Chelsea Must Not Stunt Growth of Current Starlets With Influx Superstars

Christian Pulisic
West Ham United v Chelsea FC – Premier League | Michael Regan/Getty Images

It’s an exciting time to be a Blue. Frank Lampard, club legend is at the wheel, a dynamic and bold crop of academy products are blessing Stamford Bridge on a weekly basis, and the west Londoners are being linked with Europe’s elite talents.

TImo Werner and Hakim Ziyech have already signed on the dotted line to join the Lampard revolution, and the gifted name of Kai Havertz is also being tipped to make the familiar trip from the Bundesliga to the Premier League this summer.

Timo WernerTimo Werner
FC Augsburg v RB Leipzig – Bundesliga | Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

It’s very exciting indeed. But with Chelsea flexing their financial muscles in this coming transfer window, they should do so with a degree of caution. The Premier League giants are already home to some of football’s greatest starlets, and with their young boss keen to help them grow into the next group of superstars, recruitment must be necessary, and not opportunistic.

Now, we’re not saying ‘Chelsea don’t need Havertz because they have Ross Barkley’, don’t get it twisted. But the likes of Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham must be wondering what future they possess at Stamford Bridge with this summer’s influx of offensive jewels.

And before we all start drawing up ideal Chelsea XI’s for next season, sporting adventurous 2-4-4 formations or Ziyech in the holding midfield role, we should accept that some of these stars are going to miss out on regular football. There’s no other way around it.

The Blues are blessed with a posse of wide players who boast bags of talent and energy, and that was summed up by the brilliant Pulisic on Saturday evening. The American orchestrated the 3-0 win over Watford from wide, torturing his marker and generally being a pest for his entire time on the field.

The winger won a penalty for the second goal, could well have won another late in the second half, and carved out chance after chance for his teammates. It speaks volumes of a player when he can be so selfless on the ball, yet still be the standout performer by a country mile.

Whisper it quietly, but there were shades of Eden Hazard in the 21-year-old’s dominance and authority on the pitch. He’s got so much time to improve, too.

WillianWillian
Chelsea FC v Watford FC – Premier League | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

But Pulisic was not alone in excelling. In a summer where transfers may be hard to pull off, with teams uncertain on their finances due to the coronavirus crisis, Chelsea already own a brilliant alternative in the form of Willian.

Although he is advancing in years, and can flit in and out of games, the 31-year-old provides an experienced head in a team of youth and vibrance. Is it really worth splashing £60m on another forward, when that money could be put to better use in the defensive half of the field?

That’s a question for the Chelsea board to answer, as they line up their targets for the summer window. But Lampard should be satisfied with the attacking options at his disposal, especially given that his backline has been the cause of his headaches throughout the season.

In the end, the bottom line for their spending spree should be: strengthen where necessary, and utilise what they have. But most of all – protect and nurture Pulisic at all costs, the boy is special.

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Chelsea 3-0 Watford: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Blues Reclaim Top Four Spot With Comfortable Victory

Olivier Giroud
Chelsea FC v Watford FC – Premier League | Pool/Getty Images

Chelsea rejoined the Premier League’s top four on Saturday evening, claiming a comfortable 3-0 win over relegation-threatened Watford.

The Blues dominated the opening stages, and they took the lead just after the cooling break, when Ross Barkley slipped a sneaky ball through to Olivier Giroud, who produced a perfect finish into Ben Foster’s far-left corner.

Olivier GiroudOlivier Giroud
Chelsea FC v Watford FC – Premier League | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

And Frank Lampard’s men doubled their advantage just before half-time, when Willian calmly slotted home from the penalty spot, after Christian Pulisic had been fouled in the box. Chelsea continued to control proceedings in the second half, limiting Watford to speculative efforts from distance, rarely troubling Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Ross Barkley added a third in injury time, rifling home from eight yards out to hand Chelsea the three points, and send the Blues back into the Champions League qualification places.

