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

USMNT’s Arriola likely will miss MLS season, six World Cup qualifiers

Paul Arriola
AP Photo/LM Otero
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WASHINGTON (AP) D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola had major knee surgery Monday and likely will miss the entire Major League Soccer season and the United States’ first six qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup

The operation was to reconstruct his right anterior cruciate ligament. The team said there was no additional cartilage damage.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 25-year-old midfielder injured his knee Feb. 15 during D.C. United’s preseason match against Orlando in Tampa, Florida.

Arriola has been a regular starter for the U.S. national team under coach Gregg Berhalter. Arriola has five goals in 33 international appearances.

After failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. starts qualifying for the 2022 tournament this year. The Americans have two matches each in September, October and November, then complete qualifying with two games apiece in March and September 2021.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

State of play in CONCACAF Champions League

CONCACAF Champions League
AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez
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Four of five Major League Soccer clubs alive in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 are in fine shape to reach the quarterfinals after one leg.

The fifth has a tall hill to climb.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

LAFC trails Club Leon by two and did not collect an away goal in Mexico during first leg play last week.

“It’s 2-0, but we’re going to work hard,” said LAFC attacker Latif Blessing. “We’re going to prepare ourselves to win the next game. … We did good, but we want to win. It couldn’t happen that way but we’re going to prepare next game to win this game. We need to win.”

The second leg in L.A. is one of the last two matches of the round, kicking off at 10 p.m. ET Thursday just as Seattle Sounders square off with Olimpia.

The Honduran side managed a controversial comeback in the 2-2 draw with Jordan Morris-fueled Seattle last week, but the Sounders will be happy to have those two away goals and home field.

Montreal Impact has the same situation for Deportivo Saprissa’s visit at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, while Atlanta United scored an away goal in a draw with Motagua and hosts the visitors from Honduras’ capital at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

That leaves us with NYCFC, who got a Heber hat trick amongst five away goals at Costa Rican side San Carlos in a 5-3 win. The second leg begins at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday at Red Bull Arena (yes, you read that correctly).

Elsewhere, Liga MX sides don’t have it much better. Cruz Azul leads Portmore 2-1 heading back to Mexico, while Club America scored an away goal in a draw with Comunicaciones.

Finally, Tigres UANL trails 2-1 after one leg with Alianza in El Salvador.

CCL second leg schedule
all times ET

Atlanta United v. Motagua (1-1) — 8 p.m. Tuesday
Cruz Azul v. Portmore United (2-1) — 10 p.m. Tuesday
NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Eleven to go: Ranking obstacles on Liverpool’s unbeaten path

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Liverpool has won all five of its matches since the last time we evaluated its path to an unbeaten Premier League season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Those matches were ranked 14th, 12th, 11th, 10th, and 4th on our first rankings of obstacles to immortality, so very little of the heavy lifting has been conducted.

Let’s get something out of the way: If Liverpool is unable to overturn their first leg deficit against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, you can probably etch that zero in the league loss column into stone.

That said, many expect the Reds to overcome that 1-0 disadvantage from Madrid, so here’s where we slot the difficulties moving forward.

Unranked — Crystal Palace at home (March 21) and Brighton away (April 18) — Both of these dates are very easy on the eyes, but will be moved if Liverpool is alive in the FA Cup.

9. Newcastle away, time TBD May 17 — We’re now calling this the easiest date left. Klopp’s men aren’t going to lose an unbeaten season at the altar just because Steve Bruce bunkers down. St. James’ Park is a hassle, but

8. Watford away, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday Klopp probably feels like he’s already playing with house money in the FA Cup, so there’s no reason to think he’ll hand any priority at all to the following FA Cup meeting with Chelsea.

7. Bournemouth home, 7:30 a.m. ET March 7 Situated between Chelsea in the FA Cup and the home UCL second leg versus Atleti, it’s not easy…  but the Cherries have given us less reason to believe they’ll threaten the Reds than any other team besides Newcastle.

6. Aston Villa home, 11:30 a.m. ET April 12Dean Smith‘s desperate Villans will have Villa Park rocking before Liverpool’s possible UCL quarterfinals 2nd leg days later.

5. Burnley home, 7:30 a.m. ET April 25 — Taking place just before a possible UCL quarterfinal first leg, Burnley will try to trouble the Reds in a similar manner to West Ham.

4. Chelsea home, time TBD May 9 — Both the Blues and Reds could be coming off UCL semifinal second legs. Don’t forget that Chelsea took the Reds to the wire in the UEFA Super Cup despite it being very early in Frank Lampard‘s tenure.

3. Arsenal away, time TBD May 2 — Both sides may be days away from needing a result to qualify for the UCL or UEL final.

2. Everton away, 4 p.m. ET March 16 — This may as well be the only match left on the Toffees’ docket that matters more than another, as Carlo Ancelotti and his men know the message they could send regarding the building up of Everton.

Not only that, but Everton has nothing else left to circle, no other competitions, nothing.

1. Man City away, 11:30 a.m. ET April 5 — Taking place 3-4 days before the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals and on the heels of an international break, it’s the lone date on the calendar that Liverpool won’t be heavy favorites to win.

Champions League: Chelsea, Napoli aim to slow Lewandowski, Messi

UEFA Champions League preview
Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images
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Four of the most dangerous attacks in Europe begin their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

For Chelsea that means trying to find a way to limit the damage of away goals when Bayern Munich visits Stamford Bridge.

Of course, that means trying to slow lethal Robert Lewandowski. The 31-year-old Polish striker has scored 38 times in 32 appearances this season.

Here’s Frank Lampard, via Football.London:

Form of his life means something special with Lewandowski because of how well he’s been consistently in Europe for the last, how many years, I don’t know,” Lampard said. “Everything about him, from a distance, from afar, is just top class. Having the opportunity to watch a lot of Bayern in build-up to this game, that shines through. Of course, he’s going to be a huge threat. He’s not the only threat but he is a spearhead.”

Lampard points to the Blues work without the ball and away from it that will determine whether they can limit Lewandowski and Bayern.

“We traveled to Ajax and had a fantastic game off the ball,” he said. “We’ve had games like that this year in the league as well. But the levels have to go up.”

The Blues won’t have Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and N’Golo Kante, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is finally available after a long injury absence. Pedro may play.

[ MORE: JPW’s score predictions ]

Tuesday’s other first leg sees Napoli hosting Barcelona, which means Gennaro Gattuso trying to find a way to cool down Lionel Messi.

The world’s top player scored four goals at the weekend and had six assists in his three previous La Liga outings.

Another player who’s helped Barcelona reclaim the league lead will be critical to controlling the midfield against Napoli, and that’s Frenkie de Jong.

The 22-year-old has had fits and starts at Barca, especially this month. He admits that he’s had an odd time adjusting to Messi, the teammate, though it hasn’t been part of the problem. From FCBarcelona.com:

“When I began training with him it was strange, because when I was 12, still in secondary school, I used to watch a lot of football. He was already the best in the world. He won the Ballon d’Or back then, so I was a fan, or whatever you want to call it.”

Napoli boss Gattuso was a bit more effusive when addressing Messi, via Football.Espana:

“I have read whether to make a cage or not, but we need the collective game to combat someone like him, and it is not just him,” Gattuso said. “He is the best in the world, for how he has lived his entire career. He is always perfect, never a misplaced word, he is an example for everyone. He does things that I only see on the PlayStation. He has an incredible quality and for years he has been the best of all-time.”

Both matches kick off at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday.