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Conte admits selection headache before wild 12-day run

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Antonio Conte has a selection headache after Willian scored twice and both Olivier Giroud and Pedro also found the back of the net in an FA Cup thrashing of Hull City on Friday.

[ MORE: American debuts for Chelsea ]

Given the relative struggles of the rest of the team in recent weeks — aside from a 3-0 win against lowly West Brom — that has Conte assessing who’s best suited for a brutal 12-day stretch which sees Chelsea play Barcelona, Manchester United, and Manchester City.

Alvaro Morata is in a prolonged slump, and Giroud has put in a couple of fine performances. Willian has been one of Chelsea’s best players for some time, but with Pedro and Eden Hazard also on song, well, there are a lot of cooks for this particular stew.

From ChelseaFC.com:

‘I’m very happy because before the game against Barcelona I go to my house with many doubts in my mind about what is the best starting XI for the game. Now we must take the right time to make the best decision.

‘The last two wins were very important for our confidence and to prepare in the right way for Barcelona. It’s a massive game. We must be confident to prepare for it in the right way. The game starts at 0-0, and then we have to try to move it in the right direction.

The four-goal Friday first half allowed Conte to pull off Pedro at half and Cesc Fabregas after 62 minutes — handing a senior debut to U.S. prospect Kyle Scott — and that will allay plenty of exhaustion fears.

Willian and Hazard should be given against Barcelona, and Pedro also seems fit for the three men behind the big striker (especially considering his limited Friday duty). In terms of form, Giroud’s the guy. But Morata was brought here for nights like this.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.