Sarri cannot wait to add Hazard to free-scoring Chelsea attack

Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri took major positives from Chelsea’s free-scoring form without their star man Eden Hazard – but claims the talent will be back into the first team once he’s fit.

Hazard missed his second consecutive match with a back problem as Sarri’s side hammered Burnley 4-0 at Turf Moor.

The talented winger is already a doubt for Wednesday’s Carabao Cup fourth-round clash with Derby, it has been revealed.

There were plenty of Blues players getting in on the goalscoring act at Burnley, as Alvaro Morata, Ross Barkley, Willian and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were all on the score-sheet.

Speaking after the game, Sarri said: “I want Hazard in every match if it’s possible because we have a lot of very good players but Hazard I think is something different.

“I am very happy because the team was able to score seven goals in two matches without Hazard. It’s a very good sign. I want Eden as soon as possible. I don’t know for Wednesday but I hope for Sunday.”

Barkley has been in fine form, and added two more assists in addition to his goal on Sunday.

Discussing the England players form, Sarri said: “Barkley is doing very well in this period.

“He improved in the defensive phase, improved very much. He improved his physical condition because the last season for him was really very difficult.

“He’s a very good player from the technical point of view. Now I think Ross is complete.”

 

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TEAM NEWS: Arsenal and Chelsea news ahead of Europa League clashes

Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek is in line to make his first Chelsea start of the season when the Blues face Hungarian champions Vidi in the Europa League Group L.

Loftus-Cheek has recovered from a shin problem in time for the game, and Chelsea also have winger Pedro and defender Antonio Rudiger returning to full fitness.

Blues head coach Maurizio Sarri is expected to make a host of changes for the clash, with the likes of Gary Cahill, Andreas Christensen, Emerson Palmieri, Alvaro Morata and Cesc Fabregas all touted to feature at some point in the game.

Meanwhile, also in the Europa League, Arsenal will be without Henrikh Mkhitaryan for their game against Qarabag in Baku, due to diplomatic tensions between the country and Mkhitaryan’s native Armenia.

 

Juventus star set to miss four games for allegations against Di Francesco

The aftermath of the aggressive impact Juventus winger Douglas Costa made on Sassuolo star man during the match is starting to dawn on the Brazilian winger as he will be set to face a four match ban in the Serie A.

During the Serie A game, Costa was first seen giving an elbow to Sassoulo’s Federico Di Francesco and head-butting escaping both before being sent off for spitting at Di Francesco by the referee with the disgusting act caught on camera.

However Juventus was able to gather all three points from the game thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s brace in the second half of the match. Costa was sent off during the match at the last minute of the Serie A match.

The 28-year-old winger will be missing four games altogether in the Serie A when the Biaconeris will take on Frosinone, Bologna, Napoli and Udinese, but will available for selection in the Champions League  as the ban does not extend to Europe. According to the Serie A experts of FootballPredictions.com this will be quite a big miss for the current Scudetto holders.

Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri refusing to relive the moment of the incident said to the press: “The episode on Sunday surprised everyone,” Allegri told a news conference via Goal.

“And in my opinion, Costa apologised and will pay with the suspension.

“He will have the opportunity to show that this is an isolated gesture, a bad example for children.

“[On Monday] he had a good workout and again this morning [Tuesday]. He had a moment of madness – that should not happen.

“The club will not appeal for Costa. The boy suffered a shock because it is something outside of the behaviour he has always shown on the field. Usually when he passes by a fly he dodges it.

“[Wednesday’s] choice on Costa will be exclusively technical.”

 

Morata did consider leaving Chelsea in the summer

Alvaro Morata has revealed he did consider leaving Chelsea this summer after claiming his first season in English football was “a disaster”.

The 25-year-old joined from La Liga giants Real Madrid in the summer of 2017, and enjoyed a fruitful start to life at Stamford Bridge, but failed to capitalise on that form, and eventually found himself out of the side.

Three goals in the final 23 games of the season saw him miss out on Spain’s World Cup squad, too.

Despite the upset of missing out on the Worl Cup in Russia, Morata has found himself called up for Spain’s UEFA Nations League games against England and Croatia, but admits he did consider quitting Chelsea in favour of a move home, or to Italy.

“I thought about playing again in Spain or Italy, of course I thought it would have been happy, but you cannot always escape from reality,” he told the Spanish press.

“It was a disaster last year, I did not know where I was, I was not happy.

“Not going to the World Cup was hard for me. I did not have the best season and the coach made the decision.

“I signed for Chelsea to be there and I was not, although that ultimately made me motivated.

“I do not hold a grudge against (former Spain coach Julen) Lopetegui, I’ve lived a lot of nice things with him too, it was his opinion and I did not do my best season either.

