More glory on the mind as Chelsea crowned champions

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LONDON — As the sun beat down on west London on the final day of the season, Chelsea hoisted the Premier League trophy into the air amid euphoria.

Increased expectations were also in the air.

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Chelsea had become the first team in Premier League history to win 30 games in a season as Antonio Conte has put together a fluid, rigid machine capable of powering or finessing its way past opponents. There are very few weaknesses to this team and the 3-4-3 system has been a revelation for the champions.

“A lot of emotions today. It is great to finish the season this way, to celebrate a fantastic season,” Conte said. “We won the league with 30 wins and it is very positive for us. Someone could think that this season was easy but this season wasn’t easy. I think we overcame a lot of difficult steps but now for this reason we must be very proud to celebrate with our fans, our family, to have this day together.”

Now, greater challenges lie ahead and even amidst celebrations many were thinking ahead to the FA Cup final at Wembley next Saturday against Saturday.

Conte knows the fans want more silverware, as the supporters who have celebrated 14 major titles since Roman Abramovich arrived expect success.

“Now we have another chance to celebrate this season with a final in the FA Cup,” Conte said. “We all know that this game will be very tough but a great day, a fantastic day. Honestly, it was very difficult to imagine this finale in this season, to celebrate a win in the league but it happened. I think that it happened only because we worked very hard with our players.”

As a brass band fired up the Liquidator pregame outside Stamford Bridge, shirts with “Champions, 17” on the back and scarves, flags and hats littered the crowd. Chelsea have now won the title five times in the past 12 seasons, but this felt different.

There is a new expectant era dawning at Chelsea.

Chelsea’s fans were going to enjoy these celebrations, just like they did after the title-sealing win at West Brom 10 days ago, then the home game against Watford last week.

Leaning against a brick wall at Stamford Bridge with his sunglasses on his head, Chelsea fan Frank O’Brien is one of the many who want to see their team push on, especially after finishing 10th last season just 12 months after securing the PL crown.

Complacency is no longer tolerated at Chelsea.

“If you reflect on last season, it was a massive disappointment considering the season before. With a little bit of organization and bit more self-belief among the group they’ve achieved what they’ve achieved this season and hopefully they will kick on from here,” O’Brien said. “Champions League football next season, even better. I expect the club to purchase a few additional players and hopefully have a really good push for the Champions League.”

A huge poster adorned the back of the Chelsea hotel and retail village which sits behind The Shed End at Stamford Bridge. It simply read “Thank You – Grazie!” and had a photo of John Terry and Antonio Conte hugging.

The subplot to this title celebration was Terry’s final day at Stamford Bridge.

Terry, 36, played in his final game for Chelsea to end his 22-year career with the Blues. Fans wore John Terry’s name and number on their shirts, lauded him after the game and he said an emotional farewell to supporters at the final whistle.

Coming off in the 26th minute to a guard of honor from his teammates, Terry got a fitting farewell as he set PL record for winning five titles as captain and he has won 15 major titles with the only club he’s ever known.

He will always remain a legend of Chelsea and whatever he does next, nothing can taint the bond he has with the Chelsea faithful. He stayed long after any other player to shake hands, sign autographs and hug Chelsea’s fans with his son by his side.

Terry didn’t want this day to end, and neither did Conte who was the last person on the pitch as he carried the trophy down the tunnel and into the dressing room.

Conte’s Chelsea career has only just begun but the fact that he is there, right alongside Terry, on the giant mural (see above) shows how highly he is already regarded.

Chelsea’s fans are delighted with Conte winning a PL title, and potentially an FA Cup, in his first season in charge. But now they’ve tasted success again, they want more.

“When you get consistency with a manager, as well as he’s done this season the challenge for him next season is to push on again,” O’Brien said. “Anything less than winning the Champions League and the Premier League is a disappointment. That’s the way it is in football but I sincerely believe the club will kick on from here.”

As he sipped champagne with the media at Stamford Bridge, Conte already had his mind on the FA Cup final next week. He says Arsenal are the favorites after they missed out on finishing in the top four.

“If you ask me ‘who is the favorite now?’ I can tell you it is Arsenal. Because Arsenal now only has this possibility to find a good season after a win in the FA Cup. For this season we must play great attention. We must find in ourselves the right motivation and the right anger because the game it will be very difficult for all of these reasons. After Arsenal missed the Champions League, we must have or antenna very high and to prepare in the right way. I’m not talking about tactics, I’m talking about motivation in our souls, our hearts. If we have this in the same proportion with Arsenal or more, we have the possibility to win and do the double. Otherwise we risk a lot.”

Conte is always playing mind games and always keeping his squad hunger to achieve. That’s exactly what Chelsea’s trophy hungry fans want to hear.

As Terry hoisted the PL trophy aloft, the jubilation was clear among Chelsea’s fans.

It’s also clear that the expectation levels have risen to their previous lofty heights at Chelsea and now Conte must keep delivering success.

“This is the real danger for us, to think that the season is finished,” Conte said. “If you win or lose, it doesn’t change the situation. We must think as a winner and not as a loser. It is important to celebrate today, enjoy this moment with our families and fans. To celebrate this title but from tomorrow, I am the first to try to push a lot to explain that this season will be great because if we didn’t win the title it would be good. After we win the title it became great. I think this season can become fantastic if we are able to win the FA Cup.

“We must find the right motivation because at this level with Chelsea and Arsenal, the level is the same and in the league we lost a game 3-0 and we won the game 3-1. It is a great target but it is important for us to celebrate but then to find the right fire in our soul to be ready to work very hard this week and prepare and feel in the right way this game. I think for me, the players, the fans, the club, this is a great opportunity to do the double.”

