Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win vs. West Ham

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LONDON — Chelsea beat West Ham United 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Monday as Antonio Conte‘s first game in the Premier League ended in dramatic fashion.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new identity ]

Chelsea’s new manager saw Eden Hazard put the Blues ahead early in the second half but the Hammers battled back with James Collins scoring a superb instinctive finish. However, Diego Costa then scored in the 89th minute to send Conte and Stamford Bridge wild.

[ MORE: Bilic talks down Costa foul ]

Here’s what we learned from a feisty London derby.


COSTA, HAZARD HOLD KEY FOR CONTE 

No matter how bad they played last season, Hazard and Costa still ooze quality on the ball and have that extra bit of class which will win the Blues countless games. The extra bit of quality they provide in the final third will be the difference between Conte’s side finishing in the top six and challenging for the title and it proved to be the difference on Monday.

Hazard scored the PK which put Chelsea ahead and in the first half he cut inside from the left and curled an effort just wide of the far post. He looked sharp, lean and the Belgian playmaker was Chelsea’s go-to man out on the left wing with Conte often gesticulating for his players to spray the ball wide as early as possible.

As for Costa, devils still seem to haunt his soul. In the first half he charged towards referee Anthony Taylor after Oscar had gone down in the box but no penalty kick was awarded. Costa was booked under the new rules implemented this season by the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) about player behavior towards officials.

Costa then showed some of his quality as he sent a dipping shot from distance just over in the first half and turned well in the box to force Adrian into a fine low save at his near post early in the second half. He then had another rush of blood to the head as he caught West Ham’s goalkeeper Adrian with a late, high tackle and was lucky to still be on the pitch.

Luckily for Chelsea he did stay on the pitch because in the 89th minute he turned on the edge of the box and slotted home the game-winner.

Both Hazard and Costa seem sharper than last season and more determined. If they can stay fit, focused and on top form, they hold the x-factor for Conte at Chelsea. Under their Italian manager they will keep it tight and won’t blow teams away this season.


KANTE FINDING HIS FEET

N'Golo Kante was booked three minutes into his Chelsea debut and the French midfielder didn’t look comfortable in a first half which saw his team dictate the play. Chelsea will have to find the right spot for him to get the most out of his undoubted talents but after a slightly subdued first half performance he improved drastically in the second half but was lucky to stay on the pitch after a mistimed tackle on Dimitri Payet didn’t result in a second yellow card.

At Leicester Kante had many opportunities to win the ball back but at Chelsea that won’t always be the case. Conte’s side had 62 percent of possession on Monday but Kante isn’t great with the ball. Sure, he can knock a sideways pass and clip a long ball forward but his game is all about stepping in high and intercepting it, then distributing it. He doesn’t take risks on the ball and that allows opponents to settle in when Chelsea’s model under Conte is all about getting forward as quickly as they can when they have the ball.

In the space of about 20 seconds in the 55th minute he first won the ball back from Andy Carroll as he slid in twice and somehow retrieved it, then made another interception. That’s the Kante we all know and rave about. The Chelsea fans loved it.

The man who led Europe’s top five leagues in interceptions and tackles last season is still finding his feet at his new club but as the game wore on Kante got better as the lone holding player in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Perhaps he would be best in a flat four across midfield or a 4-2-3-1. He is so good at winning the ball back that it seems like a waste not to have somebody alongside him to take the ball from home. Kante is not a “water-carrier” as his new manager Conte was often described during his playing days at Juventus. He is a supreme reader of the game who makes everyone around him better. It will take time for Kante to become the heartbeat of this Chelsea team but given his quality it only seems like a matter of time before that is the case.


 

HAMMERS NEED HELP

Slaven Bilic and Conte were breathless on the sidelines. Kicking each and every ball with their players, it was exhausting to watch them up close.

Bilic was especially incensed with decisions from the referee which allowed Costa and Kante to remain on the pitch and had several quiet words with fourth official Michael Oliver during the game. The Hammers boss seemed frustrated and his claim that he still needs reinforcements this summer seems legit. After their seventh place finish in the PL last season, this summer represented a chance for West Ham to kick on as a club with their move to the new London Stadium and a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds secured.

Of the new players they brought in, Arthur Masuaku looked useful at left back, Gokhan Tore didn’t do much after coming on as a sub and Havard Nordtveit was taken off in the second half. With Sofiane Feghouli and Jonathan Calleri to play their part, plus Payet to start their next game after coming back from international duty late, Bilic has more bodies than last season. But does he have the quality to push for a top six finish?

Michail Antonio is a fine winger but he was preferred to Sam Byram and used as a makeshift right back and gave away the penalty kick as Hazard scored Chelsea’s first. With Diafra Sakho on his way out, they only possess Andy Carroll and Enner Valencia up front and West Ham could certainly use reinforcements in attack.

It was a typical gritty, determined display from Bilic’s boys buy they just came up short. That will happen a lot this season if they don’t do plenty of business in the final 16 days of the transfer window.

