Aston Villa v Chelsea Match Preview (Premier League) – 2nd April 2016

Chelsea return to Premier League action early on Saturday, as they take on Aston Villa at Villa Park. The Blues will be hoping to consolidate a place in the top half of the table with a victory against the league’s bottom side. Given Villa’s awful displays so far this term, surely Guus Hiddink’s men can take all three points back from this trip to the West Midlands?

The only thing Chelsea have to play for here is a chance to creep further up the league table. They currently sit in 10th spot, and there’s little chance of them making the top six or seven. European qualification therefore seems to be out of the question, and it’s not likely that the higher ups at the club even want a place in the Europa League.

You’d hope that without any goals or pressure from up high, Hiddink lets a few fringe players or youngsters into the team. What could the club learn from playing the first team in the remaining games? The side who won the title last season are experienced, possibly even too experienced, so give someone else a chance to impress.

Diego Costa is suspended again, so hopefully we get chance to glimpse a little more of Bertrand Traore up front. Although, there is a chance that we finally get to see Alexandre Pato take the field in a Chelsea shirt. Falcao is missing again up front, but it’s hard to imagine that he would have got near the squad anyway.

Long term absentee Kurt Zouma is out still, while there’s no sign of a return for Eden Hazard. His injuries this term haven’t seemed too severe, but he has missed a lot of minutes. It seems like he’s either not in any rush to make it back into the team, or he’s becoming worryingly injury prone.

Aston Villa have had an awful campaign so far, so for Hiddink to pick a weakened side here would be justifiable. The likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek or Kenedy should be able to impress against Remi Garde’s men, a side who have lost six straight games. They sit on the verge of relegation, and they look to be just weeks away from having their fate confirmed.

Given Villa’s form, there really isn’t any excuse for Chelsea not winning here. Even if Hiddink plays a rotated side in this clash, they should be more than good enough to take the points. Of course, this is the ground where the Dutchman first took charge of Chelsea, so he’ll be hopeful of returning here and claiming a victory.

This is a game that even staunch fans will have trouble getting excited about, so it’s hard to see why it’s being broadcast on TV. The fact that it is an early game makes it even harder for the away fans to make the trip, and makes it that much more unappealing. We should get to see a few goals here at least, as it’s hard to have any faith in either of these two defences.

LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 2-1

Conte Refuses To Be Drawn Over Future

Antonio Conte, the current manager of the Italian national side, has refused to be drawn into discussions over his future after strong links to the Chelsea job.

The 46-year-old confirmed last week that he will leave the Italian national set-up in the summer after the end of the 2016 European Championships. That has led to many suspecting a deal is already in place for him to become Chelsea’s next permanent manager, with most bookmakers having him odds-on favourite for the position.

Chelsea are looking for a permanent manager after the club’s owner, Roman Abramovich, made the decision to sack Jose Mourinho for the second time last December. The self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ led Chelsea to their worst start to a top-flight campaign since the 1960s just months after leading them to their third Premier League win under his management.

Guus Hiddink was brought in as an interim replacement for the Portuguese boss, much as he was in 2009 when he replaced the sacked Luis Felipe Scolari. He won the FA Cup with Chelsea that year, though they were knocked out of that trophy this season after a 2-0 loss to Everton.

With Hiddink leaving Chelsea at the end of the season the speculation surrounding their next boss has reached fever pitch, though Conte will not confirm whether or not he’ll return to club management in the summer. He said, “At this moment, nothing interests me. I’m the coach of the national team and it’s an experience which has taught me so much”.

Conte became Italy manager in August of 2014 and his contract is due to expire after the 2016 Euros, a tournament that will be held in France this summer. His decision to not renew his contract with the Italian national side came after he was asked to clarify his situation by the president of the Italian Football Federation, Carlo Tavecchio.

Conte said, “I have thought about it and weighed up my decision and when I had no more doubts, I informed the president – the one who chose me and wanted me here. I feel a great desire to work. I’m excited about the competition in June, I am raring to go”.

The former Juventus manager also made clear his pride at having managed the national side of his country of birth, saying, “It’s been a fantastic, extraordinary experience and I’ve always envied coaches who have taken part at a World Cup or a European Championship…These are experiences that happen once in a lifetime and I feel a great responsibility”.

Chelsea 2-2 West Ham Match Report – 19th March 2016

Chelsea scored late as they prevented rivals West Ham jumping into the top four. The Blues twice came from behind to get level, but they never looked like winning the game. Manuel Lanzini and Andy Carroll each put the Hammers ahead, with Cesc Fabregas equalising twice towards the end of each half. The point leaves Chelsea 10th, while West Ham are still battling for the Champions League.

