Thomas Tuchel plans to push Tammy Abraham "to his limits" and remains convinced he can get the best out of the striker at Chelsea.

Abraham is the Blues' top scorer in all competitions this season but was an unused substitute as Chelsea defeated Atletico Madrid 1-0 in their Champions League last-16 first-leg tie last week.

The England striker did not even make the bench for Sunday's drab goalless draw against Manchester United with Olivier Giroud – the match-winner versus Atleti – chosen to lead the line and Timo Werner coming off the bench. 

Abraham had previously made five appearances, four from the start, and scored once since Tuchel was chosen as Frank Lampard's successor towards the end of January.

Tuchel insists Abraham's omission is not a punishment and merely a reflection of the strength in depth currently at his disposal.

"I think [I can get the best out of him], and this is my job to push him to his limits," Tuchel said at a news conference previewing Thursday's trip to Anfield to face Liverpool.

"We will not stop doing this in supporting him. This was a tough decision, but when things are like now, with hopefully nobody injured, we have these decisions to make.

"It's a part of my job which I do not like, but at the same time I like because it means we have everybody available. And then you have to make these decisions, which we communicate normally clearly.

"We have to cut it down to 18 players, so in the end it's not always a punishment or a signal to a player who is not in the squad.

"And in this case it was exactly like this. It was not a punishment or a signal, it was just a choice from the alternatives, on which position, who starts, who could come from the bench."

HOW DOES ABRAHAM RANK AGAINST OTHER OPTIONS?

Since breaking into the first team at Stamford Bridge at the start of last season, Abraham has been a bit of an anomaly in the sense he seems to regularly score goals, yet has never quite had the complete trust in his ability to perform consistently at an elite level.

But is that fair? 

Well, the evidence this season suggests Abraham has shown he is good enough to lead the line, albeit - perhaps unsurprisingly - there are areas of his game that need to improve. 

Abraham's 12 goals across all competitions is the highest among Chelsea players this season, with Giroud on 11 and Werner on 10.  

A shot-conversion rate of 25.53 per cent ranks third for the team. Only Giroud (27.5) and Jorginho (50) are above him, while Werner (13.3) – whose own issues in front of goal have been well documented during his debut campaign in England – is down in ninth. 

Abraham's 47 shots and 21 on target are the third and second best in the respective categories, with Werner (75 and 34) top in both. Giroud (40 and 20) is fourth and third. 

In terms of shooting accuracy, Abraham (51.22 per cent) languishes down the list for the Chelsea squad, well below the accuracy displayed by both Giroud (60.61) and Werner (58.62). 

However, he is top for Opta-defined big-chances scored on 10 (Werner and Giroud are on eight and six apiece), while his big-chance conversion rate of 62.5 per cent is substantially better than Giroud (42.86) and Werner (30.77) 

And his average of a goal every 126.58 minutes is comfortably ahead of Werner at 255.9, although Giroud's stands at an impressive 96.91. 

So, just what is Abraham missing right now? 

"He lacks a little bit of luck, Tammy, not only in games but also in training," Tuchel explained. 

"And once the last touch comes back, and he's fighting for it now, he will stay a player that we will push for."

Thomas Tuchel is resigned to losing out in the fashion stakes to Olivier Giroud but he rhapsodised about the Frenchman giving Chelsea a winning edge ahead of a "huge" fixture.

Manchester United head to Stamford Bridge on Sunday, with the Red Devils still unbeaten on their Premier League travels this season.

Tuchel may be new to the Premier League but he is no stranger to United, having faced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team with Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.

His PSG side twice lost to United at the Parc des Princes but won on both of their visits to Old Trafford.

"We hope we can turn this around and win at home," Tuchel said on Friday.

If Chelsea are to continue their impressive progress since Tuchel's January appointment, it may fall to the likes of Giroud to make the difference, just as he did with a spectacular overhead kick winner against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

Sunday's Bridge battle could see Giroud on one side and Tuchel's former PSG frontman Edinson Cavani in the United ranks, both 34-year-old strikers with a point to prove.

