AP Photo/Alexei Filippov

EURO qualifying: Hazard drives Belgium past Russia; Scotland rocked

Leave a comment

EURO 2020 qualifying allows for a few hiccups along the way. Both Scotland and Russia produced one each on opening day.

Granted the Russians lost a game many suspected they might, falling 3-1 at Belgium, but we want to highlight the unexpected first, don’t we?

Scotland’s trip to Kazakhstan was just that, Alex McLeish’s men falling for the seventh time in his 11-match second tenure with the club.

[ MORE: Hazard, Real, and the back-up plan ]

And boy, did they fall. Scotland conceded twice in the first 10 minutes and again after halftime in a 3-0 loss to the 117th ranked team on the FIFA scale (106th in the slightly fairer Elo Ratings).

Plucky Azerbaijan served notice that it remains a solid dark horse, scaring World Cup finalists Croatia before ultimately losing 2-1.

Back to Russia, it fell by a pair of Eden Hazard goals after Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans and Valencia’s Denis Cheryshev traded first half markers.

Hazard now has 29 international goals ahead of his 100th cap, which will come the next time he hits the pitch.

He may have dove to earn his penalty, but there’s no debating he had the skill buttons activated on the day:

EURO qualifying

Croatia 2-1 Azerbaijan
Slovakia 2-0 Hungary
Netherlands 4-0 Belarus
Austria 0-1 Poland
Israel 1-1 Slovenia
Macedonia 3-1 Latvia
Cyprus 5-0 San Marino
Belgium 3-1 Russia
Kazakhstan 3-0 Scotland
Northern Ireland 2-0 Estonia

Chelsea rejects Real’s $78m Hazard offer; Anderson back-up plan

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
1 Comment

Chelsea wants more than $150 million for Eden Hazard which could lead Real Madrid to look to a different part of London for its next playmaker, according to Sky Sports.

A Thursday report says Chelsea has shot down a $78 million bid for Hazard and is expecting at least twice that amount as desperate Real Madrid looks to revolutionize its team after a European trophy-free 2018-19 season.

[ MORE: Man Utd stars set for exit? ]

The Blues may not sell at all because of its impending transfer ban, despite Hazard being able to walk away for free after the 2019-20 season.

And Hazard isn’t exactly shying away from his long-held interest in a move to Real in this sly exchange with Belgian outlet HLN:

Interviewer: “Look, I have a friend who has been playing in the Premier League for seven years. At a club that plays in blue. He has won everything there and he is ready for a new challenge. He is now in the interest of another club, one in a white outfit. What would you recommend to that boy?”

Smiling, Hazard replied: “Well, buy that friend a white shirt.”

So Real is training its eyes on West Ham United’s Felipe Anderson to the tune of an $85 million bid, a figure which would see the Irons profit in a big way following a $48 million purchase just last summer.

Anderson, who turns 26 in April, has been very good as the Irons bid for seventh place and a possible Europa League spot next season. The Brazilian has nine goals and five assists across all competitions for Manuel Pellegrini.

Hazard is two years older than Anderson, and has produced at a world class level dating back to his 20-goal, 18-assist Ligue 1 season at Lille in 2011-12.

Although, even with the transfer ban, maybe Chelsea will take the money and its medicine without Hazard, who is one of the only players who have been a part of the Blues teams to quit on Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte (and possibly tried to do the same to Maurizio Sarri).

Do you want the bitter Belgian playing out the string? West Ham fans probably hope the answer is, “Nope.”

Get ready for a summer of speculating that Real might buy any player on Earth outside of Lionel Messi, given chairman Florentino Perez’s penchant for hunting Galacticos; In the past week alone, Real has been linked with Neymar, Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, Hazard, and Anderson. Wow.

Who’s in the running for Premier League Player of the Year?

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Premier League Player of the Year is missing its easy winner this go-round.

There’s no Mohamed Salah running away with the scoring record, no Eden Hazard or N'Golo Kante as the clear best player on the champion.

[ MORE: Key games left in the PL season ]

So let’s take a look at where the race stands heading into the final international break of the season.

The contenders

Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool: Like N’Golo Kante before him, there’s a massive underdog status to a non-striker winning the Premier League’s Player of the Year (and you might want to argue that Kante deserved a Ballon d’Or finalist position). Flub against Fulham aside, few Premier League defenders have made their case in the past as well as Van Dijk has this season. Due to his status on a team who has a lot of the ball, it’s difficult to find super gaudy defensive numbers to make his case. Still, when taking into account Premier League center backs to play more than half their teams’ matches this season, no one on advanced stats site WhoScored is close to VVD. He also doesn’t have a “times dribbled past” per-match average on the site.

Eden Hazard, Chelsea: For years, Chelsea has gone as Eden Hazard. The Belgian is unquestionably one of the most talented players in the world, and is effervescent in attack. Sure, Chelsea’s also suffered through periods of head-scratching results and effort — nothing new at Stamford Bridge and he’s one of the only players to be a part of the downfalls of Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, and presumably Maurizio Sarri — but his 13 goals and 11 assists make him the only player to reach double figures in both categories this season. And imagine how high that assist total could be with Alvaro Morata or Gonzalo Higuain finishing at an average or above-average clip.

