Frank Lampard has opened up on his Chelsea departure and says only winning back-to-back titles would have prevented him from being sacked.

Chelsea parted ways with club legend Lampard in January, 18 months into his second managerial job, and went on to win the Champions League under successor Thomas Tuchel.

Lampard finished fourth in the Premier League and reached the FA Cup final in his only full campaign at Stamford Bridge, despite having to operate under a transfer ban that saw him promote a number of youngsters to the first team.  

But the 43-year-old was made to pay for a poor run of form in the middle of last season and was sacked with the club ninth after 19 games.

Discussing the circumstances surrounding his exit on Gary Neville's The Overlap YouTube channel, Lampard said: "When I met Bruce [Buck] and Marina [Granovskaia] it was very cordial. I knew what was coming.

"It is what it is. They are going to move on and there's nothing you can do there. I've never been in that position before so it was a bit surreal at the time but when you take the job you understand that that call could come. 

"At Chelsea it probably will come unless you go and win back-to-back titles and that was never going to happen."

Lampard has been linked with the vacancies at Newcastle United, Norwich City and Aston Villa in recent weeks but remains out of work approaching the one-year anniversary of his Chelsea exit.

The Englishman, who previously managed Derby County for a season in 2018-19, is ready to return to the dugout but is waiting for the right offer to come up.

"I want to work," he said. "I've enjoyed being out of the game with it giving me different perspectives but I'm excited and ready to work.

"You miss it and I'm waiting for the call. It makes me sound desperate but there has been a few I had after leaving Chelsea and then in the summer, but it just needs to be right.

"I'm probably in a nice place where I don't need to get back to work too soon."

Mason Mount is impressed with the impact Thomas Tuchel has had on Chelsea's defence since replacing Frank Lampard in January.

The German led Chelsea to Champions League success last season just a few months after being hired, though there is every indication he is turning the Blues into a team that will challenge for the major honours on a consistent basis.

Chelsea went into the weekend with a three-point lead at the top of the Premier League – only Liverpool (35) had scored more than them, though Tuchel's side boasted the best defensive record with just four conceded in 12 games.

Manchester City (22) were the only club to have allowed fewer shots on target than the Blues (39) over the first 12 matchdays – similarly, Pep Guardiola's men (7.7) were the sole club with a lower xGA (expected goals against) than Chelsea (12.2).

During Lampard's only full season in charge, Chelsea conceded 54 times from an xGA of 38.95 – they let in 15.05 goals more than the average team would have expected based on the quality of chances, comfortably worse than the second-worst sides in that metric over 2019-20 (Norwich City and Everton, both 7.2 over xGA).

Their improvement defensively is not lost on Mount.

"[Tuchel] is brilliant to work under," Mount told Sky Sports ahead of Sunday's clash with Manchester United. "He is very intense when the games come around and in training, but off the field he is very relaxed, someone you can talk to and he puts his arm around you.

"So, it is the best of both, but when you don't perform, he will not be happy and will tell you. And that is definitely something that keeps us on our toes and keeps us going. We have set a very high standard, and we always want to keep that going and training is a big thing.

"We always look at the opposition a few days before we play them, but most of it is just focusing on ourselves. We know what we can do as a team and if we are doing those simple things the best we can, then we are always able to open up those pockets of space and create chances.

"Defensively, that has been a big change for us, and we do not really give many chances away and that starts from the front. The way we press at the front sets the tone and at the back, with the change of formation and the shape we do play, it helps at the back so the full-backs can press the side where the ball is, there is cover the other way and just move and that has really helped us."

While bossing Chelsea did not work out for Tuchel's predecessor Lampard, Mount enjoyed his breakthrough at the club under the Blues legend, having also played for him at Derby County.

Mount was one of the main beneficiaries of Lampard's season and a half in charge and has remained a key figure under Tuchel.

He still sees Lampard's playing style as a source of inspiration, with Mount putting significant work into his end product in attack.

"I always look at my game and think I can score or create more, be more of a threat going forward. That is something I've always looked at in training with finishing drills, how I get into the box, looking with (coach) Joe Edwards at how my runs into the box affect the play," he said.

"So that is a big part of my game that I want to improve. You look at how big stats are now – what crosses come in and the percentage of goals that come from different crosses we look at and what area of the box do you score most goals, it is around the penalty spot and in the six-yard box, you rarely see goals from outside the box, mostly 'worldies' now, but not many.

"So I'm just trying to get in the box as much as I can now."

He still has work to do, though.

Mount is touching the ball on average 4.2 times in the box every 90 minutes – although that is an increase on his figure for Lampard's final few months, it's the same amount he recorded over the course of 2019-20.

But he is getting more shots away in such areas. He averaged 0.9 shots on target every 90 minutes during Lampard's first season and then 0.6 in the first half of 2020-21, but that increased to 1.1 after Tuchel's hiring and then again to 1.2 this season.

Real Madrid are well-known admirers of Kylian Mbappe.

The Spanish giants have been linked with a January move for the winger.

Mbappe has indicated he will leave Paris Saint-Germain in the near future.

 

TOP STORY – REAL TO REMAIN PATIENT FOR MBAPPE

Real Madrid will not chase a deal for Paris Saint-Germain's Mbappe during the January transfer window, claims Mundo Deportivo.

