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How will Chelsea line up under Maurizio Sarri?

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For the 11th time in as many years, Chelsea has a new manager.

It seems like a large number for a club that has had as much success as it has; because it is.

[ MORE: Hazard hints at Chelsea exit, has “preferred destination” in mind ]

Maurizio Sarri has officially taken over with the Blues following Antonio Conte‘s sacking, and the new Italian manager has already helped the club ensure it will have one of the best (if not the best) midfields in the Premier League thanks to his first signing.

Former Napoli central midfielder Jorginho has joined the Stamford Bridge side to form a formidable partnership in the middle of the park alongside French superstar N'Golo Kante.

It’s that relationship amongst the two ball winners that could really propel the Blues into another gear, after the club had its moments of struggle last season after Nemanja Matic‘s departure for Manchester United.

[ MORE: Belgium tops England for best finish in team’s WC history ]

Now, several names in the attack have been rumored to be nearing moves away from Chelsea, including Eden Hazard and Willian, which would clearly be a devastating blow to Sarri’s plans in his first season in charge.

Both Hazard and Willian are sure-fire starters under any manager, but that is of course assuming that they remain with the club ahead of next month.

As the squad is currently constructed, the Blues are missing a traditional number 10 attacker that sits behind the striker, although Hazard has the freedom to roam throughout the pitch as necessary.

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That will likely leave a third slot open in the midfield if Sarri aims to use a traditional 4-3-3, and it could very well go to Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who comes back from a loan spell at Crystal Palace last season.

Loftus-Cheek is a bit more of a creative player than a Kante or Jorginho, however, he possesses the size and physicality necessary to track back defensively when needed, which gives Sarri flexibility in his tactical makeup.

Meanwhile, striker Alvaro Morata’s future with the club remains unknown as well, with recent reports suggesting that Sarri could aim to bring in Argentina international Gonzalo Higuain in a straight swap of players.

Behind Morata sits Olivier Giroud, who struggled in much of his time with the Blues over the latter half of the 2017/18 campaign, while Tammy Abraham has become an intriguing prospect for the Blues as well.

It remains to be seen, though, if Abraham will get a crack with the first team this season or be sent out on loan once again.

With less than a month until the start of the PL season, Sarri has his work cut out for himself, after bringing in a positive player to bolster the club’s midfield with Jorginho.

Defensively, there are still some questions, particularly in regards to how the back line will align itself.

Conte’s three-back system will likely dissolve following his exit, as Sarri employs a traditional four-back setup similar to what he used in Serie A.

Cezar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso are almost certainties at the two outside back positions, while centrally the club boasts a solid amount of depth.

Gary Cahill remains in the fold, along with David Luiz, however, the Brazilian will likely have to battle with Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger for a starting role.

Christensen was sturdy for the majority of 2017/18, and given his budding stardom, it’s likely that Sarri will put his confidence in the young defender early on.

Below, Pro Soccer Talk takes a look at who will likely start for Chelsea under Sarri’s new regime.


Chairman Mubarak: Other clubs are ‘jealous’ of Man City’s success

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Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak believes that other clubs — namely those who have fallen miles back of the back-to-back Premier League champions — are “jealous” of the club’s success.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante to miss Europa League final with new injury ]

The root of the perceived jealousy is, of course, Man City’s seemingly unlimited spending power which dwarves that of just about — if not — every other club in the PL. There’s a growing sense around the league — and around the world — that clubs like City, just to name one, are doing the game a disservice by distorting the transfer market and building an infallible super-team with the aid of unprecedented financial resources.

Mubarak believes that these feelings also stem from other clubs’ failed dealings in the transfer market: spending comparable — if not more — money on players who don’t justify that price tag the same way some of City’s big-money buys have done — quotes from the BBC:

“With success, there is a certain level of jealousy, envy, whatever you call it. That’s part of the game.

“It’s not easy for our competition, we know that. But the reality is, we didn’t buy the most expensive player in the Premier League [Paul Pogba], we didn’t buy the most expensive goalkeeper [Kepa Arrizabalaga], we didn’t buy the most expensive midfielder, we didn’t buy the most expensive striker [Romelu Lukaku].

“People make decisions, they’ve got to live by them. This is a well-run club.”

City’s financial dealings have regularly been in the headlines of late, as they are believed to have circumvented FFP rules by lying about sponsorship deals so as to balance a larger expenditure on transfer fees and player wages with revenue generated by the club.

Valverde under pressure after dismal end to Barcelona’s season

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MADRID (AP) A couple of weeks ago, few questioned Ernesto Valverde as Barcelona coach.