Conte is a Premier League champion but, like everyone else connected with Chelsea, he wants more.

Daniel Levy calls for all players, clubs to cut wages

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Tottenham chairman has called for Premier League players and staff to take wage cuts to help clubs cope with the suspension during the coronavirus pandemic.

Levy revealed 550 off-pitch staff at Tottenham have taken pay cuts as he pointed to the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich as their players and officials had taken wage cuts in order to make sure every individual at the club was paid and costs did not spiral out of control during the suspension of leagues.

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Levy confirmed that the “club’s operations have effectively ceased” and “has an annual cost base running into hundreds of millions of pounds” before adding that clubs and players should do their part as clubs, leagues and players’ unions meet on Wednesday in England to work out a way forward.

“We hope the current discussions between the Premier League, PFA and LMA will result in players and coaches doing their bit for the football eco system,” Levy said.

Tottenham’s chairman also explained exactly what Spurs are doing to help them deal with the new financial reality all soccer clubs are facing, as the UK government is paying 80 percent of wages of staff who have been furloughed (basically told they still have a job but aren’t needed right now) by their employers.

“We have seen some of the biggest clubs in the world such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus take steps to reduce their costs. Yesterday, having already taken steps to reduce costs, we ourselves made the difficult decision – in order to protect jobs – to reduce the remuneration of all 550 non-playing directors and employees for April and May by 20 per cent utilising, where appropriate, the Government’s furlough scheme. We shall continue to review this position,” Levy added.

Soccer will of course have to adjust to its new reality and the longer the suspension goes on, tougher decisions will have to be made about players and staff taking significant pay cuts to help keep costs down with no matchday revenue coming in. Tottenham’s stadium is being used to help prepare food for vulnerable people in the local and it has been offered to the NHS to be used any way it can help.

Plenty of clubs across the Premier League have vowed to pay temporary staff used on matchdays but many are making use of government help with wages and many are doing plenty for their local communities too. These are unprecedented times and players and clubs are stepping up to make sure the most vulnerable are looked after.

Benzema: ‘I’m F1’ quality compared to ‘go-kart’ Giroud

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It would appear that Karim Benzema lives for exactly two things in life: scoring goals and creating/participating in very public drama.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Benzema, who hasn’t feature for France’s national team since he was allegedly involved in a scandal to blackmail teammate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape in 2015, slammed compatriot forward Olivier Giroud as the “go-karting” alternative to his own “F1” quality.

His main gripe with Giroud doesn’t appear to actually be with the player himself, but the fact the two get compared to one another so frequently. In Benzema’s absence from Les Bleus, Giroud has been the main beneficiary, leading many to wonder if the team could have reached greater heights with Benzmea in the team instead — quotes from Sky Sports:

“You shouldn’t confuse F1 and go karting and that’s me being kind. On to the next topic. I’m not talking about him [Giroud] anymore. I just know that I’m F1.

“He has his career, he does what he wants and scores the goals that he wants to score. He’s in his corner and I’m in mine, I’m not thinking about him. If we’re talking about playing style, his suits France well.

“It’s good because there are fast players like (Kylian) Mbappe and (Antoine) Griezmann who play out wide or feed off the centre-forward. When Giroud is up front, he’s a handful for defenses, which gives the other two plenty of space to show what they can do.

“He occupies defenders and it works. It might not be brilliant to watch and you won’t say, ‘Wow, that was incredible.’ Does everyone like that style of play? I don’t know, but it suits France well.”

Giroud: 39 goals (third-highest) in 97 appearances for France. Benzema: 27 goals in 81 appearances.

Guardiola: ‘We will come back stronger, kinder … and a bit fatter’

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Through all of the innumerable challenges and tragedies the world is currently facing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is doing his best to not only help the fight back in his native Spain, but also give everyone a chance to smile and laugh at their own expense.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Guardiola, who last week donated $1.1 million to fight the virus in Catalonia, released a video message of encouragement and hope on Monday — encouraging everyone to stay inside, and hopeful of returning to a sense of normalcy in short order:

“We miss football. We miss the life that we had a few days ago but now is the time to listen, to follow our scientists, doctors and nurses.

“You are my football family and we are going to do everything possible to make you feel better. We’ll come back from this stronger, better, kinder … and a little bit fatter. Stay inside, stay safe.”

Germany’s UCL clubs pledge support for cash-strapped clubs

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DUSSELDORF, Germany — Four German soccer clubs have pledged a combined $21.9 million to support other teams struggling to stay afloat after games in the country were suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen will forgo $13.7 million in as-yet undistributed TV money and add another $8.2 million from their own funds. All four clubs played in the Champions League this season, giving them extra income.

The German Football League, which oversees the top two divisions, will decide how the money is distributed. The league has previously said it fears many clubs could face financial collapse if games can’t resume.

“In these difficult times, it’s important that the stronger shoulders support the weaker shoulders,” Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said on Thursday.

It’s the latest in a string of gestures to help those in need in German soccer. Players at clubs including Bayern, Borussia Monchengladbach and second-tier Karlsruhe have agreed to voluntary pay cuts to help other staff.

[ MORE: Tottenham offer stadium to help with coronavirus effort ]

Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said clubs had a responsibility to keep other teams running in what could be a long period without income from ticket sales and sponsors.

“We have always said that we would show solidarity if clubs, through no fault of their own, should run into difficulties that they can no longer overcome themselves,” Watzke said in a statement.

“BVB is currently having a major impact on society through a wide range of initiatives. And naturally we are prepared to help out other professional football clubs if it is ultimately a matter of cushioning the financial effects of the pandemic.”