Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

How will Chelsea line up under Maurizio Sarri?

Leave a comment

For the 11th time in as many years, Chelsea has a new manager.

It seems like a large number for a club that has had as much success as it has; because it is.

[ MORE: Hazard hints at Chelsea exit, has “preferred destination” in mind ]

Maurizio Sarri has officially taken over with the Blues following Antonio Conte‘s sacking, and the new Italian manager has already helped the club ensure it will have one of the best (if not the best) midfields in the Premier League thanks to his first signing.

Former Napoli central midfielder Jorginho has joined the Stamford Bridge side to form a formidable partnership in the middle of the park alongside French superstar N'Golo Kante.

It’s that relationship amongst the two ball winners that could really propel the Blues into another gear, after the club had its moments of struggle last season after Nemanja Matic‘s departure for Manchester United.

[ MORE: Belgium tops England for best finish in team’s WC history ]

Now, several names in the attack have been rumored to be nearing moves away from Chelsea, including Eden Hazard and Willian, which would clearly be a devastating blow to Sarri’s plans in his first season in charge.

Both Hazard and Willian are sure-fire starters under any manager, but that is of course assuming that they remain with the club ahead of next month.

As the squad is currently constructed, the Blues are missing a traditional number 10 attacker that sits behind the striker, although Hazard has the freedom to roam throughout the pitch as necessary.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

That will likely leave a third slot open in the midfield if Sarri aims to use a traditional 4-3-3, and it could very well go to Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who comes back from a loan spell at Crystal Palace last season.

Loftus-Cheek is a bit more of a creative player than a Kante or Jorginho, however, he possesses the size and physicality necessary to track back defensively when needed, which gives Sarri flexibility in his tactical makeup.

Meanwhile, striker Alvaro Morata’s future with the club remains unknown as well, with recent reports suggesting that Sarri could aim to bring in Argentina international Gonzalo Higuain in a straight swap of players.

Behind Morata sits Olivier Giroud, who struggled in much of his time with the Blues over the latter half of the 2017/18 campaign, while Tammy Abraham has become an intriguing prospect for the Blues as well.

It remains to be seen, though, if Abraham will get a crack with the first team this season or be sent out on loan once again.

With less than a month until the start of the PL season, Sarri has his work cut out for himself, after bringing in a positive player to bolster the club’s midfield with Jorginho.

Defensively, there are still some questions, particularly in regards to how the back line will align itself.

Conte’s three-back system will likely dissolve following his exit, as Sarri employs a traditional four-back setup similar to what he used in Serie A.

Cezar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso are almost certainties at the two outside back positions, while centrally the club boasts a solid amount of depth.

Gary Cahill remains in the fold, along with David Luiz, however, the Brazilian will likely have to battle with Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger for a starting role.

Christensen was sturdy for the majority of 2017/18, and given his budding stardom, it’s likely that Sarri will put his confidence in the young defender early on.

Below, Pro Soccer Talk takes a look at who will likely start for Chelsea under Sarri’s new regime.


Croatia tops Denmark on penalties to move to World Cup quarterfinals

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A furious start devolved into a sporadic chess match that required penalties to make the difference, and it seemed penalties would be required to decide the match. Then Croatia had its moment. Then Denmark snuffed it out. Then Croatia was celebrating anyways.

A wild, roller coaster of emotions sandwiched 100 minutes of forgettable play as Croatia and Denmark draw 1-1, and Croatia goes through in the exciting penalty shootout 3-2. Luka Modric had a penalty saved by Kasper Schmeichel in the 117th minute in what certainly appeared to be the potentially winning moment, but the Real Madrid midfielder came back to score his spot-kick in the shootout on the way to victory.

The match got off to a beautifully sloppy start, and it resulted in a pair of absurd goals. First, it was Denmark to benefit from a stroke of luck as a long throw caused a scramble in the box and Mathias Jorgensen scuffed shot inexplicably found its way through the legs of three different defenders and trickled over the line off the fingertips of Danijel Subasic who will have expected to do better.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Three minutes later, Croatia was level as a beautiful bit of play on the wing saw Ante Rebic threat Ivan Rakitic through on the right edge of the box. The Barcelona midfielder saw his cross cleared, but the boot by Henrik Dalsgaard crashed into the face of Andreas Christensen and fell right in the lap of Mario Mandzukic who finished calmly on the turn.

