CHELSEA’S KIDS ARE OKAY, BUT WILL THEY GET A CHANCE?
Every time Ruben Loftus-Cheek touched the ball on his full debut for Chelsea against Liverpool on Sunday, the home fans cheered and their eyes were transfixed on the 19-year-old. Loftus-Cheek put in an assured display in the heart of Chelsea’s midfield as the 6 foot 3 inch teenager didn’t give the ball away once and made several interceptions during his 60 minutes on the pitch.
[ RELATED: Three things we learned from Chelsea vs. Liverpool ]
Chelsea’s fans desperately want a new homegrown hero to call their own. The last academy member to break through and become a regular was John Terry. That was 17 years ago and on Sunday Terry headed home Chelsea’s opener to become the highest scoring defender in Premier League history with 39 goals. Remarkable. Chelsea’s fans aren’t asking for another virtuoso talent like Terry to emerge from their Cobham training ground, but they do want to see kids given the chance to become regulars.
[ RELATED: Mourinho says youngsters will play in final games ]
Speaking after the game, Jose Mourinho praised Loftus-Cheek and revealed more youngsters will play a part in Chelsea’s final few games of the season now the PL title is wrapped up.
“He [Loftus-Cheek] is going to be a Chelsea player, there is no doubt,” Mourinho said. “I have other kids that I also believe they can possibly do it. Good work at academy level, good cooperation with us when the players go into the zone where they are almost there, but not yet there. Hopefully we have more in the future.”
There will be more in the future. Nathan Ake, Isaiah Brown, Patrick Bamford, Lewis Baker (both on loan this season) and Dominc Solanke are all on the fringes of Chelsea’s first team squad. Mourinho has high hopes for Ake, Brown and Baker and in an interview back in July 29, 2014, he said the following about that particular trio of talented Chelsea youngsters.
“My conscience tells me that if, for example, Baker, Brown, and Solanke are not national team players in a few years, I should blame myself,” Mourinho said. “They are part of a process the club started without me. In this moment, we have players who will be Chelsea players. And when they become Chelsea players, they will become England players, almost for sure.”
After stating that Loftus-Cheek and these other England international youngsters will be “Chelsea players” in the future. What does Mourinho mean? We have seen other Chelsea youngsters come and go a Ryan Bertrand failed to become a regular and is now making waves at Southampton by being the PFA Team of the Year, while Josh McEachran and Nathaniel Chalobah were both destined for greatness but their ascendance has been interrupted by changes in managers and various loan deals. That theme is all too often as Chelsea currently has 23 young players out on loan to foreign teams and only a handful have a realistic chance of returning to the Bridge and getting close to Mourinho’s first team squad. In essence the Blues take a gamble that one or two of those youngsters will play for the first team but the rest can be sold on for a few million here and there to help manage the new restrictions UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules have brought in. That may seem cynical, but that’s the way it seems to be playing out.
[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]
But hearing Mourinho talking glowingly about the likes of Loftus-Cheek, Brown, Ake and others means that things could be changing at Chelsea. For so long the west London club haven’t had the patience to nurture its own talent and since Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich arrived in 2003, if they ever needed a player they would go out and spend millions on someone who could slot in right away, instead of giving a youngster the chance to develop and become part of the setup. We have seen the transfer strategy altered in the past two seasons as a one in, one out policy has arrived. That fact, coupled with Mourinho saying he wants to keep the vast majority of his current squad together for next season, means more opportunities should arise for the Chelsea stars of the future as young Englishman will get the chance to play for the Blues against West Brom next Monday.
“The last game I am going to play with the players with more minutes in the Premier League, the players that were the base of the team,” Mourinho said. “But against West Bromwich, and especially because West Bromwich is safe and nobody is waiting for a result, I am going to play him [Loftus-Cheek] and Nathan Ake deserves to play and be champion. I think also Izzy Brown. He comes from West Bromwich so it will be special for the kid to play a bit at home. The boys deserve it, all of them, but I can’t give the special day to all of them.”
With winning always of paramount importance to Chelsea’s Portuguese boss, will Mourinho really give these youngsters their “special days” and let them carve out special careers at the Bridge? Let’s wait and see.
AGUERO’S HEROICS UNNOTICED
Little Sergio Aguero is the Premier League’s top scorer with 25 goals in 31 games.
That’s right, he is. Honestly. The reason for the surprised tone is that amid the disappointing season Manchester City has been enduring, their Argentine striker has been banging goals in for fun. Aguero scored a hat trick on Sunday in City’s 6-0 rout of QPR as Manuel Pellegrini’s continue to chase second place.
[ RELATED: Premier League stats ]
It has almost gone unnoticed as Aguero is leading Harry Kane by five goals and is a near certainty to win the PL’s golden boot as the highest scorer when the next two games are over.
Aguero’s 26 goals is his highest total in a single season in the PL and he has recovered from the rust that built up during his two injury-hit spells in the winter months which severely hampered City’s charge in the UEFA Champions League.