"Look at them when they switch shirts - they are totally fit, their fitness is key," Tuchel said. "Oli is 100 per cent fit, zero body fat, the same as Edi.

"Edi is a player, like Oli, who as a number nine is always concerned about the team, always ready to suffer for the team, always ready to sacrifice and always ready to do runs to open spaces, always ready to defend with the team.

"This is the characteristic of them both and then in the box they're both excellent finishers, they have the experience, they don't get nervous, they have the composure.

"For me, their fitness and their self-discipline is key to their success."

Tuchel knows he cannot compete with the suave looks and man-about-town fashion style of Giroud, who he described as "a leader" within his squad.

"I try to close the gap," he said. "At the moment it's not possible because I arrived with only one suitcase, so there's no chance for me.

"I will have to trust you that the guy is top-notch and highest level. I will try to close the gap, so it's not embarrassing for Oli that I'm his coach."

Tuchel stopped short of promising Giroud a starting role against United, but he would clearly have no reservations about the striker's credentials for such an important game.

"He's used to playing a high rhythm, he's used to playing Premier League, and this helps him a lot to be on this level," Tuchel said.

"He's in a fantastic mood every day to push everybody around him, to win every little game we do in training and be very positive with everybody around him."

Chelsea will be without centre-back Thiago Silva, who has been absent for three weeks with a thigh injury but managed an individual training session on Friday and is making "big progress", according to Tuchel.

The Blues' boss was typically complimentary of a United side he knows well, declaring they can "hurt you any second with individual quality and speed".

Chelsea go into the game six points behind United, who head into the weekend in second place. The Blues went down 2-0 to United at Stamford Bridge last season and have not lost consecutive home Premier League games against the Red Devils since October 1995.

In all competitions, United have won their past three away games against Chelsea, winning in the FA Cup in February 2019, EFL Cup in October 2019 and Premier League in February 2020. They have never won four in a row away against Chelsea.

"If we get a win out of this game it will be huge for us," Tuchel added. "If they can a win it will be huge for them to put a difference between us, to increase the difference."

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel hailed his players after the English club took control of their Champions League last-16 tie against Atletico Madrid.

Olivier Giroud's stunning overhead kick secured a 1-0 victory over Atletico in the opening leg of the European matchup on Tuesday – the match played in Bucharest due to coronavirus travel restrictions between the United Kingdom and Spain.

Chelsea dominated proceedings against the LaLiga leaders as Tuchel continued his fine run since replacing Frank Lampard last month.

Former Paris Saint-Germain head coach Tuchel has conceded just two goals in eight games as Chelsea manager – the only coach in the club's history to concede fewer goals after eight games in charge is Jose Mourinho (one).

Tuchel credited his players post-match, telling reporters: "I am super happy for my players and the team for such a big reward. We actually can read it on the score line that we have the result against top opponents.

"It was very important that we are absolutely concentrated over all 96 minutes. That we also accept that it’s very hard to create chances, but we did all that and it was a very good team effort."

While Tuchel became only the second manager in Champions League history to manage two different clubs within a single season after Ronald Koeman in 2007-08 (PSV and Valencia), Chelsea forward Giroud claimed a record of his own.

Aged 34 years and 146 days, Giroud became the oldest player to score a Champions League knockout goal for Chelsea, and the oldest to do so for an English side since Ryan Giggs (37) for Manchester United in April 2011.

Giroud's spectacular 68th-minute goal was initially disallowed for offside before VAR intervened.

"I'm not proud of [Giroud's goal] because I had nothing to do with it," Tuchel said. "So it was not my achievement. He can be proud."

Tuchel added: "If you see him on a daily basis, you cannot be surprised. He is totally fit, his body is in shape and his physicality is on top level. 

