Wonderkids: Why Chelsea fans can finally get excited by Christian Pulisic

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In the penultimate edition of Weekend Wonderkids for the season we have two super keepers, a Real Madrid hopeful and Premier League stars – present and future.

The aim of this weekly column is to shed light on the players, aged 21 or under across Europe’s top five leagues, who aspire to lead the game into a bold new era.

The likes of Kylian Mbappe, Marcus Rashford and Ousmane Dembele are sure to regularly pop up but as every week passes, we hope to sift out a few starlets who may have gone unnoticed.

Without further ado, here’s our five picks from this weekend’s action.

Mark Travers (Bournemouth) Age: 19 Position: GK

Key stat: 1 – First clean sheet on first EPL appearance in 1-0 win v Tottenham

There’s no way to ease the nerves quite like witnessing not one, but two opposition players sent off on your Premier League debut – particularly when you’re a teenage goalkeeper facing Champions League semi-finalists. But that doesn’t tell even half the story.

While Mark Travers could afford to get his deckchair out in the second half against Spurs, he certainly wasn’t sunning himself before the break at Vitality Stadium. The Irishman, only 19, showed off feline agility to keep Dele Alli and Lucas Moura from hitting the back of the net.

It was not just the saves, either – on two occasions he came out of his area to sweep up loose ends and there were no signs of flappy hands in the box.

With Asmir Begovic and Artur Boruc unlikely to extend their stay on the south coast, Travers has a real chance of claiming the Cherries’ No.1 jersey. He had already been called up by an Ireland squad desperately short of up-and-coming talent.

How’s that for a bright future?

Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) Age: 20 Position: RB

Key stat: 11 – EPL assists this season after 3-2 win v Newcastle

Name a duo who love assists more than Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. The marauding full-backs account for the only defenders from a single team who have totted up 10 or more assists in a Premier League season.

Alexander-Arnold is still only 20 and can not only bend it like Beckham, but rack up assists like him too. Becks only surpassed a season’s tally of 11 three times in his career, and he wasn’t doing anywhere near the amount of defending Trent is tasked with.

His first assist in what was a dramatic victory over Newcastle was a corner launched onto the head of Virgil van Dijk, the beneficiary of some admittedly terrible marking.

He then nearly cleared up Dejan Lovren’s mess with a desperate block on the line (which just so happened to be handball …) before the Magpies scored their equaliser off the rebound, yet the Liverpool starlet came up good again shortly after with an incredible first-time cross for Mo Salah to tuck away.

On balance the Liverpudlian is not a particularly instinctive defender, but how many of the world’s best full-backs are? Indeed, Alexander-Arnold is fast becoming part of that particular conversation.

Bartlomiej Dragowski (Empoli) Age: 21 Position: GK

Key stat: 10 – saves on way to clean sheet in 1-0 win v Fiorentina

Dragowski shouldn’t have had a hope in this match. Fiorentina wasted a hatmaker’s shop full of chances without the big Pole needing to intervene against his parent club.

As it was, La Viola were left ruing that they did not insert a clause that would have barred him from playing in quite possibly the game of his young career so far.

The 21-year-old came alive shortly before the hour mark with a double save from Luis Muriel and Giovanni Simeone, before he flung out an ankle to deny Federico Chiesa from point-blank range.

He wasn’t done with Chiesa there as, in what was arguably the highlight of his show-reel, he hurled himself to the right and somehow thwarted a close-range header.

Dragowski had struggled to assert himself up against another young keeping talent in Alban Lafont at Fiorentina, but this was another swipe at his doubters – having already set the record for most saves in a Serie A match (17) in Empoli’s stalemate with Atalanta last month.

His heroics may both save Empoli from relegation and his Fiorentina career.

Oscar Rodriguez (Leganes) Age: 20 Position: CM

Key stat: 4 – league goals this season for Real Madrid loanee after 3-0 win v Sevilla

Oscar Rodriguez hopes his long-term future lies at a different venue in the Spanish capital, but he is currently enjoying a character-building stint at little old Leganes – who just so happened to topple a relative giant in Sevilla.

Sevilla, who at one point in the season were gunning at the top with Barcelona, were shot down in a dogged performance by Leganes in which Oscar was at the hub.

