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Petr Cech explains “hard decision” behind Chelsea dropping Kepa Arrizabalaga for final

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Legendary Chelsea goalkeeper and now technical director Petr Cech has explained the “hard decision” behind Thomas Tuchel ’s move to drop Kepa Arrizabalaga for the final of the Club World Cup.

Kepa had become the Blues’ starter in goal while Edouard Mendy was away at the Africa Cup of Nations, a tournament he helped Senegal to win for the first time in their history.

The Spaniard has impressed during that spell, starting all eight games that Tuchel has played while Mendy has been turning out for the Lions of Teranga in Cameroon.

He had seemingly revitalised his career, keeping five clean sheets in his spell as Chelsea ’s number one, having previously had little chance of dislodging Mendy, who had cemented his place in Tuchel’s starting line-up.

Kepa had starred in Chelsea’s narrow win over Al Hilal in the semi-final of the Club World Cup, saving all three shots he had to face.

His performance helped book the Blues’ place in Saturday’s final, where they came up against Brazilian side Palmerias.

With Kepa having performed so well in Mendy’s absence, it appeared that he was in line to once again start in goal.

That situation appeared especially likely to play out considering Mendy was only able to rejoin the Chelsea squad two days before the final.

Unfortunately for Kepa though, Tuchel opted to immediately restore the Senegal international to his line-up.

That saw the Spaniard drop to the bench, forced to watch on from the sidelines as Mendy helped the Blues to win their first Club World Cup title.

Cech admitted that the decision to drop Kepa was a harsh one, but explained that Mendy’s status as the first-choice keeper left little other option.

“We have top goalkeepers, they both perform on the top level this season,” Chelsea’s technical director told Channel 4.

“It makes it hard. The same with the other players, 25 member squad but can only field 11 players.

“We chose to go with Edou because he’s our number one goalkeeper, he came over here, trained and is fit. I think it’s a hard decision to make but he’s our number one, he plays.”

With little chance of taking Mendy’s place, Kepa looks increasingly likely to leave Stamford Bridge in the summer.

But he did see Mendy make two saves to help Chelsea win the final, with Kai Havertz scoring a penalty late in extra-time to win the game.

Palmerias had proved to be tougher opposition than expected, with Raphael Veiga equalising for the Brazilians after Romelu Lukaku had put Tuchel’s men ahead.

Havertz’s spot-kick was enough to secure the win, which also means that the Blues have now picked up every trophy possible under owner Roman Abramovich.

“You need luck to score late on, but we were relentless, and we did not stop trying,” he told Channel 4.

“We did not give in. We had the lead, then lost it, but never stopped. It was deserved, but it’s also lucky when you score so late.

“The penalty [from Havertz] did not look nervous but for sure he was. You cannot not be nervous in this situation. We trusted the statistics, and I’m happy for him.”

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Rio Ferdinand issues major warning about Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag

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Former centre-back Rio Ferdinand believes it is still too early to judge whether Erik ten Hag is the right man to lead Manchester United back to the top, despite their unquestionable improvement under him this season.

United head into tomorrow’s Manchester derby against City at Old Trafford with the knowledge that a win will lift them to within a point and place of their neighbours in the Premier League table.

The Reds have lost just one of their last 18 matches since being battered 6-3 by City back in October, featuring a current run of eight wins on the bounce.

The Reds, such is the level of progress they have made under Ten Hag this season, are now considered as one of the favourites to qualify for the Champions League for next season.

They have made significant strides in a relatively short space of time and victories over the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur already this season have proven that they are capable of competing in the upper echelons of the table again.

However, despite heading into the second half of the campaign with form in their sails, Ferdinand insists the jury is still out on Ten Hag, despite him reaching 20 wins as United manager quick than any of his predecessors.

“I think it’s too early to say,” said Ferdinand to the Mirror. “We’ve been here with previous managers when it looks like we are onto something.

“We’ve got to be patient and give the man time. I think all the signs are very positive at the moment. He’s come in and seen what is happening, assessed how things are, looked at individuals and looked at the shape of the team.

“These were a bunch of players that were quite low. They were shot to pieces and he’s had to build, not only footballers, but men back up again. He’s had to build a lot of human beings back up and that takes time.

“The fact he’s now talking about qualifying for the Champions League so positively, he can sense a confidence coming back into this team. There’s a consistency of performance from the team that wasn’t there before and the signals and signs are all very promising.

“But they’re still not where they want to be. City are way ahead of where United are. The distance is a bit closer, but it’s still not anywhere near where we want it to be. There’s still work to be done.”

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Manchester United takeover bids ‘expected imminently’ with serious interest in Club

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Manchester United are expecting takeover offers from across the world as they are set to invite bids ahead of ‘mid-February deadline’.

The Telegraph have reported that the club have received ‘serious interest’ from consortiums based in the Middle East, Asia and the United States.

British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe is also weighing up an offer, as the Glazers hope to the sell one of the biggest clubs in the world for over £5billion.

The report also adds that parties who had been interested in taking over Chelsea, before Todd Boehly’s £4.25bn takeover, are set to return with approaches for the Red Devils.

It’s expected that potential investors will go public with their attempts to buy United in the coming weeks with the clock ‘now ticking on a deal’.

Senior United figures will issue a mid February deadline for formal offers in order to help get get the takeover completed before the end of the season.

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Confirmed: Chelsea ready to make late bid to hijack another Arsenal transfer

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Chelsea will make a late attempt to scupper Arsenal’s hopes of finally signing Mikhailo Mudryk from Shakhtar Donetsk.

The Gunners have submitted their third bid for the Ukraine international winger and hope an offer of £62m before add-ons, which take the deal closer to £70m, will be enough to break the deadlock between the two clubs.

Chelsea’s interest in the 21-year-old winger was earlier this week described only as ‘exploratory’ but ESPN now claim that Todd Boehly will test the waters and attempt to throw a spanner in the works for the Premier League leaders.

Shakhtar’s technical director Darijo Srna was pictured at Stamford Bridge last week as he watched Chelsea’s defeat against Manchester City and Boehly would have little issue with meeting an asking price which is closer to £88million.

Arsenal are said to be confident that their latest bid for Mudryk will be enough to finally secure the services of their No.1 January target, but have already been beaten to the punch once this month by their west London rivals.

Chelsea won the race to sign Joao Felix on loan from Atletico Madrid amid competition from Arsenal and Manchester United, but the Portugal international’s promising debut ended in devastating fashion when he was sent off just shy of the hour mark for a dangerous challenge on Fulham’s Kenny Tete.

Felix will now miss the next three games through suspension as the problems mount for Chelsea’s under-fire manager Graham Potter.

‘It sums up where we are at the moment – everything that can go wrong, is going wrong,’ Potter said after Chelsea’s 2-1 west London derby defeat.

‘It was a forward’s tackle from Joao, there was no malice in it but I understand why it was a red. It is another blow the hits keep coming at the moment.

‘He was really good you could see his quality in the game so it is doubly disappointing for us because he was looking dangerous throughout.

‘I don’t think there was too much malice in it and it is an unfortunate action and we are going to lose him now for three games.’

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