Liverpool closed the gap on leaders Manchester City with victory over West Ham, while Chelsea tightened their grip on third place in Saturday's Premier League action.

The Blues saw off Burnley 4-0 at Turf Moor, a scoreline that was matched by Aston Villa in their statement victory against Southampton.

Newcastle United, Crystal Palace and Brentford also picked up wins, but it was a bad start to life under new management for Leeds in their early kick-off against Leicester City.

Following another eventful day of Premier League action, Stats Perform delves into the key Opta facts from each of the games.

Leeds United 0-1 Leicester City: New manager, same Leeds

Jesse Marsch's first game as Leeds boss ended in defeat to Leicester as United fell to a fifth successive league loss for the first time since April 2015, when they were in the Championship.

Leeds have failed to score in three straight league matches for the first time in a year, this despite registering 19 shots in their latest blank against Leicester.

United's expected goals (xG) return of 1.95 is their highest without scoring in a league game since June 2020, and the familiar failings were also on show at the other end.

Harvey Barnes' second-half winner means Leeds have gone 13 league games without a clean sheet, their longest-such run since 14 without a shutout ending in August 2016.

This was the fifth straight league game Barnes has scored against Leeds – four of those while playing for Leicester and one for West Brom, making them his favourite opponent.

 

Aston Villa 4-0 Southampton: Coutinho's home comforts

Villa are firmly back on track after registering back-to-back victories under Steven Gerrard for the first time since his opening two games in charge in November.

The Villans put four unanswered goals past Southampton at Villa Park for their biggest Premier League win since thrashing Liverpool 7-2 in October 2020.

Barcelona loanee Philippe Coutinho once again played a big part in the victory by scoring one and assisting another for Douglas Luiz.

Coutinho has now been directly involved in six goals in his first four home league games for Villa, scoring three of his own and setting up as many.

Ollie Watkins had earlier opened the scoring with his 21st Premier League strike since the start of the 2020-21 season, while Danny Ings added to his two assists with Villa's fourth goal.

 

Newcastle United 2-1 Brighton and Hove Albion: Fraser helps end Magpies' duck against Seagulls

For a while things looked incredibly bleak for Newcastle, even after their big-money takeover, but they now find themselves seven points above the relegation zone.

The Magpies held off Brighton to make it eight Premier League games without defeat – no team is on a better such run – with five of those matches ending in victory.

Ryan Fraser opened the scoring to make it two goals in five Premier League outings, matching his tally from his previous 70 appearances, before setting up Fabian Schar.

That was the earliest United have scored twice in a Premier League home game since January 2007 and, despite Lewis Dunk's header, Eddie Howe's side saw out the win.

It marks the first time Newcastle have defeated Brighton in the Premier League in their 10th such encounter, having previously failed to so much as score against them at home.

 

Norwich City 1-3 Brentford: Bees buzzing thanks to Toney treble

After a run of eight Premier League games without a win, Brentford bolstered their survival ambitions with a well-earned victory away at bottom side Norwich.

Ivan Toney was the hero for the Bees with three goals, two of those from the penalty spot, making Brentford the 40th different team to boast a hat-trick scorer.

The Brentford striker now has nine Premier League goals for the season, each of those coming via his right foot.

Teemu Pukki scored a consolation but it was another miserable day for Norwich, whose goal difference of -42 is the worst at this stage since Derby County in 2007-08 (-44).

Not that it will matter a great deal in the grand scheme of things, but Brentford are the first team Pukki has scored home and away against in a single Premier League season.

 

Wolves 0-2 Crystal Palace: Shaky Wanderers lose again

Wolves' European hopes suffered another blow as they fell to a third successive Premier League defeat, as many as they lost in their previous 13.

Bruno Lage's out-of-form side have now conceded six goals in their last four league games, after shipping just five in 12 before that.

Jean-Philippe Mateta came up with the breakthrough from close range for his fourth goal in eight Premier League starts, and Wilfried Zaha doubled Palace's lead from the penalty spot.

Ivory Coast international Zaha has now been directly involved in 83 goals in the competition, the joint-ninth best total for an African player, level with Nwankwo Kanu.

With this latest loss, it is the first time Wolves have lost three games in a row against Palace in their entire league history.

 

Burnley 0-4 Chelsea: Blues cruise at Turf Moor

It was business as usual for Chelsea as they won for a third Premier League game running without conceding in what proved to be a straightforward victory at lowly Burnley.

The Blues scored all four of their goals in the second half as they enjoyed their biggest away league win since October 2018 when also beating Burnley by the same scoreline.

This was the biggest margin of victory for an away side in a game that was goalless at half-time since Tottenham beat Aston Villa 4-0 in December 2012.

Reece James started the scoring and in the process became the first defender from Europe's top five leagues to both score and assist five goals this term in all competitions.

Kai Havertz also netted twice before Christian Pulisic added some gloss to the scoreline – his fourth goal at Turf Moor, matching a record for an away player set by Tottenham's Harry Kane.

 

Liverpool 1-0 West Ham: Reds roll on thanks to Mane

Sadio Mane's first-half goal made it seven wins in a row for Liverpool in the Premier League, their best such streak since a run of 18 when they claimed the title two years ago.

