N’Golo Kante

Klopp: Liverpool almost made statement in Chelsea win

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Liverpool is a perfect 6-0, even after a not-so-perfect 2-1 win over Chelsea on Sunday, and that result under those circumstances only seems to underscore its power.

The Reds built an early 2-0 lead that nearly disappeared and perhaps should’ve led to a draw had Michy Batshuayi and Mason Mount provided the finishing touch.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

But they didn’t, and a sloppy second half at the back didn’t hurt the Reds aside from N’Golo Kante’s undressing of Fabinho.

Yes, there’s a certain vibe of destiny around this unit, and everything is going according to Jurgen Klopp‘s plans.

He’s downright giddy, but you can tell he cares about matching performances like Man City’s 8-0 clobbering of Watford and that any goal against his men is a bit of luck.

“3-0 would have been a statement but then N’Golo Kante makes his little run and with his big toe kicks it in.

“Then it is completely normal that you come under pressure but we defended well. There were a couple of good saves from both goalkeepers. Good situations in an exciting game and that is how it is in the top six and in the Premier League.”

Apologies to Klopp, but the Kante quip is an absolute scream. Chelsea’s midfielder left Fabinho for dead and then took advantage of slow-to-react Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk to smash a delightful goal past Adrian with the side of his foot. Just tip your cap, Jurgen.

The Reds are now the first PL team to go 6-0 to start consecutive seasons, though it seems there’s a certain team in his head.

“It is exceptional. What can I say? We have to keep on going. It never looks as easy as it did for City yesterday but we have not had these games yet. We have to work for it.”

Circle Nov. 10 at Anfield, okay? The next round of Klopp v. Pep.

Liverpool hangs on for win over wasteful Chelsea

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Liverpool built a two-goal lead, then rode its luck to keep its perfect season alive.

Roberto Firmino and Trent Alexander-Arnold scored first half goals as the Reds beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

N’Golo Kante scored a sensational goal to bring the Blues within one, but Chelsea couldn’t finish several terrific opportunities to tie the match.

Now 6-0, the Reds restored their five-point lead over second place Man City, while the Blues sit 12th with eight points.


The main takeaways

1. Alexander-Arnold at both ends: TAA’s exceptional work in the attacking third is nothing new, and it says something that it comes as little surprise when he produces something sublime like the opening goal off a set piece, but Alexander-Arnold’s goal line clearance in the 68th minute adding some icing to the cake as Chelsea looked pull a goal back from its 2-0 deficit. A fine performance from the right back.

2. Liverpool gets big let-off: Liverpool’s defending and passing was poor over the final 30 minutes or so, and if the Reds have something resembling a weakness it is their overall back line when the opposition is in the Liverpool half. Michy Batshuayi and Mason Mount should’ve both troubled Adrian in the latter stages, but were let off the hook by a Chelsea team with only one sub available to it after the break. More on that below.

3. Bats, not the Yank: Frank Lampard opted against starting Christian Pulisic again on Sunday, and two defensive subs in the first 42 minutes meant there was only one left for the second half. Lampard chose target forward Michy Batshuayi over Pulisic, Ross Barkley, and Pedro. Batshuayi drew a free kick upon introduction, and coudn’t flash an opener header on frame in the 88th.

Man of the Match: Firmino, whose steady presence, strong dribbling, and — most importantly — powerful header steadied the match for a time, moments after VAR denied the Blues an equalizer.

Honorable mention: Kante was everywhere, stopping Mohamed Salah‘s long dribble toward goal late as a highlight. Another highlight, this. See ya later Fabinho.


[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

A foul-heavy, physical start yielded a free kick atop the Chelsea 18 after Andreas Christensen got tangled with Sadio Mane.

A training ground play had Salah roll a shot pass for Alexander-Arnold to belt past Kepa Arrizabalaga in the 15th minute.

An injury to Emerson Palmieri then introduced Marcos Alonso to the match, a 16th minute substitution adding insult to the, well, you know.

Adrian saved Tammy Abraham‘s 1v1 chance in the 24th minute, a misstep from the youngster and great moment for Liverpool’s No. 2 backstop.

Azpilicueta looked to have leveled when he mopped up a sloppy final third performance from the Reds celebrated back line, but VAR ruled Mason Mount as offside.

Liverpool then made it 2-0, adding insult to insult, when unmarked Firmino hammered a header into the goal.

A calamitous first half continued with Christensen waylaid by an injury, as he subbed off for Kurt Zouma. Forty-two minutes in, two subs down.

The game could’ve been effectively put to bed on a 46th minute set piece, but Virgil Van Dijk‘s back post effort tame and allowed Arrizabalaga to make a fine save.

Chelsea found some footing in the second half, and Liverpool was cautioned for time wasting. N’Golo Kante dragged a shot wide in the 59th minute.

Kante was the next man on the score sheet, turning Fabinho and dribbling free into the 18 to blasting a 71st minute effort past Adrian. Game on.

But Batshuayi couldn’t flash a late header on goal, and Mason Mount butchered a difficult near-post chance to make it 2-2 late. Liverpool escaped, and is starting to feel a bit like the dreaded term: Team of Destiny.

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.

Who’s the most irreplaceable player on ‘Big Six’ Premier League sides?

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When Aymeric Laporte was lost for months with a knee injury, there was a fairly standard reaction to the news.

This was the player Manchester City could least afford to lose for a long period of time.