The game settled slightly with Croatia controlling the majority of possession. Ivan Perisic has a free-kick from a dangerous area in the 12th minute but couldn’t get it past the wall. Mandzukic shouted for a penalty after going down in the box on 20 minutes, but nothing was given and VAR concurred.

Croatia continued to be the more dangerous side, with Perisic flubbing a major chance just before the half-hour mark. The Inter Milan attacker drove his half-volley straight into the ground, and with the ball bouncing straight back to him, he skied the second attempt well over.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Denmark’s best chance of the second half came in the 71st minute as Yussuf Poulsen cut into the right edge of the box and found Nicolai Jorgensen in space but his shot was weak and directly at Subosic who collected easily. The game quieted significantly down the stretch run of regulation, with the only looks on net for either an Ivan Rakitic shot from distance that skidded just wide left and a Braithwaite volley that also just missed.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

The game progressed to extra time, and Denmark took over as the more dangerous side, but still couldn’t put anything significant together. Then, the moment came where Croatia seemed to have the game by the scruff of the neck. Modric fed a brilliant through-ball to Ante Rebic, and through on goal he’s taken down by the last man Zanka as he rounded Schmeichel. That drew a penalty, although only a yellow card was shown to the Danish defender thanks to the new double-jeopardy rule.

With Croatia on the doorstep of the quarterfinals in the 117th minute, Schmeichel stepped up and saved Modric’s weak penalty, and the game would go to a shootout. Both goalkeepers were fantastic in the penalty shootout, saving a combined five attempts – the first time in World Cup history a penalty shootout featured five saves – but Subasic picked up a kick-save of Jorgensen’s penalty in the final round, and Rakitic scored the decider to put Croatia through.

Which Premier League players will be at World Cup?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

There are 107 players from the Premier League who are going to the 2018 World Cup.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

Manchester City have more players going to the tournament (16) than any other club in the world, while the English national team are the only country in the entire competition to have 100 percent of their players from their domestic league.

Belgium have an incredible 11 of their 23-man squad who play in the Premier League, while Senegal and Brazil have six players each from the PL and Argentina, Denmark and France boast five players each in their final rosters.

Below is a breakdown of the PL players heading to Russia this summer, with players from recently relegated teams in 2017/18 and teams coming up to the PL in 2018/19 included.

Here’s a country-by-country breakdown.


Argentina
Manuel Lanzini (West Ham United)
Marcos Rojo (Manchester United)
Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City)
Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
Willy Caballero (Chelsea)


Australia
Mat Ryan (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town)


Belgium
Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)
Simon Mignolet (Liverpool)
Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)
Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur)
Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur)
Mousa Dembele (Tottenham Hotspur)
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United)
Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)
Nacer Chadli (West Bromwich Albion)


Brazil
Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City)
Danilo (Manchester City)
Fernandinho (Manchester City)
Willian (Chelsea)
Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
Ederson (Manchester City)


Colombia
David Opsina (Arsenal)
Jose Izquierdo (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham Hotspur)


Croatia
Dejan Lovren (Liverpool)


Denmark
Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City)
Andreas Christensen (Chelsea)
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur)
Mathias Jorgensen (Huddersfield Town)
Jonas Lossl (Huddersfield Town)


England
Jack Butland (Stoke City)
Jordan Pickford (Everton)
Nick Pope (Burnley)
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur)
Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Gary Cahill (Chelsea)
Phil Jones (Manchester United)
John Stones (Manchester City)
Harry Maguire (Leicester City)
Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur)
Ashley Young (Manchester United)
Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur)
Fabian Delph (Manchester City)
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea, on loan at Crystal Palace)
Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)
Jesse Lingard (Manchester United)
Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur)
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)
Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)


Egypt
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal)


France
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur)
Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
Olivier Giroud (Chelsea)
N'Golo Kante (Chelsea)
Benjamin Mendy (Manchester City)


