Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi happy to start for Chelsea

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All the schedule congestion, an international break, and two matches in four days forced Maurizio Sarri to finally start Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek on Wednesday against Cardiff City.

They did not disappoint.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 3-0 Brighton and Hove Albion ]

Hudson-Odoi cued up Olivier Giroud for the game’s first goal and Loftus-Cheek had a goal and an assist as Chelsea bossed Brighton and Hove Albion 3-0 at Stamford Bridge.

From the BBC:

“We needed to change. We’re lucky because Callum is doing very well. Loftus has no problem with his back for the first time this season. Giroud is in a good period. We’re lucky.

“Callum played very well and defended very well. He has improved during the season a lot. He’s ready to play 90 minutes in very important matches. The only problem is Ruben, who had cramp in his hamstring after 75 minutes. I want to be sure his back is okay.”

We knew both players had it in them, especially after the star run from Loftus-Cheek at Crystal Palace last season.

Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek admitted that they were quite ready for their chance to make a proper Premier League impact.

“We have both worked all of our lives for this chance, years of hard work and now we start in a Premier League game together,” Loftus-Cheek said. “That’s good for the academy.”

Hudson-Odoi measured his words, no surprise given his status as a teenager on one of the biggest clubs in the world.

“The manager told me to go and express myself. I feel comfortable, hopefully I did well.”

Chelsea bash Brighton and Hove Albion (video)

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  • Hazard, Loftus-Cheek score beauties
  • Loftus-Cheek adds assist
  • Hudson-Odoi lively, gets assist in first PL start

Ruben Loftus-Cheek had a goal and an assist as Chelsea clobbered Brighton and Hove Albion 3-0 on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge.

Callum Hudson-Odoi had an assist in his first Premier League start, while Olivier Giroud and Eden Hazard also scored.

Chelsea rises fifth with 63 points, level with fourth place Arsenal and a point back of Spurs. Manchester United has 61.

Brighton has 33 points, five points clear of the drop zone.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Hudson-Odoi was making his first start and saw his bid for an opener deflected over the bar.

He also nearly played set-up man, but a cross was headed high by Cesar Azpilicueta.

Giroud was the goal scorer, however, getting his 78th Premier League goal by popping a Hudson-Odoi-produced chance past Mat Ryan.

The 38th minute goal came on Chelsea’s 10th attempt to Brighton’s one.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Hazard buttressed Chelsea’s advantage at the hour mark, taking a pass from Loftus-Cheek and skewering Lewis Dunk before curling home.

Loftus-Cheek got a goal of his own moments later from almost the same distance as Hazard. Cruising.

Sarri expects Hudson-Odoi to stay at Chelsea next season

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Callum Hudson-Odoi is young, English, good, and wanted by at least two of the game’s absolute giants: Current club Chelsea and the Bundesliga’s Bayern Munich.

The 18-year-old winger has five goals and four assists in 19 appearances for Maurizio Sarri‘s Blues this season, and the manager says Hudson-Odoi will start in two or three of Chelsea’s next eight matches.

[ MORE: Rashford wants new Man Utd deal ]

And Hudson-Odoi fever is spreading in England and the media, especially after the teenager collected his first two caps for the Three Lions while picking up an assist against Montenegro.

Hudson-Odoi, however, has not committed his future to Chelsea after a January transfer window which saw Bayern lodge several big bids for his services and the player handing in a transfer request.

Sarri said he expects Hudson-Odoi to spend next season at Chelsea whether he pens a new deal at Stamford Bridge or not, and backed the player to continue improvement.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“He is doing very well, but he needs to improve more. His potential is very high. I don’t want him to stop improving. He can become one of the best players in Europe, but he needs to improve more. The risk is to stop improving.”

Sarri said the presences of Eden Hazard, Pedro, and Willian are keeping him out of the Starting XI more than many would like, though Sarri expects “in the near future probably he will start 75 or 80 per cent of matches.”

Borussia Dortmund has also been credited with an interest in Hudson-Odoi, no doubt aided by the massive success of import Jadon Sancho. The reality of Hudson-Odoi’s massive skill and young age means that Sarri is tactically correct to not force him to play just because he could be playing more elsewhere. Whether that ultimately costs Chelsea in their pursuit of keeping the youngster in blue is another story.

Prime minister May joins England players in calling for strong punishment

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LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday urged soccer authorities to take strong action against Montenegro after England players faced a torrent of racial abuse during a European Championship qualifying match.

UEFA charged the Montenegro Football Association over its fans’ racist behavior in Podgorica on Monday night after England players Callum Hudson-Odoi and Danny Rose complained about being targeted with monkey chants during the team’s 5-1 victory.

UEFA’s anti-discrimination group had sent a monitor to the game because there was judged to be a “high risk” of racism and their evidence will now feed into a disciplinary case that will be heard on May 16 by European soccer’s governing body.

