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Chelsea rejects Real’s $78m Hazard offer; Anderson back-up plan

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Chelsea wants more than $150 million for Eden Hazard which could lead Real Madrid to look to a different part of London for its next playmaker, according to Sky Sports.

A Thursday report says Chelsea has shot down a $78 million bid for Hazard and is expecting at least twice that amount as desperate Real Madrid looks to revolutionize its team after a European trophy-free 2018-19 season.

[ MORE: Man Utd stars set for exit? ]

The Blues may not sell at all because of its impending transfer ban, despite Hazard being able to walk away for free after the 2019-20 season.

And Hazard isn’t exactly shying away from his long-held interest in a move to Real in this sly exchange with Belgian outlet HLN:

Interviewer: “Look, I have a friend who has been playing in the Premier League for seven years. At a club that plays in blue. He has won everything there and he is ready for a new challenge. He is now in the interest of another club, one in a white outfit. What would you recommend to that boy?”

Smiling, Hazard replied: “Well, buy that friend a white shirt.”

So Real is training its eyes on West Ham United’s Felipe Anderson to the tune of an $85 million bid, a figure which would see the Irons profit in a big way following a $48 million purchase just last summer.

Anderson, who turns 26 in April, has been very good as the Irons bid for seventh place and a possible Europa League spot next season. The Brazilian has nine goals and five assists across all competitions for Manuel Pellegrini.

Hazard is two years older than Anderson, and has produced at a world class level dating back to his 20-goal, 18-assist Ligue 1 season at Lille in 2011-12.

Although, even with the transfer ban, maybe Chelsea will take the money and its medicine without Hazard, who is one of the only players who have been a part of the Blues teams to quit on Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte (and possibly tried to do the same to Maurizio Sarri).

Do you want the bitter Belgian playing out the string? West Ham fans probably hope the answer is, “Nope.”

Get ready for a summer of speculating that Real might buy any player on Earth outside of Lionel Messi, given chairman Florentino Perez’s penchant for hunting Galacticos; In the past week alone, Real has been linked with Neymar, Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, Hazard, and Anderson. Wow.

Who’s in the running for Premier League Player of the Year?

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The Premier League Player of the Year is missing its easy winner this go-round.

There’s no Mohamed Salah running away with the scoring record, no Eden Hazard or N'Golo Kante as the clear best player on the champion.

[ MORE: Key games left in the PL season ]

So let’s take a look at where the race stands heading into the final international break of the season.

The contenders

Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool: Like N’Golo Kante before him, there’s a massive underdog status to a non-striker winning the Premier League’s Player of the Year (and you might want to argue that Kante deserved a Ballon d’Or finalist position). Flub against Fulham aside, few Premier League defenders have made their case in the past as well as Van Dijk has this season. Due to his status on a team who has a lot of the ball, it’s difficult to find super gaudy defensive numbers to make his case. Still, when taking into account Premier League center backs to play more than half their teams’ matches this season, no one on advanced stats site WhoScored is close to VVD. He also doesn’t have a “times dribbled past” per-match average on the site.

Eden Hazard, Chelsea: For years, Chelsea has gone as Eden Hazard. The Belgian is unquestionably one of the most talented players in the world, and is effervescent in attack. Sure, Chelsea’s also suffered through periods of head-scratching results and effort — nothing new at Stamford Bridge and he’s one of the only players to be a part of the downfalls of Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, and presumably Maurizio Sarri — but his 13 goals and 11 assists make him the only player to reach double figures in both categories this season. And imagine how high that assist total could be with Alvaro Morata or Gonzalo Higuain finishing at an average or above-average clip.

Raheem Sterling, Man City: At Liverpool a few years ago, it would’ve been accurate to call Sterling, “the kid with the abysmal second touch.” But the Englishman has become better and better by the season, and he’s actually the most economical star in the running for the PL’s Golden Boot; His 2.1 shots per game is less than Sergio Aguero (3.7), Mohamed Salah (3.4), Harry Kane (3.6), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (2.6), Hazard (2.6), and Sadio Mane (2.4). Only Hazard and Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser have more assists.