"Mentally I really have the feeling he enjoys every day being a professional football player on this level and this is the level he needs to be. He trains like a 20-year-old, like a 24-year-old. He is a guy who has a good mixture of seriousness and joy in training.

"He is always positive and it is a big factor for the group. He starts, when he comes from the bench, he has all these qualities and it is good like this."

When the team sheets landed, it looked like Diego Simeone might have thrown his bottomless reserves of menacing caution to the wind.

Atletico Madrid lined up to face Chelsea in the Champions League with Angel Correa and Joao Felix either side of Luis Suarez in attack.

Marcos Llorente – a goalscoring revelation from midfield both this season and, famously, at Anfield at the same stage of the 2019-20 tournament – was at right wing-back, with Thomas Lemar arguably an even more offensive option on the other flank.

Hold onto your hats or, at the very least, your dark overcoats.

By half-time, Atleti had managed no shots on target and one attempt on goal overall.

Despite inviting mirth such as that immediately above, Simeone's men did not start by manning the barricades.

Joao Felix scampered into a first-minute dribble, drawing a foul that saw Mason Mount collect the quickest booking in this season's Champions League and a ban for the second leg.

Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy's heavy touch nearly gifted a goal to Saul Niguez before Suarez mugged Kurt Zouma near the right byline and Lemar could not slide home the cross.

Those were uncomfortable moments for Chelsea, but they soon started to feel at home in a dubious 'away' game at Bucharest's Arena Nationala.

Thomas Tuchel has already stamped his mark all over this Blues side and they attempted 403 passes before the interval, over 100 more than any of Atletico's previous opponents in the first half of a Champions League game this season.

Atletico found themselves nudged, prodded and manoeuvred back into a familiar shell.

Jorginho became Joao Felix's latest victim, bringing down the Portugal forward to earn a caution and a ban, but Simeone talking himself into a yellow card after that moment of encouragement for his side suggested a state of fraught high-alert.

The Atleti boss paced in agitated fashion as he waited for the VAR decision that overturned an offside decision and awarded a splendid away-ish goal to Olivier Giroud – replays showing Mario Hermoso deliberately played the ball before the centre-forward's expert overhead kick.

Even when forced to chase the game, Atletico did not necessarily look more likely to score. Timo Werner tore forward on the break and thrashed into the side netting shortly after Joao Felix had been surprisingly removed.

Simeone has won deserved praise for loosening the shackles of his ridged 4-4-2 to embrace a more flexible 3-5-2 alternative this term. It was a switch that saw Los Rojiblancos rack up a commanding lead in LaLiga.

However, their most recent clean sheet is now eight matches ago and their domestic advantage has dwindled on the back of one win in four.

As Tuchel's Chelsea impressively kept them at arm's length, Atletico looked like a team dangerously caught between two stools at a terrible time to be in such a predicament.

Like in last season's quarter-final defeat to RB Leipzig, the favourite's tag weighed uneasily on Atletico – who are second only to Barcelona in terms of goals scored in LaLiga this season – and they became a more limp attacking proposition as the match wore on. Mendy concluded the 90 minutes untested.

Seemingly without the devilment of old, they were unable to drag Chelsea down to slug it out in the trenches with them. The Premier League team were an assured, moving target with no interest in grappling, much to Suarez's clear disappointment.

Simeone's best teams sometimes felt like they were nothing but edge and Atletico quickly need to rediscover some as a tough trip to Villarreal and a seemingly pivotal Madrid derby lie in wait. Maybe they will be relieved to have their backs to the wall once more.

Olivier Giroud's stunning overhead kick gave Chelsea a slender 1-0 advantage in their Champions League last-16 tie with Atletico Madrid.

Playing in Bucharest due to restrictions affecting travel between England and Spain, Chelsea dominated possession as has been the norm under Thomas Tuchel, yet the Blues needed a moment of supreme individual skill from their experienced forward to get the win.

Chelsea attempted 403 passes in the first half, with Atleti limited to just one goal attempt before the break – their lowest total after 45 minutes of a Champions League match since 2016-17 – and the breakthrough came in the 68th minute when Mario Hermoso's sliced clearance fell to Giroud.