The treatment of England players was debated in the House of Commons between discussions about the Brexit deadlock and there was an intervention from May’s Downing Street office.

“The abuse England players were subjected to last night was disgusting and completely unacceptable,” said James Slack, the prime minister’s spokesman. “It is right that UEFA are now investigating. We urge them to do this quickly and to take strong and swift action.”

In a sign of the extent of the racism problem in European soccer, UEFA announced a separate investigation on Tuesday into abuse aimed at Hudson-Odoi while playing for Chelsea. UEFA said it appointed an inspector to assess a complaint by Chelsea that the 18-year-old winger was targeted with racist insults by Dynamo Kiev fans during the London club’s 5-0 win in Ukraine in the Europa League.

“It is a disaster,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said of racism in European football. “I cannot believe these people still exist.”

In the Montenegro incident, the Fare network which monitors discrimination at games in Europe will provide evidence which could lead to a partial or full stadium closure for the team’s next Euro 2020 qualifier in June against Kosovo.

“We had an observer present who picked up evidence of racial abuse,” Fare said in a statement. “Our monitoring team have been compiling the evidence we have before presenting it to UEFA.

We commend the reaction of the England players involved, no human being should have to face abuse and vilification for their race or identity, something that many Montenegrins will understand from the divisive and bloody recent history of the Balkans.”

In one unsavory incident, England winger Raheem Sterling cupped his ears after scoring England’s fifth goal and Montenegro fans responded with jeers before an object — reportedly a lighter — was thrown onto the field. It was picked up by Hudson-Odoi.

“All of us know what skin color we are,” Sterling said after the game. “It’s not like you are telling us anything new.”

Hudson-Odoi, in another post-match interview, mimicked the monkey chants he and Rose heard.

“We hope that UEFA will act decisively, the sanctions that could be applied for an offense of this kind range from a partial stadium closure to full stadium closure,” Fare said in a statement. “These sanctions are being applied regularly for offenses in UEFA competitions, often against resistance from supporter groups and football stakeholders.

“The challenge of tackling racism and other forms of discrimination in European football however remains an ongoing issue. The societal change and education that is the ultimate solution is slow to take place. Even in the countries of Western Europe where there has been investment and focus on these issues, discrimination remains a stain on football.”

The Football Association of Montenegro said it was only “alleged” there was “racist behavior of few spectators” but committed to identifying anyone deemed responsible and banning them from all matches in the country.

“At the matches played by our respective national teams until now, we have not had any incidents related to religious, gender or racial discrimination and we are fully convinced that there will not be any such incidents in the future,” the federation said. “In a multicultural and multiethnic society as Montenegro is, there is not any space for such conduct, which was the feeling most intensively experienced by our guests from England during the previous two official matches they played in Podgorica.”

The English Football Association said much work is required to eradicate racism across the game.

“The issues we saw last night are not isolated to any specific country, and despite progress English football still has its own incidents of discrimination,” the FA said.

“Our experience is that by combining both sanctions and education, whilst working alongside campaigners such as Kick It Out, real progress can be made.”

EURO qualifying: France tops Iceland; England win marred by racism

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England and France made sure their EURO 2020 qualifying stayed on script, completing 6-point starts to the campaign on Monday.

[ MORE: USMNT-Chile preview ]

Montenegro 1-5 England

Sloppy English defending allowed Legia Warsaw man Marko Vesovic to put Montenegro ahead at Podgorica City Stadium, but the Three Lions sound found their footing.

Michael Keane scored his first England goal before Ross Barkley redirected a Callum Hudson-Odoi strike eight minutes later to give Gareth Southgate‘s men a 2-1 lead at the break.

Barkley completed his brace when Montenegro keeper Stefan Savic pushed a clearance of a Raheem Sterling cross back toward the Chelsea man. Harry Kane and Sterling also scored for the Three Lions.

Unfortunately, Danny Rose and several of his black England teammates were targeted by racists.

France 2-0 Iceland

Samuel Umtiti was the surprise goal scorer, heading home a Kylian Mbappe cross as hosts France were only able to break down Iceland on one occasion until the 68th minute.

That’s when Olivier Giroud moved into third place all-time on the French goal scoring list, behind only Michel Platini and Thierry Henry. The Chelsea man was in position to score when goalkeeper Hannes Thor Halldórsson made a mess of Benjamin Pavard’s cross.

Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann would also score in the win.

Giroud has six fewer goals than Platini, and is 16 behind Henry’s 51.

Elsewhere
Portugal 1-1 Serbia — Ronaldo hurt
Kosovo 1-1 Bulgaria
Luxembourg 1-2 Ukraine
Andorra 0-3 Albania
Turkey 4-0 Moldova