Los Blancos have been pursuing the 22-year-old France international who is out of contract at the end of this season.

There had been speculation about when Madrid would move for Mbappe, given his contract status, but it is anticipated they will patiently wait until the off-season when he is a free agent.

ROUND-UP 

- Sky Sports Germany claims that Juventus could make a move for Borussia Dortmund midfielder Axel Witsel in January. The report claims that Witsel is keen on a quick move.

- Philippe Coutinho is set to snub cashed-up Newcastle United in January as he does not want to leave Barcelona, claims Sport.

- Barcelona are set to table a €40million offer for Red Bull Salzburg forward Karim Adeyemi according to Sport1, although Dortmund remain favourites to sign the teenager.

- Wolverhampton are ready to cash in Spanish winger Adama Traore in January with Barcelona circling to rival Liverpool for his signature, reports 90min.

- Former Chelsea manager Frank Lampard is not in consideration for the vacant Rangers head coaching position following Steven Gerrard's exit, reports Sky Sports.

Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard should be in strong contention to replace Dean Smith at Aston Villa, according to former midfielder Paul Merson.

After suffering a fifth straight defeat by going down 1-0 to Southampton on Friday, Smith became the fifth Premier League manager to lose his job this season.

The former Brentford boss spent three years at Villa Park, guiding his boyhood club back into the Premier League at the first attempt before establishing their top-flight status with a creditable 11th-place finish last term.

However, the 50-year-old ultimately paid the price after the Southampton defeat left Villa just two points and two places above the relegation zone.

Merson, who spent four years at the club between 1998 and 2002, sympathised with Smith and believes his impressive work warranted the opportunity to turn their fortunes around.

But the former Arsenal man has urged his old club to consider replacing Smith with either Lampard and Gerrard.

While Merson acknowledges it would be difficult to persuade Gerrard, who guided Rangers to the Scottish Premiership title last season, he feels the lure of the Premier League would be tough to turn down.

Merson told Sky Sports: "I would like to see a Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard get the job.

"It's going to be hard to prise Steven away, he's managing a massive club in Rangers.

"He's got them buzzing again; he stopped Celtic winning 10 in a row, they are in the Europa League, and they've got a chance of winning the Scottish Premiership.

"Everyone wants to manage in the Premier League; that is no disrespect to the Scottish Premiership. Rangers and Celtic are bigger clubs than probably half of the teams in the Premier League.

"But it's the Premier League, and when you start out managing, I'm sure in the back of people's minds if you could get a job like Aston Villa – wow."

Merson also highlighted the credentials of former Chelsea boss Lampard who, though restricted by financial sanctions imposed on the club, guided the Blues to the 2020 FA Cup final and Champions League qualification.

The 43-year-old, who previously steered Derby County to the Championship play-off final, also regularly gave youth the opportunity to shine at Stamford Bridge, the likes of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Reece James all stepping up to the plate. 

Merson feels that quality would certainly complement the scenario at Villa.

"I think you have to put Frank's name in the hat as well," he added. 

"He's managed Chelsea, where he did a great job in steadying the ship at the time.

"If you look at all the kids who have come through at Chelsea since, and then look at Aston Villa's academy, it's very good as well.

"On Friday night, Dean Smith had five or six players from the academy in the squad for what was his final game."

Steve Bruce's days at Newcastle appear to be numbered.

Rumours of possible replacements are swirling, with plenty of managers having been mentioned. 

Frank Lampard may well lead the race.

 

TOP STORY – LAMPARD FAVOURED TO REPLACE BRUCE

Frank Lampard is the leading candidate to step in once Steve Bruce is inevitably shown the door at Newcastle, The Sun reports. 

The Telegraph claims Lampard and former Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre top the new owners' wish list.

The 43-year-old Lampard was sacked by Chelsea in January 2021, about six weeks after Favre, 63, left Dortmund. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool are keeping a close eye on Ousmane Dembele, who is out of contract at Barcelona at the end of the season, Mundo Deportivo reports.

- Dortmund and RB Leipzig are the top potential landing spots for 19-year-old Salzburg striker Karim Adeyemi, reports Sky Sport Germany.

- Feyenoord will make another effort to prise Amad Diallo from Manchester United in January, according to The Sun, after a potential loan move fell through due to injury during the last transfer window. 

- Club Brugge and Belgium midfielder Charles De Ketelaere is drawing interest from Milan and Napoli, says Calciomercato, with Everton and West Ham also monitoring the 20-year-old.

- Former Manchester United goalkeeper Sergio Romero is expected to finalise his deal with Venezia on Tuesday, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

Fikayo Tomori has credited Milan legend and current technical director Paolo Maldini with helping him improve his game after earning an England recall.

Tomori looked destined for a promising future at Chelsea, returning to the club in 2019-20 to play under Frank Lampard having also linked up with him the previous season at Derby County.

In the Championship, Tomori played 47 times as Derby got to the play-offs, and he proved an able back-up option upon his return to Stamford Bridge as he made 15 Premier League appearances – all as a starter – in 2019-20.

