Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has heaped praise on Lewis Hall following the youngster's impressive debut in the FA Cup win over Chesterfield.

FA Cup finalists in four of the last five seasons, the Blues cruised through to the fourth round following a commanding 5-1 victory over their National League opponents.

Hall, who has been with Chelsea since the age of six, produced an assured display as he played the full 90 minutes at Stamford Bridge.

The 17-year-old demonstrated wonderful persistence before crossing for Romelu Lukaku to score the Blues' third goal, while his shot was parried straight to Andreas Christensen, who headed in the hosts' fourth.

And Tuchel insists the teenager proved he was deserving of his opportunity.

When asked why he selected Hall, the head coach said: "It was his performance and attitude in training; the attitude he showed in our possession games and small-sided games. 

"He deserved to play; he is a nice guy and very calm. [It was] a huge opportunity at Stamford Bridge. He took his chance and was hugely involved in some of the goals. [I am] happy for him.

"It's clear what we demand from the players in this position. We have a very supportive dressing room and this is very good for the young boys. They have to step up and show what they are capable of, and they did again.

"I am happy with the attitude with how we started. We started strong and well. We decided the match very early and this is what we wanted."

Having appeared on the bench several times this season, Hall revelled in his chance to shine in front of the Stamford Bridge faithful.

"Ever since I was a kid being at Chelsea, this is what I worked towards," the youngster told BBC Sport.

"I saw my name on the teamsheet and I was shaking. It took a few hours to process it.

"To finally get the opportunity – and in front of my family and the amazing fans – it is an incredible feeling."

Chelsea eased through to the FA Cup fourth round after a commanding 5-1 victory over National League side Chesterfield.

Goals inside the opening 20 minutes from Timo Werner, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Romelu Lukaku put Thomas Tuchel's side well in control at Stamford Bridge.

Andreas Christensen and Hakim Ziyech were also on target as the Blues scored five or more goals in a single game for the second time this season.

However, Chesterfield did grab a consolation in their first third-round appearance for seven years, as Akwasi Asante struck 10 minutes from time.

FA Cup finalists in four of the previous five seasons, Chelsea took the lead after just six minutes. Ziyech's shot ricocheted into the path of Werner, who found the empty net from close range.

Hudson-Odoi doubled the lead spectacularly. Receiving the ball on the left, the winger cut inside before bending a wonderful 25-yard effort into the far corner.

Lukaku made it 3-0 inside 20 minutes, the unmarked Belgium international turning home Lewis Hall's low cross after brilliant persistence by the youngster.

Hall was involved again just before half-time. His shot was parried to Christensen, who headed past Scott Loach for only the second goal of his Chelsea career.

Ziyech added a fifth from the penalty spot nine minutes after the break; smashing home after Calvin Miller brought down Christian Pulisic.

But the visitors did grab a consolation in their first FA Cup tie against Premier League opposition since facing Middlesbrough in the 1996-97 semi-finals, as Asante tapped into an open goal.

Thomas Tuchel says Antonio Rudiger's future is a "no-problem situation" for Chelsea and confirmed the European champions are exploring their options in the transfer market.

Rudiger is only under contract with the Blues until the end of this season and the centre-back is free to talk to clubs from overseas.

Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Juventus are all reportedly eager to sign the Germany international.

Chelsea boss Tuchel says there is no need to "pamper" the 28-year-old in a bid to try and keep him at Stamford Bridge. 

Asked if he might need to take Rudiger out for coffees in an attempt to get him to sign a new deal, Tuchel said: "I don't know it helps if I take him for a lot of coffees, maybe it pushes him out!

"I don't feel like that he needs a lot of coffees with me. He's a guy who needs to trust you, who needs to feel the connection, to feel the trust. He needs to feel it by minutes and by actions.

"I don't feel that he needs a lot of words and a lot of pampering and coffee talks, invitations to dinners and whatever. He is a top professional, this is what he gives, he's very important.

"Nothing has changed, we are in talks. It's in good hands. I trust the club 100 per cent and I have full trust in my player, so it's a no-problem situation for me and obviously also for Toni.

"He can still deliver, he did a fantastic match now in a back four and so he's super-reliable. Nothing has changed, the points of view have not changed. Once something changes you will be one of the first to know."

