PL Preview: Chelsea vs. Liverpool

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  • Chelsea will make late calls on Pedro (shoulder), Andreas Christensen (illness), Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Antonio Rudiger ahead of Saturday evening’s match. 
  • Liverpool duo Trent Alexander-Arnold (illness) and Georginio Wijnaldum (knock) are available. Defender Virgil Van Dijk is doubtful with a rib injury. 
  • Liverpool are looking to win their first seven matches of a top-flight campaign for only the second time, after doing so in 1990/91. Chelsea are the only side to win their opening seven PL fixtures, in 2005/06.
  • Chelsea can claim consecutive home Premier League victories over Liverpool for the first time since a run of three wins between October 2004 and September 2006. 

Liverpool puts its 100 percent record on the line Saturday as it faces a rematch with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) just three days after the Blues topped the Reds, 2-1 in comeback style in the Carabao Cup.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With Liverpool leading 1-0 at Anfield on Wednesday, Chelsea hit the knockout blow after goals from Emerson and Eden Hazard to give the Reds a setback. However, it’s the matchup on Saturday that really matters in the Premier League title push, with Liverpool looking to stay on top. However, it will be that much tougher without the defensive talisman that is Virgil Van Dijk, who is doubtful for the game.

Maurizio Sarri has transformed Chelsea from a direct side to one who dominates and passes through the midfield. Will Liverpool have a better idea of how to counter that after seeing it just a few days ago? Or will Hazard rise to the challenge yet again on the road?


What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri on if Eden Hazard is currently the world’s best player: “Maybe, I don’t know. He is for sure one of the best, but I am absolutely convinced he can improve. If he is able to improve during training, maybe he will be able to use himself at 100 per cent. We have seen only 70, 75, 80 per cent of his potential. If he is able to improve he will be the best in the world. It’s very difficult to compare him with other players. He is a genius. He is unique. Technically I think he is the best, and so I want him to be the best in the world.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on possibly opening a 5-point lead in the table: “I don’t think in these categories because it is difficult enough to try and win the game, or even to get a point at Chelsea. So, I don’t think about a five-point gap – and a five-point gap 31 matchdays before the end [of the season] is nothing. We play them again, so it is absolutely nothing. It’s only about getting points for our account. I thought the Chelsea game [in midweek] was just an unbelievably interesting game, in the analysis as well. We needed time to adapt, yes. We had a new formation, yes, and without the ball, against the ball in defending, it’s a little bit more complicated than with the ball.”

Prediction

If Virgil Van Dijk is out, expect Chelsea to whip a lot of balls into the box, seeing if either Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata can get on the end of them. This game should have end-to-end action with plenty of goals, but we think both sides will share the spoils. Chelsea 2-2 Liverpool

Hazard’s magnificent goal puts Chelsea past Liverpool (video)

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Eden Hazard and Emerson scored goals as Chelsea overcame a marker from ex-player Daniel Sturridge to beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield in League Cup play on Wednesday.

The two teams meet again on Saturday at Stamford Bridge (12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Both sides kept stars on the bench or off the 18, as Hazard and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah were used as substitutes. Roberto Firmino and N'Golo Kante also came off the bench, while Virgil Van Dijk, Alisson Becker, and Kepa Arrizabalaga were rested.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box scores ]

Chelsea nearly gave away the farm in the 46th minute on a terrible back pass by Andreas Christensen.

Daniel Sturridge read it well and ran onto a 1v1 chance that Wily Caballero slapped to the side but still on the striker’s path. Sturridge couldn’t get his body around the shot and missed the wide open goal.

Alvaro Morata nearly nodded Willian‘s cross into the Liverpool goal moments later.

Ross Barkley made a worse play than Christensen before him, but Caballero again rescued the Blues to keep it 0-0 in the 53rd.

Sturridge got his goal in the 59th minute, leaving his feet to thump a Naby Keita rebound past Caballero.

But Chelsea equalized through Emerson, who poked past Mignolet after the goalkeeper pushed Barkley’s header to the top of the six.

It didn’t take longer for Chelsea to go ahead through substitute Hazard, who started and finished an exceptional goal with, well, just scroll back up to the top of the page. Hazard cooks Alberto Moreno at the end, as the Liverpool man raises his hands to say, “At least I didn’t foul him.”

10 potential breakout Premier League players

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We know about the superstars. We know about the big-money transfers. We know about the young wonderkids.

But who are the players that have yet to reach the highest heights that could see a breakout performance? Harry Kane went from Spurs youth product to household name with 21 blasts in 2014/15. N'Golo Kante rocketed to stardom by leading Leicester City to a stunning Premier League title. Kevin De Bruyne made Chelsea sorry with 21 assists for Man City in 2016/17, cementing him as one of the best attacking mids in England. Jordan Pickford went from Premier League bottomfeeder to World Cup starter thanks to his performance last year with Everton.

So who makes the leap this coming season? We detail a few of the possible choices, will full knowledge that the true breakout star emerge come from a place nobody saw coming.

Trent Alexander-Arnold

Liverpool’s outstanding young star was a true unknown midway through last season. The 19-year-old earned a starting spot in February and never gave it up, garnering respect from pundits and fans alike. At his tender young age, TAA started a Champions League final at right-back, tasked with marking the immortal Cristiano Ronaldo. He performed spectacularly. If that moment isn’t too big for the youngster, then what is? It’s not a question of if Trent will become a star, it’s when.

Harry Maguire

A relatively run-of-the-mill center-back at Leicester City before this summer, Maguire earned himself global notoriety at the World Cup, displaying aerial prowess and superior marking ability. Now, it’s up to the 25-year-old to back up that one month performance as more than a flash in the pan, whether he begins the season at King Power Stadium or at Old Trafford. Maguire set himself up perfectly with a summer to remember, but he needs a longer boost at the club level to become a true global household name.