[ MORE: Juve wants De Gea ]

There’s a debate to be had there, and it’s been had plenty, but it has us thinking: Which player is the most indispensable for each of the “Big Six” in their quest for a successful PL season?

It’s going to be a defender heavy list.

Tottenham Hotspur

Tough one, here, and we may be just a few months of consistent performances from changing the answer to Tanguy Ndombele (Yes, he looks that good).

But this one’s down to two players. It’s not a defender, as Spurs have three dynamite center backs and the drop-offs between full backs don’t hold wide-enough margins.

It’s between the Harrys (Harries? Anyway, “Between the Harries” sounds like we just started a new reality show).

Don’t be misled by Spurs’ remarkable job making up for the loss of Harry Kane to injury late last season; the big striker is still on history-making pace for his young-enough career. Since becoming a full-time starter, Kane has 162 goals in 241 matches. Would you believe he’s not 27 until next summer?

Harry Winks is the ball-possessing, clean-passing motor that so many teams crave for their midfield. He’s been a 90-plus percentage passer in every season, and has completed 94 percent this early season. Again, small sample size, but his 75 passes per game trails Nicolas Otamendi, Aymeric Laporte, Granit Xhaka, Paul Pogba, and teammate Toby Alderweireld.

It’s almost a coin flip here. We’re taking Kane, but we’re basing it on a tiebreaker of advanced statistics. Anyone making an argument for the 23-year-old Winks deserves to be heard.

Manchester United

This is perhaps the trickiest call of the bunch.

Anthony Martial has been far and away the most important player to the Red Devils’ early season, sputtering as it may be, but it’s far too soon to say he’s irreplaceable.

Four players have played every minute of the early season: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Paul Pogba, Victor Lindelof, and David De Gea. Both Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay have nearly played the full 360.

The fact of the matter, and this belies United’s plight, is that United is too thin to have a single player who would hurt the most to lose; Forced to choose one, we’ll say Maguire as he’s the most proven consistent entity of the bunch.

Chelsea

Another tough one, though it seems like it should be an easy one: N’Golo Kante. But he’s still finding his footing under Frank Lampard and last season wasn’t a great one as Maurizio Sarri messed with a great recipe by moving Kante from his role of pure opposition destruction.

Again, Chelsea’s has a good answer in replacement players for any of their stars getting injured; Marcos Alonso is barely playing, same with Michy Batshuayi. Olivier Giroud, Willian, even Pedro.

So while we’d like to make the case for Cesar Azpilicueta, the answer is probably still Kante.

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Arsenal

The easy answer is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it is not necessarily the correct answer because of replaceability. If the Gabonese superstar goes down, Unai Emery can still roll out a strike force with Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe.

The Gunners are very thin at center back, but the problem is that the starters aren’t stars.

So we’ll proffer one that’s a bit out of the box: Bernd Leno. The goalkeeper has been pretty darn good considering his team has offered very little resistance to attacks. His back-ups are Emiliano Martinez and Matt Macey. There’s no rule stating one of those two wouldn’t be a good starter, but they have six PL appearances between them (all Martinez).

Liverpool

It’s Virgil Van Dijk.

Mohamed Salah is the straw that stirs the drink, but the Reds have a very good attackers behind him (both young and experienced) and made a run to the Champions League and a record league point total while he was not exactly thriving in form (Salah had a lone goal in an eight-match league run over February and March, and missed the incredible Barcelona comeback with a concussion).

The idea of it being Alisson Becker is interesting, but for Liverpool supporters that is probably fueled more by watching substandard keepers derail their dreams for a couple of years. For a neutral and especially for stat hounds, it’s not as big of a drop to Adrian as it seems (but it’s big).

We may want to revisit this discussion in January regarding Fabinho, but Liverpool is very deep in the midfield, too. It’s Van Dijk, and it’s not close.

Man City

It was a combination of a few things, the first obviously being the players’ quality. The PFA Team of the Year winner helped City lower its goals conceded total in his first full season at the Etihad, as City won almost every competition it entered in 2018-19.

But it was also City’s depth behind Laporte, with Vincent Kompany gone to Anderlecht and the next injury seemingly cueing up Fernandinho or Kyle Walker for center back duty.

An argument could be made for Ederson simply based on the keeper’s quality in possession and shot-stopping alone but no other position, really; City may have had to work harder for the title last season with Kevin De Bruyne injured, but it found an answer largely through Bernardo Silva. Leroy Sane looked like City’s MVP two seasons ago, but Raheem Sterling emerged as the club’s best wide man and there’s some guy named Mahrez behind him.

Laporte, it is (And if you want to really get into the nexus of this article, and why the stats say there is a big drop-off from Laporte to even John Stones, let alone a third wheel, check here. Also, I’ve learned that City fans vastly under-appreciate Otamendi).

Best of the Rest

Less explanation, similar amounts of confidence.

Aston Villa: Jack Grealish
Bournemouth:
Nathan Ake
Brighton and Hove Albion:
Shane Duffy
Burnley:
James Tarkowski
Crystal Palace: Luka Milivojevic
Everton:
Michael Keane
Leicester City:
Wilfred Ndidi
Newcastle United:
Fabian Schar
Norwich City:
Teemu Pukki
Sheffield United:
Dean Henderson
Southampton:
Jannik Vestergaard
Watford:
Abdoulaye Doucoure
West Ham: 
Sebastien Haller
Wolves: Willy Boly

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.