But things soon changed, the signing of Thiago Silva at the start of 2020-21 pushing Tomori further down the pecking order – when January came around, he had played in just one Premier League match and was seemingly heading out of the door.

Tomori joined Milan on loan and quickly established himself in the team, striking up a solid partnership with Simon Kjaer. He could not help the Rossoneri to a first Scudetto in 10 years, but they did end their seven-year Champions League hiatus and Tomori's loan was made permanent.

No team in Europe's top five leagues have kept more domestic clean sheets than Milan (eight) since the start of May, and Tomori's role landed him a recall to the England squad, with the 23-year-old lauding the influence of club great Maldini.

Speaking to reporters ahead of England's World Cup qualifier against Andorra, Tomori said: "When he [Maldini] was speaking to me, I was like, 'Wow, it's Paolo Maldini'.

 

"There is that pressure knowing he's watching every game, he's there at the training ground every day, so as a defender I want to impress him.

"When I was midway through my loan, we had a chat, I asked what he thinks about my game, what I need to improve.

"He's really engaging with all the defenders, and having a legend like that around, you're going to listen. It's a nice thing to have him around, and he's been a big help."

For a while it seemed Tomori and Lampard enjoyed a similarly close bond given their time together with Derby and then the Chelsea first team.

But shortly after leaving Chelsea, Tomori said in an interview that he felt the treatment of him by Lampard – who was sacked a matter of days after the defender left – was "personal".

However, Tomori says he has not spent time dwelling on such struggles.

"To be fair, since I've been at Milan I've not really thought about it," he continued. "It was difficult, when you aren't able to play, it is difficult.

"Being able to overcome that, forget about that is part of the reason why now it's going so well. I didn't really dwell on it, I moved on. It's part of football.

"I've a really good support system, and now I've overcome all that I want to keep progressing.

"Every player wants to play, and when that opportunity came at such a big club like Milan, I was so happy, excited, and I'm really happy it's gone so well so far.

"We've started the new season well and the club has shown a lot of faith in me. I'm happy, confident and feeling really settled, and it's led me to be here [back with the England squad]."

Everton continue their search for Carlo Ancelotti's replacement.

One emerging candidate has plenty of familiarity with Liverpool. 

Could the Toffees turn to a former rival? 

 

TOP STORY – BENITEZ IN MERSEYSIDE RETURN?

Former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has emerged as a strong contender to replace Carlo Ancelotti at Everton, the Daily Mirror and other outlets report. 

As the Merseyside club's interest in former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo has faded, majority owner Farhad Moshiri apparently plans to speak to the 61-year-old Benitez. 

The Spaniard was Liverpool's manager from 2004-10, winning the Champions League title in 2005. He spent 18 months in charge of Chinese Super League club Dalian Professional before leaving by mutual consent in January. 

Others under consideration include Brighton and Hove Albion head coach Graham Potter, former Lille coach Christophe Galtier and former Toffees boss Roberto Martinez

 

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea have matched Paris Saint-Germain's offer of about €65million (£56.1m) to Inter for Achraf Hakimi, according to Sky Sport Italia, though Inter value the 22-year-old at €81m (£70m).

- Barcelona see Manchester City's Raheem Sterling as a potential replacement for Ousmane Dembele should the France international depart, according to Sport, and Marca says PSG have interest in Dembele. 

- David de Gea seems inclined to extend his stay at Manchester United and expects to be the first-choice goalkeeper ahead of Dean Henderson, The Sun reports. 

- Atletico Madrid rejected United's £10m bid for England right-back Kieran Trippier, according to Football Insider. 

- Roma are close to completing their long-rumoured signing of Arsenal's Granit Xhaka, Corriere dello Sport claims. 

- West Ham would like to sign Manchester United midfielder Jesse Lingard on a permanent deal, The Sun reports. 

- Tottenham have had discussions with Borussia Monchengladbach winger Marcus Thuram, RMC Sport reports, and The Athletic says Spurs could also be eyeing RB Leipzig's Marcel Sabitzer

- Former Roma coach Paulo Fonseca has emerged as Spurs' preferred option to replace Jose Mourinho and the sides have discussed a three-year contract, the Guardian reports. 

- Former Chelsea boss Frank Lampard could be in the mix for the Crystal Palace opening, the Daily Mirror reports. 

Thomas Tuchel's transformation of Chelsea's defence was the key to their stunning turnaround in fortunes following Frank Lampard's dismissal, according to former Blues midfielder and assistant head coach Eddie Newton.

Lampard was sacked on January 25 after a run of just two wins in eight Premier League games left Chelsea ninth, 11 points off the summit. 

Former Paris Saint-Germain boss Tuchel was swiftly appointed and oversaw an impressive second half of the season, culminating in a stunning 1-0 win over Manchester City in the Champions League final on Saturday, Kai Havertz scoring the decisive goal shortly before half-time. 

Tuchel also sealed a top-four finish for Chelsea and guided them to the FA Cup final, although they ultimately lost that to Leicester City. 

Lampard and Tuchel were both in charge for 30 games across all competitions in the 2020-21 campaign, with the Blues conceding just 16 under the German compared to 31 in their former manager's games. 

And Newton, who played for Chelsea between 1990 and 1999 and had spells as assistant head coach in 2012 and 2015-16, is in no doubt the success is down to Tuchel's work on remodelling the backline. 

