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Report: Maurizio Sarri never fit in at Chelsea

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According to a report by English tabloid The Daily Mail, Maurizio Sarri never truly fit in at Chelsea, with his smoking habits, training sessions, and distaste for media obligations all contributing to his lack of acceptance by both supporters and club officials alike.

The report details a number of smaller issues with his personality and mannerisms that combined to create an air of distaste that surrounded the Italian at Stamford Bridge. The report made sure to note that Sarri was not exactly disliked at the club, and his sense of humor was one of his strongest personality traits, but ultimately the two parties were clearly a world apart.

Most notable is Sarri’s constant smoking habit that was jarring when placed at a venue full of professional athletes hoping to keep their bodies in perfect health and shape. While other Italian managers recently to take charge of the Blues were known smokers, Sarri lit up far more frequent than his countrymates such as Roberto Di Matteo and Gianluca Vialli.

Also a source of frustration for club officials was Sarri’s distaste for media opportunities and promotional events. The reports Sarri’s absence from team visits to public appearances and tourist destinations, as well as his desire not to attend charity events or commercial obligations.

Sarri was apparently superstitious enough that he avoided stepping onto the playing field at all costs, even to the point where it kept him from applauding the fans during road matches. He apparently had to be convinced to walk the team out for his first match in charge at the Community Shield.

Finally, his drab training sessions were another point of contention, also not something that alone would have turned heads but in conjunction with everything else added to the separation. Italian training sessions are often heavy in focus on team shape and tactical theories, something Antonio Conte also brought with him to the Blues, but Conte was a far more mercurial character who endeared himself to fans far more than the less emotionally exuberant Sarri. His training tantrum prior to the Europa League final seemed to encapsulate his behind-the-scenes personality, unable to control his frustrations with the players and booting his hat captured in video that went public before the start of the big match.

In addition, his superstition apparently bled into training sessions to the point where he insisted on playing training matches with the same 16 players each week, leaving fringe players to do their own work on the sidelines again and again, something which made those not in his plans feel completely cast aside.

With constant reports of Sarri’s imminent departure to Juventus, the report lists the Kepa Arrizabalaga episode as the final straw for the Italian, frustrated by the club’s failure to back the manager in fear of another Diego Costa incident that cost the club financially in the open market. While nothing listed here by itself is a serious issue to cause a rift between club and manager, everything combined seems to have pushed the former Napoli boss back to his home country soon after arriving.

Should Harry Kane start the Champions League final?

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Since the moment Lucas Moura sent Tottenham Hotspur through, the idea of Harry Kane returning from his latest ankle ligament injury to start Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final against Liverpool has been the game’s biggest question.

[ MORE: Win or lose UCL final, not much changes for Spurs ]

It will continue to dominate conversation until lineups are released at 2 p.m. ET.

Will Pochettino be tempted to call upon Tottenham’s talisman to start the biggest game in the club’s history, perhaps knowing he’s nowhere near 90-minutes fit? You’d be crazy to think not.

Whether or not he will do so, though, is a whole other (series of) question(s) completely.

[ MORE: Pochettino tight-lipped on Kane status ]

The reason Kane has dominated headlines, after missing Spurs’ last nine games  from the second leg of the quarterfinals to both legs of the semifinals, has much to do with the fact that his inclusion (or exclusion, as it may be) will drastically change the shape of Pochettino’s team and game plan.

If Kane starts, it’ll likely come at the expense of Moura, the hat-trick hero that got them there, while allowing Pochettino to pick an extra midfielder — most likely Harry Winks — and play a midfield diamond behind Kane and Son Heung-min.

If Kane is starts the game on the bench, Pochettino faces a number of difficult decisions: playing a back-three or a back-four; Moura, as a wide attacker, or Fernando Llorente, as a target man up top; pushing one of Dele Alli or Christian Eriksen higher up, or leaving both of them in central midfield; Danny Rose at left back, or nominally as a left winger?

[ MORE: How will Liverpool line up for Champions League final? ]

Predictably, Pochettino has refused to tip his hand for three weeks running — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s difficult, you need to take a decision and tomorrow is another decision. We have all the information. We will use every detail to try to win.

“You can use only 11 players from the beginning — that is the most painful situation.”

It’s impossible to know which way Pochettino will go, because we’ve seen each of the above on a number of occasions this season. Sometimes it was out of necessity, due to injuries, and sometimes it was pure experimentation; both to great success, and terrible failure.

In the end, the risk of having to sub Kane off after eight minutes — as happened with Diego Costa in the 2014 UCL final — or him being wholly ineffective after missing so much time, isn’t worth the upside of having a semi-fit Kane to face the Premier League’s stingiest defense in a game that Spurs might never see again. If Pochettino enters the game knowing in advance that he’ll have to sub Kane off before 90 minutes, let alone the potential for 120 and penalty kicks, he’ll do more harm than good by selecting him.

That isn’t to say he will be able to resist the urge to do so anyway.

Transfer rumor roundup: Pepe to Arsenal, Lo Celso in demand

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Here’s the Tuesday morning transfer buzz after a holiday weekend in America:

[ MORE: La Liga match fixing arrests ]

Arsenal target Nicolas Pepe leaving Lille is beyond certain. Just ask his manager.

“Nicolas will leave not 100 percent, but 150 percent,” said Christophe Gaither. “Can a footballer be prevented from going to a great European team? It is impossible.”

Pepe’s 11 assists were joint-second in Ligue 1 this season, and only Kylian Mbappe scored more league goals than his 22.

The 33 combined markers mean Pepe was involved in nearly half of second-place Lille’s 68 goals.

