Getty Images

Bakayoko finding delayed success on loan at AC Milan

Leave a comment

On-loan Chelsea midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko had really been struggling at AC Milan this season, so much so that there was talk of his departure from both Chelsea and Milan on a permanent basis in January, ending his chance of earning a place with the Blues before it really ever began.

Then, things began to slowly turn around. It began after Bakayoko sat a game for a yellow card suspension in late December. He returned to play in a 0-0 draw against Frosinone, and while Milan failed to score, Bakayoko was one of the most instrumental players on the pitch, brought on by a willingness to take players on himself rather than try to find every cutting edge pass. In the 0-0 draw with Bologna just before his suspension, he attempted one take-on; in the Frosinone match after his return, he attempted five take-ons and was successful in them all.

This trend continued, and it in turn opened up passing lanes. Since returning from his yellow card suspension, Bakayoko has attempted 26 take-ons, completing 18 of them, playing all 90 minutes in each of the six games. This has opened the eyes of Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso.

“Bakayoko is an unusual deep-lying playmaker,” Gattuso said after Milan topped Cagliari on Sunday.  “He used to choose the wrong passes, but now he takes men on, can power past people and create chances.”

Milan has been forced to stick with Bakayoko in midfield due to the long-term calf injury to Lucas Biglia, forcing him out since October. That has benefitted Bakayoko, who has been given time to work out his struggles. Unfortunately, he’s rounding into form just as Biglia makes his return. He was an unused substitute in the Cagliari match, the first time he has been part of the matchday squad since his injury.

“If it’s a problem, we’ll resolve it. Biglia has been out for three months and needs time to find his form,” Gattuso said. “We’ll see if we need to use him in a wider midfield role, if there is the requirement.”

The inclusion of Biglia doesn’t necessarily mean Bakayoko’s minutes will fall, but it may force him into a different role. As Gattuso says, he would likely move from his deep-lying central role to the outside of the midfield three, meaning 21-year-old January signing Lucas Paqueta – who scored his debut league goal on Sunday against Cagliari – could be the one to make way.

Either way, the improvement of the midfield at the San Siro is a significant boost for the club as Milan fights for Champions League qualification. The club currently sits fourth after the Cagliari win on Sunday, but just barely – their 38 points are just one above the trio of Roma, Atalanta, and Lazio.

Bakayoko’s recent form in his role at Milan will also give Chelsea fans hope that he can eventually make his way back to Stamford Bridge and challenge Jorginho or N'Golo Kante for a role in the starting lineup. Jorginho especially struggled mightily in his defensive midfield role against Manchester City on Sunday, and fans have started to sour on Maurizio Sarri‘s Jorginho experiment that has forced Kante into a different role from the one he excelled at for so long.

Even if he never finds his way back to Stamford Bridge, Bakayoko’s improvement could be beneficial to Chelsea in another way – Milan now reportedly wants to take Bakayoko on permanently, which could net Chelsea a significant fee and a player in return. According to tabloid reports in England, Chelsea is hoping Milan’s interest in Bakayoko permanently could net them Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, who has played alongside Bakayoko for much of the season.

Video shows Lazio fans’ racist chants aimed at Chelsea loanee Bakayoko

Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ROME (AP) A video has emerged of Lazio fans directing a racist chant at AC Milan midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko.

The video posted on the Gazzetta dello Sport website shows fans singing, “This banana is for Bakayoko,” during Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Udinese at the Stadio Olimpico.

[ MORE: Pochettino “not optimistic” on Kane ]

It was an apparent response to Bakayoko and Milan teammate Franck Kessie waving the shirt of Lazio defender Francesco Acerbi in front of their supporters like a trophy after a 1-0 win on Saturday.

Bakayoko, who is black, is on loan from Chelsea.

Lazio fans have a long history of racist and anti-Semitic episodes.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Chelsea, Pulisic may tour U.S. in 2020

AP Photo/Tim Ireland, File
Leave a comment

Chelsea has announced intent to visit the United States in the Summer of 2020.

Blues chairman Bruce Buck says the club “has work to do in Middle America” as it’s built up what he believes to be significant support on the coasts of the United States.

[ MORE: Pochettino “not optimistic” on Kane ]

Chelsea will be in Boston next month to play MLS side New England Revolution in a friendly billed “The Final Whistle on Hate.”

But Buck knows that Americans have plenty of interest in new signing Christian Pulisic, who will still be with Borussia Dortmund when Chelsea visits the U.S. in May.

“He’s a personable boy. He’s well-liked in this country,” Buck told the Associated Press. “So of course I would expect him when we come here and play some friendly matches, which is what our objective is in the summer of 2020. Then, yes, I think he will be helpful.”

American fans have been skeptical about how much of Chelsea’s interest in Pulisic was based on potential for stardom versus potential for marketing appeal in the States, but it’s important to note that this article could’ve been written about signing a top Mexican player and touring Mexico, or a Japanese star and heading to Asia.

The morning after: Pochettino on returning home, Kane recovery

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
Leave a comment

Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham Hotspur flew back to North London after Wednesday’s memorable triumph in the UEFA Champions League, a few days before the club will make the same trip to visit Manchester City in the Premier League.

“We are tired after an amazing and crazy and unbelievable night,” Pochettino said, via the BBC. “We flew late and didn’t sleep too much, but the happiness made us feel strong and with energy. We need to forget the Champions League now and be ready for Saturday, for a battle.”

[ MORE: Klopp on 1st time facing Messi ]

Good luck on the forgetting part, Poch. The advancement past Man City over two legs came after VAR correctly ripped a stoppage time City goal off the board and plunged Spurs from despair into euphoria.

And now they go again.

Pochettino said he elected to bring the team back to London to sleep in their own beds and recover at their own facilities.

It also allows Spurs to keep a close eye on Harry Kane, who missed the second leg and has been expected to miss most if not all of the season with an ankle injury.

“We are not optimistic but you know Harry Kane and with Harry Kane all is possible,” Pochettino said. “We are not going to say he is not going to play again or not. We will assess him day by day.”

We have to imagine that Spurs going from, “Can we beat City and stay in the Top Four without Harry?” to “We are three wins from a Champions League title” might help Kane heal a bit faster (and he’s already a bit of a specimen when it comes to that.

Barton “emphatically denies” attacking fellow League One manager

Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It seems like there is much more to the incident reportedly involving Joey Barton and a fellow League One manager.

Barnsley launched a complaint after Fleetwood Town manager Barton allegedly attacked his counterpart Daniel Stendel after a match on Saturday.

[ MORE: Klopp on 1st time facing Messi ]

Police stopped Barton from leaving the stadium after the match, and Barnsley player Cauley Woodrow has now taken down a Tweet saying that Stendel was left with “blood pouring down his face.”

Now Barton is denying allegations that he attacked Stendel, and is expected to be in the dugout for the Fishermen, who sit 11th in League One.

From FleetwoodTownFC.com:

“With regards to the alleged incident on Saturday following our game against Barnsley, I emphatically deny the allegations made. Given this matter has not been formally closed, it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment.”

Barton’s checkered past is well-documented, but this tale continues to develop in fascinating ways.