"Frank wanted to be on the front foot and the team was fundamentally in his personality," Newton told Stats Perform.

"He's a very offensive-thinking person, which leaves gaps at the back and towards the end they were getting punished on a regular basis. What Tuchel has done is put right the defensive side.

"He's also brought back senior players into the fold that were not in favour under Frank. Seniority brings stability and more nous about how to get through games when you're struggling. He brought that in.

"He changed the formation by playing three defenders at the back. It became multi-faceted.

"It's been fantastic stuff since he's come in. He's grabbed the bull by its horns and put down the foundations of what he wants to do.

"He's giving clear, concise information to everyone. Getting the results that he has, the players have bought into him. You can see the fight and that comes from the belief the coach has instilled into that team."

Tuchel once again chose Timo Werner to lead the line against City despite the Germany international's struggles in front of goal this season. 

He arrived from RB Leipzig last June for a fee in the region of £45million (€50m) with a reputation of being one of the most prolific attackers in Europe.

Werner scored 34 goals and supplied 12 assists in 45 appearances in all competitions for Leipzig in 2019-20, departing as the club's all-time leading scorer with 95 goals in total.

He has not been able to scale the same heights in his maiden campaign in English football, though, the 25-year-old scoring 12 times in 52 appearances across all competitions. He finished the Premier League season with a shot conversion rate of just 7.59 per cent.

While Newton is impressed with Werner's work ethic, he believes Tuchel will need to sign an established central striker for the 2021-22 campaign, with Chelsea having been linked to Harry Kane and Erling Haaland.

"He hasn't played with a number nine," Newton said. "Werner's work rate, even though he's not been clinical in front of goal, is what he admires and I'm sure his team-mates do as well. 

"He's willing to commit for the team. He's selfless, unlike other strikers, and works immensely hard for the team and that's where their defending starts from. It makes it easier for the team to defend.

"It's going to be interesting to see what he does next season. They can't continue without a number nine. Havertz is not a nine and won't be happy playing there. Werner is not a natural number nine; he likes to come in off the left and right. 

"It's going to be interesting to see how Tuchel addresses that situation. If they bring in a number nine, where do you put Havertz and Werner?"

Thiago Silva claims he was scapegoated during his time at Paris Saint-Germain and is thankful to Frank Lampard for bringing him to Chelsea last year.

The Brazilian centre-back was speaking after the Blues' 1-0 win over Manchester City in Saturday's Champions League final at Estadio do Dragao.

Silva became the oldest player to appear for Chelsea in a major European final, overtaking Claude Makelele, but the 36-year-old lasted only 39 minutes before limping off injured.

He is also only the fifth player to play in the Champions League final in consecutive seasons with different teams, after Marcel Desailly, Paulo Sousa, Samuel Eto'o and Alvaro Morata.

Kai Havertz netted the only goal of the game in Porto three minutes after Silva exited the field as Chelsea became the third English side, after Manchester United and Liverpool, to lift the trophy more than once.

The victory was particularly sweet for Silva, who was a beaten finalist with PSG against Bayern Munich last August in his final game for the club before departing as a free agent.

The French giants fell short in all eight of Silva's seasons at the Parc des Princes, but the experienced defender feels he was unfairly singled out for blame after each disappointment.

"This is the most important moment of my career," he told RMC Sport. "It's unforgettable. I didn't manage it with PSG but today I'm happy. I hope PSG do it one day, too.

"Every time PSG were eliminated, people tried to find a culprit and it was always me. That's a shame because I really gave everything.

"But I hope they win it because I have left a lot of friends there. I will always stay red and blue."

Silva arrived at Chelsea shortly after PSG's loss to Bayern last August after being persuaded to join by then-head coach Lampard.

The former midfielder guided Chelsea through the group stage unbeaten, but he was sacked in January and replaced by Tuchel following a disappointing run of domestic results.

But while Tuchel – the third different German coach to win the Champions League in the past three seasons – has received much of the plaudits, Silva was also keen to praise Lampard. 

"This is special, in what is my first year here," he said. "Tuchel has changed the team mentality, but it is also important to talk about Lampard.

"Without him I would not be here. So, thanks to him for letting me sign here. I'm very happy and I hope he is, too."

Including his 39-minute appearance in the final, Silva featured eight times for Chelsea in their successful Champions League campaign.

The former Milan man, who won all four of his duels against City before leaving the pitch, is set to be out of contract again next month and has yet to agree fresh terms.

Asked if he will stay on at Stamford Bridge, Silva said: "We will see. We must take it season by season." 

Robert Lewandowski may be contracted to Bayern Munich until 2023 but speculation is mounting about his future.

Paris Saint-Germain have been linked with the Poland international, particularly if the Parisians lose Kylian Mbappe.

The agent of the Bundesliga record-breaker is reportedly putting pressure on Bayern to re-negotiate his current deal, fuelling the rumours of a switch.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA MAKE LEWANDOWSKI ENQUIRY

Chelsea have reached out to Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich to discuss a potential move for Robert Lewandowski, according to Sky Sport Germany.

Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea would face stiff competition from Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona, in the event Lewandowski decides to leave Munich, where he has been based since 2014.

