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.

Thomas Tuchel was delighted to see Chelsea come from behind to defeat Aston Villa 3-1 but was left concerned by injuries to N'Golo Kante and Thiago Silva on Sunday.

Chelsea fell a goal behind when Reece James inadvertently flicked Matthew Targett's first-half cross past Edouard Mendy, but Jorginho soon levelled things up from the spot following Matthew Cash's foul on Callum Hudson-Odoi.

Tuchel introduced Romelu Lukaku at half-time and the Belgium forward flicked the visitors ahead with his ninth goal in 10 Premier League appearances against Villa; he has not scored more against any other opponent in the top five European leagues.

Jorginho again converted from 12 yards to seal victory with his 10th top-flight penalty in 2021. Since Tuchel's first game in charge, the Blues have scored more penalties than any other Premier League side, while the Italy midfielder has scored more spot-kicks than any other club besides Chelsea in that period.

Chelsea's win moved them within six points of leaders Manchester City and level on points with Liverpool, who have a game in hand, but Tuchel was left frustrated by the game going ahead as injuries and COVID-19 infections impacted upon his plans.

Tuchel told BBC Sport: "We showed a very good reaction after their goal. The own goal made things super complicated. The reaction was very good. We defended strong and did not allow big chances. It was a deserved win but hard work.

"We have concerns for injured players. We let Callum Hudson-Odoi play 90 minutes after COVID. Thiago Silva got injured. N'Golo Kante is injured. Mateo Kovacic is playing after injury and COVID without any preparation and training.

"We're just filling holes where we can fill them. We play teams without international duties. Five changes were invented because of COVID.

"Now we're in the middle of COVID and some teams are having games postponed and others aren't. Three changes are a big disadvantage."

Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick insisted five substitutes should be reintroduced in England's top flight for the benefit of player welfare, and Tuchel echoed his compatriot's thoughts.

Asked whether five substitutes should be reintroduced, Tuchel responded: "Of course. We are the only league that play in winter, which I love, but we're not protecting the players.

"All other leagues have five changes. Then we compete against them in the Champions League. It's a bit frustrating. It will not stop.

"Brighton and Hove Albion will play a super physical game then we have two games against Tottenham, who are out of Europe and fully focused on the league and EFL Cup."

Lukaku – who scored in the reverse fixture this season – has a fantastic record against Villa but Tuchel revealed he had no idea about his striker's tendency to score past the Villans.

"No, I was not aware of [Lukaku's excellent] record against Villa," he continued. "I should have known this before. We decided at half-time to have a bit more threat and create more problems.

"I was happy he was involved. He was the game-changer today. We took a lot of risks – 45 minutes was more than the medical department recommended. Who knows if it's the right thing to do?"

Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain each have four nominees in the 23-man shortlist for the FIFA FIFPRO Men's World 11 for 2021.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson and full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold are also included, although there is no place for Mohamed Salah.

PSG's attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are among the forwards, as is Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo.

Veteran Dani Alves also won enough votes to make the list, even though the 38-year-old, who recently rejoined Barcelona, only played 16 times in domestic competition in Brazil this year.

Professional footballers across the world were asked to vote for the three players they considered to have the best seasons during the 2020-21 season among goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards.

FIFPRO said: "For the first time in 17 years, FIFPRO is updating the announcement about the most-voted players, reducing the shortlist from 55 to 23. This has been done to resemble a real-life 'squad' which, usually for international competitions, is the number of players involved. 

"The three goalkeepers, six defenders, six midfielders and six forwards with the most votes earned a place in the 23-men World 11 'squad'. To complete this elite selection, the two remaining outfield players with the most votes were added."

The keeper, three defenders, three midfielders and three forwards with the most votes will be chosen for the World 11, with the remaining spot assigned to the outfield player with the next highest number of votes.

The final 11 will be announced at The Best FIFA Football Awards ceremony on January 17.

 

FIFA FIFPRO MEN'S WORLD 11 23-PLAYER SHORTLIST:

Goalkeepers:
Alisson (Liverpool, Brazil)
Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan/Paris Saint-Germain, Italy)
Edouard Mendy (Chelsea, Senegal)

Defenders:
David Alaba (Bayern Munich/Real Madrid, Austria)
Jordi Alba (Barcelona, Spain)
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool, England)
Dani Alves (Sao Paulo/Barcelona, Brazil)
Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus, Italy)
Ruben Dias (Manchester City, Portugal)

Midfielders:
Sergio Busquets (Barcelona, Spain)
Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City, Belgium)
Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United, Portugal)
Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona, The Netherlands)
Jorginho (Chelsea, Italy)
N'Golo Kante (Chelsea, France)

Forwards:
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, France)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus/Manchester United, Portugal)
Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund, Norway)
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Poland)
Romelu Lukaku (Inter/Chelsea, Belgium)
Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain, France)
Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Paris Saint-Germain, Argentina)
Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain, Brazil)

Thomas Tuchel vowed to never give up on Saul Niguez after Chelsea's midfield selection issues deepened with the loss of Mateo Kovacic to coronavirus.

