Chelsea star Eden Hazard says Premier League title defence was always going to be difficult

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Eden Hazard

Eden Hazard feels it was always going to prove difficult for Chelsea to mount a successful Premier League title defence on their return to Europe.

Blues boss Antonio Conte has found his position under scrutiny in the wake of successive defeats, with Monday’s humiliating 4-1 loss at Watford leaving them 19 points behind leaders Manchester City.

The players are set to return to training at Cobham on Friday after three days off as focus switches to Monday’s league visit of West Brom to Stamford Bridge.

Belgium schemer Hazard accepts it has been a testing season for the Blues, who nevertheless remain in the top four of the Premier League, are through to the FA Cup fifth round and will soon face Barcelona in their Champions League last-16 tie.

“I think the Premier League is difficult. It is hard to win every year,” Hazard told ESPN FC.

“Last year we didn’t have the Champions League. This year we have less time to be ready for the games. Every week there are three games.”

Antonio Conte,

Antonio Conte is a man under pressure after a few tough weeks at Stamford Bridge.

Despite Chelsea’s inconsistencies, Hazard believes the unpredictability of the English top flight – which has recently seen Bournemouth win 3-0 at Stamford Bridge and relegation battlers Swansea defeat both Arsenal and Liverpool – is what makes it such an attractive competition.

“That’s why we love football – if there is only one team that wins it would be boring. That’s why football is special,” the attacking midfielder added.

“You never know what’s going to happen, especially in England.”

Former Barcelona boss Luis Enrique and Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone have both been linked with Conte’s job.

It is understood that there was no board meeting on Tuesday, however, to discuss the manager’s future and the club’s position remains unchanged.

Chelsea are expected to hold a press conference on Friday to preview the West Brom game, and the Italian’s future is likely to again be brought up.

Reports in Spain suggest Enrique is the leading candidate should Chelsea look to make a change at the end of the season, although Conte still has 18 months of his contract to run.

Valverde 2

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has been surprised by criticism of Antonio Conte.

Current Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde, however, cannot see why Conte is facing such speculation, given his achievements after arriving at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2016.

“Chelsea’s head coach is the one who led them to last year’s Premier League title – one of many titles he has won throughout a great career,” Valverde said when the subject was raised at a Barcelona press conference ahead of the Copa del Rey tie at Valencia. “There is not too much to think about.”

The Blues, meanwhile, have confirmed details of a pre-season friendly in Australia against Perth Glory on July 23, shortly after the World Cup final.

Chairman Bruce Buck said on the club’s official website that Chelsea “will be taking a strong squad” for the match at Optus Stadium, with the new Premier League season set to kick off on August 11.

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Man United suffer financial loss in second-quarter despite rise in revenue

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Manchester United have recorded a second-quarter loss – but it will not affect the club in terms of competitiveness or financial fair play.

The Red Devils continue to expect revenues for fiscal 2018 to be between £575million and £585million – the third successive year they will earn more than half a billion pounds.

Revenue for the second quarter is up four per cent to £163.9m, but the accounts show a £29m loss for the period.

Wages have increased by 9.4 per cent to £69.6m, thanks in no small part to United’s Champions League return, and a deferred tax asset has been impacted by the corporate income tax rate in the United States dropping from 35 per cent to 21 per cent.

A revaluation of that asset means a “non-cash tax accounting write off of £48.8 million” is shown in the figures.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Arsene Wenger admits Harry Kane is Europe's top striker but backs Arsenal's forwards to shine in north London derby

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Harry Kane has enjoyed playing against Arsenal, who released him when he was 8.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted Tottenham‘s Harry Kane is currently the best striker in Europe but believes his own frontmen can shine in the north London derby this weekend.

Kane bagged his 100th Premier League goal in Spurs’ dramatic 2-2 draw at Liverpool last time out and spoke earlier this week of how being released from Arsenal’s academy as an eight-year-old left him with a “chip on his shoulder”.

He has a fine record against the Gunners with six goals in seven appearances but Wenger is looking to his forwards to take the headlines on Saturday lunchtime.

When asked whether there is a better striker in Europe than Kane at the moment, Wenger replied: “If you look at the numbers, no, because he has high numbers but I believe what you want in a game like that is to keep him quiet and for our strikers to express their talent.”

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