Mourinho: Chelsea will promote a handful of youth players to first team next year

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Jose Mourinho has vowed to promote a number of Chelsea’s top youth academy players — an U-18 and U-19 group that has been labeled something of a golden generation — into the club’s first-team squad for the 2015-16 season.

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Chelsea’s U-19 team captured the UEFA Youth League title last week, while the Blues’ U-18 squad is set to compete in its fourth-straight FA Youth Cup final this weekend.

Among the group of highly-rated and successful youngsters is 19-year-old midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who made his first-team debut in a 7-minute substitute appearance earlier this year and has been handpicked by Mourinho as the pick of the litter, alongside Andreas Christensen and Dominic Solanke.

Mourinho, on Loftus-Cheek and the rest of Chelsea’s youngsters, from the Daily Mail:

“Next season, Ruben will not be a kid in the development process. He will be a first-team player, absolutely ready to play and compete. And we will do the same with two or three or four players.

“Some of the older ones will go on loan to play every game in the Championship or the Premier League, even abroad. And we will bring some of the younger ones into the process. But to have them all at the same time in the first-team squad is hard.

“I cannot have a squad of 10 men and 10 kids. I must have a squad like we have now of 16 or 17 seniors and three or four kids.”

Of course, Chelsea could choose to go out this summer and spend $60 million to sign Paul Pogba from Juventus, effectively blocking any path into the first team for Loftus-Cheek.

Often times at a big club like Chelsea — or Manchester City, who have also invested heavily in their youth academy but are yet to see much payoff for the first team — there’s a major disconnect between those in charge of the youth academy and the head honcho in charge of the first team.

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It’s easy to blame a manager for failing to bring through promising youngsters, instead opting to spend big bucks in the transfer market, but in the win-now world of top-level soccer, where a manager’s job is on the line a season after winning the title (Manuel Pellegrini, anyone?), should it come as a surprise that John Terry, now 34, was the last player to come through the Chelsea academy and win a place in the first team?

Managers play a big part in integrating young players and giving them first-team experience, but more of them — perhaps even a majority — might be willing to do so if they knew their job wouldn’t be at risk after a half-season’s worth of poor results. As is the case with any business, it starts at the top.

Transfer Rumor Wrap: Liverpool rejects Barca bid for Coutinho, Roma offer for Mahrez turned down

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Liverpool isn’t planning on cashing in on one of the Premier League’s stars this summer.

Jurgen Klopp and Co. gave Barcelona a resolute “no” after Barcelona submitted a transfer bid of more than $93 million for Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho signed a new five-year contract with the club in January.

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“The main thing I think about is how we can make the next step with the players we had last season,” Klopp told reporters in Hong Kong earlier this week. “The good news is that actually we didn’t lose – and we will not lose – a player we want to keep this summer. That’s the best news actually and then we’ll see who can bring into the squad.”

Coutinho signed for Liverpool in 2013 but had a breakout year in 2015-2016, earning the PFA Young Player of the Year. Last year Coutinho became an even more consistent goal-scorer and playmaker, scoring 13 goals with seven assists in 34 Premier League appearances.

Keeping Coutinho is of supreme importance for Liverpool, which is back in the UEFA Champions League for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.

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La Liga releases schedule: First El Clasico coming in December

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It’s Christmas in July for fans of La Liga Friday as the Spanish league published its schedule for the upcoming season.

Defending champions Real Madrid travel to Deportivo La Caruña on August 20, the opening match of the season while its rival Barcelona hosts Real Betis.

As it’s La Liga, the first date most fans searched for was the first El Clasico of the season, and the biennial battles between Real Madrid and Barcelona will take place on December 20 and May 6, with Real Madrid hosting the first match.

The first match comes just ahead of the Spanish winter break, while the second match comes at a busy period at the end of the season, where both teams will be hoping to still be competing in the UEFA Champions League.

Other interesting matches to keep an eye on in the first few weeks of the season include Real Madrid hosting Valencia in week two, the Barcelona derby between Barca and Espanyol in week three and Atletico Madrid taking on Sevilla in week six.

Here’s a look at this year’s La Liga schedule.

Conte: Costa “situation was very clear” in January

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At this point, there is no doubt Diego Costa‘s future lies away from London and Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte broke his silence on the Brazilian-born Spain international striker, saying he’s been ready to move on from Costa since January, when Costa and Conte had a disagreement following a big-money offer from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian during the winter transfer window.

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“I don’t like to talk about players who are not here but the only thing I can tell you [is that] in January, the Costa situation was very clear, for the club for him and his agent,” Conte told reporters Friday. “For me the situation is closed.”

It’s an amazing turn of events after Costa scored 20 Premier League goals in Chelsea’s title-winning 2016-2017 season, including 14 goals through the end of December. But after falling out with Jose Mourinho a year earlier, the same issue happened again under Conte, with Costa proving much less effective down the stretch.

But Conte and Costa were able to put their differences aside on the field, photographed multiple times hugging after wins, as well as after winning the title.

Costa is reportedly now agitating for a move back to his former club Atletico Madrid, but the Spanish club’s transfer ban until the next window complicates matters. In a World Cup year, would Costa be willing to sit out half a season just to leave Chelsea?

If Costa’s time in the Premier League is up, he’ll go down as one of the league’s best pound-for-pound goalscorers. He scored 52 goals in 89 Premier League appearances, with seven more cup goals in his three-year spell at Chelsea.

And if he is gone, defenders across the Premier League will sure be happy to wave goodbye.

Sparta Prague signs France midfielder Rio Mavuba

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PRAGUE (AP) Sparta Prague says it has signed France midfielder Rio Mavuba to a three-year contract.

The 33-year-old Mavuba comes from French club Lille, which he joined in 2008. Before that, he played for Bordeaux and Spanish club Villarreal.

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Mavuba was on the France team at the 2014 World Cup.

He is the 10th player signed by Sparta after Italian coach Andrea Stramaccioni took charge in May.