Kurt Zouma

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Chelsea confirm Kante’s absence; Rudiger, Hudson-Odoi return

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Things haven’t gone so smoothly for Chelsea’s new manager Frank Lampard this season (still weird to be saying he’s their boss, but I’ll crack on…) and their trip to Wolves on Saturday just got tougher.

N’Golo Kante has been ruled out of the clash at Molineux (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) due to a reoccurring ankle problem.

The superstar defensive midfielder has only played 107 minutes so far this season in the Premier League and Lampard revealed that the situation hasn’t improved.

“N’Golo is not fit, Kovacic is,’ Lampard added. “This game has come too soon for him, hopefully close. We are waiting for that final step, but hopefully that will be the same time.”

Mateo Kovacic has done okay alongside Jorginho in central midfield, but a fit and fired up Kante makes such a huge difference to Chelsea’s defensive system and he has been badly missed so far. In a game against Wolves, a team who will seriously challenge Chelsea for a place in the top six this season, not having Kante is crucial.

But on the positive side of things Antonio Rudiger is back and is ready to solidify a shaky Chelsea defense, as both Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen have been struggling at center back.

Lampard believes Rudiger should be ready to be a leader in this young Chelsea side.

“He’s fit. It’s a choice for myself, but he will have an important role,” Lampard said. “We have missed him as we have with a few more front line players. It is important in a team. I don’t want a young team for the sake of it. He can be influential. He is ready to take on those roles.”

More good news has also arrived for Lampard on the injury front, as Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James will play for Chelsea’s U23 side against Brighton on Friday as they step up their comebacks.

The return of Hudson-Odoi, still just 18 years old, will be a huge boost and give Lampard some much-needed competition in wide areas as the Blues continue to struggle with the summer departure of Eden Hazard. He injured his Achilles in April after bursting onto the scene for club and country, but has made a quicker than expected recovery.

“Callum will play for the U23s along with Reece James,” Lampard confirmed. “He has been training for a while but there are some issues to make sure that he’s okay. It will be great to see that.”

CHO’s return may not be good news for Christian Pulisic, as the USMNT star will now be in direct competition with the England international who is expected to be one of the best-ever players to come through Chelsea’s academy.

Chelsea collapse as Sheffield United grab draw

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Chelsea let a 2-0 lead slip at home against Sheffield United on Saturday, as Frank Lampard‘s men coughed up goals at the start and end of the second half.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

In control for large portions of the game, Tammy Abraham scored twice in the first half to put the Blues in a commanding position.

But Sheffield United scored through Callum Robinson early in the second half and his 89th minute cross was hooked into his own net by Kurt Zouma to grab an unlikely point for the Blades.

Chelsea have one win and five points from their first four games, as Sheffield United have the same points tally.


3 things we learned

1. Defensive issues continue for Chelsea: 2-0 up and cruising, Chelsea blew it once again. They failed to deal with crosses into the box and they’ve now conceded nine goals in their first four games. No matter how good your attack is, if you concede two goals a game you aren’t going to finish in the top four of the Premier League. Chelsea were pinned back and took their foot off the pedal once again in the second half, and it cost them dear.

2. Abraham delivers once again: Four goals in his last two games has seen Abraham become the main man at Chelsea. He could have had a hat trick and led the line really well. Chelsea looked lost when he came off the pitch and it was a head scratcher as to why Lampard subbed him off.

3. Sheffield United dominate in wide areas: Their overlapping center backs get a lot of praise and the Blades once again dominant out wide. Robinson finished off Stevens’ cross for the first and then whipped in a great delivery for the second. Chelsea’s wide players were pinned back for most of the game and Sheffield United made the most of it.

Man of the Match: Callum Robinson – Scored early in the second half and set up the equalizer. Should have scored in the first half, but was a constant threat for Sheffield United. What a display.


Chelsea dominated early on and scored with their first big chance.

Pulisic picked up the ball and played in Cesar Azpilicueta who crossed for Abraham who nodded down and Pulisic forced Henderson into a fumble which Abraham tucked away for the opener.

Mateo Kovacic went close to doubling Chelsea’s lead after a fluid move, with the Blues feeling their way into the game.

Overlapping center back Chris Basham then teed up Callum Robinson with a fine cross from the right but the forward nodded wide from close range when he should have scored. Chelsea mad them pay for that, as a defensive mix up played the ball to Abraham who finished with a low effort to make it 2-0.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Sheffield United pulled one back seconds into the second half, as Enda Stevens worked his way down the left and crossed for Robinson to finish.

