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Should Antonio Conte be angry with Chelsea’s transfer dealings?

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After Romelu Lukaku’s move to Chelsea now appears to be off and the Everton star heading to Manchester United, there’s no surprise reports are circulating that Antonio Conte is an unhappy man.

Does he have the right to be?

[ MORE: Pogba, Lukaku train in LA ]

With Chelsea only signing Willy Caballero on a free transfer so far this summer, it’s been a slow start to the transfer window for the reigning Premier League champs and Conte has every right to be frustrated. There is still time to turn things around, but there’s no denying the start to his and Chelsea’s summer hasn’t been good.

Diego Costa‘s situation has undeniably made the task for Conte, and Technical Director Michael Emenalo, much harder as rivals now know that Costa is no longer wanted in west London (partly Conte’s fault with his texting) and the 28-year-old is closing in a move back to Atletico Madrid. Yet, even with a princely sum incoming for Costa, the Blues will have to pay over the odds for a new striker.

Alvaro Morata and Andrea Belotti from Torino are said to be Conte’s top two striking targets after seemingly losing out on Lukaku, but other deals have not been done.

Tiemoue Bakayako will likely arrive from AS Monaco with Nemanja Matic heading to Manchester United but that deal has dragged on, while talks still continue over signing Antonio Rudiger from AS Roma and Alex Sandro from Juventus.

So, it’s not all doom and gloom for Conte but it’s not ideal with a defining season coming up for the Italian coach as he looks to replicate the incredible success of his debut season in England.

The way he managed to string together a battered and bruised Chelsea side last season and add the unfancied duo of David Luiz and Marcos Alonso to the mix expertly surely should have meant Chelsea’s board would deliver three to four top class players for him to have at his disposal on day one of preseason.

Chelsea return to training at Cobham next Monday and it seems likely that Conte won’t have his top target in Lukaku, while deals for Morata, Belotti, Sandro and Rudiger appear some way from completion with Virgil Van Dijk‘s name disappearing from the reckoning altogether.

With Chelsea’s expectant fans wanting not only a PL title repeat but also craving success in Europe, Conte will want answers from the hierarchy as to why they have yet to strengthen considerably this summer as the added difficulty of juggling a UEFA Champions League campaign will no doubt impact his squad.

When you look back at Chelsea’s past they’ve done business late in the window with Luiz and Alonso arriving on Deadline Day in a real surprise last summer, but before that the arrival of Costa, Matic and Cesc Fabregas ahead of the 2014-15 campaign led to a title-winning season under Jose Mourinho.

There is no simple formula to building a squad and sometimes the dominoes have to fall at the right time in order for a new player to arrive. They haven’t fallen in Chelsea’s favor so far this summer.

Conte’s argument will be that his success last season should have led to Chelsea spending big and taking decisive action early in the transfer window. Up until now they’ve been stumbling around and have now lost out on Lukaku.

With Inter Milan and others said to be offering Conte a huge deal to join them, Chelsea’s boss has yet to sign a new deal at Stamford Bridge and this transfer inactivity may have him questioning exactly how much he will be backed when it comes to recruitment as Emenalo is a trusted ally of owner Roman Abramovich and some blame him for the lackluster deals following Chelsea’s title win in 2014-15 which then led to Mourinho’s firing.

The former has a policy of bringing in youngsters and selling or loaning them on for a big profit to delight the hierarchy, plus he has sold on the likes of Oscar, Ramires and Lukaku for big fees in the past to fund future signings.

If Chelsea really want to join Europe’s elite once again they’ll need to spend like it instead of wheeling and dealing to keep similar squad numbers and still make a profit on transfer deals. With many squad players departing over the summer — John Terry, Asmir Begovic and Nathan Ake to name a few — Conte has a challenge to not only add quality but also strength in depth to challenge on four fronts this season.

Conte and his staff will be disappointed to have not landed Lukaku as Costa’s departure looms and the reigning PL champs will have to start acting quickly in the transfer window if they want to continue their success.

The next five weeks of preseason will be crucial in Conte, and Chelsea’s, short-term future.

Panama boss blunt and honest before nation’s World Cup debut

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez isn’t in the business of sugarcoating the truth before his team makes history by playing in its first World Cup.

The Central American team has trouble scoring and his players will need to have a good day to have any chance against Belgium on Monday, he said.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Blunt and honest, Gomez didn’t even hide his starting lineup, the normal way of doing things for coaches these days. And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland’s upset against Argentina — the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday — the Colombian didn’t bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.

“Iceland sent Croatia to the playoffs (in European qualifying), and it did well in the European Championship as well,” Gomez said. “It played against an Argentina squad which isn’t at the same level as Belgium right now. I mean, the distance between Iceland and Argentina isn’t as significant as the distance between Belgium and Panama.”

Gomez didn’t completely dismiss Panama’s chances of a surprise result against the Belgians, saying “anything can happen in football,” but admitted it wouldn’t be normal.

“It’s very clear that they are the favorites,” the 62-year-old coach said. “But each game is different, and if we have a good day, maybe we can achieve something.”

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

If Panama does find a way to advance past the group stage, Gomez said he already knows how he will be celebrating.

“I’ll drink two bottles of vodka,” he said laughing, before taking it back. “No, no … we are professionals.”

Gomez didn’t bother keeping his lineup a secret for the match in Sochi, naming the 11 starters without hesitating when asked about it. He even frankly talked about the formation his team would be playing Monday.

Gomez said Panama won’t be trying anything but defending against the talented Belgians, and admitted that scoring goals has been a weakness of his team entering the tournament.

“We’ve become strong on defense. It’s Panama’s virtue,” he said. “Panama isn’t a team that will score a lot of goals. We may create good chances in some matches, but we aren’t able to score. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.”

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The 55th-ranked Panama drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland and lost 1-0 to Norway in its final warm-up matches before traveling to Russia.

It qualified for the tournament by finishing ahead of the United States in CONCACAF thanks to a last-minute victory over Costa Rica in qualifying.

Gomez said the team carries a big responsibility by representing the nation at a World Cup for the first time, and his biggest job is to get the players ready for the pressure they are about to face.

“The whole country is excited about this,” Gomez said. “I have to prepare the players mentally.”

Gomez has been coaching Panama since 2014. He was previously with Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia.

Panama’s other Group G games will be against England on Sunday and Tunisia on June 28.

Maradona: Argentina drawing Iceland is “a disgrace”

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It’s been a pretty trying and criticism-filled 36 hours for Lionel Messi and Argentina, and that was already true before the World Cup hero that is Diego Maradona weighed in.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

No longer are La Albiceleste simply known as the side that drew tiny Iceland — the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup — but now their efforts on Saturday have been dubbed “a disgrace” by Maradona.

It’s not so much the players whom Maradona, manager of the national team for the 2010 World Cup (quarterfinals appearance, beaten 4-0 by Germany), has gone after, but current boss Jorge Sampaoli for his lack of a proper gameplan befitting the opponent. As for Messi, who failed to convert a critical penalty kick, Maradona has absolved the Barcelona superstar of much of the blame — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all [6-foot-3] tall.”

“I get the feeling there’s an anger at the heart of the team.”

“I don’t blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had,” said Maradona.

“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty.”

England squad reconnects with fans with image makeover

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VOLGOGRAD, England (AP) — Whatever happens to England at the World Cup, at least the reception facing the squad should be less brutal than it was in 2014 after its exit following the group stage.’

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

For once, the players can’t be accused of hiding away, retreating behind their headphones. The hallmark of England’s preparations for Russia has been shedding the past reticence to engage with the public, a calculated move by the team leadership to reconnect with a public disaffected by years of failure at tournaments and uninspiring performances.

“They appear more relaxed. They appear more normal,” supporter Gavin Hughes said, overlooking the Volgograd Arena where England opens its World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday. “They appear human. They are just lads playing football at the end of the day. That’s been the problem in the past. There’s more of a togetherness.”

A defining clip of the 2010 World Cup was Wayne Rooney bellowing down the barrel of a camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria: “Nice to see your home fans booing you, that’s what loyal support is.”

That disconnect with the public has been bridged by the 23-man squad facing the media in a 45-minute, Super Bowl-style session before leaving for Russia. The English Football Association’s approach is in a marked contrast to club duty where they are largely closeted away, save for appearances with paying broadcasters or often in controlled appearances.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

“We’ve done a lot for the fans on social media so they can see what we are up to, which has not always been the case,” captain Harry Kane said Sunday. “It’s important while we have free time is to try to let the fans know what we are up to.”

The public is seeing a new side of the players. Not only are they more relatable but painted in a more sympathetic light, beyond the caricatures of millionaire mercenaries just chasing more money.

“That connection with the supporters is really important,” coach Gareth Southgate said. “There have been perceptions about our players for a long time … so it’s been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.”

In a move unthinkable in years gone by, when a since-departed FA official blocked Rooney talking about his Christianity, defender Danny Rose recently opened up on his problems dealing with depression. Publicly praised by Prince William for raising awareness of health issues, Rose realizes how players can use their new platform to show their human side and inspire others.

“A lot of people messaged me to say thank you, that they know someone who is going through this or has been through that and that I’ve helped them and given them the confidence to express themselves,” Rose said. “We have a lot of down time and I’m going to think of something to help others when I get back. I’ve got time to think while I’m here and when I get back from the World Cup about how I can go forward and help people.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

It’s not just about the players feeding a voracious traveling media pack with material. Kieran Trippier, who is also Rose’s club teammate at Tottenham, told the left back he appeared no longer burdened by a private plight in England’s last World Cup warm-up game.

“I was playing with a bit of freedom,” Rose said of the victory against Costa Rica. “I think he’s got a point.”

Southgate is credited with encouraging the warmer environment, far removed from the controlling regimes under Fabio Capello and Gary Neville, who was Roy Hodgson’s assistant for the dismal 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship last-16 humbling to Iceland. A bemusing, running theme in the British papers at Euro 2016 in France was the players’ refusal to divulge any details of a darts tournament. The squad has been overhauled by Southgate and it has even been playing darts with the media at the World Cup base near St. Petersburg.

Southgate has been playing his part, going to fan forums in the buildup to the tournament to recognize the commitment and cost involved watching England abroad.

“Sometimes those really good people who follow us are overlooked at the expense of some who have caused problems in the past,” Southgate said.

Ultimately, results dictate the public mood and England hasn’t won a knockout game at any tournament since 2006.

“It’s about how we perform,” Southgate said, “but there’s a bigger picture.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 5 — England, Belgium enter the fray

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The weekend might be all but over, but that doesn’t mean that 2018 World Cup action is slowing down anytime soon.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Monday, in fact, will be quite the opposite, as Group G giants — and a pair of popular dark horse picks — Belgium and England make their debut in Russia, taking on Panama and Tunisia, respectively.

Following Germany’s 1-0 loss to Mexico on Sunday, Group F is currently turned upside down on its head. Sweden and South Korea, who’ll face off in the day’s opener, are even more hopeful now than prior to the start of the tournament.

Below is Monday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Monday, June 18

Group F
Sweden vs. South Korea: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Panama: Sochi, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Tunisia vs. England: Volgograd, 2 p.m. ET –LIVE COVERAGE