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Three Eastern Conference sides on record-setting pace

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2017 saw Toronto FC dominate the MLS regular season before going on to hoist the club’s first MLS Cup in club history.

[ MORE: Whitecaps teen Alphonso Davies nearing Bayern Munich move ]

Fast forward to this season, and three more Eastern Conference sides are poised to break barriers as they continue a near record-setting pace.

Atlanta United, New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls have created a sizable gap over the rest of the East with nearly one-third of the season remaining.

Toronto’s 69-point regular season total a year ago looked like a record that wouldn’t be touched for some time, however, the current trio of dominating forces in the East are all on pace to finish 2018 with 68 points.

Atlanta, NYCFC and the Red Bulls are all averaging two points per game, while Toronto averaged slightly above that total (2.03 ppg) during their MLS Cup-winning run.

The Red Bulls and NYCFC, in particular, could be in line to follow in the footsteps of last season’s Toronto FC.

Manager Chris Armas and the Red Bulls play 10 of their final games against teams outside the current playoff lines in their respective conferences, while Atlanta and NYCFC face five and four playoff teams, respectively.


Here’s a look at how the three teams will finish up the 2018 regular season:

Atlanta United (12 matches)

Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, Columbus Crew, Orlando City, D.C. United, Colorado Rapids, San Jose Earthquakes, Real Salt Lake, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution, Chicago Fire, Toronto FC

New York City FC (14 matches)

Orlando City, Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC, Philadelphia Union, New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew, New England Revolution, D.C. United, Montreal Impact, Chicago Fire, Minnesota United, D.C. United, Philadelphia Union

New York Red Bulls (15 matches)

D.C. United, Columbus Crew, Los Angeles FC, Chicago Fire, Vancouver Whitecaps, New York City FC, D.C. United, Houston Dynamo, Montreal Impact, D.C. United, Toronto FC, Atlanta United, San Jose Earthquakes, Philadelphia Union, Orlando City

Alonso gets Chelsea past Arsenal in thriller

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  • Pedro, Morata put hosts up 2-0
  • Mkhitaryan, Iwobi level by half
  • Winner comes from Alson

Marcos Alonso buried Eden Hazard‘s 81st minute pass to lead Chelsea past Arsenal 3-2 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Alvaro Morata and Pedro helped the Blues build a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes, but Unai Emery’s Gunners recovered to make it 2-2 at halftime.

Arsenal next hosts West Ham United, while Chelsea is off to Newcastle United.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

The hosts were up thanks to a left-sided barnstorming, with Willian starting the play with a with a lay-off inside his own half. The next move saw Marcos Alonso racing toward the edge of the 18 to pass across for Pedro to finish with calm.

Ross Barkley came close to doubling the advantage in the 13th minute.

It should’ve been level when Matteo Guendouzi fired Hector Bellerin through the right of the Chelsea back line, but the offside and uncalled Spaniard’s pull back was aired over the goal by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Moments later, it was 2-0 Chelsea through Morata. The Spanish striker ran from midfield and held off a Shkrodan Mustafi challenge before cutting to fire past Cech.

Arsenal blew a second well-worked chance over the frame, this time with Henrikh Mkhitaryan sending a point-blank offering into the stands. Woof.

Mkhitaryan redeemed himself with a powerful shot from outside the box. The Armenian captain was in good position after Alex Iwobi found him with Nacho Monreal‘s inspired interception.

That was not the end of the first half scoring.

It was close to a mirror image of an earlier missed chance by Aubameyang, as Iwobi ran into the 18 to belt  a shot home for 2-2.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The chances did not dry up as the second half began in London, and a N'Golo Kante shot was blocked to the cries of handball from Chelsea’s players.

Jorginho‘s deflected 64th minute rip was collected by Cech after Chelsea introduced Eden Hazard off the bench.

Momentum swung Arsenal’s way as the match reached is final quarter-hour, as Kepa Arrizabalaga made a save and took a beating in the 77th minute.

Kante popped a header over the goal in the 79th minute after running in front of Sokratis.

Scoring defender extraordinaire Alonso put Chelsea back on top in the 81st, slapping Eden Hazard’s hopeful pullback beyond Cech.

Three things learned: Chelsea v. Arsenal

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LONDON — The London derby delivered. Big time.

Chelsea and Arsenal played out a thrilling encounter in England’s capital as both Maruizio Sarri and Unai Emery will have seen plenty of things they liked, and plenty they didn’t.

The Blues raced into a 2-0 lead through Pedro and Alvaro Morata, but Arsenal fought back as they squandered several chances but eventually scored twice through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi to make it 2-2 at half time.

Marcos Alonso scored a late winner for Chelsea as Sarri made it two wins from two, while it’s two defeats on the spin for Emery to open up his time in charge of Arsenal.

Here’s what we learned from a lively encounter in West London as two new managers in the Premier League saw their teams entertain.


ARSENAL EXCITE BUT SAME ISSUES REMAIN

Arsenal have never had problems creating chances and that will continue post-Wenger. On numerous occasions they carved open Chelsea’s defense as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should have scored and went close, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was also guilty of a shocking miss before he scored and Mesut Ozil went close too. Alex Iwobi scored and missed a sitter. That was all in the first half. And it all came from clever build-up play out wide as Arsenal’s gameplan was clear: isolate Chelsea’s full backs and get players arriving into the box late.

Eventually Chelsea figured this out but Arsenal showed enough to suggest they can go toe-to-toe with the best attacking teams in the Premier League.

