Cesar Azpilicueta

Premier League Best XI of 2019-20 (and Project Restart)

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We had a nearly year-long Premier League season thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, and in some ways it feels like we had two seasons.

There was the one that saw a dominant Liverpool run away with the league, Leicester City cruise into the top two, and Manchester United search for form.

[ MORE: What has Project Restart changed for ‘Big Six?’ ]

Then there was the mini-season called Project Restart in which the Reds laid claim to the league but the two Manchester sides looked the best, Leicester fell off a cliff, and Southampton surged up the table.

[ MORE: Grades for every club ]

So before we dig into the incredible challenge of naming a Best XI for the 2019-20 Premier League season, let’s take a moment to laud the men who crushed the restart.

Premier League Project Restart Best XI

Even though Van Dijk had a dud against Arsenal and wasn’t legendary against Man City, the Dutchman was still one of the best to do it since the league returned from the coronavirus pause. But there were so many attackers to fit into this, so…

Southampton had the fourth-most points of any team during the restart and Ings and Ward-Prowse were the key parts to their solid play.

Everton stumbled but it was impossible to pin it on Keane and (until late in the restart) center back mate Mason Holgate.

This is hard on Michail Antonio, but it was him or Ings.

Project Restart Best XI

E. Martinez (Arsenal)

 — Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) –Keane (Everton) — Azpilicueta (Chelsea) —

— Ward-Prowse (Southampton) — Fernandes (Manchester United) — De Bruyne (Man City) —

— Pulisic (Chelsea) — Ings (Southampton) — Rashford (Manchester United) —

Pulisic news
(Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Premier League 2019-20 Best XI

This was the year of the attacker and there are a bevy of incredible talents who will not make the Best XI, Second XI, or even Third XI if you don’t cheat with positions.

Liverpool had Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah combine for almost 40 goals and 20 assists, while Man City’s Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling were electric. Heck, Riyad Mahrez had one of the best minute-for-minute seasons in the league when he managed to get field time.

Then there are Kane, Vardy, Aubameyang, and Willian. There are Ings, Rashford, Jimenez, and Traore.

It’s bonkers. So we’re prepared for your anger as we roll out our teams.

Best XI

Ederson (Man City)

— Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) — Van Dijk (Liverpool) — Maguire (Man Utd) — Azpilicueta (Chelsea) —

— Henderson (Liverpool) — Ndidi (Leicester City) —

— De Bruyne (Man City) —

— Traore (Wolves) — Aubameyang (Arsenal) — Salah (Liverpool) —

Premier League 2019-20 Second XI

Not being able to find places for Aguero, Jimenez, and Rashford is really difficult, and both Alisson Becker and Dean Henderson fans will feel aggrieved by the inclusion of Pope.

Maybe most upset will be Spurs supporters, as they Kane loses out to Golden Boot winner Vardy and Hugo Lloris was simply wonderful down the stretch but missed too many games with an elbow injury.

Moutinho just gets in over teammate Ruben Neves, and Georginio Wijnaldum was considered here as well.

One thing’s for sure: We’d bet on two of these teams looking very different next season, and let’s hope that the first XI named on this post isn’t required.

Second XI

Pope (Burnley)

— Wan-Bissaka (Man Utd) — Tarkowski (Burnley) — Soyuncu (Leicester City) — Digne (Everton) —

— Fabinho (Liverpool) — Rodri (Man City) — Moutinho (Wolves) —

— Mane (Liverpool) — Vardy (Leicester) — Sterling (Man City) —

(Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images )

Chelsea eases past sleepy, error-prone Manchester United

Manchester United - Chelsea recap
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Chelsea – Manchester United: Chelsea is going to the FA Cup Final for the third time in four seasons after dispatching Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Olivier Giroud and Mason Mount got goals off of David De Gea howlers as Frank Lampard moved within a win of his first trophy as Chelsea manager.

