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Why the heck did Chelsea recall Nathan Ake?

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It’s tough to criticize much about Chelsea’s spectacular season, and whether they end up winning the title or not, Antonio Conte has been wildly successful at turning around the doldrums of Jose Mourinho’s final year at Stamford Bridge and setting sail towards more fruitful waters.

There is one puzzling decision, however, that may have a major impact on their future.

With captain John Terry announcing he will be leaving the club at the end of the season and Gary Cahill still one of the most overrated players in the Premier League, there has been a need to prepare new blood in the Chelsea defense for years. The club is keenly aware of this fact and has been for years, evident by the 2014 purchase and careful preening of Kurt Zouma.

Nathan Ake is another defender the club has been grooming for years, since they grabbed him as a teenager in the Feyenoord system all the way back in 2011. This season, Ake was loaned to Bournemouth – remember that?

Ake was a big reason why the Cherries had a fantastic first half of the season, finishing the calendar year in 10th, a fine position for a team that escaped relegation last year by the slimmest of margins. He scored three goals in 10 Premier League appearances for the Cherries and brought to the table a fresh defensive prowess at the CB position, a spot that is relatively new to the Dutchman after spending much of his career to this point as a full-back (he played left-back for much of his time on loan at Watford last campaign).

Then, the Blues decided to bring all the progression to a screeching halt, recalling the 22-year-old back to his parent club, where he proceeded to find himself immediately out of the first-team squad. Since returning to Chelsea, he hasn’t seen a single Premier League minute, only finding a spot on the bench five times in 12 games. He has only earned a pair of starts in FA Cup action, keeping a clean sheet against both Brentford and Wolves.

Simply look to Bournemouth’s defensive woes since Ake’s departure to realize just how far he has come. With the Dutch defender on the roster, they conceded 29 goals in 19 matches, not a great total but for the attacking style the Cherries practice, a solid number, one that had them into the top half for much of the 2016 calendar year. Since Ake’s recall, Bournemouth has conceded 29 goals in just 13 games, and the club has dropped down to 16th in the table, looking to stave off relegation yet again.

It’s possible Chelsea wanted the cover Ake provided as Cahill and David Luiz racked up the minutes, but for a team only competing on the League and FA Cup fronts, there is no fixture congestion to navigate. If they truly needed the cover, they would never have loaned him out in the first place. Nothing had changed on the defensive depth chart between August and January.

Ake was obviously loaned out in the summer to aid his development, and he was developing beautifully with his loads of first-team action at Dean Court. So why, with a need for young, title-challenging central defenders in the immediate future, did Chelsea bring Ake to simply shove him back into the depths of the Cobham training ground? We won’t know the impact of the recall until years down the road when Ake is called upon – if ever – but on the surface, this appears to be a decision that makes little sense, and one that could drastically affect the club’s future, even costing them millions should the need arise to purchase a top-level defender rather than use the internal option whose growth may be irreparably stunted.

Three key battles for Champions League Final

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Saturday brings Real Madrid’s journey toward a third-straight UEFA Champions League title to a close, with just Liverpool standing in the way.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The Reds attack promises danger and entertainment, while Zinedine Zidane’s personnel choice may be just as important as his tactical decisions in Kiev.

Van Dijk, Lovren against… Ronaldo and whoever Zidane decides

It’s difficult to highlight the match-up problems for Liverpool’s center backs because Zinedine Zidane has used three different set-ups atop his line-up.

At times, it’s been Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Sometimes, Gareth Bale takes Benzema’s spot, and occasionally Ronaldo has been played up top as a center forward.

Believe it or not, that may be the best case scenario for Liverpool, though Ronaldo will undoubtedly roam across the top of the formation. While many think of Ronaldo and visualize his laser shots from distance, he’s quite dangerous in 1v1 aerial battles as well as tight spaces inside the box.

Quite frankly, matches like these highlight why the Reds signed Virgil Van Dijk. And, opinion alert, human bowling ball Benzema and his Juggernaut-esque approach to attacking may be a unique challenge Liverpool has not seen outside of Romelu Lukaku.

Marcelo vs. Mohamed Salah

Marcelo is an unbelievably silky, savvy left back who uses an elite attacking skill set to keep the opposition’s entire right side off kilter.

In some ways he can be partially neutralized by the danger presented by Reds right wing Mo Salah, but Zidane isn’t going to tell Marcelo to camp out in his own end when left center back Sergio Ramos is the next man up to defend, one of the finest players of his generation.