Mohamed Salah, Liverpool: His average second-half of the season is going to make it difficult for him to repeat as PL Player of the Year, especially considering he has just one goal with no assists in eight matches since Jan. 30 (and four of those were 0-0 or 1-1 draws). Yet it’d be wrong to discount his 17 goals and six assists through 24 matches, and a strong finish could make him a Golden Boot, Premier League, and Champions League winner. That’s not crazy.

Sergio Aguero, Manchester City: Eighteen goals and six assists make him one of four players to combine for 24 goals of production this season, and the 30-year-old may be get sympathetic votes given his surprising lack of honors during a torrential tenure in the Premier League. His three hat tricks should live in the memory of some voters, too, especially since two came against Arsenal and Chelsea. He’s there when you need him, that’s for sure.

Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur: Right in the Golden Boot race despite missing four matches with torn ankle ligaments, Kane has 17 goals and four assists for Spurs this season. Not that the League Cup should come into play in a PL season vote, but Spurs’ star could well be holding silverware in voters’ minds if he hadn’t been hurt before the second leg against Chelsea. Three matches against Pep Guardiola and Man City in the next few weeks will either help or hurt his argument (again, only one of those comes in league play).

FINALLY, “THE WILD CARD” — He’s not going to win this award, and probably won’t be on any short lists besides this post, but spare a though for Raul Jimenez of Wolves. The Mexican striker has been a part of 18 league markers for Nuno Espirito Santo (12 goals, six assists) during his first ever Premier League season.

He’s scored against Chelsea twice, Spurs twice, and assisted versus Manchester United, and Arsenal. Wolves are 10W-4D-2L when he gets a goal or an assist, and 2W-3D-9L when he doesn’t produce magic.

And let’s be honest: Is one of the key players above leading their team to a title as impressive as what Jimenez has done keeping his newly-promoted side in the race for a Europa League place (even given what Wolves spent around him)?

Honestly, he’s in my Top Three with Sterling and Van Dijk. Hazard is probably fourth, with Kane, Aguero, and Salah a bit behind.

League Cup Final preview: Sarri, Pep match wits for 4th time

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Sunday’s League Cup Final could be a moment for one manager to right his ship, or drive the other to the start of an improbable quadruple.

Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri duels with Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola on Sunday at Wembley Stadium, just 14 days after the latter outmaneuvered the former to the tune of a 6-0 shellacking at the Etihad Stadium.

[ RECAP: West Ham 3-1 Fulham ]

The loss was Chelsea’s second to City this season, though the Blues did manage a 2-0 defeat in league play at Stamford Bridge on Dec. 8.

It’s also the second time the two will go head-to-head for silverware, as Man City outlasted Chelsea 2-0 for the Community Shield on Aug. 5.

That loss to City didn’t send the Chelsea faithful scurrying from “Sarriball,” but they’ve become far less supportive of the Blues’ boss.

And Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger says Friday is a chance for his side to show the supporters the better side of what Sarri has implemented at Stamford Bridge.

“That will show the truth,” Rudiger said. “That will show our way this ­season. It will be the truth in terms of  keeping up with opponents like City Liverpool and Tottenham. What if it shows we are not that close? Then that is the reality.”

“You always play for your manager but you want results. You want to win. No player likes to have the kind of run we’ve had.”

Rudiger is a quote-giving marvel. Chelsea needs to keep him just for the departure from the norm he provides the media.

As for Guardiola, he’s also supportive of Sarri and thinks the Blues faithful should take a step back. He references the heat given to Antonio Conte the year after he won a Premier League crown.

Guardiola is also not thrilled that the 6-0 result is the last time City played Chelsea. From The London Evening Standard:

“In that moment I was so happy to beat them 6-0, but now in this moment I would prefer not to have beaten them 6-0. I don’t like to play in a short period of time when you’ve beaten them by so much,” he said. “They are incredible professional players, they are proud, they will do extra.”

“When we lost there and when we won here, my opinion of Sarri and his teams is always high. When we reviewed the game against us, maybe people don’t believe me, but they did incredible things.”

They’ll have to do more incredible things Sunday at Wembley, or City will lay claim to its fourth League Cup title in six tries (and seventh overall).