Key Talking Point

It’s no secret that Chelsea have struggled massively from set-pieces this season – boasting the second worst record at defending corners in the whole of Europe. So, all eyes were on Frank Lampard’s backline selections, as he attempted to combat this serious frailty.

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FBL-ENG-PR-CHELSEA-WATFORD | GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

Facing a strong, tall, physical team like Watford was a real baptism of fire for this new-look defence. But when they so easily could have sunk, the youthful rearguard swam. The first goal was always going to be vital in this game, and until taking the lead, Chelsea defended manfully, repelling every high ball, cross, corner and free-kick that came their way.

Zouma and Christensen nullified the physical presence of Ismaila Sarr and Troy Deeney in attack, reducing the duo to committing a series of fouls, before the latter was quickly subbed in the second half. Height and strength did the trick.

Starting XI: Kepa (7); James (7), Christensen (8), Zouma (8), Azpilicueta (8); Kante (7), Mount (8), Barkley (8); Willian (7), Pulisic (9), Giroud (8).

Substitutes: Abraham (6), Loftus-Cheek (6), Hudson-Odoi (6), Gilmour (6).

Can you remember when there were rumours swirling that Pulisic was unhappy at Chelsea and wasn’t good enough? No, me neither. The winger eventually found his feet in the Premier League, and from that moment on, he hasn’t looked back. And once again, he was the difference-maker against Watford on Saturday.

Pulisic buzzed around the Hornets’ final third, nipping in between defenders and allowing the opposing backline no time to rest on their laurels. And he was equally devastating on the ball, too. The American was neat and tidy in possession, stretching the Watford defence when given the chance, and it was his quick feet which earned Chelsea the decisive penalty. Once he gets going, there’s simply no stopping him.

The Blues have got some serious talent arriving in the summer, but Pulisic is becoming undroppable.

Key Talking Point

Watford just haven’t got going since football returned. The Hornets had picked up one point from three matches before their trip to Stamford Bridge, and with time running out to pull clear of the drop, we were keen to see how Nigel Pearson’s men would respond.

Christian Pulisic, Etienne CapoueChristian Pulisic, Etienne Capoue
Chelsea FC v Watford FC – Premier League | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The Premier League strugglers were well in the game until the first drinks break, competing fiercely with the Blues all over the pitch. But Pearson’s men fell behind to a nicely-worked Giroud strike just before the half-hour mark, and it was all up hill from then on. In fact, Watford crumbled and posed very little threat to the hosts, in another worryingly limp display. Pearson may not have expected to get a result from this particular match, but time is running out at the bottom end of the table.

Starting XI: Foster (8); Femenia (5), Mariappa (5), Dawson (6), Kabasele (5); Hughes (6), Doucoure (5), Capoue (5), Chalobah (5), Sarr (5); Deeney (6).

Substitutes: Welbeck (5), Masina (5), Cleverley (5), Pereyra (N/A).

How many goals would this Watford team have conceded without Foster protecting their goal? The 37-year-old is still one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, and he showed his skills time and time again on Saturday evening. The Hornets were completely overrun by a superb Chelsea side, and once they fell behind, the floodgates opened.

Ben Foster, Olivier Giroud, Craig DawsonBen Foster, Olivier Giroud, Craig Dawson
Chelsea FC v Watford FC – Premier League | Pool/Getty Images

Watford sat deeper and deeper, drawing pressure on themselves, and fortunately Foster was in typically brilliant form to deny the Blues an even greater lead. The ex-Man Utd star kept out several efforts from Giroud and Willian, pulling off a string of fine saves along the way. Ultimately, he couldn’t prevent his side from slipping to another defeat, but with Foster in the way, Watford always stand a chance in this relegation battle.

Chelsea’s quest for Champions League qualification faces another tough test, when the Blues travel to Crystal Palace on Tuesday evening.

Watford continue their relegation scrap with a home tie against bottom of the table Norwich City on Tuesday, as Pearson aims to help drag the Hornets away from the drop zone.