Kovacic returned to training on Monday following a six-week injury lay-off and was expected to be part of Chelsea's squad to face Zenit on Wednesday.

However, Kovacic returned a positive COVID-19 on Tuesday and will miss the Champions League trip to Russia, while he is also set to sit out the league games with Leeds United and Everton.

Chelsea are without fellow midfielders N'Golo Kante and Jorginho, plus defenders Ben Chilwell and Trevoh Chalobah, and Tuchel is cautious about overworking his players.

"We had a bit of an acute overload due to injuries and the schedule," he said at Tuesday's pre-match news conference. 

"Due to injuries in some positions, like central midfield, we have struggled. The game tomorrow is not the problem, it's more the game that comes up on Saturday [against Leeds].

"We had an early game against West Ham and then a late game against Zenit. We had a day off and good training session today. 

"The problem is the next match because we will lose time to sleep and arrive back very early on Thursday. Leeds are an intense team who have prepared to face this match."

Asked about Kovacic's positive coronavirus test, Tuchel said: "I was aware this can happen and I'm not happy, but this is the reality right now. We have to be ready to adapt.

"There is a huge chance that we make changes against Zenit."

Kovacic had previously been recovering from a hamstring injury sustained in training, with the Croatia international's most recent appearance coming on October 26.

Kante has missed Chelsea's previous three games with an ailment sustained in the 4-0 win over Juventus, meanwhile, and Tuchel has no intention of rushing the France international back.

"I'm careful with bringing him back. I have quite an open relationship with him," Tuchel said. "He's a careful person and takes care of his body. 

"I agree he's a superman who makes the difference and everyone in the world wants him on their team. It's not related to age or overload – it was an accident in the match."

The absence of Kovacic, Kante and Jorginho may see Saul come into the side for what would be just his eighth appearance in all competitions since joining on loan in September.

Saul has struggled to impose himself so far, with his passing accuracy of 77.98 per cent the lowest of any Chelsea central midfielder, but Tuchel is hoping to see more from the Atletico Madrid loanee.

"He's one of the guys that needs minutes. He is always in our thoughts and we think about every training session and form," he said. 

"I think he struggled a bit with the intensity and he's a bit unlucky he played against Aston Villa, Southampton and Watford, all three were high-intensity games, above average.

"We try to encourage him because he grows into Chelsea more and more. We won't stop encouraging him and trying to bring out the best. It's possible he will improve tomorrow."

Chelsea have won only three of their past six games in all competitions, most recently losing 3-2 to West Ham on Saturday as they lost control of the Premier League title race.

The Blues are already assured of a place in the last 16 of the Champions League ahead of their clash with Zenit, but they are battling with Juve for top spot.

However, Tuchel is not panicking as his side aim to become the second English team after Manchester United (in both 2003-04 and 2010-11) to win four straight games in the competition without conceding.

"We dropped some points against Man United, found a solution to win at Watford, and we lost with a freak shot against West Ham," Tuchel said.

"We had this before. We lost games and we don't like it. But we're not worried. We have a certain anger and ambition when you don't win. 

"Everyone hates to lose but it happens. But when we analysed the game, the data, watched the game back, I don't think we need to ask big questions."

The only previous meeting between Zenit and Chelsea came in September, the Blues recording a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge through Romelu Lukaku's second-half winner.

Cristiano Ronaldo lost ground in his quest to claim more Ballon d'Or awards than his rival Lionel Messi, finishing sixth while the Argentine claimed a historic seventh award.

It is the first time the Portugal forward, who was not in attendance at the ceremony in Paris on Monday, has not been named in the top three since 2010, when Messi – who won his second prize that year – was joined by then Barcelona team-mates Andres Iniesta and Xavi.

Ronaldo managed 30 goals at club level in 2021 for Juventus and Manchester United, while also becoming the all-time top scorer in men's international football.

The 36-year-old finishes above Paris Saint-Germain pair Gianluigi Donnarumma and Kylian Mbappe as well as Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and Liverpool attacker Mohamed Salah.

Salah and Mbappe both outscored Ronaldo at club level this calendar year, scoring 32 and 37 goals across all competitions, but finished seventh and ninth respectively.

Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante and Real Madrid centre-forward Karim Benzema claimed the fifth and fourth spots, with Ronaldo's former team-mate enjoying a prolific year, managing 34 goals and 12 assists for Los Blancos in all competitions.

Jorginho, who won the Euros with Italy and claimed the Champions League with Chelsea, makes it into the top three behind Messi and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, who finished second but won the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

Lewandowski had been considered the favourite before then, partly due to breaking Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season, while he has netted 53 times in 2021.

The Poland striker looked likely to have won the award in 2020 before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ballon d'Or top 10:

1. Lionel Messi (PSG and Argentina)
2. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich and Poland)
3. Jorginho (Chelsea and Italy)
4. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid and France)
5. N'Golo Kante (Chelsea and France)
6. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United and Portugal)
7. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool and Egypt)
8. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City and Belgium)
9. Kylian Mbappe (PSG and France)
10. Gianluigi Donnarumma (PSG and Italy)

Chelsea are likely to be without N'Golo Kante against Manchester United while Ben Chilwell's next six weeks are crucial, according to head coach Thomas Tuchel.

The Blues host United, who are reportedly edging closer to appointing Ralf Rangnick as interim boss, on Sunday looking to end a run of seven top-flight matches without beating the Red Devils.

Tuchel's men sit three points clear at the top of the Premier League but they will without a few key figures when they face United, who are unbeaten in their 11 Premier League visits to the capital.

Kante sustained a minor knee injury in the 4-0 win over Juventus, while Chelsea are waiting to see the extent of Chilwell's suspected anterior cruciate ligament damage, which forced the England international off in the same game on Tuesday.

Asked for an update on his squad's injuries, Tuchel said: "Kova [Mateo Kovacic] is still out for the game on Sunday.

"N'Golo twisted his knee a little bit against Juventus and feels better but it seems he will be out for some days. We still have a little hope but it's almost a miracle if he makes it.

"Ben is out, he has a partial tear of his ACL, and the decision is to treat it conservatively. The next six weeks will tell the story if he makes it and be available or if he will need surgery.

"There is never a good moment for big injuries or injuries in general. This personally is a very bad moment because he was so involved and full of confidence. 

"He was so important in our victories. We are very sad but he at the moment is very positive because his body has reacted positively to the first treatments and the injury."

Chelsea may have failed to score in their past four Premier League meetings with United but the Blues are flying high with their impressive defence leading the way.

Tuchel's team have conceded just four times in the league so far, with only the 2004-05 Blues' side (three) ever shipping fewer goals among all Premier League teams at this stage in an English top-flight campaign.

Despite their rapid start, Tuchel is refusing to get carried away with so much of the title race to run.

"It's a marathon, it's not finished," he added. "We started this race as the hunters and before the race is finished we will be the hunters. If we can stay the whole race ahead of those competing for the win, this is what we work and dream for. 

"This is what we are determined for, why we come every day at Cobham with all our energy.

"There is still a long way to go and the road does not shift. Man United and Liverpool showed us what is needed to be consistently at the highest level and we need to do it.

"We are up for the big challenges and we want to be out there playing at the highest level. We want to prove a point. We have just come from a hard match and now we are onto the next one. We will be challenged at the highest level again on Sunday."

Robert Lewandowski can consider himself hard done by. The Bayern Munich striker would almost certainly have won his maiden Ballon d'Or in 2020, only for France Football to decide not to hand out the award due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, world football's most prestigious individual accolade is back up for grabs this year, with the ceremony set to take place on Monday.

Lewandowski, who scooped The Best FIFA Men's Player award for 2020 and has had another sensational year for Bayern, is among the favourites on a 30-man shortlist.

Will it finally be his time, or will old voting habits die hard to put Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi in pole position? Using Opta data, Stats Perform assesses the credentials of the Ballon d'Or favourites.

Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Poland)

Has anybody outperformed Bayern star Lewandowski in 2021?  While there was no repeat of the treble-winning heroics of the 2019-20 campaign, he has been in astounding form and last season broke Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals scored in a single Bundesliga campaign, netting 41 as Die Roten were crowned champions for a ninth straight campaign.

With 25 to his name already across all competitions this term, Lewandowski leads the way for goals from players in Europe's top five leagues, nine clear of anyone else. When taking the whole year so far into account, Lewandowski has netted 53 times in 41 games, putting him 16 clear of nearest challengers Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland. Unsurprisingly, his scoring rate – a goal every 65 minutes – is comfortably the best of any player to net 10 or more in 2021.

 

Lionel Messi (PSG, Argentina)

It has been a momentous year for Messi. He finally achieved success on the international stage, leading Argentina to a Copa America triumph. Following that, he was expected to sign a fresh deal at Barcelona, but we all know how that turned out. Now at Paris Saint-Germain, the 34-year-old marked his final season in Spain with one last trophy, the 2020-21 Copa del Rey. 

Across 39 appearances in 2021 for Barca and PSG combined, Messi has 32 goals, nine assists and 81   chances created. But it is Messi's triumph with Argentina that really puts him in the running for a seventh Ballon d'Or.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United, Portugal)

Like Messi, Ronaldo – a five-time Ballon d'Or winner – made a big move of his own in 2021, returning to Manchester United after three seasons at Juventus. The 36-year-old has already scored 10 goals in his second spell at Old Trafford. While the team's struggles are well known – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer losing his job after last week's dismal defeat at Watford – Ronaldo's strike against Villarreal on Tuesday took him to 799 career goals for club and country, a remarkable feat.

While it has not been the finest year at club level for Ronaldo, with Juve missing out on the Serie A title, albeit winning the Coppa Italia, he did become the record goalscorer in men's international football, scoring his 110th and 111th goals in a double against the Republic of Ireland in September to overtake Ali Daei (109); the forward now has 115. His agent, Jorge Mendes, told France Football: "All these achievements, which represent the greatest performance in football history, should be pivotal in awarding the trophy, as he continues to demonstrate that he is, without doubt, the best world football player of all time."

Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, France)

Since Ronaldo departed Real Madrid in 2018, Benzema has stepped up to become Los Blancos' talisman. Although a LaLiga title evaded Madrid last season, it has been another fantastic year for Benzema. He earned a recall to the France squad for Euro 2020 and, despite the team's disappointing campaign, his stellar performances caught the eye, before he excelled again in World Cup qualifying and the Nations League Finals.

Indeed, Benzema's goal against Finland last week made him the first France player to score in four successive matches since he did so himself in five games between November 2013 and June 2014. There is no doubting he is a serious contender for this year's award.

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool, Egypt)

Liverpool star Salah cannot be ignored. Jurgen Klopp has labelled the Egypt forward as the world's best player and, based on the season so far, it would be hard to argue too much with that suggestion, with Lewandowski the only player across Europe's top five leagues to be directly involved in more goals (27) than Salah (24) to this point.

Only four players have topped Salah's goals tally of 32   in 2021, although Liverpool's failure to retain their Premier League crown last season probably counts against the 29-year-old when it comes to this prize.

 

Kylian Mbappe (PSG, France)

While players in their thirties dominate the bookmakers' list of favourites, could this be the year that Mbappe steals the crown? The 22-year-old could well have left PSG in August, but the Ligue 1 giants held firm despite three bids from Madrid, who seem likely to get their man on a free transfer at the end of the campaign.

In the meantime, Mbappe is forming a formidable front three with Messi and Neymar, whose own Ballon d'Or hopes seem extremely slim. Mbappe missed the decisive penalty as France slipped out of Euro 2020, but his 37 goals from 47 appearances for PSG across all competitions in 2021 tell their own story, while his shot conversion rate of 24.3 per cent betters that of Salah, Benzema, Messi and Ronaldo.

Jorginho (Chelsea, Italy)

An outsider for the award, perhaps, but nevertheless a player who has been widely tipped, Chelsea midfielder Jorginho played a pivotal role the Blues' Champions League triumph and then Italy's Euro 2020 success, although he did miss a penalty in the final shoot-out against England. In fact, he has now missed his past three spot-kicks for Italy, after having scored each of his first six taken for the Azzurri.

Jorginho has already scooped the UEFA Men's Player of the Year award, and it is not too long ago that another deep-lying playmaker in Luka Modric won the Ballon d'Or, even if the competition this time around seems a little too stacked.

 

N'Golo Kante (Chelsea, France)

Might Jorginho's Chelsea midfield partner have a shout? Kante is still dominating midfields with his boundless energy five years on from his title triumph with Leicester City. He was already an elite performer before Thomas Tuchel's arrival at Stamford Bridge, but he seems to have gone up another level since the German coach came in.

Across all competitions in 2021, Kante boasts a tackle success rate of 63.2 per cent and has made 193 recoveries. Freed by a box-to-box role in Tuchel's system, Kante has won 151 of 277 duels and registered an impressive 42 interceptions.

Thomas Tuchel hailed an "amazing" performance from Chelsea after they put Juventus to the sword in a 4-0 victory to qualify for the Champions League last 16.

Chelsea cruised through with a game to spare and replaced Juve at the top of Group H with an emphatic win at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

Trevoh Chalobah marked his first start in the competition by scoring a contentious opening goal after Antonio Rudiger appeared to have handled the ball in the penalty area and the outstanding Reece James doubled Chelsea's lead with a rasping drive.

Callum Hudson-Odoi added a third and the fit-again Timo Werner put the icing on the cake by coming off the bench to complete the scoring with the last kick of the game, consigning Juve to their heaviest Champions League defeat.

Champions League holders Chelsea outclassed the Bianconeri as they extended their unbeaten run to 10 matches since losing to the Serie A side in September and head coach Tuchel was full of praise for his players.

"We wanted to stay patient but at the same time not fall asleep," Tuchel told BT Sport. "We wanted to increase the rhythm and intensity. It's so tough to create and score but we created so much. An amazing performance and a fantastic result.

"We were sharper than in Turin, we took more risks, something we lacked in Turin. We had control, but by pure control you cannot hurt Juventus – you need to penetrate, you need runs off the ball. We were very good and scored nice goals."

The Premier League leaders' resounding win appeared to come at a cost, though, as Ben Chilwell and N'Golo Kante sustained knee injuries.

Tuchel said of the duo: "Ben has a sharp pain in the knee. N'Golo twisted his knee a little bit. They will both be examined tomorrow [Wednesday].

"They are very sad things because N'Golo was very good before he went off and Chilly has been in a fantastic moment."

Mason Mount dropped to the bench as Hakim Ziyech came into the team, while Werner had to settle for a substitute role with Christian Pulisic making only his second start.

Tuchel did not have to call upon Romelu Lukaku from the bench as Chelsea gave another demonstration of their strength in depth and the Blues boss says it is much easier keeping his squad happy when they are in such great form.

"The best thing to keep them happy is to win and everyone has to fight for their place," he said. "We still have some tough decisions.

"I feel like they are disappointed [when left out] but they will never let the team down and show it for too long and it doesn't affect their work ethic.

"We are in a good place. Sometimes you take tough decisions - it's like this in football. The best thing is to win and we want to keep on winning."

This was Tuchel's 50th match in charge of Chelsea in all competitions, and 32nd win (D11 L7). The Blues have kept 31 clean sheets in those 50 games, more than any other side in Europe's big-five leagues since his first game in charge in January, conceding just 24 goals.

Thomas Tuchel insisted everybody at Chelsea wants Antonio Rudiger to stay after his side cruised past Leicester City 3-0 on Saturday.

Rudiger opened the scoring for the Blues, the centre-back's fourth goal against the Foxes in the Premier League – against no other side has he netted more than once in the competition.

N'Golo Kante struck 14 minutes later against his former club before substitute Christian Pulisic added a third as Chelsea collected their fourth successive away league win without conceding for the first time since December 2008.

Delighted with his side's defensive work and overall performance, Tuchel praised his backline while providing an update on Rudiger's future.

"[Rudiger] has been outstanding from the first game and the defensive performance was as strong as ever, they deserve the praise for it," Tuchel said post-match to BT Sport.

"They do a lot of invisible work, they protect each other at the back and they are brave when they go forward up front when we want to be dangerous from set-pieces.

"Everybody wants him to stay. He's brilliant here and it's pretty clear but sometimes there's a delay in these things. I think we're on the same side. He knows he plays for a fantastic club in a fantastic league.

"He's a wonderful competitor and if he has a bit of patience hopefully we will make it happen."

Tuchel also found time to praise Kante, who scored his second goal in his last six league games, as many as he had in his last 51 matches in the English top flight.

"N'Golo is outstanding. He finds another gear on the pitch, when he plays with a free mind he can be the difference," Tuchel added.

"We want to push over and over again. I am happy with the way we played and the result.

"We played a good away game, excellent result, a good mixture. We created a lot of half-chances, we were a bit unlucky with offsides but I am happy if we create. We need to be strong from first to last minute. It was a deserved win.

"At two goals, anything can happen and the stadium can wake up but we did not allow them into the game and finished them off."

Chelsea coasted to a 3-0 away win over Leicester City as Thomas Tuchel's team powered on at the top of the Premier League on Saturday.

Brendan Rodgers' home side had twice defeated Tuchel's men in 2021 already, but the Blues raced into a two-goal lead this time as Antonio Rudiger and N'Golo Kante struck in the first half.

The visitors remained utterly dominant after the break and added a well-deserved third through substitute Christian Pulisic against the hapless Foxes, who did not record a single shot until the 58th minute.

Chelsea, who collected a fourth successive away league win without conceding for the first time since December 2008, at least briefly moved six points clear at the summit.

No Premier League team had scored more headed goals than Chelsea this season (four), while no side had conceded more than Leicester (four) ahead of this game, and Rudiger's 14th-minute opener continued the trend.

Ben Chilwell, who rattled the crossbar after just three minutes against his former club, delivered to the near post where Rudiger deftly flicked into the top-left corner.

Ademola Lookman thought he had equalised but was denied by the offside flag, before former Leicester midfielder Kante drove forward and arrowed past Kasper Schmeichel in the 28th minute to double Chelsea's advantage.

Schmeichel produced a magnificent save after the interval to thwart Chilwell and, not to be outdone by his opposite number, Edouard Mendy responded with a similarly brilliant stop against Daniel Amartey.

Substitutes Hakim Ziyech and Pulisic then combined, but the latter could only poke wide.

However, the same combination proved fruitful when Ziyech found the United States international, who prodded through Schmeichel's legs from close range after 71 minutes.

Pulisic and Reece James saw late strikes ruled out for offside as Chelsea cruised to victory.

After not being awarded in 2020, the Ballon d'Or – football's most prestigious individual award – is back up for grabs this year.

Argentina superstar Lionel Messi is the overwhelming favourite with the bookmakers to win a record-extending seventh trophy.

Messi was, of course, among a shortlist of 30 players nominated on Friday, with that number to be whittled down to just three players next month.

Here, Stats Perform looks at five candidates for the prize… starting with the obvious.

Lionel Messi

Barcelona may be in turmoil, but Lionel Messi was still at his extraordinary best before departing for Paris Saint-Germain amid financial strife for the LaLiga heavyweights – albeit on the trophy front he won only the Copa del Rey last term. In 2021, Messi has 29 goals, nine assists and 76 chances created domestically for Barca and PSG. But it is Messi's triumph with Argentina at the Copa America that make him the favourite for a seventh Ballon d'Or, with the achievement finally marking his first title on the international stage. Messi had four goals and five assists as Lionel Scaloni's men celebrated success in Brazil.

Jorginho

It has been a year to remember for Jorginho, who has been one of the biggest beneficiaries following Thomas Tuchel's appointment as Chelsea boss in January. The deep-lying playmaker was influential as the Blues were crowned Champions League winners for the second time, securing the trophy thanks to a 1-0 win over Manchester City. Fast forward two months and Jorginho was celebrating Euro 2020 success with Italy, playing in every match for the Azzurri, who defeated England in the final via a penalty shoot-out at Wembley. His achievements have already been acknowledged after he was named UEFA's Men Player of the Year.

N'Golo Kante

Much like team-mate Jorginho, N'Golo Kante has been superb under the tutelage of Tuchel. Kante was a top performer as Chelsea defeated Real Madrid in the semi-finals and was named man of the match following an all-action display against City in the final. France's shock last-16 exit to Switzerland at Euro 2020 is likely to count against Kante, but he remains one the finest midfielders in the game.

Robert Lewandowski

Really the only thing that denied Robert Lewandowski winning a Ballon d'Or in 2020 was France Football's decision not to present the award amid the coronavirus pandemic. While there was no repeat of the treble-winning heroics of that disrupted 2019-20 campaign, Lewandowski has still been in astounding form for Bayern Munich and last season broke Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals scored in a single Bundesliga campaign, netting 41 as Die Roten were crowned champions for a ninth straight campaign. So far in 2021 across Europe's top-five leagues, Lewandowski leads the way for goals scored (41) and big chances (as defined by Opta) scored (34).

Cristiano Ronaldo

Much like Messi, five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo did not necessarily enjoy his finest year in terms of domestic trophies won. Juventus ended up in a disappointing fourth position in Serie A, while they were knocked out of the Champions League last 16 by Porto. But he did finish as top scorer in the league with 29 goals and helped the Bianconeri win the Coppa Italia before he left to re-join Manchester United in a late transfer window move. Internationally, Ronaldo – at the age of 36 – finished top scorer at Euro 2020, where Portugal's defence of the European Championship was ended at the last-16 stage. In September, he became the record goalscorer in men's international football, as a brace against the Republic of Ireland took him to 111.

 

Ballon d'Or 2021 shortlist in full:  Cesar Azpilicueta, Nicolo Barella, Karim Benzema, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Kevin De Bruyne, Ruben Dias, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Bruno Fernandes, Phil Foden, Erling Haaland, Jorginho, Harry Kane, N'Golo Kante, Simon Kjaer, Robert Lewandowski, Romelu Lukaku, Riyad Mahrez, Lautaro Martinez, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Luka Modric, Gerard Moreno, Mason Mount, Neymar, Pedri, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah, Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez.

The winner of the prestigious prize will be announced at a ceremony in Paris on November 29.

 

 

The contenders for the Kopa Trophy – awarded to the world's best male under-21 footballer – was also published by France Football on Friday.

Barcelona's teen sensation Pedri, Bayern Munich talent Jamal Musiala and England trio Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Mason Greenwood have all been nominated.

Jeremy Doku, Ryan Gravenberch, Nuno Mendes, Gio Reyna and Florian Wirtz complete the 10-man shortlist.

Meanwhile, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Ederson, Edouard Mendy, Thibaut Courtois, Kasper Schmeichel, Manuel Neuer, Emiliano Martinez, Jan Oblak, Keylor Navas and Samir Handanovic are in the running for the Yachine Trophy, which is awarded to the best goalkeeper of the year. 

N'Golo Kante has returned to training with Chelsea after serving a period of isolation following his positive coronavirus test.

The 30-year-old missed Chelsea's final two games before the international break – a 1-0 loss to Juventus and 3-1 win against Southampton – after contracting the virus.

Kante was also not included in France's Nations League squad, with Les Blues set to face Spain in Sunday's final after edging Belgium in a thrilling semi-final.

However, the midfielder – who has featured six times in all competitions this season – was cleared to return to Chelsea's Cobham training base on Friday after serving a 10-day isolation period.

Kante trained away from the main group as he is slowly integrated back into the fold ahead of the Blues' short trip to Brentford on October 16.

A number of Chelsea players are away on international duty, but the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Saul Niguez, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley all took part in full training.

Thomas Tuchel's side are one point clear at the top of the Premier League after seven matches.

N'Golo Kante will miss the entirety of the Nations League Finals as Didier Deschamps is unwilling to take a risk with France's superstar midfielder, who has contracted coronavirus having just returned to fitness.

Kante was named in the French squad for the previous international break but missed out through injury, included only as an unused substitute against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Chelsea man has not played for his country since Euro 2020 and will not now be involved against Belgium in the Nations League semi-final, nor in either the final or third-place play-off after that.

Kante was missing from Chelsea's 1-0 defeat at Juventus on Wednesday due to testing positive for COVID-19.

France coach Deschamps acknowledges Kante would have been cleared in time for the second Nations League Finals match on October 10, but he doubts the midfielder would be in any condition to play to the best of his ability.

"It is 10 days since Monday, so you calculate," Deschamps said. "There was always the assumption that he would be there for the second game, but after 10 days without training, knowing that he was injured recently...

"I would prefer him to be there, but I also prefer him 100 per cent. Let him take advantage of this period to regain his physical freshness."

There is also no Kingsley Coman, who has been restricted to just eight minutes since the previous international break, or Thomas Lemar, as he battles a hamstring issue.

Steve Mandanda has been dropped after losing out to Pau Lopez in the Marseille goal, while Olivier Giroud's recent return for Milan is not enough for a recall – a "sporting choice", Deschamps explained, after other forwards impressed last time.

But the defence now looks a lot healthier, as Bayern Munich men Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez are able to rejoin the squad, as does team-mate Dayot Upamecano, who had to pull out last time. Deschamps listed Hernandez's brother Theo as a midfielder.

Crucially, the calf injury that kept Kylian Mbappe out of France's most recent games has subsided, meaning Deschamps must again attempt to strike a balance in attack, where Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema excelled in the Paris Saint-Germain forward's absence.

Griezmann, who has Deschamps' backing after a tricky start to his second stint at Atletico Madrid, scored twice against Finland – the first assisted by Benzema – as Les Bleus bounced back from draws with Ukraine and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"What happened is in the past," Deschamps added. "There is a title to play for. We have a semi-final to play against one of the best teams in Europe and the world, if not the best.

"We have given everything to qualify for the Finals. Now, we are there. We keep the same state of mind; we want to go for the title."

France squad:

Benoit Costil (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Mike Maignan (Milan); Leo Dubois (Lyon), Lucas Digne (Everton), Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Jules Kounde (Sevilla), Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich), Raphael Varane (Manchester United); Matteo Guendouzi (Marseille), Theo Hernandez (Milan), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco), Jordan Veretout (Roma); Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen), Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona), Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain).

Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel has revealed N'Golo Kante will miss Wednesday's Champions League clash with Juventus after testing positive for coronavirus.

The France international made his sixth appearance of the season on Saturday when playing an hour of Chelsea's 1-0 defeat to Manchester City in the Premier League.

However, Kante has since contracted COVID-19 and will serve a period of isolation, ruling him out of the Blues' European tie with Juve and league clash with Southampton ahead of the international break.

Speaking at a pre-match news conference on Tuesday, Tuchel also confirmed Christian Pulisic, Reece James and Mason Mount will not make the trip to Turin because of injury problems.

Juventus will also be without some key players at the Allianz Stadium as Paulo Dybala and former Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata have been ruled out.

The Turin giants were in the relegation zone after picking up just two points from their first four Serie A matches, but back-to-back wins have lifted them up to 10th.

Massimiliano Allegri's side also saw off Malmo 3-0 in their opening Champions League match two weeks ago to make it 11 wins in their past 12 group-stage matches.

Despite losing Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United last month, Tuchel is still expecting a big test when Chelsea travel to Turin.

"They are so experienced and such a big club with so much Champions League experience," he said.

"They will enjoy the different competition. They have had a bit of a rough start according to their results in Serie A, but they were convincing in the Champions League.

"You never know with players that are missing. The guys who come in want to show they are reliable. We play Juventus at Juventus.

"It's a no-brainer that demands respect to the quality and tradition of the club. 

"We need to refocus and regroup and face a tough challenge with positive energy and determination to bounce back from our defeat to Manchester City."

Ronaldo scored 101 goals in 134 appearances for Juve across his three seasons at the club before returning to United, 14 of those goals coming in the Champions League.

Only six other players scored more goals in the competition than Ronaldo over that period, but Tuchel does not believe the Portuguese's surprise exit hinders Juve's chances of European success, even if they are now a weaker side.

"Time will tell, but every team without Cristiano is weaker. He shows it every time he is on the pitch, in the Premier League and in the Champions League," Tuchel said. 

"They have lost a great champion, a great personality, but you can be a great team and win things, too, even without him. 

"And they are. They have experience, talent, depth and a quality coach. They have winning DNA, the winning mentality.

"This is the first time I've played against Juventus. I will face a team of our level and these challenges make us a better team. "

Chelsea have lost each of their past four away games against Italian teams in the Champions League, with each defeat coming against a different side – including Juve in 2012-13.

The Blues scraped past Zenit 1-0 in their opening Group H match but, as reigning European champions, Tuchel accepts his side no longer enter any game as underdogs.

"It is difficult for that to be the case when you've won the title," the German coach said. "We won this competition last season when we weren't favourites.

"Now it's easy to consider ourselves as favourites and to accept that. We've won it before. We have showed all of our abilities.

"We need to play with freedom but also be realistic. The standards are high for us and hopefully the performances and results arrive step by step."

Liverpool ran out 3-0 winners over Crystal Palace on Saturday, to take their place at the top of the Premier League.

Title rivals Manchester City could only draw at home to Southampton, but Manchester United and Chelsea subsequently joined Liverpool on 13 points.

Here are some of the more curious facts from across the Premier League weekend.


Premier League first for Reds trio

Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita scored Liverpool's goals in their win over Palace at Anfield.

It is the first time in the Premier League that a game has ended 3-0, with all three goals being scored by African players.

Mane opened the scoring with his 100th goal for Liverpool. The Senegal forward has now scored in each of his last nine league appearances against Palace, making him the first player in Premier League history to score in nine straight matches against a single side.

All three of Liverpool's goals came from corners. Not since City beat West Brom in March 2015 has a top-flight game ended 3-0 with all the goals coming from corners.

Dave saves... finally

There was late drama aplenty at London Stadium on Sunday as United joined Liverpool at the top of the table thanks to a 2-1 win over West Ham.

After Cristiano Ronaldo continued his fantastic start to his second United stint to drag the Red Devils level, Jesse Lingard came on to break West Ham hearts late in the game.

London Stadium is the 66th different stadium that Ronaldo has scored at in matches played in Europe's big five leagues, and he has scored at more unique venues than any other player since his United debut in 2003-04, ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (64).

Lingard, meanwhile, became the 47th player to score for and against West Ham in the Premier League. Excluding own goals, West Ham have had more players score for and against them than any other side in the league's history.

But it was David de Gea who proved to be United's hero, as he saved a last-gasp penalty from Mark Noble, who was brought on specifically by David Moyes to take the spot-kick.

De Gea's save ended a drought stretching back to April 23, 2016 of 40 spot-kicks faced without making a save for both club and country, in the process helping United claim a dramatic win at London Stadium. 

Of those penalties, 11 were scored by Villarreal players in May's Europa League final, with De Gea ultimately missing the decisive kick in the Red Devils' shoot-out defeat. 

The 30-year-old did keep out a Jordan Ayew penalty in last September's league meeting with Palace, but that was retaken and scored by Wilfried Zaha after De Gea was deemed to be off his line. 

Veteran Silva helps give Spurs the blues

Aged 36 years and 362 days, Thiago Silva became the second-oldest Chelsea player to score in the Premier League behind only Didier Drogba, who scored against Leicester City aged 37 years and 49 days in April 2015, when the Brazilian headed Thomas Tuchel's side ahead at Tottenham.

N'Golo Kante's deflected effort made it 2-0. The midfielder scored for the first time in 49 league appearances, having last found the net against Man City in November 2019. Three of his last four top-flight strikes have come from outside of the box.

Antonio Rudiger condemned Spurs to a second successive 3-0 defeat; they have lost consecutive Premier League matches by a 3+ goal margin for the first time since their opening two games of the 2011-12 campaign.

Harry Kane, meanwhile, cut a forlorn figure up top for Nuno Espirito Santo's side. He has failed to score in his first four Premier League appearances of a season for the first time since 2015-16, attempting just four shots so far.

Super-sub Bailey bursts Benitez's bubble

Everton's unbeaten start under Rafael Benitez came crashing to a halt as Leon Bailey starred with a blistering cameo in Aston Villa's 3-0 win.

Bailey came on from the bench and had an instant impact. With Matty Cash's first Premier League goal having put Villa ahead, the Jamaica forward whipped in a corner that Lucas Digne turned into his own net.

Digne has now scored three own goals in the Premier League, level with Younes Kaboul for the French player to have done so on the most occasions.

Villa were not finished there, however, and Bailey burst clear to lash home his first Premier League goal. Moments later, he went off with an apparent thigh injury, becoming only the second Villa player to come as a substitute, score, and then be substituted in a Premier League match, after Julian Joachim against Derby in September 2000.

Farke's losing streak rolls on, Toney at the top

Ivan Toney scored and assisted another as Brentford defeated Wolves 2-0 on Saturday.

Since the start of last season, Toney is the outright leading goalscorer in the top four tiers of English football (excluding play-off matches), with 33 strikes to his name.

Another promoted club, Norwich City, suffered their fifth defeat of the campaign. In total, the Canaries have now lost each of their last 15 Premier League games, meaning Daniel Farke is the manager with the longest losing run in top-flight history.

Mick McCarthy (14) was the last manager to go close to almost as long as Farke without a top-tier win, though that was back in 2005.

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