A Harry Maguire own goal made it 3-0 before Bruno Fernandes converted a penalty to give the Red Devils a marker.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Chelsea will meet London rivals Arsenal at Wembley for the FA Cup Final on Aug. 1, as it was London 2-0 Manchester in the semifinals.

The Blues and Gunners have combined to appear in 33 FA Cup Finals with 21 wins between the two (Arsenal’s 13 are the most in FA Cup history). Arsenal beat Chelsea in the 2002 and 2017 FA Cup Finals.

Three things we learned

1. Bailly suffers scary head injury: Ivorian center back Eric Bailly has had his fair share of injuries at Old Trafford, but the one that felled him Sunday was scary for other reasons. Bailly went head-to-head with teammate Harry Maguire and both needed medical attention. While Maguire deemed fit to return with a bandage, a bleeding Bailly was able to walk off the pitch but then laid back on the turf outside the touch line for more care. Bailly was then given oxygen and put in a neck brace before being wheeled off the field on a stretcher.

2. Paging Mr. Henderson: David De Gea developed from his early mediocre days at United to become one of the best goalkeepers in the world but he’s made a series of miserable errors this year. His inability to stop Giroud’s opener can be explained away by an ardent DDG supporter but his error on Mount’s long-range shot was putrid. He did well to deny Giroud with a slap in the 59th, but the damage was done. Cries for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to give current Sheffield United loan man Dean Henderson a chance to claim the starter’s spot next season will only grow after De Gea’s Sunday at Wembley.

3. Lampard out-wits Solskjaer: Both managers knew they entered the day two wins from silverware but also in control of their Champions League destinies through the Premier League route. Both teams have Wednesday matches, so there was going to be some rotation. Chelsea didn’t have N’Golo Kante and couldn’t start Christian Pulisic due to a minor injury (though the American was shown warming up during the match).

Lampard went for it, arguably starting his best available XI. Solskjaer switched things up and used Daniel James up top despite the youngster having just one goal, against LASK, in 2020. Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial were on the bench,

Yes, Ole’s in this match for the duration if De Gea’s anywhere near his usual self. Maybe that should weigh a bit more on our analysis but United looked like a team with little concern for hardware.

Man of the Match

Mount — You’ve gotta shoot to score and Mount was willing to do that. He hasn’t had a strong second half of the season compared to his start to the campaign at Chelsea, but Mount was dangerous on the dribble and could’ve scored two. He also made a terrific steal to set up his drive past De Gea. Honorable mention: Cesar Azpilicueta, who has been the Blues rock for weeks (and probably much longer).

Manchester United – Chelsea recap

The first half was relatively sleepy for 30 minutes aside from an adventurous Reece James shot that troubled David De Gea.

It began to open up when a Marcus Rashford-won free kick added some excitement. Wily Caballero had to poke Bruno Fernandes’ arrow over the bar.

At the other end, Mason Mount rolled a tepid 20-yard effort to David De Gea.

United had already seen Eric Bailly suffer an injury and attempt to stay on when Harry Maguire clashed heads with the Ivorian center back. Bailly was removed from the game and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer chose offense in deploying Anthony Martial in his place.

Chelsea scored deep in stoppage but De Gea and Victor Lindelof will both be upset that Giroud’s outside-of-the-boot flick of a Cesar Azpilicueta cross battled its way off the prone keeper’s body and over the line.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Mount made it 2-0 very early in the second half Mount picked off a miserable pass to the center of the pitch and hit a low shot that De Gea absolutely bungled.

De Gea made the save on Giroud’s deflected shot before the hour mark to keep it 2-0.

Maguire then poked a Marcos Alonso cross to Antonio Rudiger off De Gea to complete the scoring with 16 minutes to play.

Callum Hudson-Odoi cut down Anthony Martial in the box late to set up Fernandes’ finish.

Pulisic, Giroud combine to boost Chelsea’s Champions League stock

Chelsea - Norwich City recap
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Relegated but resolute Norwich City took Chelsea the distance but couldn’t find an answer to Olivier Giroud’s goal near halftime in a 1-0 win for the Blues at Stamford Bridge.

