Al Jazira got the Club World Cup under way with a 4-1 win over Tahitian side Pirae in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

Hosts Al Jazira, who qualified by virtue of winning the UAE Pro League in 2020-21, were unsurprisingly a cut above their opponents, racing into a 3-0 lead by half-time.

Pirae – nominated for participation by OFC – did get on the scoresheet early in the second half thanks to an own goal, but Al Jazira finished them off just past the hour through the well-travelled Abdoulay Diaby.

Al Jazira will face Saudi Arabia's Asian champions Al Hilal in the second round, and the winner of that contest shall play European champions Chelsea in the second semi-final on February 9.

Manchester United's search for a new full-time manager continues.

Ralf Rangnick has been in interim charge at Old Trafford since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's dismissal in November.

English powerhouse United have failed to win any silverware since 2017

 

TOP STORY - MAN UTD CONFIDENT ON LANDING POCHETTINO

Manchester United have renewed confidence that they will land Paris Saint-Germain head coach Pochettino as their new boss, claims The Mirror.

The Argentine is understood to be United's number one candidate for the permanent role.

Footmercato claims Pochettino is tired of the constant criticism he has received at PSG and will not stay beyond this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City are on verge of tabling an offer to Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland to make him one of the highest paid players in the Premier League, according to Todofichajes.

- The Sun reports that Arsenal are planning for a £180 million off-season spend, with Real Sociedad's Alexander Isak, Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Wolves' Ruben Neves among their targets. However, this is dependent on Arsenal finishing top four.

- Chelsea will open pre-contract agreement talks with Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele after he failed to make a deadline day move, claims Sky Sports. 

- Chelsea are also eyeing a move for Real Madrid defender Eder Militao as they plan for the departures of Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger, according to AS.

- Juventus and Milan are leading the race to land Roma's Nicolo Zaniolo reports Sky Italia. Roma are looking to cash in Zaniolo in the off-season, with Tottenham also interested.

 

When the next transfer window opens, Erling Haaland's future will be a hot topic.

The 21-year-old striker has two years remaining on his Borussia Dortmund contract.

But there is a £65million (€75m) release clause that enables him to talk to clubs who can meet that valuation from this off-season.

 

TOP STORY - CITY READY TO RAMP UP HAALAND ADVANCES

El Chiringuito claim that Real Madrid's interest in signing Haaland has waned as they focus on landing Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain.

Madrid have been heavily linked with Haaland once his release clause becomes active, along with Barcelona, PSG, Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City.

City "will do what they can" to persuade Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland to join them in the off-season despite believing they are not front-runners, reports The Athletic.

ROUND-UP

- ESPN claims that Manchester United have asked Paul Pogba to delay a decision on his future until they have appointed a permanent manager. Pogba's contract is up in June and he has been linked with PSG and Juventus.

- Chelsea have shortlisted West Ham United's Declan Rice, Sevilla's Jules Kounde and Monaco's Aurelien Tchouameni as off-season targets, claims The Athletic.

- Newcastle United plan to re-ignite their interest in Lille's 22-year-old defender Sven Botman, who is worth £35m (€42m) according to The Mirror.

- Arsenal turned down approaches from Newcastle and Crystal Palace for Eddie Nketiah in the closing days of the January transfer window reports Fabrizio Romano. Nketiah has six months remaining on his Gunners deal and could sign a pre-contract elsewhere.

Everton's managerial search is over, with Frank Lampard having agreed to take over at Goodison Park.

Lampard's appointment comes just over two weeks after Rafael Benitez, who managed the former England international at Chelsea, was sacked following a 2-1 defeat at Norwich City.

Everton lost to Aston Villa last week under the temporary stewardship of Duncan Ferguson, and sit 16th in the Premier League, just four points above the relegation zone.

There is no doubting Lampard has taken on a big job, unlike anything so far in his fledgling managerial career. 

He took Derby County to a play-off final in his first season in management in 2018-19, only to lose to Aston Villa. Then, Chelsea came calling, with the allure of his former club too strong to turn down.

Lampard's first season, in which he was unable to sign players due to a transfer ban imposed on Chelsea, saw the Blues reach the FA Cup final, where they lost to Arsenal, and qualify for the Champions League.