He sent a wonderful bicycle kick beyond Jan Oblak, and although the offside flag initially denied Chelsea, the goal was awarded after a lengthy VAR check as the visitors took a lead into next month's second leg.

Chelsea had been let off the hook after Edouard Mendy's error inside the opening two minutes, and Tuchel's team escaped unscathed from another mistake when Thomas Lemar sliced wide.

Mason Mount has been a standout performer under Tuchel's tutelage and the England international crafted Chelsea's first opening a minute later – Timo Werner failing to divert a right-wing cross goalwards.

Mount should have done better with a volleyed cross-shot in the 40th minute, but Chelsea would have been punished had Luis Suarez managed to connect with Angel Correa's cut-back.

Joao Felix blazed an acrobatic attempt over the bar shortly after the restart, but whereas he failed, Giroud applied the finishing touch.

Mount forced a wild clearance from Hermoso which dropped over Giroud's shoulder, but the 34-year-old adjusted himself brilliantly to meet it and send a sublime finish into the left-hand corner.

Chelsea were made to wait as VAR checked whether it was Mount or Hermoso who had made contact, with the latter eventually adjudged to have deliberately played the ball, ensuring Giroud was onside and able to secure a vital away goal.


What does it mean? Chelsea on the cusp

Chelsea are attempting to progress past the round of 16 for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign, when the Blues lost to Atleti in the semi-finals. However, they will have to play the second leg without Mount and Jorginho, who have been prominent figures in Tuchel's midfield so far but picked up suspension-enforcing yellow cards on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, Tuchel has plenty of strength in depth at his disposal, and Atleti’s usually stringent defence has kept just one clean sheet in all competitions since the turn of the year.

Like a fine wine…

Like many luxuries in life, Giroud seems to be getting better with age. Aged 34 years and 146 days, he is the oldest player to score in the knockout stages of the Champions League for Chelsea, and the oldest to do so for an English side since Ryan Giggs (37) in April 2011.

The former Arsenal striker has now scored six Champions League goals this season, his best return in a single campaign in the competition.

Hudson-Odoi responds

Tuchel did not hold back in his criticism of Callum Hudson-Odoi following Chelsea’s Premier League weekend draw with Southampton, demanding more effort from the youngster, who was subbed on and then taken off at St Mary's.

Three days on, however, Hudson-Odoi turned in a solid display in his new-found wing-back role. He attempted a joint team-high two tackles, had one shot and finished with an 85.4 per cent passing accuracy before being replaced by Reece James late on.

What's next?

In a big clash in the upper echelons of the Premier League, Chelsea welcome Manchester United to Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Atleti, meanwhile, face Villarreal in LaLiga.

Thomas Tuchel hands starts to Jorginho and Olivier Giroud for his first game in charge of Chelsea, but Timo Werner has to make do with a place on the bench for the game against Wolves.  

Former Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain coach Tuchel was named on Tuesday as the replacement for Frank Lampard, who was sacked following a run of just one win in the Blues’ past five Premier League fixtures. 

Mason Mount scored the winner in that solitary triumph, a 1-0 victory away to London rivals Fulham on January 16, yet the midfielder has been left out of the XI for Wednesday's game at Stamford Bridge. 

Tuchel – who has had just one training session with the squad following his appointment – has opted for Jorginho next to Mateo Kovacic in midfield. There is a place for Kai Havertz too, as well as Hakim Ziyech and Callum Hudson-Odoi. 

Cesar Azpilicueta is also in the starting line-up, potentially as one of three centre-backs in a 3-4-3 formation. 

Up front, Giroud is included ahead of Tammy Abraham, who is joined among the substitutes by fellow England internationals Reece James and Mount, plus Werner.

Manchester City star Sergio Aguero is reportedly wanted by Barcelona.

