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Sporting KC 2-3 Portland: Blanco stunner helps Portland to finals

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The home side dominated the opening 45 minutes, but were downed in part by an absolutely stunning goal as Sebastian Blanco‘s incredible long-distance snipe helped send 5th-seeded Portland into the MLS Cup final after a 3-2 second-leg victory over top seed Sporting KC. The victory followed a 0-0 result in the first leg from Portland that left Sporting KC vulnerable to the away goals rule, and that they were, with the third goal from Diego Valeri only coming deep into stoppage time with Kansas City pouring forward knowing they needed another with the score level at 2-all.

The game was a tale of two halves, as Portland was snuffed out in the first half as Kansas City proved the better team. After the break, the visitors turned the game on its head, with Blanco’s stunner the start. Diego Valeri provided the second, cancelling out a pair from Daniel Salloi and Gerso.

Sporting KC was in control across the opening 20 minutes, and earned an opener as a result. With four shots on target already on the board, the hosts took advantage of a trio of defensive mistakes by Portland, with Salloi capping off a scrappy finish. Johnny Russell looked to get around Liam Ridgewell down the right, and the Portland defender accidentally tapped the ball towards the middle of the box. That allowed Diego Rubio to feed Salloi, and his cross to the far post left Jeff Attinella in no-man’s land and saw Salloi finish it off past Zarek Valentin hoping to guard the line.

KC continued its dominant play, and looked to have a second as Salloi headed in off a corner, but it was whistled out for a foul on Ike Opara who attempted to back down Attinella as the ball floated into the far corner.

Diego Valeri had a hamstring scare in the 26th minute, and while he eventually came back on, Portland hardly saw a touch of the ball past the half-hour mark. KC had another goal ruled out in first-half stoppage time as Rubio slammed home a one-on-one finish after Russell fed him through, but the flag correctly went up to pull it back. Salloi was injured in the buildup, drawing a yellow card for David Guzman and leaving the goalscorer in a heap.

After halftime, Portland still needed a moment to get them back into the game, and they got that moment. Blanco unleashed the goal of the playoffs, a right-footed curler with space at the top of the box.

Portland took that moment of brilliance and built on it, flipping the game upside-down and earning a second, shocking the home fans and finishing things off. Valeri was the man to finish it off, with his head after Tim Meila had tapped the ball into the air as Jeremy Ebobisse looked to be through on goal.

On the hour mark, fans at Children’s Mercy Park began to throw trash onto the field, at which point the referee pulled the players off the field momentarily. Kansas City manager Peter Vermes was livid at those in attendance, screaming at fans to cut it out and let them finish the game. They returned to the field a few minutes later, and referee Mark Geiger was then in the spotlight as he awarded KC a free-kick inches outside the left edge of the box after Zarek Valentin fouled Gerso Fernandes, with the home side screaming for a penalty.

The game picked up in pace as Sporting KC needed two goals to advance and the panic set in. A 78th minute long-ball for substitute Gerso but was just out of reach with fellow sub Krisztian Nemeth ready to pounce. They’d draw back level with nine minutes to go as Gerso was the man to even it up . That ignited the game as it charged towards full-time, but it also brought sloppiness as KC became more desperate. Despite nine minutes of stoppage time, they had little left in the tank. A charging Gerso had the best chance, but obliterated the ball miles over the bar. The game was killed off as the Timbers caught the hosts poured forward, and on the break with nobody back, Chara found Valeri free for the third goal.

Crystal Palace – Chelsea, Watford – Norwich: Stream, How to watch

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Crystal Palace – Chelsea promises to be an intriguing clash at Selhurst Park on Tuesday (start time, 1pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a London derby, while Watford – Norwich is a massive game in the relegation battle (start time, 1pm ET online via NBCSports.com).

Christian Pulisic continues to be the main man for Chelsea as the USMNT star put in another superb display in their 3-0 win against Watford and the Blues remain on track to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League. As for Palace, they have lost their last three games on the trot without scoring and Roy Hodgson’s side look destined for a midtable finish.

CRYSTAL PALACE – CHELSEA STREAM LIVE

WATFORD – NORWICH STREAM LIVE

As for Watford, they need a win to boost their survival hopes and if they get it, they will send bottom club. Norwich even closer to their relegation zone.

Below is everything you need to know ahead of Crystal Palace – Chelsea and Watford – Norwich.


Team news

Palace will be without James Tomkins, Jeffrey Schlupp and Martin Kelly, while Hodgson may bring back Cheikhou Kouyate and Scott Dann who were rested.

Chelsea will be without N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic through injury, as Billy Gilmour starts in central midfield.

Watford bring in Masina and Welbeck after the loss at Chelsea.

Norwich bring Pukki back into the starting lineup.

Odds and ends (full matchweek odds)

Crystal Palace are huge underdogs (+650) as Chelsea (-220) are the red-hot favorites given their three wins from their first four games of the restart. The tie at +335 is where the value is at because as we saw with Chelsea’s shock defeat at West Ham last week, they can be dominated from set pieces and hit on the counter. Those two aspects are huge strengths of Palace’s game.

Watford are the favorites (-152) while Norwich (+440) are hoping for their first win, and points, since the restart. The tie at +285 seems intriguing to me.

Predictions

We are all expecting a Chelsea win here but don’t be surprised if Wilfried Zaha has a day at makes it a very tough outing for this leaky Chelsea defense. Palace have been fired up and shocked Chelsea before but I think the Blues, led by Pulisic, have too much for Palace. 3-1 to Chelsea. As for Watford against Norwich, I’m going for a 1-1 draw. Watford have been bad since the restart and Norwich have nothing to play for, really. That is dangerous.

