Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win at West Ham

1 Comment

LONDON — Chelsea beat West Ham United 2-1 at the London Stadium on Monday as Antonio Conte‘s men extended their lead atop the Premier League table.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Goals in each half from Eden Hazard and Diego Costa did the damage as Chelsea took the sting out of the London derby and Antonio Conte’s men continue their canter towards the Premier League title despite Manuel Lanzini‘s stoppage time consolation.

Here’s what we learned from a routine win for Chelsea.


TEXTBOOK CHELSEA

If Chelsea’s season could be summed up in one goal it would be their opener against West Ham.

The Hammers had a free kick on the edge of Chelsea’s box but Mark Noble took too long to pick out his cross and was dispossessed by N'Golo Kante. Eden Hazard raced through and combined with Pedro before rounding Darren Randolph and slotting home. Simple.

As talented as Chelsea’s squad is, perhaps the biggest reason why they’re top of the Premier League is due to Conte’s ability to simplify the game. He has also simplified the team selection with just 21 players used in the Premier League campaign this season, the fewest in the league, and just 24 team changes.

Familiarity breeds success and so does simplicity. It’s almost as if Conte has looked at Leicester City’s blueprint from their success last season and copied it.

With better quality players the Leicester-esque counters are even more devastating. Nobody expected this style of play from Chelsea. Even though Conte’s teams are often direct and physical, many expected more a possession based style from Chelsea this season with Cesc Fabregas, Hazard and Co. to pass teams to death. That’s not what Conte has delivered but his players do possess the quality that when they go ahead in games they can keep the ball and force their opponents to force the issue and then pick them off ruthlessly with inch-perfect passes into the final third.

He has delivered a ruthless winning machine which is capable of beating teams in multiple ways.


HAZARD UNPLAYABLE

With Costa’s goals and Conte’s switch to a 3-4-3 formation stealing much of the headlines around Chelsea’s stunning form this season, the form of Hazard has flown under the radar.

The Belgian winger was in sensational form on Monday, springing devastating counters time and time again and West Ham’s defense were petrified of him around the box.

In the first half he showed Jose Fonte a clean pair of heels and gained about 15 yards of space all with one drop of his shoulder. In the second half he got free on the right, cut back in and then flicked a delicate ball around the corner to Costa whose turn and shot was pushed wide.

Hazard was unplayable at times on Monday night, just as he has been for most of this season. He was subbed out with 17 minutes to go and West Ham’s fans and players breathed a sigh of relief. The fact that his replacement was Willian said it all.

This Chelsea juggernaut has strength in-depth and with Hazard’s trickery and Costa’s goals leading the way, they look unbeatable.


BLUNT HAMMERS

West Ham had a clear game plan before this encounter and for the opening 25 minutes it worked.

Until Hazard’s opener they were snapping into tackles, getting the ball wide to Robert Snodgrass whenever possible and getting Andy Carroll in dangerous positions, Bilic’s plans were causing Chelsea plenty of problems.

But when Carroll plays there’s no Plan B.

Dimitri Payet used to deliver that moment of magic to score a goal out of nothing, that change of play which would open up at an opponents defense to set up a cross. Now, all of that creative pressure falls on Manuel Lanzini’s shoulders. Despite his clinical finish late on, the Argentine isn’t quite up to carrying this West Ham team in his injury hit season. Like most of West Ham’s team, he should be focused on next season.

West Ham will be fine and finish in midtable, which is not something to be scoffed at after their form in the opening half of the season which suggested they’d be involved in a relegation battle.

Bilic still hasn’t been offered a new deal and he may need to give West Ham’s owners a little more promise before he is entrusted to take this project to the next step which means the Hammers challenging for a top six finish like last season. Right now that seems a long way off.

De Rossi pens emotional farewell to Roma fans before final match

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After 18 years with the club, Daniele de Rossi is playing in his final AS Roma match on Sunday before his contract expires.

Ahead of the game, the 35-year-old midfielder wrote a detailed thank you to fans, team employees, and teammates before his sendoff. “Please, let me say thank you to everyone at Roma that I came to know,” he said before beginning his list of appreciation.

First, Rossi credited his playing mentor Damiano Tommasi, who was at the club from 1996-2006 and made 262 appearances for Roma. The midfielder suffered a knee injury in 2004 which saw Rossi break into the team full-time after making his professional debut in 2002. “[to] Damiano, without whom I would certainly have made fewer appearances for this club,” de Rossi wrote.