Germany
Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea)
Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City)


Iceland
Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton)
Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Burnley)


Japan
Maya Yoshida (Southampton)
Shinji Kagawa (Leicester City)


Korea Republic
Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur)
Ki Sung-Yueng (Swansea City)


Mexico
Javier Hernandez (Mexico)


Morocco
Roman Saiss (Wolverhampton Wanderers)


Nigeria
Wifried Ndidi (Leicester City)
Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City)
Victor Moses (Chelsea)
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal)


Peru
Andre Carrillo (Watford)


Poland
Jan Bednarek (Southampton)
Grzegorz Krychowiak (West Brom, on loan from PSG)
Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City)


Portugal
Bernardo Silva (Manchester City)
Joao Mario (West Ham United, on loan from Inter Milan)
Cedric Soares (Southampton)
Adrien Silva (Leicester City)


Serbia
Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace)
Nemanja Matic (Manchester United)
Dusan Tadic (Southampton)
Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United, on loan at Fulham)


Senegal
Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Idrissa Gueye (Everton)
Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham United)
Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke City)
Alfred N'Diaye (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Badou Ndiaye (Stoke City)


Spain
David De Gea (Manchester United)
Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Nacho Monreal (Arsenal)
David Silva (Manchester City)


Sweden
Victor Lindelof (Manchester United)
Martin Olsson (Swansea City)
Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Swansea City)


Switzerland
Granit Xhaka (Arsenal)
Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City)


Tunisia
Yohan Benalouane (Leicester City)


Statistical guide to 2017-18 Premier League season

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sometimes statistics tell new stories.

Take 2014-15, when Burnley was relegated but Kieran Trippier sneakily lead the Premier League in crosses and Aaron Cresswell did the same in minutes.

Both have turned into league mainstays.

[ MORE: U.S. players in the Premier League ]

So let’s dig into the numbers from what should be a Man City heavy run through the league leaderboard.

Most wins: Man City (32)

Most losses: Swansea City (21)

Most draws: Southampton (15)

Most goals: Man City (106)

Least goals: Swansea City and Huddersfield (28)

Most goals allowed: West Ham and Stoke City (68)

Least goals allowed: Man City (27)

Best goal differential: Man City (+79)

Worst goal differential: Stoke City (-33)

Most goals: Mohamed Salah, Liverpool (32)

Most assists: Kevin De Bruyne, Man City (16)

Yellow cards: Oriol Romeu, Southampton (11)

Team yellow cards: West Ham and West Brom (73)

Red cards: Jonjo Shelvey, Newcastle and Wilfred Ndidi, Leicester (2)

Team red cards: Leicester City (5)

Saves: Jack Butland, Stoke City (141)

Clean sheets: David De Gea, Manchester United (18)

Shots on target: Harry Kane, Spurs (76)

Shots attempted: Kane, Spurs (184)

Shots per game: Man City (17.5)

Least shots per game: Swans (8.9)

Minutes played: Several with 3420 (Jack Cork, Burnley; Lukasz Fabianski, Swans; Alfie Mawson, Swans; Asmir Begovic, Bournemouth; Lewis Dunk, Brighton; Jordan Pickford, Everton; Mat Ryan, Brighton; Harry Maguire, Leicester; Jonas Lossl, Huddersfield; Mathias Jorgensen, Huddersfield).

Fouls suffered: Richarlison, Watford (96)

Fouls committed: Luka Milivojevic, Crystal Palace (69)

Fouls committed per game: Everton (12.1)

Least fouls committed per game: Bournemouth (8.9)

Offsides: Jamie Vardy, Leicester City (45)

Crosses: De Bruyne, Man City (313)

Corner kicks: De Bruyne, Man City (154)

Penalty kicks attempted: Milivojevic, Palace (8)

Penalty kicks converted: Milivojevic, Palace (7)

Penalty kicks converted without a miss: Sergio Aguero, Man City (4)

Total touches: Nicolas Otamendi, Man City (7820)

Passes: Nicolas Otamendi, Man City (2791)

Pass percentage: Man City (89 percent)

Worst pass percentage: Burnley (70.5 percent)

Possession: Man City (66.4 percent)