Big investment followed ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, but Lampard was unable to get the new signings to click and was dismissed in January 2021 with Chelsea ninth in the Premier League, 11 points adrift of the top.

While his replacement Thomas Tuchel went on to win the Champions League, Lampard has been out of management for just over a year. But now he is back, Stats Perform uses Opta data to assess what he might be able to bring to Everton.

OVERALL RECORD 

Lampard's win percentage stands at 48.2 across his two roles so far.

He oversaw 57 matches in all competitions at Derby, winning 24 and suffering 16 defeats for a win percentage of 42.1.

Lampard's Derby scored 90 goals and conceded 70 in return. Meanwhile, he had a 52.4 per cent win ratio while in charge of Chelsea.

Relying on youngsters such as Reece James, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham – as well as being able to call on Chelsea's more-experienced stars – the Blues netted 163 goals across 84 games, at an average of 1.9 per match.

Lampard won 44 matches in charge of the Blues, losing 23, while he had 17 draws (the exact same as at Derby), with his team conceding 106 times.

His Premier League record stands at 28 wins from 57 games, with 11 draws and 18 defeats. Chelsea had a top-flight win percentage of 49.12 and registered 1.67 points per game.

That win percentage would put Lampard well clear of any manager Everton have had in the Premier League era.

Indeed, Carlo Ancelotti – with a win percentage of 43.1 from 58 league matches – is Everton's best manager in that regard, with David Moyes (40.5) and Ronald Koeman (40.4) the only Toffees bosses to have won over 40 per cent of their games in charge in the competition.

In contrast, Benitez's win ratio of 26.3 per cent was better only than Mike Walker's (19.4).

 

HOW HIS TEAMS PLAY

Lampard liked to deploy a 4-3-3 shape in his Chelsea career, and with the deep resources he had at Stamford Bridge it was never a case of square pegs in round holes, as has been the case at times at Everton lately. He was often spoiled for choice and had players, such as Kai Havertz, who were able to be effective anywhere across midfield or the forward line.

Chelsea achieved 421 high turnovers in Lampard's 18-month first spell as a boss in the Premier League, with 61 of those resulting in them having a shot and five delivering a goal. Manchester City, Liverpool and Southampton managed more over the same period, but Chelsea did well in this area. This season, Everton are low achievers when it comes to such turnovers. Only Newcastle United (127) and Watford (128) have had fewer than Everton (132), while Lampard's new side are one of just four not to score from a high turnover in the Premier League this term (together with Aston Villa, Norwich City and Burnley). It is asking a lot to transform a team in mid-season, but Lampard will want extra effort in this area.

Benitez tended to favour a 4-2-3-1 shape at Everton, but Lampard will likely revert to the shape he knows best, with the squad he inherits looking ripe for a shake-up.

 

POSSIBLE SIGNINGS

Time is running out for Lampard to make a major dent in the transfer market, but you can bet that will be a priority for the new boss before the window closes on Monday.

Reports have already indicated midfield will be a priority, with Manchester United bench-warmer Donny van de Beek close to arriving on loan, while Chelsea's Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley have both been linked with their former boss, along with Tottenham's Dele Alli, who seems in need of a fresh start.

Those are four major talents, who since the beginning of last season have started a mere 67 Premier League games between them (Loftus-Cheek, 29 for Chelsea and Fulham; Barkley, 19 for Chelsea and Aston Villa; Alli, 15 for Spurs; Van de Beek 4 for United) and contributed only seven goals and five assists in the competition.

Signing any one of those would be putting a lot of trust in past glories, which many would suggest is exactly the same punt Everton are taking with Lampard himself.

Erling Haaland remains tight-lipped on his plans for his future.

The 21-year-old Norway forward has drawn widespread interest after two outstanding years at Borussia Dortmund.

Haaland appears destined to exit BVB later this year but has a decision to make.

TOP STORY – BARCELONA LOOMS AS HAALAND'S PREFERRED MOVE

Haaland is holding off on a decision on his club future to see if Barcelona can raise the required €360million to put together a package for the striker, reports the Daily Star.

The report claims Borussia Dortmund representatives believe Barcelona is Haaland's preferred destination.

The 21-year-old also has interest from Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea .

 

ROUND-UP

- CBS Sports claims Saudi Arabia's  Al Nassr  have lodged a final bid for Arsenal outcast  Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang , with the deal matching his Gunners salary and including a break clause after 12 months that would allow him to return to Europe. Gerard Romero claims  Barcelona have reached an agreement with Arsenal to sign Aubameyang, although the Blaugrana must offload Ousmane Dembele  first.

- Atletico Madrid are unwilling to allow Alvaro Morata to join rivals Barcelona ,   claims Sport. Morata is on loan at Juventus from Atletico amid talk of a switch to the Blaugrana, with Arsenal , Newcastle United and Tottenham also linked to the Spain striker.

Dejan Kulusevski  is set to be loaned from Juventus to  Tottenham ,   with the two clubs in advanced talks on a deal, according to Fabrizio Romano. The deal would include an option to buy.

- The Daily Star reports likely new Everton manager Frank Lampard will block  Dominic Calvert-Lewin 's proposed move to  Arsenal .

- Goal claims top-four hopefuls  West Ham  have made dual bids for Leeds United pair  Kalvin Phillips  and  Raphinha . The Sun claims the Hammers' bid for Phillips is worth £50m.

Aurelien Tchouameni has established himself as one of the brightest young midfielders in European football over the past season.

The 22-year-old is a mainstay in the Monaco side and is already a full France international.

He is under contract until 2024 but seems destined to move on sooner rather than later, with Europe's biggest clubs said to be interested.

 

TOP STORY – TCHOUAMENI TO COMMAND HUGE FEE

According to Marca, Premier League giants Chelsea and Manchester United have both identified Tchouameni as an option to boost their midfield.

The report claims that Monaco have set an asking price of between €80million and €100m (around £66.5m to £83.2m).

Monaco's Ligue 1 rivals Paris Saint-Germain, as well as LaLiga leaders Real Madrid, are also credited with an interest.

ROUND-UP

Fabrizio Romano reports Liverpool have agreed personal terms with Luis Diaz, and that the deal with Porto is now nearing completion.

 

Sky Italia has claimed Tottenham want to sign Juventus' Dejan Kulusevski, after missing out on Diaz.

Aston Villa face competition from Lyon for Rodrigo Bentancur, who is now a target for the Ligue 1 club, according to multiple reports.

Sky Sports has reported Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been the subject of interest from Juventus and Barcelona.

Tottenham and Lyon are in advanced negotiations over Giovani Lo Celso, while the French side also want to sign Brest playmaker Romain Faivre, so says Fabrizio Romano.

Romano also reports Valencia are hopeful of loaning Bryan Gil from Spurs, and Crystal Palace are in talks with United over a move for Donny van de Beek.

Anthony Martial has made no secret of his desire to leave Manchester United in the January window – and the France international appears to have been granted his wish.

Restricted to just four starts in all competitions this season, Martial has very much been on the periphery at United in what is his seventh campaign at the club.

However, there are no shortage of suitors for Martial and it looks increasingly likely that the 26-year-old will spend the remainder of the campaign away from Old Trafford.


TOP STORY – SECOND TIME LUCKY FOR SEVILLA

Sevilla had a loan bid for Martial rejected earlier this month, but Goal reports that the issues have been ironed out and the out-of-favour forward is now set to undergo a medical.

Juventus are said to have been among a number of other European sides in the running to sign Martial, but Sevilla were always his preferred destination.

The LaLiga club are expected to pay a loan fee for the former Monaco man, potentially as much as €5.96million (£5m), while the player himself will accept a cut in wages.


ROUND-UP

– After growing frustrated in their attempt to sign Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina, The Sun reports that Arsenal may now instead go after Real Madrid's Luka Jovic this month.

– Calciomercato claims that Serie A leaders Inter are close to strengthening their squad with the addition of striker Felipe Caicedo from Genoa.

Watford are set to move quickly on the back of sacking head coach Claudio Ranieri by bringing in Roy Hodgson as early as Tuesday, according to Sky Sports.

– Goal suggest that Bayern Munich are targeting Chelsea's Andreas Christensen on a free transfer after Niklas Sule turned down the offer of a new contract in Bavaria.

Manchester City are increasingly confident of wrapping up a deal for Julian Alvarez. However, the Daily Mail reports that the striker will initially remain on loan with River Plate.

