Premier League Playback: How can Chelsea improve defensively?

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CHELSEA A DEFENSIVE MESS

Following Chelsea’s humiliating 3-0 defeat at London rivals Arsenal on Saturday, Antonio Conte‘s eyes glazed over as the following words came out.

He was in a state of rage after yet another embarrassing defensive display, an area of the game the Italian coach prides himself on being a master at.

“We must work a lot. If someone thinks this season it is easy, we must work a lot to improve and to change the situation. I think that now we are a great team only on the paper. Not on the pitch,” Conte said. “To be a great team, I prefer to be a great team not only on the paper but also on the pitch because the pitch speaks. The pitch is the truth. The pitch is the most important thing for us. Not the words. Not the paper. We must change this.”

But how?

The most obvious answers is personnel and that appears to be Conte’s plan with reports already surfacing that he will phase out both Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic in the coming weeks as John Terry and Kurt Zouma return from injury. To me, that means one thing: 3-5-2.

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Conte switched to the formation he mastered with Juventus and the Italian national team for the final 35 minutes of Chelsea’s drubbing at Arsenal and it seemed to work a little better, but it’s tough to tell how well it worked because the game was already over.

Something drastic needs to change in formation and personnel because the mindset of the current crop of defenders doesn’t seem to be strong enough to deal with what’s being thrown at them. Ivanovic came out after the game and said the players were not carrying out Conte’s instructions. That’s a huge problem.

Another problem is that Conte did not get the players he wanted in the summer. Reports suggested he went after center backs Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci but instead Chelsea signed David Luiz with many suggesting the deal wasn’t exactly what Conte wanted but Luiz’s connections with the club saw it pushed through.

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Conte is now left with a messy situation in defense.

Yes, mistakes happen, but his side have given up at least two goals in each of their last four games. That’s not good enough. Conte knows it and so do Chelsea’s players but the worrying thing for Conte is that on Saturday that apart from Gary Cahill and Thibaut Courtois screaming criticism at teammates, there was a real lack of direction out on the pitch. Without Terry, that’s to be expected, but the 25-year-old won’t be around forever. Chelsea must find a solution.

“I have to solve the situation. That is the most important thing. The situation is that every game we concede two goals, at a minimum,” Conte said, furiously. “For this reason, three back or two back or four back, I don’t care. It is important to solve the situations. I must find the right solution for this team because in every game we are conceding two goals. I work a lot to find the right solution.”

Three at the back is worth a go. Using the formation and personnel below when Terry and Zouma are fit should improve Chelsea’s display but only when individuals cut out huge errors can Conte really kick on his project at Chelsea.

—– Courtois —–

—- Zouma — Terry — Luiz —

—- Azpilicueta —-  Kante —- Matic —- Hazard —- Alonso —-

—- Costa —- Batshuayi —-

To me, that team above is Chelsea’s Best XI at the moment.

Away from the defensive issues, Eden Hazard looked lost out wide against Arsenal, bring him inside to influence the game and make the most of N'Golo Kante‘s supreme ability to intercept and win tackles. Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta as wing backs are good enough on the ball to deliver crosses, something Willian, Pedro and others haven’t done consistently this season. Then up top, it is time for Diego Costa to get a partner in crime with Michy Batshuayi starting.

Again, all of these lineup changes are irrelevant if Chelsea’s entire team doesn’t adopt pride in doing the simple things correctly on the defensive side of things. You could tell as his post-match press conference drew to a close that Conte was getting more enraged by the second. He tapped on the table. He raised his voice. He took long, reflective pauses as he sighed deeply.

Let’s put this into perspective a little: it’s not the end of Chelsea’s title bid, even if Conte wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence when asked about it. Losing at home against Liverpool and away at Arsenal is no disgrace but for a Chelsea team billed as title contenders and meant to be tough to break down after acquiring their managers penchant for defensive excellence, this has been a bad few weeks.

I asked Conte why his teams have been so sloppy from the start in games in recent weeks. Like their bad defending, he simply can’t explain it and seems genuinely stunned.

“I was a footballer and it happens in one game. It can happen,” Conte said. “You don’t have a good performance for many reasons. I hope to improve this situation because this is the second consecutive defeat after Liverpool. They are great teams, Liverpool and Arsenal. We must reflect on this because we had two defeats in two big games. For this reason we must be humble and understand the moment. To understand we need to work a lot and improve to change our story.”