Raheem Sterling, Man City: At Liverpool a few years ago, it would’ve been accurate to call Sterling, “the kid with the abysmal second touch.” But the Englishman has become better and better by the season, and he’s actually the most economical star in the running for the PL’s Golden Boot; His 2.1 shots per game is less than Sergio Aguero (3.7), Mohamed Salah (3.4), Harry Kane (3.6), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (2.6), Hazard (2.6), and Sadio Mane (2.4). Only Hazard and Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser have more assists.

Mohamed Salah, Liverpool: His average second-half of the season is going to make it difficult for him to repeat as PL Player of the Year, especially considering he has just one goal with no assists in eight matches since Jan. 30 (and four of those were 0-0 or 1-1 draws). Yet it’d be wrong to discount his 17 goals and six assists through 24 matches, and a strong finish could make him a Golden Boot, Premier League, and Champions League winner. That’s not crazy.

Sergio Aguero, Manchester City: Eighteen goals and six assists make him one of four players to combine for 24 goals of production this season, and the 30-year-old may be get sympathetic votes given his surprising lack of honors during a torrential tenure in the Premier League. His three hat tricks should live in the memory of some voters, too, especially since two came against Arsenal and Chelsea. He’s there when you need him, that’s for sure.

Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur: Right in the Golden Boot race despite missing four matches with torn ankle ligaments, Kane has 17 goals and four assists for Spurs this season. Not that the League Cup should come into play in a PL season vote, but Spurs’ star could well be holding silverware in voters’ minds if he hadn’t been hurt before the second leg against Chelsea. Three matches against Pep Guardiola and Man City in the next few weeks will either help or hurt his argument (again, only one of those comes in league play).

FINALLY, “THE WILD CARD” — He’s not going to win this award, and probably won’t be on any short lists besides this post, but spare a though for Raul Jimenez of Wolves. The Mexican striker has been a part of 18 league markers for Nuno Espirito Santo (12 goals, six assists) during his first ever Premier League season.

He’s scored against Chelsea twice, Spurs twice, and assisted versus Manchester United, and Arsenal. Wolves are 10W-4D-2L when he gets a goal or an assist, and 2W-3D-9L when he doesn’t produce magic.

And let’s be honest: Is one of the key players above leading their team to a title as impressive as what Jimenez has done keeping his newly-promoted side in the race for a Europa League place (even given what Wolves spent around him)?

Honestly, he’s in my Top Three with Sterling and Van Dijk. Hazard is probably fourth, with Kane, Aguero, and Salah a bit behind.

Everton upends Chelsea at Goodison Park (video)

Leave a comment
  • Richarlison scores 12th goal of season
  • Sides combine for 30 shots
  • Sigurdsson converts rebound after missing penalty

Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson scored second half goals as Everton handed Chelsea a 2-0 setback at Goodison Park on Sunday.

The loss keeps Chelsea in sixth place, three points behind Arsenal and one shy of Manchester United.

Everton is 11th with 40 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Gonzalo Higuain was saved by Jordan Pickford moments after Eden Hazard hit an early effort off the far goal post.

Mostly, however, the first half was a series of Chelsea chances without finish, Pedro a particularly busy and influential member of the visitors.

The Spaniard had the ball in the back of the net off a free kick sent over the top of the Everton back line, but the linesman’s flag was raised for offside.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The second half began with a bang, the noise made when Andre Gomes saw his shot move off the cross bar.

Richarlison then burst toward a loose ball and headed into the Chelsea goal after Dominic Calvert-Lewin‘s header off a corner was parried by Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Pickford then kept the lead in tact with a terrific low save on a Higuain drive through traffic.

Richarlison then won a penalty when he chipped a ball past Marcos Alonso and the Spaniard stepped on his foot. Sigurdsson saw his penalty saved by Arrizabalaga, but rolled in the rebound.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Emerson says Chelsea ‘afraid’ that Hazard might leave

AP Photo/Matt Dunham
Leave a comment

Emerson Palmieri says Chelsea’s nine remaining Premier League matches amount to “nine Cup finals” when it comes to keeping its UEFA Champions League status, and improving the odds of hanging onto its best player.

[ MORE: PL Player Power Rankings ]

Palmieri admits that Eden Hazard is a cut above the rest, even on Chelsea, and says the team has concerns about hanging onto the Belgian star.

“Obviously we have many players of quality in our team but he is on another level, and is one of the best in the world,” says the 24-year-old Italian international. From Sky Sports:

“I personally cannot see him leaving, but you never know in football. Like Chelsea fans, we are afraid that he might leave, I still believe that he will stay and we really want him to stay.”

Hazard has a year left on his Chelsea deal, but the Blues are set for a transfer ban this summer and winter.

For his part, Palmieri has become a big part of Chelsea under Maurizio Sarri. He’s started and gone the distance in five of the club’s last six matches, pushing Marcos Alonso into the background.