Abraham was then denied a hat trick after a brilliant save from Henderson as the Sheffield United goalkeeper atoned for his earlier error.

Chelsea looked to be managing the game fairly well, but the Blades then equalized in dramatic fashion.

In the 89th minute Robinson sent over a cross which Kurt Zouma deflected into his own net under pressure as the traveling Blades fans went bonkers at Stamford Bridge.

Lampard’s Chelsea collapsed once again in the second half.

What we’ve learned, so far, from Premier League

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As we approach Matchweek 4 in the new Premier League season, snap judgements on teams continue to be shared.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

But what have we actually learned in the opening weeks of the new campaign?

Here’s a look at some of the storylines emanating from the first 270 minutes of the season.


Man United continue to be their own worst enemies

After losing 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace, it’s easy to write off Man United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. But that wouldn’t tell the whole story. As Nick Mendola pointed out yesterday, it’s not time to panic just yet. Had they scored two penalty kicks via Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, it is very likely they’d be sitting joint-top of the table with three wins from three. United have been their own worst enemies, with Pogba and Rashford fluffing their lines and David De Gea making another costly error to lose in stoppage time at home against Palace. United’s defense looks better, Rashford, Dan James and Martial are a threat and the side is settled with better balance in midfield. If this young side can cut out costly errors, they will be in the top four hunt all season long.


West Ham, Leicester well placed for top six push

The Hammers and Foxes are both looking very decent early in the season and both seem capable of pushing into the top six. Leicester are unbeaten and should have beat Chelsea, while West Ham took care of business against Watford and should have beat Brighton after an opening day mauling at the hands of Man City. Sebastian Haller looks the real deal up top for West Ham as they finally have a striker who can hold up the ball and bring their plethora of wonderful attacking midfielders into the game.

As for Leicester, they have so many youngsters who can put on a show. Harvey Barnes was the hero this week but James Maddison, Hamza Choudury and Demarai Gray are all stars for Brendan Rodgers‘ side. Caglar Soyuncu has also slotted in seamlessly to replace Harry Maguire. Leicester look set to push for a top six finish as the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea have failed to impress early this season. West Ham and Leicester are ahead of Wolves and Everton in the push for European qualification.


Liverpool a ruthless machine

Jurgen Klopp‘s men have been far from their best but they’re getting the job done and a ruthless second half blitz saw them ease past Arsenal on Saturday. After a disjointed summer where several stars didn’t even go on their preseason tour, Liverpool are clicking through the gears when they need to. Losing Alisson to injury in the season opener was far from ideal and that has led to Liverpool conceding in each of their three games so far, but Firmino, Salah and Mane have all stepped up at different times to seal three-straight wins. Not vintage stuff at all from the Reds, but they’re getting the job done in a ruthless fashion when they’re on top in games and that is title-winning material.


Chelsea’s kids are alright, but top four will be a big ask

It will be a lot of fun to watch Chelsea this season. But only if you’re a neutral. Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount have hit the ground running and going forward they look very dangerous. Defensively they are a little all over the place with Andres Christensen and Kurt Zouma their first-choice duo at center back, for now. Chelsea won 3-2 at Norwich and drew 1-1 with Leicester, but they should have lost the latter game. In midfield they are a little open and Frank Lampard‘s game-management is lacking a little. He and his young players will grow into this season, but the first few weeks have told us that finishing in the top four would be akin to win the title for Chelsea this season.


Tottenham’s poor form continues as uncertainty unsettles

Spurs’ shock defeat at home to Newcastle United highlighted a worrying trend for Mauricio Pochettino‘s side. Only two PL teams have picked up less points than them in the last 15 games, and the Argentine coach pointed to uncertainty over the future of several key players as having an impact on his squad. Aside from sorting out where Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld or Christian Eriksen will go as their contracts run down, a dip in form for Harry Kane has also hit Tottenham hard. In a season where they were supposed to push for the title after finally spending big this summer, they are already five points off leaders Liverpool. A north London derby at Arsenal on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) gives Spurs the perfect opportunity for a boost, but if they lose that it will heap more pressure on Pochettino.


Old guard standing tall for reigning champs

Pep Guardiola‘s side sit two points behind Liverpool and their old guard have been dragging them through games in the opening weeks. Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Aguero were at it again at Bournemouth over the weekend and City’s slick attack has continued to run seamlessly because of them. Defensively they’ve missed another veteran badly, with Vincent Kompany not being replaced as Nicolas Otamendi and Aymeric Laporte haven’t struck up a similar partnership with the former looking far from settled. For now, City will rely on their veteran stars to led the way but others need to step up, like they did last season, if they’re going to challenge for every trophy going.