Newcastle United have made a fresh approach for Man Utd winger Jesse Lingard, according to The Telegraph. The Magpies are happy to pay a £6m loan fee.

Thomas Tuchel has spoken of his admiration for Ousmane Dembele amid reports the Barcelona outcast could be a transfer target for Chelsea.

Dembele looks to be on his way out of Barca due to a contract stand-off that has turned sour.

The France winger warned the Catalan giants that he would not be "giving in to any blackmail" after Barca director Mateu Alemany ordered him to find a new club "immediately".

Dembele is only under contract with the Blaugrana until the end of the season and Alemany declared he expects the 24-year-old to move on before the transfer window closes at the of this month as "we want to have players committed to the project."

Tuchel saw Dembele's talent first-hand when he played under the Blues boss at Borussia Dortmund in the 2016-17 season before the former Rennes man joined Barca for an initial fee of €105million.

 

The Barca contract rebel's chances created per game average of 2.36 this season is better than any of the Chelsea squad who can play in the same position, while his dribbles completed (6.69) also compares favourably.

Dembele has also had more shots per game (4.46) and made more crosses from open play (6.69) than the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic.

And while Tuchel stopped short of declaring his interest in his former player, the Chelsea head coach is well aware of what he is capable of.

"He is a very good player when he is at his top level," Tuchel said. "I am very fortunate to have trained him in my time at Dortmund.

"It was only one year; it should have been longer. I needed to leave and he decided to leave. From there we are not in closest contact.

"We met here and there because of his duties for the French national team and of course I was in Paris so this was more or less when they were preparing for national duties."

Chelsea face a big Premier League derby with Tottenham at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Ousmane Dembele's future with Barcelona has been unclear for months.

The 24-year-old has snubbed a fresh contract extension offer at Barca.

On Thursday, it was confirmed the Blaugrana have subsequently put him up for sale in January.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA READY FOR DEMBELE MOVE

Chelsea are ready to make a January move for Barcelona's Dembele, claims The Sun.

France winger Dembele is out of contract at the end of this season and Barca now want him to leave this month.

Chelsea have interest in Dembele, although it is unclear if they want to sign him on loan or permanently.

 

ROUND-UP

- Roma are prepared to offer Jordan Veretout in exchange for Tottenham's Tanguy Ndombele, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. Goal and The Athletic claim that Paris Saint-Germain  are in talks with Spurs and Ndombele over a loan move.

- The Telegraph claims Tottenham are ready to make a January swoop for Milan's Franck Kessie, whose contract expires at the end of this season.

- Sevilla are still keen to sign Manchester United forward Anthony Martial on loan, according to Marca. The Spanish club had an initial offer rejected and could move for Lyon's Moussa Dembele as an alternative.

- Real Betis want to sign Manchester City full-back Oleksandr Zinchenko this month, with the lure of regular football, claims The Sun.

- Crystal Palace have pulled out of the race to sign Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey, reports the Daily Mail. Ramsey has had interest from Newcastle United, Wolves and Burnley.

Cristiano Ronaldo's dream homecoming to Manchester United has not gone quite to plan so far.

While Ronaldo has scored 14 goals in 22 games – double the amount of any other United player – his team have otherwise struggled this term.

And with United in a serious battle to qualify for next season's Champions League, an early parting of the ways could be on the cards.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO'S TOP-FOUR ULTIMATUM

Ronaldo's representatives have informed United that the superstar forward will leave if the club miss out on a top-four finish in the Premier League, according to The Sun.

The Portugal international, who penned a two-year contract in August with the option of a further year, is said to be concerned by the direction in which United are heading.

Ralf Rangnick's side beat Brentford 3-1 on Tuesday but still remain seventh, albeit now just two points off fourth-placed West Ham with a game in hand.

Serial winner Ronaldo last week questioned the attitude of some of his United team-mates and then reacted angrily to being substituted off during the win at Brentford.


ROUND-UP

Bayern Munich will consider selling Robert Lewandowski at the end of the season if their talisman turns down the offer of a new deal, according to Bild. Lewandowski, who received The Best FIFA Men's Player of the Year on Monday, is out of contract at the end of 2022-23.

– Goal reports that Atletico Madrid have no intention of allowing Luis Suarez to complete a sensational return to the Premier League this month. The former Liverpool striker had been touted as a target for Aston Villa, who are now under the management of his old team-mate Steven Gerrard.

