Kovacic looking for fine finale

On-loan Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic is confident that the Blues can enjoy a successful conclusion to what has been an inconsistent season so far.

The 24-year-old Croatia international has made 40 appearances for the Londoners since arriving on a season-long loan from Real Madrid, with Chelsea currently battling to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League.

They are also still involved in the Europa League, where they will face Slavia Prague in the quarter-finals, with head coach Maurizio Sarri still trying to fully implement his own preferred playing style.

Kovacic told Chelsea TV: "When players are used to playing (differently) and then come here and change everything, it's difficult.

"But he (Sarri) has his football in his mind and that's a great personality. He just wants to play his football and that's what we're trying to do and trying to win a trophy.

"In the end the most important thing is to win trophies and the players know it. The players are used to winning trophies and I'm sure we will have a great year this season."

Chelsea currently lie in sixth place in the Premier League standings, three points behind fourth-placed Arsenal and only one point further adrift of Tottenham, who occupy third place.

The Blues return to action following the international break with a trip to South Wales to take on Cardiff City on Sunday March 31st.

Earlier this season the meeting of the two sides at Stamford Bridge ended in a 4-1 win for the hosts, with Eden Hazard scoring a hat-trick.

Chelsea are available at 2/5 to win the game a week on Sunday and are 15/2 to do so by a 2-1 scoreline, with the Blues 2/1 to finish in the top four come the end of the season.

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Sarri questions Blues mentality

Maurizio Sarri accepted that his Chelsea players are still struggling to show a consistently tough mentality after seeing the Blues beaten 2-0 by Everton at Goodison Park.

The Italian head coach has voiced his concerns about the same problem on several occasions this season, and Sarri was again to play down suggestions that the defeat was due to tactical issues.

He told reporters: "We played probably the best 45 minutes of the season and then suddenly at the beginning of the second half we stopped playing – I don't know why.

"The situation was clear, it's clear the problem is not a physical problem – if it was physical you would go down gradually, not in one second. It's probably a mental block.

"The problem was mental on the pitch, so the system and the tactics are not important. And it wasn't about motivation because we started very well.

"We have to play eight matches now and we have to fight for our possibilities."

The reverse on Merseyside left the Londoners three points adrift of the top four, with Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United all involved in a four-way battle for a Champions League spot.

Chelsea could also qualify for that competition by winning the Europa League, in which they have reached the quarter-finals and been drawn to face Slavia Prague.

The Blues are available at 7/4 to win the Europa League, while they can be backed at 2/1 to finish in the top four in the Premier League.

Meanwhile, Arsenal are 8/15 to earn a top-four spot and 5/1 to claim Europa League glory.

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Premier League: Chelsea Come Unstuck by The Toffees

Everton 2-0 Chelsea

There is a long-held saying in football which many us fans will not have heard of.

It was invented long before the Premier League was established but remains as true today when first uttered.

‘Fail to take your chances and it will come back to haunt you’.

Now I don’t know who was first responsible for making the point but this encounter was a prime example.

For when the Premier League highlights are compiled, Chelsea will feature in probably more stand-out moments than Everton but it is the Merseysiders who have the points.

The Premier League betting odds on who will claim a top four spot have taken yet another twist.

Highlights of the game

From the first whistle it was clear Chelsea weren’t going to get a warm welcome. Or rather Ross Barkley, a boyhood Evertonian, wasn’t on his first return to his former club following his £15 million transfer in January 2018.

He was handed a place in the starting line-up, while the Toffees namedan attacking line-up with Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all included.

Chelsea started on fire and could easily have been two goals to the good.

Jordan Pickford, making his 100th top flight appearance, kept out Eden Hazard after fine play by Marcos Alonso.

Then Gonzalo Higuain fed the Belgian whose shot hit the post before the ball was worked to Higuain almost immediately, only for Pickford to produce a smart save.

Although both keepers were tested, there was little else to write home about in terms of clear chances but the visitors were clearly the better side.

