Mateo Kovacic

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What we love about Chelsea

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Chelsea is one of the most polarizing teams in the English top flight.

[ MORE: What we love about each Premier League club ]

The cash-rich club in West London is a lightning rod, especially with infamous billionaire Roman Abramovich at the helm. The Blues have won a lot, with five Premier League titles to their name.

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Chelsea, like it or not, is one of the most popular teams in Europe, and they can always be counted on to compete at the highest level. Well, unless Jose Mourinho is about finished with his time in charge. Here are some things we love about Chelsea.


Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount celebrate a goal against Arsenal (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images).

Youth infusion: Chelsea has been a tough out for the last two decades, but this season has been different from a number of Chelsea’s top-four challenges of the recent past.  Forced by a transfer ban over the summer and a host of injuries through the middle of the season, Frank Lampard has had to dig deep into his squad for starters, and that has brought a number of young players to the forefront.

For the past decade, Chelsea’s youth system was lauded by Premier League fans as one of the best in Europe, but it never seemed to benefit the team at the top level. Instead, many of the exciting young players were seen shipped off elsewhere to provide an influx of cash while the senior squad purchased expensive players to play for the Blues in the biggest competitions. This season, however, the likes of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James, Fikayo Tomori, and Billy Gilmour have joined Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi as Chelsea youth products to contribute significantly on the field of late. This has resulted in a fabulously entertaining brand of football that has made the Blues a must-watch.

As a biproduct, being more fun has also made the Blues much harder to hate. More on that in a moment.

Midfield brilliance: It’s certainly possible to argue that Chelsea’s midfield is the best of the Premier League this season. Although Liverpool has dominated the league table this season, their front and back lines have done the bulk of the work. For the Blues, everything starts and finishes with their midfield.

Mateo Kovacic has proven to be an exceptional purchase from the Real Madrid Bargain Bin, and the partnership he has developed with Jorginho has been rock solid. N’Golo Kante has struggled with injuries for much of the season, but when he is available, he provides a top-tier rotational option with the aforementioned duo. Add in Ross Barkley and a healthy Loftus-Cheek as a fourth and fifth option off the bench, plus the recent emergence of Gilmour, and the collection of players is tough to top.

Christian Pulisic celebrates scoring against Valencia in the Champions League (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images).

Christian Pulisic: You didn’t think you were getting out of here without seeing this man highlighted, did you?

Christian Pulisic’s presence at Chelsea has obviously been incredibly entertaining for USMNT fans, but it goes beyond that. The American brings an exciting mindset to the field every time he steps on the pitch, and that had been evident at Chelsea until a nagging adductor injury robbed him of months of playing time.

It had taken some time after arriving this past summer from Borussia Dortmund, but Pulisic eventually forced his way into the starting lineup with electric attacking contributions and a creative flair. From late October through mid-December, Pulisic had a stretch where he started eight straight games, starting with his hat-trick against Burnley. Here’s to hoping that injury recoveries prove to be a silver lining from this coronavirus shutdown, with Pulisic top of that list.

Hateability: If you don’t love Chelsea, chances are you hate them, and that’s a thing to love about the Blues too. From Roman Abramovich on down, there have been plenty of villainous characters at Stamford Bridge over the last decade or two. That’s great for the sport and great for the club, because hated teams are usually have two things in common: 1) they win a lot, and 2) they draw well.

For Chelsea, that is certainly the case. A poll by The Mirror back in 2019 listed Chelsea as the most hated Premier League club. Hating a particular club is actually a fun way for league fans of other teams to stay engaged…imagine there was no team to project your hatred upon? How boring would that be? It wouldn’t be sports without equal parts loyalty and loathing, and you can thank the Blues for providing both services.

Lampard reacts to Chelsea’s win v. Everton

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Frank Lampard was a happy man after Chelsea recorded their biggest Premier League win under his guidance.

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An injury-hit Blues side hammered Everton 4-0 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and the game was over early in the second half as Lampard’s side eased to victory.

Speaking to the media after the game, Frank Lampard praised the focus of his team after a great week which saw them beat Liverpool in the FA Cup on Wednesday and then dish out a pasting to Everton to cement their spot in the top four.

“The whole attitude and focus of the team felt really strong today after Liverpool. There was pure focus in the group. Maybe the injuries helped out in that respect. The application was spot on. Now we have to work to show we can finish the season strongly,” Lampard said.

Lampard described the win as Chelsea’s ‘most complete’ home display of the season as they kept a clean sheet and for once finished off many of the chances they created. In truth a 6-0 scoreline wouldn’t have flattered them as Olivier Giroud held the ball up superbly and the likes of Billy Gilmour, Ross Barkley, Mason Mount, Pedro and Willian were always threats breaking from midfield.