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Praises ‘Exceptional’ Man Utd & Assures Mason Greenwood Will Be a First-Team Regular

Bruno Fernandes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth – Premier League | Pool/Getty Images

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer praised Manchester United’s five-star display against Bournemouth on Saturday evening, claiming it was a performance ‘the Stretford End would have enjoyed.’

The Red Devils fell behind early on to the Cherries, but the hosts’ attacking superstars demonstrated their class from then on, blowing their struggling opponents away and running out 5-2 winners at Old Trafford.

Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth  - Premier LeagueManchester United v AFC Bournemouth  - Premier League
Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth – Premier League | Pool/Getty Images

And coach Solskjaer was thrilled with his side’s free-flowing display, crediting his players for their ‘great attacking football,’ and claiming that you ‘can see the atmosphere within the team’ in their recent victories, as cited on the club’s website.

Here are the best bits from the Norwegian boss’ post-match comments for you to enjoy.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Eddie HoweOle Gunnar Solskjaer, Eddie Howe
Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth – Premier League | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

“It’s exciting. Great attacking football, some fantastic goals. It’s too bad our fans couldn’t be here and spur us on because you can see the energy in the team, you can see the atmosphere within the team, but, if that crowd is here, that lifts you even more.

“That’s a game for the fans, that’s one the Stretford End would have enjoyed. It could have been six or seven or eight then, so, of course, it’s a strange feeling playing in front of no-one, but I think the team is doing exceptional. I think they’re doing whatever they can to create that atmosphere themselves.”

Paul PogbaPaul Pogba
Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth – Premier League | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Although the 5-2 scoreline highlights how simple the victory was for the Red Devils in the end, they didn’t have it all their own way, falling behind at the start. But the hosts reacted quickly and turned the game around, much to their coach’s delight.

“Well, we didn’t come straight back, but there was no panic. We just have to play and play, and trust the way that they have performed and played lately.

“I think it’s been very exciting to watch the front players of course, but they get delivery from behind. They get passes, assists, they get balls to work with and we’ll keep on working, keep trying to improve for next time.”

Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba, Bruno FernandesMarcus Rashford, Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes
Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth – Premier League | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

At the heart of Man Utd’s incredible run of form, are their relentless goalscorers, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood, who all found the net on Saturday. But Solskjaer was keen to praise the men supplying his forwards, singling out Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes for their stellar displays.

“Well we know that they [Rashford, Martial and Greenwood] can score goals, we know that they’ve got pace, energy, they’re youthful, they’ll learn, they’ll improve and, of course, with the players that we have that can provide the passes with Paul [Pogba] and Bruno [Fernandes], and the creativity that we’ve got in the team now is exciting.”

But teenager Greenwood did earn his own special mention, with his boss describing him as ‘a very talented boy’ and promising to put him in the team as often as possible.

“Yeah, he’s a fantastic goalscorer and the moments he chose the goals for us today were very important moments, especially the second one.

“You know he has a left foot to come inside but I think defenders will have to think about the outside because he can score with his right foot too. He’s a very talented boy and we’ll just nurture him as well as we can, and give him more and more minutes.”

Fernandes got his name on the score sheet with a delicious free-kick, and Solskjaer shared his pride in the strike, and also for Martial and Rashford, who both reached 20 goals each this season.

Bruno FernandesBruno Fernandes
Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth – Premier League | Pool/Getty Images

“What a goal and Bruno’s free-kick of course! Anto (Martial) has done that before, but today was a sweet strike and he’s just got to 20 (goals).

“Marcus got to 20, so the two of them can settle down a little bit with that and don’t have to chase that next goal, because that is a milestone for everyone.”

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Bayer Leverkusen 2-4 Bayern Munich: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Lewandowski’s Brace Seals Domestic Double

Robert Lewandowski
Bayern celebrate another DFB Pokal Cup-final win | Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Robert Lewandowski took his goal tally to 51 for the 2019/20 season with a second-half brace as Bayern Munich secured yet another domestic double.

