Cesar

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Azpilicueta: ‘Champions League is where Chelsea belong’

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Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta is happy his side earned its spot in the knockout round with a convincing 2-1 win over Lille that flattered to deceive the French visitors to Stamford Bridge.

Azpilicueta scored what would stand as the decisive goal, as Chelsea finished second to Valencia and clinched a place in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.

[ MORE: Match recap | Pulisic Watch ]

“Champions League is where Chelsea belong,” Azpilicueta said. “We know it was a tough group. Last year’s semi-finalists Ajax have been knocked out.”

The Blues opened the group stage with a 1-0 home loss to Valencia, then beat Lille before taking four fo six points from Ajax.

A 2-2 draw with the eventual group winners in Spain meant Chelsea needed a win in London.

“We had to fight and recover after losing against Valencia at home in our first game. But now we are in the last 16 the focus has to switch back to the Premier League until the competition starts again next year.”

Manager Frank Lampard is happy his side progressed to the next stage, but didn’t like that the Blues finished poorly to leave the door open for Lille.

“With the young players we have in this side there will be bumps in the road,”  Lampard said, via the BBC. “I push them and can be quite hard on them, setting the high standards I want to see them reach, but at the same time I have to be patient. Today was a sign of how much work we still have got to do. It should have been a calmer finish to the game and that is the biggest thing, for me, that we need to improve.”

Chelsea hosts Bournemouth at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday.

Chelsea controls Lille to clinch UCL knockout round berth

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Chelsea advanced to the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds as the second team out of Group H after a 2-1 defeat of Lille at Stamford Bridge that flattered the visitors.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Tammy Abraham and Cesar Azpilicueta scored for Chelsea on a rain-splattered night in London, with Lille scoring via the Blues’ old friend Loic Remy.

Valencia beat Ajax in the other Group H match to send last season’s semifinalists to the Europa League.


Three things we learned

1. Uneven finishing almost undoes Blues: Make no mistake about the fact that Chelsea was in total control of this match right up until the point they looked at the scoreboard following Loic Remy’s 78th minute strike. Chelsea’s two goals came from a remarkable nine shots on target, and this could’ve been over long before any lone concession put the result in jeopardy. It happens to youngish teams, sure, but jeopardy came out of almost nothing, truly.

2. All roads lead to Abraham: You can read more about Pulisic’s strong day here, but he was one of three or even four players who drove Chelsea to so many of the above chances. Pulisic’s chemistry with Kovacic is a very real, but both joined Willian and N’Golo Kante in bamboozling the Lille backs.

3. Well, give the keeper some credit: Mike Maignan was Lille’s captain at age 24 in a Champions League match, and nothing he did made the arm band anything other than fitting. Six saves — four from inside the box — joined a clearance, a high claim, and two aerial duels won in making for an impressive afternoon.

Man of the Match: Kovacic, who won nearly duel he entered and barely put a pass wrong.


The match started under heavy rain, both sides adapting to the slick ball and pitch.

Tammy Abraham couldn’t find Pulisic with an early flick, and the American winger spun a left-footed shot wide of the far post in the 10th minute.

Emerson Palmeiri ripped wide of the goal and then Abraham did the same after an N’Golo Kante shot was blocked into his path.

Pulisic played a big role in Chelsea’s breakthrough, dribbling across the 18 before finding Willian, who drove the touch line and cut back for Abraham’s tap-in.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

It was 2-0 before long, Azpilicueta darting to the front post to turn a header home off a corner kick.

Great header, bad defense here:

The Blues were superior in nearly every moment of the match, with Willian and Pulisic very much at the forefront. Lille did a decent job of keeping them from truly dangerous positions, and Abraham had a little trouble finding his finish when the duo found him.

Jonathan Bamba cued up Remy’s 78th minute goal, as Frank Lampard and his men suddenly had a match to play.

Azpilicueta probably lost his Man of the Match nod when he allowed the Bamba cross to get through, though it was admittedly clever work.

Christian Pulisic watch: How did USMNT star perform?

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How did USMNT star Christian Pulisic perform in Chelsea’s defeat at Everton?

He was marked tightly throughout the game and will have quite a few lumps and bruises when he wakes up on Sunday…

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Pulisic, 21, received high praise from his manager Frank Lampard after his recent performances as he believes he can reach the top level on the planet. Stop salivating, USMNT fans…

Here’s a look at how he performed against Everton, in a tough outing for the Blues and Pulisic.


2nd minute: Cesar Azpilicueta overhits a ball to him in the box as Pulisic can’t get on the end of it.

3rd minute: A ball into the box almost finds his run but Everton manage to crowd him out.

17th minute: Struggling to get into the game as Everton’s full back and wide players pushed forward. Spent most of his time defending.

20th minute: Almost got on the end of a great chance for Chelsea. Michael Keane gave the ball away and Willian and Tammy Abraham couldn’t get the ball to Pulisic.

24th minute: A run from Pulisic wins a corner for Chelsea.

25th minute: Lurking in the six yard box and a ball towards him from Kovacic was flicked over by Willian as Chelsea struggled to get going in attack.

30th minute: Lovely skill from Pulisic to nutmeg Gylfi Sigurdsson then play in Willian who crosses for Abraham. Chelsea’s leading goalscorer can’t convert. Better from Pulisic, and Chelsea.

40th minute: Pulisic cuts in down the left but his ball into the box is blocked.

45th minute: A first half of frustration for Pulisic as he was pinned back early and then roamed around the final third trying to get on the ball, but Chelsea did push their way back into the game.

50th minute: Pulisic loses the ball 40 yards from his own goal, then Zouma shanks a clearance into the air which eventually finds Dominic Calvert-Lewin who makes it 2-0 to Everton. A comedy of errors from Chelsea.

60th minute: Gets some space in the far left corner but his cross is easily cleared by Everton’s defense.

63rd minute: Tries to dribble free in the box but is tackled. Pulisic throws his arms in the air in frustration.

69th minute: Launches a breakaway for Chelsea but is clattered into by Sidibe to win a free kick for his team.

70th minute: Moments later he fouls Sidibe, although it looked like Pulisic got an arm in the face. He complains about the foul and isn’t happy at all with the referee.

76th minute: Fouled by Sidibe on the edge of the box, but he had handled the ball moments early. More frustration for Pulisic.

80th minute: Pulisic again goes down but no free kick is given. He is furious with the referee as he is on the floor.

88th minute: Ran towards goal and clipped a lovely ball into the strikers. Then sent a tame header at the back post right at Pickford and that about summed up his day at Everton.

93rd minute: A speculative effort from distance which was well wide.

96th minute: A foul throw in front of the Chelsea fans which sums up his day.

Chelsea transfer ban reduced after appeal

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Chelsea will be able to sign new players in January after their transfer ban from FIFA was reduced to one transfer window after their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was successful.

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The Blues had previously been banned for two transfer windows, summer 2019 and winter 2020, for 150 rule breaches involving 69 academy players over a period of several years, but they will now be able to sign new players from Jan. 1 when the next transfer window opens.

Despite having the ban reduced, Chelsea are far from happy with world soccer’s governing body as they released a scathing statement slamming FIFA’s handling of the situation.

“The approach taken by FIFA to this case has been deeply unsatisfactory, not least as FIFA chose to treat Chelsea entirely differently to Manchester City for reasons that make absolutely no sense to Chelsea. We respect the importance of the work undertaken by FIFA in relation to the protection of minors and has fully cooperated with FIFA throughout its investigation. However, if FIFA continues to impose inconsistent and unequal sanctions on clubs then it will not only undermine the very purpose of the regulations, but it will also bring into doubt the game’s confidence in FIFA being able to appropriately regulate this important area.”

They went on to add a bit more detail about why they were so angry at being banned from signing new players for one window.

“FIFA accused Chelsea of having breached Article 19 of the FIFA regulations in relation to 27 players, covering the period from 2009 onwards. Of those, 16 players were registered by Chelsea in exactly the same way as other Premier League clubs registered players at the time. Furthermore, Chelsea sought clarification from the Premier League in 2009 about whether it needed to apply for permission to register players in this category. The FA subsequently liaised with FIFA and it was confirmed to Chelsea that players in this category were entitled to register and that no special application was required (and in fact no special application process existed). Accordingly, the fact that FIFA brought charges against Chelsea for this category of player was perverse. We are grateful that this appears to have been corrected by the CAS.”

