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Chaotic Chelsea FC up for grabs, world conflict puts team on the auction block – Toronto Sun

Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta celebrates with team owner Roman Abramovich (second from left) after winning the Champions League.
Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta celebrates with team owner Roman Abramovich (second from left) after winning the Champions League. Reuters

Sport obviously pales in comparison to the devastating Russian assault on Ukraine, but the impact has been substantial, even on those who rely on sports as their escape from the horrors of the world.

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Not only have teams been banned and sporting events moved from the region, but Chelsea FC is up for sale after Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich moved to sell his ownership stake before his assets could be seized by the U.K. government.

As far as Chelsea goes, this is massive — the price, the impact, the future. Abramovich is asking for $5 billion and there are several consortiums stuffed with multi-millionaires and billionaires in the mix already. Reports out of England suggest the deal is being expedited and could be done in the next 10 days. The same reports say the current Chelsea front office would also depart, throwing the London club into a further period of uncertainty.

Plans for the expensive new stadium to boost match-day revenue will certainly be put on hold for Chelsea, the bigger issue will be their recruitment and the ability to just throw cash at issues like they did last season paying $167 million for Romelu Lukaku.

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On the pitch, Chelsea is coming off a loss in the Carabao Cup final to Liverpool, where one of the most entertaining 0-0 games you’ll ever see went to penalties with Chelsea missing the 22nd spot kick to drop the cup.

While they’re still in great shape to move on to the quarterfinals of the Champions League and look locked into third place in the league, Chelsea plays a desperate Burnley team this weekend and the reaction of the players, knowing the club is in transition, will be curious to watch.

Other storylines to watch this weekend:

The Manchester Derby always brings a ton of hype. There have been signs of life from Manchester United’s young forwards, Jadon Sancho in particular, but United still look years ahead from competing with City. They’re coming off a tepid draw with Watford at home, and now have to travel to the home of the Champions.

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City were stunningly luck to get a 1-0 win against Everton last week, but the issue will likely be how big a victory it will be for Pep Guardiola’s men rather than if they can win.

Speaking of Everton, while Burnley and Watford got points last week to drag the Toffees further into the relegation discussion, they played well against City and got an apology from the Premier League for the nonsensical decision not to be given a late penalty kick after one of the most blatant calls you’ll ever see. As Everton goes to Tottenham on Monday, it will be curious to see what happens with any contentious officiating decisions in this one.

Leeds parted ways with legendary manager Marcelo Bielsa this week after a string of flaccid losses. It was a desperate decision that was made with a heavy heart and an outpouring of love, and grief, from the supporters, but a necessary one. Leeds took 16 years to get back into the Premier League and their wretched form just couldn’t be ignored as they slide down into the perilous zone. Former Montreal Impact manager Jesse Marsch, an American, takes the helm as they face a couple of tough tests this week with Leicester and Aston Villa on tap.

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Liverpool won the Carabao Cup, dispatched Norwich midweek to move into the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, and hosts Inter Milan next Tuesday with a 2-0 lead in their Champions League Round of 16 game. This week they have a massive match against West Ham, which dealt them one of their only two losses this season. They remain six points back of Manchester City, but have a game in hand. As well as they’ve been playing — they’ve won 14 in a row in all competitions — they can’t afford to drop any more points. West Ham has only won two of their past five and are desperate to stick at the top of the race for the final Champions League spot, but they’ve only won once at Anfield in the last 59 years.

SATURDAY: Leicester v. Leeds; Aston Villa v. Southampton; Burnley v. Chelsea; Newcastle v. Brighton; Norwich v. Brentford; Wolves v. Crystal Palace; Liverpool v. West Ham.

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SUNDAY: Watford v. Arsenal; Manchester City v. Manchester United.

MONDAY: Tottenham v. Everton.

THURSDAY: Norwich v. Chelsea; Southampton v. Newcastle; Wolves v. Watford; Leeds v. Aston Villa.

ITALIAN SERIE A

What a season we have shaping up in Italy.

Defending champions Inter sit third, two points off the top but with a game in hand on Napoli and AC Milan, who are level with 57 points at the top. Inter have a seemingly ‘easy’ game this weekend against Salernitana, but we get a delicious top-of-the-table clash as Milan travels to Naples on Sunday.

There are some injury issues for both sides. AC Milan are sweating on the fitness of striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and centre back and captain Alessio Romagnoli while all of Napoli’s strikers appear to have minor injury concerns. Napoli won the game in Milan in December, and it’s important to remember head-to-head records are the first tie-breaker in Serie A. A win for Napoli would not only essentially give them and extra point against AC Milan, but it would guarantee the advantage over both Milan sides should there be a three-way tie at the top at the end of the season.

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FRIDAY: Inter Milan v. Salernitana.

SATURDAY: Udinese v. Sampdoria; Roma v. Atalanta; Cagliari v. Lazio.

SUNDAY: Genoa v. Empoli; Bologna v. Torino; Fiorentina v. Hellas Verona; Venezia v. Sassuolo; Juventus v. Spezia; Napoli v. AC Milan.

SPANISH LA LIGA

Real Madrid has pulled away at the top of La Liga, boasting a six-point lead over second-place Sevilla, who themselves have an eight-point cushion over third-place Real Betis.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Betis has been a great story this season, but sit just one point ahead of both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, and only two points up on sixth-place Real Sociedad.

So this weekend’s clash against Atletico Madrid is crucial, as is Sociedad’s trip to Real Madrid. With a massive Champions League clash in Madrid between Real and PSG next Wednesday, with PSG holding a slim 1-0 lead, it wouldn’t be out of realm of possibility to see Madrid rotate significantly.

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Any points picked up by Sociedad will pile the pressure on Betis, Atletico and Barcelona. The stakes for those last two spots are massive as Barcelona is already up to its old tricks, leaking all sorts of stories about Betis players they’re going to bid on, including star midfielder Nabil Fekir.

The best way to knock back interest from ‘big’ destination clubs is to actually qualify for the Champions League and, if they can get three points against Atletico this weekend, that will be a giant step forward.

FRIDAY: Alavés v. Sevilla.

SATURDAY: Osasuna v. Villarreal; Espanyol v. Getafe; Valencia v. Granada; Real Madrid v. Real Sociedad.

SUNDAY: Cádiz v. Rayo Vallecano; Elche v. Barcelona; Celta Vigo v. Mallorca; Real Betis v. Atlético Madrid.

MONDAY: Athletic Bilbao v. Levante.

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