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Conte: Chelsea better off than when I arrived

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It’s possible — if not highly likely — that Antonio Conte will take charge of his final game as Chelsea manager on Sunday when the Blues visit Newcastle United (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), and that has the Italian seemingly already defending his legacy at the club before walking out the door.

[ MORE: Neymar told PSG teammates he won’t be back next season ]

When Conte arrived at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2016, Chelsea were fresh off their worst season in 20 years — a fact of which he’ll forever be quick to remind you — a 10th-place finish just 12 months after winning the Premier League title. Jose Mourinho had been fired seven months prior, and the squad was dubbed expensive and aging.

Conte spent the next 24 months haggling with owner Roman Abramovich over a transfer budget which the former believed to be nowhere near large enough for a club of Chelsea’s size and ambition — quotes from the Guardian:

“We worked two years, and worked very hard, to try to build something, to create a base. I think we did this. There are six top teams at the start of the season ready to fight for a place in the Champions League. It [not qualifying for UCL] can happen. In the past it happened. Don’t forget two years ago, Chelsea ended the season 10th and not in the FA Cup final, not in the semifinals of the Carabao Cup and they were eliminated in the last 16 against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.”

“Last season, after a 10th-place finish, we won the league. Now, probably, you can finish fifth and start with a bit of an advantage compared to when you finish 10th.”

Average age of the 15 first-team regulars inherited by Conte in 2016 (excluding new arrivals, his first signings, that summer): 26.1 years old.

Average age of the 17 first-team regulars used by Conte during the 2017-18 season: 28.2 years old.

While it was under Conte that some of the club’s most senior players — John Terry (36), Branislav Ivanovic (33), Loic Remy (30) and Nemanja Matic (29), to name a few — were moved on, so, too, was Mohamed Salah (24), who went on to thrive at Roma before fetching quadruple the fee they had paid one year later. The likes of Gary Cahill, David Luiz, Cesc Fabregas and Pedro are all 1) two years older than when Conte arrived, and still first-team stalwarts; 2) now on the wrong side of 30 years old after having been handed significant minutes once again this season.

[ MORE: Ronaldo back on track to be fit for Champions League final ]

The likes of Andreas Christensen (22), Tiemoue Bakayoko (23) and Alvaro Morata (25) featured with varying degrees of irregularity throughout the season and should provide a bit of hope looking forward, but they’ve hardly been handed the keys to the car the way Conte would have you believe.

It’s entirely possible for each of the following to be true, even if you disagree with one or the other, or both: 1) Chelsea’s squad is better positioned, now, for the coming years than when Conte took over; 2) the rest of the PL’s top-six has improved just as much, if not more, during that time and the Blues have actually fallen behind the league’s other elites.

Robben claims Anfield to be his “worst stadium”

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What goes up must come down.

That’s essentially what Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben said before the German side heads to Liverpool to take on the Reds in Champions League play this coming week.

“You always have your favourite opponent and there always has to be a negative one,” Robben said to The Guardian. “I think, if you ask [about] the worst stadium for me, it’s probably Liverpool.”

Robben had a pair of Champions League heartbreaks at Anfield, both coming with Chelsea in 2005 and again in 2007. In the latter, Robben had a penalty saved by Pepe Reina in the shootout that sent the Reds to the final against AC Milan.

“At that time [Liverpool] were really capable of being this cup fighter team, also in the FA Cup or [League] Cup,” Robben said of those difficult memories. “In one or two games they could really live up to it and perform; just not the whole season, which was maybe too much. That was their biggest quality: they were there at the moment they needed to be there.”

“Now I think it changed and they developed really well. The manager has done a great job.”

Robben is a doubt to even play in the match due to a thigh injury, and that will probably help Jurgen Klopp sleep at night. The German boss saw Robben score nine goals against Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund across all competitions, including the decisive goal in the 2013 Champions League final in the 89th minute.

PSG chasing another kid named Kylian Mbappe

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What’s in a name? Probably a lot for the 11-year-old named Kylian Mbappe whom Paris Saint-Germain is reportedly interested in signing.

While his older namesake is hailed as the best young player in the world playing for PSG’s senior team and the world champion French national team, younger Kylian Mbappe currently plays for Roissy-en-Brie, the same youth club Paul Pogba played for as a young child before moving to Le Havre’s youth system and then Manchester United.