There was no sign of fringe players as Guus Hiddink began the Blues’ long, aimless run in. They were left with nothing to play for after defeat at Everton last weekend in the FA Cup, yet most of the first choice team started. Kenedy was given a game in midfield, while Loic Remy came in for the suspended Diego Costa. Aside from that, and the continued absence of Kurt Zouma, there was nothing fresh about this side.

It could be argued that Hiddink had to start a strong team here, as West Ham winning at the Bridge wouldn’t have gone down well. Especially this Hammers side, one who are on a very good run and potentially could be mixing it with the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona next term. That’s no accident, as the visitors proved their ability pretty early on.

Lanzini got the opener for Slaven Bilic’s men after just over 15 minutes. His fantastic strike from around 25 yards left Thibaut Courtois stumped, and it completely silenced the home support. Jose Mourinho and his team lost away to West Ham earlier in the season, and this game was set to be equally as tough.

It took almost all the time available in the first half for the Blues to get level. Three minutes in to added time at the end of the first period, they finally got an equaliser. Fabregas curled in a free kick to level the score, after Chelsea spent most of the opening 45 second best.

West Ham showed no sign of letting up here, as a win would have seen them jump into the top four. Andy Carroll looked to have put them on course after an hour, but there was more late drama as Hiddink’s men struck back to avoid defeat. This time, Fabregas had the chance to convert from the spot.

Substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek went down, appearing to be tripped by Michail Antonio. The decision looked soft, but Fabregas didn’t really care. He scored his sixth goal of the season to put Chelsea back level, as they avoided a first home defeat by West Ham for 14 years.

It isn’t exactly a result to get excited about, but avoiding defeat is a good start for a side who have been in the bottom half most of the season. Hopefully we see a few more changes to the team going forward, introducing some much needed fresh faces.

LCN Man of the Match: Cesc Fabregas

Diego Costa Omitted From Spain Squad

Chelsea’s controversial forward Diego Costa has been left out of the Spain squad for the country’s upcoming friendly matches, it has been revealed.

Vincente Del Bosque has announced his squad for the forthcoming friendlies against Italy and Romania and the Blues’ hitman’s name is not amongst that of his adopted countrymen. Athletic Bilbao’s Aritz Aduriz, who has scored 17 goals in 28 La Liga appearances so far this season, has been brought in to replace him, despite his advancing age of 35.

Costa elected to play for Spain instead of Brazil, where he was born, as he felt he had more chance of success with the country he qualified to play for after being granted Spanish citizenship in 2013. He also believed that his style of football would better suit the one-time World & European champions as they look to defend their European Championship crown in better style than they did the World Cup in 2014.

Costa has recently been charged for his behaviour during his side’s 2-0 loss to Everton in the quarter-final of the FA Cup at Goodison Park. Costa was sent off for a second bookable offence towards the end of the match and appeared to bite Gareth Barry, the Everton midfielder, as the two players had a coming together. Both players denied that a bite occurred.

Chelsea’s interim manager, Guus Hiddink, said on Friday that Costa has a slight injury to a tendon in his hip muscle that would have made him unavailable for the international matches anyway, though it is not believed to be the reason that Del Bosque decided not to call him up for the friendlies.

Six Premier League players feature in the Spanish squad, with Manchester United’s David De Gea earning a cap after his brilliant displays in recent weeks. His team-mate Juan Mata has also been called up, as has Manchester City’s David Silva. There are also three Chelsea players in the squad, with Costa’s club team-mates Cesar Azpilicueta, Cesc Fabregas and Pedro, the former Barcelona winger, all gaining international caps.

Spain will Italy in Udine on March 24th and will then face Romania in the city of Cluj on March 27th, though they will do so without the assistance of Chelsea’s 27-year-old top-scorer.

Costa Avoids Punishment For Gesture To Fans

Diego Costa will avoid punishment for a gesture he made towards Everton fans during the defending Premier League champion’s 2-0 loss to the Merseyside club in the FA Cup last weekend.

The Brazilian born Spanish international appeared to make a rude gesture towards Everton’s fans as he left the bitch at the half-time interval and the Football Association asked him to explain himself. After hearing what he had to say they have no decided that he will face no further action over that incident.

He is not quite out of the woods yet, however, with the FA still to decide on what punishment he’ll face for improper conduct after they charged him for his behaviour in the aftermath of his sending off in the game. He clashed with Everton midfielder Gareth Barry and appeared to bite him during the melee.

