PL Playback: What is wrong with Chelsea?

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CLOCK IS TICKING FOR CONTE

Guus Hiddink is currently sitting near his phone. We’ve been here before with Chelsea but nobody really expected this with Antonio Conte after he masterminded their title-winning season in 2016-17.

But following their 4-1 defeat at Watford on Monday the speculation surrounding Conte’s future is rife as the Italian manager has seen his side win just three games in their last 10 in all competitions.

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They’ve been humbled by Bournemouth and Watford in the space of a few days, conceding seven goals in the process, and from new signings failing to settle to Conte criticizing the club’s transfer policy and speculation linking him with the Italian national team job, this is not a good situation for the reigning PL champs.

Where has it gone wrong?

Simpy put, Chelsea have failed to back Conte in the transfer market and their system of signing players and letting the coach work with them has once again come back to bite them.

Conte is a fine coach, but that’s all he is, a coach. He’s said that time and time again during his 18 months in charge of the Blues and that isn’t going to change for him, or any other Chelsea manager, anytime soon. Therein lies one of the biggest problems: respect.

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Chelsea’s players don’t seem to fear the wrath of Conte anymore. He ousted Diego Costa last summer for his behavior and booted David Luiz out of the team for most of this season, but how many players truly fear being kicked out of Chelsea if they don’t play well for Conte?

There is also the case of big money summer arrivals Tiemoue Bakayoko and Alvaro Morata enduring tough times recently, with the former having a very bad season and the latter suffering multiple injuries and a lack of confidence after a fine start at Stamford Bridge.

With Ross Barkley, Davide Zappacosta, Olivier Giroud and Emerson Palmeri also arriving over the past two windows, they are hardly players who will get the Chelsea faithful on the edge of their seats. Barkley has the potential but is rusty, Giroud is a stop-gap and Zappacosta is a back-up with Palmeri likely to be the same. All in all, there are no real consequences for the recruitment team at Chelsea who continue to do the deals and sit back and let Conte work with the players on the training ground.

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They have successfully cultivated a wonderful system of developing and loaning out young talent, but is it time for Chelsea’s recruitment policy to change? Are some of the players they’ve brought in really better than Tammy Abraham, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and others loaned out?

The brutal truth is this: instead of going out and spending $250 million on four key new players and keeping their entire title-winning squad from last season together, Chelsea have opted to actually bring in plenty of squad players and only a few key reinforcements as Manchester City and United stormed on with their expensive rebuilds.

They’ve stood still, or even regressed, with their squad weaker this season than it was last season despite the extra demands of European soccer plain for all to see. That is why Conte is upset.

Are we really shocked this is happening again? Just like the Andre Villas-Boas era, or the end of Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge, it’s almost as if Chelsea’s current squad have been conditioned to only perform when a new manager arrives, then drop their levels once a few moments of adversity arrive along with the impending newspaper reports about said manager being fired.

The players will remain, the managers will come and go, and so on, and so forth.

That’s the problem with Chelsea’s current model and although they’ve had great success in bringing managers in for short-term success, Conte calling for continuity and for the hierarchy to put their faith in him is likely to fall on deaf ears.

Conte’s saving grace is that the Chelsea supporters adore him and still sing his name and love his passion on the sidelines. Yet Roman Abramovich and those who call the shots are ruthless and if Chelsea fall out of the top four in the next few weeks, plus are humbled by Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League last 16, that will be that.

And so the Chelsea cycle continues…


WOULD VAR HAVE HELPED LIVERPOOL v. TOTTENHAM DECISIONS?

The final minutes of Tottenham’s 2-2 draw at Liverpool on Sunday where among the most dramatic of the Premier League season so far.

Two penalty kick calls which went in the favor of Spurs were highly controversial, but having seen the replays and analyzed the rules of the game on numerous occasions, you can say that both were given correctly.

It wasn’t easy for Jon Moss and his officiating crew in real time, especially on the first penalty kick awarded to Harry Kane. As our analysts Arlo White and Robbie Mustoe point out in the video above, the audio picked up of Jon Moss having a debate with his linesman Eddie Smart and then fourth official Martin Atkinson via a headset has been highlighted due to Moss mentioning TV monitors a la VAR.

With that system currently not in play in the Premier League, that was an obvious error and has since been addressed by the PGMOL in England, but given the amount of time Moss debated with other officials about what they saw, using VAR would have surely been quicker to sort this out?

Of course, with the arrival of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) for cup competitions in England over the past few months, the video debate is up in the air as people question if it should be used in the Premier League or the World Cup this summer.

I ask you this: would VAR have solved both of these penalty debates on Sunday in a quicker and clearer fashion?

For the first penalty, yes. It would have 100 percent solved any debate over the touch on the ball from Dejan Lovren. There was contact from Loris Karius, even though Kane may have gone down slightly easily, and that part isn’t what is being debated. As for the second penalty kick, VAR won’t have been too more conclusive as the contact was clear but so was Erik Lamela‘s embellishment. It would have been down to the video assistant referee and Moss to debate any other factors, but the penalty kick would still have been awarded as there was no “clear and obvious error” regarding the initial decision.

Moss and the officials deserve praise for getting the calls correct without seeing video footage, even if there was plenty of time taken to get the call right.