According to the child’s father, PSG has made an approach to add him to their youth ranks, but the family is taking its time to make a decision about Mbappe’s future.

“He will do what he wants and we will not push him at all costs to become a professional footballer,” said the boy’s father Eric, who is Cameroonian, just like the father of older Kylian Mbappe. “If it is the case that he goes to PSG, who have approached us, we would of course become closer to the other Kylian.”

“I have often been asked if I did it on purpose to call my son what his name is,” Eric added, speaking to French publication Le Parisien. “People quickly forget that there is only an 8-year age difference between the two and so obviously he was not a footballer when my son was born.”

Child Kylian said, “Since the other one became big, I have got used to it. I don’t even pay attention to it even if it generally makes me feel good. I am a PSG fan, I would like to have the same career as him.”

Wouldn’t we all, Kylian, wouldn’t we all.

Balotelli scores again for new club Marseille

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Mario Balotelli sure does love joining a new club.

Balotelli scored in just his second professional match with Inter in 2008. He scored a winner in his first Manchester City appearance in 2010 in Europa League play and bagged a brace in his second Premier League start. He scored seven goals in his first six league matches with AC Milan in 2013. He scored five goals in his first three Ligue 1 appearances for Nice. And now, after signing for Olympique Marseille in the winter transfer window, he is on a tear again.

Despite failing to find the back of the net the entire first half of the season as his Nice career came to a close, in four appearances for Marseille since joining in late January, Balotelli has scored three goals, his latest coming on Saturday as Marseille topped Amiens 2-0 to move above St. Etienne into fourth in the Ligue 1 table.

The 30-year-old Italian is clearly loving life at the Stade Velodrome, as he poked fun at his own teammate with his goal celebration. Florian Thauvin had scored the opener 19 minutes in, but pulled up lame after striking his shot, muting the celebration somewhat. He managed to stay in the game, and when Balotelli scored just six minutes later, he began to mock Thauvin’s injury by pretending his own hamstring was hurt. Thauvin was loving the joke, even joining in to poke fun at himself.

While it’s been an up and down season for Marseille as they fight for their Champions League lives, the club has won three in a row ahead of absolutely critical matches against Stade Rennais and St. Etienne on the horizon. The club then hosts Nice, Balotelli’s old club, where he enjoyed a fabulous start to his time there which served as a sort of revival for the Italian after struggles at Liverpool and AC Milan.

It remains to be seen if Balotelli can enjoy an extended stay at Marseille and prolong his success or if it is just a flash in the pan, but he’s obviously become an important figure in the moment, and Balotelli has always been about the moment.

Sanchez speaks about Man United struggles

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Alexis Sanchez has been a bit-part player this season at Manchester United under two different managers, and it’s beginning to take its toll.

The 30-year-old Chilean admitted in an interview with BBC’s Guillem Balague that the lack of playing time at Old Trafford is sapping his enjoyment of the game, and his inconsistent time on the pitch is feeding his poor form.

“I’m a player that, if I’m not in contact with the ball, I lose that spark,” Sanchez said, “and sometimes I want to play in every game. You’re in, you’re out, and I’m used to playing.

“It’s not an excuse because if I go on for 10, 20 minutes, I have to perform because that’s what I’m here for, to make a difference. I would like to have brought more joy to the club. Yes, it worries me because I believe in my abilities as a player, I want to show it.”

Sanchez has made 14 Premier League appearances for Manchester United this season, with just six of those coming from the opening whistle. A hamstring injury at the start of December is a major culprit of his lack of playing time this season, but so has been a lack of the creativity that he showed at times during his time at Arsenal. Sanchez has just one goal and three assists in 615 Premier League minutes this season, far below what the team likely expected he would provide.

“Within the group there was that feeling that you were in the team, then out,” Sanchez said of the squad’s waning confidence in Jose Mourinho before he was fired. “Sometimes I didn’t play, then I did, then I didn’t and as a player you lose confidence. I’ve played football since I was five and if I have the ball taken away from me, it’s as if I lose my joy.”

With 12 matches remaining in the Premier League and a tight battle for the Champions League places under way, Sanchez will have plenty of opportunities to make his mark, but he will need to prove he deserves a spot in the lineup moving forward.