Ryan Sessegnon

Ryan Sessegnon took the Championship by storm last season, but will need to replicate his success to earn true praise (Bryn Lennon/Getty Images).

At 17 years old last season, young Ryan Sessegnon became the first Championship player to ever be named to the PFA Young Player of the Year shortlist. Beginning his career at left-back, it became clear that Sessegnon’s true value was higher up the pitch, and Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic obliged. With the freedom to maraud forward, Sessegnon couldn’t stop scoring. He bagged 20 goals and nine assists last season in Championship play, but his young legs tired as the season came to a close. If he has rested up and fires goals in the Premier League like he did last season a level below, he will be worth a fortune in a year’s time.

Lucas Torreira

New Arsenal defensive midfielder Lucas Torreira is just what the doctor ordered for the Gunners. Last season Arsenal maintained plenty of possession but struggled to cover the counter when they gave the ball away. With Unai Emery now in charge at The Emirates, the 22-year-old simply needs to beat out Granit Xhaka for minutes in the middle of the pitch. If he can earn his place in the lineup, Torreira showed in Serie A last season what he can bring to the Gunners, ranked the #10 overall player in the league last season by Squawka Statistics’ player metrics. He proved at the 2018 World Cup that his season was not a fluke, and now he’s ready to do big things in London.

Matteo Guendouzi

Matteo Guendouzi could be an impact player in the Arsenal midfield if his preseason performances are any indication (Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images).

Arsene Wenger may be gone from Arsenal, but that isn’t stopping the Gunners from plucking up premiere French young talent. Guendouzi is just 19, yet was a standout performer in Arsenal’s preseason run-up to the league campaign, and his David Luiz curls give him the edge needed to be a recognizable figure off the pitch. Costing just $10 million, his transfer from French club Lorient was utterly unnoticed, and that could make him one of the steals of the summer if he can earn regular playing time behind Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Andreas Christensen

The Danish center-back was a critical figure last season at Chelsea, earning significant playing time. However, he dipped in form through the final third of the season, and wasn’t that spectacular at the World Cup. 2018-19 appears to be a critical season for the 22-year-old, but if Christensen can recapture the form that earned him a starting role under Antonio Conte, he can develop into one of the best center-backs in the Premier League.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek

Spending much of his young career either out on loan or a bit-part player at Chelsea, the Blues youth product has been on these lists and has yet to make the jump into a significant role. However, England manager Gareth Southgate saw enough ability to use him in a repeated substitute role at the World Cup this summer, and that might be the signal flare Maurizio Sarri needed. Working against Loftus-Cheek is a crowded Chelsea midfield, competing for time with Cesc Fabregas, Mateo Kovacic, Danny Drinkwater, N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, and Ross Barkley, but if he can come up with the goods this year, he will have pedigree to back up his hype.

Jean-Michael Seri

With one Fulham player already on this list in Sessegnon, a new White makes the cut in new Ivory Coast international Jean-Michael Seri. The 27-year-old midfielder was a passing wizard in his three seasons at French club Nice, and he reportedly picked the Cottagers over Champions League clubs in England, Italy, and Germany. In Ligue 1 play, he was seventh in the league in completed through balls, and third if you don’t count absurdly dominant PSG. He was third overall in the league in key passes from open play. His xGBuildup, a stat that compiles the xG of every possession the player touches the ball not including shots and key passes, was better than Paul Pogba last season. Seri could be critical in Fulham’s attempt to play a Manchester City style in the top flight, and if he excels, he could be a valuable asset to not just survival but even greater accomplishments.

Diogo Jota

Like Sessegnon, Jota rocked the Championship but needs to prove he can have success at the highest level (David Rogers/Getty Images).

Wolves obliterated the Championship last season from start to finish, and a big reason why was the 21-year-old Portuguese winger. His pace was blistering, and with it he racked up 17 goals and drawing comparisons to Eden Hazard. Of the 16 games Jota scored in last season, Wolves won 12 and lost just one. He’s critical to the newly promoted side, and if he continues his form from last year, he could earn himself a look not just for Premier League Young Player of the Year, but also in the Portuguese national team, where he’s played significantly at the youth level but has yet to crack the senior squad.

Naby Keita

With so many Liverpool stars around him, it would be easy for Naby Keita to enter the Reds starting lineup in his first season and fly under the radar. Don’t expect that to happen. The 23-year-old enters into a logjammed midfield with Fabinho making his way from Monaco, Jordan Henderson coming off a spectacular World Cup, Girginio Wijnaldum having a great preseason, Adam Lallana healthy and James Milner continuing to grind games out. He has plenty of talent around him, and with any luck can be a more well-rounded N’Golo Kante, even if those are massive shoes to fill.

Bonus +1! Kepa Arrizabalaga

What would this list be without the new Chelsea goalkeeper? A relative unknown until recent weeks, the 23-year-old has suddenly become the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. He will have a massive weight upon his shoulders to replace Thibaut Courtois, and if he performs, would help Chelsea fans forget the Belgian’s departure altogether. Kepa is relatively untested with just two full top flight seasons under his belt. Yet so was Courtois when Chelsea brought him in and loaned him to Atletico Madrid where he helped bring the Spanish side to the Champions League final. His first Premier League season could go a long way to defining his future.

Others to consider: James Maddison, Jorginho, Bernardo Silva, Xherdan Shaqiri

How will Chelsea line up under Maurizio Sarri?

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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.

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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

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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.