Transfer news: Ake to Man United; Rice to Chelsea

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In the latest transfer news Nathan Ake has been linked with a move to Manchester United, while Declan Rice could be heading back to Chelsea.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule ]

Starting in Manchester, a post-game chat between Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Nathan Ake has turned heads following Man United’s 5-2 win against Bournemouth at the weekend.

Apparently Solskjaer told Ake: “We need a left-footed centre-back, so keep going.”

Ake, 25, has been linked with a return to Chelsea (who have a $48 million buy-back clause) and Manchester City, but it appears Nathan Ake to Manchester United has some legs. Solskjaer has been looking for a new center back with Kalidou Koulibaly, Dayot Upamecano and others linked to line up alongside Harry Maguire.

Victor Lindelof has struggled at times and is ahead of Eric Bailly in the pecking order and Man United do need to strengthen their defense slightly as they have plenty of options in midfield and attack, although a new true holding midfield could be a must in the next few windows.

If Bournemouth are relegated from the Premier League, Ake will surely leave and Man United could pick him up for a lot less than $48 million.

Declan Rice to Chelsea
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Switching to west London, Declan Rice could be heading back to Chelsea this summer.

A report from The Times states that Chelsea want Rice, 21, to return and become a ball-playing center back to shore up their defensive unit.

The report goes on to state that the boyhood Chelsea fan is seen as the perfect successor to John Terry at the heart of the Chelsea defense.

Rice has shone in recent weeks and is the one player in West Ham’s team who has been consistent despite their struggles at the wrong end of the Premier League table this season.

Chelsea have been searching high and low for defensive reinforcements and want more power and strength at center back. Rice can play at center back and in a three he would be prefect. His main position is in holding midfield and his flexibility to strengthen Chelsea’s shaky defense would be key. Rice is close friends with Mason Mount and after leaving Chelsea’s academy as a 14-year-old he has forged out a very good career for himself as a regular for West Ham and England.

Rice would cost a huge sum and this move to Chelsea may hinge on whether or not West Ham are relegated in the final weeks of the 2019-20 Premier League season.

Mexico boss: Jimenez should move to Man United, if he leaves Wolves

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Mexico boss Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino has said Raul Jimenez should move to Manchester United, if he leaves Wolves.

Jimenez, 29, has been consistently linked with a move to Manchester United, Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid and other European giants and the in-form striker has scored 24 goals in all competitions for the Premier League side this season.

Now his El Tri boss has weighed in on the speculation and speaking to ESPN show Futbol Picante, Martino said he would prefer Raul Jimenez to join Manchester United over Juventus if he left Wolves.

“Looking at it from the outside today I cannot see a specialist No. 9 like Raul at United,” Martino said. “There are many forwards like [Marcus] Rashford, [Anthony] Martial and the boy who now plays as right winger: [Mason] Greenwood but since Romelu Lukaku left I can’t see a pure No. 9 like Raul. At Juventus he will have more of a fight because [Cristiano] Ronaldo shares the inside of the pitch with whoever plays alongside him, with [Paulo] Dybala or with [Gonzalo] Higuain and maybe he has a tougher fight there.”

Martino went on to state that he wants Jimenez to do whatever he feels happiest doing and moving to a ‘super club’ doesn’t always work out, as he knows from his one season in charge of Barcelona. Martino also brought up the fact that Jimenez has been at Atletico Madrid and Benfica before and that didn’t really work out, so perhaps staying at Wolves is best for Mexico’s star striker.

“Maybe he wants a bigger challenge because he feels that he is in good shape and has to take advantage of it, maybe he wants to stay in this place, maybe the options you read about are not real and do not exist,” Martino said. “I think the best thing is for Raul to make the decision based on the analysis he makes and with the consensus of his family because, when it comes to enjoying, not only the player suffers and enjoy, but also the family do it.”

Jimenez will be linked with plenty of top clubs this summer and he hasn’t exactly slammed the door on links to some of Europe’s big boys in the past. His manager at Wolves, Nuno Espirito Santo, responded to Martino’s comments by saying: “It’s not the moment to think about anything else. I’m sure Raul is totally, 100% focused on what he has to do at Wolves.”

Since he arrived at Wolves in the summer of 2018 he’s scored 41 goals in 92 games in all competitions and has become one of the top central strikers in the Premier League. His hold-up and link-up play is envied across the league and Martino is right, he would fit in well at Man United as Anthony Martial could move out wide.

Manchester United probably don’t need to sign another striker, though, so Jimenez heading to Juve or one of the Spanish giants makes more sense. Watch this space.

PHOTOS: New Chelsea away kit for 2020-21 unveiled

New Chelsea away kit
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The new Chelsea away kit for 2020-21 has been unveiled and the Blues will wear it for the first time against Crystal Palace on Tuesday (start time, 1pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Chelsea have gone back to a sky blue away jersey and the design has a herringbone knit throughout, which is the same as their new home jersey for the 2020-21 season which debuted last week.

The west London club state that this away kit “adds an injection of millennial swagger – perfect for the confident, emerging talents lighting up Stamford Bridge under head coach Frank Lampard.”

When it comes to a a new Chelsea kit, or any new kit for that matter, there are always plenty of amateur fashion designers out there. But the response to this new away jersey has been largely positive.

They also have a new shirt sponsor in telecommunications company “Three UK” and you can’t really miss their sponsorship logo on the front of the shirt.

Check out the photos below to see what Christian Pulisic and Co. will be wearing in the Premier League next season, and Frank Lampard hopes it will be worn in the Champions League too as the Blues continue to push to seal a top four finish in his debut season in charge at Stamford Bridge.

This new Chelsea kit, like most kits, will divide opinion.