Chelsea have set their sights on a trio of Barcelona players, reports El Nacional. Blues boss Thomas Tuchel is said to be particularly keen on Frenkie de Jong, while full-back Sergino Dest and youngster Gavi are also targets.

– Meanwhile, Sport say that Barca are interested in Chelsea's Andreas Christensen. Barca are hoping to reach a pre-contract agreement with the defender this month.

Newcastle United must fend off competition from another Premier League club for the signing of Sevilla centre-back Diego Carlos, claims Sky Sports. The Magpies are also reported to be interested in Jesse Lingard.

Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the subject of a loan bid, with an obligation to buy, from Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr. The Gabon international is out of the picture under Mikel Arteta and may be granted permission to leave for the rest of 2021-22. Goal are reporting that story.

Diego Costa confirmed he has left Atletico Mineiro after just five months with the Brazilian club, stoking rumours over a potential return to the Premier League with Arsenal.

The Brazil-born Spain international joined Galo in August on a short-term contract, having been granted his release from Atletico Madrid eight months earlier.

Costa's second spell in Madrid was far less successful on an individual level than his first, which had earned him a £32million move to Chelsea in 2014, with the striker generally impressing in the Premier League as he scored 52 goals in 89 matches.

His August switch to Atletico Mineiro provided Costa with the opportunity to regain fitness after several months away from competitive action.

He featured 19 times for the Belo Horizonte club and scored five times across all competitions, helping them to a Brasileiro and Copa do Brasil double.

Arsenal are said to be interested in signing the 33-year-old on a free transfer, with Mikel Arteta apparently keen for striker reinforcements after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was ostracised from the first team.

Costa offered no clues as to where he will end up, however, as he bade farewell to Galo.

"Today, officially, I say goodbye to Atletico," he wrote on Instagram.

"I would like to thank all [Atletico Mineiro fans] for all the support and affection I received from the first to the last day.

"Thank you so much for being part of my childhood dream of playing in Brazilian football and winning titles.

"I would also like to express my gratitude to the entire technical staff, medical department, employees and especially to my teammates who helped me daily, always doing everything to make me feel comfortable.

"The feeling that remains is gratitude to all of you Atleticanos. Thank you and I wish you all the success in the world!"

While Costa could potentially join Arsenal, the Gunners are expected to announce that centre-back Pablo Mari has left on loan for Udinese after struggling for first-team football following the arrival of Ben White.

The futures of Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe, arguably the two most sought-after players in world football, could be determined by the end of the January transfer window.

While the forwards look set to stay at Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain respectively this month, moves away at the end of the campaign look increasingly likely.

And despite intense competition from fellow heavyweight clubs, Real Madrid are determined to win the race for both players.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID TO PUT ASIDE €350m FOR HAALAND

Madrid had two bids knocked back for Mbappe last year but, according to Marca, they remain in pole position to sign the France international in six months' time.

Landing Haaland could prove to be a little more complicated, though, given he will still have two years to run on his contract at the end of the 2021-22 campaign.

However, the Spanish publication reports that Madrid are willing to spend big on the prolific striker, who is thought to have a €75million release clause in his deal.

On top of triggering that, it is claimed that Los Blancos will have to set aside cash for Haaland's father, agent Mino Raiola and a hefty salary for the player himself, which could total around €350m.

 

ROUND-UP

- Madrid may be considered the frontrunners to sign Mbappe and Haaland, but they already have a back-up plan in place should either of those moves fail to materialise. According to El Nacional, Fiorentina's in-demand Dusan Vlahovic is also on the Spanish giants' radar.

- CalcioMercato reports that Milan have joined the queue to sign Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen. Christensen, who comes out of contract at the end of this season, is being chased by Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.

- Newcastle United could beat Manchester United in the race for RB Leipzig's Amadou Haidara, with The Mirror reporting that the newly-rich Magpies are set to make an offer.

- The Everton board got together on Saturday to discuss manager Rafael Benitez's future in the job, according to Sky Sports. Everton have won one of their past 13 league games and lost to bottom club Norwich City 2-1 on Saturday.

- PSG, Bayern and Madrid are among Kalvin Phillips' suitors. El Nacional reports that Leeds United have a battle on their hands fending off interest in the midfielder, who has been capped 19 times by England.

