Premier League Playback: Will Chelsea’s kids get the chance to be stars?

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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.”

[ RELATED: Rodgers slams Fabregas as Liverpool’s top four hopes over ]

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.

Premier League Schedule – Week 36

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 1-0 West Ham Recap and watch here
Arsenal 0-1 Swansea City Recap and watch here
Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 1-2 Man United Recap and watch here
Everton 0-2 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Hull City 0-1 Burnley Recap and watch here
Leicester 2-0 Saints Recap and watch here
Man City 6-0 QPR Recap and watch here
Newcastle 1-1 West Brom Recap and watch here
Stoke City 3-0 Tottenham Recap and watch here

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.

source: Getty Images
Chelsea v Liverpool – Premier League

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

Cole returns to Chelsea as youth team coach

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One of Chelsea’s best players in club history is back at his old stomping grounds in a new role.

Chelsea finally confirmed over their social media channels that former left back Ashley Cole is back at the club coaching in the academy, helping the next generation of stars grow and learn the games. Specifically, Cole is coaching the U-15 squad.

[READ: Top Premier League Storylines]

“I’m also doing my badges at the moment and so being here at Chelsea means I have the chance to coach every day, whereas maybe if I wasn’t working at a club it would be hard for me to get the hours in,” Cole told Chelsea’s website. “I’m learning not just how to be a coach and how to speak to people in a different environment but the side of coaching that you don’t see like planning the sessions and setting up the equipment.

“As a player, you just turn up for a session and do it. If it’s a possession drill, you just arrive and try to keep the ball but now I’m getting to understand that there are always ideas behind a particular session or practice. Organization has to be key and those are the little details that it takes to be a great coach.”

While plenty from Cole’s era have moved into the media for lucrative punditry roles, it’s nice to see players like Cole and his former teammate Frank Lampard, now Chelsea coach, go into coaching to help pass on some of the great lessons they’ve learned during their careers. .

Cole said in the interview that he wasn’t sure what was next after playing three seasons for the LA Galaxy and then joining Lampard at Derby County for the second half of last season. He added that he got his first taste of coaching kids while with the Galaxy, helping some of the academy players and taking part in video sessions.

“The Academy are very good at giving ex-players a route back to the club and a chance to learn as coaches,” Cole said. “They’re eager to bring in people who understand what it means to be at Chelsea and what it means to wear the badge. You have to be a top player to play for Chelsea so they want those top ex-players influencing and trying to help the next generation develop and be better players.”

MLS Playoffs Preview: 1st round kicks off on Saturday

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After a two-week break, MLS is back, and with some outstanding matchups as the first round of the playoffs kicks off on Saturday.

Here’s a closer look at Saturday’s matchups in the Western Conference and Eastern Conference.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]


2. Atlanta United v. 7. New England Revolution — Saturday, 1 p.m. ET

Atlanta United begins its title defense against the most successful coach in MLS history, Bruce Arena.

Atlanta United heads into the match at home a bit shorthanded. Miles Robinson suffered a left hamstring strain while on international duty with the U.S. Men’s National Team, leaving veteran centerback Michael Parkhurst to start alongside Leandro Gonzalez Pires. There’s also some questions over whether Ezequiel Barco and Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez will start together in midfield.

All that being said, Atlanta is still one of the best teams in MLS and as long as they have Josef Martinez, they’ll be a threat to make a deep run in the playoffs. The Revs have been a revelation since Bruce Arena took over in May, and no one knows the MLS playoffs more than he. Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou have been terrific this summer for the Revs while the defense, anchored by centerbacks Andrew Farrell and Michael Mancienne and 25-year-old goalkeeper Matt Turner have kept opponents off the board.

Atlanta certainly has the edge here, especially at home, but never count out a Bruce Arena team.

2. Seattle Sounders v. 7. FC Dallas — Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Unlike in previous years, the Seattle Sounders never needed to make a patented late-season push to make it into the playoffs. This time, the Sounders were solid throughout, especially thanks to a start that included five wins in six games. With Jordan Morris in peak form and Roman Torres and Kim Kee-Hee patrolling the middle of the backline, Seattle sure looks like an MLS Cup contender. Of course, they’d have to get past LAFC first, no small task.

