamic runs into the box – but they’ll need to compensate for his absence in other ways.

[READ: How will the USMNT line up v. Canada]

“When you think about his dynamic dribbling, you don’t see players like that around very much anymore.,” Berhalter said. “We’ll have to compensate with other types of skills. But what we do have is speed and physically, and we’ll want to take advantage of that. I think that will be a key component of the game.”

Even with Pulisic on the field for around an hour, the U.S. still seemed second-best, but it didn’t help when the USMNT’s best player was taken off. In the current squad, Berhalter will need to look for creativity and darting runs diagonally from players like Tyler Boyd and Jordan Morris on the wings, where they can potentially have an advantage over Canada’s outside backs.

Berhalter noted at the press conference that this week in training they’ve been focusing on bringing the intensity demanded for international soccer, as well as how to better succeed in the attacking third of the field.

“We’ve been working with the wingers, working with the attacking midfielder, having them focused on spaces we need to exploit, and being very aggressive around the penalty box,” Berhalter said. “One thing we weren’t happy with in the game in Canada was our lack of ability to get behind their backline and our lack of ability in the final third to deliver accurate crosses. We got into some good positions and didn’t take advantage of that. So, we focused on that during this week and it’s been looking pretty good.”

In some of the USMNT’s worst games in recent years, including the loss in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago and the loss in Toronto, Canada, it’s been the lack of creativity in the final third, or a lack of even setting up one-v-one opportunities in the final third that’s cost the U.S. That task becomes more difficult without Pulisic, but perhaps the USMNT can take advantage of Morris’ recent fine form, and use his speed down the left to get in behind Canada’s defense.

Sterling backs Gomez after boos were heard at Wembley

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Raheem Sterling came out in support of his teammate Joe Gomez, just a couple of days after Sterling lost his temper in practice and got into a scuffle with the Liverpool defender.

Multiple reporters at England’s 7-0 thrashing of Montenegro heard a smattering of fans boo Joe Gomez when he came on the field as a substitute. While not defensible, the boos were likely as a result of the dust-up and subsequent one-match suspension for Sterling. Unable to speak to the media after the match, Sterling took to Twitter to stand up for his international teammate.

[READ: England smash Montenegro, qualify for Euro 2020]

This is the latest example of Sterling taking the high road to deal with a tough situation. Whether it’s the boos he endures from Liverpool fans over his exit from the club, racism he’s experienced at home or abroad, and the media coverage he’s felt, Sterling has almost always offered a measured, intelligent response.

In this instance, it shows that Gareth Southgate has full control of his team and that there’s an accepting atmosphere in the squad. Sterling was obviously wrong to not let the Man City defeat to Liverpool go and to take it out on Gomez warranted the suspension. To back Gomez after he took some jeers from the crowd says a lot about Sterling’s character.

You can almost bet that the two will be on the field together as England faces Kosovo on the road this Sunday.

Euro 2020 Roundup: Ronaldo scores hat-trick, France, Turkey qualify

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The final two rounds of Euro 2020 qualification got underway on Thursday with plenty of great goals on display. Four nations qualified directly into the tournament as well, as we get closer to the final list of 24 teams.

Portugal rout Lithuania

While the result wasn’t a surprise, it was still an impressive performance from the defending European champions.

Portugal, behind a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, thrashed Lithuania, 6-0, at the Estadio Algarve. That included this terrific strike into the corner from outside the box, bringing the crowd to their feet.

It was Ronaldo’s ninth hat-trick for Portugal, which takes him to 98 goals overall along with 12 goals for Portugal in this calendar year, an incredible strike rate. Pizzi, Goncalo Paciencia and Bernardo Silva all scored as well. With a win at Luxembourg in three days, Portugal can assure qualification back to the European Championships, where it can defend its crown.

France comes back to beat Moldova

It’s safe to say that Les Bleus fans would gladly have taken a 2-1 result over Moldova in Euro 2020 qualifying, but the journey to get there was definitely out of the ordinary.

Moldova’s Vadim Rata put the visitors up 1-0 in the 9th minute with a goal-mouth scramble after a failed clearance from by Clement Lenglet, putting France under even more pressure. France brought wave and wave of attack towards the Moldova goal, but it was a controversial goal, credited to Raphael Varane, which brought France level.

In the 41st minute, as Olivier Giroud went for a ball, it appeared Giroud motioned to control the ball with his arm, only to move it out of his way at the last second, enabling Varane to head home. Giroud made amends for missing many chances throughout the match with a penalty kick goal in the 79th minute, earned by left back Lucas Digne.

With the win, France qualified for the 2020 Euros. Also qualifying on Thursday was Turkey, England, and the Czech Republic.

Here’s a look at the rest of Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualification results.

Qualification Group A

England 7-0 Montenegro
Czech Republic 2-1 Kosovo

Qualification Group B

Portugal 6-0 Lithuania
Serbia 3-2 Luxembourg

Qualification Group H

Turkey 0-0 Iceland
Albania 2-2 Andorra
France 2-1 Moldova