Pepe, 23, will fetch a fortune on the transfer market. Is Arsenal willing to spend enough to give Unai Emery another big playmaker? More importantly, will they outspend teams like Inter Milan?

Meanwhile, Spurs continue to be linked with playmakers. In addition to potential interest in Newcastle United’s Ayoze Perez, the North Londoners are said to have put in a $67 million bid for Giovani Lo Celso.

The Real Betis starred on loan from Paris Saint-Germain and has a release clause of approximately $111 million, so there’s probably going to be some haggling here.

Manchester United and Real Madrid are also being matched with the Spaniard.

Finally, Edinson Cavani is ready to make a move to La Liga and join Atletico Madrid should Diego Simeone’s men sell Diego Costa. Atleti is also being linked with Leicester City’s Ben Chilwell, and just announced the $25 million signing of center back Felipe from Porto.

Three things learned: Man United v. Chelsea

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An intense battle to finish in the top four of the Premier League saw Manchester United and Chelsea grind out a draw at Old Trafford, with Chelsea the happier of the two teams with a point.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Juan Mata put United ahead but Marcos Alonso equalized after a mistake from David De Gea, as the top four battle remains intense with two games to go.

Here’s what we learned from a tense battle which summed up the tight race for UEFA Champions League qualification.


ANOTHER DE GEA HOWLER COSTS UNITED

By his own very high standards, David de Gea is having a horrible few weeks. High-profile mistakes against Barcelona, Man City and now Chelsea have seen the man who is so often United’s savior cost them dear.

De Gea, 28, is in the midst of plenty of speculation regarding his future as his contract situation rumbles on, and it would be a little too easy to point to that being the main reason for this poor run of form. It is a reason, but this poor form has arrived sporadically dating back to the end of last season as it surfaced during the 2018 World Cup.

The Spanish goalkeeper has been named United’s Player of the Season in five of the last six seasons for a reason. He is their rock in defense and among all of their problems, his stunning form was the one constant United could rely on. Not anymore. And that’s probably why United won’t finish in the top four this season, the main aim for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after he took over in December. At a crucial time of the season, United’s most reliable star has endured a nightmare spell and has probably cost them being among Europe’s elite next season. Whether he will be at United next season or not remains to be seen, but this is far from vintage DDG.


NOBODY WANTS TO WIN THIS TOP FOUR RACE

Tottenham and Arsenal lost in disappointing fashion this weekend, and neither United or Chelsea could make the most of their slip ups in the top four race. It’s almost like these teams don’t want to play in the UEFA Champions League next season…

The lackluster second half displays from United and Chelsea summed up this top four race. Teams are running out of steam and are inconsistent and whoever does finish in fourth will have limped over the line.

What their ineptitude does is set up the top four race for a thrilling finish to the campaign. With two games to go Tottenham in third are five points ahead of Man United in sixth, with just three points between Chelsea in fourth and United.

With Spurs in the UEFA Champions League semifinal against Ajax and both Arsenal and Chelsea in the semifinals of the Europa League, Man United could have the edge with their remaining games easier, on paper, than their top four rivals. But this draw for Chelsea puts them in a very good position.

Here are the games the four teams fighting for third and fourth have remaining:

  • Tottenham – Bournemouth (A), Everton (H)
  • Chelsea – Watford (H), Leicester (A)
  • Arsenal – Brighton (H), Burnley (A)
  • Man United – Huddersfield (H), Cardiff (A)

CHELSEA’S ATTACK STUTTERS, BUT SARRI COULD BE A SUCCESS

Gonzalo Higuain just couldn’t stay onside for most of the game on Sunday, let alone score a goal. We all know the Argentine striker loves to play on the shoulder of the last defender, but he yet again failed to offer that much in attack and Willian, Pedro and Eden Hazard couldn’t get going underneath him.

It looks like Chelsea are now favorites ahead of Arsenal and United finish in the top four, and coupled with their run to the League Cup final and Europa League semifinal, Maurizio Sarri‘s men aren’t doing too badly at all. If he stays, which is looking more likely, Sarri can turn things around at Stamford Bridge after a rough few months.

But the Italian coach knows his attack may well look very different next season with Eden Hazard likely to leave, Christian Pulisic coming in and the futures of Higuain, Olivier Giroud and Callum Hudson-Odoi still up in the air. Unless Hazard scores, Chelsea struggle to score and that is the main problem for Sarri to sort out this summer. For all of their intricate play in midfield and solid defensive outings (at least in recent weeks), Sarri must find a way to reignite Chelsea’s attack if they’re going to be genuine title contenders next season. They are the lowest scorers in the top six and still have a Diego Costa size hole in their attack.

Costa suspended eight games for ref insult, arm grab

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Mothers are off limits.

Diego Costa will miss the rest of Atletico Madrid’s season as a result of the red card he received for verbal abuse of a referee in a loss to Barcelona last week.

[ MORE: Smalling, McTominay okay with result ]

The referee’s report claims Costa told official Gil Manzano that he’d do something to disgusting to his mother.

The 8-game ban includes four for insulting Manzano and four more for touching his arm receiving the red card, according to Marca, which says:

Costa and the club had fought against the punishment, with the player insisting that he had said “I (expletive) on my mother”, but the Committee have consulted Manzano for clarification and reached their decision.

Have to love the “no, no, you misunderstood. I was saying I’d do something gross to my mother. Not your mother. My mother.”

If it makes Costa and Atleti feel better, just pretend the suspension is for any number of awful thing he’s done on the field which have gone unpunished.

Costa has five goals and three assists in 21 matches this season.

Atleti can appeal the ban, sitting nine points back of leaders Barcelona and two in front of rivals Real Madrid.