N'Golo Kante

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Bakayoko to stay at Chelsea this season, says agent

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Tiemoue Bakayoko will be with the Blues this season.

His brother and agent tells L’Equipe that Bakayoko has “decided to stay” with Chelsea for the season, happy with participation in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Following a rough first season with Chelsea, which came after a big money buy from AS Monaco, Bakayoko moved to Serie A side AC Milan on loan.

Milan paid a $6 million loan fee to bring Bakayoko to Serie A last season, and the 24-year-old Frenchman over-delivered for I Rossoneri.

Bakayoko was a tackling, intercepting machine for Milan, and rang up 2800 minutes between Serie A and the Europa League. And we’re sure he’s a better player having learned under Gennaro Gattuso for a season.

Can he find a fit under Chelsea’s new boss or, we guess, Maurizio Sarri? Probably, though the new boss may also want to let N'Golo Kante back to his old destructive role in the middle of the park (Sarri liked to use him a bit more advanced).

Griezmann, Lemar on target as France warms up for Euro qualifiers

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Antoine Griezmann and Thomas Lemar found the back of the net as France topped Bolivia 2-0 in a pre-UEFA qualification friendly in Nantes.

Didier Deschamps put forth a strong starting lineup that included both first-choice central defenders Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane that held Bolivia to just one shot on target. Also in the mix from the opening whistle were Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, and Benjamin Pavard. Mbappe came off at halftime,

Lemar was first to strike, just five minutes in as France caught the visitors with an extremely high defensive line. Griezmann broke down the middle and switched play to Lemar on the left who was left unmarked. The ball wasn’t settled properly and bobbled, but Lemar was able to get a highly skillful looping shot off that chipped both a tracking defender and the charging Bolivian goalkeeper Carlos Lampe.

Just before halftime, France doubled the lead with a messy goal off a corner that Bolivia failed to clear and Griezmann pounced on the edge of the six-yard box to poke the ball home.

France racked up 18 shots with 10 on target, holding 66% possession in a dominating performance that saw the hosts hold 70% of the ball in the second half, although the final 45 minutes were punctuated by constant substitutions, often a case in warm-up friendlies. Kingsley Coman was especially dangerous during his 24 minutes off the bench, on to replace Lemar.

Players to come off the bench for France included Coman, Blaise Matuidi, and Wissam Ben Yedder while Olivier Giroud, N'Golo Kante, and Clement Lenglet were left unused on the bench.

Report: Sarri to be released from Chelsea contract

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Just two days after the Blues hoisted the Europa League crown, a report claims that Maurizio Sarri will be released from his Chelsea contract so he can leave Stamford Bridge and take the Juventus job.

The report comes from Italian journalist Alfredo Pedulla, a correspondent for Italian television outlet SportItalia and independent journalist who is close to Sarri. According to Football Italia, Pedulla was the first on the scene when Sarri departed Napoli for Chelsea just one year ago and has a very good relationship with the current Blues boss.

Pedulla’s report states that Sarri’s agent Fali Ramadani has departed London with assurances from Chelsea brass that the Italian will be free to leave the club this summer without breaching his contract. Reportedly, Chelsea spoke with Ramadani nearly three weeks ago to begin discussions regarding Sarri’s departure independent of the outcome of the Europa League final.

Since, the report has been corroborated by notable Italian journalist Gianluca di Marzio, who additionally reports that Sarri himself met with Chelsea executive director Marina Granovskaia to reiterate his desire for a return to Italy.

Rumors have flown for weeks of Sarri’s departure this summer after a roller coaster season that saw the club finish third in the Premier League and win the Europa League title, while also reaching the League Cup final. Those outcomes on paper would have likely been acceptable for Sarri’s first year in charge had it not been for a few especially trying moments throughout the campaign that saw the Italian come under heavy fire.

The club lost three Premier League games in a six-match span through December, then dropped to Bournemouth, Arsenal, and Manchester City by a combined 12-0 sandwiched over a 5-0 win against Huddersfield Town, a perfect encapsulation of the range of emotions Chelsea felt this season. Sarri also made the controversial decision to move Player of the Year defensive midfielder N'Golo Kante from his natural position and use new signing Jorginho in that spot instead, to mixed success.