That close-range finish was Mane's 12th of the season in the league, nine of those coming at Anfield – no player has scored more home goals in the division this season.

Trent Alexander-Arnold played the ball into the box for Mane's goal for his 16th assist in all competitions this term, more than he has ever registered in a single campaign.

Liverpool were not at their best and that was particularly true of Mohamed Salah, who failed to score from six shots – only against Stoke in April 2018 (seven) has he fared worse.

Incredibly, Virgil van Dijk has never been on the losing side for Liverpool in 60 Premier League home games at Anfield, setting a new record in that regard.

 

Thomas Tuchel praised the quality of Reece James after the wing-back registered a goal and an assist in Chelsea's 4-0 thrashing of Burnley.

James has recently returned to action after suffering an injury in December's 1-1 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion, playing just over an hour in Chelsea's EFL Cup final loss to Liverpool and appearing in an FA Cup win at Luton Town before starring at Turf Moor.

The England wing-back scored a superb opening goal early in the second half, twisting and turning before firing a neat finish into the bottom-left corner, before supplying an assist for Kai Havertz's second goal of the day as the Blues netted three times in eight second-half minutes.

With 11 goal involvements in the Premier League, James is the first defender in Europe's top five leagues to register at least five goals and assists this season, and Tuchel was full of praise for him after the comfortable win.

"We missed him for such a long time that you get used to it," Tuchel said. "It was nine weeks and in this time we had something like 25 matches, so we were constantly trying to find solutions and we did it as a team.

"We managed to win games and even titles in this period but once he's back and plays three times, today the first time from the beginning, you see what you missed. 

"[He has] such huge quality and it's very impressive how decisive he is in training and now even in the games.

"These [wing-back] positions are very important when you play with this [3-4-3] structure and it's the same on the left side, so it puts things into perspective when you see what we missed.

"I'm very happy that he came back like this."

James is also one of just three English players to record at least five goals and assists this term in the Premier League, alongside West Ham's Jarrod Bowen and Chelsea team-mate Mason Mount.

Meanwhile, Tuchel was also keen to praise the influence of Thiago Silva, after the 37-year-old contributed to Chelsea's third consecutive league clean sheet.

Before racking up their four second-half goals, Chelsea came under a good deal of Burnley pressure in a tense first period, and Tuchel was keen to highlight the Brazilian's importance against a physical home side.

"He's so professional. The dressing rooms are not so big here [at Turf Moor], which is not a problem, but when you're in there so close with the team you can see his focus, and how professionally he prepares for every game. 

"That's why he can perform like this.

"In a match where you have so many long balls and so many second balls, and where you rely so heavily on the quality of your first touch if you win a duel in the air, it makes a huge difference and that's what he does.

"It's very impressive but I can tell you he works very hard, and on top of it he's a fantastic person and a big character in the dressing room."

Kai Havertz netted twice as Chelsea cruised past Burnley at Turf Moor, with Reece James and Christian Pulisic also scoring in a comfortable 4-0 win for Thomas Tuchel's men.

It was Chelsea's first Premier League game since owner Roman Abramovich confirmed he had put the club up for sale, though there were no signs of distraction among the players.

They did struggle to create chances before half-time but then netted three goals in eight minutes to take the game away from Burnley soon after the break, before Pulisic added some gloss a little later.

Chelsea's first opening saw Charlie Taylor block from James, before Thiago Silva made a vital goal-line clearance from Wout Weghorst's shot at the other end.

Nathan Collins headed over as Sean Dyche's men enjoyed the better of the first period, before Dwight McNeil somehow missed with the goal gaping after Edouard Mendy's mistake.

The visitors needed less than two minutes to break the deadlock once the action resumed, with James twisting and turning before firing a superb opener into the bottom-left corner.

That strike looked to have given Tuchel's men greater purpose, and Havertz doubled the advantage just five minutes later, nodding home Pulisic's cross at the back post.

The Germany forward was then on hand to put the result beyond all doubt a few moments later, tapping home James' delivery. 

Things went from bad to worse for Burnley in the 69th minute, as James Tarkowski's error allowed Pulisic to score a fourth, wrapping up a comfortable Blues victory.

Thomas Tuchel hopes to have a fully-fit Chelsea squad for the EFL Cup final against Liverpool after Hakim Ziyech and Mateo Kovacic recovered from knocks, while Reece James could also return.

Ziyech and Kovacic were both doubtful for the Wembley showpiece after picking up injuries in Chelsea's routine 2-0 Champions League win over Lille in midweek, while James has not appeared since December 29.

Chelsea are seeking their fourth trophy under Tuchel, having already won the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, and the FIFA Club World Cup.

The Blues will also be the first team in English football history to compete in one of the major domestic cup finals (League Cup/FA Cup) in six consecutive campaigns on Sunday, having reached FA Cup finals in 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021, and EFL Cup finals in 2019 and 2022.

The Chelsea head coach's cause has been aided by the return of several key figures ahead of the clash with Jurgen Klopp's side.

"We had training today with everybody out on the pitch, except for Ben Chilwell," Tuchel said at Friday's pre-match news conference. "It's brilliant news.

"Both [Ziyech and Kovacic] are okay, today they were not out training with separate programmes, everybody joined in with team training.