Court date for USWNT’s law suit versus U.S. Soccer delayed

USWNT equal pay
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A court case that has dragged U.S. Soccer’s administration through the mud and led to a change of leadership may drag into the summer.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

A judge in California has delayed the May 5 trial of gender discrimination against the USSF until June 16 due in part to the coronavirus pandemic. A pretrial conference was also moved to June 1.

The federation is being sued by members of the two-time reigning World Cup champion USWNT under the Equal Pay Act.

The women are requesting more than $66 million in damages.

The extra month gives both parties more time to reach a settlement which could keep this ugly case away from trial. Given the uncertainty in our world, it could of course be delayed again.

The USSF has a new CEO in Will Wilson, who can make a major statement of change by stopping the trial from reaching court.

Handicapping the Final Four of Premier League March Madness

Premier League March Madness
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Our Premier League March Madness results have been as topsy-turvy as the 2019/20 on-field campaign before coronavirus halted it last month.

Yes, the runaway No. 1 seed is alive, but the second, third, fourth, and fifth seeds have been expelled from the tournament within the first two rounds.

Voting in the semifinal round begins Thursday.

[ RESULTS: March Madness Round of 16 ]

Before we go any further, if you’re unfamiliar: To make sure you’re not missing out on either March Madness or the business end of the PL season, we’ve gone ahead and merged the two competitions. The March Madness Final Four and Championship game were due to take place this weekend in Atlanta but now you will be voting on Tottenham v. Arsenal instead of Duke v. Kansas.

Teams are seeded from 1-16 based on their current spot in the table, with Aston Villa winning the relegation playoffs on Monday to remain in the Premier League.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Before we handicap the semifinal matches, let’s take a look at where the field sits after your Wednesday voting.

No. 1 Liverpool v. No. 12 Everton
No. 6 Wolves v. No. 7 Sheffield United

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Look, all bets are off for the derby. The Everton faithful has shown up in a big way during voting, dispatching Manchester United and Chelsea.

That’s big time stuff, though Liverpool ended the dreams of our presumptive sleeping giant favorite Arsenal after beating West Ham in the Sweet Sixteen.

The Reds are going to have to not just been upstart Everton but overcome the legions of rival supporters who would happily click the Toffees’ box rather than see Liverpool gain the crown.

The other side of the bracket sees No. 7 Sheffield United looking to continue its surprising run in both the PL season and our voting.

The Blades knocked off Man City, potentially aided by the same phenomenon Everton hopes to see on Thursday.

Now they meet Wolves, who may be riding a crest of North American momentum in the form of affinity for El Tri hero Raul Jimenez.

Our prediction: Everton and Wolves in the Final.

RESULTS: Premier League March Madness Elite Eight

Premier League March Madness
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Everton continued its upset path toward in our Premier League March Madness voting, showing its sensational support and setting up a fantastic eMerseyside Derby in the Final Four.

Thousands of votes were cast Wednesday, and the Toffees upset isn’t even the top underdog story.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Chris Wilder’s Blades of Sheffield United won a back-and-forth affair with No. 2 seed Manchester City to move into the semifinals.

That’s where they’ll meet No. 6 seed Wolves, who powered past Leicester City as if it wasn’t a challenge.

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results in full
Wednesday: Elite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

IFAB: New handball rule can be adopted when games resume

Handball rule
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The International Football Association Board (IFAB) issued a letter from secretary Lukas Brud on Wednesday, outlining several changes to the game.

The “tee shirt line” handball rule may be coming to club football quicker than expected due to the coronavirus suspension of the 2019/20 season.

IFAB will allow leagues the choice to use the new handball rule when matches resume this season, also making changes to VAR protocol and vowing to review the offside rule.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The new handball rule states that the shoulder goes to the end of the shirt sleeve or the bottom of the armpit (though obviously not in the case of a long-sleeve jersey).

For the purposes of determining handball offences, the ‘arm’ stops at the bottom of the armpit

So… get ready for baggy, longer jersey sleeves, or the increased recruitment of players with the longest armpits.

Kidding aside, the handball rule desperately needed clarification and we’ll see if this gives enough to fans and players alike.

Referees will now be “expected” to go to the screen on the field when a call is subjective, forcing the official to either uphold or overrule his initial call.

This same post says IFAB will now allow accidental handballs in the run-up to a goal in certain situations.

“Accidental handball by an attacking player should only be penalized if it ‘immediately’ results in a goal or an obvious opportunity for the player and/or their team to score a goal (i.e. following the handball, the ball travels only a short distance and/or there are very few passes).”

Well, that needs some clarification.

Back to the timing issue for the new handball rule, it seems logical that leagues would want to introduce new laws with a new season but stand-by for the decision of your favorite league.

As for the offside rule, “The members agreed that the fundamental philosophy of offside is underpinned by a desire to encourage attacking football and the scoring of goals. It was further agreed, therefore, that Law 11 – Offside should be analyzed and reviewed with a view to potentially proposing changes reflecting this philosophy.”

It’s a lot to unpack, and we’ll surely here from proponents and opponents of the changes soon. As always, implementation will make the biggest difference in how these changes are received.