“But I do not hold a grudge against anyone, I wish him all the best and more now that he is at Real Madrid.”

 

Part 2: ‘A Fan Diary – 10 Positives from the World Cup’.

And, we’re back again… Have you recovered from the lack of football yet? Thankfully the EFL season starts in just a couple of weeks, and transfer speculation is in the process of hitting fever pitch.

Meanwhile though, here is Part 2 of our ‘A Fan Diary:10 Positives from the World Cup’. If you haven’t already, make sure you enjoy Part 1 first!

6) 3-5-2

There was much discussion heading into the tournament, sealed by our friendly games against Nigeria and Costa Rica, as to whether the anticipated decision to play with 3 centre-halves would be wise. Safe to say those questions have fairly solidly been answered now.

An excellent performance in the Quarter-Final victory over Sweden, showed precisely why allowing an extra centre-half meant you could have one sweeping round the back with pace covering the long ball (hello Kyle Walker), one pushing forward with possession (hello Harry Maguire), without either sacrificing an extra man in Central Midfield, or playing up front.

The fact that both of England’s wing-backs made it into FIFA’s official team of the tournament also pays testament to how the set-up made best use of the resources available to them. Harry Kane, John Stones, Jordan Pickford, and Harry Maguire can also consider themselves at least a little bit unlucky to have not made the Team of the Tournament too.

7) Harry Maguire

Ah slabhead, you beautiful man. His arm draped lovingly over the barrier – it made a wonderful meme to see one of England’s best centre-halves just acting like a teenager in a nightclub. And you know what, it fitted. No doubt in years gone by, the Sheffield-born lad had done exactly that in West Street Live, Plug or Leadmill.

His Northern everyman qualities made him all the more endearing. That his CV includes Hull City and Sheffield United, whilst he has brothers playing for Chesterfield and Gainsborough Trinity is just a bonus. I bet you he has scraps with his chips, and remembers to thank the bus driver.

But also, he put to rest the inferiority complex that envelops English football sometimes. Why can’t our centre-halves dribbled out from the back? Harry can. If Beckenbauer was from South Yorkshire.

And as a key part of England’s famed ‘love train’ from set-pieces, he was an integral part of our attacking output too. With 75% of our goals coming from set pieces – almost all of them were down to either a Maguire assist flick on, him just causing havoc generally, or powering home the kind of header that made you whelp with delight. Take that Sweden.

His consistently assured performances indicate that he’s going to have one hell of a future for England. The next Tony Adams or Terry Butcher. If he has a good season for Leicester – watch the vultures begin to sniff round.

8) Russia

Look, don’t get me wrong. Russia is bonkers. The Cyrillic alphabet is ridiculous, the level of spoken English was quite low, and the police / border guards were just generally terrifying (often without doing much). They’re always the villains in Bond films for a good reason!

But you know what? There were no hooligans jumping out with AK-47s, everyone I had the joy of meeting there always wanted to be helpful (even when they didn’t speak English), and there wasn’t even the vaguest hint of trouble. I had no problem arranging for my FAN ID, and whilst the immigration-related bureaucracy did seem excessive at times – as long as you didn’t lose anything, it was fine.

Government laws were passed to prevent hotels from scalping tourists, and when you were partying out on the streets – the police left you alone (unlike the French constabulary from Euro 2016, who were very hands on). There wasn’t even the vaguest hint of trouble.

Which begs the question, what happened? We all remember the crazy scenes in Marseille 2 years ago. Well – the stories and rumours vary… But it really does seem that if you *properly* take no prisoners as an entire government, that you can stop a violent minority from ruining things for the rest of us.

Moscow is a fascinating place, full of absolutely amazing history (if that’s your bag). St Basil’s Cathedral is one of the prettiest buildings on the planet, and not even the Coca Cola signs everywhere could take the atmosphere away. If you ever get the chance, go and visit. There’s even a McDonalds in Red Square nowadays!

9) Euro 2020

It’s never the failure that kills you, it’s the hope. But you know what? It’s time to get helpful.

England are officially the 4th best side in the World (and Europe). Which is convenient – ahead of the upcoming 2020 European Championships. There are plenty of painful memories to banish – and with the ridiculous 24-team format set to continue, there is surely a place for England at the next festival of football.

And heaven forbid if England were to do as well as we did this Summer; then it won’t be trips to Moscow we’ll be worrying about… There is no one host country for the whole tournament; with 12 host cities looking after a number of games. Namely; Baku (that’s in Azerbaijan in case you’re wondering); Copenhagen, Munich, Budapest, Rome, Amsterdam, Bucharest, St Petersburg, Bilbao, London, Glasgow, and Dublin.

And rather conveniently / dangerously, London will be taking a centre-stage role in this travelling circus; hosting both of the Semi-Finals, and also the Final. Wouldn’t that be something eh?

10) Football Came Home

No really, it did. The memes were absolutely everywhere – and this is just one of my favourites.

With this being England’s first good tournament in the age of social media, it was perhaps to be expected that the whole country seemed to lose its mind for a little bit. But it was fun whilst it lasted.

And that’s the thing – is that football coming home, was only ever about fun. It became acceptable to like the national team again. There were no under-performing superstars running wild with their WAGs, no captains having affairs with a teammate’s wife, and nobody racially abusing the brother of their centre-half partner. Jesus, that was all just John Terry!

So you know what, football was already home the second we were celebrating. The second that viewing figures went through the roof, the second national happiness went through the roof, the second we really did start to believe again. To see my 9-year-old brother fall in love with his country’s team for the first time – that was more than worth the inevitable heartbreak, just on its own!

And after this Summer, it transpires that Three Lions is the only song in British history to reach Number 1 on 4 (yes, four!), separate occasions with the same artist line-up. That might just sum up exactly how wonderful, yet utterly eccentric this country is.

Football came home. And wasn’t it bloody great?

Thoughts On Marouane Fellaini’s Contract Extension At Manchester United

Marouane Fellaini’s Manchester United career has been…  interesting. With plenty of highs but just as many lows, it would be fair to state that the Belgium international has struggled to endear himself to the Old Trafford faithful. Fellaini has been a decent ‘Plan B’ for United at times but he is very much a last resort at best if the Red Devils are chasing a goal.

According to WhoScored, the Belgium midfielder made 16 Premier League appearances for United last season – 11 of those coming from the substitute’s bench. Fellaini has struggled for regular game time under Jose Mourinho and that looks set to continue with the arrival of Brazilian Fred. Fellaini still has a reduced role to play at Old Trafford, though, and he isn’t going anywhere just yet.

Fellaini is now contracted to the club for the next two years, with the option to add a third year in 2020. The Belgium man is like marmite; you either love him or you hate him – and it would be fair to claim that there was a mixed response to that news. Fellaini can do a job for United at times but he isn’t the most reliable and he will always be the main scapegoat from the David Moyes era.

To be fair to him, Fellaini has had a positive impact for Belgium at the World Cup 2018 this summer. Trailing 2-0 to Japan in the last-16, Roberto Martinez turned to Fellaini and the United man helped his side get back on level terms – notching the equaliser less than 15 minutes after coming onto the pitch. United fans will be keeping a close eye on his efforts throughout the rest of the tournament.

At the time of writing, Belgium are preparing for their quarter-final clash with Brazil and the European outfit are 6/1 in the latest World Cup Betfair odds ahead of that fixture. Fellaini will almost certainly start on the bench again but he could profit in the second half. Brazil’s main weakness is in the air and Martinez may turn to Fellaini if Belgium fall behind in the early stages.

Fellaini could head back to Old Trafford as a World Cup winner if everything goes to plan and United will benefit directly from his experience next season. Despite his obvious flaws on the pitch in terms of creativity and work ethic, Fellaini has played at a very high level for most of his professional career and he can help a few of the younger, newer players on the training ground.

Was tying Marouane Fellaini down a new contract a risky move from Manchester United? Not really. He is a bit-part player and most fans know that – Fellaini is not going to take centre stage in Jose Mourinho’s squad. He has a unique ability to make an impact off the substitute’s bench and United can always turn to him if needed. Mourinho will be hoping that he doesn’t need to turn to Fellaini quite as often next season.

Barcelona legend Iniesta heads to Vissel Kobe in Japan

Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta has been anounced as the latest signing for Japanese side Vissel Kobe, after leaving Barcelona following an illustrious career at Camp Nou.

The 34-year-old left the Catalan side this week after clinching his ninth LaLiga title with the club.

Iniesta was a World Cup winner with Spain in 2010, and captained Barcelona during his final three seasons with the club.

Vissel Kobe, coached by Takayuki Yoshida, currently hold sixth position in the Japanese top flight, with 15 games of the season gone.

The club are already 15 points behind the runaway leaders, but anyone that fancies backing them to come good after the arrival of Iniesta should use a comeon free bet to do so.

Vissel Kobe chairman Hiroshi Mikitani told reporters at a press conference: “I am pleased to announce that Andres Iniesta will be signing up to play for Vissel Kobe after his historic career at FC Barcelona.

“Iniesta is a top global player. Many of us will recall Iniesta’s astounding goal in the final of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa that brought Spain its first title in the tournament.

“Since 2015, Iniesta has also led FC Barcelona as captain and last year he was the first player to sign a lifetime contract with the club.”

Mikitani added: “I am confident Iniesta’s philosophy, leadership and DNA will be a terrific inspiration, not only for Vissel Kobe but all Japanese football society.