He also thanks former captain Francesco Totti by saying, “Thank you to Francesco. The captain’s armband I wore was inherited from the arm of a brother, a great captain and the most incredible footballer I have ever seen wear this shirt. Not everyone gets to play alongside their idol for 16 years. Now, with respect, I will pass this armband on to Alessandro [Florenzi]. Another brother, one that I know is equally worthy of the honor.”

De Rossi mentions Davide Astori, the Fiorentina player who passed away tragically in March of last year, saying, “Thank you Davide, I know you will be alongside me for the rest of my life too.” He also thanks Roma academy director Bruno Conti, saying, “[to] Bruno, who saw something special in me and brought me into this club’s fantastic academy.”

Finally, he thanks the Roma supporters, saying, “Thank you to every Roma fan, my fans. Today, at least, I’ll allow myself to call you ‘my fans’ – because I was one of you, out there on the pitch, and the love you have always shown me helped me to keep on doing that. You are all the reason why I chose this city, this life, time and time again. Sunday will be the 616th time I make that choice, the right choice.”

The emotion poured out in the final paragraph of his letter, referencing a tough time in Roma history where the club finished outside the top four for the third straight season and lost in the Coppa Italia final to Lazio. “A few years ago, May 26 became a day where we all thought we would never be able to smile again. I thought that too, at least until I saw a tattoo one fan had inked that read, ’27 May 2013, and yet the wind continues to blow’. I don’t know the owner of that particular tattoo, but I do know that the wind will still blow again on this May 27. I have never felt your affection like I have done in these last few days, it has truly overwhelmed me and touched me to my core.”

“Never have I seen you all united for a cause like you have been for this. But now, the greatest gift you can possibly give me is to leave that pain and anger to one side, and start again in full support of the only thing we all care about, the one thing that comes before everyone and everything – Roma.”

What a legend this man is. Roma sure knows how to produce a type of player not seen much around the rest of the world.

Celtic win Scottish Cup to secure unprecedented domestic treble-treble

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Celtic came from behind to top Hearts 2-1 in the Scottish Cup final, completing an unprecedented “treble-treble.” They are the first team in Scottish top flight history to win each of the league title, Scottish Cup, and League Cup in three straight seasons.

After a scoreless first half, Ryan Edwards put Hearts in front in the 52nd minute, pouncing on a messy backheel from Sean Clare and scoring the first goal Celtic had conceded all competition.

That jumpstarted the Glasgow giants, with an Odsonne Edouard double leading the way. His first came from the spot in the 62nd minute, just sneaking his penalty past Zdenek Zlamal for the equalizer before he won it with eight minutes to go. The moment came off a powerful Mikael Lustig header from near the halfway line that sprung Edouard free on goal, and the 21-year-old buried the one-on-one.

The victory gave Celtic its third major domestic trophy of the campaign for the third consecutive season, marking the historic achievement. Earlier in the season they had secured the league title by an eight-point margin and beaten Aberdeen 1-0 in the League Cup final, all despite losing manager Brendan Rodgers midway through the year to Leicester City, with Neil Lennon taking over and leading the finish.

Celtic has now won the Scottish Cup a record 39 times, with 50 league titles and 18 League Cups to go along with it.

Derby sued by Middlesbrough over alleged financial transgressions

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Middlesbrough has opened legal proceedings against playoff finalists Derby County over what they allege to be a breach in the Football League’s financial rules.

Boro owner Steve Gibson is taking action over what he believes to be Derby County’s intentional circumvention of financial sustainability regulations by posting an $18.6 million profit last season despite Derby owner Mel Morris selling the club’s ground Pride Park and then leasing it back.

Derby, however, has maintained its innocence, with the club even providing a written offer to all other clubs to review their books, an offer which Derby alleges Middlesbrough declined to take advantage of. “Middlesbrough were offered by us in writing to come with their advisors to go through our submissions for profitability and sustainability, [but] they declined.”

Gibson also attempted to force Derby to submit their financials to an independent inquiry, but all other Championship clubs voted it down. The Middlesbrough owner went after Aston Villa in late April, with Tony Pulis confirming the owner is “not happy” over “rules being broken.” Gibson attempted the same maneuver, hoping to force Villa to submit to an independent financial inquiry, but the other Championship clubs also turned that motion down.

Reports of Morris’s financial troubles with the club came to a head around that time in March when a report suggested Morris wanted out of the club, looking for a buyer after suffering losses of nearly $3.8 million per month as Derby owner. At that point Derby sat seventh in the Championship table and fell to ninth by the end of the month. Now, having recovered to earn a playoff position at the death, they now sit in the playoff final, set to play Aston Villa on Sunday for a spot in the Premier League.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Man United after Portuguese duo, Spurs want Lo Celso

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the Premier League season complete and the offseason officially upon us, Premier League teams are shopping to keep up with those around them and plug holes that might need improvement.

