Emerson

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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.

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.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

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?

Premier League Preview: Chelsea v. West Ham

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  • Chelsea sit in 4th place, two points back of Man City
  • West Ham sit in 17th place, three points above the relegation zone
  • The Hammers have lost four of their last five matches. Chelsea meanwhile is looking for win seven in its last eight Premier League games.
  • Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 13 home Premier League meetings with West Ham (W9), last losing to the Hammers by a 3-2 scoreline in September 2002.

Chelsea look to keep pace in the top four and get back to winning ways as Frank Lampard‘s side hosts a London derby against struggling West Ham United (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold and NBCSports.com).

Chelsea dropped a 2-1 scoreline last week to Man City, and then was compounded with a wild 2-2 draw with Valencia in mid-week UEFA Champions League action. Defense has been an issue, as Chelsea has allowed two or more goals in three of its last four matches.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

Saturday’s match could be a big boost of confidence for Lampard’s men though, as West Ham comes to Stamford Bridge. The Hammers are in horrendous form recently under former Man City title-winning coach Manuel Pellegrini. Defensively the team has been all over the place, especially without Winston Reid, though Reid is back in training. However, based on current form, even a Chelsea team without Tammy Abraham, out with injury, should be just fine, with Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic running havoc along the wings.

Injuries/suspensions

Chelsea: OUT – Tammy Abraham (hip)

West Ham: OUT – Issa Diop (suspension), Winston Reid, Lukasz Fabianski, Manuel Lanzini, Jack Wilshere (all injured)


Projected lineups

Chelsea: Kepa – Azpilicueta, Tomori, Zouma, Emerson – Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic – Pulisic, Batshuayi, Willian

West Ham: Roberto – Fredericks, Balbuena, Ogbonna, Cresswell – Felipe Anderson, Rice, Noble, Yarmolenko – Haller


What they’re saying

Frank Lampard on facing a struggling West Ham: “I expect West Ham to bring passion and effort. They are in a difficult place because of their recent run, and sometimes that can bring out the best in players. You look at people in their team like Mark Noble and Declan Rice, players that care for the club, and they want to react to a manager who is a top manager so I am expecting a reaction from them. We know they have individual quality in forward areas so I am taking the game nowhere near lightly. It is a tough match.”

Mark Noble on improving West Ham’s defense: “We have to defend better as a team but that side of the game does seem to have become ‘uncool’,” he observed. “The philosophy of football seems to have changed. Maybe it doesn’t look that great if the ball is near the touchline and you run over and smash it into the crowd so your team can get back into shape. Instead now, you maybe try and step over, pass it back to the ‘keeper who kicks it straight up in the air and results in a 50/50 challenge. The teams who defend best normally do well.”


Prediction

West Ham faces Chelsea at arguably the worst time. For a team in need of a pick-me-up, to have to go to Stamford Bridge and face one of the quickest, most dynamic attacks in the Premier League will leave some West Ham players with serious nerves in the tunnel before taking the field. Chelsea should have no issues, and though it’s a London derby, the hosts should take all three points.

Chelsea 3-1 West Ham

Man City rises above Chelsea challenge

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Manchester City came back from the break with vigor, overcoming an early Chelsea goal to beat its Top Four rivals 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez scored for the two-time reigning PL champs, with Rodri getting an assist before heading off with an injury.

[ MORE: Grading Pulisic’s day at the Etihad ]

Sergio Aguero also limped off the pitch late for the City, who remains nine points back of leaders Liverpool.

N’Golo Kante scored for Chelsea, whose 26 points are good for fourth place and an 11-point gulf below Liverpool.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]


Three things we learned

1. City’s not dead: The reigning champs City went behind early and inspired some worries that the shine might’ve left the big game hunters, but De Bruyne and Co. were composed in building City back into the lead. Guardiola’s three-man midfield of Rodri, David Silva, and De Bruyne dealt well with the ball and in the more than 50 percent of the game that Chelsea had it, while Riyad Mahrez was pretty great in addition to his wonderful, decisive goal. City boosted its goal differential to a joint league-best 23 (Leicester City).

2. Two more significant injury worries for City: Rodri left the match after 52 minutes and Aguero was carrying a heavy limp when he left the match for Gabriel Jesus. The Argentine then had a talk with Guardiola on the touch line to seemingly let him know the limps weren’t for show. Rodri is a bigger concern, but neither player can miss too much time as City’s title margins are oh-so-slim.