Die Roten made a perfect start when David Alaba curled in a free-kick past Lukas Hradecky to give them the lead. And minutes later, they were two goals up, after Serge Gnabry drilled the ball into the net following Joshua Kimmich’s inch-perfect pass.

Leon Bailey had Leverkusen’s best chance of the half when he fired over from close range, and it was one of the few opportunities they had as they were completely shut out by Bayern in the first 45 minutes.

Despite Peter Bosz’s side playing with a greater intensity after the break, Lewandowski made Hradecky pay with a first-time shot that the goalkeeper somehow managed to bundle into his own goal. But their opponents refused to give up, and Sven Bender’s header gave them some hope that they could make an unlikely comeback.

Yet Bayern’s Polish figurehead netted his 51st goal not long afterwards, and despite Kai Havertz’s late penalty, it was not enough to stop Hans-Dieter Flick’s side from picking up a record 20th DFB-Pokal.

Key Talking Point

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Was this Havertz’ last game for Leverkusen? | ROBERT MICHAEL/Getty Images

Was this to be Kai Havertz’s final game for Leverkusen? The sought-after attacking midfielder has been linked to Chelsea, Real Madrid and also their final opponents – so there were many keen to watch his performance, including Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

Unfortunately for his suitors, he couldn’t get himself into the game from the start. The 21-year-old was given little space and time to exert any influence, with his team completely nullified by Die Roten’s backline. It looked to be a frustrating outing for him as Peter Bosz’s side struggled to get out of their own half throughout the first period.

In the second period, he seemed much more involved, as his team came out with a greater intensity and energy in their attacks. With Kevin Volland taking on the centre-forward role, the German international was freed up to roam around the final third and increasingly became a threat for Leverkusen.

Havertz would eventually got his goal through a late penalty, netting with what may be his final kick for Bosz’s side as rumours around his future will continue to swirl in the summer.

Starting XI: Hradecky (6); L Bender (6), S Bender (7), Tapsoba (6), Wendell (5); Aránguiz (7), Baumgartlinger (6); Diaby (7), Amiri (6), Bailey (7); Havertz (6).

Substitutes: Volland (6), Demirbay (6), Bellarabi (6), Weiser (N/A).

While his team struggled at times, winger Leon Bailey was one of the few to shine, and gave Benjamin Pavard all sorts of problems on the left-wing.

The Jamaican had his side’s best chance in the first-half, and he was a constant threat as his team began to regain control after the break.

Key Talking Point

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Flick has been instrumental in Bayern’s domestic double | ROBERT MICHAEL/Getty Images

It’s been a remarkable season for Bayern, who have gone unbeaten in all competitions since December, and have manager Hans-Dieter Flick to thank for bringing them back to their best.

The 55-year-old has restored the huge attacking threat of this team, while also making them a difficult one to score against. On Saturday evening it was no different, with the midfield pair of Kimmich and Leon Goretzka untroubled in dictating the tempo of the game. The frightening pace of Alphonso Davies and Gnabry was on show once again, while David Alaba was as solid as ever in defence.

And up front, the sensational goalscoring of Lewandowski doesn’t hurt either, with the Pole’s second-half strikes illustrating just how potent and lethal he can continue to be for Die Roten.

It’s hard to see how the Bundesliga champions aren’t favourites for another title next season, and with Flick at the helm, they could arguably be considered Europe’s best side ahead of the Champions League’s restart in August.

Starting XI: Neuer (6); Pavard (6), Boateng (6), Alaba (7), Davies (7); Kimmich (8*), Goretzka (7); Gnabry (7), Müller (7), Coman (6); Lewandowski (8).

Substitutes: Periši? (6), Hernandez (6), Coutinho (N/A), Thiago (N/A).

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Kimmich was brilliant in Bayern’s midfield | ANNEGRET HILSE/Getty Images

Helping to dictate the game from midfield, Joshua Kimmich showed just why he’s considered one of the best central midfielders in the world with another superb display.