Manchester United is reportedly after a trio of Portuguese players, and there is significant news regarding two of them.

According to reports in Portugal, central defender Ruben Dias is on the verge of a new contract with his current club Benfica which would bump his release clause from its current $67 million to a whopping $112 million, making it that much more difficult for the Red Devils to pursue the 22-year-old this summer. Currently, Dias is signed through 2023, but the club wanted to boost its ability to control the market with Dias connected to the biggest clubs in Europe.

Dias, a Benfica youth product, played the full 90 minutes in 32 of Benfica’s 34 league matches this season, a fixture at the back for the club as they won the league by a two-point margin over rivals Porto. While Benfica’s main asset was its blistering attack that scored 103 goals, the most in the league by a massive 29-goal margin, the defense conceded just 31 on the season, second-fewest behind Porto’s 20.

Part of that sparkling Benfica attack, 19-year-old Joao Felix, is also reportedly wanted by Manchester United, but the club announced Friday that there had not yet been any official submissions for his services. “No offer has arrived,” Benfica executive Domingo Soares told Portuguese television channel TVI24. “There is talk and rumors. It’s true that top European clubs have expectations, but no proposal has arrived to us.”

Felix appeared 26 times for Benfica on the season, including starts in the final 19 games of the year once he earned his permanent place in the team in early January. He scored 15 goals and assisted nine others, earning comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo for his style of wing play that sees him like to drift centrally.


Tottenham is preparing for the possibility of Christian Eriksen to depart the club this summer, with a move to Real Madrid heavily reported. They are reportedly keeping a close eye on Real Betis midfielder Giovani Lo Celso, who had a fine season with the Spanish club after moving permanently from Paris Saint-Germain.

The 23-year-old proved his value with an outstanding 16-goal haul in 46 matches across all competitions, a gluttonous tally for a midfielder. Lo Celso was on loan at Betis this season, but the club activated a clause in the loan to secure him permanently this summer for a modest $25 million. According to Spanish publication AS, Tottenham would be willing to pay up to $67 million for the Argentine, a sizable and immediate return on investment for Betis despite owing PSG a 20% sell-on fee for any outgoing transfer.

Lo Celso has been slighted in his career to this point. Proving valuable in his time at PSG, he started 33 league games in 2017/18 and scored four goals with five assists in a deeper midfield role, but was still considered surplus to requirements the next campaign. He was left on the bench for most of Argentina’s disappointing 2018 World Cup journey despite the attack constantly crying out for his creative abilities, and subsequently loaned out to Betis, where he flourished.


According to reports in Italy, Napoli has already rejected a $100 million offer for defender Kalidou Koulibaly from Real Madrid. Koulibaly is yet another defender linked with Manchester United, as it’s no secret the upgrade needed along the Red Devil back line, so the price tag will come as a blow, as will interest from other top clubs. Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has previously said publicly that he has turned down massive bids from clubs for his Senegalese defender, but never specified the club.

The 27-year-old signed a five-year contract last summer that runs through the summer of 2023 and contains a whopping $168 million release clause. Napoli appears to be using that as leverage, although any return even remotely close to that would be a significant gain for the Italian side that secured him from Genk for just $8 million back in 2014.

Koulibaly was a reported target of Jose Mourinho before his dismissal at Old Trafford, and it could be difficult again if the price tag is that high. With a number of top defenders on the market this summer, including the aforementioned Ruben Dias as well as Matthijs de Ligt, clubs may be forced to look elsewhere for a defensive replacement.


Arsenal and Manchester United are reportedly targeting Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey, as the 25-year-old Ghanan international anchored the Atletico Madrid defense well last campaign and could be on his way out, especially if Atleti faces an overhaul this summer.

Partey played it cool when asked about his future, noting that anything he says can and often will be used against him by the media. “It’s hard for me to talk about transfers because the next minute it will be like ‘Thomas is trying to leave’ but for me playing football is what makes me happy,” Partey told BBC Sport.

“I don’t know what the future holds for me but as long as I play and they are happy with me here then there is no need flirting with others.”

An Atletico Madrid youth product, Partey has made 130 appearances for the club, including a 32-game league season this past campaign. Atleti finished second in the table with 76 points, eight above third-placed Real Madrid and 11 behind the champions Barcelona. They conceded just 29 goals, the least in the league by a significant margin.