Chelsea have been linked with a big-money move for Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland, showcasing their financial strength which could be switched to Lewandowski should they miss out on the Norwegian.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester City have emerged as the frontrunners to sign Tottenham star Harry Kane reports the Daily Mail. Kane has reportedly asked to leave Spurs amid links with City, Manchester United and Chelsea.

Chelsea are also interested in signing Atalanta's Ruslan Malinovskyi, claims The Sun. Wolfsburg defender Maxence Lacroix is also a target for the Blues, reports Sky Germany.

- The Sun says David Beckham's MLS franchise Inter Miami are pursuing Arsenal attacker Willian, who is reportedly keen on the opportunity.

Frank Lampard is on Crystal Palace's radar as they plan for Roy Hodgson's successor, according to Talksport. Hodgson will leave the Premier League club at the end of the season.  

- Corriere dello Sport claims Gennaro Gattuso is ready to leave Napoli as Fiorentina circle and he wants club captain Lorenzo Insigne to join him.

Crystal Palace have confirmed Roy Hodgson will step down as manager at the end of the season, amid rumours Frank Lampard is in talks to replace him.

The 73-year-old is nearing the end of his fourth season with Palace and has kept them clear of the relegation places in each of those campaigns.

Hodgson will step away from Premier League management after his last two matches against Arsenal and Liverpool.

With Hodgson's contract due to expire, former Chelsea boss Lampard has long been linked with taking over as his replacement having been sacked by the Blues in January.

"After more than 45 years of coaching I have decided that the time is right for me to step away from the rigours of top-flight Premier League football, so our final two matches will be my last ones as manager of Crystal Palace," Hodgson confirmed in a statement to the Palace website.

"It's been a particularly rewarding period of my football life and career to have been able to spend these last four seasons with Palace. 

"I feel now that at the end of another successful season, in which we have secured our Premier League status, the moment is right for me to step down from my responsibilities of being a full-time manager.

"I have had so much support from my wife and family throughout my career and I have been contemplating this decision for some time, and now I believe the time is right to consider them and to see what the future holds for me.  

"I have really enjoyed my time at Palace, I have been privileged to work with an outstanding group of professional and dedicated players, most of whom have been with me throughout the four years."

Palace have finished 11th, 12th and 14th under Hodgson. This season they sit 13th after a dramatic 3-2 win over Aston Villa last time out.

Chairman Steve Parish said: "It has been an absolute privilege and pleasure to work alongside Roy, who is both a magnificent human and an outstanding football manager. 

"I know how much it has meant to Roy managing the club he supported as a child, adding to his distinguished and unparalleled career in football management. 

"His record with us simply cannot be overstated, he is the only Palace manager to secure four years in the Premier League and he has helped give us stability in the most turbulent of times."

Assistant manager Ray Lewington will also leave with Hodgson.

Palace have a host of players out of contract at the end of the season too, so there will be significant changes throughout the club in 2021-22.

They face Arsenal on Wednesday and Gunners boss Mikel Arteta paid tribute to the veteran Hodgson.

Arteta said: "He's an absolute legend. What he's done in football, for English football, what he transmits as a person and the work he has done at different clubs is remarkable. 

"To keep doing it for so long with the way he has always conducted himself, it's a great example as a young coach of someone I admire.

"We can count them [managers like Hodgson] with one hand. What he has done, in this league in particular, is incredible."

Antonio Rudiger is no stranger to putting himself in difficult and painful situations for the cause, as evidenced by the defensive lynchpin of Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea revival sporting a protective face mask during matches over recent weeks.

Nevertheless, even as a player who appears to relish a challenge and refuse to back down from a confrontation, Chelsea playing behind closed doors might have done Rudiger a favour earlier in the year.

The Stamford Bridge faithful, for all the success lapped up during the Roman Abramovich era, are certainly not shy when it comes to voicing their displeasure over an unpopular change in the dugout, of which there have been plenty.

There was the vocal backing for Roberto Di Matteo weeks after his sacking in 2012. Interim boss Rafael Benitez was the villain in that situation but calling out any perceived culprits among a squad often noted for wielding player power has also marked times of tumult.

When Jose Mourinho's second spell at Chelsea ended with the then-reigning Premier League champions lurching close to the relegation zone in December 2015, he was backed by plenty of fans amid accusations of player betrayal. One banner in the ground famously branded Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa to be "The 3 Rats".

Had stadiums been full around the time of Frank Lampard's January demise, it is possible Rudiger would have faced similar scrutiny.

"There have been so many nonsense rumours around about me since last week," he told The Athletic in February, following speculation that urged the Chelsea board to dispense with Lampard. "I've never talked with the board about the situation of the coach or on any other topics."

In a separate interview with Sky Sports, Rudiger explained he suffered "immense" racist abuse online after Lampard's sacking, both an indication of the levels of toxicity at play and a deplorable sign of our times.

It certainly did not feel plausible that, in the space of four months, Rudiger would be arguably the form defender in European football and leading Chelsea's charge under Tuchel for a pair of major honours, starting in Saturday's FA Cup final against Leicester.

Indeed, the most remarkable element of Rudiger being singled out as a man responsible for so many of the ills at Chelsea around the fall of Lampard was how little he had been involved in the first team.