Sarri was often combative when faced with questions about his possible departure at press conferences in recent weeks, although it appears there was substance to those questions after all. Rumors have tabbed former Chelsea midfielder and current Derby County manager Frank Lampard as the favorite to take over should Sarri indeed leave, but nothing concrete has taken place in that regard publicly with Sarri’s future still in question.

With Massimilano Allegri leaving Juventus after securing the club’s 10th straight Serie A crown, Sarri appears to have seized the opportunity to return to his home country. The Juventus squad is in need of a serious overhaul, with a number of aging players weighing down the roster. 34-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo still seems to be at his goalscoring best, but Mario Mandzukic, Juan Cuadrado, Sami Khedira, Blaise Matuidi, Giorgio Chiellini, and Leonardo Bonucci are all north of 30 years old, with Miralem Pjanic and Wojciech Szczesny nearly there. The club has Paulo Dybala, Federico Bernardeschi, Daniele Rugani, Rodrigo Betancur, and Emre Can all 25 years old or younger along with 19-year-old breakout star Moise Kean, but otherwise the youthful talent is severely lacking.

Continuing at Chelsea, however, would have come with its own baggage as well. The Blues are facing a FIFA-imposed transfer ban that is currently under appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Eden Hazard, the club’s star attacking player, is likely headed to Real Madrid this summer for a hefty fee, and pending the outcome of the CAS decision, the club could have lots of money to spend in the coming transfer fee. American winger Christian Pulisic has already officially joined the club after finishing out the season with Borussia Dortmund. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is also known for running through managers at a vicious pace, and Sarri may have wanted to work for someone with a less itchy trigger finger.

Alongside Sarri, former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has also returned home to Italy to take the Inter Milan job, with the AC Milan managerial position still open after the departure of Gennaro Gattuso.

LIVE – Europa League final: Arsenal v. Chelsea

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The first of two European finals consisting of Premier League clubs begins as Chelsea take on Arsenal in the UEFA Europa League final.

Both teams will have to battle some rustiness, with Chelsea and Arsenal both having not played (official) matches since May 12. Chelsea played the New England Revolution two weeks ago in a match for charity in the U.S.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League final ]

Despite picking up a knee injury in training and being given a 50/50 chance to play, Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has gone with N'Golo Kante in his midfield, alongside Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho. Olivier Giroud starts up top instead of Gonzalo Higuain, and Pedro takes the spot of Willian.

[READ: Europa League Final Preview: Arsenal v. Chelsea]

Interestingly, per Opta, Chelsea is the first team to not have a player from the club’s home nation in its starting lineup for a European final since Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan faced Bayern Munich in the 2010 Champions League final.

For Arsenal, manager Unai Emery has allowed Petr Cech to have a chance to go out a winner, starting him in the final game of the season. Emery also included Mesut Ozil in the squad, and he’ll likely combine with fellow attackers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in an imposing Arsenal attack. Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka start in midfield as well.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Christensen, David Luiz, Emerson; Kovacic, Jorginho, Kante; Pedro, Giroud, Hazard.
Bench: Caballero, Alonso, Cahill, Zappacosta, Barkley, William, Higuain, Cumming, Ampadu, McEachran, Gallagher.

Arsenal: Cech; Sokratis, Koscielny, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Torreira, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Ozil, Aubameyang, Lacazette.
Bench: Leno, Lichsteiner, Mustafi, Jenkinson, Elneny, Guendouzi, Willock, Saka, Iliev, Iwoke, Nketiah, Welbeck

Sarri: Kante given a 50/50 chance to play in UEL final

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It will be a game time decision to see whether N'Golo Kante plays in the UEFA Europa League final on Wednesday evening in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Speaking to the assembled media at the Olympic Stadium, the site of the final vs. London rivals Arsenal, Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri stated that after suffering a knee injury in training Kante has a 50% chance of playing in the final.

After losing both Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek to long-term, season-ending injuries in recent weeks, it’s another blow for the Blues to lose Kante, the man who was key to back to back Premier League titles, first with Leicester City and next with Chelsea. While Kante has been playing a different role this season, as a right central midfielder in Sarri’s 4-3-3, he’s still a World Cup winner and it would be a blow to any team to have to replace him.

Chelsea must hope that either Kante is somehow fit enough to start the match, or even if he’s only able to go 30 minutes, that he comes on and helps secure a victory, holding onto a lead. However, there’s also a strong likelihood that he won’t be available at all, though he could be in the 18 as a decoy.