Aguero's future at City is uncertain with the 32-year-old coming out of contract at the end of the season.

And the forward is unsurprisingly wanted by Europe's biggest clubs.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA WANT AGUERO

Barcelona are eyeing Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero, according to The Sun.

Aguero has also been linked to Paris Saint-Germain as City's all-time leading goalscorer entered the final six months of his contract.

The Argentina international has scored two goals in nine games this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Barcelona and Eric Garcia looks set to join the club from City. The cover of Mundo Deportivo says Garcia is poised to move to Barca in January in a deal worth €5million (£4.5m) plus variables.

- Also facing an uncertain future is Fernandinho. The Telegraph reports Fernandinho is undecided about his future, with the City man having offers from South America.

- Matteo Guendouzi is set to see out his loan spell at Hertha Berlin. Fabrizio Romano says the midfielder will not return to Arsenal in January, with the Bundesliga club wanting him to stay until season's end.

- Wolves seem unlikely to sign a forward in January. The Mirror claims they have aborted interested in Liverpool striker Divock Origi and Chelsea's Olivier Giroud.

- With Frank Lampard under pressure at the helm of Chelsea, help could be incoming. Sky Sports reports Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is considering bringing back former manager Avram Grant to work with Lampard.

Sampdoria coach Claudio Ranieri insists Fabio Quagliarella did not feature against Inter for tactical reasons, despite reports linking the striker with a stunning return to Juventus. 

Quagliarella previously spent four years with Juve, initially joining on loan before making his switch permanent, and won the Serie A title for three successive seasons under Antonio Conte. 

The 37-year-old is rumoured to be a potential target for the reigning champions as they look to strengthen their forward options for the second half of the 2020-21 campaign. 

Ranieri kept the veteran frontman on the bench for the entirety of Wednesday's 2-1 home win over Inter, yet insisted afterwards it had nothing to do with speculation over the player's future at the club.

"The fact that he did not enter has nothing to do with the transfer market, it was a technical choice," Ranieri explained to Sky Sport Italia. 

The evergreen Quagliarella has scored seven goals in 14 Serie A appearances this season for Samp, boasting a conversion rate of 25 per cent.  

Cristiano Ronaldo is the competition's top scorer but Juve want to provide support for the Portuguese.

They have also been linked with another experienced forward in Olivier Giroud, who could be on the move in the January window due to a lack of playing time at Chelsea. 

"We could use him," Juve head coach Andrea Pirlo told DAZN after a 4-1 win over Udinese at the weekend. "But these are things that [Juventus sporting director Fabio] Paratici knows better than me.  

"We talked about it but let's see if we will do something in the next few days." 

Manchester City have reportedly annoyed Kevin De Bruyne with their contract offer amid interest in Lionel Messi.

De Bruyne, 29, has been expected to sign a new deal with the Premier League giants, with his contract expiring in 2023.

But with Messi coming out of contract at season's end, City's offer to De Bruyne has seemingly drawn questions.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY ANNOY DE BRUYNE AMID MESSI INTEREST

Manchester City have annoyed De Bruyne with their contract offer, according to The Athletic.

The report says the offer is less than De Bruyne is currently on because of potentially signing Messi. However, the Belgium international is still expected to re-sign.

City have been strongly linked to Messi, who could leave Barcelona at the end of the campaign when is contract is due to expire.

The Barcelona captain has insisted he will not make a decision on his future until the season's conclusion.

 

ROUND-UP

- Also coming out of contract is Bayern Munich star David Alaba. The Guardian reports Liverpool are interested in signing the defender, but Real Madrid lead the race.

- Staying at Real Madrid and there is uncertainty over Sergio Ramos' future. With his contract expiring at the end of the season, Ramos will not accept a one-year deal and the defender and LaLiga champions are distant in their bid to reach an agreement, according to Marca. The Manchester Evening News reports City are not interested in Ramos.

Antoine Griezmann is still yet to find his best form for Barcelona, but Sport reports the Blaugrana are not considering selling the forward.