Chelsea are now five points clear of fifth-place Wolves with nine games of the season to go and finishing in the top four would be a magnificent achievement for Lampard and his young side given their transfer ban for the first half of the season, injuries hitting them hard and a huge dip in form over the last few months.

The most impressive thing about this pivotal week for Chelsea has been their hunger and desire to win the ball back and make runs into the final third. With injuries to Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham, Mateo Kovacic and Callum Hudson-Odoi, Lampard has been forced to shuffle his pack and it has resulted in increased intensity in Chelsea’s display.

The aforementioned quartet may struggle to get back in this Chelsea team when they are fit as Lampard has found a formula which works. With tough games against Liverpool and Man City remaining in their last nine games, the other seven look winnable and Chelsea’s youngsters look rejuvenated.

PL Sunday preview: All eyes on Manchester derby

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Two critically important matches to the Champions League picture take the field on Sunday as Chelsea hosts Everton at Stamford Bridge and Manchester United welcomes cross-town rivals Manchester City to Old Trafford.

Both Chelsea and Manchester United are hunting for European places, and the race is still wide open as ever after Saturday’s results. Chelsea currently holds the final Champions League place on 45 points, but both Wolves and Sheffield United are nipping at their heels on 43 points while Manchester United is right in the mix with 42 points.

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This week proves a critical opportunity for Manchester United especially given Chelsea’s heavy list of scratches. The Red Devils have the opportunity to catch and pass the Blues should the

Chelsea v. Everton  — 10:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Chelsea currently hold the coveted fourth spot in the Premier League table, but the Blues are limping to the finish line this season with a walking wounded squad that could ultimately cost them a place at the Champions League table. Tammy Abraham, N’Golo Kante, and Callum Hudson-Odoi all remain confirmed out for the Blues. Add to the list Christian Pulisic who remains unlikely to play in the match with his lingering thigh injury plus new injuries for Mateo Kovacic and Willian, with the former ruled out and the latter requiring a late fitness test to prove his availability. Sprinkle in a yellow card suspension for Jorginho and the Blues look seriously undermanned.

All that gives Everton a valuable opportunity to move back into the top half of the table, currently logjammed in 12th among the rabble. They could move as high as 10th with a win at Stamford Bridge, potentially pulling level with ninth-placed Arsenal on points. Carlo Ancelotti‘s side has looked far better and more organized since the Italian arrived, but the results remain inconsistent. The Toffees have won just two of their last six league matches, but have lost just twice in their last 13. The next step for Ancelotti is converting draws to wins, an important hurdle to clear before the end of the seasons.

Ancelotti has also admitted his return to Stamford Bridge, where he used to manage, will be an “emotional” one. Everton fans will hope he can bottle that emotion and save it for after the final whistle.

Manchester United v. Manchester City  — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com

Champions League race aside, this rivalry has plenty of sting on its own. Manchester United is looking to complete a league double over its bitter rivals for the first time since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Man City seems firmly entrenched in second and does not appear to have much else to play for in league play, but their failings against United are a microcosm of what has gone wrong at times this season for Pep Guardiola‘s side. City out-passed United 588-199 in early December but created little in terms of good chances on net, able to put just five of its 23 shots on target. John Stones and Rodrigo were exposed on the counter, with Stones then left out of the squad for the entire rest of December.

Still, City come into this game in great form, having won their last five matches in a row across all competitions and conceding just two goals in that span. They have also won three straight at Old Trafford among all competitions and could record a fourth straight road victory at Manchester United for just the second time in club history. With Aymeric Laporte the only serious injury concern for the visitors, Manchester United will have to work hard for its place among the Premier League European places.

Bayern Munich puts Chelsea in 3-goal hole

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Too easy.

Serge Gnabry scored off a pair of Robert Lewandowski assists as Bayern Munich earned a 3-0 first-leg lead over Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Lampard reacts to ‘harsh lesson’ ]

Chelsea played the last dozen minutes down a man; Marcos Alonso was sent off via VAR for contact to the face of Robert Lewandowski away from the play. He’ll miss the second leg, as will Jorginho after collecting another yellow card.

Lewandowski capped off the scoring to make Chelsea’s task even more difficult heading to the Allianz Arena for the March 18 second leg.

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Three things we learned

1. Bayern loves London: Just under five months ago, Bayern Munich buried Tottenham Hotspur in North London in a seven-goal show. This wasn’t quite that, but the Bavarians out-classed a Chelsea side which had few answers for Hansi Flick’s tactics. Bayern has hung 10 on London.

