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Christian Pulisic can become true star at Chelsea

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For the last seven years, Eden Hazard has graced the Chelsea touchline with a spectacular brilliance, ebbing and flowing through midfielders and around defenders like water in a babbling brook splashes and curls around the rocks in its path.

With Hazard off to Real Madrid, Chelsea reluctantly must begin anew. A new winger has arrived, not to take Hazard’s place – an impossible task in and of itself – but to write his own legacy and build his own following at the London club, one that can blaze a trail no American has trekked before.

Premier League stardom.

Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, DeAndre Yedlin, and others have proven Americans belong at the highest level, but none have achieved the kind of recognition that Pulisic is capable of achieving. None have done what Christian Pulisic hopes to do – shed his nationality and become not an American in the Premier League, but simply a goalscoring and creative force in England’s top flight.

Pulisic has the ability to produce enough brilliance that no longer will Americans have to “blaze a trail” in Europe or “reach new heights” because the Hersey-born kid will have set the bar high enough to erase those terms from the lexicon. This is not to say that Pulisic will win the Ballon d’Or, or that he will become a club legend with the likes of Lampard or Drogba or even Hazard – that much sustained brilliance is in and of itself impossible to predict, for that is precisely what makes a particular career so legendary.

No, the American simply has to be himself, for Borussia Dortmund and U.S. National Team fans have already seen what he can do when his excellence is allowed freedom of expression. If Frank Lampard and Chelsea allow Pulisic the same autonomy showed to Hazard, they shall reap the rewards of his inate exuberance and boyish glee. If USMNT fans have learned anything by watching Pulisic over the last few years, it is that he genuinely, authentically loves to play the game, and that love has both expression and reverberation on the pitch in both quantifiable and imperceptible results.

Yes indeed, this is unquestionably setting the bar extremely high for a player just 20 years old, a peril the American media has failed to traverse numerous times with countless talented players in the past. Yet Pulisic is intrinsically different – he no longer has to prove himself. He has withstood the beatings of CONCACAF and scaled the Yellow Wall where other Dortmund players have wilted under its immense pressure. This is as battle-tested as 20-year-olds come, and Chelsea now possesses a player capable of setting Stamford Bridge alight.

As a giant of the Premier League over the entirety of the league’s existence, the Blues have seen countless stars come and go, and Pulisic’s level of talent is not especially unique to the Stamford Bridge dressing room where so many world-class stars have come before him. Yet none of that should matter to the American youngster who doesn’t need to emulate any of the greats or look to club history for inspiration, as his best comes from within. Pulisic doesn’t need to reach the heights of Hazard to be considered a star, he just needs to do what he’s done the last three years at Borussia Dortmund and let the truly big stage and the truly bright lights do the rest.

Now, as the Premier League season draws nearer and Chelsea looks forward to its opening match against Manchester United on Sunday, all eyes will be on Pulisic – not that that’s anything new to him. Pulisic will succeed as long as he stays true to himself at Chelsea, taking with him the inspiration of his glittering predecessor but also putting his head down and doing what he does best.

Just play ball.

Belarusian Premier League roundup: BATE Borisov pick up win, end early-season drought

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The Belarusian Premier League – the only active European top-flight league at the moment – continued on Saturday despite the coronavirus pandemic.

FC Rukh 0-1 BATE Borisov

With an early goal from midfielder Stanislav Dragun, BATE Borisov, Belarus’ most successful team (15 league titles) and a regular face in European competition, earned their first win of the season. Kirill Alshevsky, who took over at the helm prior to the season, had started his spell on a two-game losing streak.

BATE, despite not winning the possession battle decisively, generated twice as many shots on target as the visitors, registering a total of 11 shots throughout 90 minutes at Borisov Arena.

A winner of 13 straight Belarusian Premier League titles – spanning from 2006 to 2018 – pressure began looming over BATE after starting the 2020 campaign with back-to-back lackluster results. BATE, who lost to Arsenal in Europa League’s Round of 32 in April 2019, were outscored 5-2 in the first, two games of the league.

Dinamo Minsk, the second most successful Belarusian side, also picked up their first three points on Friday, following a slower-than-usual start to the season. Meanwhile, defending champion Dinamo Brest fell 2-1 to Slavia-Mozyr, dropping to eighth on the table.

