Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win vs. Everton

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LONDON — Chelsea had fun in the west London sun on Sunday as they breezed past a jaded Everton side 2-0.

[ MORE: Chelsea, Everton reveal transfer plans ]

First half goals from Cesc Fabregas and Alvaro Morata did the business for Antonio Conte‘s side who put in their best display of the embryonic Premier League season to right the ship ahead of the international break.

The reigning champs are almost back to their best.

Here’s what we learned from Stamford Bridge.


CHELSEA’S RAPID RECOVERY

Whether they were actually hurtling towards another season of turmoil can be debated, but the signs were not good for Chelsea over preseason and early in the campaign.

Things looked a lot better for Antonio Conte in the bright sunshine at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Those reports of him being the favorite to be the next PL boss to leave his position and Chelsea seeking out Thomas Tuchel to replace him all seem rather silly now.

On Sunday they showed why there are the reigning Premier League champions in a dominant display despite still missing plenty of key players like Eden Hazard, Gary Cahill and Diego Costa.

This recovery has been a rapid one.

On the opening day they lost 3-2 to Burnley in a bizarre game where they went down to nine men. They followed that up by beating Tottenham 2-1 at Wembley in a gritty, yet truncated display.

This performance suggested the Blues are back to their best and they could have won by a more comfortable margin had Morata, Pedro and Victor Moses converted second half chances.

Chelsea have recovered rapidly from what many were calling an early-season meltdown. In the final days of the transfer window it appears they will strengthen further with a tough UEFA Champions League group stage challenge coming up, but with star players to return and new signings Tiemoue Bakayoko, Morata and Antonio Rudiger settling in well, things are slowly but surely coming together for Chelsea.


STATIC MORATA DELIVERING

With two goals and two assists, all with his head, in his first two Premier League home games it is safe to say Alvaro Morata is settling in rather well at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea’s most-expensive signing took time to adapt after arriving from Real Madrid for $96.5 million in July but he was given a standing ovation as he was subbed off late on in Sunday’s win.

The scary thing is that Morata has plenty of room for improvement.

He doesn’t charge around like Diego Costa up top and Conte cajoled his Spanish international striker on multiple occasions to try and close down Everton’s defense when they had the ball.

Morata is arguably a much better finisher than Costa and his ability in the air is well-suited to Chelsea’s game with crosses coming in from Marcos Alonso, Willian, Pedro and Fabregas.

As he came off Morata looked either slightly miffed at being substituted or perhaps it was disappointment in his own display.

That proves he knows he can deliver a better all-around performance but while he irons out the kinks and gets used to leading the line in the PL it won’t do him any harm to keep scoring and assisting.


EVERTON’S STRIKER SHORTAGE

Everton boss Ronald Koeman cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines as Stamford Bridge sweltered in the afternoon sun.

His Toffees looked like a side which had played at Man City on Monday and then in the Europa League on Thursday before traveling back from Split, Croatia. In midfield they were sluggish with Tom Davies and Idrissa Gana Gueye giving the ball away and the former was hooked off at half time.

Jordan Pickford‘s kicking was off and center backs Michael Keane and Ashley Williams collided on more than one occasion as they tried to clear the ball. Simply put, it was an off day for an Everton side who looked to be feeling the effects of three away games in seven days.

Yet up front is where the biggest problem remains for Koeman.

In their first three PL games all they have is Wayne Rooney‘s two goals in his opening two PL games back at Everton. Sandro Ramirez cut an isolated figure up top on his own with Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson in support of him. Rooney was booked and looked agitated throughout as he snatched at a shot and was heckled by the home fans just a few days after announcing his retirement from the English national team. The hope is that Rooney’s England retirement would rejuvenate his club career and provide the goals Everton need to achieve their lofty ambitions.

They will need a lot more than that and reports linking them with an outrageous move for Chelsea’s wantaway striker Diego Costa seem far-fetched but given the financial muscle the Toffees have shown this summer nothing seems too outlandish at Goodison Park right now.

Koeman’s insistence that he still needs a striker in the final four days of the transfer window is legitimate. Rooney teed up Sandro in the second half but the Spaniard hesitated and had his shot blocked when clean through. Sigurdsson and others buzzed around but there was no cutting edge, no real threat up top in a narrow 3-4-2-1 formation for the Toffees.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ademola Lookman are top young talents who possess pace and can possible score 5-10 goals per season, at best. But if Everton are to challenge for the top four, as they hope to, they’ll need more than that.

There is a Lukaku-sized hole in Everton’s attack and no matter how many top-class attacking midfielders they have, they’ve simply lacked a cutting edge in the final third and weren’t near Chelsea’s box often enough.

6 clubs fined, risk FIFA transfer bans for debts to players

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ZURICH (AP) Clubs from Russia and Qatar are among six fined by FIFA and warned they risk one-year transfer bans for failing to settle debts to players.

[ MORE: Steffen to England? ]

FIFA says the clubs also face deductions of six league points if they fail to pay the debts in 30 to 90 days.

The clubs are: Kuban of Russia; Al Arabi and Al Kharaitiyat of Qatar; Zamalek of Egypt; Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates; and Mersin Idman Yurdu of Turkey.

FIFA says all failed to comply with rulings by FIFA or the Court of Arbitration for Sport “to pay significant overdue amounts of money to players.”

They were fined between 15,000 and 30,000 Swiss francs ($15,000 and $30,000).

FIFA says national soccer federations face disciplinary cases if they fail to enforce the verdicts.

Premier League friendlies: Liverpool meets BVB; Everton in Portugal

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The Premier League is three weeks and one day from opening its 2018-19 slate, when Leicester City will visit Old Trafford for a Friday afternoon match with Manchester United.

The end of the World Cup has eyeballs trained on friendlies, with 19 Premier League teams doing work over the weekend.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

The International Champions Cup has a pair of matches on the docket.

Friday sees Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, sans many of their World Cup stars, mixing it up with Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund in Chicago.

Then Sunday will see Borussia Dortmund switching gears and time zones, tangling with Liverpool in North Carolina as Pulisic renews acquaintances with old pal Jurgen Klopp.

Manchester United takes on San Jose on Sunday, two days after facing Club America.

Other marquee friendlies of the weekend include Bournemouth facing American back Shaq Moore and Levante on Friday, with Fulham hosting Lyon on Saturday, and Everton meeting Lille and Porto on consecutive Portuguese days Saturday and Sunday.

Friday

Bournemouth vs. Levante
Burnley vs. Macclesfield Town
Burnley vs. Curzon Ashton
Cardiff City vs Torquay
Manchester City vs. Borussia Dortmund (in Chicago)

Saturday

Brighton and Hove Albion vs. AFC Wimbledon
Crystal Palace vs. Oxford United
Everton vs. Lille
Fulham vs. Lyon
Huddersfield Town vs. Real Betis
Huddersfield Town vs. Roy-Weiss Essen or Werder Bremen
Leicester City vs. Notts County
Southampton vs. Derby County
Watford vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf
West Ham United vs. Preston North End

Sunday

Everton vs. Porto
Huddersfield Town vs. Darmstadt
Liverpool vs. Borussia Dortmund (in North Carolina)
Manchester United vs. San Jose Earthquakes (in Santa Clara)
Wolverhampton vs. TBD

Transfer rumor roundup: Japan, South Africa strikers to Premier League

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Percy Tau’s name isn’t yet widely known outside of South Africa, what with Bafana Bafana absent from the World Cup.

But the 24-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns winger may soon get to test his skills on a much bigger stage.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Tau, who has five goals in 12 caps, will reportedly join Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League if a medical goes well, with Sky Sports saying it’ll will be the biggest transfer fee yet for a South African Premier League player.


Yoshinori Muto could be bringing his 25 caps to the Premier League.

The 26-year-old striker made just one appearance at the World Cup, but has had a nice run with Mainz since joining from FC Tokyo. He’s bagged 23 goals in 71 appearances.

Bild report says there have been no formal offers for Muto, but that Newcastle United and West Ham are interested in the striker. Newcastle badly needs a striker, but West Ham has been spending money and Magpies owner Mike Ashley hasn’t green lit much in recent seasons.

Open Cup draw postponed as Portland protests LAFC win

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The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup draw is not going as planned, as the Portland Timbers protest the roster of victorious LAFC.

[ RECAP: Four USOC semifinalists minted ]

Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston were the other sides to get a place in the final four teams.

LAFC’s victory had already been marred by Adama Diomande‘s claims of a racial slur hurled his way, and now their victory may be in question altogether as U.S. Soccer issued a press release saying Thursday’s scheduled draw was postponed.

From a U.S. Soccer press release:

The decision comes as a result of a protest filed by the Portland Timbers in relation to the number of foreign players fielded by Los Angeles Football Club during Wednesday night’s Quarterfinal at Banc of America Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif.

The rule says a maximum five players without green cards can be in the 18. Portland started only two Americans, Jeff Attinella and Zarek Valentin, but have green cards for many others and rules are rules.

Will the Timbers take a semifinal berth via protest?