Pedro went close just before the break and then did see an effort find the net but was offside.

The past two league meetings had ended 0-0, most recently in November, so could there be another one?

Only four fixtures in Premier League history had finished goalless in three consecutive games.

At the break there was always the feeling, Maurizio Sarri’s men may rue missed chances, whereas Everton – who needed to lift the gloom after failing to score in their last five league matches against Chelsea – surely would improve.

There was to be an immediate answer.

Andre Gomes’ curling shot from the edge of the box called Kepa Arrizabalaga into action and, moments later, the Toffees had the breakthrough.

Arrizabalaga did well to keep out Calvert-Lewin’s header but Richarlison was on hand to pounce and head home from close range.

As Sarri told his men to calm themselves, Goodison roundly booed Barkley as he had to leave the fray early.

Then the key moment.

Everton shocked Premier League betting odds after winning vs Chelsea

Gylfi Sigurdsson celebrates with Everton after scoring against Chelsea

Alonso clipped Richarlison in the box and, while Arrizabalga saved Sigurdsson’s penalty, the rebound came straight out to the influential Icelander who wasn’t going to pass up the second opportunity.

Chelsea were totally frustrated, Everton totally fluent on the counter as substitute Theo Walcott – who has scored six goals in all competitions against Chelsea (finding the net at all four grounds he has faced them on until today) – nearly made it three.

That would have been harsh on the visitors who threatened a late scare when sub Callum Hudson-Odoi unleashed a stinging shot which Pickford had to push over the crossbar.

Even in stoppage time they were to be denied when David Luiz nodded a corner back across goal and substitute Olivier Giroud was stopped by Pickford.

For Everton, who had only won one of their previous six league games, a first home win in nine weeks and eight matches.

In contrast, it’s matches like this when it’s clear to see why the Blues remain the lowest scoring of the Premier League’s top six clubs with 50 goals in 30 matches.

Key statistics

This was only the second Everton win against Chelsea in 11 Premier League encounters.

This was also their first victory against one of the established top-six sides in the league since January 2017, drawing seven and losing 18.

Chelsea have lost four of their last five away games in the Premier League, conceding 14 goals in those four defeats.

The Blues have kept only one clean sheet in their last 10 away league matches, in a 1-0 triumph at Crystal Palace on 30 December.

Chelsea have hit the woodwork 20 times this season, more than any other side in the top flight.

What’s next?

Everton have only seven games remaining this season.

They are next in action at West Ham on March 30 followed by a trip to Arsenal on April 7. Five of their last seven matches are against London clubs.

Chelsea have a busier programme.

They face Cardiff a fortnight today and then host West Ham before a two-legged Europa League quarter-final against Slavia Prague, sandwiched between a return to Merseyside to face Liverpool.

 

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Sarri has high hopes for Loftus-Cheek

Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri believes Ruben Loftus-Cheek can become one of the best midfielders in Europe if he continues on his current progression.

The England international helped the Blues record a 5-0 victory at Dynamo Kiev on Thursday to help the Londoners book their place in the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

Olivier Giroud bagged himself a hat-trick while Marcos Alonso and Callum Hudson-Odoi also chipped in goals for the comfortable victory in Ukraine.

Sarri gave special mention to Loftus-Cheek for his performance in Kiev and feels the 23-year-old has the ability to go a long way in the game.

"He did very well. He is improving in the last month. He has been able to train after the problem with the back. He had a wonderful match and I'm really happy he could play for 90 minutes.

"His potential as a player is very, very high. Physically, technically and tactically he is improving, he can become one of the best midfielders not only in England but in Europe."

Chelsea are 11/4 to win the Europa League this season, while rivals Arsenal are 4/1 to claim the title.

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Sarri stands up for Jorginho

Maurizio Sarri was quick to defend Jorginho who was substituted midway through the second half of Chelsea's 1-1 draw with Wolves at Stamford Bridge.

