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Bakayoko finding delayed success on loan at AC Milan

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On-loan Chelsea midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko had really been struggling at AC Milan this season, so much so that there was talk of his departure from both Chelsea and Milan on a permanent basis in January, ending his chance of earning a place with the Blues before it really ever began.

Then, things began to slowly turn around. It began after Bakayoko sat a game for a yellow card suspension in late December. He returned to play in a 0-0 draw against Frosinone, and while Milan failed to score, Bakayoko was one of the most instrumental players on the pitch, brought on by a willingness to take players on himself rather than try to find every cutting edge pass. In the 0-0 draw with Bologna just before his suspension, he attempted one take-on; in the Frosinone match after his return, he attempted five take-ons and was successful in them all.

This trend continued, and it in turn opened up passing lanes. Since returning from his yellow card suspension, Bakayoko has attempted 26 take-ons, completing 18 of them, playing all 90 minutes in each of the six games. This has opened the eyes of Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso.

“Bakayoko is an unusual deep-lying playmaker,” Gattuso said after Milan topped Cagliari on Sunday.  “He used to choose the wrong passes, but now he takes men on, can power past people and create chances.”

Milan has been forced to stick with Bakayoko in midfield due to the long-term calf injury to Lucas Biglia, forcing him out since October. That has benefitted Bakayoko, who has been given time to work out his struggles. Unfortunately, he’s rounding into form just as Biglia makes his return. He was an unused substitute in the Cagliari match, the first time he has been part of the matchday squad since his injury.

“If it’s a problem, we’ll resolve it. Biglia has been out for three months and needs time to find his form,” Gattuso said. “We’ll see if we need to use him in a wider midfield role, if there is the requirement.”

The inclusion of Biglia doesn’t necessarily mean Bakayoko’s minutes will fall, but it may force him into a different role. As Gattuso says, he would likely move from his deep-lying central role to the outside of the midfield three, meaning 21-year-old January signing Lucas Paqueta – who scored his debut league goal on Sunday against Cagliari – could be the one to make way.

Either way, the improvement of the midfield at the San Siro is a significant boost for the club as Milan fights for Champions League qualification. The club currently sits fourth after the Cagliari win on Sunday, but just barely – their 38 points are just one above the trio of Roma, Atalanta, and Lazio.

Bakayoko’s recent form in his role at Milan will also give Chelsea fans hope that he can eventually make his way back to Stamford Bridge and challenge Jorginho or N'Golo Kante for a role in the starting lineup. Jorginho especially struggled mightily in his defensive midfield role against Manchester City on Sunday, and fans have started to sour on Maurizio Sarri‘s Jorginho experiment that has forced Kante into a different role from the one he excelled at for so long.

Even if he never finds his way back to Stamford Bridge, Bakayoko’s improvement could be beneficial to Chelsea in another way – Milan now reportedly wants to take Bakayoko on permanently, which could net Chelsea a significant fee and a player in return. According to tabloid reports in England, Chelsea is hoping Milan’s interest in Bakayoko permanently could net them Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, who has played alongside Bakayoko for much of the season.

Chelsea beats Liverpool, keeping Top Four hopes alive

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  • Chelsea creeping on Top Four
  • Giroud scores winner
  • Nothing settled til Championship Sunday

Olivier Giroud‘s first half goal was enough for Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea to top Liverpool 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Chelsea moves to within three points of third-place Liverpool and sits two points behind Spurs. Both London sides have two matches to play while the Reds have one.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

James Milner was fortunate to avoid discipline after a scissor challenge on Eden Hazard hobbled the Belgian in the 10th minute.

Chelsea was better money for an opening goal, and Marcos Alonso stung a shot that Loris Karius caught in the 17th.

Thibaut Courtois made a fine parry on a 30th minute Sadio Mane rip, then collected a weaker second effort from the Senegalese striker.

Giroud put Chelsea ahead in the 32nd minute, and ran into the stands to give David Luiz a hug following the marker. Tiemoue Bakayoko spotted Victor Moses on the right flank, and his cross was turned home by the meaty French forehead (Do I owe Arlo White money now?).

Fabregas’ cross was absent receiver in the 36th minute, as a back post run would’ve had Chelsea ahead by two.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Hazard worked through a hassle to set-up an early second half chance, but Moses’ cross zipped past a herd of Blues attackers.

Chelsea had a second goal ruled offside when Antonio Rudiger was clearly off to head home Giroud’s header off a corner.

Chelsea stayed stout over the final 15 minutes, and Dominic Solanke nodded a late chance wide of the goal.

Antonio Conte’s future at Chelsea in jeopardy?

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We all know Roman Abramovich has a quick trigger finger. We’ve seen this movie before.

With Chelsea sitting fourth in the Premier League and on a run of five matches with just one win, the Blues looked soundly beaten after falling a man down on the road at 11th placed Watford.

The Blues have struggled with key injuries, which cannot be blamed on the boss, as medical issues with Andreas Christensen and Alvaro Morata have left an already thin squad with serious holes. However, Conte’s decisions could also be questioned over the last few weeks.