The problem, as it has been for quite some time, has been defensively. Both Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis looked exposed when Chelsea got the ball wide early and Hector Bellerin was particularly culpable for Chelsea’s first goal as two long balls caught out Arsenal’s entire defensive unit. That simply cannot happen.

It is still too early to judge Unai Emery based on these defeats against Manchester City and Chelsea to open the season. Arsenal’s defensive issues have been magnified by two Premier League heavyweights early in the campaign but it seems their attacking prowess remains intact. The exciting thing is that it may even be better under Emery than it was under Wenger.


CHELSEA CENTERED AROUND Jorginho

Sarri-ball needed a general and Jorginho is just that. The deep-lying playmaker Chelsea paid $72 million to Napoli for this summer is Sarri’s main man and he made them tick against Arsenal. You can point to his lack of physicality but like Cesc Fabregas, who he will likely replace in Chelsea’s midfield, he plays the game at his own pace. The way he found Marcos Alonso for Chelsea’s first goal was a thing of beauty as he curled the ball into his path from 50 yards away.

Jorginho is Chelsea’s quarterback and he is capable of doing wonderful things offensively. Like this.

But it wasn’t all perfect for Jorginho and Chelsea. Far from it. Sarri scratched his head as Arsenal got in down the flanks on seven occasions in the first half and scored with two of their attempt as Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang were both guilty of horrible misses. Not having Kante in the central defensive role left it down to Jorginho to plug the gaps and time and time again Arsenal’s attacking midfielders had so much space.

Willian and Pedro didn’t give Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta much support defensively and that will concern Sarri, but eventually they tweaked the system with Kante dropping more centrally in the second half.

With Jorginho pulling the strings, N'Golo Kante plugging the gaps and Ross Barkley putting in another strong display, midfield is where Sarri’s vision is taking shape as Mateo Kovacic and Eden Hazard delivered impressive cameos. Defensively there is plenty of work to do for Chelsea and playing four at the back may not be how they set up for much longer.


NEW REGIMES PROMISE PLENTY

Aside from the defensive deficiencies of both teams, it is clear that both Sarri and Emery will aim to entertain and attack in their maiden seasons in the Premier League.

That’s a good thing for both clubs as they aim to get back into the top four by playing different ways, almost polar opposites, to last season.

Arsenal look more incisive and better equipped to break down stubborn defenses than they did in the past. There is a Plan A, to get the ball wide and time runs to perfection. Plan B is about fluid passing and dictating the tempo of the game just like it was under Wenger.

For Chelsea, it’s the opposite. Under Antonio Conte they looked to launch counters and get behind opponents as quickly as they could. Now they possess the ball, get Jorginho on it and have the likes of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian dropping deeper to open up gaps.

It will be intriguing to see how these players adapt to these new philosophies over the coming weeks and months. Saturday proved it will be nerve-wracking for their fans but quite a lot of fun for neutrals.

Pellegrini: Players, fans, “everyone must forget about last season”

Nigel French/PA via AP
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Manuel Pellegrini is already asking for patience from West Ham United’s beleaguered supporters.

The Irons tossed away an early lead at home on Saturday, losing 2-1 to Bournemouth after last week’s season-opening 4-0 loss to Liverpool.

[ RECAP: West Ham 1-2 Bournemouth ]

The manager saw some ghosts of seasons’ past in the defeat.

“The squad, everyone must forget about last season, trust what we are doing and look to the future,” he said. “I feel the squad is without trust, many have to adapt to the Premier League. We knew we had a difficult start with fixtures but at home we must win.”

And Pellegrini thought his team fought to the death with a belief alien to the crowd at the London Stadium. From the BBC:

“The fans must also trust again this season. The stadium was empty with 10 minutes to go, we can still score in that time. They need to believe but if you don’t have results it is more difficult for them.”

One way to restore trust is to get an expected result, if not an impressive one. After dropping their first two matches, Pellegrini’s men travel to Arsenal before a home League Cup date with AFC Wimbledon.

VIDEO: All 4 goals from a 2-2 half between Chelsea, Arsenal

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The schedule makers didn’t do Unai Emery any favors, and his players began Matchday 2 making life at Arsenal an on-field nightmare for their new boss

The Gunners lost 2-0 against Manchester City on opening weekend, and went down 2-0 at Chelsea a week later.

Exhale, though, Arsenal fan: It’s now 2-2 at Stamford Bridge after 45 minutes on Saturday.

[ MORE: Spurs down Fulham ]

Miserable defending hit Arsenal twice in the first 20 minutes at Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea found the back of the net through Pedro and then Alvaro Morata.

Pedro’s goal came on a lightning counter attack, with the ball beginning with Willian in the Chelsea half and finding the back of the net after a Marcos Alonso marauding run and cross.

The Gunners were carved up a second time through ice-cold striker Morata a dozen minutes later.

The play came just after a big missed chance from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and the fine margins cut like paper when Morata won a 1v1 battle with Shkrodan Mustafi, cut once, and slotted past Petr Cech.

Arsenal struck when Henrik Mkhitaryan redeemed himself for a bad miss moments earlier with a powerful shot from outside the box.

The Armenian captain was in good position after Alex Iwobi found him with Nacho Monreal‘s inspired interception.

That was not the end of the first half scoring.

It was close to a mirror image of an earlier missed chance by Aubameyang, as Iwobi ran into the 18 to belt  a shot home for 2-2.