Cesc Fabregas dazzles but does he have a Chelsea future?

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LONDON — Cesc Fabregas was at his mercurial best as Chelsea took a giant step towards the Premier League title on Monday.

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Fabregas, 30, notched two assists and twice came close to scoring as he quarterbacked Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge which means they’re now one win away from winning the PL trophy.

Starting in place of the injured N'Golo Kante, the Spaniard was making just his 11th start in the PL this season and it didn’t take him long to find his range as he showed off his vast array of passing and ran the show from a deep-lying role in midfield.

Named man of the match, Fabregas wowed the crowd throughout and although Boro (who were relegated back to the Championship with the defeat) gave him ample room to launch his laser passes high, wide and handsome, he still pulled it off with minimum fuss.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Fabregas reflected on a dominant display in this game, but also a difficult season for himself.

“It’s been a difficult year for me. I’m used to playing a lot but I feel I have matured a lot,” Fabregas said. “Many people told me I am not the type of player for Antonio Conte and I should leave but I like challenges. I hadn’t played every game but I think I have played in the last 20 games. When I have been on the pitch maybe my contribution is better than a full season.”

Fabregas has now assisted four times in his last three Premier League games as the former Arsenal and Barcelona playmaker has used his class and experience to help nudge Chelsea closer to the finish line.

Yes, he may not have played anywhere near as much as he would like this season, but he’s proving that he has a future at Chelsea under Antonio Conte.

With Kante picking up Player of the Year accolades and the elegant workhorse that is Nemanja Matic almost ever-present alongside him, it’s been tough for Conte to break up what has been working so well. The Italian coach prefers two powerful holding midfielders in front of his solid back three (or five when the wing backs are tucked in) and that isn’t Fabregas’ game.

That said, Conte told reporters after the game that Fabregas has worked hard to adapt his game and has improved as the season has gone on.

In many ways Fabregas embodies how each and every player has had to readjust their own play to Conte’s 3-4-3 formation and his demanding persona.

“Cesc is one of the best examples of our season because in this season Cesc, at the start, he didn’t play a lot. Then, through the hard work he improved a lot and then he is playing in every game. This development of Cesc is our development,” Conte said. “We started the season not in the right way with a lot of problems but only through the hard work to find the right solution together, we found the right way.

“Now, I think Cesc is showing to be a fantastic player and I’m pleased for him because I saw in this season that he put himself in this team in every moment. If he played or if he didn’t play. I think now he deserves this.”

Behind-the-scenes Fabregas has been tweaking his game and waiting for his moments to shine. He’s stepped up to help Chelsea to within one win of a second PL title in his three years at the club.

Despite rumors suggesting he could move to AC Milan or Inter in Serie A or even Manchester United in the Premier League this summer, Fabregas has found more chances to play in the past few months. With Chelsea having a heavier load next season due to UEFA Champions League qualification and aiming to go far in the domestic cups, he has a pivotal role to play in this Chelsea side next season and beyond. If he wants to do.

All of a sudden the future looks bright for Fabregas at Stamford Bridge. As long as he’s content with playing somewhere between a bit-part role and being the main man.

His quality is crystal clear but whether or not he’ll be a regular is a much murkier subject, one which Conte will have a tough time grappling this summer.

Red-hot Rebić scores again as AC Milan tops Torino

AC Milan
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MILAN (AP) Ante Rebić kept up his scoring form to lead AC Milan to a 1-0 win over struggling Torino in Serie A on Monday.

The Croatia international beat his marker to redirect a cross from the center of the area midway through the first half at the San Siro.

The score raised Rebić’s tally to six goals and an assist in eight matches since he earned his starting spot – a move that coincided with Zlatan Ibrahimović’s return to the Rossoneri.

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Bouncing back from a derby loss, Milan moved up to eighth and just beyond the Europa League places. The seven-time European champion is hoping to return to continental competition after voluntary withdrawing from this season’s Europa League to pay for UEFA financial fair play breaches.

Torino, meanwhile, lost its fifth straight, with new coach Moreno Longo still unable to turn things around in his second match in charge.