He started two of their first 17 Premier League fixtures before being recalled in the wake of a 3-1 defeat by Manchester City to start back-to-back games against Fulham and Leicester – the latter of which was a 2-0 defeat that effectively sealed Lampard's fate.

Overall, Rudiger made nine appearances in all competitions under the former England midfielder this season, with eight of those starts. His 742 minutes on the pitch were dwarfed by first-choice duo Kurt Zouma (1,999) and Thiago Silva (1,552).

Tuchel's decision to switch Chelsea into a 3-4-2-1 shape obviously did Rudiger and his fellow centre-backs a favour in the most basic terms of one more slot in the team being available, but the Germany international has repaid his countryman's faith emphatically.

In 21 appearances since, he has been involved in a remarkable 14 clean sheets. No defender in the Premier League, or elsewhere in Europe's top five leagues for that matter, can boast more in this time.

The six goals conceded with him on the field is also the lowest across the continent's elite divisions for any defender to have started 15 or more games from January 27 onwards, which was the date of Tuchel's first game in charge – a 0-0 draw with Wolves.

Rudiger rested up for Wembley in midweek when Chelsea went down to a lacklustre 1-0 home loss to Arsenal. He was an unused substitute for the only other league defeat of Tuchel's tenure, an unhinged 5-2 collapse versus West Brom after Silva was sent off.

In the 19 Premier League games Rudiger has not started in 2020-21, Chelsea have conceded 26 goals at a rate of 1.4 per game. With the ex-Roma man in the first XI, this plummets to seven in 17 (0.4 per game).

Those seven goals have arrived over the course of 1,530 minutes on the field, meaning Rudiger has seen a goal conceded every 218.6 minutes. This is the best ratio in the Premier League for any defender to have played 1,000 minutes or more this term, with Manchester City pairing John Stones (194.9) and Ruben Dias (148.1) next on the list – suggesting the Champions League final in two weeks' time could be something of a cagey affair.

When set alongside his Chelsea central defensive colleagues Zouma, Silva and Andreas Christensen, Rudiger's imposing qualities are evident. He has made 29 tackles in the Premier League this season, an average of 1.7 per 90 minutes, with no other member of the quartet averaging above one.

His 7.1 duels per 90 is bettered by Zouma (7.6), although both have the same return when it comes to duels won (4.8).

Of course, Rudiger has starred within a collective recalibration. In the Premier League, Tuchel's Chelsea have faced an average of 7.8 shots per game at an expected goals (xG) value of 0.6, down from 10.1 and 1 under Lampard.

Adjustments beyond the defence have also made the Blues harder to play against. They control matches far more effectively, with an average of 663.6 passes per game up from 612.7 at a slightly better accuracy (87.7 per cent from 86.3).

Chelsea are also pressing opponents more effectively, allowing an average of 10.1 passes per defensive action (PPDA) under Tuchel, behind only FA Cup final foes Leicester and Leeds United across the period in question. This season with Lampard in charge, they averaged 11 PPDA, which was fourth among all Premier League teams.

The improvements have made life a little easier for defenders, but when Chelsea step out at Wembley there will be no mystery over the identity of their standout performer at centre-back – even if he is wearing a mask. Rudiger has lifted himself off the scrapheap to become Tuchel's talisman.

What does the future hold for Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez?

The pair helped Inter to their first Scudetto since 2009-10.

But both could depart San Siro as Inter look to cut costs.

 

TOP STORY – LUKAKU AND LAUTARO TO LEAVE INTER?

Inter could be forced to sell star forwards Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, according to Corriere dello Sport.

Antonio Conte's Inter have been crowned Serie A champions this season, but the Nerazzurri have financial problems as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lukaku has been linked with former club Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid, while team-mate Martinez has long been tipped to join Barca.

Alessandro Bastoni is also listed in the report amid links to Manchester City and Liverpool, while star full-back Achraf Hakimi is said to be of interest to Arsenal and Bayern Munich.

 

ROUND-UP

- The front page of Thursday's Mundo Deportivo reports Barca look at the idea of signing City's Sergio Aguero favourably. Aguero is out of contract at season's end and he has been linked with Inter, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham. But the Argentina star reportedly wants to play alongside countryman Lionel Messi. A move for Aguero would not prevent Barca from signing fellow free agent and Lyon captain Memphis Depay. Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland is also a target for the LaLiga giants. It comes amid doubts over the future of head coach Ronald Koeman.

Manchester United and Arsenal are battling to sign Sparta Prague sensation Abdallah Sima, claims the Mirror. Sima is reportedly valued at £25million (€29m).

- Sky Sports says United are interested in Juventus defender Cristian Romero, who could cost £34m (€40m). The 23-year-old Argentinian joined Atalanta on a two-year loan deal from Juve and the Serie A side have an option to buy Romero. United have also been linked with Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Lille defender Sven Botman, Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres and Real Madrid duo Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

- Former Chelsea boss Frank Lampard could replace Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace after emerging as a leading contender, according to the Daily Telegraph.

When FIFA announced last year they were set to introduce limits on the number of players teams could send out on loan, unsurprisingly many people's first thoughts turned to Chelsea.