"We have no [bad] reactions, only positive reactions. I hope it will stay like this. We have another training session tomorrow, but we hope to have everybody available."

James recorded four goals and five assists in the first half of the Premier League season, and could provide another boost for Tuchel, who remains excited by the prospect of the wing-back's return. 

However, the German boss conceded that he was unsure whether James would be fit enough to start at Wembley.

"He looked brilliant in the last two training sessions," he added. "Let's wait another session and let's see if I'm crazy enough to put him on the pitch!"

Tuchel was guarded as to which of his goalkeepers would start against the Reds, with Kepa Arrizabalaga starting all five matches in the competition so far, while Edouard Mendy has starred in trophy wins for both club and country in 2022.

Asked about the goalkeeper decision, Tuchel responded: "I will not tell you. I will take the decision later. 

"Kepa played in the Club World Cup semi-final and brought us to the final, but then we took the decision to go with Edou for the final, who was back from the Africa Cup of Nations.

"The last decision will be taken after training, as always. Kepa did fantastic in the period that we had to be without Edou, so it's [both] an uncomfortable and very comfortable situation to be in."

Kepa refused to be substituted as Chelsea were beaten on their last EFL Cup final appearance, losing on penalties to Manchester City in 2019 under Maurizio Sarri.

But the goalkeeper has impressed with two clean sheets in four league appearances during Mendy's recent stint on international duty, leaving Tuchel with options heading into the domestic final.

Reece James was a surprise inclusion in Chelsea's squad for the Club World Cup, travelling to Abu Dhabi on Sunday despite Thomas Tuchel saying he would miss the tournament.

A 23-man Chelsea party headed to the finals after Saturday's nervy 2-1 FA Cup win over Plymouth Argyle.

James was not expected to be among them as he recovers from a hamstring injury, with coach Tuchel saying before the Plymouth game the wing-back required "a couple of weeks" before even returning to training.

The Chelsea boss said James would not travel.

With Edouard Mendy to join his club-mates after playing for Senegal in Sunday's Africa Cup of Nations final, the Blues are missing only two first-team players.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who is dealing with a minor injury, has not made the journey, while Ben Chilwell's season has been curtailed by a serious knee issue.

For now, however, Chelsea are without Tuchel, who tested positive for coronavirus and intends to link up with his team at a later date.

Reece James is still a few weeks from his return from injury as Thomas Tuchel confirmed the defender will not travel with Chelsea to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup.

James suffered a hamstring injury at the end of December and has been unable to return to team training since.

His absence proved a big blow for the Blues given James' importance in his right wing-back role – between the start of the season and December 29, he had a hand in the joint-most goals (11) across all competitions in their squad, while only Mason Mount (42) laid on more key passes than James (38).

James' injury was especially frustrating for Chelsea given they had already lost Ben Chilwell for the rest of the season after sustained a serious knee injury the previous month.

And James will not be back in the immediate future, Tuchel confirmed on Friday, though he did not seem too disheartened at Chelsea's inability to bring in extra cover for the wing-backs during the January transfer window.

"We tried and had ideas, but in the end we stick to what we have and are happy," Tuchel told reporters ahead of Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round clash with Plymouth Argyle.

"Reece will come back at some point [this season], unfortunately not Ben Chilwell, but Reece will come back and compete for a place in the squad.

"Azpi [Cesar Azpilicueta] at the moment is in fantastic form and a fantastic place. That is why it's fine. We try to find solutions in our squad.

"[James] is not in team training yet. After a couple of weeks, he will need some time in team training to get the rhythm and confidence back before we think about playing him.

 

"So he does not travel with us to the Club World Cup. For Reece, I am too long a coach to get overexcited by pure dates that are maybe out there.

"I know you can have setbacks and can take longer sometimes. The injury was a big injury and I felt it straight away. The diagnosis was straight away it was a big injury and from there we have to be patient.

"It's always a bit of a tricky one, and he is a physical player. He caught flu in the last week and lost days in his process of coming back to the team.

"We are patient and we want to have him on the pitch [on Saturday], of course, but it's not happening at the moment and we have to stay patient."

Although Chelsea did not sign anyone in January, Kenedy returned from a loan spell with Flamengo and will fill a void in the squad for the rest of the season.

Tuchel believes the winger could be a useful option as a wing-back and he was enthusiastic about giving the 25-year-old Brazilian a second chance at Chelsea, for whom he has played just 15 Premier League games since joining from Fluminense in 2015.

"It's a clean slate and I think he knows it," Tuchel said. "I followed Kenedy for many years, I followed him when he played for Newcastle.

"He was very promising in the early part of his career. He lost track a little bit and maybe couldn't fulfil the demands from the outside I had, but this is life.

"He gets a second or third chance to be here, and it's not about what happened. He was good in pre-season, he decided he wanted to go back to Brazil and try there. But having Kenedy and Emerson on loan, Kenedy was possible [to bring back] and now he is here.

"He is a very nice guy, very talented, and let's see where he is. It's a huge opportunity, and I am very happy to give it to him and help him make the best of it."

Paulo Dybala could be the subject of an audacious swoop from Juventus' Serie A rivals Inter.

