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.

Championship playoff final: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

Fulham - Brentford
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Fulham – Brentford: Which West London Derby combatant will lay claim to a place in the Premier League at the end of Tuesday’s Football League Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium?

We can hardly wait to find out, as the 20th berth in the 2020-21 Premier League season and 22nd spot in the Championship will be decided after the richest game on earth.

[ MORE: Predictions, Odds for Europe ]

Kickoff is at 2:45 pm ET Tuesday at Wembley Stadium.


Key players

Fulham leading scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 26 goals were the joint-most in the Championship and more than three times as many as Tom Cairney, second amongst the Cottagers. He’s healthy for the first time after missing the semis with a hamstring injury.

Brentford’s Ollie Watkins scored the same amount of goals as Mitrovic, tying for the league lead, and he’s joined by Said Benrahma’s 17 goals (fifth in the league) and Bryan Mbeumo (eighth). The latter have combined for 16 assists, too. The Bees can sting.

Their seasons

Brentford won a even-straight league games to surge into the mix for automatic promotion but lost their last two, meeting Fulham on 81 points.

As for the Cottagers, Fulham finished the season on a seven-match unbeaten run which included five wins

Their playoffs

Brentford overcame a 1-0 first-leg deficit to oust Swansea City in the semifinal, while Fulham’s first leg win was enough to outlast Cardiff City’s strong second leg in their semi.

Odds and ends

Brentford beat Fulham twice, 1-0 at Griffin Park and 2-0 at Craven Cottage.

The Bees are favored to win the match at +108 odds, while Fulham carries +265 odds of a win.

Prediction

Mitrovic’s availability is huge for a Fulham side hoping to break down the league’s second-stingiest defense. Brentford feels like it’s the superior side but Fulham has been here and Cairney even scored the goal to beat Aston Villa in the 2017-18 playoff final. That experience is an X-factor, but we’ll still call Brentford 2-1 winners.

How to watch Fulham – Brentford

Kickoff: 2:45 pm ET Tuesday
Stream: ESPN+

How will Premier League clubs fare in Europe this month?

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Nearly five months is a long time to wait between rounds of a tournament, let alone legs.

Welcome to the 2019-20 UEFA Champions and Europa Leagues, where the competition continues this week after a long, pandemic-inspired delay.

[ MORE: Predictions, Odds for Europa ]

Who is best set up, aligned, prepared, and built for success?

There are certainly different questions to all parts of that question. Let’s dive into it.


Chelsea

Status: Down 3-0 to Bayern Munich after first leg at home
Next match: 3 pm ET Saturday at Allianz Arena

It’s not happening. We don’t like sounding definitive, especially with Christian Pulisic involved, but Bayern Munich conceding four times in a 3-goal loss at home seems bonkers even after a couple of weeks without game action.

The Blues are capable of scoring against anyone, yes, but this would be a bigger turnaround than even Liverpool versus Barcelona.

Longest of long shots.


Wolves

Status: Level 1-1 with Olympiacos after first leg away
Next match: 3 pm ET Thursday at the Molineux

Should Wolves get past Greek powers Olympiacos, they’ll face either Sevilla or Roma in a real scrap to meet the semifinals.

Wolves feel capable of beating anyone in the field, but this path is far from easy. Still, both Wolves and Manchester United can feel grateful to be in the top half of the bracket, with Inter Milan, Wolfsburg, and Shakhtar Donetsk in a dangerous bottom half.

On a round-to-round basis you wouldn’t vote against Wolves. Over a month, though, they feel less likely than the Manchester sides.


[ MORE: Big moves for Arsenal? ]

 

Wolves news
PIRAEUS, GREECE – MARCH 12: Mady Camara of Olympiacos FC is challenged by Joao Moutinho of Wolverhampton Wanderers (Photo by UEFA – Handout/UEFA via Getty Images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Manchester City

Status: Leads 2-1 over Real Madrid after first leg away
Next match: 3 pm ET Friday at the Etihad Stadium

We know Pep Guardiola and his array of weapons are capable of beating anyone in the world, and Sergio Ramos’ suspension from the first leg is wonderful for City. Ramos is having one of those “Ballon d’Or if defenders could win it” seasons.

Having two away goals from the Bernabeu is even better. The bottom half of the UCL bracket, however, is a gauntlet and nothing like the top half. City would love to see Lyon hold off Juventus, but a win over either brings either Napoli, Barcelona, Bayern or — miraculously — Chelsea in the semifinals.

It’s a huge ask but this is a huge team.


Manchester United

Status: Leads 5-0 over LASK Linz after first leg away
Next match: 3 pm ET Wednesday at Old Trafford

United would have to self-destruct in order to miss out on the Europa League quarterfinals, where they’ll be favored whether they meet either Istanbul Basaksehir or Copenhagen. The semifinals will be even tougher, as Olympiacos, Wolves, Sevilla, or Roma.