At the time, the Blues had a remarkable 28 players at other clubs, though this was by no means a recent trend; in 2018-19, that figure was 41.

The 'hoarding' of talent might be a solid ploy when looking to stunt the growth of a rival team or generate long-term revenue on Football Manager, but in the real world it was a practice that had long attracted criticism.

While by no means the only club in the world to have lots of young players out on loan, Chelsea have – rightly or wrongly – arguably been the most synonymous with it.

Some feel this has directly contributed to the club's struggles in developing homegrown talent because they have so many players, whereas others point out it offers more players the chance to play first-team football at a higher level than the Under-23s.

Putting aside some of the moral issues, Mason Mount falls into the latter category and proves there is a route to the first team through the fog of war for Chelsea's loan army.

By his own admission Mount needed an extra kick when he was in Chelsea's Under-23s as an 18-year-old, and that led to his temporary switch to the Eredivisie with Vitesse, where he won the club's Player of the Year award.

But it's unlikely even he realised how important his next move would be as he linked up with Chelsea great Frank Lampard.

In at the deep end

Mount made 44 appearances across all competitions for Derby County in 2018-19 as they missed out on promotion in the play-off final, but regardless of that ultimate disappointment it proved a massive year for both he and Lampard.

With Maurizio Sarri departing Stamford Bridge to join Juventus following Europa League success, Lampard was brought back to the club as head coach. Given his status and the trust he placed in young players – and, more pertinently, young players owned by Chelsea – at Derby, Lampard was seen as the ideal candidate to guide the team through a transfer embargo by bringing through homegrown talent.

Whether or not Lampard was a success as Chelsea coach is a discussion for another time, but his faith in Mount was unquestionable, chucking him straight into the team on the first day of the 2019-20 season.

The Blues suffered a rather harsh 4-0 defeat at Manchester United, but Mount didn't look out of his depth in the Premier League.

He clearly earnt the trust of his manager, with Lampard using the midfielder in 37 league matches over the course of the season, more than any other player. Across all competitions, the young Englishman made a whopping 53 appearances, missing just two games all year.

Mount finished his debut season with 12 goal involvements (seven scored, five set up), a figure bettered by only Tammy Abraham (18), Willian (16) and Christian Pulisic (13) in the Chelsea squad.

But that doesn't quite tell the whole story. To say he was consistent throughout the season would be a lie, as after the turn of the year there was a growing sense of frustration regarding his form. Between the start of November and the final day of the season, his three assists amounted to a couple of corner deliveries for Antonio Rudiger to head home, and a free-kick against Arsenal that Bernd Leno made a mess of. Mount's one open-play assist of 2019-20 came on the final day of the season against Wolves.

Some felt Mount was being overworked by Lampard, others put his issues down to being used in a variety of roles.

The 'teacher's pet' tag began to raise its head, with Lampard's almost incessant use of Mount leading to suggestions of preferential treatment.

Getting past this was going to be Mount's Everest.

A star of his own merit

When Thomas Tuchel was hired as Lampard's replacement in January, there wouldn't have been too many particularly worried for Mount's future given he had been a fixture in the team, his 2,130 minutes played across all competitions the most of anyone in the Blues' squad.

But when Mount was dropped for the German's first game in charge, Tuchel's decision certainly made people sit up and take note.

While he explained it away as opting to go with experience, dropping Mount suggested he had to earn his place again.

And it would be fair to say he's risen to the challenge.

"I understood and wanted to get back into the team, so that motivation and that fire that I have inside me came out," Mount said at a news conference last month. "I really tried to push to get back into the team. It's been brilliant."

Since then, he's become more productive almost across the board in the final third under Tuchel than he had been for Lampard in 2020-21.

Seemingly one of the main contributing factors is his role. While Lampard used Mount in numerous positions, Tuchel has largely deployed him further up the pitch in an attempt to get him closer to the opposition's penalty area.

Touch maps show a significant change between the two coaches' usage of the 21-year-old. While Mount's touches per 90 are almost identical under the two managers, Lampard deployed Mount deeper than his German successor, while Tuchel has shown a clear desire to get him on the ball in more advanced areas.

So much of the positive work that Mount does with the ball is not captured in goals and assists, the baseline figures that many would deem the primary indicator of an attacking midfielder's contribution. His link play and overall involvement in Chelsea’s attack can be highlighted by sequences framework.

In the 14 games since Tuchel's arrival, only Bruno Fernandes (91) has been involved in more open play sequences (or 'passages of play') that have resulted in a shot than Mount's 86. This figure translates to 7.6 sequences per 90 minutes, which is a big increase on the 5.6 per 90 he was involved in during Lampard's 18 top-flight games this term.

Not only is Mount involved more heavily in Chelsea's attacking play under Tuchel, but his involvement is generating better quality chances. The expected goals value from these sequences has increased from 0.43 per 90 minutes under Lampard to 0.7 under Tuchel. Simply put, Chelsea are creating greater quality chances with Mount further up the pitch.

Similarly, the England international's six goal-ending sequences in the same period are more than any of his team-mates have contributed to.