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard was obviously delighted with the outcome, as he can now reinforce his young squad and has plenty of cash in the bank after a no-spend summer (the deal for Christian Pulisic was sealed last January and Mateo Kovacic arrived permanently after his loan move saw a clause triggered which made it a permanent move).

“It’s a positive outcome for us,” Lampard said. “It allows us the potential to look at the market going forward. So I’m pleased from a footballing level. It was never my business to get involved in the reasons why or the legal side of it.”

Which areas should Chelsea strengthen in now they can buy again? And which players will be their top targets?

It is clear that left back is an area where Lampard will want to add a new starter as both Marcos Alonso and Emerson Palmeri are fine as back ups neither have made the position their own this season. Up top is another key location where Lampard will look to strengthen as Olivier Giroud seems to be on his way out of Stamford Bridge and that would leave just Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi as the options at center forward.

Elsewhere, Chelsea look pretty set, although a new center back could be handy but isn’t necessary given the fact that Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori have both been superb for most of this season and Andreas Christensen is also around with Cesar Azpilicueta also able to slot in at center back with Reece James developing well at right back.

After 12 months without spending and having transfer fees from the sale of Eden Hazard, David Luiz and Tomas Kalas and many other fringe players which brought in an incredible $180 million, Lampard will have money to spend.

Chelsea have been linked with moves for Jadon Sancho, Wilfried Zaha, Nathan Ake and Ben Chilwell, among many others, as plenty of star players will fancy a move to Stamford Bridge given Lampard’s promising start to life as their manager.

The big question now is: Given Chelsea’s great start to the season as they sit in the top four with their young team progressing together as a group, do they risk bringing in new additions to potential upset the team spirit? Is it better to wait until the summer when the likes of Pedro and Giroud, and maybe Willian, could all leave Stamford Bridge?

Pulisic on Chelsea’s wild draw v. Ajax; UCL hopes

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USMNT star Christian Pulisic put in another stellar display for Chelsea as they fought back to draw 4-4 after being 4-1 down at home against Ajax in the UEFA Champions League.

With Chelsea losing 4-2 in the second half, Ajax had two players (Daley Blind and Joel Veltman) sent off and conceded a penalty all in the same play.

Pulisic won a penalty kick early on which Jorginho converted and he was a constant threat throughout as he continues his great form in recent weeks.

The Blues ended up securing a crucial draw as they aim to reach the last 16 of the Champions League, and thought they had won it but Cesar Azpilicueta’s second goal was ruled out by VAR due to handball.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Pulisic revealed that even when they were 3-1 down at half time Chelsea’s players believed they could win the game.

“We are a confident bunch of guys. Even at half time we said to each other ‘we are going to win this game, we are coming back and we can do this’ and we always have to believe,” Pulisic said. “The whole thing was crazy. I didn’t even realize they got two red cards! It was pretty wild. Definitely a night to remember, but we still wanted the three points.”

Frank Lampard‘s side sit top of Group H but are on seven points, level with Ajax and Valencia. Their next game is a trip to Valencia in a pivotal clash at the Mestalla, as they end the group stage by playing bottom club Lille at home.

“This makes our next game even more important. We are still at the top of the group and we just need to win the next game. I think we are looking really good,” Pulisic added. “Today just showed the spirit of this team. We are never going to give up. We obviously have a lot of talent but that was more about the fight and will to come back.”

Pulisic’s own comeback has been impressive in recent weeks, as he’s scored four times in his last two Premier League appearances (his first Chelsea goals) and has also made a huge difference as they picked up four points over two games against Ajax.

The 21-year-old continues to cut in from the flank to use his devastating pace and creativity and after a month or so on the bench, he’s now one of the first names on Lampard’s teamsheet.

What a comeback for Chelsea against Ajax, and for Pulisic in general.