NEW-LOOK ARSENAL HAVE MOMENTUM…

Watch out. Here they come.

Yes, it was an Everton side bereft of confidence right now, but the way Arsenal shamelessly battered the Toffees 5-1 on Saturday showed their new-look attack is fired up and ready to push for a top four finish.

Given the recent struggles of Chelsea and the inability of Liverpool and Tottenham to consistently win games in recent weeks, the Gunners have a real chance of eating away at the current five-point gap to the top four.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan grabbed a hat trick of assists on his home debut, the pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang caused problems as he grabbed a debut goal and Aaron Ramsey marked his return to the team with a hat trick with the Welshman almost like a new signing after months out. Mesut Ozil signing a new long-term deal capped off a fine week for Arsenal in terms of acquisitions and some much need stability after months of uncertainty.

Now, crunch time has arrived.

Arsene Wenger has the luxury of being able to prioritize the Premier League top four race in the final months of the season knowing he has already guided the Gunners into the League Cup final in a few weeks at Wembley, plus he can continue to rotate his squad in the UEFA Europa League knockout rounds.

Heading into the north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley this weekend (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Arsenal have momentum and two new attackers ready to run riot in Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang and their arrival coupled with Alexis Sanchez’s departure have given everyone a lift.

Their defensive frailties remain but there’s no doubt that their business in the final days of the transfer window have handed Wenger’s men a chance to get back into the top four race. Can they take it?


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Cole returns to Chelsea as youth team coach

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One of Chelsea’s best players in club history is back at his old stomping grounds in a new role.

Chelsea finally confirmed over their social media channels that former left back Ashley Cole is back at the club coaching in the academy, helping the next generation of stars grow and learn the games. Specifically, Cole is coaching the U-15 squad.

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“I’m also doing my badges at the moment and so being here at Chelsea means I have the chance to coach every day, whereas maybe if I wasn’t working at a club it would be hard for me to get the hours in,” Cole told Chelsea’s website. “I’m learning not just how to be a coach and how to speak to people in a different environment but the side of coaching that you don’t see like planning the sessions and setting up the equipment.

“As a player, you just turn up for a session and do it. If it’s a possession drill, you just arrive and try to keep the ball but now I’m getting to understand that there are always ideas behind a particular session or practice. Organization has to be key and those are the little details that it takes to be a great coach.”

While plenty from Cole’s era have moved into the media for lucrative punditry roles, it’s nice to see players like Cole and his former teammate Frank Lampard, now Chelsea coach, go into coaching to help pass on some of the great lessons they’ve learned during their careers. .

Cole said in the interview that he wasn’t sure what was next after playing three seasons for the LA Galaxy and then joining Lampard at Derby County for the second half of last season. He added that he got his first taste of coaching kids while with the Galaxy, helping some of the academy players and taking part in video sessions.

“The Academy are very good at giving ex-players a route back to the club and a chance to learn as coaches,” Cole said. “They’re eager to bring in people who understand what it means to be at Chelsea and what it means to wear the badge. You have to be a top player to play for Chelsea so they want those top ex-players influencing and trying to help the next generation develop and be better players.”

Spanish FA once again opposes La Liga match in U.S.

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For the second consecutive season, La Liga and Relevant Sports have proposed a league match to take place this winter in the U.S.

And once again, the La Liga proposal doesn’t have the support of its national soccer federation.

[READ: La Liga wants to move Villarreal-Atletico Madrid to Miami]

Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), told reporters on Thursday that it would oppose the match taking place outside of Spain’s borders, keeping a consistent line in the sand on how far globalization can go in soccer.

“It would disrupt the competition,” Rubiales said, via AS. “To play a game in Miami, La Liga needs permission from five bodies that it doesn’t have.”

The five bodies Rubiales referred to are the RFEF, FIFA, CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer and MLS.

Last time around, Relevant Sports and La Liga announced a long-term, lucrative marketing contract to expand the brand’s footprint in the Americas, and soon after, petitioned to move Girona’s home game against Barcelona to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the home stadium of Relevant Sports owner Stephen Ross and his Miami Dolphins.

Ultimately, La Liga president Javier Tebas and Relevant Sports were unable to get permission from the RFEF or FIFA to hold the event outside Spain and it went off as expected in Girona. At the time, Spain’s player’s union and fans groups opposed the move. Tebas has filed a lawsuit in Spain to try to force the RFEF to approve their request, but it seems unlikely to be awarded and it surely doesn’t provide any good will between the two parties.

There’s been plenty of talk about bringing league games abroad before, but it has just been talk so far. The Premier League considered adding an extra game to the season to be played all over the world, but never went through with creating plans for matches.

Associations – not leagues, to be clear – have brought things like Super Cups abroad. For example, the RFEF moved the 2018 Spanish Super Cup to Tangiers, Morocco, while the France Football Federation has brought its national Super Cup match to both the U.S. and Montreal, Canada in recent years. However, the argument in favor of bringing those games abroad is they’re basically meaningless. Meanwhile, one result in a league season could – in theory – determine whether a team is relegated or not, especially if the margin is three points or less.

We could see another legal fight on our hands, so watch this space, there’s plenty more to come.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.