Leganes had just 35 per cent possession but Oscar made full use of the scraps he got, making the most successful dribbles (3) and shots on target (2), one of which he slotted home to wrap up a sensational 3-0 win.

Oscar is known as something of a set-piece extraordinaire back at Castilla but this has been a season of open play refinement in a relegation scrap for the attacking midfielder – and the pluck he’s shown may be worth a serious look from Zinedine Zidane.

Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund) Age: 20 Position: FW

Key stat: 6 shots and 5 successful dribbles in 2-2 draw with Werder Bremen

Christian Pulisic could well prove the only new face Chelsea will welcome during the summer transfer window, the club having confirmed the deal and sent him out on loan again before UEFA imposed a two-window transfer ban (that is still subject to appeal).

In truth there’s not been many highlights for Blues fans to froth over this season, as the USA international has been put firmly into the shade by English whippersnapper Jadon Sancho.

Pulisic, 20, has struggled through a multitude of muscle injuries this season – adding to doubts about his physicality for the Premier League – but he skipped past Werder Bremen brightly enough on Saturday.

In just his seventh Bundesliga start of the season, the winger made like Eden Hazard and stormed through the heart of Bremen’s defence from the centre circle before applying an exquisite finish.

Indeed he produced a stat line that mirrors Hazard on an average day – completing five dribbles, taking five fouls, and popping off three shots on target.

With Hazard likely out of the door over the summer, the 90 minutes will make for some measure of comfort for Chelsea fans. Not so for Dortmund, who could only draw and all but gave up the title to Bayern Munich.

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Liverpool star Mohamed Salah to miss Barcelona clash due to concussion

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Liverpool star Mohamed Salah will miss the Champions League semi-final second leg against Barcelona on Tuesday.

The Egyptian suffered a concussion after colliding with Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka during Liverpool’s 3-2 win at St. James’ Park and was stretchered off the field after receiving treatment.

Salah flew home to Liverpool with the rest of the squad after the match and was assessed by the team doctor on Sunday morning.

The 26-year-old will not be able to train until Saturday and could cast major doubt over his involvement in the final match of the season against Wolves on Sunday.

Salah now joins Roberto Firmino (groin) on the sidelines ahead of the clash against the La Liga champions.

“It’s a concussion so it’s a case of him not even being allowed to play,” said Klopp, whose side are 3-0 down after last week’s first leg in Spain.

“He feels OK but it’s not good enough from a medical point view, that’s all.”

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Pep Guardiola does not think Liverpool's defeat to Barcelona will affect title challenge

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Pep Guardiola does not think Liverpool’s title challenge will be affected by their Champions League defeat at Barcelona.

Liverpool were beaten 3-0 at the Nou Camp in the first leg of their semi-final in midweek.

They now need to refocus on the Premier League with a trip to Newcastle, for their penultimate fixture, on Saturday evening.

Victory would take the Merseysiders back to the top of the table ahead of City’s clash with Leicester on Monday.

City boss Guardiola said: “I think the game was incredibly good, both sides were incredible. Liverpool were outstanding.

“It was an incredible game, I enjoyed a lot watching it. I don’t think it will affect them really, they fought a lot for this season.

“I think it will be not easy at Newcastle – like Leicester will not be – but they will be well prepared to win there.”

Defeat for Liverpool would give City the chance to secure the title on Monday but Guardiola is not thinking about what it would mean to lift the silverware.
“From the beginning I’ve been asked this kind of question,” he said at his pre-match press conference.

“What we have to do is (play) Leicester. I’m really impressed, the last games, with what I saw about what they do, the quality they have. All we can do is focus on that.”

Guardiola expects a strong challenge from the Foxes, dismissing suggestions they have little to play for.

He said: “I cannot imagine the Leicester players come here for their holidays. Maybe they have a chance to finish seventh. It depends on other results but they will try to make a good game.”

Both Leicester and Newcastle are managed by former Liverpool bosses in Brendan Rodgers and Rafael Benitez respectively but Guardiola insists that is irrelevant this weekend.

He said: “It’s the same, Brendan and Rafa were in Liverpool but it’s in the past. They’ll want to win.

“I cannot imagine going to a former club and not wanting to win, even if I do not have to win. They have the prestige. I don’t have doubts about that.

“It (makes) no sense this kind of question. The players and manager will want to win. All of them want to do a good performance.”

Provided by Press Association Sport 

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