Both players denied that a bite took place, though the video footage certainly seemed to suggest otherwise. Costa had until 6pm on Thursday the 17th of March to respond to the charge and he’ll be hoping that Barry’s denial of a bite helps him in his answers to the charge. Luis Suarez was banned for ten games after biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic back in 2013.

Chelsea v West Ham Match Preview (Premier League) – Saturday 19th March 2016

Chelsea return to the Bridge on Saturday as they desperately look for something to cling to in the run in. The Blues’ final chance of a trophy disappeared on Saturday at Everton, leaving them little to play for. Can they produce an unlikely, and possibly unwanted, Europa League push with a victory at home to high flying rivals West Ham?

The term transition period is often overused in football, but it feels very apt here. Not for the players, but for the fans. Chelsea under Roman Abramovich have been many things, but they’ve always been contenders. 2010-11 was the closest they had come to a dull run in, but even then they had a late push for the title. These next two months will be most redundant in the Abramovich era so far.

Getting used to two months of football with no stakes will be a massive transition for the Chelsea fans. Many of them would have seen the club in worse shape, but that was some time ago. Luckily, they have a game against some pretty bitter rivals to ease the shift in focus. Those rivals come to town with much loftier ambitions than Chelsea currently have.

In an extra blow to Blues fans, they face a West Ham side who are having a great year. They’re in the top five, and they’d move fourth with a win here. The Hammers made it into the draw for the FA Cup semis, with a replay against Man United to come.

Opposing West Ham will be the driving force here, as the fans search for something to care about. That’s unlikely to be the Europa League, given the July start date for the sixth placed side. It could be that we see a very different Chelsea side over the next few games, with Guus Hiddink completely free to include young talent.

Giving a few young stars a run out would help galvanise some support, as it would feel like the team is building towards something. Giving fringe players experience could help going forward, but is Hiddink worried about going forward? He’s already said he’s gone in the summer. He’ll want to leave with the best record possible, now that the trophies are gone. He could end up playing a full strength team.

John Terry should return for the Blues, which will likely push out youngster Kenedy. Eden Hazard is a doubt after he missed out last weekend, while Diego Costa is suspended. He could be set for a long suspension too, which may give Bertrand Traore a run in the side. He’s certainly proved himself worthy.

Whatever team starts, it’s easy to see them lacking motivation. The great shame is the swansong for John Terry will be a slow, uninteresting run of meaningless games. Hopefully they can be followed by a big summer, to avoid this scenario happening again in 12 months’ time but we won’t be banking on it.

LCN Verdict: 1-1 draw

Diego Costa Charged With Improper Conduct

Chelsea’s combustible forward Diego Costa has been charged with improper conduct by the Football Association following his sending off during the London club’s 2-0 loss to Everton on Saturday.

The Brazilian-born Spanish international was sent off for a second bookable offence after a clash with Gareth Barry in the 84th minute of the FA Cup quarter-final at the weekend. A melee ensued during which time it appeared as if Costa tried to bite the Everton midfielder. Both players have since denied the that the 27-year-old did indeed bite Barry, though the video footage seems to counter that.

The Football Association have charged Costa with improper conduct for the period of time after he was shown the red card but before he left the pitch. They said, “It is alleged his behaviour, after being shown a second yellow card in the game, amounted to improper conduct”. Costa has until 6pm on Thursday the 17th of March to respond to the charge made.

Though the focus of the press’ attention regarding the incident was around the alleged bite, former Premier League referee Howard Webb believes that it is Costa’s refusal to leave the pitch in the wake of the incident that has seen the FA decide to charge the forward. He said, “I’ll be amazed if Costa is not punished for his reaction after the second yellow card. He fails to leave the field of play, he is aggressive again to Michael Oliver and referees are always told to report that situation. That can lead to another match ban”.

Webb doubts that the FA’s decision is anything to do with the attempted bite. He said, “There is no way Michael Oliver can see what happens then with the neck – if it is a bite or not. He couldn’t see it anyway as he is looking at the other side of Gareth Barry…The only time you could be sent off for attempting to bite is if you make the action to bite and the other player pulls away. But it looks like he has thought about it but not gone through with it. From what I’ve seen of the footage, it is not sufficient to support a charge for violent conduct retrospectively”.

Costa will be hoping that Webb is correct, especially owing to the fact that former Liverpool player Luis Suarez was banned for ten matches by the FA when he was found guilty of biting Branislav Ivanovic during a match between Liverpool and Chelsea in 2013.

The player himself has denied that he attempted to bite Barry. A Chelsea spokesperson released a statement on his behalf saying, “Diego spoke to club officials and expressed regret over his reaction to the challenge from Barry that led to his red card. But Diego was also very clear that he did not bite him at any point during that altercation”.

