Ampadu is a future world-beater & Chelsea are right to tie him down

It felt fitting that Ethan Ampadu signed a new contract with Chelsea on the eve of the club’s Europa League opener, against PAOK FC on Thursday.

The second-tier tournament may be derided by some but it offers the 18-year-old his best chance of proving himself worthy of more regular game time at Stamford Bridge.

One wouldn’t bet against him. After all, Ampadu has already been making headlines at international level.

A stunning assist for Aaron Ramsey in Wales’ 4-1 win over Republic of Ireland earlier this month underlined that the versatile midfielder belongs at the highest level.

But then, that has long been obvious to anyone who has been tracking the development of a player that broke into Exeter’s Under-18 side at just 14.

He was still only a boy, yet to take his school exams, when he lined out for the senior squad, too, aged 15 years, 10 months and 26 years old – making him the youngest player in the club’s history.

Ampadu was promptly snapped up by Chelsea, where he quickly came to the attention of former manager Antonio Conte, who knew right away that the Blues had a prodigiously gifted talent on their hands.

Ampadu was fast-tracked into the first team, handed his debut in an EFL Cup clash with Nottingham Forest 12 months ago. Six more first-team appearances followed and he became the second-youngest player to play in the Premier League for Chelsea when he came off the bench against Huddersfield Town in December of last year.

Conte’s exit during the summer may have looked like bad news for Ampadu but new boss Maurizio Sarri utilised him a lot in pre-season.

The former Napoli coach Sarri has yet to pick him in the Premier League but he has been very vocal in his admiration of Ampadu and it was telling that the youngster was included in the Italian’s Europa League squad, unlike £35 million midfielder Danny Drinkwater.

Ethan Ampadu Chelsea

Indeed, if, as expected, Sarri makes wholesale changes to the side that defeated Cardiff 4-1 at the weekend, Ampadu is likely to start in midfield on Thursday, especially as Ruben Loftus-Cheek is set to miss the game in Greece after picking up an injury on international duty.

Ampadu has also previously been employed in defence but Exeter’s former Director of Football Steve Perryman believes that the hometown hero has always been destined to play in the middle of the park, arguing that the teenager is an all-round talent.

“In a midfield three, sometimes you have one who just defends, one who just gets forward and one who does a bit of both,” Perryman told Goal. “My opinion is that Ethan would be one who does a bit of both.

“When he is playing against players who are a lot older, like he has always done so far, I think he is better coming onto the ball and playing in defence. He can play in a three or a two and he will be better in that position until he gets older. 

“But I have the confidence that he can handle it [at Chelsea] as a midfielder. His big advantage is that he makes good decisions. Pass it left or right, dribble? He will always make the best call.”

Ethan Ampadu Chelsea PS

Ampadu is obviously still developing, so he needs regular game time to hone his skills. Both Neil Warnock of Cardiff City and Frank Lampard at Derby County have recently admitted to trying to take Chelsea’s next big thing on loan for the season.

The Blues refused and although that will prompt concerns that he could go the way of many other academy products by spending more time on the bench than on the pitch during his key, formative years, everyone at Stamford Bridge believes that Ampadu is capable of becoming a first-team regular.

“Ethan has shown great potential and unbelievable maturity since arriving at Chelsea a year ago,” club director Marina Granovskaia enthused after the player had penned a new five-year contract on Wednesday.

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“In this short time he convinced a lot of people with his exceptional quality and mentality and we look forward to watching him develop into a key player for the club over the coming years.”

Chelsea have a history of discarding world-class talent, such as Mohamed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. However, the contract extension is clear proof that the Blues will not make the same mistake with Ampadu.

They know they have a potential world-beater on their hands. The Europa League offers Ampadu a welcome opportunity to prove it.

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Balotelli backed by Nice team-mate amid overweight claims

Nice striker Mario Balotelli has been backed by midfielder Pierre Lees-Melou after reports that the former Manchester City star reported for pre-season training overweight.

Balotelli scored 26 goals in 38 games for the Ligue 1 club last season, as they finished eighth.

However, reports claimed that he returned from his holidays weighing 103 kilograms, with his ideal weight said to be nearer to 86kg.

Balotelli took to social media to rubbish the rumours, writing on Instagram: “Fined for being overweight? Look at my physique! It makes me laugh hearing things like that about my weight.

“P*** off with your invented rubbish.”

And Lees Melou has now echoed his team-mate’s sentiments, insisting that he is training well.

“He is doing well and he is working a lot,” said the 25-year-old midfielder, per RMC Sport.

“If you see him, you’ll see him for yourself. He works very well, he is very fit and very sharp, so I do not worry about him.”

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Balotelli missed the first three games of the season through suspension but was left out against Rennes because of a calf injury after featuring in the 1-0 win over Lyon.

“Of course, we all know Mario,” Melou added.

“We know the good he has done in the different clubs he has played, and also in Nice, but he is coming back.”