The winner Sunday will have the second-most League Cup wins in history.

Sarri an isolated manager after Chelsea fans turn on him

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LONDON (AP) The volley of abusive chants from Chelsea supporters were aimed in a different direction this time. Toward the sideline at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Liverpool blunted by Bayern, and vice versa, in first-leg draw ]

Players were spared on Monday, there was no need to dig out the “rats” banners from 2015, and supporters seem just fine with Eden Hazard and Co.

Typically loyal to their managers — and there have been a dozen alone this century — many Chelsea fans instead seem to be done with Maurizio Sarri even before the end of his first season in charge.

Losing in the FA Cup to Manchester United was the breaking point, even if it wasn’t a complete rout. The cup competition is low on Chelsea’s priority list — winning it wasn’t enough to save Antonio Conte last season — but the end of that quest only adds to the despair.

In this rebuilding season, winning the Premier League — as Conte did in 2017 before finishing fifth the next year — couldn’t have been expected given the strength of Manchester City. But neither was a slide to sixth in the standings and a scramble for one of the four Champions League places.

“I am worried about the results,” Sarri said after Monday’s 2-0 loss to United. “Not about the fans.”

But the mutinous atmosphere won’t be lost on owner Roman Abramovich, who has spent the year watching from afar because the British government stymied the Russian billionaire’s visa renewal. That offshoot of the London-Moscow diplomatic dispute feeds the uncertainty at Chelsea.

[ MORE: Lyon strong at home, hold Barcelona to 0-0 draw (video) ]

Without fan backing, the 60-year-old Sarri — without a trophy in his career — looks isolated and exposed. The much-vaunted “Sarriball” is now part of the vocabulary of vitriol in chants — with added expletive.

It’s reminiscent of Rafa Benitez‘s interim title being used against the caretaker coach five years ago. Even in the darkest days of Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge — as Benitez’s successor — it was the players who were blamed. Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Hazard were branded “rats.”

Hazard is the only one of the trio still on the team — not that he gives the impression of wanting to stick around. The Belgium winger has avoided committing his future to Chelsea and has openly stoked talk of a transfer to Real Madrid.

Much like Madrid, Chelsea oscillates from glory to gloom under a conveyor belt of managers.

There’s also a regular flow of trophies, albeit only potentially secondary ones this season. Chelsea can still win the League Cup by beating Manchester City on Sunday and remains in contention in the Europa League.

While Madrid dropped to sixth place at one point this season in the Spanish league, the team hauled itself back up to third. Chelsea, which has won the Premier League five times since 2005, hasn’t been as successful. In the last month, the London club has lost to Arsenal, Manchester City — a 6-0 humiliation — and even to an ostensibly inferior Bournemouth.

For the stubborn Sarri, there seems to be no alternative to the “Sarriball” pressing tactics that helped his Napoli team push Juventus hard for the Italian title. Just a repetitive sequence of decisions.

– a reluctance to trust young players like Callum Hudson-Odoi.

– a determination to shoehorn Jorginho into defensive midfield, forcing N'Golo Kante out of position in favor of the recruit from Napoli.

– persisting with a back four after a three-man defense proved so effective for Conte.

– substitutions repeated in like-for-like changes. If it’s not Ross Barkley replacing Mateo Kovacic in central midfield, then they are interchanging the other way – 20 times this season. Pedro Rodriguez and Willian have swapped places 14 times.

For all the problems, it’s easy to forget that it took Chelsea three months to lose a game as Sarri started on an 18-match unbeaten run. Losing to Tottenham in November now seems to be a significant turning point.

Before that 13th game, Chelsea was in third place and had scored 27 and conceded only eight times in the league. Since then, Chelsea had netted 18 and conceded 21.

The cups will now define Sarri’s future, and it’s one down and two to go this week.

Chelsea holds a 2-1 lead over Malmo in the Europa League heading into the second leg of the round of 32 on Thursday before the League Cup final against City at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

“The most important thing now is to stay calm, train really hard and recover our best football and our best feeling,” Pedro said, “because if not, we are in trouble.”