Chelsea’s interim manager Guus Hiddink felt that Costa was provoked throughout the match and that Michael Oliver, the match referee, should have done more to protect the forward, though he claimed he did not see the incident. He said, “He was chased a bit in the game by Everton. They went after him. They knew it. It is within the rules. As a referee you have to protect the situation, but knowing and feeling this atmosphere. I try to be fair in my judgement and it is difficult for me to say yes or no so I don’t want to give judgement on this [bite]”.

Everton manager Roberto Martinez, meanwhile, felt that the referee handled the incident correctly, as well as the later sending off of Barry himself, whilst downplaying any possible bite. He said, “My interpretation is I don’t think it was a key moment. It was an emotional game and rightly so. Diego Costa has a fighting spirit and I would like to praise the referee. The sending off of Diego Costa was right as I thought it was a second yellow card and the sending off of Gareth Barry was right. After we have won a game like this and got to Wembley, which our fans deserve so much, the last thing I am going to do is see if an opposing player has bit my player. Gareth Barry has said it is nothing to worry about. He is just disappointed he got a second yellow card”.

Despite having a fiery reputation the sending off was Costa’s first since moving to West London. He has twice been banned retrospectively during his Chelsea career, however. In January of 2015 he received a retrospective three-match ban for a stamp on Liverpool midfielder Emre Can during the League Cup semi-final at Stamford Bridge. Then in September of last year he was again banned for three-matches retrospectively after a clash with Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny during a Premier League game at Chelsea’s home ground.

When Hiddink was asked whether he had considered seeking out an anger management course for the striker he joked, “There are movies about that, aren’t there? Wasn’t Jack Nicholson in a film called Anger Management? Maybe we can go and watch it together”.

Costa also has until Wednesday to talk to the FA about a gesture he was alleged to have made towards the Everton fans as he went off the pitch at half-time.

Barry: Costa Did Not Bite Me

Gareth Barry, the Everton midfielder that Diego Costa had a run-in with during Chelsea’s defeat to the Blues on Saturday, has denied that the striker bit him during a melee towards the end of the FA Cup quarter-final.

The pair came together in a clash, with the Brazilian born Spanish striker nudging Barry with his head before appearing to bite him. Both players were shown a yellow card by Michael Oliver, the match referee, with Costa being forced to leave the field of play as it was his second yellow card offence of the match.

The Football Association are awaiting the referee’s official match report before deciding whether they should take action against Chelsea’s main striker. The notoriously combustible player was a target for Everton’s players, according to his manager Guus Hiddink. He said, “Costa was chased a bit in the game, they tried to provoke him”.

Former Premier League referee Howard Webb, who notoriously missed a number of violent incidents when he refereed the World Cup final between Spain and Holland in 2010, told BBC Radio 5 live that he felt certain Costa would receive a reprimand from the FA, though not for the supposed ‘bite’. He said, “I’ll be amazed if Costa is not punished for his reaction after the second yellow card. He fails to leave the field of play, he is aggressive again to Michael Oliver and referees are always told to report that situation. That can lead to another match ban. From what I’ve seen of the footage [of the bite], it is not sufficient to support a charge for violent conduct retrospectively”.

Everton midfielder Barry, who was himself later sent off for a second yellow card offence after a tackle on Cesc Fabregas, backed up the view that Costa hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary. He told BBC Radio 5 live’s Sportsweek, “It’s difficult to get too self-righteous when you’re in my position, but what we have to remember is nobody has died. It’s a game of football. You have had two grown men basically square up, no punches have been thrown, nothing serious has happened, both have gone home to their families, one team has lost, one team has won. We have to be careful not to get too carried away. We have to remember what makes football football. It’s that kind of thing, it’s goals, it’s playing on the edge, it’s high intensity, it’s high passion. That’s why we do what we do, that’s why we love watching football”.

Former Liverpool player Luis Suarez was banned for ten matches after he was found guilty of biting Branislav Ivanovic in April of 2013. The Uruguayan was also banned for four months in August 2014 after biting Giorgio Chiellini during the World Cup, so many believe that Costa will be fortunate to escape without a lengthy ban given that the video footage appears to show him attempt to bite Barry during the coming-together of the two players.

The sending of was the first time that Costa has been shown a red card during his Chelsea career, despite receiving a number of retrospective bans from the FA for violent conduct during his time so far at Stamford Bridge.

Everton 2-0 Chelsea Match Report – 12th March 2016

Chelsea’s season is now basically over after they crashed out of the FA Cup at Goodison Park. Romelu Lukaku scored twice for the Toffees as the Blues’ last hope of silverware disappeared. Diego Costa saw red when he went head to head with Gareth Barry, which capped off an awful night for Guus Hiddink.