The Argentine forward has a contract at the Allianz Stadium until June 2022 and previous reports had suggested a renewal was a mere formality.

However, it seems the situation is not quite as simple as once thought.

TOP STORY – INTER TO PLAY THE LONG GAME WITH DYBALA?

Prominent Italian journalist Tancredi Palmeri explained there is the possibility that Juve's pursuit of Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic may open up the opportunity for the Dybala move to take place.

Inter have had their financial troubles, which led to the exits of Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi in the last window.

But the Nerazzurri are attempting to offload huge earner Alexis Sanchez, which could free up funds to bring Dybala to San Siro.

ROUND-UP

Real Madrid are admirers of Chelsea full-back Reece James, according to El Nacional. The Catalan publication says Los Blancos could offer the Blues the chance to re-sign Eden Hazard in order to secure a deal.

- Antonio Rudiger looks far more likely to leave Stamford Bridge for the Santiago Bernabeu. AS reports PSG and Bayern Munich are also interested in the Germany centre-back, although the defender wants to join Madrid.

- Sticking with Madrid, and out-of-favour midfielder Dani Ceballos looks certain to depart the capital. A return to Real Betis is being touted by Mundo Deportivo.

- In the Premier League, Anthony Martial's long-term future at Manchester United remains up in the air. The France forward has told interim boss Ralf Rangnick he wants to depart Old Trafford, according to Goal.

- Over in the blue half of Manchester, Ferran Torres' switch from City to Barcelona is set to move a step closer with Sport reporting a medical is booked in for Monday.

- Ainsley Maitland-Niles is set for a fresh start in Serie A, so say Goal. The versatile midfielder is said to be on the cusp of securing a loan switch to Jose Mourinho's Roma.

- Napoli have yet to tie down Lorenzo Insigne to fresh terms. Links to Inter and Tottenham have run hot and cold, but MLS outfit Toronto are thought to be serious about the forward, offering him a €5million per year deal, say Calciomercato.com.

Romelu Lukaku scored his first Premier League goal since September and Jorginho struck from the penalty spot twice as Chelsea beat Aston Villa 3-1.

Thomas Tuchel's side had fallen behind to a Reece James own goal in the 28th minute, but they restored parity shortly after thanks to a Jorginho spot-kick.

Half-time substitute Lukaku then headed home for the first time in the top flight since he scored a brace against Villa at Stamford Bridge on September 11, before Jorginho added a third with another penalty in stoppage time. 

The victory meant Chelsea moved level on points with second-placed Liverpool, who have a game in hand, while Villa dropped down to 10th after earlier moving up to ninth following Leicester City's heavy defeat to Manchester City.

Premier League games are coming thick and fast, with European competition now on hiatus until the New Year.

The next few weeks provide fantasy football managers with a great opportunity to quickly rack up the points, but smart selections will be more important than at any other point of the season as rotation takes place amid the congested schedule.

In our latest batch of picks, Manchester City and Chelsea are particularly well represented, while a Manchester United talent will be hoping to kick-start his campaign.

Squeezing all of these into your team might be a little costly, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest they will reward you handsomely.

EDERSON (Manchester City v Wolves)

Brazil international Ederson is usually a pretty safe bet between the posts in fantasy football – you could argue this weekend makes him an even more interesting option.

For starters, no one has more than his 26 Premier League clean sheets since the start of last season, and then there's the form of visitors Wolves.

Bruno Lage's men have scored just once in their past five league games, the fewest in the division. Is that clean sheet number 27 incoming?

JOAO CANCELO (Manchester City v Wolves)

For the reasons mentioned above and also the fact Wolves' 12 Premier League goals this term are the second-fewest after Norwich City, you might be inclined to get as many City defenders in your team as possible.

If that is your tactic, Joao Cancelo should be your first pick given he also offers a threat going forward. Granted, he's not scored yet this season, but the statistics would suggest it's only a matter of time.

Based on the quality of chances that have gone his way, Cancelo's 1.88 expected goals (xG) is the third-highest among players not to score in 2021-22 – he's also had the most shots (33) of all the goalless players. Surely his luck will turn soon?

REECE JAMES (Chelsea v Leeds United)

If we're honest, you should probably have Reece James in your team already given how good he's been this season – but if you've not got him, consider this your final warning.

The England international is thriving in Thomas Tuchel's wing-back-friendly system, boasting comfortably the most goal involvements per 90 minutes (0.98) among Premier League defenders. Ben Chilwell is second with 0.67.

He's creating 2.47 chances per 90 minutes, a figure only bettered by Kostas Tsimikas and Trent Alexander-Arnold, while he's level with Chilwell for the most touches in the opposition's penalty area (4.33).

MARCUS RASHFORD (Norwich City v Manchester United)

It's been a slow start to the season for Marcus Rashford, who missed the first few weeks due to injury and has subsequently struggled to build up sharpness.

But if there's any opposition he'd back himself to impress against, Norwich would be the one.

In 149 minutes played against the Canaries, Rashford has four goal involvements (three scored, one assisted) – that works out at one every 37 minutes.

Only against Sunderland, whom he's played only 26 minutes against, does Rashford have a better record.