The team had just won a second straight Spanish league title under his command and was close to making it to the Champions League final after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.

The team was also through to the Copa del Rey final, where it would try to win an unprecedented fifth straight title in the competition.

Valverde seemed to be comfortably in control as the club moved closer to winning the treble.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse, though, and Valverde woke up on Sunday under added pressure and facing increased criticism.

Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday, a result that followed the disastrous elimination against Liverpool in the Champions League and added to the team’s woeful end to what had been a great season.

“A month ago we were celebrating the league title. Fifteen days ago we were thinking we had a chance at a treble,” Valverde said. “And we came up short in the decisive moments in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.”

The disappointing ending brought out a wave of criticism of Valverde, who last year also finished the season under a cloud after another humiliating Champions League elimination – that time it squandered a big first-leg lead against Roma in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

The criticism seems more pronounced this time, with some fans and local media calling for a change at the helm.

It didn’t take long after Barcelona’s loss to Valencia in Seville for club President Josep Bartomeu to come out and defend the coach.

“Ernesto has a contract and he remains the team’s coach,” Bartomeu said. “This loss was not the coach’s fault. The team created a lot of scoring chances but the ball didn’t go in, and what counts is how many times you score.”

Bartomeu had already defended Valverde after the demoralizing 4-0 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League, saying the club was not considering a change in command for next season.

Valverde said he was not worried and felt supported by the club despite the disappointing ending.

“It’s a bad feeling, we won’t deny it, but we have to stay strong,” he said. “What we want as coaches is to have a chance to come back. It’s tough to lose, it means something went wrong. We have to take the responsibility for it.”

Even if Valverde stays as expected, it doesn’t mean there won’t be changes for Barcelona.

Several players played below expectations this season, especially former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, who was regularly jeered by fans and whose place with the club remains uncertain.

Bartomeu will likely have to go shopping in the offseason to try to improve the supporting cast for Lionel Messi, who had a fantastic year but wasn’t able to save the season by himself. When Messi looked ordinary, no one was able to take over his role as protagonist, and it proved costly in the decisive moments.

Young midfielder Frenkie de Jong is joining from Ajax and he should significantly boost the midfield, but Barcelona will definitely need to add to its attack, as Luis Suarez was the only true striker who performed consistently well. He couldn’t play in the Copa final after undergoing knee surgery and his absence was felt as the team struggled to capitalize on its scoring chances.

Veteran Gerard Pique is set to return for another season in defense, but there are still doubts about the fitness of Samuel Umtiti, who missed several matches this season because of injuries.

“We’ve been thinking about next season for a while, but it’s not the time to discuss the future,” Bartomeu said. “We ended with the Spanish league title, it was important. We couldn’t win the Copa, but we’ll just move on.”

Suarez defends surgery decision after Barca lose Copa del Rey final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Luis Suarez has defended himself from criticism for undergoing knee surgery that prevented him from playing for Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final.

The Uruguayan released a statement Sunday saying he had no option despite the timing of the final, which Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia on Saturday.

Suarez said he had to undergo surgery “against my will” after rupturing his meniscus against Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals.

He said the surgery earlier this month had nothing to do with a cartilage issue that he had been nursing since the beginning of the season.

Barcelona won the Spanish league but finished the season on a low after being eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League and losing the Copa final to Valencia.

Suarez scored 25 goals in 49 matches this season, second only to Lionel Messi on the scoring charts for Barcelona.

U-20 WC roundup: Mexico hammered by Japan; Italy top Ecuador

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action at the U-20 World Cup in Poland…

[ MORE: USWNT wins final match before World Cup (video) ]

Mexico 0-3 Japan

Mexico’s heavy defeat at the hands of Japan means El Tri‘s stars of tomorrow, who have zero points from their first two games, cannot finish top-two in Group B and can only advance to the knockout rounds as one of four third-place teams.

Taisei Miyashiro (21st and 77th minutes) and Kyosuke Tagawa (52nd) bagged the goals on Sunday, as Japan picked up its first victory and set up an all-important finale with Italy to decide who finishes top of the group on Wednesday.

Ecuador 0-1 Italy

Andrea Pinamonti scored the only goal in Italy’s 1-0 victory over 10-man Ecuador to reach the six-point mark and guarantee themselves a top-two finish and a place in the round of 16.

Elsewhere in the U-20 World Cup

Senegal 2-0 Colombia [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Poland 5-0 Tahiti [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Monday’s U-20 World Cup schedule

Honduras v. Uruguay — 12 p.m. ET
Qatar v. Ukraine — 12 p.m. ET
USA v. Nigeria — 2:30 p.m. ET
Norway v. New Zealand — 2:30 p.m. ET