2. Ex-Gunner Gnabry runs the show: Gnabry scored just one goal in 14 appearances over four years between Arsenal and West Brom, and is making up for lost time during this season’s Champions League. He scored four times and added an assist when Bayern visited his former North London Derby rivals. This time, it was two goals in four second-half minutes at Stamford Bridge, the German playmaker contributing plenty in the defensive half.

All it took was one slip from Cesar Azpilicueta to start the scoring.

3. Chelsea’s backs torn apart: It’s difficult to find any fine individual performances from the Blues aside from Mateo Kovacic, though Mason Mount had his moments, but the worst days came from the back three. Bayern was credited with a half-dozen big chances via Sofascore, and the visitors took a whopping 11 shots inside the box.

Man of the Match: The 30-year-old Muller was everywhere early, but it’s difficult to give this to anyone but Gnabry or Lewandowski. We’ll give it to the German.


Kingsley Coman was the first to scare the opposition, working a long 1-2 with Thomas Muller before thumping a low shot wide of the near post in the 12th minute.

Chelsea backstop Willy Caballero made a sliding trail leg save on Robert Lewandowski in the 28th.

Muller then swirled a shot around Caballero but just past the far post before heading off the cross bar in the 35th.

Chelsea got a prime moment in the 48th minute, but Mason Mount was dispossessed and Manuel Neuer stymied Ross Barkley.

Gnabry then stole the ball in Chelsea’s half and worked a 1-2 with Lewandowski to put Bayern on the board.

Mount latched onto a big mistake from Joshua Kimmich but badly missed his bid to catch Neuer out of the goal.

Canadian phenom Alphonso Davies produced the third goal with a roaring run down the left flank, crossing to Lewandowski for the goal.

Player ratings from Chelsea 0-2 Manchester United

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Manchester United defeated Chelsea 2-0 on Monday at Stamford Bridge, moving the Red Devils to within three points of their fourth-place hosts.

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Who were the stars and the duds? Read on…

Chelsea

Willy Caballero — 6 — Just one save on the day.

Reece James — 5 — A miserable in 50/50s for a promising player.

Antonio Rudiger — 6 — Lost Maguire on United’s second goal but was otherwise strong

Andreas Christensen — 6.5 — Strong and fought through a bloodied nose before succumbing to the injury at halftime, but couldn’t stop Martial from making it 1-0.

Cesar Azpilicueta — 6 — Okay day, but rightly or wrongly his shove cost Chelsea a goal (Probably wrongly).

Mateo Kovacic — 8 — He was everywhere. According to Sofascore, Kovacic had over 100 touches, 87 percent passing, two key passes, four of five dribbles and 8-of-14 in duels to go with an interception, three clearances, and three tackles.

Jorginho — 8 — Exceptional. Nailed eight of his nine long balls and passed at 94 percent. A maestro.

N’Golo Kante — N/A — Only a dozen minutes before his injury-riddled season met February head-on.

Willian — 7 — Couldn’t get Chelsea on the board, so we shouldn’t praise him too much, but the Brazilian doesn’t get enough love for his willingness and adeptness in tackling.

Pedro — 7 — Three key passes highlight an active day.

Michy Batshuayi — 5 — Couldn’t finish some prime chances, and caught an unpunished boot to the groin. Insult meet injury. Zero shots on target.

Subs

Mason Mount — 6 — Nearly had an assist if not for Olivier Giroud‘s offside toes.

Kurt Zouma — 7 — Came off the bench to score, though it was pulled off the board by VAR. Won six of seven duels, and was steady at the back.

Olivier Giroud — 6 — Nearly had a goal if not for his toes and the timing of a freeze frame.


Manchester United

David De Gea — 6 — Hardly-tested, but did have one fine save.

Luke Shaw — 6 — Not bad.

Harry Maguire — 8 — How do you rate a man who should’ve been sent off but was otherwise a beast and scored a terrific insurance goal? I guess we’re saying you rate him as if he wasn’t sent off, which he wasn’t.

Eric Bailly — 7 — One really poor moment early, but rebounded and showed terrific skill in recovery, tackling, and even moving the ball forward via dribble.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka — 8 — He may end up being the best signing of the summer (Sorry Harry). Terrific assist, four clearances, three blocked shots, two interceptions, and a tackle.

Brandon Williams — 7 — Steadier than his 19 years would have you imagine.

Nemanja Matic — 7 — Busy in the middle, albeit quieter than usual.

Fred — 7 — Got away with one thanks to VAR.

Bruno Fernandes — 7 — Continued to flash his supreme talent, though the end product eluded him.

Daniel James — 5 — Looked busy, but not productive.

Anthony Martial — 7 — Terrific header on the goal, and was industrious in trying to produce. more.

Subs

Andreas Pereira — N/A

Odion Ighalo — N/A

Diogo Dalot — N/A