MASON MOUNT (Chelsea v Leeds United)

A curious quirk of Tuchel's time at Chelsea has been the lack of goals scored by recognised strikers, but that's translated into a healthy spread across the squad.

Mason Mount is Chelsea's top scorer in the league since Tuchel took charge, his nine efforts three more than anyone else. Similarly, his six assists also represent a club-high.

Mount's recent purple patch has undoubtedly played a role in that, with the England international both scoring and assisting in three of his past four top-flight starts.

GABRIEL JESUS (Manchester City v Wolves)

He may not have been expecting to play such a regular role for City this term, but Gabriel Jesus has been quietly effective out on the right flank.

Jesus will be keen to build on his fine record in clashes with Wolves, too, having scored in all of his three previous league starts against the Molineux club.

That equates to a total of five goals – only against Everton (eight) has Jesus scored more, although he's played 256 more minutes in meetings with the Toffees.

JOSHUA KING (Brentford v Watford)

If Watford are going to avoid the drop, Joshua King will have to play an important role. He's certainly shown signs of his quality this season, such as his hat-trick at former club Everton back in October.

That's contributed to him registering nine goal involvements in his past nine away starts in the Premier League.

Granted, that run does stretch back to 2020 and his time with Bournemouth, so it only counts for so much, but at the very least it suggests he can be an effective option when Watford's backs are against the wall.

In the final weeks of his ultimately ill-fated Manchester United tenure, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took to tweaking his system, switching to a back three against better teams in a bid to bolster a shaky defence.

Michael Carrick would be best advised not to follow suit when he takes United to Chelsea on Sunday.

Five Premier League opponents have lined up against Chelsea this season with three centre-backs – a system popularised in England by former coach Antonio Conte which the European champions have again made their own under Thomas Tuchel.

In those five meetings, in which inferior sides have sought to match up with Tuchel's men, Chelsea have won on each occasion, scoring 17 and conceding none.

Their rare slip-ups – 1-1 draws with Liverpool and Burnley, along with a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City – have come when Chelsea have been challenged by something different.

None of the Blues' rivals can name the same combination of quality, composure, experience and athleticism in a defensive trio. Meanwhile, N'Golo Kante, ably supported by Jorginho and – before injury – Mateo Kovacic, mans the midfield with enough energy to make up for any deficit in numbers.

But the real stars of this Chelsea side, especially with forwards Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner kept on the sidelines, have been the wing-backs.

Trumping Trent

It feels a little like the year of the full-back in the Premier League. Mohamed Salah is attempting to combat that, making their lives a misery, but Trent Alexander-Arnold is excelling again behind him at Liverpool while Joao Cancelo has seemingly assumed many of Kevin De Bruyne's creative responsibilities for Manchester City.

Among nominal defenders in the top flight, those two rank first and second for direct shot involvements: 54 for Alexander-Arnold (20 shots, 34 chances created) and 39 for Cancelo (27 shots, 12 chances created). However, when it comes to direct goal involvements, neither can match Reece James' eight (four goals, four assists).

James is third behind that pair for shot involvements (29 – 12 shots, 17 chances created), among four Chelsea defenders in the top nine; Antonio Rudiger, one of the others, is the only centre-back in that group.

Indeed, Chelsea also account for four of the six Premier League defenders to have scored multiple goals this term, including the only two to net three or more: James and Ben Chilwell, attacking from either flank.

England team-mates James and Chilwell are considered Chelsea's regular starting options out wide but have only actually started four league games together this season – the past four games. That number is not now set to increase any time soon either, after the left-back was injured against Juventus in midweek.

"It worries me because [Chilwell] was in such a fantastic moment – like Reece on the other side," Tuchel said. "They were in the best shape they could possibly be, so strong and so confident and with such a lot of quality."

Yet the loss of Chilwell may not necessarily be felt quite as keenly as his coach might fear; Marcos Alonso, who has matched his team-mate's 23 shot involvements in 2021-22, has twice been the Premier League's top-scoring defender (six in 2016-17, seven in 2017-18). Against United, he is a like-for-like replacement in this system.

Attack, attack, attack

Alonso was among the chief beneficiaries when Conte moved away from a back four in 2016, just as Tuchel's preference for a three last season saw the Spain international feature in 734 minutes from his appointment onwards, having been restricted to 225 minutes under Frank Lampard.

But the key difference between this team and Conte's is in what is expected of those wing-backs, who this season at least have been Chelsea's chief attacking threats, rather than merely complementing players like Eden Hazard, Diego Costa or Cesc Fabregas.

For this reason, James and Chilwell have been stationed high up the pitch, making the most of the platform afforded to them by players like Kante, Jorginho or defensive organiser Thiago Silva.

Among defenders to play 500 minutes or more this season, only Jamaal Lascelles (6.0 per cent) – a set-piece threat in a Newcastle United team who see little of the ball – has taken a greater share of his touches in the opposition box than Chilwell (5.9 per cent) and James (5.6 per cent).

Chilwell ranks second again with 41.3 per cent of his passes ending in the final third, while James (39.5 per cent) is sixth in that regard. Burnley's Matthew Lowton, the man who pips Chilwell, also leads the way for the rate of passes that are played long, showing a little less precision than the attack-minded Chelsea pair.

