Is Chelsea move the right step for Pulisic?

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This will have been the first question every U.S. men’s national team fan asked: is this transfer to Chelsea the right step in Christian Pulisic’s career?

And there is no simple answer.

[ MORE: Pulisic issues statement ]

We all know that Pulisic was destined to play in the Premier League. He has said time and time again that he hoped to move there one day, and his love for the league is clear after his spell living in England as a youngster and watching closely from Hershey, Pennsylvania growing up. The fact Pulisic has arrived at one of the biggest clubs on the planet for such a massive transfer fee is a monumental moment for American soccer.

He has arrived at Chelsea for a huge $73 million fee and will join them in the summer after being loaned back to Borussia Dortmund for the rest of the current campaign. The players remaining at Chelsea when Pulisic arrives in the summer will likely dictate if his move to England and the Premier League is a successful one.

Chelsea host Southampton on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at Stamford Bridge and our Premier League analysts will be breaking down Pulisic’s move.

Pro Soccer Talk understands that Pulisic has been told that some key attacking players at Chelsea will be moved on between now and this summer to allow him to become a key player for the west London club. That is crucial as Pulisic has been on the outside looking in at Dortmund in recent months due to a few small injuries and the amazing form of England’s Jadon Sancho in his place. In that sense, Dortmund getting the cash they have for a player with 18 months left on his contract is great business, and Pulisic will feel like he’s upgraded too.

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He is not the first youngster to arrive at the Blues with huge expectations placed upon him, as the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah and Romelu Lukaku all failed to break through (under Jose Mourinho, not someone who gives youth a chance might we add) and reinforced the notion that Chelsea is a no-go zone for top young players. With Chelsea’s revolving door policy with managers, it is also a risky place for a player to fall out of favor quickly.

Pulisic’s character has so far seen him deal comfortably with being the golden boy of American soccer and he will be unfazed by everything swirling around him in the Premier League. Aside from the huge marketing potential Chelsea will see in having the first global American superstar in their squad, they have paid this huge fee for a reason. They believe in Pulisic’s talents.

Despite that, getting into this Chelsea team will be tough for Pulisic to do on a weekly basis. At least at first.

If Eden Hazard does stay at Chelsea and doesn’t head to Real Madrid, Pulisic will be fighting with Willian and Pedro for the one remaining spot out wide. However, his arrival is likely to signal the departure of either Willian or Pedro, or maybe both, and even if one of their wingers remains Maurizio Sarri has played with three wingers going forward many times this season. Having Hazard as a false nine with Pulisic and Willian buzzing around him could work very well.

That said, you cannot brush aside Chelsea’s track record of stockpiling young talent and then seeing many of their careers stagnating at Stamford Bridge. Pulisic falls into a slightly different category, but academy products Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Nathaniel Chalboah, Nathan Ake, Tammy Abraham and many others have all had to move elsewhere (either on loan or permanently) to try and kick-start their careers.

The fact that Chelsea splashed this cash to sign Pulisic proves they are going to use him and he will be a key cog under Sarri. And that is perhaps the biggest plus for him signing for Chelsea. Sarri loves players who are able to possess the ball and press high up the pitch. That suits Pulisic’s game to a tee, and if Hazard stays this summer he will be able to link up and learn from one of the best players on the planet.

Even if Hazard leaves then Pulisic will be given a greater responsibility to be Chelsea’s main attacking threat. He may not score as many goals as he would like, but his creativity, pace and ability to play in multiple positions means he will slot into this Chelsea system seamlessly. Liverpool’s front three are going nowhere, and although Pulisic has a great relationship with Jurgen Klopp, a move to Anfield just didn’t seem like a good fit, at least right now.

If he gets the opportunity to play regularly, as he should do, then this move looks perfect for Pulisic.

Valverde under pressure after dismal end to Barcelona’s season

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MADRID (AP) A couple of weeks ago, few questioned Ernesto Valverde as Barcelona coach.

The team had just won a second straight Spanish league title under his command and was close to making it to the Champions League final after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.

The team was also through to the Copa del Rey final, where it would try to win an unprecedented fifth straight title in the competition.

Valverde seemed to be comfortably in control as the club moved closer to winning the treble.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse, though, and Valverde woke up on Sunday under added pressure and facing increased criticism.

Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday, a result that followed the disastrous elimination against Liverpool in the Champions League and added to the team’s woeful end to what had been a great season.

“A month ago we were celebrating the league title. Fifteen days ago we were thinking we had a chance at a treble,” Valverde said. “And we came up short in the decisive moments in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.”

The disappointing ending brought out a wave of criticism of Valverde, who last year also finished the season under a cloud after another humiliating Champions League elimination – that time it squandered a big first-leg lead against Roma in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

The criticism seems more pronounced this time, with some fans and local media calling for a change at the helm.

It didn’t take long after Barcelona’s loss to Valencia in Seville for club President Josep Bartomeu to come out and defend the coach.

“Ernesto has a contract and he remains the team’s coach,” Bartomeu said. “This loss was not the coach’s fault. The team created a lot of scoring chances but the ball didn’t go in, and what counts is how many times you score.”

Bartomeu had already defended Valverde after the demoralizing 4-0 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League, saying the club was not considering a change in command for next season.

Valverde said he was not worried and felt supported by the club despite the disappointing ending.

“It’s a bad feeling, we won’t deny it, but we have to stay strong,” he said. “What we want as coaches is to have a chance to come back. It’s tough to lose, it means something went wrong. We have to take the responsibility for it.”