“We look forward to Andres Iniesta not only strengthening the team’s performance but also contributing to the development of the next generation of players through the introduction of the Iniesta methodology to the youth academy.

“We believe his decision to come to Japan will have a major impact, not just on Vissel Kobe, but on football in Japan and Asia.”

Man City to Cap Title-Winning Season with Home Win over Brighton

Manchester City may have fallen short on the continent this season but Pep Guardiola’s side have been simply sublime en route to securing the Premier League title.

Winning 30 and drawing three of their first 35 matches Cityzens left the chasing pack for dust and fans expect the free-spending side to dominate English football for the foreseeable future.

City hammered West Ham 4-1 to bring April to a close and as well as putting the match beyond their opponents, Fernandinho’s goal on 64 minutes at the London Stadium was his employer’s 102nd of the season. To put that into context, 2016/17 champions Chelsea scored 85 goals with 2015/16 kings Leicester managing 68.

Pre-season favourites with bookmakers in the Premier League betting last year’s bronze medalists lived up to the hype and will be eager to shine in their final home match of the season to thank followers for their continued support.

Lowly Brighton provide the opposition on Wednesday May 9th as the pair meet in an 8.00pm kick-off. There’s little doubt among traders that Manchester City will sign-off with a big win and punters looking to support the champions must make do with bet365’s 1/8. Short, but that’s currently the market best.

That’ll push backers into the specials but there’s thankfully no lack of markets available to football lovers looking for a lively interest. With the stands packed and a party atmosphere in the air to close the show goals are expected from a side who scored 14 in six starts last month. That includes the four against West Ham and a stunning 5-0 win over Swansea at the Etihad Stadium; this match producing more than three goals is even money.

This will be the second fixture of the season involving Manchester City and Brighton with the reverse leg ending in a 2-0 away win at Falmer Stadium back in August. Tighter than many expected, it took until the 70th minute before the victors were able to break the deadlock with Sergio Aguero on target. Lewis Dunk turned the ball into his own net five minutes later for an unfortunate own-goal that put the game to bed.

Pep Guardiola 2
Source: BBC Sport via Twitter

Fancy more of the same? Man City to do the double over Brighton with another win to nil makes plenty of appeal at 4/7 or -1 goal on the handicap trades around the 2/5 mark which should make it popular in accumulators. 4/9 has no in the both teams to score market favourite but the head-to-head stats tell us it may be worth chancing the bigger price.

Three of the last four meetings of these rivals has seen both find the net at least once, including a 2-1 City win when last facing off in Manchester. Both to score is 13/8. Chris Hughton’s side will finish outside of the prizes following last season’s promotion from the Championship but they have already notched goals against the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and West Ham this year.

Mourinho given Lukaku boost; Talks Fellaini’s future

Jose Mourinho is confident about Romelu Lukaku’s chances of being fit for the FA Cup final, and believes Marouane Fellaini will sign a new deal with Manchester United.

Utd travel to Brighton on Friday aiming to tighten their grip on second place in the Premier League, although the Portuguese manager will have to make do without his first-choice striker for the encounter.

Lukaku limped off during the game with Arsenal last weekend with an ankle niggle, and is currently back in Belgium, where he was captured on film moving with ease in a medicine ball exercise on Thursday.

Those images have led many to believe the 24-year-old’s injury is not as bad as first feared, and Mourinho confirmed the forward should be fit enough to take part in some form against Chelsea in the FA Cup final on May 19.

“I don’t know (how he is),” Mourinho said. “I just know that, of course, (he is) not (available) tomorrow. Apart from that, we need to wait for more scans, more time but not tomorrow.”

Asked if there was a chance for the FA Cup final, Mourinho added: “Hope so. Looks positive.”

When discussing the future of Fellaini, Mourinho said: “In Marouane’s case, destiny is in his hands and he will decide what makes him happier.

“He knows that I want him to stay, he knows that the club wants him to stay. He has an offer from us and it’s up to him now to (say) yes or no.

“I am still positive because I feel that he likes to be here, I feel that he likes the feeling of the manager trusting him and I think there is a good chance for him to stay. But if he leaves, so be it and be happy.”

 

Ozil set to sign new deal with Gunners

Arsenal have been handed a huge boost after it emerged that Mesut Ozil is expected to sign a contract extension with the club.

The German’s current deal expires in the summer, and there had been huge speculation suggesting his future was to lie elsewhere.

Manchester United was just one of the big name clubs that were touted to be keen on making a move.

The news follows the announcement that the club had agreed a club-record deal to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund on transfer deadline day.

The BBC report that the new deal would run through until 2021, and would be worth £350,000 a week before tax – making him the highest-paid Arsenal player in the club’s history.

Ozil joined the Gunners from Real Madrid in 2013, for a then club-record £42m transfer fee.