Mesut Ozil could be set to leave Arsenal. Football.London reports the playmaker, who comes out of contract in June, is in negotiations with MLS franchise DC United.

- Linked with Juventus and InterOlivier Giroud is set to stay at Chelsea, according to Goal. They also claim Juve are considering Sampdoria forward Fabio Quagliarella as an alternative, while Milan look set to keep hold of star midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu.

Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo said Chelsea forward Olivier Giroud would be a useful signing for the Serie A giants.

Giroud, 34, is again linked with a move from Chelsea after making just six starts in all competitions this season.

Juve and Inter are among the clubs linked with the France international, who has managed nine goals for Chelsea in 2020-21.

Pirlo confirmed Juventus' interest as he seeks a back-up forward in January.

"Giroud? We could use him," he told DAZN after a 4-1 Serie A win over Udinese.

"But these are things that [Juventus sporting director Fabio] Paratici knows better than me. 

"We talked about it but let's see if we will do something in the next few days."

Juventus are fifth in the table, 10 points behind leaders Milan, although they have a game in hand.

Chelsea dropped points for the fourth time in five Premier League games as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Aston Villa in their final match of 2020. 

Frank Lampard will have been hoping for a response to their woeful 3-1 defeat to Arsenal and dropped big-money signing Timo Werner amid a goal drought, but the Blues were no more fluent against Dean Smith's side. 

Villa's hopes of keeping five consecutive top-flight clean sheets for the first time since September 1998 were ended 34 minutes in as Olivier Giroud struck, making it seven successive goalscoring appearances against the Villans in the Premier League for the Frenchman. 

But Anwar El Ghazi levelled with his fifth goal in as many games in the 50th minute and that proved decisive, while Chelsea were fortunate to not concede again when John McGinn hit the crossbar.

An entertaining start saw both sides threaten, Jack Grealish having a curling 18-yard effort turned wide by Edouard Mendy before Christian Pulisic lashed into the side-netting at the other end. 

Another opportunity was spurned by Pulisic just past the half-hour, though two minutes later Chelsea had the lead – Giroud sending a thumping header in from Ben Chilwell's inviting delivery. 

Villa levelled early in the second half when Matty Cash's cross found El Ghazi at the back post, and he steered home through the legs of Mendy, who probably should have done better. 

Chelsea's reaction was hardly emphatic and Villa went agonisingly close to a spectacular second, the ball breaking kindly for McGinn 30 yards from goal and his fierce effort cannoned off the bar. 

Lampard introduced the much-maligned Werner and Kai Havertz towards the end, though neither inspired an improvement in Chelsea's fortunes against a shrewd Villa backline.

Pedro Neto was Wolves' hero in second-half stoppage time as the Portugal international sealed a 2-1 comeback win over Chelsea at Molineux on Tuesday.

Frank Lampard's men went into the match the possibility of going top temporarily, but Wolves showed admirable character to come from behind to secure a fine victory against the odds.

Kurt Zouma went closest to breaking the deadlock late in the first half as he hit the frame of the goal, before Olivier Giroud did convert his seventh goal in as many games with 49 minutes on the clock.

Wolves were unperturbed, however, as Daniel Podence – a nuisance to Chelsea throughout – got himself a deserved goal in the 66th minute to restore parity.

Chelsea had seemingly ensured a share of the spoils when Wolves had a penalty award overturned, Neto deemed to have simulated contact in the area, but the winger ultimately had the final say in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

 

Olivier Giroud's evergreen form has made a big impression upon Kai Havertz at Chelsea.

Germany international Havertz joined a star-studded squad at Stamford Bridge for the 2020-21 season after a busy and productive transfer window for head coach Frank Lampard.

But it is one of the existing, experienced stars who has made the 21-year-old sit up and take note.

Unperturbed by the arrival of Havertz's international colleague Timo Werner and the ongoing development of England youngster Tammy Abraham, Giroud has proved he is still hugely valuable to the Chelsea cause.