Hiddink made quite a few changes to the line-up which lost to PSG in the Champions League in midweek. Nemanja Matic came back into midfield, Eden Hazard dropped out of the team and the squad after his midweek injury. John Terry returned to the squad, but he was only fit enough for a place on the bench. That saw Branislav Ivanovic retain the captain’s armband.

Coming in to this game, the pressure was on Hiddink to continue the club’s push for silverware. Thibaut Courtois had said the team needed to push for a final, and that wasn’t happening in the Champions League. Their 4-2 aggregate defeat to PSG saw them outthought and outclassed, and this game was a very tough follow up.

It was a crucial game for both clubs, as Everton were also looking at the FA Cup as a way to save their season. The two sides were pretty closed up in the first half, which led to a cagey affair. It wasn’t the best viewing, but at half time you would have called it a good 45 minutes for Chelsea.

Costa missed a decent chance in the second half, as he rounded the goalkeeper and then saw his chance roll past the far post from a tight angle. Chelsea again weren’t anywhere near their best from last season, but they were in this game. They pushed forward but couldn’t find the killer ball to open up this defence.

Lukaku twisted, turned and shrugged off half the Chelsea team in the build up to the opener. The goal was compared to that famous Ricky Villa strike, and it certainly deserved it. The Belgian made his former club play, as he broke the deadlock with 13 minutes left on the clock.

The Belgian found himself in again just five minutes later. He stood on the last man of the Chelsea defence, and found himself in plenty of space. He was put in at a tight angle, but he slid the ball under Courtois, booking Everton a place at Wembley. After that, Costa ended all of Chelsea’s hopes by stupidly getting himself sent off in an altercation with Gareth Barry.

As for Chelsea, they now have nothing to play for this season. Sixth seems beyond them, and the club hardly want to return to the Europa League in July. This season is going to be written off, so hopefully we see a few youngsters get their chance in the remaining games.

These two displays this week show how far the club has fallen. The dip hasn’t just been in quality, but in ambition. After the game the manager of the Premier League champions said that making a cup final would have been good, but he’s happy the club are out of relegation danger. That alone should make Blues fans angry. Even worse, it may be a while before those standards are raised.

Chelsea Are In Transition, Says Hiddink

Chelsea’s interim manager Guus Hiddink has declared that the club are in a state of ‘transition’, having crashed out of the Champions League a few days before taking on Everton in the FA Cup.

Chelsea suffered a 4-2 aggregate loss in the last sixteen tie of the Champions League, exiting the competition at the hands of Paris St-Germain for the second season in succession. The defeat means that the Blues will likely not be in Europe’s Elite competition for the first time during the ownership of Russian Billionaire Roman Abramovich, given that they are ten points away from the top four in 10th spot in the Premier League.

It is a far-cry from the situation they found themselves in this time last year, when their exit from the Champions League was somewhat tempered by the fact that they were top of the Premier League having garnered 63 points from 27 games on their way to a third title under the management of Jose Mourinho. The self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ was fired by Abramovich in December of last year, however, having led the club to their worst start to a top-flight campaign since the 1960s.

Chelsea are an incredible 23 points worse off than they were on the same date last year, despite the fact they have played two more games this time around. The result in the Champions League as well as the forthcoming match against Everton in the FA Cup led Hiddink to say, “Chelsea must consider their short-term future”.

He continued, “Chelsea are now in a transitional period and they now have to see how to go on to try to regain the lost terrain where they used to be. It is difficult to get into fourth in the Premier League, but we knew that and we tried to do our first job, which was to get out of the relegation zone”.

The Dutchman, who will leave the club in the summer having arrived on a temporary basis to replace Mourinho, much as he did in 2009 when he replaced Brazilian Luis Felipe Scolari after his sacking by Abramovich, also said that he understood why some fans were less than impressed with the contribution of Eden Hazard. Some Chelsea supporters believed that last year’s PFA Player Of The Year was instrumental in the sacking of Mourinho, having not performed to the same level this campaign.

Hazard limped off towards the end of the game and is a major doubt for the FA Cup quarter-final match against Everton on Saturday. Hiddink said, “The fans have the right to express their feelings. Hazard was also having a problem with his hip”. He is likely to join Chelsea striker Diego Costa on the treatment table, with the manager refusing to be too critical of the Belgian’s decision to swap shirts with Angel Di Maria at half-time in Wednesday’s game. He said, “I’m aware of it. In some countries they do it and I don’t want to see a bad thought about that or overvalue it. It’s not a big thing for me. I’m sure knowing those two players there was no bad intention there”.