Least possession: West Brom (42.8 percent)

Interceptions: Dunk, Brighton (99)

Interceptions per game: Yohan Cabaye, Palace (2.5)

Blocks: Kyle Naughton, Swansea (120)

Tackles: Wilfred Ndidi, Leicester (121)

Tackles per game: Huddersfield (19.6)

Least tackles per game: Bournemouth (13.4)

Highest rated, WhoScored.com: Aguero, Man City (7.81)

Lowest rated, WhoScored.com: Andre Gray, Watford (6.24)

Highest rated per 90, Squawka.com: Eden Hazard, Chelsea (57.82)

Lowest rated per 90, Squawka.com: James McClean, West Brom (-18.53)

Combined goals-assists: Riyad Mahrez to Vardy, Leicester (7)

Aerials won per game: Peter Crouch, Stoke and Christian Benteke, Palace (7.8)

Passing percentage: Andreas Christensen, Chelsea (93.4)

Worst pass percentage, non-GK: Sam Vokes, Burnley (49.4)

Offsides won per game: Christian Kabasele, Watford (1.3)

Clearances per game: Shane Duffy, Brighton (8.8)

Own goals: Dunk, Brighton (4)

Key passes per game: Mesut Ozil, Arsenal (3.2)

Dribbles per game: Hazard, Chelsea (4.9)

Long balls per game, non-GK: Jordan Henderson, Liverpool (5.6)

Conte: Chelsea better off than when I arrived

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s possible — if not highly likely — that Antonio Conte will take charge of his final game as Chelsea manager on Sunday when the Blues visit Newcastle United (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), and that has the Italian seemingly already defending his legacy at the club before walking out the door.

[ MORE: Neymar told PSG teammates he won’t be back next season ]

When Conte arrived at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2016, Chelsea were fresh off their worst season in 20 years — a fact of which he’ll forever be quick to remind you — a 10th-place finish just 12 months after winning the Premier League title. Jose Mourinho had been fired seven months prior, and the squad was dubbed expensive and aging.

Conte spent the next 24 months haggling with owner Roman Abramovich over a transfer budget which the former believed to be nowhere near large enough for a club of Chelsea’s size and ambition — quotes from the Guardian:

“We worked two years, and worked very hard, to try to build something, to create a base. I think we did this. There are six top teams at the start of the season ready to fight for a place in the Champions League. It [not qualifying for UCL] can happen. In the past it happened. Don’t forget two years ago, Chelsea ended the season 10th and not in the FA Cup final, not in the semifinals of the Carabao Cup and they were eliminated in the last 16 against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.”

“Last season, after a 10th-place finish, we won the league. Now, probably, you can finish fifth and start with a bit of an advantage compared to when you finish 10th.”

Average age of the 15 first-team regulars inherited by Conte in 2016 (excluding new arrivals, his first signings, that summer): 26.1 years old.

Average age of the 17 first-team regulars used by Conte during the 2017-18 season: 28.2 years old.

While it was under Conte that some of the club’s most senior players — John Terry (36), Branislav Ivanovic (33), Loic Remy (30) and Nemanja Matic (29), to name a few — were moved on, so, too, was Mohamed Salah (24), who went on to thrive at Roma before fetching quadruple the fee they had paid one year later. The likes of Gary Cahill, David Luiz, Cesc Fabregas and Pedro are all 1) two years older than when Conte arrived, and still first-team stalwarts; 2) now on the wrong side of 30 years old after having been handed significant minutes once again this season.

[ MORE: Ronaldo back on track to be fit for Champions League final ]

The likes of Andreas Christensen (22), Tiemoue Bakayoko (23) and Alvaro Morata (25) featured with varying degrees of irregularity throughout the season and should provide a bit of hope looking forward, but they’ve hardly been handed the keys to the car the way Conte would have you believe.

It’s entirely possible for each of the following to be true, even if you disagree with one or the other, or both: 1) Chelsea’s squad is better positioned, now, for the coming years than when Conte took over; 2) the rest of the PL’s top-six has improved just as much, if not more, during that time and the Blues have actually fallen behind the league’s other elites.