Elsewhere in Belarusian Premier League 

Shakhtyor 0-0 Nerman

Dinamo Brest 1-2 Slavia-Mozyr

NWSL extends league-wide training moratorium through May

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The NWSL is extending its league-wide training moratorium another month amid the coronavirus pandemic, the league announced on Saturday.

All NWSL teams will be unable to partake in team trainings until at least May 5, extending its previous training moratorium that was set to expire on Sunday, April 5. The 2020 season – which was set to start on April 18 – is expected to start by the end of June, according to NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird.

“We’ve been just communicating with our players and we’re targeting for the end of June for our season to start,” Baird told The Equalizer. “I say that with conviction and hope, but … we’re gonna adhere to the public health guidelines that are in place at the time and I don’t think that we can predict what they are. But our strategy is in place.”

Earlier this week, Major League Soccer and United Soccer League extended their training moratorium through April 24 and April 19, respectively.

Report: England manager Gareth Southgate agrees to 30 percent pay cut

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England manager Gareth Southgate has agreed to a 30 percent pay cut amid the coronavirus pandemic, our partners at Sky Sports reported on Saturday.

[ MORE: What PL clubs are doing to help during coronavirus ] 

Southgate’s move, which is reportedly expected to be confirmed by the Football Association (FA) next week, comes hours after the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) released a statement on behalf of the Premier League players responding to proposed pay cuts.

A FA spokesperson told Sky Sports the following: “The financial implications of the coronavirus are not yet known however, as a not-for-profit organization, we want to ensure that we take the appropriate course of action to support the wider organization and our employees.

“We will make a further announcement on our next steps in due course.”

On Friday, Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe – and a handful of technical staff personnel – became the first Premier League manager to take a voluntary pay cut. Howe’s “significant, voluntary” pay cuts were done in light of the club furloughing non-playing employees throughout the organization, joining Tottenham, Norwich, Newcastle and Liverpool.

Spanish league and players still far apart on salary cuts

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish league and players are still far apart on the size of the salary cuts they need to take to help reduce the financial impact caused by the coronavirus outbreak, with the footballers saying the organization wants them to carry nearly half the total losses.

The league and the players’ association have been in talks to try to find ways to mitigate losses that could reach nearly 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) if the season cannot be restarted because of the pandemic.

The players have said they are willing to reduce their salaries, but not as much as the league or the clubs want.

“After analyzing the current circumstances of the sector and given the distance in conversations with the players’ association, it is necessary to adopt measures in view of the serious economic crisis that COVID-19 is causing in the Spanish soccer industry,” the league said in a statement.

It also added that government furloughs are “an exceptional mechanism to avoid and mitigate the negative impact that COVID-19 is having on the sector, and thus guarantee its subsequent recovery.”

According to media reports, the league expects losses of 957 million euros ($1.03 billion) if the season is canceled, with 303 million euros ($327 million) lost if it resumes with games in empty stadiums and 156 million euros ($168 million) of deficits if it continues with fans.

The players said the total cuts in salaries requested by the league would account for 451 million euros ($487 million) if the top flight cannot restart.

The reduction in salaries being discussed reportedly varies depending on the clubs, and also on whether they are playing in the Champions League or the Europa League.

Team captains met with the players’ association late Friday to discuss their options after the league earlier in the day called for all clubs to put the footballers on government furloughs to reduce labor costs while the stoppage of play continued. The furloughs help the clubs and guarantee players their jobs once the crisis is over.

The league said it is responsible for preserving an industry that represents 1.37 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and employs about 185,000 people.

Atlético Madrid and Barcelona were among the clubs to resort to the furloughs in recent days. Both reached an agreement with players to reduce their salaries by 70 percent, and guaranteed the wages of other employees were unaffected.

There are nearly 125,000 cases of the new coronavirus in Spain, which on Saturday surpassed Italy as the country with the second-most infections behind the United States. The death toll in the nation stands at 11,744.

The government is expected to extend lockdown measures until April 26, likely keeping the Spanish league suspended until then.

The league has said the season won’t resume until authorities deem it safe for everyone’s health. It said it will recommend a “minimum of 15 days” of practice before the games can restart, though it suggested recently the training period may begin with restrictions before the lockdown is removed.

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