Ibrahimović narrowly missed a curling shot shortly after the break.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Simeone: Liverpool intensity “makes me admire it as a rival”

UEFA Champions League
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The UEFA Champions League returns at long last on Tuesday, and two of the greatest managers in the game will match wits for the first time.

No we’re not talking about Lucien Favre and Thomas Tuchel, the meeting of the minds in Tuesday’s other kickoff between Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain in Germany.

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Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp will go head-to-head with Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone in Spain, and the fiery German thinks it will be “absolutely interesting.”

From The Liverpool Echo:

“People say I emotional on the sideline,” Klopp said. “I am only on level 4, Diego is level 12. Really I am the kindergarten cop against him. He is so impressive after all these years, after so many years at the club – eight years. That is really long and having still this emotional level, still, wow. So impressive. I say, his teams are always organized world class.”

The admiration is mutual.

Simeone expects a huge challenge from a Liverpool team he regards on a historic plane.

“We are facing a magnificent team, really well-trained by a coach who is different and has different alternatives in his team,” he said, via The Independent. “We have always spoken about great teams throughout time and I have no doubt this Liverpool is going to go down in history as a great team because it is different to teams that we have admired. This team is much more intense, more adaptable, and it makes me admire it as a rival.”

The bettors say Liverpool is the heavy favorite in the first leg despite the match’s location at the Wanda Metropolitano. With football geniuses like Klopp and Simeone, however, either could have a plan to throw the other for a loop.

CONCACAF Champions League preview: Five MLS sides eye history

CONCACAF Champions League preview
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Once the Premier League and La Liga had taken their final bows of the day on Saturday, there felt was a particular absence, one soon-to-be filled by domestic soccer.

Yes, MLS is coming soon, and the CONCACAF Champions League is even closer.

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Five MLS sides begin their Round of 16 ties over the next three evenings, some with easier paths than others to elusive CCL glory.

The competition may not have burned itself onto the mainstream, lagging behind continental competitions in Europe and South America, but those who’ve embraced it (hint: this guy) love the thing.

For all the progress Major League Soccer has made in its quarter-century, it’s yet to find much success in dealing with Liga MX powers in the fight to qualify for the Club World Cup.

MLS sides have not won the competition since it was rebranded the CCL. Only three MLS sides have made the CCL final this decade, with Real Salt Lake (2011), Montreal Impact (2015), and Toronto FC (2017) all coming up short at the last step.

The CCL provides everything you love and hate about World Cup qualifying, and those dicey pitches with sometimes worse lighting mean the favorites aren’t guaranteed much.

The top half of the bracket sees three MLS teams — Montreal, Seattle, and NYCFC — and just one Liga MX side, while the bottom half gives us a Liga MX v. MLS match-up straight away.

That’s Leon v. LAFC, and it begins Tuesday night in Mexico. That tie carries the added intrigue of MLS superstar Carlos Vela bringing his act back to his home country for the first time… ever.

Bracket

Saprissa (Costa Rica) v. Montreal — 8 p.m. ET Weds.
Olimpia (Honduras) v. Seattle — 10 p.m. ET Thurs.

San Carlos (Costa Rica) v. NYCFC — 8 p.m. ET Thurs.
Alianza (El Salvador) v. UANL Tigres — 8 p.m. ET Weds.

Leon v. LAFC — 10 p.m. ET Tues.
Portmore United (Jamaica) v. Cruz Azul — 8 p.m. ET Tues.

Comunicaciones (Guatemala) v. Club America — 10 p.m. ET Weds.
Montagua (Honduras) v. Atlanta United — 10 p.m. ET Tues.

The 2 Robbies podcast: VAR carnage at Stamford Bridge

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle dissect a crazy game at Stamford Bridge that saw Chelsea on the wrong side of several VAR decisions (00:45).

The gents also recap the big moments from the weekend; Liverpool beat Norwich (18:30), Son’s late winner against Aston Villa (24:45) and Arteta‘s attackers thrash Newcastle United (30:15).

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To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

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