The 27-year-old Italy international played a key role in Sarri's Napoli team but has struggled to win over the Chelsea fans following last summer's switch from Serie A to the Premier League.

He has been a regular in Sarri's side this season but has been criticised for a lack of creativity.

The Blues boss has backed Jorginho to deliver though, saying after the draw: "He is a very strong character and a professional player. He has to play in every condition.

"Jorginho, if the other players don't move without the ball, is in trouble. He is really very able to play at one touch, but if you want to play one touch you need movements from the other players.

"We need to move the ball faster. We cannot play five or six touches in that situation. It's very difficult to score if you do."

Meanwhile, Sarri remains optimistic that Chelsea will still finish in the top four despite dropping two points against Wolves.

Sarri's side needed an Eden Hazard goal in stoppage time to salvage a point after Raul Jimenez had given Wolves the lead.

The weekend results leave Chelsea four points behind Tottenham and they have a game in hand on Mauricio Pochettino's team.

"When you have to play only 10 matches, every match you're not able to win is a missed opportunity," Sarri added.

"In the last six matches, we have won four and drawn the other two. So there is a little consistency in this moment. We have one match in hand, so we have to have be confident."

Chelsea, 1/1 to finish in the top four this season, are 21/20 to beat Dynamo Kiev in the second leg of their round of 16 Europa League clash on Thursday.

Hazard late strike denies Wolves

Wolves were within sight of a victory away at Chelsea only to be denied by a late Eden Hazard equaliser.

The match between the teams sixth and seventh in the Premier League ended 1-1, the visitors taking the lead on 56 minutes.

Though Chelsea dominated possession, Wolves looked dangerous on the counter-attack and it paid off for them, Raul Jiminez exchanging passes with Diogo Jota and, with the aid of a deflection, forcing the ball home from close range for his 14th goal of the season.

They looked on course for a win that would have claimed the double over Chelsea for the season only for Hazard to equalise with a touch of class, getting past Ruben Neves and, from 25 yards out, unleashing a low shot which found the bottom corner.

The result however means that Chelsea are left frustrated in their search for a top four spot in the Premier League and a place in next season's Champions League.

Wolves stay seventh in what has been a successful first season back in the top flight.

Hazard may have saved a point for Chelsea but was left disappointed with his team's performance as they missed a chance to put pressure on the teams above them.

He told Sky Sports: "Of course we are disappointed. We didn't create a lot of chances and we moved the ball too slowly.
This type of game, maybe three months ago we'd have lost.

"The spirit is good. When we lost 6-0 to Manchester City, we said there were three or four months left and we have to try and finish in the top four. The players are a bit sad because we probably could do better."

Maurizio Sarri's side are back in action on Thursday night when they travel to take on Dynamo Kiev in the second-leg of their Europa League round of 16 tie.

Chelsea are 3-0 up after the first-leg and are 21/20 to win in Ukraine with the home side 13/5 and the draw 23/10.

Chelsea are 11/4 to win the Europa League this year with Arsenal 8/1 and Sevilla 10/1.

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Sarri warns Blues to concentrate

Maurizio Sarri has warned his Chelsea not to think it is job done after they won 3-0 at home to Dynamo Kyiv in the first leg of the last-16 Europa League tie.

The Blues gave themselves a comfortable cushion to take to Ukraine for the second leg, with Pedro, Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi their goalscorers at Stamford Bridge.

However, head coach Sarri was taking nothing for granted after the final whistle, telling his players that they will need to be clearly focused on the task in hand.

The Italian told his club's official website: "The result is a good result. We were able to not concede and to not concede a goal at home is very important in this competition. We could have scored more, especially in the first half.

"Now we have to be careful. We have to go there with a very good level of application and determination if we want to qualify.

"If you concede a goal you can get mentally in trouble. We have to go there with the right level of attention."

The Blues are back in Premier League action on Sunday when they play host to Wolves, who have enjoyed a fine campaign on their return to the top-flight.