Even though he's still without a single open-play assist in 2020-21, it's clear to see that Mount's strong associative talents and ability to play tidily in busier areas of the pitch make him a real asset to Tuchel, who has acted quickly to shift him into a position that seemingly suits him better. He's also proving more decisive, with four of his six Premier League goals coming since January 25 – that's more than any of his team-mates in that period.

In general, though, scoring has been a bit of an issue for Chelsea. The likes of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz haven't properly hit their stride yet, and this has undoubtedly impacted Mount's baseline assist numbers, as his expected assists total from open play is 4.1. With more clinical finishing he wouldn't still be sat on zero.

Mount's form lately suggests that once Chelsea begin to click in front of goal, he'll be key to much of their build-up if he's not the one finishing the chances.

Another string to Mount's bow is that he is a genuine set-piece specialist. His corner deliveries are consistently dangerous, and he's created more chances from set plays (38) in 2020-21 than any other player. That's six more than James Ward-Prowse and 16 more than Trent Alexander-Arnold, both of whom have received acclaim for their set-piece prowess over the years.

When thinking of players you might consider to be particularly good at dead-ball situations, Mount may not be the first that comes to mind among non-Chelsea fans, but maybe he should be.

An unsung hero

Mount's improvements certainly don't begin and end with his creativity in the final third, however. Tuchel's preference to play him more centrally is also leading to greater off-the-ball productivity.

He's always been a hard worker and certainly couldn't be accused of neglecting the less glamorous side of the game, yet his role for Tuchel seems to be harnessing his attitude and tirelessness even more effectively.

Mount is averaging 2.2 attempted tackles per 90 minutes under Tuchel, up from 1.7 across Lampard's time at the club. While he may be winning tackles at an almost identical rate (0.95 per 90 mins, up from 0.93), the increase in challenge attempts suggests Mount's work rate makes him a good fit for Tuchel's intense pressing system.

Since the German's first game in charge, Chelsea have the lowest PPDA (9.2) in the Premier League, proof that they press higher than anyone else. PPDA is the number of opposition passes allowed outside of the pressing team's own defensive third, divided by the number of defensive actions by the pressing team outside of their own defensive third. A lower figure indicates a higher level of pressing.

Mount leads Tuchel's press from the front. The midfielder has won possession in the final third 17 times in 19 games for Tuchel. Over the same period, İlkay Gundogan (20), Mohamed Salah (20) and Kevin De Bruyne (23) are the only Premier League players to have a better record than the Chelsea star across all competitions.

A homegrown beacon of hope

Throughout Roman Abramovich's time as Chelsea owner, the club has often found itself in a sort of purgatory. While they've undoubtedly wanted success and a first team full of homegrown talents, it's difficult to say they've truly struck a balance between the two.

After all, since the start of the century, Chelsea products reaching 100 Premier League appearances for the club have been a rarity.

John Terry, of course, leads the way, but beyond him it becomes a bit murky. John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic perhaps come closest to fitting the bill, though both did play senior football elsewhere before joining the club as teenagers.

Granted, Mount remains a little way off yet as well having played 69 times in the top-flight for Chelsea, but he's quickly making up ground.

Not too far behind him are Tammy Abraham (57), Callum Hudson-Odoi (55) and Ruben Loftus-Cheek (54), while Andreas Christensen – at Chelsea since 2013 – has featured 72 times.

What's in store for their long-term futures at Chelsea remains to be seen – they are far less certain than Mount.

But Mount especially shows that where there wasn't much hope for young talent coming through at Chelsea in the past, now there is for arguably the first time in the Abramovich era.

The accusations of Mount being a 'teacher's pet' have faded. Tuchel has no ulterior motive to keep picking Mount other than the fact he wants to pick the best side to win games. And with just two defeats in his first 21 games for Chelsea in all competitions, the German is certainly doing just that.

Chelsea midfielder Jorginho believes Frank Lampard "skipped some steps" and was not ready to become head coach at Stamford Bridge.

Lampard, the club's record goalscorer, was appointed by the Blues ahead of the 2019-20 season, having impressed with Derby County in the Championship.

The former England star guided Chelsea to a top-four finish in his first season as a Premier League boss, as well as the FA Cup final where they were beaten by Arsenal.

But there were few signs of progress by the time Lampard was sacked in January of this year, with the team in ninth, and he was replaced by Thomas Tuchel.

Lampard picked up 1.67 points per game across his Chelsea reign, the fourth-lowest mark among the club's Premier League managers.

No Blues boss has seen his team average fewer goals in the competition, with Lampard's side scoring 1.35 per game.

Only five Chelsea players appeared more times in the league under Lampard than Jorginho (42), while his seven goals also ranked sixth in that time.

But despite being a key man in that side, Jorginho felt Lampard's inexperience told.

"Look, I'll be really sincere here on Lampard," he told ESPN Brasil.

"I believe, given he was a legend at the club, he skipped some steps necessary for learning before moving to a big club.

"He came to a club where he is a legend, without having experience at other clubs. I think he came too soon, skipped a few steps ahead and wasn't ready for a job at this level, to be honest."

Chelsea have since lost only two of 20 matches in all competitions under Tuchel, the second of which still secured their Champions League progress against Porto.

Tuchel's side are through to the semi-finals in Europe, as well as climbing into the top four in the league and reaching the FA Cup final.

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