Ethan Ampadu

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Chelsea defender Rudiger to undergo exploratory knee surgery

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Maurizio Sarri may be rueing a risk he took with Chelsea battling for a Champions League place.

Antonio Rudiger is reportedly in Rome to undergo exploratory surgery to discover the extent of a knee injury he suffered over the weekend against Manchester United, and there are concerns his season is almost certainly over. The fear is meniscus damage, which could see him sidelined for around eight weeks.

Rudiger had been out with a knee injury after coming off 40 minutes into the 2-0 loss to Liverpool in early April. The German international was subsequently sidelined for the Europa League matchup against Slavia Prague plus the ensuing Premier League match against Burnley, but Sarri decided he needed Rudiger for the run-in to the Premier League season with Champions League play on the line, bringing him back for the game at Old Trafford.

The defender made it through 65 minutes before collapsing in real pain, and now goes under the knife with just three weeks remaining on the campaign. It would be tough to see Rudiger return unless the results came back overwhelmingly positive, at the very least missing this week’s Europa League semifinal against Eintracht Frankfurt plus the weekend’s league meeting with Watford.

That leaves Andreas Christensen as the partner to David Luiz at the back, with Sarri potentially forced to bring Gary Cahill back into the fold on the bench. Cahill has been a complete afterthought all season, playing just 23 Premier League minutes back in late September. The other option is 18-year-old academy product Ethan Ampadu who joined from Exeter City’s youth setup two years ago.

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.

Willian scores 2, Higuain starts as Chelsea tops Sheffield Wednesday

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Willian scored twice and Callum Hudson-Odoi also scored as Chelsea beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 on Sunday to advance to the FA Cup Round of 16.

The early stages of the match included two awarded penalties, though only one would make it to the spot thanks to Video Assistant Referee.

[ MORE: Giovinco leaving TFC? ]

Joey Pelupessy kicked Ethan Ampadu‘s back leg and was awarded a penalty by Andre Marriner, but VAR reversed the decision.

Less than three minutes later, Sam Hutchinson took down Cesar Azpilicueta in the box with a clumsy tackle, and Willian had no problem with his effort to make it 1-0.

Hudson-Odoi made it 2-0 when he coolly collected an Andreas Christensen pass and cut inside to double the advantage.

Then Willian made it pretty with his second, taking a flick from Olivier Giroud and curling a vicious strike off the far post and into the goal.

Make sure to tune-in for our special Transfer Deadline Day show on NBCSN on Thursday, Jan. 31 from 5 p.m. ET as we focus on all of the moves across the Premier League in the January window. You can stream the show live online right here.

FOLLOW LIVE: Higuain starts in FA Cup

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Having clinched a spot in the League Cup Final, Chelsea aims for the next round of the FA Cup when it hosts Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday at Stamford Bridge.

Kickoff is at 1 p.m. ET in London.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores ]

It’ll be the Chelsea faithful’s first chance to see Gonzalo Higuain in their blue, with the ex-Napoli man starting for Maurizio Sarri.Youngsters Ethan Ampadu and Callum Hudson-Odoi also start for Chelsea, the latter reportedly handing in a transfer request earlier this week.

[ MORE: Giovinco leaving TFC? ]

Ex-Premier League strikers George Boyd and Steven Fletcher start for Wednesday, who is managed by Steve Bruce.

Make sure to tune-in for our special Transfer Deadline Day show on NBCSN on Thursday, Jan. 31 from 5 p.m. ET as we focus on all of the moves across the Premier League in the January window. You can stream the show live online right here.

Europa League roundup: Arsenal wins; Rangers, AC Milan bounced

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Twenty-four games in about four hours: It’s the Europa League group stage, and it’s reached its conclusion.

[ MORE: Mourinho: “Job done” in UCL ]

A very young Arsenal claimed its group, Celtic bunkered down but couldn’t advance to the knockout rounds, and rivals Rangers couldn’t quite find the offense needed to complete a promising UEL campaign.


Rapid Vienna 1-0 Rangers

Steven Gerrard‘s promising first European campaign as first team manager has ended thanks to a goal from sub Dejan Ljubicic in Austria. A very even game, Rangers could not find a way past Richard Strebinger.

Arsenal 1-0 Qarabag

Alexandre Lacazette‘s 17th minute goal gave the Gunners a leg up on the group lead in a game with a bunch of unusual faces on the pitch. Carl Jenkinson, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, and Saka Bukayo were among the starters, and Lacazette left for Zech Medley in the 63rd minute as Arsenal saved its best for a trip to Southampton on Sunday (No offense to Mesut Ozil and Laurent Koscielny, who went 90 minutes each).

MOL Vidi 2-2 Chelsea

We’ve already shown you Willian’s terrific free kick, and this match in Hungary was plenty entertaining for a relatively inconsequential outing. Ethan Ampadu scored an own goal two minutes after Chelsea took the lead, and MOL Vidi led 2-1 when Olivier Giroud restored the stalemate in the 75th.

Celtic 1-2 Red Bull Salzburg

The visitors dominated and finally found a way past goalkeeper Craig Gordon through a 67th Moanes Dabbur marker. Celtic went down two with Fredrik Gulbrandsen adding to the score line.

RB Leipzig 1-1 Rosenborg

Matheus Cunha’s goal just after halftime looked to have prodded RBL above Celtic and into the Round of 32, but Tore Reginiussen leveled for the Norwegian side.

Olympiacos 3-1 AC Milan

Gennaro Gattuso’s men are out of Europe after a four-goal second half.

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