Chelsea were beaten 2-1 at Molineux earlier on in the season and are 8/15 to win the game on Sunday by the same scoreline, with the hosts 6/5 to keep a clean sheet, while Eden Hazard is 6/5 to score at any time.

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Sarri confident of Blues progress

Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri is expecting a tough task against Dynamo Kyiv in the last-16 of the Europa League, but is confident his side can progress.

Kyiv reached the knockout stages of the competition by finishing top of Group K, ahead of Rennes, Astana and Jablonec.

They then edged out Greek side Olympiacos 3-2 on aggregate in the round of 32, leaving Sarri well aware of the threat posed by Dynamo, who were perennial dangermen in the Champions League not so long ago.

The Italian, who has no injury problems to contend with, told his pre-match press briefing: "I think my team is good enough to win at home and away.

"The two matches will be very difficult. They are a physical team, a young team. Wingers are fast, so we need two very good performances.

"Our target is to play the same football at home and away."

Chelsea are priced at 2/7 to win the first leg of the tie with Dynamo at Stamford Bridge on Thursday evening, with the Blues 5/1 to do so by a 2-0 scoreline and 1/7 to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

Meanwhile, Sarri also played down suggestions that Europe could be top priority, as he believes his team can still qualify for the Champions league by finishing in the top four in the Premeir League.

He added: "I think we can gain the spot in the Champions League from the Premier League. (But) Europa League is very important, the second in Europe, so it is an important target."

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Sarri heaps praise on Kepa

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri made it clear after his team's 2-1 win at Fulham on Sunday that Kepa Arrizabalaga is his first-choice goalkeeper.

Sarri had dropped the former Athletic Bilbao shot-stopper for the midweek victory against Tottenham after he had refused to be substituted in the closing stages of last month's Carabao Cup final defeat to Manchester City.

However, Sarri restored Kepa to his starting line-up for the trip to Craven Cottage and the goalkeeper responded by producing a fine display, leaving the Blues boss to say the matter is now closed.

The former Napoli head coach said of Kepa: "He played very well. It was a normal decision [to bring him back].

"He paid with the club and the team but now the situation is closed. There wasn't another way but I think that Kepa is a man. He understood and reacted really very well.

"I spoke with him during the week, he understood. His training was really very good and his reaction against Fulham was very good. I know the man, he is very good. He made a mistake, but now that is enough."

Gonzalo Higuain gave Chelsea a 20th-minute lead when he latched on to Cesar Azpilicueta's cross only for Fulham to equalise seven minutes later through Calum Chambers.

However, Jorginho grabbed the winner for Chelsea who are now only two points off a top-four spot.

Sarri's side are 4/5 to finish in the top four this season while they are 3/10 to beat Dynamo Kiev in the first leg of their Europa League round of 16 tie on Thursday. Chelsea can be backed at 7/1 to beat the Ukrainian side 3-0.

Sarri wants more from Higuain

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has told Gonzalo Higuain to improve his fitness levels so that he can succeed in the Premier League.

The 31-year-old moved to Stamford Bridge on loan from Juventus in January but has only managed to score twice in seven appearances in all competitions for Sarri's team – and they both came in the 5-0 victory against rock-bottom Huddersfield Town.

The Blues face a derby clash against Fulham on Sunday and Argentina international Higuain is 20/21 to score at any time against a club that parted company with Claudio Ranieri on Thursday.

Scott Parker has been named as the Cottagers' caretaker boss and Sarri is expecting a tricky match.

"Usually, when there is a change of coach, there is a reaction and so we have to front the reaction," said the former Napoli coach.

"Then it's difficult for us to prepare the match to know their new systems and ideas. They also have opportunities to save themselves, so we'll have to play a very difficult match, a derby.

"Higuain needs more acceleration because now he is a little more resistant, without the acceleration that he had in Naples, for example.

"He needs to improve his physical condition, especially for the acceleration, and then he will be able to score, of course."

Chelsea are sixth in the table and 1/1 to finish in the top four this season while they are 7/2 to win the Europa League.