So it’s on Salah to assert himself on the game, something that shouldn’t be a problem after a couple weeks away from match action.

Can Real defend Liverpool on the counter?

We’ve seen Liverpool expose a number of teams on the counter attack, and Real certainly has a handle on how to do the same.

But building on our second key, there’s danger for both sides when Marcelo or Dani Carvajal get up the pitch. When Liverpool regains the ball and attacks at pace, there are big choices to be made.

Say Marcelo is up the pitch. Now Ramos may have to take Salah and leave Roberto Firmino to Raphael Varane. Now Carvajal may be alone with Sadio Mane. It’s not that Carvajal or Marcelo cannot defend, but these are not situations anyone wants in a one-off.

And that’s the key for Liverpool, really. This is a one-off. Over two legs, it’s hard to imagine the Reds as constructed pulling off another heavily-outchanced two-leg win like it did against Manchester City. The answer to this counter question may be what tells the story in Kiev.

Ancelotti hired to end Napoli’s scudetto drought

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Is Carlo Ancelotti the right man to end Juventus’ seemingly ages-old hold on the scudetto?

Napoli hopes so, and has inked the former Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich boss to a three-year deal.

Ancelotti’s resume speaks for itself, and the hiring promises more Serie A drama after the Neapolitan club nearly got the job done this season under Maurizio Sarri.

[ MORE: Top takeaways from Emery’s Arsenal unveiling ] 

Ancelotti won scudetti as a player with Roma (1) and AC Milan (2), once more as a manager for the latter. He also led Milan to two Champions League crowns, winning the tournament with Real Madrid as well, while bringing league titles to Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich.

Napoli has finished Top 3 in six of eight seasons, finishing four points behind Juve this season. Juventus has won the last seven scudetti, and Napoli’s only title came in 1987.

The club announced the move after owner Aurelio De Laurentiis let go of Sarri, thanking the previous manager for three seasons of work which included a Serie A Coach of the Year Award and wins in 97 of 147 matches.

“I’d like to thank Maurizio Sarri for his valuable contribution to the Napoli cause. He brought joy and prestige to Naples and Napoli fans all over the world with an entertaining brand of football that drew praise from all quarters. Well done, Maurizio.”

Transfer Rumors: Seri to Arsenal; Vagnoman to Chelsea

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Nice’s Jean Seri is reportedly Unai Emery’s first target as Arsenal boss.

A report from the Daily Mail states that Seri, 26, is available for $46 million and although both Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund are interested, the Ivorian midfielder is a long-time target of the new Arsenal boss.

[ MORE: Top takeaways from Emery’s unveiling

Seri almost signed for Barcelona in the past and Emery tried to sign him in January while he was in charge of PSG.

The defensive midfielder is in the N'Golo Kante mould, but slightly more attack-minded than Kante. He has an incredible engine, exceptional reading of the game and is able to protect the ball while also starting attacks with surging runs on the ball. Yep, that’s the type of player who would thrive at Arsenal.

Seri’s arrival would also be much-needed following Santi Cazorla leaving after a two-year injury nightmare, plus Jack Wilshere out of contract on July 1 and likely to leave the Gunners. With Granit Xhaka‘s big-money arrival never quite working out, especially defensively, Seri could be a key part of the jigsaw in Emery’s rebuild as he can keep the ball and also spark the new high-pressing style the Spaniard wants to say.


Teenage defender Josha Vagnoman is being linked with a move to Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton, according to multiple outlets.

A report from ESPN states that the 17-year-old Hamburg full back (the second youngest player in Bundesliga history) will move on this summer and clubs across Europe are lining up to sign the German youth international as his contract with recently relegated Hamburg ends in July.

Vagnoman is interesting Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig but the report claims Arsenal have the edge due to their new head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat, keeping a close eye on his countryman over the years. Vagnoman is able to play left or right back.

Joining the likes of Arsenal, Bayern and Chelsea would likely mean a few years in the reserve squad for Vagnoman, while he could well play soon for either Dortmund or Leipzig given their penchant for giving youth a chance in their first team.

Argentina goalkeeper Romero out of World Cup with injury

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero will miss the World Cup because of a right knee injury.

The Argentine soccer federation says the Manchester United reserve may need surgery.

Romero was one of the three goalkeepers chosen by Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli for the 23-player squad he will take to the World Cup in Russia. Franco Armani and Wilfredo Caballero were also named in the squad.

Romero was a starter for Argentina at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

The federation says Sampaoli will announce a substitute for Romero in the coming days.