The question here is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has shown some tactical acumen but also failed the Red Devils in the FA Cup semi against Chelsea. United really should be able to out-perform anyone left, even Inter Milan, but will Solskjaer outduel Antonio Conte or even Sevilla’s Julen Lopetegui?

Predictions, odds for Champions League, Europa League knockouts

Champions League odds
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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League resume this week and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City and Chelsea still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League Round of 16 second legs will take place before mini tournaments begin.

Man City lead Real Madrid 2-1 from their first leg in Spain, while Chelsea trail Bayern 3-0 as they head to Germany for the return game. Man United are all but in the quarterfinals, while Wolves are favored to make the Europa quarters too.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch all of the fixtures in the USA.


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
Friday, August 7: Manchester City 1-1 Real Madrid (2-1)
Friday, August 7: Juventus 2-1 Lyon (0-1)
Saturday, August 8: Barcelona 3-1 Napoli (1-1)
Saturday, August 8: Bayern Munich 2-1 Chelsea (3-0)

JPW’s Europa League predictions

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
Copenhagen 1-2 Istanbul Basaksehir
Wolves 2-0 Olympiakos
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Rangers
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Wolfsburg
Basel 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Manchester United 3-1 LASK
Inter Milan 3-0 Getafe
Sevilla 1-3 Roma


Champions League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
(-139) Manchester City v. Real Madrid (+320). Tie: +340
(-230) Juventus v. Lyon (+650). Tie: +340
(-150) Barcelona v. Napoli (+400). Tie: +300
(-250) Bayern Munich v. Chelsea (+650). Tie: +410

Quarterfinals (August 12-13)
(+200) Atalanta v. Paris Saint-Germain (+120). Tie: +285
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+133). Tie: 220

Outright winner
Manchester City (+350)
Bayern Munich (+365)
Paris Saint-Germain (+450)
Atletico Madrid (+700)
Atalanta (+950)
Barcelona (+1100)
RB Leipzig (+1500)
Juventus (+1700)


Europa League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
(+155) Copenhagen v. Istanbul Basaksehir (+180). Tie: +235
(-134) Wolves v. Olympiakos (+390). Tie: +260
(-162) Bayer Leverkusen v. Rangers (+410). Tie: +310
(+135) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Wolfsburg (+185). Tie: +265
(+155) Basel v. Eintracht Frankfurt (+155). Tie: +275
(-455) Manchester United v. LASK (+1200). Tie: +550
(-143) Inter Milan v. Getafe (+385). Tie: +285
(+110) Sevilla v. Roma (+270). Tie: +230

Outright winner
Manchester United (+160)
Inter Milan (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+700)
Wolves (+800)
Sevilla (+900)


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Round of 16 at home venues; Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: Here at NBCSports.com

Reports: Arsenal offers huge deal to Aubameyang, chases Partey, Coutinho

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Thinking about the resurgence of several big name Premier League sides makes the 2020-21 season tantalizing idea. Could Arsenal become a title fighter?

Manchester City, statistically-speaking, was already the most productive team in the league and Liverpool’s team an absolute monster of intensity that seemed to will good fortune on their rare bad days.

Manchester United was second only to City in Project Restart while Chelsea produced as many chances as any team now named City and now has better finishers. Tottenham improved as well — health can be a tactic in that it helps as much as any manager.

[ MORE: Predictions, Odds for Europa ]

What about Arsenal, though?

The Gunners now have a shiny trophy for Mikel Arteta’s resume after the former midfielder led the club to a record 14th FA Cup.

Arsenal is said to be offering Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a contract that pays nearly $327,000 per week in a bid to convince the superstar that another year of the Europa League is fine.

A report from Football.London says that Arteta believes Aubameyang and a trio of other moves could help him replicate the 4-3-3 often implemented by former club Man City.

The report says that Arsenal is ready to recruit Willian, Thomas Partey, and Philippe Coutinho to supplement what’s already at the Emirates.

Arsenal is in a tricky situation because of how much promising young talent there is, but Arteta will have learned a thing or too from how Pep Guardiola convinced Phil Foden to buy into a longer development. And winning cures plenty.

Who would fit in the 4-3-3? Arsenal has a tremendous 1-2 punch in goal between Bernd Leno and Emiliano Martinez, and piles of questions at the back. William Saliba finally arrives from Saint-Etienne and Pablo Mari will return, too, while Arteta used Shkrodan Mustafi, David Luiz, Kieran Tierney, Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sead Kolasinac, Calum Chambers, and Cedric Soares this season.

The middle part becomes a lot easier with Partey joining Granit Xhaka and Co.