Lampard pushes positives after Chelsea’s Super Cup defeat

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Frank Lampard had nothing but glowing things to say about his Chelsea squad despite defeat in the Super Cup to Premier League rivals Liverpool.

Chelsea drew 2-2 but fell on penalties when Tammy Abraham‘s effort was saved by Adrian. The Blues boss believed his side was the stronger squad in the match and was delighted they went toe-to-toe with the defending Champions League champions.

“Clearly for me we were the stronger team,” Lampard said during his post-match media duties. “We had bad luck at times and bad finishing at times. My overall feeling is one of pride in team performance and happiness.”

Lampard particularly hoped that Abraham could put his critical miss behind him. The 21-year-old Chelsea academy graduate was bright after coming on in the 74th minute to replace Olivier Giroud, and won the penalty that brought the scoreline level in extra-time.

“Tammy needs to keep his head up,” Lampard told BT Sport after the game. “That’s part and parcel of being a top player. You want to take the fifth penalty but you might miss it.”

And Abraham wasn’t the only player whose positive influence he hoped to spotlight. “Talk about Jorginho, talk about that performance, talk about [N’Golo] Kante who has hardly trained, talk about Kurt Zouma, Andreas [Christensen], I could go through them all, incredible.  I’m really proud and I know we lost, but I’m confident for the season after that.”

Premier League Numbers Nerd: Week 1

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Small sample sizes can make for terrible science, but they’re delightful for stat hounds and simple amusements.

For example, the Premier League’s opening weekend saw a hat trick for Raheem Sterling and braces for Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, and Ashley Barnes.

[ MORE: USSF promotes Stewart, hires USWNT GM ]

Who was the top dog of the week in terms of match rating, though? Man City’s Riyad Mahrez, who was nearly perfect with two assists, 83.3 percent passing despite his placement in low success areas of the pitch, four tackles, two interceptions, and four key passes.

Here are our favorite numbers, notes, and names from Week 1 (Stats via WhoScored):

Two (2) assists is the current top total in the league. It won’t surprise you to see Mahrez and Paul Pogba on that figure, but the third player to do it is… Burnley’s Erik Pieters!

Four (4) players won eight or more aerial duels: League-leader Christian Benteke (9) of Crystal Palace, as well as Newcastle’s Joelinton, Burnley’s Ben Mee, and Brighton’s Shane Duffy.

Under five: Three players in the Premier League played 90 minutes and couldn’t register higher than a 5.0 on WhoScored’s rating system. Kurt Zouma of Chelsea (4.86) could not come close to replicating his stalwart play with Everton last season and conceded a penalty and four goals. West Ham star Issa Diop (4.93) had the sort of statistical day a lot of players do against Man City, and two of his back line teammates joined him in the Bottom Six. And Grant Hanley of Norwich City posted a 4.99, dinged largely by an own goal despite completing 92.3 percent of his passes against Liverpool.

Five (5) –> Villa fans will want this to be six, as Tyrone Mings couldn’t stop Tanguy Ndombele‘s equalizer, but no player in the Premier League blocked as many shots as the former Bournemouth man. And we’re not done with him yet.

(Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Five is also the league-best number of key passes recorded, by Chelsea’s Pedro. Perhaps Frank Lampard‘s feeling about his team’s play in a 4-0 loss to Manchester United will make sense over time.

And five is also the most fouls drawn by anyone in Week 1, with Villa’s Jack Grealish and Palace’s Jordan Ayew needing some time in an ice bath.

Finally, five is the number of players who completed more than 80 passes on Opening Day. Leicester’s Ben Chilwell led the way with 85, followed by Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Toby Alderweireld (Spurs), Harry Winks (Spurs), and Jonny Evans (Leicester).

Seven (7) interceptions were made by Newcastle’s Fabian Schar, the most in the league. Seven is also the amount of fouls committed by Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic against Everton, three more than anyone else (Yes, he saw yellow).

Eight (8): The amount of shots taken by Harry Kane, double the amount of anyone else in the Premier League.

Eight is also the most successful tackles won by a single player this weekend, done by Liverpool’s Fabinho and Aston Villa’s John McGinn?

Seventeen (17): This would also be more appropriately read as “Seven-(expletive)-teen!” Aston Villa’s Mings cleared danger 17 times against Spurs, almost double the No. 2 man, Palace’s Martin Kelly.

100%: Only one field player in the league played more than a half-hour and completed all of his passes, and that was… Christian Pulisic of Chelsea and these United States of America. He was 12-for-12, but here’s the bad news: That came as part of a statistically miserable 6.09 showing.