American winger Christian Pulisic assisted Giroud’s goal just before halftime but Chelsea wasted myriad chances to put the game to bed.

[ MORE: Pulisic Watch versus Norwich City ]

The win boosts Chelsea four points clear of fourth-place Manchester United and fifth-place Leicester City, with both teams playing Thursday.

Norwich City remains dead last with 21 points.


Three things we learned

1. Chelsea on precipice of Champions League qualification: It wasn’t easy, but the Blues’ win carries them four points ahead of Leicester City and Manchester United before the fourth- and fifth-place teams stage their 36th matches of the season. Liverpool and Wolves are tough matches left on Chelsea’s docket but the Decision Day match-up between Leicester and United means one of those two can only claim six or seven of nine remaining available points.

2. Pulisic, Giroud of similar minds but finishers still needed — It was another good day for Chelsea’s favorite American, who assisted Giroud’s stoppage time opener and was plenty involved as an integral part of the side’s build-up play. Pulisic has set up Giroud for the second time this year, having assisted the Frenchman’s opener against Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup, and the two share a flair for the fanciful. Witness Pulisic scooping a pass to Giroud in the 74th minute before they reversed roles moments later for a chance that was defied by Tim Krul.

Read the full “Pulisic Watch” here.

We’ve seen the troubling lack of finish before. Hakim Ziyech was watching from the stands and Timo Werner is on his way, but Chelsea’s season story was again on display as the match stayed 1-0 into the final 20 minutes. The Blues took 16 shots in the first 70 minutes and SofaScore credited them with three ‘big chances’ during that time. Still, it was 1-0 and the Champions League footing continued to hang in the balance. The Blues finished with a 21-2 edge in shots and the match’s only five shots on target. A second in the goal would’ve been a relief.

3. Norwich confirmed 20th: The lack of a win means Norwich can only collect 27 points at most this season, and 19th-place Aston Villa is on to 30. The Canaries couldn’t catch a break this year despite collecting three of their 21 points against Manchester City.

Man of the Match:

Cesar Azpilicueta — Chelsea’s captain was buzzing down the right from Moment No. 1. The serially-underappreciated back had two clearances, two blocked shots, three interceptions, three tackles, and whipped in a series of crosses.

Chelsea – Norwich City recap

Ruben Loftus-Cheek stooped to turn a Cesar Azpilicueta cross into the side of the net in the third minute as Chelsea came out fighting.

Olivier Giroud forced a save out of Tim Krul in the 21st minute, Norwich’s compact defense limited Chelsea’s paths to goal.

Pulisic turned a Marcos Alonso pass into the outside of the side netting in the 28th minute, and Giroud flubbed a good Azpilicueta set-up moments later.

Chelsea had set up camp in the Norwich end by the half-hour mark, Azpilicueta flicking a corner kick off the far post.

Krul made a great save when Pulisic swiveled and hit a powerful shot in the 36th.

Pulisic helped Chelsea ahead when he ran into the left corner. Marcos Alonso slipped him through, the American then crossing for Giroud to power home.

Pulisic had been plenty involved in build-up play and tried for the home run with a cute pass into the 18 that Giroud couldn’t reach.

As if on cue, the American then charged into the box for a looped pass from Giroud and slapped it toward goal for Krul to push toward Klose for a clearance.

Giroud nearly scored again in the 86th minute before subbing off.

Chelsea cruises past relegation-worried Watford

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Chelsea got goals from Willian, Ross Barkley, and Olivier Giroud in a comfortable 3-0 defeat of Watford at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

USMNT star Christian Pulisic drew a penalty for Willian’s goal and helped set up Barkley’s third goal in his fourth-straight start in 10 days.

[ MORE: Pulisic Watch – USMNT star shines again ]

Chelsea moves back atop Manchester United for fourth place, one point behind Leicester City.

