Maurizio Sarri sets sights on Liverpool after West Ham stifle Chelsea

Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri gestures during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham United and Chelsea at London Stadium. (AP)
Updated 23 September 2018
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Maurizio Sarri sets sights on Liverpool after West Ham stifle Chelsea

LONDON: Maurizio Sarri laughed off suggestions that next week’s summit meeting with Liverpool is a “must-win” game after seeing Chelsea’s 100 percent Premier League record ended by stubborn West Ham in a 0-0 draw on Sunday.
Chelsea had won all five of their league matches before the weekend, going toe to toe with Liverpool, who beat Southampton on Saturday to make it six wins out of six.
The visitors enjoyed 72 percent of possession at the London Stadium but failed to break down a determined West Ham side, who created enough clear-cut chances to win the game themselves.
Sarri said West Ham, who beat Everton last week after losing their first four league games of the season, had been tough opponents, adding that his team needed to find a way to move the ball more quickly.
Turning his thoughts to Saturday’s match against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, Sarri, in his first season in the job, said it would be tough to compete with a side that had been developing for three years under Jurgen Klopp.
“They are a step forward than us in this moment,” he said. “We have started to work all together 35, 40 days ago.
“So for us I think it’s a bit early. We have to work. We need to improve and then maybe in one year we will be at the same level of Liverpool.”
The Chelsea boss said he was unsure how many changes he would make for the midweek third-round League Cup tie, also against Liverpool.
Olivier Giroud won his battle with Alvaro Morata for a starting spot up front for Chelsea, keeping his place for the second Premier League match in succession.
But Marko Arnautovic, West Ham’s leading goalscorer this season, missed out after failing to recover from an injury he sustained in the victory against Everton last week.
Despite Chelsea’s control, the home side could have taken a lead against the run of play just before the half hour.
Felipe Anderson was quick to seize on a loose ball and played in Michail Antonio, who blasted over with his left foot.
That chance breathed new life into the home crowd and the players and Antonio drew a smart save from Kepa Arrizabalaga in the West Ham goal just two minutes later after a fine run from Andriy Yarmolenko.
N’Golo Kante nearly gave Chelsea the lead with a headed effort but the sides were goalless at the break.
The match fell into a similar pattern in the second half, with Chelsea dominating possession, but Giroud — picked for his more physical threat — struggled to make an impression.
The French World Cup winner was replaced 20 minutes into the second half by Morata, who went close to breaking the deadlock moments after coming on only to see Lukasz Fabianski pull off a stunning stop from close range.
With about 13 minutes to go West Ham had a wonderful chance to win the match, when the unmarked Yarmolenko headed just wide at the far post.
Fabianski pulled off another fine save as the clock ticked into injury time, diving to his left to deny substitute Ross Barkley and Willian blazed wide as Chelsea applied intense late pressure.
West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini, who has managed to stop the rot with four points from the past two matches, said his side had to make their chances count.
“When you have such clear chances against big teams you must score one of them,” he said.
“And we had three clear chances before they created one chance but you must score.”


Naomi Osaka throws down gauntlet to star-studded Dubai field

Updated 17 February 2019
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Naomi Osaka throws down gauntlet to star-studded Dubai field

Tennis fans in Dubai are in for a treat this week as nine of the world’s top 10 women players do battle in the city to claim the Duty Free Championship crown, which starts today. Arab News picks out likely winners and glamor ties to keep an eye on during the tournament.

NAOMI OSAKA

The Japanese superstar, fresh from winning her second Grand Slam at the Australian Open last month, is playing her first event as world No. 1 and her first since her shock split with her coach Sascha Bajin.

The German had helped guide Osaka to back-to-back Grand Slam triumphs, with her win at the US Open last year. Osaka is yet to reveal why she decided to part ways with Bajin.

Regardless of events off-court, the Japanese will be the woman to beat and she will be playing the winner of the first-round tie between Kristina Mladenovic and Omani wildcard Fatma Al-Nabhani.

The last 12 months have seen a meteoric rise for Osaka. She started 2018 at number 68 in the WTA rankings. Going into the first Grand Slam of 2019, she was ranked 4th in the world, and thanks to Indian Wells now finds herself at the summit of women’s tennis. Expect her to go deep into the tournament in Dubai.

SIMONA HALEP

The Romanian could well face Osaka if she makes it to the semifinals, but will fancy her chances of reaching her first final in Dubai since she claimed the trophy in 2015. 

She will also be delighted that Serena Williams is not in Dubai, having been stopped in her tracks in Melbourne earlier this year by the American, her ninth defeat in 10 games to her nemesis.

She will also be buoyed by the fact that by virtue of reaching yesterday’s final in Doha, she is guaranteed to move up to world No. 2 before even serving a ball.

Halep will open her tournament against either a resurgent Eugenie Bouchard or Vera Lapko, with a tricky potential Doha rematch against Elize Mertens to come by the third round, which should she win would set up a blockbuster showdown against either Aryna Sabalenka or Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals. She comes into Dubai with the weight of expectation on her shoulders, but Halep should cope.

ELINA SVITOLINA

The two-time defending champion is part of an exclusive club as one of only three women to win back-to-back Dubai titles (Justine Henin and Venus Williams also accomplished the feat), and this week the No. 7 seed will be looking to go one better and win a third straight Dubai crown.

Svitolina will be disappointed she could not turn a commanding 4-1 lead over Halep in her Doha semifinal into a win, but will have put that loss behind her.

The Ukrainian will have to be at her best as she has been given a tough route to a potential final in Dubai. She opens against either Donna Vekic or Tunisian Ons Jabeur, the best-ranked Arab on the tour. A third-round battle with Garbine Muguruza looks likely, while Halep and Osaka could be waiting for her in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. It would be a remarkable achievement if Svitolina made it three in a row in Dubai.

PETRA KVITOVA

Having made the Australian Open final, Kvitova had to take a short break from the game to testify against the man who attacked her in 2016, reliving the traumatic life-threatening ordeal that left her with nerve damage in all five fingers of her left hand. Her courageous comeback on the tour was hailed by both players and fans.

“I’m not sure any day that I’ll be completely over that. I’m glad that this one’s over,” she said in Dubai on Saturday, referring to her testimony in court.

Kvitova knows what it takes to win in Dubai, having claimed the trophy in 2013, and opens her campaign against either Petra Martic or Katerina Siniakova in the second round.