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Analyzing contenders in Chelsea’s hunt for star striker

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With Diego Costa‘s Chelsea future seemingly non existent, who will Antonio Conte turn to for goals this season?

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The Chelsea boss has to first offload Costa, which is proving problematic given the striker only wants to re-join Atletico Madrid and their current transfer ban is making his departure complex.

One thing which is easy to understand is that Conte wants Costa out and the sooner the 28-year-old Spaniard departs, the sooner his replacement can arrive.

After losing out on Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United, Conte has seen his options diminish when it comes to signing a new striker to spearhead Chelsea’s quest for success in the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League.

Below is a look a the contenders to replace Costa, with all five players linked with a move to Chelsea over recent weeks (or in Alvaro Morata’s case, many months).


Alvaro Morata (Real Madrid) – Transfer value, $103 million
With James Rodriguez leaving Real Madrid for Bayern Munich on a two-year loan deal, it appears Morata may well stay with the reigning European champs after all. Chelsea, and Conte, have been long-time admirers of Morata and the Spanish international is about to enter his prime. If he stays at Real Madrid he will still be behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Karem Benzema and Gareth Bale in the pecking order, but Zinedine Zidane appears to want to play the 24-year-old more. If he doesn’t, perhaps this deal happens later in August but Chelsea will surely want their main man to be in place by the start of the season on Aug. 11. Real’s valuation is another stumbling block.

Andrea Belotti (Torino) – Transfer value, $114 million
He has become an oft mentioned target for both Man United and Chelsea during the summer window and the Italian forward has had two impressive seasons for Torino, scoring 38 goals in 70 Serie A games. “The Rooster” possess a powerful shot, is a clinical finisher and is quick off the mark. He is everything a modern forward should be, hence why clubs around Europe are willing to pay big money to sign him. That said, Torino are holding out for $114 million and that doesn’t seem likely. Belotti is just 23 years old and has never played in European competition, but he does have four goals in nine games for the Italian national team.

Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund) – Transfer value, $80 million
Reports state that Dortmund are willing to let the 28-year-old leave for $80 million this summer and he could be just the man Chelsea need. The price is high, but Aubameyang has pedigree in the UCL and he led the Bundesliga in goals last season nwith 31 from 32 games. He can run the channels, lead the line and is good in the air. The Gabon striker would appear to be the perfect fit for what Chelsea need and he’s used to playing in a fluid front three from his time at Dortmund. If Chelsea can get the fee down to $70 million, then surely he will be their first choice to replace Costa.

Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace) – Transfer value, $60 million
Palace aren’t willing to sell Benteke this summer but with Everton and Chelsea reportedly interested, could a bid of over $60 million twist their arm? Benteke, 26, scored 17 goals in a struggling Palace side last season and his pedigree as a clinical finisher is clear for all to see. Benteke’s arrival may not wow the Chelsea faithful, but if Conte is looking for a pure finisher who can hold the ball up and be a menace in the air, Benteke is your man.

Fernando Llorente (Swansea City) – Transfer value, $15 million
A bit out of left field, but there’s definite interest in Llorente from Chelsea with Conte working with him at Juventus in the past. Llorente scored 15 goals in a poor Swansea side last season and despite his broken arm, which means he’ll likely miss the start of the season, the Spanish veteran (32) has plenty to offer. Signing Llorente would mean Conte backs Michy Batshuayi to be his main striker next season and that seems unlikely given the lack of playing time for the Belgian last season.

Quick look at the other options: Even though Alexis Sanchez would be perfect, it’s unlikely Arsenal will sell him to a London and Premier League rival, and the same could be said for Olivier Giroud. Daniel Sturridge would be an intriguing buy, but after his tumultuous spell at Chelsea in the past a return seems unlikely. Mauro Icardi from Inter Milan is a poacher but the Argentine would cost big bucks from Inter Milan and another cheap but potentially solid option is Mexico’s Javier Hernandez with his contract at Bayer Leverkusen said to have a release clause of less than $18 million.

Key issues ahead of Premier League restart

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The 2019-20 Premier League season will restart on June 17, the league confirmed Thursday, but there are still plenty of issues to sort out ahead of the resumption.

‘Project Restart’ still has a little way to go, but we now have a date.

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The Premier League held in-depth meetings with all 20 clubs and, among other matters, June 17 emerged as the date games will return. Due to the coronavirus pandemic the Premier League season was suspended on March 13 with 92 games remaining.

As per the agreement, the two games in hand, Man City v. Arsenal and Aston Villa v. Sheffield United, will be played on June 17 so all teams are on 29 games played when then the rest of the games resume on June 19-21.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters confirmed the restart date of June 17, as long as everything goes as planned with a return to contact training and COVID-19 tests among Premier League staff and players.

There is still plenty to sort out though, so here’s a look at the key questions and issues which remain between now and the Premier League restart on June 17.


Will teams play games at home stadiums?

Some reports state that Liverpool will play home games at a neutral venue due to concerns from police about fans congregating outside Anfield considering their impending title victory. Other high-profile games such as Tottenham against Arsenal may not be played at home stadiums either as reports state that neutral stadiums such as Wembley may be used to host some of the higher profile matches. Simply put, the only thing we know about stadiums is that they will be empty for all of the remaining 92 games of the season.


What happens if there is a second wave of COVID-19 in the UK or within Premier League clubs?