The 34-year-old, who is second on France's list of all-time top scorers with 44, had to bide his time waiting for a Premier League start this season, but Lampard could no longer ignore his claims after he pilfered all four in a 4-0 Champions League win over Sevilla at the start of this month.

Giroud kept his place for last weekend's visit of Leeds United and he did not disappoint, scoring the equaliser in a 3-1 win - becoming the first Chelsea player since Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in 2001 to score in six consecutive starts in England's top flight.

"The one who really impressed me is Olivier Giroud," Havertz told Sky Deutschland. "I wouldn't have expected that before. He's an amazing player. 

"Playing with him as a striker is just fun. It is not for nothing that he holds records in the French national team. 

"He has a lot of games and a lot of goals under his belt. He's also a great guy as a person. 

"Basically it's great fun in the group because the quality is very high everywhere."

Giroud has seven goals in 12 appearances across all competitions this season.

Five of those have come in the Champions League, making Giroud the joint second-highest scorer in the competition alongside Alassane Plea and Ciro Immobile and behind the quartet of Alvaro Morata, Marcus Rashford, Erling Haaland and Neymar on six.

Of players to have scored three or more goals in this season's competition, none can boast a better goals-per-minute ratio than Giroud's frequency of finding the net every 28.4 minutes.

From that sample of players, he also boasts the best shot conversion rate, dispatching 62.5 per cent of his attempts to shade Juventus' former Chelsea striker Morata (60 per cent).

Giroud is noted for his aerial prowess and his two headed goals in the Champions League are a season's best in the group stage alongside Morata and Karim Benzema.

Frank Lampard is relishing a reunion with Carlo Ancelotti when Chelsea head to Everton in the Premier League on Saturday.

Blues legend Lampard played in 60 of Ancelotti's 76 top-flight matches at the Stamford Bridge helm, when the Italian averaged 2.07 points per game, aided by the midfielder's 32 goals.

Everton boss Ancelotti led Chelsea to league glory in 2009-10 but will be looking to put a dent in their hopes of repeating the feat this term when the sides meet at Goodison Park, where his tenure in charge of the Blues ended in 2011.

Lampard's men sit third, just two points off the summit and five clear of an Everton team who have suffered a loss of form, with the Chelsea head coach nonetheless still full of praise for his old mentor.

"I was heavily influenced by him as a player and a man," said Lampard, who hopes to have Christian Pulisic available after a slight hamstring problem.

"He is right at the top when I speak about the managers I've worked with for everything about him, the huge success he has had at a number of clubs.

"One to one I found him to be a great coach, a great man and I look forward at all times to seeing him and speaking to him."

Everton made a fine start to the season but have won just one of their previous seven matches, sliding into mid-table as a result.

However, the Toffees have triumphed in their last two Premier League home games against Chelsea – including a 3-1 win under Duncan Ferguson's tutelage in the corresponding fixture last season – and, in 11-goal striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, boast the division's top scorer.

Lampard, whose team cruised to a 4-0 win over the Toffees at Stamford Bridge in March in their final game before a three-month, coronavirus-enforced break, has some sympathy for how Everton's fortunes have changed.

"That's the nature of the Premier League, they started very well and have quality players, and have a fantastic manager who is one of the best in the world," he said.

"The Premier League is unforgiving. We all have patches where results are challenging but it doesn't change my thoughts about how I approach Everton.

"They are a very good side, with quality individuals, who can win games. I'm focusing on their strengths and dangers when we go there."

As for his own side's hopes of competing for the ultimate prize, Lampard added: "We're happy where we are but there's a long way to go. Words aren't important at this point."

Chelsea have kept a clean sheet in six of their last eight Premier League meetings with Everton, losing both games in which they conceded.

The man the hosts, who have leaked top-flight goals this term, will need to watch out for is Olivier Giroud, who has scored in each of his last six Premier League starts for Chelsea – only Mark Stein (seven between December 1993 and February 1994) has scored in more consecutive starts for the Blues in the competition.