We said it last month when the PFA Team of the Year was announced, the fact that Aguero wasn’t among the best 11 players in the Premier League was shocking. His current form has only reinforced that.
Harry Kane and Diego Costa have taken the striking plaudits in the PL season with the former scoring 20 times and Costa scoring 19 times despite hardly playing in the second half of the season.
Aguero doesn’t seem to care about not getting the credit he deserves but at the age of 26, will he soon seek a new challenge after spending four seasons at City and leading them to two PL titles?
City’s fans will hope not and its likely Aguero will remain in Manchester to try and win silverware next season. But if another trophy-less season occurs, Aguero’s talents may go elsewhere as one of the best finishers the PL has ever seen needs to be challenging for the biggest trophies at the peak of his career.
GERRARD GETTING READY TO RIP IT UP IN MLS
As Steven Gerrard walked off the pitch at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, over 15 years of hatred from Chelsea’s fans dissipated, if only for a few seconds.
[ VIDEO: Gerrard nods home equalizer vs. Chelsea ]
In the video above you can see exactly what Gerrard thought about that ovation from the fans, as before and after his substitution the Liverpool captain was receiving abuse from the home fans via a song which celebrates his costly slip against Chelsea at the tail-end of last season which ultimately led to Liverpool not winning the Premier League title. There were also chants of “Have you ever seen Gerrard win the league?” towards Liverpool’s fans and plenty of signs being held up like the one on the left, below.
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
Gerrard, 34, continued his celebratory swansong by netting the equalizer in Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea and although the Reds pushed for a winner late on, Brendan Rodgers’ side had to settle for a point which all but ends their chances of finishing in the top four and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. Rodgers admitted afterwards that a summer of heavy recruitment is needed but without having the UCL as a carrot to dangle in front of the faces of potential new players, Liverpool’s manager must rely on enticing players with the aim to return this grandiose club to its former glory. Let’s see how many players leave clubs in the Champions League to move to Liverpool. My guess is that it won’t be many.
But back to Gerrard… The inspirational Liverpool captain has been a leader for his hometown club for almost two decades and the void he will leave behind this summer when he moves to the LA Galaxy will be insurmountable. His current boss knows it.
“I’ve said before, he is irreplaceable really,” Rodgers said. “One way or the other whether that is players coming in or players that are here taking a step forward. It is going to be crucial. He is a player who makes the big contributions when needed and has done for many years.”
[ RELATED: Mourinho hails “dear enemy” Gerrard ]
The Liverpool and England legend will make his final appearance at Anfield on Saturday against Crystal Palace and after 17 years at the club he grew up supporting, it will be an emotional occasion for Liverpool’s captain. But now, the attention is already shifting towards his next move as Major League Soccer and LA gets ready for Gerrard to arrive in California.
Despite being rested at times this season by Rodgers, especially following the announcement he’d be joining LA, and suffering injuries, Gerrard is still Liverpool’s top goalscorer with 12 in all competitions after two goals in his last two PL outings. When he eventually arrives in MLS, Gerrard will prove he still has plenty of goals, assists and greatness to offer.
Does anybody think Liverpool should have fought a little bit harder to keep him at Anfield?
TIGERS SEEM DOOMED AFTER BIG WEEKEND FOR BOTTOM FEEDERS
Wow. What another mad weekend at the bottom we just witnessed as three relegation battlers ground out crucial wins as the race to stay out of the final relegation place continues.
[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]
Wins for Sunderland, Aston Villa and Leicester City complicated matters, while Hull City’s costly defeat at home to Burnley means Steve Bruce’s side is now in serious danger of seeing their two-year stay in the PL ended as they need to win at least one of their final two matches against Tottenham and Manchester United. Not looking good in east Yorkshire.
[ RELATED: Premier League schedule ]
Newcastle United’s draw with West Bromwich Albion at least stopped the rot after eight-straight defeats but the Magpies are only two points above the bottom three with two games to go. Aston Villa made it three wins in four as Tim Sherwood’s side beat West Ham 1-0 to go four points clear of the bottom three. As for Leicester City, they are three points clear with two games left after securing their sixth in in seven by beating Southampton on Saturday. The Foxes travel to Sunderland in a huge game on Saturday as the winner of that match could be safe ahead of the final match of the season.
As for Sunderland, Dick Advocaat’s side somehow beat Everton 2-0 away from home to give their own survival chances a massive boost. Advocaat was almost apologetic after the victory at Goodison Park as Everton dominated possession and squandered several chances, while Sunderland’s two goals came courtesy of two fortunate deflections. The Black Cats finally seem to be getting a bit of luck.
Villa, Leicester, Newcastle, Sunderland and Hull will do battle to stay up, but both Burnley and Queens Park Rangers were relegated straight back to the Championship over the weekend. In the video below Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe discuss whether or not current QPR manager Chris Ramsey should remain in charge next season after he stepped in for Harry Redknapp for the final few months of this season. As for Burnley, Danny Ings speak of their disappointment despite a brave, battling season.
Premier League Playback comes out every Monday as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.