With Ben Chilwell a long-term absentee with a knee injury and the likes of Reece James also sidelined, Tuchel confirmed the London club are looking to add to the squad.

He said on the eve of Saturday's FA Cup third-round tie with Chesterfield: "We are discussing in talks with staff and board, scouting check possibilities, like they always do.

"Given there are long-term injuries we are looking into the market. We are not under the very highest pressure. Things have to make sense for us personality-wise, position-wise and also for the quality. We have our options and check our options."

Tuchel says recalling Emerson Palmieri from a loan spell at Lyon could be an option for Chelsea and did not rule out another exit for Ross Barkley during the January transfer window.

Asked about a premature return for Emerson, the German said: "I will not give you any details, but I will not hide from the fact we have a long-term injury with Ben Chilwell.

"Of course, we know and appreciate Emi as a player and a person in general."

He said of Barkley: "It depends on what Ross wants and what the possibilities are. There is always a chance."

Tottenham have condemned a section of their fanbase that chanted homophobic abuse during their EFL Cup tie at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea beat Antonio Conte's team 2-0 in the first leg of the semi-final on Wednesday.

It has emerged there was homophobic chanting from a section of the travelling support during the derby encounter.

Spurs released a statement on Thursday making it clear there is no place for such conduct.

"The club is extremely disappointed by homophobic chanting from sections of our support at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night," the statement read.

"We work closely with our LGBTQ+ fan group Proud Lilywhites to create a welcoming and inclusive environment at our club and are proud to display the Progress Flag in our stadium on matchdays.

"No one should suffer discrimination because of their sexual orientation and/or their gender identity, and we urge supporters not to use this chant.

"There is no place for discrimination at Tottenham Hotspur."

Thomas Tuchel praised the performance of the returning Romelu Lukaku after Chelsea's EFL Cup win over Tottenham.

The Blues took a huge step towards reaching the final after claiming a 2-0 victory in the first leg of the last-four tie at Stamford Bridge.

Lukaku was restored to the starting line-up after he was left out of the squad for Sunday's Premier League clash with Liverpool due to comments made in the Italian media.

The former Inter striker was quoted as saying he was "not very happy with the situation" he finds himself in, while expressing a desire to return to the Nerazzurri one day.

However, the Belgium international subsequently apologised to Tuchel, as well as the fans on the club's official website.

He played the full 90 minutes against Spurs – recording game-high tallies of three shots on goal and two on target – and the head coach was pleased with his contribution under difficult circumstances.

 

Asked what he made of Lukaku's performance, he told Sky Sports: "Good, absolutely happy. I was pretty sure he was not affected. 

"I see him on a daily basis. Even the last days, he seemed relaxed, fine with the situation and mentally moved on. 

"Romelu can handle pressure and adversity. It was a good performance; he contributed a lot to our defensive setup and had chances."

Tuchel also praised the focus and commitment of his players, although he believes they could have increased their margin of victory.

"It seems like a deserved win, an excellent result because it reflects the game," he added. "We could have scored more, but it is hard to score against Tottenham.

"We did create a lot – some huge chances – it could have been possible to score more.

"We never lost the focus; [we] never lost the commitment."

Chelsea put one foot in the EFL Cup final thanks to a comfortable 2-0 victory over Tottenham in Wednesday's semi-final first leg on a chastening return to Stamford Bridge for Antonio Conte.

Thomas Tuchel, seemingly eager to put recent indiscretions to one side after an apology, reinstated Romelu Lukaku to his starting XI, though Chelsea's victory arguably said more about Spurs' defence than the hosts' attack.

The Blues were ahead inside five minutes as Kai Havertz punished a Japhet Tanganga error at the back, and a comical Ben Davies own goal had Chelsea cruising at the interval.

Spurs improved somewhat in the second 45 minutes but were fortunate not to concede more goals, with Timo Werner spurning a couple of excellent opportunities, perhaps giving Conte's men a lifeline for the return leg.

Lukaku should have made a swift impact when released into the box in the first minute, only to bizarrely opt for a cut-back that went to no one.

Spurs gifted them another chance soon after, though, and Chelsea took it – Marcos Alonso cut out Tanganga's dreadful pass and fed Havertz, who found the net despite Davinson Sanchez's best efforts.

The dominant home side made it 2-0 just past the half-hour mark, Tanganga's unchallenged headed clearance bouncing back off Davies and going in.

Spurs, who introduced Tanguy Ndombele at half-time, were brighter early in the second period, with Harry Kane testing Kepa Arrizabalaga via a 20-yard free-kick.

Still, the best chances went the way of Chelsea and Werner, who first shot agonisingly wide and then saw Hugo Lloris just about reach his lobbed effort after an exquisite pass from Hakim Ziyech.

A late Ndombele effort from Bryan Gil's pull-back was then well saved by Kepa as the Blues kept their clean sheet intact.

What does it mean? Chelsea in control of the tie

The last trophy Spurs won was via this competition in 2008 – on the evidence of this first leg, they will not be ending that drought in next month's final.

Sure, there was undoubtedly an improvement from Spurs in the second half here, but they could not really have gotten any worse – they failed to register a single shot in the first 45 minutes. Even then, Chelsea were still on another level after the break.

Conte has received a lot of praise for the impact he has had on Spurs in just a couple of months at the helm, but this was a reminder of how far they still have to go.

Fruitful from the flanks

Alonso and Ziyech were both impressive out wide for the Blues. The Spaniard was deployed as a left-back rather than wing-back but still got forward to great effect, making the interception and playing the pass for the first goal – that was one of three key passes. The only player to register more (four) was Ziyech on the right, whose use of the ball was often excellent in the final third.

You've been Tangangoed!

This was a day to forget for Tanganga. It was his poor pass to Emerson Royal that was intercepted in the build-up to the first goal, and then his header went in off Davies for the second when he was under virtually no pressure.

What's next?

These two will resume hostilities next Wednesday in the second leg at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, but before that, both teams are in FA Cup action. Chelsea host Chesterfield on Saturday, while Spurs welcome Morecambe to north London the following day.

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel has revealed that N'Golo Kante and Thiago Silva have tested positive for COVID-19.

The pair were left out of Chelsea's starting line-up for Wednesday's EFL Cup semi-final first leg against Tottenham and will now serve a period of self-isolation.

Kante has featured in 17 of the Blues' 31 matches this season, while Silva – who signed a one-year contract extension on Monday – has been used 22 times.

It is the second time in a little over three months that France international Kante has tested positive for coronavirus.

Asked about the duo's absence from the side to face Tottenham, Tuchel told Sky Sports: "Unfortunately, Thiago and N'Golo have tested positive.

"It's huge for us because they are two huge players. We had the last information today in the morning, so it is quite challenging, but we will push.

"The guys who are here have our trust and our belief.

"We will push things to the maximum. The situation hasn't changed since some weeks ago, it's not the moment to repeat it, from here we are looking for solutions. 

"I have trust in the guys who play and hopefully we put in a strong performance."

As well as facing Tottenham over two legs, Chelsea also take on Chesterfield in the FA Cup and face Manchester City in the Premier League over the next 10 days.

Romelu Lukaku started the tie at Stamford Bridge, three days on from being left out of Chelsea's squad to face Liverpool after giving a controversial interview.

The striker made a public apology on Tuesday and was back involved against Spurs, with the Blues eyeing a first-leg advantage to take into next week's reverse fixture.

Chelsea have progressed from five of their last seven EFL Cup semi-final ties, failing only in 2012-13 (v Swansea City) and 2017-18 (v Arsenal) in that run.

Since winning three games in a row against Chelsea between 2018 and 2019, Tottenham were winless in their last eight against the Blues in all competitions prior to Wednesday's game.

If Thomas Tuchel is after any advice on how to deal with the Romelu Lukaku issue, the Chelsea head coach could do worse than to have a brief word with the man he will come face-to-face with on Wednesday.

Under now-Tottenham boss Antonio Conte across two seasons with Inter, Lukaku enjoyed the best form of his career, scoring and assisting a combined 81 goals in 95 appearances.

Lukaku has not been as prolific since returning to Stamford Bridge in August, finding the net seven times in 18 games, and already his future at Chelsea has been called into question following an explosive interview in the Italian press that was published last week.

The Belgium international was subsequently dropped for Chelsea's crucial clash with Liverpool on Sunday but is in line return for the EFL Cup semi-final first leg with Spurs after holding clear-the-air talks with his manager, meaning a possible reunion with Conte.

Here, Stats Perform looks at how Conte got Lukaku out of the "deep hole" he found himself in at Manchester United, as the striker himself put it, and explores how Tuchel can go about getting the most out of Chelsea's all-time record purchase.


ROM AMONG EUROPE'S ELITE

As well as declaring an unhappiness with his role at Chelsea and expressing a desire to return to Inter as part of his 30-minute chat with Sky Sport Italia, Lukaku also opened up on the "hurt" he felt when Conte departed San Siro.

That is no surprise given the Belgian's form between arriving at Inter in August 2019 and departing two years later. 

The 47 Serie A goals scored by Lukaku in 72 games under Conte is his best return under any of the 11 managers he has played for at club level, followed by the 43 netted in 103 Premier League games when working with now-national team coach Roberto Martinez at Everton.

That includes a return of 24 goals in 2020-21 alone, on top of 11 assists, as he became the first player to score 20-plus goals and set up 10 or more in a single Serie A season since Opta started to record such data in 2004-05.

Indeed, only Cristiano Ronaldo (83), Kylian Mbappe (97), Lionel Messi (106) and Robert Lewandowski (121) were directly involved in more goals in all competitions among players from Europe's top five leagues than Lukaku's 81 across the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.

 

FLOPPED IN FAVOURED FORMATION

That impressive form helped Inter end their 11-year wait for Scudetto success last time out, a year on from falling just short in the Europa League with defeat in the final, but Lukaku was not alone in inspiring the Nerazzurri to glory.

Alongside him was Lautaro Martinez, who was very much the perfect foil in Conte's preferred 3-5-2 formation, which the Italian used 31 times in 38 league matches last season.

It is a formation Tuchel has used on only two occasions in the Premier League this term – in September's 1-0 home defeat to Manchester City and the 1-0 victory at Brentford three weeks later. 

Lukaku started both games alongside Timo Werner and Chelsea's tally of five shots against City and five against Brentford are the fewest the Blues have managed in any league game this term – Lukaku responsible for just one of those – as were the four and two chances created respectively.

While City's quality and dominance of the ball must be factored in, Lukaku's minimal involvement against Brentford was surprising – and surely no coincidence.

That west London derby blank came in the midst of a 10-game run without a goal for Lukaku, not helped by niggling injuries and a COVID lay-off, which he has since put an end to with three goals in four matches.

Chelsea's formation in those three most recent games Lukaku has scored in, incidentally, came with three attackers spread across the frontline. And there was one other common denominator, too: Mason Mount being on the field.

 

MOUNT TO PLAY THE MARTINEZ ROLE?

Mount assisted Lukaku's most recent goal in a 1-1 draw against Brighton and Hove Albion from a corner and the pair have combined to create nine chances in total for one another in the league this term, making it easily Chelsea's most dangerous partnership.

No Chelsea player has combined more regularly with Lukaku than Mount, with the pair linking up 10.06 times per 90 minutes so far this season. While that may not appear a huge amount on the face of it, next on that list is Mateo Kovacic with 6.45 combined passes between himself and Lukaku per 90.

However, Mount still has some way to go if he is to match the 54 combined chances created for each other in Serie A by Lukaku and Martinez in their two seasons used in tandem at Inter, which equated to nine assists.

Lukaku's relationship with Mount does provide some promise, though, as does the Anderlecht academy product's goalscoring performances in his most recent two outings prior to being dropped against Liverpool, showing Chelsea do not necessarily have to replicate Inter's system to help their main man thrive.

 

TUCHEL WILL NOT SHIFT

Lukaku is averaging fewer passes, overall touches and touches in the opposition box this season compared to last, while also shooting less frequently, dribbling less and creating fewer chances for others.

Yet instead of attempting to find the perfect formula and personnel for Lukaku, Tuchel will not shift from his own way of thinking.

"We cannot just play like Inter in the hope that will bring the most out of Lukaku. The system they played not only suited Romelu but also Lautaro Martinez and others. If you don't have five players you can't play five defenders," Tuchel said on the eve of the Tottenham tie.

"It works both ways. It is more about principles of how we play. I feel he is more impatient than anything else. He wants to be involved more, wants more big chances. 

"Like with every transfer, you have to accept there is a change of environment, culture, team-mates, playing style, belief. He's not the first player to take time, but even while doing it he was scoring goals."

And maybe Tuchel has a point. After all, for all the talk of Lukaku's struggles and unhappiness, he is scoring at an almost identical rate to Cristiano Ronaldo (0.54 goals per 90 minutes compared to 0.56), and remains one of Europe's most prolific strikers of the past decade.

Now back from injury and a team exile brought on by his own actions, only Lukaku can ensure he avoids falling down another deep hole that he may this time be unable to escape.

Dusan Vlahovic looms as a major topic in this January transfer window.

The 21-year-old Serbia international has scored 18 goals this season for Fiorentina.

Chelsea, Manchester City, Barcelona and Juventus have all been linked with Vlahovic, along with Arsenal and Tottenham.

TOP STORY - GUNNERS LODGE VLAHOVIC BID

Arsenal have lodged a €70million (£58.3m) bid for Fiorentina's Serbian forward Dusan Vlahovic,  according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

As part of the proposed deal, Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira would join La Viola on a permanent deal.

Arsenal, who were seen as a long shot to secure Vlahovic's services, are keen to sign a new forward, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang falling out of favour.

 

ROUND-UP

- Arsenal are willing to listen to offers for outcast forward Aubameyang in January, claims Sky Sports. Aubameyang lost the Gunners' captaincy last month and has been dropped from the side. Newcastle United have been linked with the Gabon international.

- Goal reports that Aston Villa, Everton and Liverpool are all keen on bringing in Philippe Coutinho during the January transfer window as Barcelona shop him around. Coutinho is not keen on a return to Brazil and fancies playing in England again.

- Atletico Madrid full-back Kieran Trippier has agreed personal terms with Newcastle with a medical to complete before a deal is confirmed, reports Fabrizio Romano.

- Real Madrid have thrown in the towel in their pursuit of Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger due to his wage demands, claims Marca.

- Chelsea, Newcastle and West Ham are all circling for Everton's full-back Lucas Digne,  according to Sky Sports. Digne is valued at £30m.

Antonio Conte labelled his Tottenham appointment as a signal of intent to their competitors and to Harry Kane.

Kane endured a tough start to the 2021-22 campaign, scoring just one goal in his first 13 league games after seemingly having his head turned amid interest from Pep Guardiola's Manchester City.

Spurs, without their talisman Kane firing, suffered in the league and were ninth after five top-flight losses in seven games before the former Inter head coach took charge in the wake of Nuno Espirito Santo's sacking.

They have since appeared revitalised under Conte, who set and then extended a club record as he remains unbeaten in his opening eight league games.

It is a run which has propelled Tottenham to sixth, two points behind fourth-placed rivals Arsenal while still boasting two games in hand.

Kane has also started to find the net, managing three goals in his last four Premier League games, and Conte outlined how Spurs' standpoint with their striker during the interest from City displayed their desire to build something special.

"I followed the situation about Harry and I have seen what happened and what could happen," he said. "The club decided to keep Harry in the team and it was a great choice of the owner. 

"You are showing you want to continue to build something important around one of the best players in the team.

"Harry is a player of Tottenham and continues to be one of the best in the team. He's a point of reference in the dressing room.

"I think Tottenham wanted to bring me here to send a signal outside and also to our players."

The England captain has won the Premier League Golden Boot award three times but has never lifted any trophies with Spurs during his time at the club.

Questions have been raised as to whether the striker will chase silverware and leave his boyhood club, though Conte feels he understands why Kane is yet to move on.

"Yeah I understand Harry's situation because for sure when you finish your career you can see your appearances and the team where you played but at the same time it's right also to see what you have won," he continued. 

"I think that this is important for top players because sometimes it happens that important players finish their career with a couple of titles and others below them have more.

"We are talking about a really good person and a good man. This is the most important thing, I knew the situation in the summer but then when Harry decided to stay I had found a player totally involved in the project. 

"I'm happy to have him in my team, we're talking about a top player and a top striker. He knows well my opinion but I repeat I'm very happy to work with him."

 

Conte will be hoping Kane can blast Spurs past his former side Chelsea in the EFL Cup semi-final when the first leg takes place on Wednesday.

Both of Conte's previous two losses in the competition have come against London sides, losing to West Ham in 2016-17 and to Arsenal over two legs in the 2017-18 semi-final.

While Spurs have progressed from six of their last eight EFL Cup semi-final ties, Conte believes there is a sizeable rebuilding job to do after the departure of Mauricio Pochettino, who guided Tottenham to the Champions League final in 2018-19.

"I have to be honest, if we have to compare this Tottenham and in the past I think in the past Tottenham was a team with many players with more experience in the league," he added.

"They had good momentum in the past to try and win something. Now, I think we're in a moment when we're starting again.

"We lost many players and now there are young players you have to wait. To get the right mentality, to win, you must have the right mentality. 

"It means you must be focused every day. You have to think football more than two or three hours in your day.

"You make yourself to be a winner but you need time and people that transfer you the right sensation and thoughts every day - but you need time.

"I think Mauricio did a fantastic job as he took a group of young players and they grew and became a contender for the title. I remember at Chelsea they fought until the end with us and Leicester [City]. 

"The level now has dropped a bit as players left and now we have to try to have the time and patience to build again a good situation."

Tottenham boss Antonio Conte believes his former side Chelsea are "more ready" to win trophies than his current employers.

Conte returned to London in early November and remains unbeaten in a club-record eight league games since his arrival, pushing Spurs up to sixth and just two points behind fourth-placed Arsenal while still boasting two games in hand.

The former Inter head coach also oversaw a 2-1 EFL Cup quarter-final win over West Ham, teeing up a double-header with Thomas Tuchel's side for a place in the final at Wembley.

Spurs have progressed from six of their last eight EFL Cup semi-final ties, failing only in 2006-07 against Arsenal and 2018-19 versus Chelsea, but Conte believes his former club are better prepared for success currently.

"I think that for everyone it's always very important to win trophies – for the club, for the players, for the managers," Conte told reporters at Monday's pre-match news conference. 

"On one hand, I have to tell you this. On the other, I think you have to build to win trophies. You can win trophies by speaking and saying you want to win. But then you have to be good and build something ready to win.

"I think at this moment, Chelsea is more ready than us to win. They won last season the Champions League. 

"I think we have a lot of space for improvement, to be a team with an aspiration to win. Then for sure, we'll do everything to reach the final of this trophy.

"But I repeat: to use this verb or word 'to win' is more simple than winning because to win you have to build something important, be solid, have an important squad. Then you're ready to win."

 

Conte enjoyed a fruitful spell in charge of Chelsea, leading the Blues to the 2016-17 Premier League title in his first season at the helm before triumphing in the FA Cup the following season.

He then joined Inter, where he again won another league title as he ended the Nerazzurri's 10-year wait for the Scudetto, before returning to England to manage Spurs.

After numerous successes across varying countries and with numerous teams, Conte feels he has nothing to prove as he prepares to return to Stamford Bridge in the first leg of the semi-final on Wednesday.

"I have to thank Chelsea because they gave me the possibility to work in England and have my first experiences in England," he added. "Now, for sure, I'm the manager of Tottenham and I want to give this club 100 per cent and more to try to improve the team. 

"It'll be good and for sure I'll have emotion to come back to Stamford Bridge. We did a really good job and I think in my position I mustn't prove anything to anyone. 

"I'm a manager that has experience and continues to have experience in my career and do important jobs at other teams."

January 1 2022 is a date Real Madrid and Kylian Mbappe have been anticipating for some time.

Los Blancos were the subject of two failed bids for the Paris Saint-Germain superstar in the previous transfer window.

But the new year sees Mbappe enter the final six months of his contract at the Parc des Princes meaning he is free to talk to clubs outside of France.

And it seems Madrid are more confident that ever of landing their top target.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID HAVE 'TOTAL OPTIMISM' ON MBAPPE

The future of Mbappe has dominated the rumour mill for months and Spanish publication Marca claims there is "total optimism" among the Madrid hierarchy they will land their man.

One complication is the fact the two teams are set to meet in a Champions League last-16 grudge match, with any announcement unlikely to happen before that tie.

But come July 1 there is growing expectation Mbappe will be a Madrid player, with the signing of Lionel Messi and potential future arrival of Zinedine Zidane as head coach seemingly not enough to convince him to remain in the French capital.

 

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea's need for defensive reinforcements may be exacerbated by the fact Andreas Christensen has no intention of signing a new contract. Spanish paper Sport says the Dane, who is out of contract at the end of the season, is close to joining Barcelona.

- Speaking of Barcelona, AS reports the future of Memphis Depay is shrouded in doubt. With Ferran Torres having arrived from Manchester City and Alvaro Morata a top target, Depay may be set for a close-season exit after a solitary campaign at Camp Nou.

- Manchester United could be about to get one over old boss Jose Mourinho by landing Boubacar Kamara. The Daily Mirror reports the Red Devils are attempting to beat Roma to the signing of the Marseille midfielder.

- Roma have also been in the hunt for Arsenal midfielder Ainsley Maitland-Niles, but they apparently face competition from Everton according to the Liverpool Echo.

- Over on the Red side of Merseyside, Italian agency ANSA is reporting Liverpool are about to pip Arsenal and Tottenham to the signing of Milan midfielder Franck Kessie.

- The Athletic suggested the Gunners are also likely to have more frustration. Arsenal have been linked with a move for Lille forward Jonathan David but will apparently have to wait until the end of the campaign to land their man.

January 1 ushers the start of a new year and, for many, a chance for a fresh start. That is particularly true in the world of football as it signals the day the transfer window opens and some of Europe's top talents can plot a lucrative move elsewhere.

A number of the sport's top talents, including Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, are due to be out of contract at the end of 2021-22 and can therefore open talks with teams abroad in January.

While the futures of Mbappe and Pogba will be heavily discussed in the coming weeks, other big names across the continent will also become that little more attractive to buyers given their availability on a free (notwithstanding their lucrative salaries, of course!).

Stats Perform looks at the best players soon to be out of contract and therefore available to sign pre-contract agreements elsewhere from January 1.

 

Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)

Where better place to start than with a goalkeeper potentially seeking a new destination. Lloris has spent 10 seasons with Tottenham and has captained the side for the past six years, while also skippering the France national team since 2012.

Spurs have historically been reluctant to offer long-term deals to players in their 30s and that policy could see them lose one of European football's finest goalkeepers from the past decade. He has racked up 392 appearances for Tottenham, keeping 131 clean sheets in the process.

Anthony Martial (Manchester United)

Martial did not quite transform into the superstar forward many were expecting upon joining United from Monaco six years ago, but neither has the France international been as big a flop as some would suggest.

Indeed, since making his Premier League debut in September 2015, only Marcus Rashford (57) has scored more goals for United than Martial's 56. Those goals have come from an expected goals (xG) return of 43, with that xG differential of 13 the largest of any player at the club in that timeframe.

 

Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea)

Chelsea face the prospect of losing four defenders without receiving a fee of any sort at the end of the campaign, with Andreas Christensen, Thiago Silva, Cesar Azpilicueta and Rudiger all nearing the end of their respective contracts.

Tying down Rudiger to fresh terms should be the priority, given there has arguably been no better defender in the Premier League since Thomas Tuchel first took charge of Chelsea on January 27, backed up by the centre-back's Premier League-leading 17 clean sheets over that period.

Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

No player has quite dominated the transfer column inches in the same manner as Pogba in recent years and, with no sign of a new contract being signed anytime soon, it now looks certain the 28-year-old will depart United for a second time.

Pogba may have struggled for consistency at Old Trafford, not helped by niggling injury issues, but he has averaged one assist per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season – a tally not matched by any player to have played more than once.

Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)

PSG rejected multiple offers from Real Madrid in 2020, but as it stands they are powerless to stop one of the game's leading lights departing at the end of the season.

As well as breaking a number of goalscoring records, Mbappe's 215 direct goal involvements in all competitions since making his PSG debut in September 2017 – 147 goals of his own and 68 assists – is a tally bettered by only Robert Lewandowski (242) and Lionel Messi (246).

 

Marcelo Brozovic (Inter)

Inter have so far been able to persuade Nicola Barella and Lautaro Martinez to extend their stays at San Siro, but Brozovic's future remains unclear heading into the new year.

Brozovic was a key part of Inter's Scudetto-winning side last term, featuring in 33 of their 38 games, and has started all 19 of their matches this campaign. Only Ruben Dias (1,713), Joao Cancelo (1,803) and William Saliba (1,840) have played more successful passes than the Croatia international (1,681) among players from Europe's top five leagues in 2021-22.

Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

Gareth Bale and Isco are two high-profile Madrid players set to move on either in January or at the end of the season, but as well as trying to seal Mbappe's signing, Madrid's other priority might be ensuring Modric does not bring an end to his decade-long spell at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2022.

Proving that age is just a number, 36-year-old Modric has been as good as ever for LaLiga leaders Madrid this season. The six big chances created by the midfielder in 2020-21, leading to four assists, has been bettered by only four others in the division.

 

Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona)

Dembele has struggled to come close to justifying his hefty transfer fee, reported to be an initial €105million, but he was recently described as having the potential to be the best attacking player in the world by head coach Xavi.

Barca president Joan Laporta is also eager to keep hold of Dembele, who has managed 30 goals and 22 assists in 126 appearances since his debut in September 2017, meaning he has been directly involved in 0.6 goals per 90 minutes. For comparison, that is an identical number to Antoine Griezmann during his short-lived stint at Camp Nou.

Denis Zakaria (Borussia Monchengladbach)

Strongly touted as a target for the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Zakaria will depart Borussia Monchengladbach in 2022 after confirming to the German club that he intends to run down his contract.

The defensive midfielder averages 52.3 passes every 90 minutes and 47.1 successful ones, the latter being the ninth-most this season among Bundesliga midfielders with at least 500 minutes played. Among the same group of players, only seven average more than his two successful dribbles every 90 minutes – all of those being more attack-minded players.

Paulo Dybala (Juventus)

Dybala has indicated that he wants to remain a Juventus player beyond this season but the longer talks over a new deal drag on, the more unlikely it appears he will still be in Turin six months from now – and that would be a major blow for the Bianconeri during an already difficult period.

The Argentina international has eight goals and four assists in 17 appearances this term, without being at what many would consider his best form – at least three more direct goal involvements than Juve's next most threatening player Alvaro Morata and double that of Federico Bernardeschi in third.

Leeds United winger Raphinha is drawing plenty of attention.

The Brazilian debuted for his country in October and has scored two goals in five caps.

Raphinha joined Leeds from Rennes on a four-year deal in 2020.

And, having seen his career hit new heights since that move, he does not appear to be desperate for another switch.

TOP STORY - RAPHINHA NOT PUSHING FOR LEEDS EXIT

Brazil international Raphinha will not push for a January move away from Leeds United according to the Mirror.

Raphinha has been linked with moves to both Liverpool and Bayern Munich during the January transfer window.

The 25-year-old's agent has spoken about his ambition, but he is content at Leeds who are battling relegation.

 

ROUND-UP

Inter are angling to sign Germany international Matthias Ginter as a free agent in the middle of next year claims Fabrizio Romano. Ginter confirmed on Tuesday he would leave Borussia Monchengladbach when his contract expires at the end of this season.

- Gerard Moreno reports that Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta has reached an in-principle agreement to join Barcelona in the close-season.

Sevilla are considering a bid to sign Barcelona defender Mika Marmol, according to Diario Sport.

Everton want to land Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley on loan in January, says The Telegraph.

- Sky Sport Italia claims MLS club Toronto are in advanced talks with Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne and Torino striker Andrea Belotti.

Newcastle United are set to flex their financial muscles during the January transfer window.

The Magpies are struggling in the Premier League drop zone even after claiming a 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

But following a change of ownership they have funds available to bolster their squad.
 

TOP STORY - MAGPIES KEEN ON BARCELONA'S UMTITI

Cashed-up Newcastle are considering a move for Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti according to The Sun.

The 2018 World Cup winner has fallen out of favour at Barcelona, who are looking to offload players due to their financial issues.

Eddie Howe's side have conceded a league-high 42 goals and want to shore up their backline to aid their case to avoid relegation.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bayern Munich have ramped up their bid to sign Leeds United's Raphinha, claims The Sun. Leeds remain hopeful of keeping the Brazil international.

- Chelsea have also entered the race to sign Raphinha according to the Express, who also claim they will allow Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech to depart.

- Tottenham are leading the way to secure the signature of Milan midfielder Franck Kessie with the two parties in advanced talks, reports the Express.

- Ex-Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho's preferred new home is Arsenal,  with Barcelona keen to offload the Brazil international according to Sport.

- Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina are all on high alert with Torino's Italy international striker Andrea Belotti set to exit the club when his contract expires at season's end, reports Calciomercato.

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