Manchester United, Inter and Ajax were the big Champions League casualties as the group stage wrapped up - but who have been the stars of the show so far?

Unsurprisingly, Erling Haaland featured prominently, scoring half of Borussia Dortmund's goals as they topped Group F.

But what should we make of Lionel Messi, whose three goals all came from the penalty spot for Barcelona? And were Inter incredibly unlucky to bow out?

Using Opta data, we took a closer look at how Europe's elite performed.

Haaland's hammer blows

The Norwegian's left foot is about the deadliest weapon in world football at the moment and it comes as no surprise to see him topping the scoring charts with six goals in four games.

That put him alongside Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar, United's Marcus Rashford and Juventus striker Alvaro Morata, all of whom played more games and minutes than the Dortmund marksman.

Five of Haaland's goals came from his trusty left boot, and it continued his rich vein of form in Europe after he hit eight goals in six group games for Salzburg last season and two for Dortmund in the knockouts. The 20-year-old's Champions League goals this season have come at one every 57.5 minutes, and among players to have scored more than twice that minutes-per-goal mark was second only to Chelsea's Olivier Giroud (five goals, one every 28.4 minutes).

Yet when it came to overall goal involvements in this term's group stage, it was another Bundesliga star who led the way in Europe, with Alassane Plea of Borussia Monchengladbach tallying eight - five goals and three assists.

Germany had a productive group stage as Dortmund, Gladbach, RB Leipzig and holders Bayern Munich all reached the last 16 - the first time four teams from the Bundesliga have advanced since the 2014-15 season (Bayer Leverkusen, Dortmund, Schalke, Bayern).

Haaland would have been disappointed to see Salzburg bow out, however, with the Austrian side becoming just the second team to score 16 or more goals in the first group stage yet be eliminated, after Chelsea in the 2012-13 campaign.

Messi's mixed bag

For the first time since registering his first Champions League goal in 2005-06, Messi failed to score from open play in the group stage.

From highs of eight open-play goals in the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons, his number crashed to zero this time even though Barcelona qualified with ease for the knockout stage.

The 33-year-old Argentinian stuck away a group-stage high of three penalties - a total matched by Chelsea's Timo Werner and Lazio striker Ciro Immobile - to ensure it was not a complete goal famine.

Going goalless was not for the want of trying - Messi had seven shots on target in this week's 3-0 defeat to Juventus, which is more than any other player has had in a Champions League game without scoring since at least 2003-04.

He also created more chances across the six games than any other player, with Messi's total of 16 putting him one ahead of Ajax's Dusan Tadic and United's Bruno Fernandes, both of whom only have Europa League football to enjoy in the new year.

Of those chances, however, only two gave Messi assists. Leading the way on that score was Juventus' Juan Cuadrado, who set up five goals.

Barcelona created more chances than any other team (84), followed by Real Madrid (77), Sevilla and Bayern (both 73). Eventual champions Bayern had 106 chances in the group stage last year, as they set the high standard they maintained all the way through the competition.

Barcelona also had the most opportunities defined by Opta as 'big chances' over this season's six rounds of games, with 26. They converted 46.15 per cent of those openings, which ranked them eighth among teams to have at least 15 – United led the way by scoring from 68.75 per cent of their 16 such opportunities.

Were Inter framed?

Inter could not get the winner against Shakhtar Donetsk this week that would have carried them through to the last 16, with Lautaro Martinez hitting the bar early on, extending his run of bad luck.

The Argentine striker hit the goal frame four times in the group stage, more than any other player and the most by anyone across an entire Champions League season since Robert Lewandowski struck the woodwork five times for Bayern during 2016-17.

Martinez only scored once as Inter bowed out, unlike Lewandowski who put away eight goals in nine games during that campaign.

Inter hit the woodwork seven times in total over their six games, the joint-highest number along with Real Madrid.

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