Hazard wizardry leads Chelsea into third after win over West Ham (video)

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  • Hazard scores 15th and 16th goals of the season
  • Chelsea moves past Spurs into 3rd
  • Blues unbeaten on Monday in PL play since 1994

Eden Hazard may be headed to Real Madrid this summer or he may not, but either way he’s a Chelsea man for now, and the Blues are far better for it.

The Belgian superstar bossed the game at Stamford Bridge, and produced a brace – including a Goal of the Season – as Chelsea topped West Ham United 2-0. The young English duo of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were bright in spots and Gonzalo Higuain provided a constant threat up front, but it was Hazard who unquestionably pulled the strings from start to finish.

[ MORE: Is Hazard’s goal one of the PL’s best ever? ]

Hazard engineered the opener on 24 minutes as all of Stamford Bridge could see what was coming, yet nobody in Claret and Blue could do anything about it. The Belgian magician produced a spectacular run straight down West Ham’s throat, slicing and weaving down the middle, into the box, and having passed by no fewer than four defenders and cutting between the final two, he buried the shot into the back of the net under pressure from the last man Ryan Fredericks.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

It was all Chelsea from that point through halftime. The hosts nearly doubled the lead moments later as Gonzalo Higuain’s shot from an incredibly tight angle was saved by Lukasz Fabianski up onto the crossbar. Callum Hudson-Odoi, on his second start in two matches, worked the keeper in the 41st minute with a right-footed blast that forced Fabianski again to full-stretch.

After the break, Chelsea remained the stronger team, but West Ham worked a quality counter-attack in the 54th minute that saw Manuel Lanzini force an acrobatic save from Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. The Blues came back down the other end and worked a chance for Ruben Loftus-Cheek who got clean through and looked to chip Fabianski but his shot didn’t have the height to trouble the goalkeeper.

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The Hammers had their best chance just past the half-hour mark with Aaron Cresswell firing just inches wide, beating both Kepa and the far post. Still, they couldn’t keep Hazard under wraps. The Belgian had another slaloming run in the 65th minute that nearly produced a chance but he had no support.

With Chelsea unable to put the Hammers away, the finish was tense. Chelsea came close again in the 78th minute as Hazard brought the ball forward and worked it to Hudson-Odoi on the right, and while his cross was scything across the face of goal, it agonizingly eluded both a streaking Ross Barkley and the far post. West Ham had another good chance minutes later as Marko Arnautovic worked an open set-piece header, but his effort was blocked by Emerson.

Finally, Chelsea put the game away in the 90th minute on Hazard’s second of the game and 16th of the season. Ross Barkley delivered a ball into the box for a wide-open Hazard, and he finished from a tight angle through pressure from Felipe Anderson. Maurizio Sarri celebrated enthusiastically, and the Blues confirmed their third-place spot in the Premier League table, passing Tottenham with 66 points on the year. Hazard himself has been directly involved in 28 goals in league play this season, the most in the English top flight.

West Ham, meanwhile, fails to move closer to the top half, sitting in 11th on 42 points, four back of 10th placed Watford and three above Crystal Palace in 12th. The loss is West Ham’s fourth in their last six league matches, a run which has seen them drop out of the top half after sitting ninth in early March.

Transfer rumor roundup: Mari to Arsenal; Defoe makes permanent Rangers move

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors, including those involving Premier League outfits.

[ MORE: Premier League January transfer needs ]

Arsenal are reportedly hours from adding a defender to Mikel Arteta‘s squad.

Flamengo’s Pablo Mari has reportedly arrived in London and set for a medical at Arsenal, Sky Sports reports. The 26-year-old Spaniard will join the North London side for the remainder of the season with an option to buy.

It won’t be Mari’s first time signing for a Premier League side, however.

In 2016, the center-back signed with Manchester City, but never featured for the defending champions, instead making appearances for Girona, NAC and Deportivo La Coruna on loan.


Jermaine Defoe is not returning to Bournemouth.

On Saturday, Rangers announced that Defoe signed a pre-contract to join Rangers on permanent basis in the summer.

The storied 37-year-old English striker has 20 goals in 57 appearances since joining the Scottish giants last January on a 18-month loan. Defoe’s new contract runs through the 2020-21 season, a one-year deal.

“It’s fantastic news,” Rangers manager Steven Gerrard told the club’s website. “It’s something we have been working on over the weeks and it is great to finally get that done and dusted.”

“He is an incredible professional with the way he goes about his work on and off the pitch – he is a credit to himself and his family. And also on the pitch, which is the main thing. He is still contributing heavily – he is a major part of this group, this team and this squad and hopefully together we can go and share some success as I think he deserves that.”

This season, Defoe has scored 16 goals in 28 games.


Crystal Palace are in talks to sign Belgium international Yannick Carrasco, according to Sky Sports.

Carrasco, 26, wants to leave Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang and is currently training in Belgium, ahead of a return to European play.

Carrasco has scored 24 goals in 52 appearances since making a move to China from Atletico Madrid in February 2018.