More specifically, Sarri will be.

What is going wrong at Chelsea? What next for Sarri?

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Chelsea’s 6-0 hammering at Manchester City on Sunday was their heaviest defeat in the Premier League era.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Just six months into his time in charge at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri is under severe pressure and many are calling for the Italian coach to be fired as his famed “Sarri-ball” has failed to catch on so far in his first season in England.

Despite all of their issues Chelsea remain just one point off the top four, but Sarri knows the next few weeks are pivotal if he’s going to be given time to make this a success.

Do Chelsea fire yet another manager during the season to spark their squad into life? Does Sarri need to show more tactical flexibility?

Below we take a look at the key factors behind Chelsea’s slump in recent months and how Sarri can turn things around.


Jorginho overpowered, Kante out of position
This is the key problem for Chelsea. Jorginho has been found out in the Premier League, badly. His range of passing is superb, but the best teams can shut him down easily if they press him high. Jorginho’s ability as a deep-lying playmaker is key to Sarri-ball working and the fact he hasn’t got N'Golo Kante alongside him to protect him is another reason why Chelsea are so easy to break down right now. In their last three away games (all defeats) they’ve now conceded 12 goals and scored zero. Kante is the player who is often making runs into the box and it makes no sense to turn the greatest defensive midfielder on the planet into an attacking midfielder. Sarri needs to take Jorginho out of the line of fire, put Kante back in holding midfield and try to shield his porous defense. He isn’t going to do this. But he should.


Eden Hazard isn’t bothered
With his future at Chelsea still in doubt, it is quite clear Eden Hazard isn’t the leader this team in a rut needs. He tried his best away at Man City, but failed to help out Marcos Alonso on the first goal and is not known for digging deep and doing defensive work at the best of times. Hazard’s mind seems like it is somewhere else and that’s a real shame. At times this season he has been unstoppable. But in other spells he has been unspectacular. Chelsea need Hazard to make up his mind on his future, and fast, because he just isn’t focused. Without him in top form they will not finish in the top four.


Replace Alonso, Luiz now
In recent weeks the duo of Marcos Alonso and David Luiz have put in some horrendous displays. But they still start every game. That can’t happen. Emerson Palmeri should now play over Alonso, while Andreas Christensen or Gary Cahill should be given the chance to replace Luiz. Both Alonso and Luiz love to attack, score goals and deep down believe they should be strikers. First and foremost they need to defend and they just aren’t doing that like they did in Conte’s first season in charge. The hammering at Man City has to be the final straw for Luiz and Alonso under Sarri and if this doesn’t force him to hand chances to Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ethan Ampadu, what will?


Further backing for Maurizio Sarri needed
It is clear that Chelsea’s model of hiring and firing managers has worked over the past decade. The trophy cabinet says so. But the one constant throughout all of the sackings was that a squad of elite, opinionated players remained. It often came down to this: if the players wanted to player for the manager they would. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t. As we saw with the core of this squad, they threw in the towel for Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte once they were bored of their defensive tactics. Conte said while he was still at Chelsea that this squad needed a huge overhaul and that is crystal clear. He was spot on. This isn’t a Chelsea squad with Drogba, Lampard and Terry, characters who can keep the DNA of the side and win trophies no matter who is in charge.

Conte’s achievement of winning the PL and the FA Cup over his two campaigns in charge is looking better by the day. If Chelsea truly want to usher in Sarri-Ball they must give their manager the players he needs to suit his style. Christian Pulisic might be able do that, but Sarri’s other key additions Gonzalo Higuain and Jorginho seem unable to cope with the demands of the Premier League. A huge clearout is needed. Not just shipping out Alvaro Morata on loan and bringing in Higuain on loan. 10-12 players need to leave this summer if Sarri remains in charge.

The vast majority of this squad isn’t capable of playing the way he wants, and that’s something which will not change overnight. Sarri said he will happily chat with Roman Abramovich in the coming days, but admitted that he doesn’t really speak to him. Is that an admission that he wants to clear up the big issue here: how much do Chelsea really want Sarri to remain in charge? Right now both Sarri and the club seem ambivalent about seeing this out.