Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Fulham

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LONDON — Chelsea beat Fulham 2-0 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, as Claudio Ranieri‘s return to his former club ended in a defeat.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Chelsea weren’t at their best but goals in each half from Pedro and Ruben Loftus-Cheek did the damage, as Fulham had their moments but failed to take the few chances which came their way.

Here’s what we learned from Stamford Bridge as Chelsea remain in the top four but are still seven points off leaders Manchester City.


SUBDUED CHELSEA STAY IN TOUCH

Chelsea weren’t at their best on Sunday, but after a week where their progress under Maurizio Sarri was questioned heavily they proved they can grind out wins. The defeat to Tottenham suggested that Chelsea were far from genuine title contenders this season, and Sarri has admitted as much all season long. Yet they remain in the chasing pack behind Man City and Liverpool and finishing in the top four this season would represent a big success. Chelsea started brightly on a Sunday morning at a largely sun-drenched Stamford Bridge but whether it was doubts creeping in about their poor display at Tottenham or the fact they’ve played three games in seven days, Sarri’s men were a little subdued throughout. The likes of Marcos Alonso, Olivier Giroud and Jorginho were poor, while Alvaro Morata missed a glorious chance after jumping off the bench.

They got the job done rather easily despite some pressure from Fulham in the second half and moments of magic from N'Golo Kante and Eden Hazard were enough to get them over the line. But a few defensive lapses could have allowed a more clinical side than Fulham to score and there are still plenty of ways the Blues can improve. All in all, a pretty routine day at the office for Chelsea who remain among the PL frontrunners but there are enough cracks appearing to suggest their showdown with Manchester City next Saturday will be a lot tougher than many believed it would be a few weeks ago.


UNIQUE KANTE SILENCES DOUBTERS

After Chelsea’s defeat at Tottenham last weekend, plenty of the talk surrounding their poor performance was centered on how their central midfield tandem of Jorginho and N’Golo Kante just wasn’t working out. Kante is being played in a new role by Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri who said that he needs to improve many aspects of his game. While Jorginho, the man Sarri brought with him from Napoli in the summer for $72 million, is no doubt the fulcrum of Chelsea’s entire team and is a guaranteed starter in Kante’s old role. Instead of playing Kante alongside Jorginho in a holding role, Sarri plays him just ahead of Chelsea’s true holder and it is probably the best place for the man who won the World Cup with France this summer. We are talking about a player who won the Premier League in two of the past three seasons, was the PFA Player of the Year in 2016-17 and is perhaps the most lauded defensive midfielder in recent history. The fact he’s been forced to change his role proves

Chelsea’s first goal summed up all that is exceptional with the former Leicester City midfielder. He anticipated where the pass was going, snuck in to win the tackle and then drove forward before setting up Pedro to score. That is exactly why Sarri is using Kante in this position. He is using Kante as the trigger for the entire team to press higher up the pitch and force the issue. It may take some time for Kante to impact games in his new role as he did in his old role, but as long as Sarri is in charge at Chelsea he will not return to a holding role. With his display against Fulham, Kante silenced those who seem to be doubting his versatility.


FULHAM’S DEFENSIVE ISSUES IMPROVING

Fulham are the only team in England’s four professional leagues to not keep a clean sheet this season. And that right there is why they sit bottom of the Premier League table. But under Claudio Ranieri things are already improving if you analyze their narrow 3-2 win against Southampton last to this narrow defeat at Chelsea. For much of his return to Stamford Bridge Ranieri barked out orders to his team and urged them to stay in their shape and not be too eager to engage Chelsea’s players when they had the ball. It worked, to a degree, but it is clear the Italian tactician still has plenty of work to do to drill his team into the strong defensive unit he hopes they can become. Wherever he has gone he’s stuck to his solid 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 system and prides himself on being hard to beat. It will be hard for him to mold Fulham into that kind of team.

Fulham’s sloppy passing when they did win the ball back will concern him, especially in the first half, but their play with the ball and the attacks they launched at Chelsea suggest they will create chances against any team in the league. Calum Chambers twice forced Kepa into fine stops in the second half after Ranieri tweaked his personnel and tactics with Aboubakar Kamara and Floyd Ayite providing more power and pace down the flanks after coming on at half time. This will take time for Ranieri to turn around, as he told Pro Soccer Talk, but a few weeks into the job you can see Fulham are more organized defensively and have a gameplan to launch counters. Still, the 35 goals they’ve conceded in their first 14 games of this season is a club-record high for a top-flight season and the Cottagers improving defensively is the main reason Ranieri was brought in. The result at Chelsea won’t please him but the performance will give him hope.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Leicester City

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Chelsea host Leicester City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in their home opener, as U.S. men’s national team star Christian Pulisic is handed the first start of his Premier League career.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Frank Lampard will get a great ovation on his homecoming to Stamford Bridge, while Brendan Rodgers‘ Foxes will fancy their chance of causing an upset.

In team news Christian Pulisic starts on his home debut for Chelsea as he replaces Ross Barkley on the left, as Olivier Giroud and N’Golo Kante replace Tammy Abraham and Matteo Kovacic from the team which started at Man United last Sunday.

Leicester bring in Christian Fuchs at left back with Ben Chilwell out with a minor injury and the Austrian international coming in.


LINEUPS

Leicester XI: Schmeichel, Pereira, Evans, Soyuncu, Fuchs, Ndidi, Perez, Tielemans, Choudhury, Maddison, Vardy. Subs: Justin, Morgan, Albrighton, Ward, Iheanacho, Barnes, Praet.