SPURS, ARSENAL, LIVERPOOL CHASING PERFECT CITY

A more positive story which has dominated the early weeks in this season is Manchester City’s excellence under Pep Guardiola. Following their 3-1 win at Swansea the Spanish coach has now won all 10 of his games in charge of City across all competitions and they sit top of the table with 18 points and a 100 percent record. Pretty easy this Premier League stuff, right Pep?

In all seriousness, apart from facing Manchester United away from home, Guardiola knows the fixtures have been kind to his team. No disrespect to teams like Bournemouth, Swansea, Sunderland or West Ham, but most title-chasing teams will also beat them. The next stretch is where we will find out just how good Guardiola’s side are, especially without Kevin De Bruyne who could be missing for up to a month with a hamstring injury.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]   

City face Tottenham, Everton and Southampton in their next three games, a real step up in opposition, plus they also have a UEFA Champions League clash at Barcelona and an EFL Cup match at Manchester United to negotiate. Jostling for position just behind the clear front runners are three teams: Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool.

Spurs are unbeaten and edged past Middlesbrough without the injured Harry Kane. Their manager Mauricio Pochettino wants them to be more clinical but they’re digging deep and getting the job done. The two teams with the more likely staying power to challenge City appear to be Arsenal and Liverpool.

As bad as Chelsea’s defending was, Arsenal’s offensive talents dazzled on Saturday with Alexis Sanchez’s pace terrifying in a central role up top and Mesut Ozil’s close to his bamboozling best. The Gunners look to have finally rectified any issues over their shaky defense and with Sanchez and Ozil combining, Arsene Wenger is a happy man as he celebrates his 20th anniversary in charge of the Gunners this week.

For Liverpool, well, they’re flying. Jurgen Klopp‘s side has scored more goals than any other team in 2016 and they brushed aside 10-man Hull City 5-1 with minimum fuss. When Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho get going, there are few clubs who can stop them. The only issue remains not only defensive lapses but also, where does Daniel Sturridge fit in? Klopp will provide an answer to that question another day but for now his side are slowly building momentum and with no European action this season, he can work longer and harder on the training ground to fine tune his already well-oiled machine.

City are already many people’s favorites to win the league but the chasing pack is already showing plenty of promise that this will not be a one-horse canter to the title. Remember, we’ve only had six games. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.


NO ROOM FOR ROONEY

Jose Mourinho finally bowed to the suggestions of all of those “football Einsteins” and it worked a treat. Mourinho left his captain and talisman Wayne Rooney on the bench along with Marouane Fellaini and the balance in Manchester United’s midfield instantly looked better.

The Red Devils breezed past Leicester City 4-1 on Saturday at Old Trafford with Paul Pogba flourishing in a more advanced midfield role alongside Juan Mata and Ander Herrera sweeping up magnificently in front of the back four. It seems like Mourinho has found a winning formula, one that doesn’t include Rooney.

It has to be said that Leicester helped them out with their woeful set piece defending on three of United’s four first half goals, but there was a renewed energy, zip and purpose about United’s play, especially in midfield. The balance between Pogba, Mata and Herrera was spot on and it allowed the former to unleash his true self as he scored his first-ever goal in a United shirt, flicked delicate balls behind Leicester’s defense and was a general nuisance. Leaving out Rooney got the best out of Pogba. We all know how this is going to end.

Closing in on being the all-time leading goalscorer for United, Rooney will still play his fair share of games but at the age of 30 it seems like he’s coming to the realization that he will have to pick and chose which games to play in to prolong not only his United career but his effectiveness when he does step on the field.

“He’s my man, I trust him completely. He’s as happy as I am at this moment. He’s a big player for me, for United, a big player for this country,” Mourinho said afterwards.

He’s a big player for United, no doubt. It’s just that Pogba is bigger, younger and, crucially, better in that advanced midfield role. There’s simply no room for Rooney to start regularly anymore in this United team.


WEST HAM’S WOES

I was at the London Stadium on Sunday and it was clear all is not well at all levels of the club.