And this adventurous approach puts James third among all players (minimum 500 minutes), behind only Jack Grealish (7.99) and Salah (7.67), for involvements in shot-ending open play sequences per 90 minutes (7.06), with Chilwell (6.50) 11th and Alonso (6.04) 19th. James is third again for goal-ending open play sequences per 90, his 1.31 trailing Salah (1.83) and Alexander-Arnold (1.34).

Best in the world?

Comparisons between James and Alexander-Arnold are bound to provoke debate, as Tuchel said this week: "I see no reason now why we should get carried away and think about things like: is [James] the best in the world, the best in England or the best in Europe? These things do not help us."

James is "far from finished in his development", the Chelsea coach added.

But his achievements this season, keeping company with Salah and Alexander-Arnold, are particularly impressive given the absence of a forward team-mate of the quality of Liverpool's number 11. Lukaku is supposed to be Chelsea's headline act, but he has not been the only big name to sit out with injury.

Of Chelsea's 30 goals, 13 have been scored by defenders and just six – or 20.0 per cent – by strikers. Only the two clubs at the centre of the season's most dissatisfactory striker transfer saga – Tottenham (9.1 per cent) and City (16.0 per cent) – have had smaller portions of their goals provided by the men paid to score them.

Chelsea have instead shared the burden around, with a league-high 15 different scorers and 18 different players contributing either a goal or an assist, but James, while still patrolling one side of the pitch in a team who have conceded just four times, has shouldered more responsibility than most.

In the four games while Lukaku was missing, no Chelsea player scored more goals (three), laid on more assists (two) or created more chances (12) than James. Over the same period, no player in the Premier League was involved in more shot-ending open play sequences (31), with Chilwell joint-second (28).

Chilwell's momentum has been halted in cruel fashion, but could James end the season, as he is now, as Chelsea's leading scorer?

"Honestly, the way he is playing right now and the way he strikes the ball, I wouldn't be surprised," team-mate Christian Pulisic said after a spectacular Champions League goal against Juve.

Lukaku's return perhaps makes that unlikely, although there is not a huge wealth of evidence for how James might be impacted by his imminent reversion, presumably, to more of a supporting role. His three starts alongside the club's record signing to this point were at best a mixed bag; James scored one and created the other for Lukaku at Arsenal, was sent off at Liverpool and then lost to City, a game in which Chelsea failed to aim a shot on target.

The 21-year-old has gone from strength to strength since then, making it very difficult indeed to imagine a world in which he does not continue to thrive regardless – as its best right-back or otherwise.

Chelsea host Manchester United in the headline game of the weekend in the Premier League, with Sunday's showdown at Stamford Bridge a lip-smacking occasion.

Will United put the misery of their five defeats in seven domestic league games behind them and start afresh after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's sacking, or will it be the same old story for the Red Devils?

The threat comes from all quarters with Chelsea: Reece James and Antonio Rudiger may be as likely, if not more so, to score than Timo Werner, for example.

Leeds are boosted by the return from injury of Raphinha as they head to Brighton, while Raheem Sterling and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang face opponents against whom they have outstanding past records.

The pursuit of fantasy points is on, and here are suggestions for possible picks ahead of the weekend, powered by Opta data.

REECE JAMES (Chelsea v Manchester United)

Will Manchester United's Champions League victory at Villarreal be a spur for them to find a way back to winning ways in the Premier League? Not if Reece James can help it.

Chelsea's exciting right wing-back was sufficiently impressive last term to make England's Euro 2020 squad, but he has gone to another level this time around, and a midweek goal against Juventus just confirmed his progression.

In the Premier League, James has been directly involved in eight goals this season, three more than in his previous 56 appearances in the competition across the last two seasons (5 - one goal, four assists). His total of involvements is higher than any other defender in the league in 2021-22, and United will be wary of that danger. Whether they can stop it remains to be seen.

ANTONIO RUDIGER (Chelsea v Manchester United)

Another Chelsea defender who provides value as an all-rounder, Rudiger provides Premier League fantasy points possibilities at both ends of the pitch.

Among Premier League defenders, only his Blues club-mates James (4) and Ben Chilwell (3) have scored more goals in the competition this season, while only Manchester City's Joao Cancelo (8) has registered more clean sheets than the German (7).

With Harry Maguire suspended and Raphael Varane injured, United seem likely to be susceptible to crosses from set-pieces, which is where Rudiger could come into his own.

RAPHINHA (Brighton and Hove Albion v Leeds United)

Leeds are hovering just above the bottom three, heading into the weekend, so to have Raphinha available will be a major boost to Marcelo Bielsa.

After missing the defeat at Tottenham last time out, the Brazil international is expected to be involved at Brighton this weekend as Leeds target a third win of the campaign.

They missed his creative influence in north London, with Leeds having won 45 per cent of their Premier League games in which Raphinha has featured (18/40) since his debut for the club in October 2020, They have won none of their six matches when he has been absent (D2 L4) and have averaged a measly 0.5 goals per game.

His 20 goal involvements in the league over the same period (11 goals, 9 assists) is second only at Leeds to Patrick Bamford (23 - 15 goals, 8 assists).