For FC Dallas, in a way, they’re just happy to be here. It seems like forever, but was less than a year ago when club legend Oscar Pareja left for the Club Tijuana manager spot. In his place was local soccer legend and former FC Dallas academy director Luchi Gonzalez, and with a mostly young squad of players, Gonzalez has proven he could guide them to the playoffs. It doesn’t hurt though that one of the few veterans, Zdenek “Cobra” Ondrášek, has been on fire the last two months and just scored for the Czech Republic against England. The Sounders should take care of business at home, but Jesus Ferreira and Paxton Pomykal can create something out of nothing and could make Saturday’s match interesting/

4. Toronto FC v. 5. DC United — Saturday, 6 p.m. ET

With the regular season concluded and the start of single-elimination matches, we’re on the verge of saying goodbye to Wayne Rooney at any moment, and it could come as early as Saturday.

Thanks to a win and some other favorable results, Toronto FC jumped up in the standings and earned a home playoff match. It doesn’t hurt that it’s been very solid to close out the season, going unbeaten in its last 10 matches – though to be fair, that span only included four wins. Worryingly for TFC is that striker Jozy Altidore didn’t practice on Thursday after missing the international break with yet another muscle injury. However, his Canadian international teammates Jonathan Osorio, Liam Fraser, and Richie Laryea are returning to the club side on a high after beating the U.S.

For D.C. it’s been an up and down last few weeks. They picked up huge wins over Portland and Seattle in the final two months of the season, only to settle for scoreless draws against the porous New York Red Bulls and abject horror show in FC Cincinnati. As always, there will be plenty of pressure on Rooney to produce some magic, and his side will need it if they want to keep their season alive. Toronto, playing at home, has the edge here.

3. Real Salt Lake v. 6. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 10 p.m. ET

Mike Petke was fired by Real Salt Lake in mid-August after serving a two-week suspension for berating the referee – and saying some unacceptable terms – after a Leagues Cup game in July. In his place, interim coach Freddy Juarez has done quite well with the squad, winning seven games in the final three months of the season to cruise into a top-three place and earn a home game in the playoffs.

Former Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers defender Nedum Onuoha has been a rock at the back alongside youngster Justin Glad, and RSL may have the most underrated attack in the league. Albert Rusnak, Damir Kreilach and Jefferson Savarino have all been brilliant at points this season. If the trio put it together, RSL could be a dark horse for the title.

The Timbers beat expectations a year ago as Giovanni Savarese led his team to another final – his fourth straight final as a coach. It will be an incredible achievement if they make it this time around. Portland has elite offensive capabilities when everyone is firing on all cylanders. Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, and even Dairon Asprilla can create moments of magic, while Jeremy Ebobisse has had a breakout season with 11 goals, though he’s missed a few he’ll want back. The issue is the team defensively, and they’ll have to be on their game to slow to RSL’s front three on the road.

Of course, the Timbers did win both matchups against RSL this season, so even on the road, they should be confident they can get it done again.

Spanish FA once again opposes La Liga match in U.S.

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For the second consecutive season, La Liga and Relevant Sports have proposed a league match to take place this winter in the U.S.

And once again, the La Liga proposal doesn’t have the support of its national soccer federation.

[READ: La Liga wants to move Villarreal-Atletico Madrid to Miami]

Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), told reporters on Thursday that it would oppose the match taking place outside of Spain’s borders, keeping a consistent line in the sand on how far globalization can go in soccer.

“It would disrupt the competition,” Rubiales said, via AS. “To play a game in Miami, La Liga needs permission from five bodies that it doesn’t have.”

The five bodies Rubiales referred to are the RFEF, FIFA, CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer and MLS.

Last time around, Relevant Sports and La Liga announced a long-term, lucrative marketing contract to expand the brand’s footprint in the Americas, and soon after, petitioned to move Girona’s home game against Barcelona to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the home stadium of Relevant Sports owner Stephen Ross and his Miami Dolphins.

Ultimately, La Liga president Javier Tebas and Relevant Sports were unable to get permission from the RFEF or FIFA to hold the event outside Spain and it went off as expected in Girona. At the time, Spain’s player’s union and fans groups opposed the move. Tebas has filed a lawsuit in Spain to try to force the RFEF to approve their request, but it seems unlikely to be awarded and it surely doesn’t provide any good will between the two parties.

There’s been plenty of talk about bringing league games abroad before, but it has just been talk so far. The Premier League considered adding an extra game to the season to be played all over the world, but never went through with creating plans for matches.

Associations – not leagues, to be clear – have brought things like Super Cups abroad. For example, the RFEF moved the 2018 Spanish Super Cup to Tangiers, Morocco, while the France Football Federation has brought its national Super Cup match to both the U.S. and Montreal, Canada in recent years. However, the argument in favor of bringing those games abroad is they’re basically meaningless. Meanwhile, one result in a league season could – in theory – determine whether a team is relegated or not, especially if the margin is three points or less.

We could see another legal fight on our hands, so watch this space, there’s plenty more to come.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.