- The Mirror reports that Chelsea are considering a move for Inter's Ivan Perisic. The Blues are in the market for a versatile player who can play at left-back while Ben Chilwell recovers from a long-term injury.

 

Chelsea already knew the odds were slim. No team that has been clear by at least 10 points at the top of the Premier League after 21 matches has ever failed to lift the trophy.

The Blues travelled to leaders Manchester City on Saturday exactly 10 adrift and desperate to improve on their showing against Pep Guardiola's men from earlier in the season.

But a familiar foe once again brought their downfall as City sealed a 1-0 win that further increases their lead at the summit and probably has them over the horizon in the title race – at least as far as Chelsea are concerned.

Thomas Tuchel spoke with great clarity and assuredness as he addressed the media on Friday, accepting Chelsea were far too negative in their 1-0 defeat to City at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season.

We say "defeat", but in reality it was as close to a 1-0 battering as they come. City tallied three times as many shots as Chelsea (15 to five), and it was a similar story in terms of touches in the opposition's box (34 to 11).

But there was little sign of a major improvement here. Tuchel flailed and flapped like a headless chicken on the touchline, his instructions ultimately powerless against a City side that smothered Chelsea with a high press that just seemed to suffocate them more as the game went on.

Initially, as much as anything, Chelsea just looked confused. Their bravery in playing out from the back was to be commended in some instances, but that mentality seemed to be completely at odds with almost everything else they did.

They would get into the midfield but then launch long balls out wide or to Christian Pulisic in the hole rather than for Romelu Lukaku to run onto. The moves would go nowhere.

 

There was no period of sustained pressure from Chelsea at all in the first half – in fact, they got to the interval without registering a single shot, the first time that's happened in a league game under Tuchel.

Lukaku, bar one early instance where he rolled John Stones before mucking up the final pass, cut a frustrated figure up top. While Chelsea's play in the build-up largely seemed unlikely to get the best out of him, his team-mates might have expected more attempts to run in behind the City defence.

The second half was just a few minutes old when such a situation did present itself, with Lukaku able to do what he's best at: running on to throughballs rather than acting as a target man.

Ederson produced a fine save to block Lukaku's effort, but it was the clearest evidence yet of how Chelsea were likely to hurt City – not that it was necessarily a sign of things to come for the visitors.

 

If anything, it served as a jolt for City, a reminder that, as good as they are, they weren't going to be able to sleepwalk to a win here.

City allowed Chelsea more of the ball, but Guardiola's men upped the intensity significantly with their pressing – the Blues started to find passing through the midfield rather trickier.

Eight of the nine times City won possession in the final third (Chelsea only did so once in the whole game) came in the second half, which was not only evidence of how they were able to impressively dig deep physically, but also highlighted how a team can take the game to an opponent even without the ball.

Of course, City relied on a moment of pure inspiration, which was somewhat predictably delivered by Kevin De Bruyne, who strode away from N'Golo Kante and saw his gorgeous curling effort find the bottom-right corner from 25 yards.

 

It was his fifth Premier League goal against Chelsea, making his old club his favourite opposition in that regard, and a figure bettered by no other former Blue in the competition.

In the context of the match, it also highlighted the differing fortunes of players with comparable pasts: both De Bruyne and Lukaku joined Chelsea as youngsters and ultimately failed to make an impression.

The midfielder now regularly lights up the Premier League, but his international colleague is back at Stamford Bridge and struggling again, albeit for different reasons.

But the fact of the matter is, Lukaku was brought back to turn Chelsea into title contenders – that now looks impossible thanks to another familiar face.

Thomas Tuchel remains confident Antonio Rudiger will sign a new contract at Chelsea.

The Germany international's deal expires at the end of the season, meaning he is already eligible to begin discussions with foreign clubs over a free transfer.

Rudiger has been strongly linked with numerous clubs, with Real Madrid seemingly chief among them.

The 28-year-old joined Chelsea from Roma in 2017, and while he has not always been first-choice having fallen out of favour under Frank Lampard, he has been a key figure for Tuchel.

All but four of his 19 Premier League appearances last season came after Tuchel's appointment in January, while he has started 20 out of a possible 21 matches in 2021-22.

