“Ugly duckling into a swan”: Conte’s secret to “instant” success

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Antonio Conte is something of a miracle worker, as his first season at Chelsea — and the subsequent turnaround from last season — has been nothing short of miraculous.

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For his part is restoring the Blues as Premier League champions-elect in 2016-17, Conte’s place in Chelsea lore looks set to be secure by early May. Anything he does in the future — and it does look like he’s building a juggernaut for the long haul — could see his legend one day elevated for iconic status, should he stick around west London long enough.

How, though, did the former Juventus and Italian national team boss do it, and so quickly? From Sept. 24, the day of that embarrassing 3-0 defeat at the hands of Arsenal, Chelsea have been virtually untouchable, losing just once in 18 league games. According to Conte, it’s the “blind faith” placed in him by each and every one of his players — quotes from the Guardian:

“If you compare this Chelsea with the team from last season [when they finished 10th having won the title in the previous campaign] then it’s normal that you’d end up this way: you can’t turn an ugly duckling into a swan in an instant. I’m not a coach who compromises and with my blind faith in the work we’re doing, and in my ideas, I’ve been able to forge straight ahead without worrying about anyone else.”

“My experiences as a player taught me that you will win a lot and lose a lot too and that instilled in me a fierce will to win. Those who are out in front must not falter. It sends a message to those who are following, an increasingly loud message, that we must make the most of this period.”

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — It’s all a mess behind Chelsea ]

Credit must also go to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, and anyone else at the club who played a role in hiring Conte, for selecting the right man for the right job at the right time. Not only do Conte’s tactical tendencies perfectly fit the players at his disposal, but they’ve so clearly responded to his leadership style — versus that of his predecessor, Jose Mourinho, who was fired after a full-squad revolt last winter — and the result is a nine-point lead with 14 games to play in the PL season.

Naby Keita emulated Gerrard growing up, and will now take on his role

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Naby Keita represents another new face in the next generation Liverpool regime, and he’s taking a page out of Anfield’s past in his approach at the Premier League club.

[ MORE: Neymar says he’s staying at PSG despite rumors “invented by the press” ]

When the 23-year-old finally completed his long-awaited move to the Reds in 2018, comparisons to N'Golo Kante quickly arose, a strong compliment for many.

However, for everything that Kante does well, it may actually be unfair to compare Keita to the now-World Cup winner with France.

Keita’s tireless ability to track up and down the pitch, complimented by his incredible skill on the ball and pace make him the ideal box-to-box midfielder, something his new club has been lacking for several years.

“My first mind-set is to defend well and not concede,” Keita told the Telegraph. “As a midfielder, when you have sealed things up at the back, my job is to provide the ammunition for the strikers and forwards, to create opportunities. Also, if I get a chance that comes my way, I want to take it and score. But I am a team player. I think about the team and the group always.”

That player is one Steven Gerrard.

And for Keita, the player that he once emulated as a child has now influenced him into the young star that drove manager Jurgen Klopp towards bringing him in to Anfield.

“When I came here that day I didn’t know Steven would be at Melwood,” says Keita. “It was a surprise to me. It was exciting. He said, ‘Everyone will be here for you, we’re all going to help you develop’.

“I had watched Steven Gerrard growing up as a kid and admired him so that was a special day.

“We used to play in the streets wearing a Liverpool shirt. My dad had a love of Liverpool back then when I was 11 or 12 years old.

“I wanted to be like him. It couldn’t be anyone else. He was always the boss of the team.”

Las Vegas Lights keen on bringing Usain Bolt to USL

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It wouldn’t be the first time a star athlete has made the move to the United Soccer League — the second tier in the U.S. Soccer professional pyramid — however, the magnitude of the deal would transcend soccer.

[ MORE: Spurs sign Son to contract extension ]

Although reported interest from Australia, Turkey and Hungary could derail a move, former Jamaican track star Usain Bolt is being courted by USL side Las Vegas Lights FC, who are currently in their first season in the league.

“Of course we have an interest in Usain Bolt. Why wouldn’t we?” said Las Vegas owner and CEO Brett Lashbrook.

“He’s the world’s fastest guy and he’s trained at some of the best clubs in the world. To come play Division 2 soccer in the U.S. actually makes all the sense in the world. This guy is an absolute specimen of an athlete and we think he could absolutely succeed at the USL level.”

While the possibility of having Bolt play alongside Freddy Adu next to the Vegas Strip is an enticing one, the Jamaican’s salary demands are likely far too much for a USL side to take on.

Lights FC currently sit 13th in the USL Western Conference, eight point outside of a playoff spot.

Bolt is an eight-time Olympic gold medalist, having competed at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.

ICC 2018: Dortmund tops Man City in Mahrez debut

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A relatively young squad took the pitch for Manchester City on Friday night, but Pep Guardiola‘s newest signing made his first appearance at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Borussia Dortmund topped Man City, 1-0, in the first match of the 2018 International Champions Cup — a game that saw Algeria international Riyad Mahrez debut for the Citizens after joining from Leicester City.

It was the Germans that capitalized on one of the game’s few opportunities, which came from the penalty spot just before the half-hour mark when U.S. Men’s National team star Christian Pulisic drew the foul inside the Man City area.

Mario Gotze stepped up and buried the spot kick in the 28th minutes, ensuring Dortmund would earn the tournament’s first victory.

Guardiola removed Mahrez after 73 minutes, while first-team regular Leroy Sane made a brief appearance in the final quarter hour for the Citizens.

For Dortmund, Pulisic was one of the few regulars to start the match for the German giants, however, the 19-year-old was one of 10 substitutions made by new manager Luicen Favre at halftime.

Report: Whitecaps teen Davies nears Bayern Munich transfer

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The Vancouver Whitecaps stated on Friday that their teenage star Alphonso Davies might not be available for their clash over the weekend with Cascadia rivals Seattle Sounders, and now we may have a better scope of why.

[ MORE: LAFC cleared after Timbers drop U.S. Open Cup appeal ]

The Athletic is reporting that Bundesliga giant Bayern Munich is close to completing a $12 million transfer for Davies, which could increase “with add-ons and clauses contingent on performance.”

Davies, 17, turned professional in 2016 after signing a Homegrown contract with the Whitecaps, and his near-immediate stardom has risen to the point where the Canada international has become a significant talking point across Major League Soccer.

The young attacker is enjoying a strong season thus far for Carl Robinson’s side, with three goals and eight assists, while also being selected to the MLS All-Star team that will take on Juventus on August 1.

Although Davies’ absence from the squad at training on Friday wasn’t explained by the club, his time in Vancouver could be coming to an end as Bayern and several other big European sides chase the promising teen.

The Athletic’s report also suggests that various Premier League clubs have expressed interest in Davies, however, obtaining a work permit could be an issue for the player.