Sheffield United battle past Crystal Palace

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Sheffield United beat Crystal Palace 1-0 on Sunday, as the Blades’ first home game back in the Premier League ended in victory.

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John Lundstram was the hero at Bramall Lane as his goal just after half time sealed all three points for the Yorkshire club, which was their first PL win since 2007.

Chris Wilder‘s side have now picked up four points from their first two games back in the big time, while Palace have yet to score across their opening two matches.


3 things we learned

1. Bramall Lane can become a fortress: The home fans created a wonderful atmosphere in their first PL home game since 2007, and they dragged their team over the line late on. As hefty challenges flew in and Chris Wilder wound up his players from the sidelines, this will be an intimidating place for teams to play. If the Blades are going to stay up, their home form needs to be very good and it seems like that is going to be the case.

2. Overlapping CBs a joy to watch: Chris Basham and Jack O'Connell marauding down the flanks was a joy to watch, and something we will see a lot from Sheffield United this season. Basham and O’Connell are encouraged to fly down the flanks and join attacks, with the holding midfielders sitting in for them and it certainly gives opponents a very different tactical headache to solve. O’Connell pushed forward down the left wing for United’s opening goal and the overload it created in a dangerous area worked superbly. Pretty soon a lot of other teams will be copying the Blades.

3. Wilfried Zaha not up to speed: In his first start of the season, Zaha spent most of the first half having a row with the home bench and fans. Roy Hodgson was hoping he would be focused after a summer-long saga which saw him state his desire to leave Palace, but moves to Arsenal and Everton both fell through. Zaha’s display on the pitch looked like a player who doesn’t really want to be at Palace. That is very worrying for the Eagles.

Man of the Match: Chris Basham – A dominant force in the air and on the ground, the center back held United’s defensive unit together and he epitomized their gritty display. The Blades’ longest-serving current player stood tall.


After a steady start to the game for both teams, Sheffield United started to cause plenty of problems as David McGoldrick had a shot blocked and Palace managed to scramble clear from a corner as the hosts built up a head of steam in the first half.

Callum Robinson struck an effort over the bar as the Blades dug deep and substitute Luke Freeman (who replaced the injured John Fleck) brought plenty of energy to the midfield battle.

The Blades should have taken the lead just before half time as Lundstram’s perfect cross the back post found McGoldrick but Vicente Guaita saved well.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Sheffield United got off to a perfect start in the second half as Jack O’Connell raced down the left flank and Freeman cut inside and sent a ball across goal which Guaita saved but the ball fell to Lundstram who slammed home to send Bramall Lane wild.

That opening goal sprung the game into life as Andros Townsend‘s deflected shot from distance was pushed out by Dean Henderson and even though Palace tried their best to get into the game, Sheffield United’s defense held firm.

Some meaty challenges flew in late on as substitute Ollie McBurnie made a nuisance of himself, as the home fans roared their team to victory.

Report: Alexis Sanchez pushing for Inter Milan loan

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A report from Italy states that Manchester United are in talks with Inter Milan over loaning Alexis Sanchez for the 2019-20 campaign.

Sanchez, 30, has reportedly asked United to send him to Inter for the upcoming season as the Chilean star has failed to settled at Old Trafford over the last 18 months and scored once in 20 Premier League appearances last season.

He has yet to play this season or over the summer after being injured playing for Chile in the Copa America this summer, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been positive about Sanchez whenever he’s spoken about him this summer and said wants to keep him at Man United.

However, per the report from Fabrizio Romano in Italy the former Arsenal star wants to head back to Serie A — where he started his career in Europe with Udinese — and Inter only want to pay $16.6 million to sign him permanently next summer when he will still have two years left on his contract at United.

With the summer transfer window still open in Germany, Spain and Italy until Sept. 2, this move is something to keep an eye on.

This is a big call for United.

Do they really want an unhappy and lackluster Sanchez around, blocking the pathway for the likes of Mason Greenwood to break into the first team?

Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard will provide goals and will be helped out by Juan Mata and Greenwood, but if one of Rashford or Martial gets injured, Solskjaer’s attacking options diminish quite rapidly.

Selling Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan already has them down a senior striker and if they have to subsidize Sanchez’s huge wages just to send him out on loan, is it really worth it?

After VAR drama, does new handball law need to change?

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The fallout from Manchester City and Tottenham’s wild 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium continues, as late VAR drama stole the show with Gabriel Jesus‘ strike ruled out deep into second half stoppage time.

[ MORE: VAR drama dominates

Jesus’ goal in stoppage time was ruled out for a handball on Aymeric Laporte after being checked by VAR, as the new laws brought in by IFAB this summer were interpreted correctly. The exact same thing happened as Wolves had a goal chalked out against Leicester during the opening weekend of the season.

But do those new laws need to be tweaked?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The new rules state that if there’s a handball in the box from an attacking player which either a) leads to the ball going into the net or b) leads directly to a goal being scored, then it will be called a handball.

However, the same law states that if a defending player handles in the box then it is down to the referees discretion to decide whether or not it was a deliberate handball.

As you’d expected, Man City midfielder Ilkay Gunodgan has strong feelings on this law change, and our broadcast crew discuss whether or not this law needs to be changed in the video above.

The overall feeling is that the law needs to tweaking to state that handballs in the box by either attacking or defending players are treated the same and called a handball.