RAHEEM STERLING (Manchester City v West Ham)

Has Raheem Sterling played himself into form for City? Three goals in his last three appearances across all competitions suggests that is the case for a player who struggled in the early weeks of the season, in the wake of his exploits at Euro 2020 with England.

Now, assuming he keeps his place in Pep Guardiola's starting line-up, Sterling gets to face one of his very favourite opponents when West Ham visit the Etihad Stadium.

Sterling has been involved in 11 goals in his last eight Premier League games against the Hammers (6 goals, 5 assists), hitting a hat-trick when the teams met in London on the opening day of the 2019-20 season.

EMMANUEL DENNIS (Leicester City v Watford)

It was Emmanuel Dennis who inflicted the final blow to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, completing the rout as Watford whipped Manchester United 4-1 last Saturday.

The Nigerian appears to have been an outstanding acquisition from Club Brugge and Leicester will be wary of his menacing form ahead of a King Power Stadium tussle.

Dennis has scored four goals and assisted five more in just 11 Premier League appearances for Watford. Should he score in Sunday's game, he would become only the sixth player in Premier League history to reach both five goals and assists in 12 or fewer games, after Eric Cantona (11 games), Jurgen Klinsmann (12), Arjen Robben (11), Andrey Arshavin (10) and Bruno Fernandes (9).

JOSE SA (Norwich City v Wolves)

The handover of the Wolves goalkeeper job from Rui Patricio to fellow Portuguese Jose Sa has been seamless, and the new man between the sticks has been highly effective already in the Premier League.

Only Chelsea's Edouard Mendy (3.71) has prevented more goals in the PL this season than Sa (2.18). That is based on Opta's expected goals on target (xGOT) metric, which assesses the quality of shots. On that basis, Sa would have been expected to concede 14.18 goals, but he has picked the ball out of the net just 12 times.

His 38 saves from 50 shots faced gives him a healthy 76 per cent success rate, beaten only by Mendy (88.57 per cent) and Arsenal's Aaron Ramsdale (78.95) so far this season. Norwich will do well to find a way past one of the most in-form glovesmen in the top flight.

PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG (Arsenal v Newcastle United)

Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has not scored or had an assist in his last three Premier League games, creating just one chance in 270 minutes.

But if there is any team he is going to score against, Newcastle would be close to the top of the list, and not merely because Eddie Howe's team are bottom of the table.

The former Borussia Dortmund striker has been involved in nine goals in his eight appearances for Arsenal against Newcastle in all competitions (6 goals, 3 assists), scoring in each of his last five games against the Magpies.

Trevoh Chalobah marked his first Champions League start with a goal as Chelsea stormed into the round of 16 with an emphatic 4-0 win over Juventus.

The holders only needed to a point to qualify and they outclassed Juve at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday to replace them at the top of Group H with one game to play.

Chalobah controversially opened the scoring after Antonio Rudiger appeared to have handled in the penalty area and the Premier League leaders were a class apart in the second half, with goals from the outstanding Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi putting them in command.

Thomas Tuchel's side were in cruise control as they made it 10 games without defeat and Timo Werner rounded off a ruthless win when he added a fourth with the last kick of the game, although they lost Ben Chilwell to a knee injury after N'Golo Kante was also forced off. 

Chelsea started like a side brimming with confidence and the dangerous James forced a save from Wojciech Szczesny with a free-kick from a tight angle.

Chalobah opened the scoring in contentious fashion 25 minutes in, firing in on the half-volley with his right foot from eight yards out after it seemed the ball had struck Rudiger's arm when Hakim Ziyech whipped in a corner.

Thiago Silva showed great awareness to race back and keep the Blues in front with a desperate last-ditch clearance to deny former Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata, who had dinked the ball over the advancing Edouard Mendy.

Kante was withdrawn eight minutes before the break, Ruben Loftus-Cheek replacing him, but they continued to dominate following the interval and took complete control with two goals in the space of three minutes.

James controlled the ball on his chest before beating Szczesny with a rasping right-foot drive after Leonardo Bonucci headed Chilwell's cross into his path.

Hudson-Odoi then applied the finish with his left foot from close range, with Loftus-Cheek having shown great footwork before setting the winger up.

Szczesny thwarted Ziyech with a fine reflex save, but James was involved again as fit-again substitute Werner put the icing on the cake when he finished from close range as Juve lost their perfect Champions League record this season.

Thomas Tuchel says he will not celebrate Chelsea's Premier League title rivals slipping up, despite his side opening up a three-point gap at the top of the table.

The Blues moved three further clear at the summit on a day when Liverpool were held 2-2 by Brighton and Hove Albion and Manchester City lost 2-0 at home to Crystal Palace.

Without injured strikers Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner, Chelsea lacked a cutting edge in the final third before wing-back Reece James opened the scoring after 65 minutes.

James added a second and Jorginho rounded off the scoring for the leaders in a 16-minute goal glut at St James' Park as Chelsea made it six wins in a row in all competitions.

But rather than revel in Chelsea's three-point lead on Liverpool and five-point advantage over reigning champions City, Tuchel intends to just focus on his own side's performance.

"It's not a moment where we celebrate results on the other pitches," he said. "It's too early and we want to focus on ourselves.