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Fulham v Watford Betting Tips: Latest odds, team news, preview and predictions

Watford will aim to make an immediate return to winning ways when they travel to take on Fulham at Craven Cottage.

The Hornets had won each of their opening four fixtures in the top flight this term before being beaten by Manchester United at Vicarage Road last weekend.

Fulham fell to a 3-0 defeat against Manchester City last time out but, back on home soil, Slavisa Jokanovic’s charges will have their sights firmly fixed on securing their third competitive win of the season on their own patch.

Latest odds

The Cottagers can be backed at 7/5 (2.40) with William Hill to win this weekend, while the odds compilers offer 5/2 (3.50) that these two teams are forced to settle for a share of the spoils.

Roberto Pereyra Watford

Watford are chalked up as a 9/5 (2.80) chance with William Hill to take all three points when they visit West London on Saturday afternoon.

Team news

With seven goals in his last 10 matches for club and country, Aleksandar Mitrovic will pose the main threat for the hosts, who have no fresh injury concerns.

The Hornets have a fully fit squad to choose from ahead of their trip to Craven Cottage.

Goals galore?

Fulham Watford graphic

There has been no shortage of excitement in Fulham’s matches on their return to the top tier of English football, with 19 goals being seen in their five Premier League matches thus far this term.

The Hornets have both scored and conceded in each of their last four league games and William Hill go 8/13 (1.62) that there are goals at both ends in this game, while the same firm go 8/11 (1.73) that there are at least three goal.

Prediction

Fulham scored three first half goals in their last Premier League match at Craven Cottage – a 4-2 win against Burnley.

Jokanovic’s team will be targeting another fast start this time around and William Hill’s even money (2.0) quote that the hosts find the net before the break could represent good value for this weekend.

Betting Banner - Best BetFulham to score in the first half at even money (2.0) for a 2pt stake with William Hill

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Matthaus expecting three-way race for Bundesliga title

Former Germany international Lothar Matthaus expects a tight Bundesliga title race this season.

Bayern won the league by 21 points last season, collecting 84 points, while nearest challengers Schalke won just 63.

Nevertheless, Matthaus believes that both Borussia Dortmund, who finished fourth, and Wolfsburg, who amazingly survived relegation by beating Holstein Kiel 4-1 on aggregate in the play-offs, can challenge Niko Kovac’s men for the title this time around.

Indeed, Wolfsburg signed as many as seven players in the summer, and Matthaus has been impressed with their dealings.

“All great team goes through cycles of success and failure, and Bayern has seen a lot of success in recent years thanks to Jupp Heynckes, Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola, so it will be interesting to see if Bayern can defend their title, as they are undergoing a transition, with new coach Niko Kovac,” he told Goal in an exclusive interview.

“Since this season, Bayern have increasingly relied on young talents.

“An example of this is the departure of Arturo Vidal and the commitment of Leon Goretzka. As the first few games have shown, this strategy seems to work and Bayern is currently the league leader.

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“But they can´t rest, because the newly established BVB and revived VfL Wolfsburg are close to their heels. I expect an exciting season.”

Bayern – who travel to Schalke on Saturday – have won their first three Bundesliga games, while Dortmund and Wolfsburg have each picked up two victories and a draw.

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Neymar, Mbappe and Cavani slammed by Papin: They’re not heroes, they’re egos!

Paris Saint-Germain trio Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani have to put their personal ambitions aside if the club is to win the Champions League, 1991 Ballon d’Or winner Jean-Pierre Papin has said.

The three stars are the most expensively assembled frontline in the history of football, yet their impact on Tuesday’s Champions League clash was negligible as the Parisians suffered a 3-2 defeat.

While PSG coach Thomas Tuchel lamented that the result was not a just one , Papin wants to see the forward players help their team-mates out more.

“With PSG, they’re not heroes, they’re egos,” he told Le Parisien . “At some point, whatever your status is, you have to serve the team.

“There’s a difference between stars we see abroad and those we have in France. In France, we’ve got the impression that they’re impossible to manage. Why can Liverpool put their players into line and not here? When Neymar was playing with Barcelona, he defended from time to time…”

Papin, who enjoyed a playing career starring with Marseille and AC Milan among others, believes the forwards must change their mentality.

“Quality is permanent, it’s in the DNA of these players,” he continued. “There’s no problem there.

“But they must come together, let everyone around him benefit from their qualities. They cannot care who the star of the team is. The club’s project is to win the Champions League. If the players don’t have that in their head, they’ll never win it.”

He is, however, optimistic that one good result could change everything.

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Asked what the trio are missing, the 1992-93 Champions League winner with Marseille replied: “The type of match that serves as a switch. At PSG, they’ve never beaten a great team together. They are so strong…

“The only cement that’s missing is, after having crushed everything in France, wanting to crush everything in Europe.

“When I was at Marseille, every time we went to play a big European team, we went to beat them. Yes, in terms of footballing and technical qualities, they are much better than us, but in mindset we were stronger.”
 

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