His defensive work was terrific in keeping Leverkusen quiet in the first-half, while his assist for Gnabry’s goal was inch-perfect, showing just what a talent Bayern have in the centre of the park.

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Real Madrid’s Squad Depth Will Be Tested in Bilbao

Sergio Ramos, Rodrygo Goes, Karim Benzema, Marco Asensio
Real Madrid take on Athletic Club on Sunday | Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Real Madrid have shown that they really mean business since play got back underway.

Indeed, Los Blancos have wasted no time in getting into their stride since the restart, winning all six games. Zinedine Zidane’s men have bagged 12 goals during this time, while they have conceded just the twice. In fact, they have kept clean sheets in their last three matches.

Zinedine ZidaneZinedine Zidane
Zidane’s men have been in fine form since the restart | Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Even in games when Real haven’t exactly looked at their best since the resumption of play, such as last time out against Getafe, they have found a way to win.

That is what championship-winning teams do.

But Los Blancos’ next clash will be another fierce test of their title credentials as they travel to take on Athletic Club on Sunday. Not only have Athletic proven to be a very tough opponent, especially at home, Zinedine Zidane will be without two key players.

Raphael Varane and Eden Hazard will both miss Sunday’s game due to injury. Varane was forced off with a head injury during Los Blancos’ last game against Getafe, with Eder Militao coming on to replace him. Hazard, meanwhile, was thought to have been rested for the clash with Getafe, after being left out of the squad altogether, but Zidane recently explained that the Belgium international has been suffering with various niggling injuries.

The winger will not be available for selection against Athletic Club, but Zidane has admitted that he hopes to have him back before the end of the season.

Indeed, since play got back underway, Hazard has looked much more like his former self, contributing two assists in his four appearances. Overall, he has looked sharp, using his dazzling feet and skill to skip away from defenders and cause danger.

As for Varane, his importance to the Real Madrid team cannot be understated. The World Cup winner remains a criminally underrated footballer, with his composure, speed and ability to read the game allowing him to constantly sniff out danger. Varane has formed a stellar partnership at the back with Sergio Ramos, providing the foundations from which Zidane has been able to build upon.

Raphael VaraneRaphael Varane
Varane’s presence at the back will be missed against Athletic Club | David Ramos/Getty Images

As a result, the loss of both players will come as a major blow to Zidane – but it provides an opportunity for other squad members to step up and play a key role in taking another step towards the league title.

Militao will come into the side at the back to partner Ramos, and he will have a point to prove. The Brazilian replaced Varane after he came off in the last game and while he initially looked calm and composed, he struggled in the latter stages of the game.

It will be up to Ramos and those around Militao to provide him with the confidence he needs to settle and perform his duties to the best of his ability. Picking up all three points against Athletic Club will be crucial, but Real have shown time and time again this season that it is their defensive solidity which has provided them with the right platform they need to go on and claim all three points.

Nemanja Maksimovic, Eder MilitaoNemanja Maksimovic, Eder Militao
Militao is expected to start on Sunday | Angel Martinez/Getty Images

In attack, Isco and Vinicius Junior struggled to get involved against Getafe, despite the fact the hosts dominated possession. Los Blancos were missing Hazard’s ability to create a yard of space for himself and either supply a fellow forward or go for goal himself – but Real found a way to win.

It, of course, isn’t ideal for Zidane, but all title-winning teams are required to use their squad depth throughout a season. And the Frenchman will be looking to the likes of Rodrygo, Isco and Vinicius to step up and deliver in what is expected to be a very tough game against Athletic Club.

This is a team who have beaten Barcelona at home this season, while they have also held Atletico Madrid at their ground. They come into the game in good form as well and will be looking to pick up a positive result as they look to finish the 2019/20 season strongly.

But Real Madrid have more than enough quality to pick up all three points. In the latest – and perhaps the fiercest – test of their title credentials, Zidane’s men will have to handle the pressure, the opposition as well as the loss of two star players, if they wish to move seven points clear at the top ahead of Barcelona’s match.

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