"What goes around comes around. There is a long way to go and if you think I'm even happier now, this is not true.

"We need to keep our feet on the ground. I am happy with the team effort today, but we don't celebrate other teams' results. 

"You can lose in this league any match at any minute. So we focus on us and keep going. Let's see where it goes, but it's a long way."

James did what Chelsea's star-studded attack could not by finding a way past the Newcastle defence, the defender taking his tally of goals to four for the season.

The England international also has three assists, with his seven direct goal involvements more than any other Chelsea player this campaign.

Tuchel is pleased with the work of his wing-backs, with Ben Chilwell operating down the other flank, but feels his attacking players also deserve credit for their part in the goals.

"Reece is allowed to come inside, that's not a problem," Tuchel said when asked about the role of his wing-backs. 

"All the spaces we want to attack from, we have all the players in the spaces we want to be dangerous. 

"So if there is a winger waiting wide, the wing-back is allowed to attack the half space.

"I think every team does this in this system. We need the wing-backs to arrive in our box to increase the chance of scoring and create goal chances. 

"The first goal, it was brilliant dribbling from Callum on the left side. 

"Ruben [Loftus-Cheek] arrived, Kai [Havertz] was in the box, and this is what it takes in the end to have a rebound and a chance for a goal. Reece took it brilliantly.

"It's a complex game and I don't think Reece can score if Callum does do the dribbling and Chilly opens the space.

"We have Kai attacking space and then Ruben. This is why sometimes our strikers are sacrificing space. We don't need exercise shooting with Reece – he shoots like a horse."

Newcastle are winless after 10 league games for the third time in their history, having previously done so in 1989-90 and 2018-19.

Graeme Jones, who was in interim charge for the second game while the club seeks a permanent successor to Steve Bruce, was disappointed with the way his side collapsed.

"For 65 minutes we were right in the game," he told BBC Sport. "We had a little spell of momentum just before their first goal and generally I was really pleased. 

"You have to remember that we are up against the Champions League winners and the current Premier League leaders. 

"We were competitive in the game with the way we went about it. It was working up to that point. Once the first goal went in that is when the disappointment came from. 

"The manner of the reaction. Three goals in 16 minutes was disappointing because the game was never that wide open."

Reece James' second-half double stretched Chelsea's advantage at the top of the Premier League as he fired the leaders to a 3-0 win at Newcastle United.

The Blues, without the injured duo of Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner, initially lacked cutting edge in the final third as Kai Havertz took a central role up front.

Their main threat against a Newcastle team content to sit back and play on the counter was Hakim Ziyech, who saw a goal disallowed for offside and hit the post.

However, James eventually found a way through, lashing a superb left-footed drive into the top-left corner in the 65th minute before taking advantage of lackadaisical defending from Newcastle, who then conceded a late penalty to enable Jorginho to apply gloss to the scoreline. 

Chelsea moved three points clear at the summit after Liverpool were held to a 2-2 draw by Brighton and Hove Albion while Manchester City lost 2-0 at home to Crystal Palace.

Ziyech bent beyond Karl Darlow in the 28th minute only to see the offside flag correctly raised against him and then blazed over from close range after Callum Wilson was dubiously ruled to have fouled Andreas Christensen.

The former Ajax star hit the post when a long-range strike deflected off Jamal Lascelles, but Newcastle's resistance was broken in style by James.

His second was less aesthetically pleasing, James slicing beyond a stricken Darlow after Ruben Loftus-Cheek's effort was blocked with Newcastle's defence all over the place.

Darlow's bemusing foul on Havertz allowed Jorginho to coolly convert from 12 yards and help Chelsea solidify their position at the summit in emphatic fashion.

Chelsea needed a penalty shoot-out for the second round running as they progressed into the EFL Cup quarter-finals with a 4-3 win over Southampton after a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.

Reece James scored the winning spot-kick against Aston Villa in round three, and it was the wing-back who netted the decider again on Tuesday.

Once more without the injured strike duo of Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner, Chelsea went ahead through Kai Havertz, but Che Adams hit back early in the second half.

Kepa Arrizabalaga and Fraser Forster both then saved a penalty each in the shoot-out, yet it was ultimately Will Smallbone's miss that proved costly as the five-time winners progressed.

Chelsea had set the tone when Ross Barkley delivered a teasing corner from which Saul Niguez forced Forster into a fine stop in the sixth minute.

Havertz twice went close before he punctured Southampton's resolve on the cusp of half-time when a defensive lapse allowed the Germany international to head home Hakim Ziyech's corner.

That lead lasted only two minutes into the second half, however.

Malang Sarr's error was pounced upon by Kyle Walker-Peters, whose strike squirmed beyond Kepa and into the path of Adams for a tap-in.

Where Kepa failed at one end, Forster succeeded at the other, preventing Havertz from immediately restoring Chelsea's lead.

Both goalkeepers had to be at their best in stoppage time to force penalties, Kepa saving from Lyanco and Mohammed Salisu before Forster kept out Sarr's effort.

Then, Kepa tipped Theo Walcott's spot-kick onto the post before Forster denied Mason Mount to cancel out Chelsea's advantage, only for Smallbone to blaze his penalty over, leaving James to coolly settle matters again.

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