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Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win v. Man City

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LONDON — Chelsea beat Manchester City 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday as Antonio Conte‘s side moved one step closer to winning the Premier League title.

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Eden Hazard‘s goals in the first half were enough to guide Chelsea past a lively City who missed numerous chances and left Pep Guardiola‘s men in an intense battle for the top four.

Here’s what we learned from a tight, tense clash in west London.


PRESSURE KICKING IN

Stamford Bridge was a nervous place as the closing minutes arrived on Wednesday, especially after their shock loss to Crystal Palace on Saturday which let Tottenham Hotspur back in the title race.

With Chelsea leading 2-1 against City, Conte looked to the crowd and urged them to get behind their team after yet another nervous lull. They responded but Chelsea limped over the line and Conte revealed afterwards that the pressure was intense in such a crucial moment of the campaign.

Thibaut Courtois saved late on from Sergio Aguero and then John Stones somehow shanked an effort over the bar from five yards out to let Chelsea off the hook.

If the game ended in a draw Conte and his players could have no complaints but, just as they have done for most of this season, Chelsea found a way to dig in and win.

At the final whistle their fans were relieved more than anything. With Spurs pulling off a miraculous late win at Swansea, Chelsea holding on for three points was a massive result both on the night and in the run-in. Chelsea still have all of the chips stacked in their favor in the title race.


MIXED CHELSEA

Eden Hazard finished superbly on two occasions in the first half to lead Chelsea to victory yet again as the Belgian playmaker stepped up to be the Blues’ main man.

Speaking after the game Conte was delighted with Hazard and revealed the message he has to his players.

“He is an important player and I think also his growing in his mentality. I think he is playing a really good season,” Conte said. “This season, for all my players and for me, we will remember this season if we win. If you don’t win, it’s a good season, good job, usually I like to say only those we win write the history.”

With Hazard coming up with the goals (albeit a weak shot which should’ve been saved and a rebound from a missed PK) he stood up when his team needed him, but Chelsea had some mixed displays suggesting some players aren’t coping with the run-in well.

Diego Costa, once again, had an off day and he’s now scored just four goals in his last 12 games in all competitions for Chelsea. His hold up play was off and his own fans often lambasted him from the stands. It would not be surprising if Chelsea’s leading scorer left for China, or elsewhere, in the summer.

In goal the usually unflappable Thibaut Courtois had a nightmare for City’s goal, pinging the ball straight to David Silva and showing a severe lapse in concentration at a pivotal moment in the game. If it wasn’t for City’s slack finishing then Courtois could’ve been punished for his error.

Even though Chelsea are cantering towards the title, the ruthlessness of Conte will surely mean he’ll remember these moments and act on them over the summer.


CITY FAR OFF

After the game Guardiola said he was “lucky to have his players” and praised Man City’s display, saying they “absolutely” were the better team.

Yet, this marked two unwanted milestones for the much-lauded manager: it was the first time he’s lost six games in a league season in his coaching career, plus it’s the first time he’s lost to the same team twice in a league campaign.

Speaking after the game Guardiola was pleased with the performance, even though finishing chances remains a huge issue.

“It’s an honor to have the amazing players I have. We come here to Stamford Bridge and play the way we have, with huge personality. I’m a lucky guy to manage these guys. It’s encouraging for the future. I’m optimistic,” Guardiola said. “It’s been like this all season but in the boxes we are not good enough. We created enough to score goals. It’s our problem. But my players play in one way and that’s why I want to be here – to help Man City for years. The people who are watching us must be proud of our fans. We did everything.”

Sergio Aguero and John Stones both missed chances, the latter a gilt-edge opportunity from five yards out with a minute to go which would’ve snatched a point.

Vincent Kompany‘s return from injury was a huge positive, while Guardiola praised Fabian Delph‘s return too, but the fact that City are 14 points behind leaders Chelsea shows how far they are behind where they should be.

Guardiola can take all the positives he wants from the performance but the project is far behind where many thought it would be when he took over last summer. The Spaniard has serious work to do this summer.

Platini vows to return to soccer after “end of long nightmare”

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PARIS (AP) Banned former UEFA President and FIFA vice president Michel Platini says he is planning to return to soccer after Swiss federal prosecutors confirmed he was not being charged in an investigation into possible financial wrongdoing.

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

Platini says in a statement it’s “the end of a long nightmare for my family and those close to me.”

Since September 2015, the former France midfielder had the status of “between a witness and an accused person” in criminal proceedings opened against then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter. No criminal case was ever opened against Platini.

The evidence related to Blatter authorizing FIFA to pay Platini $2 million in uncontracted back salary in 2011.

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

FIFA’s ethics committee also investigated Platini’s request to FIFA for pension contributions he was not entitled to. It was agreed by Blatter and added more than $1 million to Platini’s retirement fund.

Platini was eventually banned for four years, through October 2019. Both he and Blatter denied wrongdoing but Court of Arbitration for Sport judges refused to overturn his ban and that of Blatter’s.