Watford’s 28 points are one point better than two of the bottom three, with Aston Villa holding a match-in-hand and set to visit Liverpool on Sunday.

[ MORE: Pulisic reacts to Hazard comparisons ]

Three things we learned

1. Chelsea holds serve in top four fight: Wins for Manchester United and Leicester City meant the Blues could finish the day in either fourth or fifth. The decisive performance was a welcome one for Chelsea boss Frank Lampard following a late loss at West Ham earlier in the week. The Blues meet Crystal Palace, Sheffield United, and Norwich City before Liverpool and Wolves make for a dangerous final two league fixtures.

2. Pearson plans for midweek: Norwich City looks as down-and-out as any club right now, so it’s not likely a coincidence that Etienne Capoue and Troy Deeney came off the pitch with the score line 2-0 and 26 minutes to play. Watford will aim to find points in its home ground against a poor Canaries side on Tuesday.

3. Kante limps off: While Christian Pulisic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have remained fit and available to Lampard, the manager won’t be happy that N’Golo Kante’s injury-hit season saw a possible concern with a 78th-minute sub for Billy Gilmour.

Man of the Match

It was either Pulisic or Willian, and we’re going to go with the Brazilian if only because CP gets a lot of run in these parts.

Chelsea – Watford recap

Christian Pulisic came out of the gates in lively form and within minutes Olivier Giroud had an odd-angled chance to head toward goal.

The Blues were all over Watford for the first 20 minutes, Pulisic, Willian, and Giroud very involved in the display.

Giroud put the Blues on the board with an experienced, spinning strike in the 29th minute. Getting the ball off a Ross Barkley feed, the Frenchman hit a cushioned low shot across his body and just inside the far post.

Pulisic played a role in the second goal, dribbling to the end line and getting manhandled by an out-of-his-mind Christian Kabasele on his cut back toward play. Penalty, Willian. 2-0.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

The second half was mostly Chelsea, too, and Willian forced Foster into a terrific 68th-minute save and corner kick to the Blues.

Watford had their moments late, including a Danny Welbeck effort that Kepa Arrizabalaga did very well to save.

Pulisic had a shot blocked in the 90th minute, and Will Hughes couldn’t convert a Welbeck-inspired play at the other end.

Instead, the American would settle for a “hockey assist,” slipping the ball to Azpilicueta inside the 18 before the Chelsea veteran set up Barkley’s exclamation point.

Premier League On this Day: Mourinho’s Stamford Bridge streak snapped

Jozy Altidore
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A week before Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea cost Liverpool a title, a Chelsea hero’s slip cost the Blues’ their shot and Jose Mourinho an incredible streak.

Relegation-threatened Sunderland came back from an early Samuel Eto’o goal to beat the Blues 2-1 in London to hand Mourinho his first home loss in 77 matches at Stamford Bridge.

Cesar Azpilicueta fell over on the flank and gifted the ball to Sunderland striker Jozy Altidore, then chopping down the American for a penalty that Fabio Borini converted for a 2-1 win.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Altidore had a tough time with the Northeast set, but he enjoyed his time against the Blues, scoring his only Premier League goal for Sunderland in December at the Stadium of Light, then drawing the match-winning penalty at Stamford Bridge,

Chelsea wound up affecting both its failure to win the league and Liverpool’s by beating the Reds a week later, opening the door for Manchester City’s fourth top-flight title (City, for what it’s worth had slipped into third early in April by losing to Liverpool and drawing… Sunderland).

Chelsea would finish in third place, four points off leaders Man City and two back of Liverpool.

It’s a match that looks so odd in the rear view mirror, and not only because Gerrard fell over a week later; Chelsea star Marcos Alonso was on the field for Sunderland. Mohamed Salah was taken off the pitch for Andre Schurrle in the 66th minute, while David Luiz and Frank Lampard were saved for a midweek draw at Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League.

Weird, weird game.