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Hazard and Costa fire warning of Chelsea’s title ambitions

first_imgBy Martyn HermanLONDON,(Reuters)-Chelsea’s points tally after 10 games shows they are twice as good as they were at this stage of last season’s Premier League campaign, which considering the form of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa is hardly surprising.They were both on target yesterday as Chelsea outclassed Southampton 2-0 to move into fourth spot with 22 points — just one behind Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool.The poor form and questionable appetite of both Costa and Hazard was blamed partly for Chelsea’s dire start to last season that ultimately cost manager Jose Mourinho his job.However, the duo who helped fire Chelsea to the 2014-15 title are thriving once again in Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 system.Hazard’s opener after six minutes meant he has scored in three consecutive Premier League games and has five for the season. This time last year he had failed to register and did not score his first league goal until April.Likewise, Costa, looking again like the marauding bruiser who ran defences ragged when he first arrived at Stamford Bridge rather than the disinterested figure he cut early last season, already has eight league goals to his credit.It took him until January to reach that total last season and he had managed just two in the league when Mourinho was sacked.His second-half effort, a curling shot from 25 metres, was sublime but it was his work rate across the pitch that rubbed off on the Spain international’s team mates.“When you see Eden and Diego, and Pedro, working very hard during the game, you are happy,” Conte said of his front three.“They are strikers and usually it’s a bit difficult for the strikers to work for the team, but their commitment and work-rate is fantastic.”Chelsea’s defending too has been unrecognisable this season. They have conceded nine goals compared to the 19 they had already leaked after 10 games under Mourinho a year ago.Even with skipper John Terry fit to return yesterday, Brazilian David Luiz was again preferred alongside Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta and did not put a foot out of place.“I’m very happy after this performance. I saw great commitment, work rate — with the ball and without it. For the fourth game we keep a clean sheet, it’s fantastic,” Conte said.“It’s early for us to speak about title contenders. We have to work very hard to continue. We can improve a lot. We must improve.”last_img read more

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Around the Nation: Michigan-Iowa, Texas-Kansas State highlight weekend slate

first_img Published on February 7, 2014 at 12:25 am Facebook Twitter Google+ In a less than arousing college basketball weekend there’s still, as always, a fair share of story lines presented by Saturday’s slate.Wichita State will probably continue its undefeated season. Steve Fisher will continue to coach in a time machine. And someone on Kansas is going to baptize someone on West Virginia.After that, treat yourself to some average basketball and bank on next week being a little more exciting.No. 15 Texas at Kansas State, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3It’s an underwhelming weekend of college basketball when a Big 12 matchup featuring an unranked team sneaks its way into the top games. The Longhorns (18-4, 7-2 Big 12) are white hot in conference play, winning their last seven games including four against ranked opponents. Texas recently met Kansas State (15-7, 5-4) on Jan. 21 and beat the then-No. 22 Wildcats 67-64. Don’t expect this one to be as close as that, as the Longhorns are hitting their stride with a formidable combination of staunch rebounding and up-tempo offense.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textNo. 10 Michigan at No. 17 Iowa, 2 p.m., ESPNMichigan (17-5, 9-1 Big Ten) was brought back down to earth by Indiana last Sunday, after starting 8-0 in the Big Ten. Then the Wolverines got back on track with a blowout win over Nebraska this week and will look to feast on a stumbling Hawkeyes (17-6, 6-4) squad. Iowa has lost three of its last five games — one of which was against Michigan two weeks ago. The Hawkeyes will have a chance if they slow down play in the half court, but if the Wolverines outshoot them, Nik Stauskas, Glen Robinson III and Caris LeVert will catapult the visiting team to a win.West Virginia at No. 8 Kansas, 4 p.m., ESPNKansas (17-5, 8-1 Big 12) dropped its first conference game to Texas last weekend but hung on to its Top 10 spot. West Virginia (14-9, 6-4) has been shaky since the start of conference play — relying heavily on the scoring duo of Juwan Staten and Eron Harris — and will have to have a lot of things go its way to stick in this one. With Kansas, it really comes down to which Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden Jr. show up. They’re all going to get their shots, and if they’re hitting, the Jayhawks effortlessly put teams away.Baylor at No. 21 Oklahoma, 7 p.m., ESPN2After starting conference play with some signature wins, Oklahoma (17-6, 6-4 Big 12) has sputtered out with two straight losses. The buck doesn’t stop on Saturday against Baylor (14-8, 2-7), a team itching to prove its worth after a miserable start to its league slate. The Bears currently sit ninth in the conference and need to start getting more production out of sophomore Isaiah Austin. The Sooners are a good team for Austin to get back on track against, as they struggle against big men who can stretch the floor.No. 23 Gonzaga at No. 24 Memphis, 9 p.m., ESPNI hate reverting to the mid-major spiel, but Gonzaga is making it easy this year. Sure, the Bulldogs (21-3, 11-1 West Coast) are nearly untouched in conference play, but have played too many close games against far inferior opponents and therefore haven’t earned the pedigree of a Top 25 team. Memphis (17-5, 7-3 American Athletic) is in a prime position to boost its strength of schedule in a game that is so randomly placed in both teams’ conference schedules.Rest of the scheduleAlabama at No. 3 Florida, noon, ESPNNo. 20 Virginia at Georgia Tech, noon, ESPN3Virginia Tech at No. 25 Pittsburgh, noon, ESPN3No. 18 Kentucky at Mississippi State, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3Texas Christian at No. 16 Iowa State, 4 p.m., ESPN3No. 13 Saint Louis at La Salle, 5 p.m., ESPN2No. 11 Duke at Boston College, 6 p.m., ESPNNo. 7 Cincinnati at Southern Methodist, 7:30 p.m., ESPNUNo. 4 Wichita State at Northern Iowa, 9 p.m., ESPN2No. 19 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, 9:30 p.m., ESPNUNevada at No. 5 San Diego State, 10 pm., ESPN3– compiled by Jesse Dougherty, asst. sports editor, jcdoug01@syr.edu, dougherty_jesse Commentslast_img read more

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