Even if Valverde stays as expected, it doesn’t mean there won’t be changes for Barcelona.

Several players played below expectations this season, especially former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, who was regularly jeered by fans and whose place with the club remains uncertain.

Bartomeu will likely have to go shopping in the offseason to try to improve the supporting cast for Lionel Messi, who had a fantastic year but wasn’t able to save the season by himself. When Messi looked ordinary, no one was able to take over his role as protagonist, and it proved costly in the decisive moments.

Young midfielder Frenkie de Jong is joining from Ajax and he should significantly boost the midfield, but Barcelona will definitely need to add to its attack, as Luis Suarez was the only true striker who performed consistently well. He couldn’t play in the Copa final after undergoing knee surgery and his absence was felt as the team struggled to capitalize on its scoring chances.

Veteran Gerard Pique is set to return for another season in defense, but there are still doubts about the fitness of Samuel Umtiti, who missed several matches this season because of injuries.

“We’ve been thinking about next season for a while, but it’s not the time to discuss the future,” Bartomeu said. “We ended with the Spanish league title, it was important. We couldn’t win the Copa, but we’ll just move on.”

Suarez defends surgery decision after Barca lose Copa del Rey final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Luis Suarez has defended himself from criticism for undergoing knee surgery that prevented him from playing for Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final.

The Uruguayan released a statement Sunday saying he had no option despite the timing of the final, which Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia on Saturday.

Suarez said he had to undergo surgery “against my will” after rupturing his meniscus against Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals.

He said the surgery earlier this month had nothing to do with a cartilage issue that he had been nursing since the beginning of the season.

Barcelona won the Spanish league but finished the season on a low after being eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League and losing the Copa final to Valencia.

Suarez scored 25 goals in 49 matches this season, second only to Lionel Messi on the scoring charts for Barcelona.

U-20 WC roundup: Mexico hammered by Japan; Italy top Ecuador

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action at the U-20 World Cup in Poland…

[ MORE: USWNT wins final match before World Cup (video) ]

Mexico 0-3 Japan

Mexico’s heavy defeat at the hands of Japan means El Tri‘s stars of tomorrow, who have zero points from their first two games, cannot finish top-two in Group B and can only advance to the knockout rounds as one of four third-place teams.

Taisei Miyashiro (21st and 77th minutes) and Kyosuke Tagawa (52nd) bagged the goals on Sunday, as Japan picked up its first victory and set up an all-important finale with Italy to decide who finishes top of the group on Wednesday.

Ecuador 0-1 Italy

Andrea Pinamonti scored the only goal in Italy’s 1-0 victory over 10-man Ecuador to reach the six-point mark and guarantee themselves a top-two finish and a place in the round of 16.

Elsewhere in the U-20 World Cup

Senegal 2-0 Colombia [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Poland 5-0 Tahiti [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Monday’s U-20 World Cup schedule

Honduras v. Uruguay — 12 p.m. ET
Qatar v. Ukraine — 12 p.m. ET
USA v. Nigeria — 2:30 p.m. ET
Norway v. New Zealand — 2:30 p.m. ET

Serie A: Atalanta, Inter snatch UCL places on wild final day

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s final-day action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Chelsea, Real Madrid remain $38 million apart on Eden Hazard deal ]

Sampdoria (9th) 2-0 Juventus (1st)

With their eighth straight scudetto long since clinched, Juve slumped their way to the season’s finish line without a win in their final five games (three draws), including Sunday’s 2-0 loss away to Sampdoria. It was 0-0 for 83 minute, until Gregoire Defrel (84th) and Gianluca Caprari (91st) bagged late goals for the victory.

Atalanta (3rd) 3-1 Sassuolo (11th)

Atalanta completed their fairytale season and finished third in a hugely dramatic, chaotic way befitting their rapid rise to Champions League relevance. They finished 17th and avoided relegation by three points in 2015.

First, they fell behind when Domenico Berardi scored in the 19th minute. They were level by the 35 minute, thanks to Duvan Zapata’s equalizer. Then, things got weird.

Berardi was sent off during a massive skirmish between the two sides while leaving the field for halftime. With the score 1-1, and both Inter Milan and AC Milan ahead after 51 minutes, Atalanta were headed for a fifth-place finish.

Alejandro Gomez put Atalanta ahead three minutes later, though, and Mario Pasalic doubled the advantage in the 65th.

Inter Milan (4th) 2-1 Empoli (18th – relegated)

At that 51-minute mark, Keita Balde’s opening goal put Inter ahead of Empoli, but the visitors equalized in the 76th, briefly dropping them to fifth.

That lasted all of five minutes, as Radja Nainggolan put Luciano Spaletti’s side back in front, where they would finish the season. The top-four finished the day exactly as it began — Atalanta in 3rd and Inter Milan in 4th, each on 69 points.

SPAL (13th) 2-3 AC Milan (5th)

For those five glorious minutes, AC Milan were headed back to the Champions League for the first time since 2014, and were set to do so at the expense of their local rivals.

Finishing fourth, but behind Inter, would have been fine, but finishing fourth and ahead of Inter would have been a dreamland outcome. Alas, it’s a fifth-place finish on 68 points and another season in the Europa League for the Rossoneri.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Bologna (10th) 3-2 Napoli (2nd – Saturday)
Frosinone (19th – relegated) 0-0 Chievo (20th – relegated – Saturday)
Roma (6th) 2-1 Parma (14th)
Torino (7th) 3-1 Lazio (8th)
Cagliari (15th) 1-2 Udinese (12th)
Fiorentina (16th) 0-0 Genoa (17th)