The key part of Richard Masters’ statement was the first few sentences: “Today we have provisionally agreed to resume the Premier League on Wednesday 17 June. But this date cannot be confirmed until we have met all the safety requirements needed, as the health and welfare of all participants and supporters is our priority.” The Premier League have to first and foremost make sure there is no rise in the number of COVID-19 positive tests among its players and staff.

Staff and players are all tested twice per week and 60 tests will be available to each club. So far, out of 2,752 tests from three batches, there have been 12 positive COVID-19 tests. If those numbers stay that way, or fall, the Premier League will be in good shape to return, as planned, on June 17. If they rise, the date will have to be pushed back. There can be no room for complacency from clubs and players over safety protocols during the next three weeks and beyond. That said, the situation in the UK has been the worst in Europe in terms of the death toll and if a second spike arrives in England, the plan for the Premier League restart would be put in jeopardy.


If the season is delayed further and the games cannot be finished, then what?

It has been reported, but not confirmed, that clubs agreed that an unweighted points-per-game model will be used to decide the final table if the season is curtailed. That means that the average number of points teams have won during their games played so far will be calculated in accordance with their remaining games to play. The Premier League have admitted they will have to come to a curtailment plan just in case the situation worsens in the UK or within their clubs.


Using five substitutes per game?

This is something the Premier League can do as the IFAB rules allow it and have been modified during the pandemic. Clubs will be able to use five substitutes per game, up from three, but subs can only be used in specified windows such as half time so the flow of the game isn’t disrupted. This has worked well in the Bundesliga and it is expected it will also work well in the Premier League, especially with so many games being played in a six-week period.


What about players out of contract?

This is something the Premier League clubs have already agreed on. With most player contracts running until June 30, we now know that the 2019-20 season will run beyond that date. Up until June 23, clubs and players can agree to extend the contracts until the end of the 2019-20 season as a short-term measure. However, players and club do not have to do this so some players may be out of contract and free to move on from July 1.

Spadafora: Coppa Italia, Serie A can return June 13

Serie A return
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Italian football can return June 13 with the second legs of the Coppa Italia semifinals and perhaps the final, followed by Serie A the next weekend.

Italian sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora made the announcement Thursday, bringing calcio back to a country that’s been ravaged by the coronavirus.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In addition to stringent testing protocols and quarantine for club members who test positive, Serie A has plans in place for another wave of the coronavirus should it rear its ugly head. From Football-Italia.com:

“The FIGC also assured me that the Plan B (play-offs and play-outs) and Plan C (using the existing table) can be adopted in case of suspension. It is not up to me as Minister to decide, as that will be done by the FIGC. In the light of all those events, we can today say that the season can resume from June 20.”

Spadafora said he was hopeful the entire Coppa Italia could be completed before June 20, which would be a heavy burden on two of the following semifinalists: AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, and Napoli.

The winners could face three matches inside of eight or nine days.

Napoli leads Inter after one leg in Milan, while Milan and Juve drew 1-1 at the San Siro.

Juve had its four Coppa run broken by Lazio last season. The Old Lady leads Lazio by one point in the race for a ninth-consecutive scudetto.

MLS announces return voluntary small group training

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Major League Soccer’s long road to returning from the coronavirus pause has hit another mile marker with the return of voluntary outdoor small group training.

The full team training moratorium remains in place through at least June 1.

MLS made the announcement Thursday and there are several stipulations given the size of our country and the variables in how it’s governed at the state and local level.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The voluntary sessions will be held “in compliance with detailed health and safety protocols that were created in consultation with medical and infectious disease experts.”

Perhaps most notably:

The sessions must not conflict with local public health official or government policies and provide the ability for players to step up their training while maintaining physical distancing protocols.

The league has been under a mandatory training moratorium since the league suspended its season on March 12.

MLS is also making sure to cover every base imaginable, healthwise and legal, by making public and transparent its demands of its clubs.

It’s been a busy break for MLS, which has canceled three major events but also taken hold of the boys youth soccer landscape.

Premier League schedule, how to watch

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The 2019-20 Premier League season will restart on June 17, the league confirmed on Thursday, and here is how you can watch every single game live on TV and online in the USA.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

‘Project Restart’ is all systems go.

The Premier League held in-depth meetings with all 20 clubs and, among other matters, June 17 emerged as the date games will return. Due to the coronavirus pandemic the Premier League season was suspended on March 13 with 92 games remaining.

[ MORE: Reaction to return ]

As per the agreement, the two games in hand, Man City v. Arsenal and Aston Villa v. Sheffield United, will be played on June 17 so all teams are on 29 games played when then the rest of the games resume on June 19-21.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

It is believed that the clubs want the Premier League season to be finished by August 1, so clubs can then focus on the FA Cup and European action in the Europa League and Champions League, while the 2020-21 season can then resume in early September.

Below is how the new weekend and midweek schedule for the Premier League games in June and July will look, with specific games.

Click on the link above to watch every single Premier League game live in the USA across our platforms here at NBC Sports.

Weekend match schedule
Friday: 3 p.m. ET
Saturday: 7:30 a.m., ET, 10 a.m. ET, 12:30 p.m. ET, 3 p.m. ET
Sunday: 7 a.m. ET, 9 a.m. ET, 11:30 a.m. ET, 2 p.m. ET
Monday: 3 p.m. ET

Midweek match schedule
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 1 p.m. ET and 3 p.m. ET