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

Leave a comment

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.

River Plate to sponsor car in Indy 500

Getty Images
Leave a comment

There will be a soccer presence at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500.

On Thursday, Club Atletico River Plate announced, along with car owner Juncos Racing that Kyle Kaiser’s No. 32 car will feature a River Plate logo on the front of the vehicle. Juncos Racing is named after founder Ricardo Juncos, an Argentine native and clearly a big River fan.

Per a press release from River Plate, it’s the first time a soccer team is sponsoring a car in the Indy 500, which takes place this Sunday, May 26.

[READ: Pochettino hopeful Kane will be ready to make an impact in UCL final]

“As a River fan, I always wanted to have the logo of the Club in the car,” Juncos said in a press release.
“This race is very important for me. I am very happy and I believe that in the goal of River to expand into the Indy 500. From here to there will come positive things for both.”

Kaiser, just 23, is one of the new guys on the main IndyCar scene, especially after winning the IndyCar Lights title in 2017. It’s the racing equivalent of winning the Europa League. Unlike River’s reputation as one of the biggest clubs in South America, Kaiser just barely made it into the field all together, bumping former Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso out of the field by about one hundredth of a second.

While it’s cool to see a soccer team get involved in the Indy 500, a worldwide viewing event that’s also akin to a religious holiday throughout the state of Indiana, it’s another Buenos Aires club that really should have been the first to sponsor a car.

Racing Club, defending Argentine league champs, would have been terrific, Racing in Uruguay, or Racing de Santander in Spain. Perhaps one day in the future the three clubs can combine forces to sponsor an IndyCar event or a car competing in a race.

USSF, Relevant Sports clash in court over international matches

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) A lawyer for a promoter asked a judge to order the U.S. Soccer Federation to sanction international league matches in the United States.

The USSF last month denied an application by Relevent Sports, a company partly owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, to have Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil clubs play on May 5 at Miami Gardens, Florida. The USSF cited an Oct. 26 announcement by FIFA that its ruling council “emphasized the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.”

During a half-hour hearing Thursday before New York Supreme Court Justice W. Franc Perry, a lawyer for the USSF argued the court should not hear the dispute and it should be sent to arbitration.

Blair G. Connelly, the lawyer representing the USSF, said because Relevent’s application included its executive chairman, Charlie Stillitano, as the FIFA-licensed match agent requesting approval to stage the game, Relevent was bound by a provision in FIFA’s match agent regulations requiring any dispute with a national association be submitted to arbitration. FIFA’s rules specify such a case be heard by its player status committee, whose decision could be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

“What they’re trying to do is outsource the court’s authority … to two bodies in Switzerland that don’t follow New York law and have nothing to do with it,” said Marc Litt, a lawyer for Relevent.

Connelly said the USSF’s decision could be overruled only if the court found it to be irrational. He also cited a 2007 decision by U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber in Illinois, who ordered a suit against the USSF by ChampionsWorld, a previous Stillitano-affiliated company, be stayed pending FIFA’s arbitration procedure.

“They are bound by the contracts their agent enters into on their behalf,” Connelly said.

Litt said FIFA never issued a formal regulation against international club matches in different countries and the USSF cited only a news release.

“Was U.S. Soccer irrational when it concluded that something that FIFA itself called a decision by its decision-making body was in fact a decision? We’re we crazy to think that? Was U.S. Soccer just in outer space?” Connelly said.

Litt claimed the USSF made its decision to protect Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of the USSF and Major League Soccer.

“We believe that the only reason that they don’t want professional league matches that count in the United States is because that would damage Major League Soccer,” Litt said.

Relevent also attempted to stage the first Spanish La Liga match in the U.S., between Barcelona and Girona, at Miami Gardens on Jan. 26. That effort fell through following opposition from the governing body of Spanish soccer, the Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol, and the players’ union, the Asociacion de Futbolistas Espanoles.

Perry did not announce any decision.

Wenger hints he may be retired from management

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s been a year since Arsene Wenger‘s Arsenal departure was announced, and the legendary manager remains on the sidelines.

Whether by his choice or not, Wenger has spent the year away from soccer, instead vacationing and being a studio TV pundit in France. In his latest public comments, Wenger hinted that while he still plans to return to a role in soccer, he likely won’t be a club manager anymore.

“I thought I will come back into management very quickly, but I enjoyed taking a little distance,” Wenger told the BBC. Now I’m at a crossroads.”

Per the BBC, Wenger later added: “You will see me again in football. As a manager… I don’t know.”

In the weeks and months after Wenger was effectively forced out of Arsenal after 22 seasons, Wenger repeatedly said that he had many offers to return to management, and it was only a matter of time before he’d accept one of these offers. And yet, it’s been a year and Wenger remains on the outside, perhaps a clear sign that today’s soccer has passed him by, and unless he wants to move to the Middle East or another soccer outpost, he won’t be able to get a top job in Western Europe.

Despite his acrimonious exit, Wenger still supports the Gunners and had some thoughts on the team’s season, as well as the club’s run to the Europa League final.

“I miss competition and I miss Arsenal because I left my heart in there,” Wenger said. “I gave my life to this club for 22 years. Every minute of my life was dedicated to this club and I miss the values we developed inside the club.

“I support Arsenal. It will be forever my club.”

Pochettino hopeful Kane can “give us a hand” in UCL final

Getty Images
1 Comment

Harry Kane returned to training this week as Tottenham continues preparations for the UEFA Champions League final.

The England and Tottenham captain has been out with yet another ankle injury since April 9. Initially feared he would be out for the rest of the season, Kane now looks set to play in the final match of the season, and his manager Mauricio Pochettino is hopeful he can make an impact.

“He’s training and has entered the final stage of his recovery, Pochettino told a conference in Bilbao, via video link, per AS. “We’re hoping he’ll be able to give us a hand – either from the start, from the bench or if not, then by giving us moral support in the dressing room. But we are optimistic that he’ll be able to help us on the pitch.”

Pochettino completed a magnificent feat guiding Tottenham to the Champions League final, but he may have one of the most difficult decisions he has to make in his managerial career ahead.

Should Kane be available to start, Pochettino has to decide whether he should break from the lineup that came back from a 3-0 deficit to Ajax, and potentially put Lucas Moura on the bench. If Tottenham loses, Pochettino is probably darned if he does, darned if he doesn’t with Kane.

Either Kane wasn’t fit enough to play and make a big impact, or he clearly was and he didn’t have enough time in the match.

Regardless, Pochettino will hope to have a full squad available, with Kane able to make a difference should be needed.