West Ham United were hammered 3-0 by Southampton on the pitch (their captain Mark Noble admitted afterwards it could’ve been 6-0) and in the stands there were still a few issues with the Hammers’ new home as fans in both the home and away sections were ejected by heavy-handed security staff.

After five defeats from their opening six PL games, Slaven Bilic‘s side are spiraling out of control. Dimitri Payet looks lost, the defending is poor and their lack of a clinical goalscorer is hurting West Ham badly. On top of all of that the move to the Olympic Stadium has not gone well initially. After infighting among West Ham fans in previous defeats at the stadium, there was more of a somber atmosphere inside on Sunday with most of the home end empty long before the final whistle.

The situation is bad but it appears West Ham have hit rock bottom.

Cast your mind back to pretty much every new stadium opening in the PL in years gone by. There have always been teething problems, issues with fans complaining about the view being too far away and things which seemed like a big deal at the time but now seem like nothing. A perfect storm of negativity has been created at West Ham, coupled with their shock Europa League exit in the playoff round and their worst-ever start to a PL season.

Their joint-chairman David Sullivan and David Gold issued a statement on Monday saying “there have been factors which have contributed to the poor start with injuries to key players and some key decisions which have gone against us. But we are not going to make excuses.”

The Hammers can’t afford to make excuses but when they work at the kinks at their wonderful new home of just under 60,000, all of this unrest will seem a million miles away. The only issues remain on the pitch. West Ham shouldn’t get dragged into a relegation battle but they must stop the rot against Middlesbrough at home next weekend. Another abject performance and defeat in front of their own fans is not an option. No excuses.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

West Brom – Chelsea: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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West Brom – Chelsea: The Blues are in desperate need of a strong rebound when they visit The Hawthorns on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 pm ET, on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WEST BROM – CHELSEA STREAM LIVE

The Baggies, on the other hand, are simply hoping to collect their first point of the season after suffering a 3-0 defeat to Leicester City on the opening day of the 2020-21 season and following that up with a 5-2 beatdown at the hands of Everton last weekend.

As far as favorable matchups go, facing the 20th-place side a week after losing to defending champions Liverpool is quite timely for Chelsea.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of West Brom – Chelsea this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: West Brom – Chelsea (INJURY REPORT)

West Brom – QUESTIONABLE: Ahmed Hegazi (thigh), Kamil Grosicki (back), Hal Robson-Kanu (leg) | OUT: Kieran Gibbs (suspension), Conor Gallagher (loan rules), Kenneth Zohore (calf)

Chelsea – QUESTIONABLE: Christian Pulisic (hamstring), Cesar Azpilicueta (thigh) | OUT: Hakim Ziyech (knee), Andrea Christensen (suspension)


What they’re saying: West Brom – Chelsea

West Brom manager Slaven Bilic, on struggling to sign players: “We don’t have a huge budget, that is why we are trying to be creative and lucky. That’s not easy but we are trying. … We have to do it to maintain a good chance.”

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, on Thiago Silva: “It is exciting for us because he has had just over a week training with us. It was a perfect 60 minutes for him tonight. He will show the qualities he has. Of course, he will get fitter and better. He also gave us something for me on the night in the dressing room and on the pitch of a leader with authority in terms of his demands on others. He can’t speak the language but at the minute that’s not even a problem because his presence and the way he commands people around him is already showing that to me in training and in our game tonight.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

West Brom (+750) represent one of the biggest underdogs — or, opportunities, depending on how you look at it — of the still-young PL season. There’s not much to be won by betting on Chelsea (-280). Even the draw (+400) is pretty far out there.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: West Brom – Chelsea

Barring some unforeseen circumstances — for example, a 12th-minute red card — it’s virtually impossible to see West Brom getting anything from this game. They’ve been incredibly poor defensively through two games, and they’re yet to face a side with anything close to the firepower which the Blues possess. West Brom 1-3 Chelsea.


How to watch West Brom – Chelsea stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Premier League injuries, 2020-21

Premier League injuries
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Premier League injuries: With the 2020-21 Premier League season set to kick off this weekend, it’s time to take a look at the players who might be unavailable for the opening weekend.