Some fans are growing uneasy given Chelsea are cutting it fine to tie him down to a new deal, though Tuchel seems relaxed.

"Things are clear. Talks are going on and we are confident," Tuchel told reporters after Wednesday's EFL Cup semi-final second-leg win over Spurs.

"Nothing has changed. Everybody knows the situation, let's wait and see.

"We have things to offer and he is the player he is in a Chelsea shirt and a Chelsea environment. He knows that very well."

Rudiger was impressive against Spurs, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win that takes Chelsea through to the final with a 3-0 aggregate success.

The centre-back's three interceptions was not bettered by anyone else on the pitch, while he also had the most touches (109) and successful passes (94).

What made his effectiveness in possession even more impressive was the fact he attempted 36 passes in the opposition half (sixth-most on the pitch) and completed 97.2 per cent of them – among the players to attempt at least 10, only Jorginho (97.4 per cent) was more accurate.

He acknowledged this phase in his career is the best he has had.

"I am enjoying it," he told Sky Sports.

"I think you have to see it about chapters, and I have enjoyed this chapter, I have enjoyed it so far. It is the best time of my career."

Antonio Rudiger scored the only goal of the game as Chelsea beat London rivals Tottenham 1-0 to seal their place in the EFL Cup final.

Thomas Tuchel's side put themselves well on their way to Wembley by winning the first leg of the semi-final 2-0 and they finished off the job at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Wednesday.

Rudiger's first-half header gave them a three-goal cushion and there was no way back for Spurs, who endured another frustrating evening as referee Andre Marriner overturned two penalty decisions he wrongly awarded to Antonio Conte's side, while VAR also ruled out what would have been Harry Kane's 250th goal in club football.

Chelsea will go in search of a second trophy under Tuchel when they face either Arsenal or Liverpool in the final on February 27. 

Romelu Lukaku came close to increasing the European champions' advantage when he shrugged off Ben Davies, but Pierluigi Gollini spread himself to keep out the striker's left-foot drive.

Gollini was at fault for the opening goal 17 minutes in, though, failing to deal with a Mason Mount corner and the powerful Rudiger rose highest to head home his second goal at Tottenham this season.

Spurs hopes of pulling one back were dashed when the VAR told Marriner to change his decision after he had awarded a penalty for a foul on Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, but Rudiger had made contact outside the box.

Marriner got it wrong again when he pointed to the spot early in the second half, the official discovering on the pitchside monitor that Kepa Arrizabalaga had made contact with the ball when he came out to deny Lucas Moura.

There was yet more frustration for Tottenham when Kane lashed home, but the England captain had strayed offside.

Play was paused late on due to a medical emergency in the crowd but, upon its resumption, Chelsea cruised through added time untroubled to take their place in the final.

What does it mean? Blues hunting more silverware as Spurs' wait goes on

That is now 11 matches without defeat for Chelsea and Tuchel is the eighth different boss to lead an English team to the final of both major domestic competitions, and the European Cup/Champions League. Bob Paisley, Brian Clough, Alex Ferguson, Rafael Benitez, Arsene Wenger, Avram Grant and Pep Guardiola are the others to achieve that feat.

Tottenham's 14-year wait for a trophy goes on, with the FA Cup representing their only hope of finally getting their hands on some silverware this season. Chelsea, meanwhile, have progressed from all 14 two-legged ties in cup competitions after winning the first tie.

Transfer talk no issue for Rudiger 

Rudiger's future has been the subject of speculation for months, with the Germany international only under contract until the end of the season.

The 28-year-old is reported to have held talks with other clubs, including Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, but his commitment can certainly not be called into question as he produced another commanding display. The defender has scored 10 times for Chelsea, but all of those goals have come at just three stadiums (Stamford Bridge, King Power Stadium and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium).

Gollini gamble backfires

Gollini made a good save to thwart Lukaku, one of two stops he made in the match, but the on-loan goalkeeper failed to command his area when Mount swung in a corner and he was punished by Rudiger.

Spurs fans may have been questioning why Hugo Lloris was watching on from the bench, but much of the damage had been done in the first leg.

What's next?

Chelsea face a huge Premier League clash away to leaders Manchester City on Saturday, while Spurs take on fierce rivals Arsenal at home on Sunday.

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