[ UCL FINAL: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The case meant Platini was removed from the UEFA presidency and he was barred from trying to succeed Blatter as FIFA president in 2016.

Platini, a former France captain and coach, says “I will come back: where, when, how? It’s too early to say. But I will come back into football.

“Because football is my life and I deny anyone the right to deprive me of my life,” the 62-year-old Platini says.

Neymar appears in good shape after first week with Brazil

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TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) Neymar finished his first full week of training with Brazil on Saturday in apparent good shape ahead of the upcoming World Cup after foot surgery.

The striker continued his recovery, dribbling and passing at high speed in Brazil’s last training session on home soil before the national team sets up camp in London on Monday.

The Brazilian has been recovering from right foot surgery in March.

[ MORE: Neymar “annoyed” by latest (and constant) transfer speculation ]

Earlier in the week, members of Brazil’s coaching staff said Neymar was fit to train but they tried to reduce pressure on him by saying it would take time until he delivered his best performances.

Left back Filipe Luis said Neymar did well in training but still needs to forget the injury.

“I had a serious injury in 2010 and I came back with fear. In the first chance I had in a game, I went with it all so I could lose that fear. I saw it didn’t hurt and I just forgot,” Luis said. “It will be the same with Neymar, the first time an opponent kicks him … he will forget it.”

In the first training session in Teresopolis, outside Rio de Janeiro, Neymar occasionally dragged his right foot onto the pitch. On Thursday he took his right boot off, sat down for a few minutes and looked upset. Once the football was underway, he seemed as fit as his teammates despite accidentally kicking the pitch with his injured foot. He soon afterward got back in action.

[ MORE: Messi: It would be ‘terrible’ to see Neymar at Real Madrid ]

In the first and only Brazil open training session, with fans screaming his name on the sidelines, a playful Neymar nutmegged right-back Danilo and flipped the ball over Luis’ head.

Throughout the week Neymar showed his finishing was sharpening, especially from close range.

After Saturday’s training Neymar welcomed his girlfriend, actress Bruna Marquezine, and family members to the Granja Comary training ground.

With Brazil players off duty for the rest of the day, Neymar is expected to take some teammates back to his mansion in Mangaratiba, near Rio.

The 20-strong squad will meet again Sunday morning at the Brazilian football confederation headquarters in a visit to their museum.

Players then travel to London hours later and will set up camp until June 8 at Tottenham’s training ground.

Ronaldo hints at exit: “It has been very nice playing for Real Madrid”

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In the minutes after helping Real Madrid win their third straight UEFA Champions League trophy, Cristiano Ronaldo dropped the most unexpected of transfer bombshells on the world.

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

With three more seasons remaining on his current contract, Ronaldo appeared to hint that he expects leave the club this summer, at the age of 33.

“It has been very nice playing for Real Madrid,” he told the television broadcast with tears in his eyes, revealing that he will announce his plans for his future “in the coming days.”

Gareth Bale, who scored Saturday’s winning goal, said something quite similar during his post-game remarks.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Perhaps it’s not the most surprising development on the whole, given his age and the obvious need for a youth movement at the Santiago Bernabeu, but to choose that stage — mere moments after winning his fifth career UCL title (four with Madrid) — to tease something so newsworthy and unexpected was certainly eye-opening.

Gareth Bale hints at Premier League transfer

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Gareth Bale jumped off the bench with Real Madrid drawing 1-1 with Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League final.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Moments later he scored one of the greatest goals in the history of European finals via an outrageous overhead kick, then added another late on to seal a 13th European title for Real.

[ MORE: Mohamed Salah injured ]

Yet speaking to BT Sport after the game, Bale’s mind was quickly on why he didn’t start the game as Zinedine Zidane instead went with Isco and Karim Benzema in support of Cristiano Ronaldo up top.

“Obviously I was very disappointed not to start the game, I felt I deserved it but the manager makes the decisions,” Bale said. “The best I have been doing is to come on and make an impact, I certainly did…

[ MORE: Player ratings | Recap ]

Asked about a potential move back to the Premier League, Bale had the following to say.

“I need to be playing week in, week out and that has not happened this season. I had an injury five, six weeks in but fit ever since. I have to sit down with my agent in the summer and discuss it and go from there,” Bale said.

That sound you can hear is the phone of Bale’s agent ringing…

[ MORE: Ronaldo also hints at Real Madrid exit

Seriously, he has every right to question why he wasn’t playing more often and the Welsh international has been in fine form in recent weeks with six goals in his last four games.

Zidane made the right call because Real Madrid won their third-straight European title but it appears that Bale is getting fed up with being the odd man out at the Santiago Bernabeu.

If that was his final game for Real, what a way to go out. Now the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and others will be battling to bring Bale back to the Premier League, with his former club Tottenham said to have first refusal on buying him but surely they’d be unlikely to afford his wages and transfer fee.