[ MORE: How to watch PLTV on Peacock ]

Prior to every matchweek of the 2020-21 season, we’ll update this Premier League injuries page with the latest news and update, so make sure to check back regularly to see how your favorite — or least-favorite — club is getting on.

Note: Any player listed for COVID-19 reasons — whether a positive test or additional precautions — will always be deemed “questionable” until they make their return to action.

Arsenal injuries

QUESTIONABLE: David Luiz (neck), Kieran Tierney (groin) | OUT: Gabriel Martinelli (knee), Shkodran Mustafi (thigh), Pablo Mari (ankle), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (calf), Calum Chambers (knee)

Aston Villa injuries

OUT: Bjorn Engels (thigh), Tom Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), Ahmed Elmohamady (thigh)

Brighton & Hove Albion injuries

OUT: Yves Bissouma (suspension), Jose Izquierdo (knee), Florian Andone (knee), Christian Walton (ankle)

Burnley injuries

QUESTIONABLE: James Tarkowski (ankle), Ashley Barnes (undisclosed), Robbie Brady (ribs), Jay Rodriguez (foot) | OUT: Ben Mee (thigh), Johann Berg Gudmundsson (knee), Jack Cork (ankle)

Chelsea injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Christian Pulisic (hamstring), Cesar Azpilicueta (thigh) | OUT: Hakim Ziyech (knee), Andrea Christensen (suspension)

Crystal Palace injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Jairo Riedewald (undisclosed), Christian Benteke (ankle) | OUT: James Tomkins (thigh), Nathan Ferguson (knee), Patrick van Aanholt (shoulder), Gary Cahill (thigh), Connor Wickham (undisclosed), Scott Dann (undisclosed)

Everton injuries

OUT: Mason Holgate (ankle), Cenk Tosun (knee), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (calf), Jarrad Branthwaite (ankle), Jonas Lossi (back)

Fulham injuries

None

Leeds United injuries

OUT: Gaetano Berardi (knee), Adam Forshaw (groin), Pablo Hernandez (groin)

Leicester City injuries

OUT: Ricardo Pereira (knee), Jonny Evans (thigh), Filip Benkovic (groin), Wilfred Ndidi (groin)

Liverpool injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Jordan Henderson (thigh), Joe Gomez (knee) | OUT: Joel Matip (undisclosed), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee),

Manchester City injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Ilkay Gundogan (COVID-19) | OUT: Bernardo Silva (thigh), Sergio Aguero (knee), Joao Cancelo (foot), Oleksandr Zinchenko (undisclosed)

Manchester United injuries

OUT: Axel Tuanzebe (ankle), Phil Jones (knee), Sergio Romero (undisclosed)

Newcastle United injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Allan Saint-Maximin (ankle), Jamal Lewis (eye) | OUT: Matty Longstaff (thigh), Martin Dubravka (ankle), Fabian Schar (shoulder), Paul Dummett (thigh), Dwight Gayle (knee)

Sheffield United injuries

OUT: John Egan (suspension), Lys Mousset (ankle), Simon Moore (finger)

Southampton injuries

OUT: Nathan Redmond (foot)

Tottenham Hotspur injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Sergio Reguilon (ankle) | OUT: Gareth Bale (knee), Japhet Tanganga (thigh)

West Bromwich Albion injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Ahmed Hegazi (thigh), Kamil Grosicki (back), Hal Robson-Kanu (leg) | OUT: Kieran Gibbs (suspension), Conor Gallagher (loan rules), Kenneth Zohore (calf)

West Ham United injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Issa Diop (COVID-19), Josh Cullen (COVID-19), Mark Noble (toe), Sebastien Haller (thigh)

Wolverhampton Wanderers injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Fernando Marcal (undisclosed) | OUT: Jonny (knee)

UEL roundup: AC Milan, Celtic, Rangers reach last round of qualifying

Europa League results
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Europa League results: AC Milan, Celtic and Rangers were all victorious in the third round of UEFA Europa League qualifying on Thursday, advancing to the playoff round — the final round — on Oct. 1.

[ MORE: Son to the rescue as Spurs advance in UEL qualifying (video) ]

AC Milan 3-2 Bodo/Glimt

Hakan Calhanoglu scored twice — once in each half, including the game-winning goal in the 50th minute — as Milan did just enough to knock out Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt.