Against Watford, many thought Conte would bench struggling Tiemoue Bakayoko in favor of England international Danny Drinkwater alongside Drinkwater’s former Leicester City teammate N'Golo Kante, but the Italian instead kept Bakayoko in the lineup and it backfired badly. Bakayoko was sent off for a second yellow after just 30 minutes, leaving Chelsea with little ferocity the rest of the match.

Conte also chose to leave Olivier Giroud on the bench despite Morata’s injury. Giroud was healthy enough to come on as a 64th minute sub after Pedro was injured. And Conte chose to leave Marcos Alonso out of the squad altogether despite no reported injury for the wing-back.

In an awkward and tense moment after the match, Conte at first admitted mistakes in his player selection before becoming hostile with the post-match reporter. “Maybe I made the mistakes in the starting eleven today,” Conte said. “My choices were very poor, I think.” When pressed on what selections he wishes he could have back, Conte got very defensive, repeating over and over that the starting eleven was incorrect and attacking the reporter for repeating the question. “Maybe the starting eleven was wrong because our start was very poor and it was very difficult to change something tonight.”

Chelsea won the title in Conte’s first season, but with the prospect of Champions League play next season in serious doubt and reports swirling that a loss to Watford would doom the Italian, Arlo White and Robbie Mustoe discuss Conte’s fortunes, and it’s not ideal for the Italian.

Watford 4-1 Chelsea: Bakayoko’s early red dooms woeful Blues

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  • Bakayoko sent off 30 minutes in for 2nd yellow
  • Troy Deeney scored from the spot
  • Chelsea conceded three times in the final 10 minutes

Life comes at you fast.

Midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko was sent off after a half-hour, and while it appeared Eden Hazard had rescued the Blues after a mostly woeful performance, Chelsea ultimately could see it over the line, conceding three times in the final nine minutes plus stoppage time to fall to Watford for the first time since 1999.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Bakayoko, who has struggled mightily since moving to Chelsea from Monaco over the summer, had a horror first-half, and it only lasted just over a half-hour before he was sent to the showers. The 23-year-old was booked 25 minutes in for a foul on Etienne Capoue, and just five minutes later a heavy touch got away from him. In his reckless effort to win the ball back, he stepped over the ball and caught Richarlison with a nasty stomp, earning a deserved second booking and reducing Chelsea to 10 men before halftime.

Antonio Conte was forced to sacrifice Willian to shore up the midfield in Bakayoko’s absence, bringing on Cesc Fabregas four minutes after the red card. Watford was still able to possess the ball with more ferocity, and they earned the game’s opening goal as debutant Gerard Deulofeu was fouled in the box by Thibaut Courtois. Troy Deeney scored from the spot, and the Hornets went ahead just before the halftime break.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Chelsea showed more intent in the second half despite their disadvantage, but it was Watford that had the best chance before the hour mark, with Deulofeu popping up in a dangerous spot again off a corner to fire a shot from outside the top of the box that just skipped wide right.

Conte brought Olivier Giroud on for his Blues debut, but only after Pedro was withdrawn after being injured in the 63rd minute, adding to the significant Chelsea injury list with Alvaro Morata and Andreas Christensen already struggling with fitness. Moments later, Abdoulaye Doucore forced an acrobatic save by Courtois as he rifled on net on the break.

Cesc Fabregas had a big chance for Chelsea to pull level with 10 minutes to go after great work from Eden hazard, but his shot was poorly placed directly at Watford goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis. Chelsea continued to put Watford under pressure, and the equalizer came a minute later. Chelsea superstar Hazard rescued his team as he undressed Adrian Mariappa, cutting inside and slightly backwards before rifling a stunning curler into the far top corner for the equalizer.

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The game began to open up, and Watford went right back in front. Darryl Janmaat put the Hornets ahead again, carving up the Chelsea defense on a give-and-go with substitute Roberto Pereyra, and then Deulofeu sliced and diced on the break to put the game away. Pereyra piled on the Blues misery with a fourth a minute into injury time.

The loss, Chelsea’s second in a row, leaves them vulnerable in fourth just a point ahead of fifth-placed Tottenham. The Blues have won just once in the last five matches. Watford, meanwhile, remains in 11th but pulled within just one of 10th placed Everton.

Huddersfield 1-3 Chelsea: Blues bounce back on the road

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Chelsea picked up a convincing road victory on Tuesday as the Blues topped Huddersfield Town, 3-1, at the Kirklees Stadium.

[ MORE: Gremio reaches Club World Cup final ]

The Blues came out hungry following Sunday’s defeat at West Ham, and an unlikely goalscorer gave  Conte’s group the lead.

Sloppy passing at the back saw Willian with the ball at the top of the Huddersfield area, before the Brazilian brilliantly played Tiemoué Bakayoko in on goal for his second finish of the season.

Willian — who played a key role throughout the match — extended the Chelsea advantage three minutes prior to halftime when his header snuck past Terriers goalkeeper Jonas Lössl.

Chelsea was clicking on all cylinders after halftime, when Willian helped set up Pedro for his third goal of the Premier League season.

Meanwhile, Laurent Depoitre pulled a goal back late for the hosts, but it was too late to rescue a result for Huddersfield.