3. Chelsea’s trophy odds change camps: A lot can happen in 25 match days and it would be stunning if a team of the Blues quality dropped out of the Top Four, but the idea that the Blues can erase 11 points of Liverpool lead and have that happen without Man City taking similar advantage of a Reds collapse is a bit wild. Frank Lampard wouldn’t be wrong to think about prioritizing the UCL on occasion when sorting his lineups. We’ll be happy to eat our words and crowd Lampard “King of World Football” if today didn’t sound Chelsea’s PL title hopes death knell.

Man of the Match: Mahrez — His goal was a reminder of his status as one of the Premier League players of the decade, the one-time Leicester City hero. Next-up status for Kovacic and De Bruyne.

What a goal.


Fernandinho hit a scintillating early through ball to help Aguero set up De Bruyne for a hard shot that dragged just wide of the goal.

Willian missed a similar chance at the other end in the same fashion, off the far post by inches.

Kante claimed a lead for Chelsea raced between Benjamin Mendy and Fernandinho to collect a wonderful Mateo Kovacic pass and beat a screened, charging Ederson.

De Bruyne leveled the score in the 29th, cutting to make room atop the 18 and slapping a shot that took a hard turn off Kurt Zouma to make it 1-1.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Mahrez made it 2-1 when he took a Rodri pass and scythed between Emerson and Kovacic to lash past Arrizabalaga.

And Aguero was in prime position to score after Arrizabalaga passed the ball right to him, but the City man smashed off the cross bar.

The second half saw life for both teams, but City was again at the wheel for most of it.  Sterling didn’t have a day to remember, but his clinical side-footed finish of a stoppage time flick was delightful. Unfortunately, it was chalked off by the slimmest of margins.

Pulisic watch: USMNT star performs against Palace

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Christian Pulisic put in a Man of the Match display as Chelsea beat Crystal Palace 2-0 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

[ MORE: Pulisic injury update ]

Pulisic, 21, scored his fifth goal in his last three Premier League games as he terrified Palace’s defense all game long.

[ MORE: Pulisic reacts to Chelsea’s sixth-straight win ]

Here’s a look at how Pulisic fared as he scored his first goal at Stamford Bridge.


1st minute: Involved after just 20 seconds, as he cuts in from the left after a ball from Willian. Pulisic takes it past three players before setting up a shot for a teammate, which is blocked. Bright start.

7th minute: Mount breaks clear and Pulisic cuts in from the left but drags his shot harmlessly wide.

12th minute: Willian finds Pulisic on the break and he cuts inside brilliantly, completely fooling Joel Ward, but Vicente Guaita does superbly to stand tall and saved his dinked effort. Wonderful skill from the USMNT star.

17th minute: Lovely dummy which finds Emerson and his cross is deflected out for a corner.

20th minute: Some wonderful touches inside the box to evade three Crystal Palace players before eventually being overcrowded. Confidence is flowing for Pulisic.

25th minute: The ball is taken off him in his own defensive third but he does well to put Ward off, as he shanks the cross.

27th minute: Wriggles free in the box much to the delight of the home fans and sets up N’Golo Kante who has a goalbound shot which is blocked. Superb from Pulisic, once again.

37th minute: Wins the ball back in his own half, gets away from his marker and plays the ball back to his defense. A ripple of applause from the home fans, then moments later he cuts inside and starts another attack. His cross to the back post is too deep for Willian.

44th minute: Climbs above the Palace defense to meet Kante’s cross but he heads over.

46th minute: Gets the ball in the box and after a poor touch it bounces up and appears to hit the hand of Palace sub Martin Kelly. Despite the calls for a penalty kick, nothing is given.

56th minute: Springs a Chelsea counter down the left but his ball across the pitch to Willian is cut out by Cahill.

59th minute: After a sensational pass from Kovacic he takes a wonderful first touch and then smashes a shot on goal with Guaita tips over. Palace can’t cope with Pulisic.

67th minute: Cuts in from the left and smashes a wild shot off target. His worst effort of the day.

75th minute: Wriggled free and almost set up Batshuayi but his through ball was cut out.

76th minute: Works back hard to win the ball from Kouyate, as Emerson then fires just wide of the far post.

79th minute: With his final touch of the game he reacts quickly to Michy Batshuayi‘s shot being deflected and heads home bravely. Pulisic is then given a standing ovation off the pitch as the Chelsea fans chant “USA, USA!” A superb outing for Pulisic.