Lorenzo Colombo got the other goal for Stefano Pioli’s side, with Bodo/Glimt tallies bookending the Italians’ three.

Riga 0-1 Celtic

Celtic’s progression into the playoff round was far more dramatic, and uncertain. Neil Lennon’s side found itself level at 0-0 as they entered the 90th minute. Exra-time, and maybe even penalties, seemed likely.

Mohamed Elyounoussi had other ideas. It wasn’t the most visually pleasing goal scored on Thursday, but Elyounoussi’s bouncing, first-time finish had just enough on it to evade the goalkeeper and hit the back of the net.

Willem II 0-4 Rangers

As for the other side of Glasgow, Rangers cruised past Dutch side Willem II and were just about through to the next round before halftime. James Tavernier converted from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute, followed three minutes later by a goal from Ryan Kent.

Filip Helander made it 3-0 in the 55th, and Connor Goldson finished the rout in the 71st. Steven Gerrard’s team was one of the most impressive sides on the day, and looked ready for a season-long battle for the Scottish Premiership title. Having played one more game than their local rivals, Rangers currently lead Celtic by a single point.

Notable Europa League results

Shkendija 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur (FULL RECAP)
Mura 1-5 PSV Eindhoven
Wolfsburg 2-0 Desna Chernihiv
Sporting CP 1-0 Aberdeen

Notable Europa League playoff matchups

Tottenham Hotspur v Maccabi Haifa
Rio Ave v AC Milan
Sarajevo v Celtic
Rangers v Galatasaray
Rosenborg v PSV Eindhoven
AEK Athens v Wolfsburg
Sporting CP v LASK

League Cup: Liverpool win 7-2; Man City survive and advance

League Cup - Liverpool
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A roundup of League Cup third round results on Thursday, as Liverpool and Man City booked their places among the final 16 teams…

[ MORE: Edouard Mendy to Chelsea: What does it mean for Kepa, Blues’ defense? ]

Lincoln City 2-7 Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp fielded a team of most of his seldom used players, and had virtually no issues getting past League One side Lincoln. Xherdan Shaqiri opened the scoring in the ninth minute, and he did so in truly fantastic free-kick fashion.

Takumi Minamino scored twice — once either side of halftime — beginning with his first-time, curled beauty in the 18th minute to make it 2-0. The Japanese international appears to have stockpiled plenty of confidence to force his way into the Reds’ star-studded first team with greater regularity.

From there, Liverpool were off to the races. Curtis Jones bagged a brace in the 32nd and 36th minutes, followed the second from Minamino to make it 5-0 after 46 minutes. Lincoln hit back right on the hour mark, but Marko Grujic restored the five-goal lead just five minutes later.

The Imps clawed back another goal just a minute later, but an 89th-minute tally from Divock Origi ensured the Reds would triumph by the five-goal margin.

Up next for Liverpool is a heavyweight fourth-round showdown, at home against Arsenal.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Reyna to Liverpool; Jorginho to Arsenal ]

Man City 2-1 Bournemouth

Pep Guardiola’s men were far from full stretch, and far from their best, en route to a 2-1 victory over recently relegated Bournemouth. With as many as six first-team regulars given the rare night off, City found themselves level at 1-1 with the final 15 minutes approaching. U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper Zack Steffen was one of the backups to feature.

Fortunately for City, Phil Foden has stepped forward in recent outings and asserted himself a star of the present — no longer of the future — and reaffirmed his ascent with a well-place winner in the 75th minute.

It was one of the youngsters, 17-year-old Liam Delap, who opened the scoring in the 18th minute, when he hammered a left-footed strike into the upper-90 of the far post. Foden provided the diagonal through ball for Delap and picked up the assist on the play. The lead lasted barely four minutes, though, before Sam Surridge had drawn the Cherries back to level terms.

Up next in the League Cup, City will visit Burnley in the fourth round.

Bristol City 0-3 Aston Villa

A pair of new signings — Ollie Watkins and Bertrand Traore — bagged goals, alongside the opener from Anwar El Ghazi, for Dean Smith’s Villa, to make it a comfortable 3-0 victory over Championship side Bristol City.

Villa will host Championship side Stoke City in the next round.