Norwich City are actively pursuing Danel Sinani, according to the Daily Mail.

The 22-year-old Luxembourg winger is out of contract with Luxembourg side FC Dudelange this summer. If the parties involved can’t reach a deal this week,  the Canaries are reportedly ready to propose a pre-contract agreement.

Mourinho hints Spurs to sign Lo Celso permanently: ‘I think the boy is earning the decision’

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Tottenham Hotspur loanee Giovani Lo Celso is closer to permanently stay in North London than he is to return back to Sevilla.

[ MORE: Spurs, Saints draw and force 4-th round FA Cup replay ]

The 23-year-old Argentine, who arrived at Spurs from Real Betis last summer on a season-long loan, experienced a rocky start in the Premier League. Lo Celso – with only 44 minutes of English top-flight playing time under his belt – suffered a hip injury with Argentina, ruling him out two months in the fall.

Since, the attacking midfielder has worked his way up Jose Mourinho’s pecking order, featuring heavily in the Portuguese’s scheme over the past few months. Most recently, on Saturday, Lo Celso displayed his well-balanced virtues in Tottenham’s 1-1 draw with Southampton in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Following the match, Mourinho addressed questions on whether or not his club is going to sign the midfielder on a permanent contract. Praiseworthy of Lo Celso’s learning abilities, Mourinho hopes the midfielder will be a part of the club’s long-term plans.

“It’s not an obligation, it’s an option,” Mourinho said of Lo Celso, who is reportedly available at reduced price of $35 million. “I think the boy is earning the decision. He’s making an easy decision for the club to execute the option.”

“Incredible evolution since I arrived,” he added. “Barely played a game, I think he played against Red Star Belgrade, with me a little bit difficult to come in the first few weeks. But he understood what we wanted. Good learner, good kid and I think by himself he made the decision that the club is going to execute the option. That’s normal, he earned it.”

With Christian Eriksen on the verge of departing the London side, Mourinho and company will have additional funds to land Lo Celso this winter before his price spikes in the summer.

Everything points to the creative midfielder having a future in London, but will Spurs brass follow suit and make it official soon?

Netherlands forward Rob Rensenbrink dies at age 72

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Rob Rensenbrink, the forward who was centimeters away from delivering the Netherlands a World Cup title in 1978, has died at age 72, the Dutch football association said Saturday.

“We have heard with sadness of the death of football legend Rob Rensenbrink,” the association said in a tweet.

Rensenbrink played most of his club football in Belgium with Club Brugge and Anderlecht, where his weaving runs earned him the nickname “Snake Man.” He also played briefly for the Portland Timbers in the United States in 1980.

He was a regular for the Netherlands national team in its period of dominance in the 1970s.

He played 46 times and scored 14 goals for the Dutch team known for its slick, position-swapping “total football.”

But he will always be best remembered for the goal he didn’t quite score in the 1978 World Cup final.

With the scores tied at 1-1 between the Netherlands and host Argentina and the seconds ticking away in injury time of the final in Buenos Aires, Rensenbrink’s shot hit the post. The match went to extra time and Argentina scored twice to win 3-1.

It was the second straight World Cup final defeat for the Netherlands, which has appeared in three finals and lost them all.

Rensenbrink was diagnosed with a muscle disease in 2012 and died as a result of the illness, according to Dutch national broadcaster NOS.

Anderlecht said he died Friday night.

“Thanks for everything Robbie!” the Belgian club wrote on its website. “We will never forget you.”

Serie A roundup: Ilicic powers Atalanta in historic win over Torino (video)

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Atalanta’s historic and overpowering win over Torino highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Torino 0-7 Atalanta

Josip Ilicic scored a hat-trick, including a center-line strike, as Atalanta humiliated Torino 7-0 on Saturday, handing the hosts their worst home loss ever in Serie A play.

With only nine men on the field towards the end of the match for Turin-based side, Atalanta were able to capitalize, elevating their goal count to 57 goals in 21 games this season. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men, who are back in Champions League contention, lead the league in goals.

Robin Gosens and Duvan Zapata, who scored a minute before the break, added to Ilicic’s first of three. A three-goal advantage after the first 45 minutes foreshadowed what Torino was going to encounter in the second half: more goals.

Eight minutes into the final 45 minutes of Saturday’s bout at the Olimpico di Torino, Ilicic quick-fired two more past an exposed Salvatore Sirigu.

With less than 10 minutes to go, Luis Muriel took the field for the visitors. And just six minutes after his first foot on the natural surface, the Colombian striker had a brace to his name.

“All we can do is apologize,” Torino coach Walter Mazzarri said. “In so many years of my career I had never had such a game.”

In fourth place with 38 points, Atalanta look to increase their seven-goal performances this season to three as they host struggling Genoa in a weeks time. Torino, on the other hand, meet AC Milan on Tuesday in the quarterfinal’s of the Coppa Italia.

Elsewhere

SPAL 1-3 Bologna

Fiorentina 0-0 Genoa