Real Madrid have reportedly made Chelsea's Reece James their primary transfer target ahead of next season.

Despite his time on the pitch being limited by injuries, the 22-year-old right-back has been a potent force going forwards this season, contributing five goals and six assists in 22 Premier League fixtures.

While Chelsea will likely do all they can to hold on to their homegrown England international, Madrid have had plenty of opportunities to scout the man top of their wish-list as he played all 210 minutes across their two Champions League legs, with the second going to extra-time.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID MAKE JAMES A PRIORITY

Todofichajes is reporting Los Blancos have identified right-back as a position of weakness, spelling bad news for incumbent Dani Carvajal.

Madrid, who won LaLiga on Saturday, are said to have assessed other options at the position, such as Sporting CP's Pedro Porro, but ultimately landed on James after getting an up-close look at him in the Champions League.

James still has three years remaining on his contract, and 90min is reporting a revamped new deal is one of Chelsea's top priorities once the sale of the club is complete. He is expected to fetch a transfer fee of at least €60million.

ROUND-UP

- Arsenal defender Gabriel Magalhaes is a target for Juventus in the upcoming window, according to TEAMtalk.

- The Daily Mail is reporting Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans would prefer a move to Spain if he leaves the club, with Madrid said to have a strong interest.

- According to Birmingham Live, Manchester United sent a senior scout to watch Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves against Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday.

Juve are interested in bringing Chelsea midfielder Jorginho back to Italy before his contract expires, per Todofichajes.

- Fabrizio Romano is reporting Chelsea left-back Marcos Alonso is keen to return to Spain, and Barcelona have made contact. 

- Romano also claims that Chelsea are still eager to sign Sevilla centre-back Jules Kounde. The France defender has an €80m release clause.

Romelu Lukaku can take comfort from Timo Werner's return to form and the Belgium star just needs "one spark" to find his confidence again, according to Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel.

Werner has come under regular scrutiny following his £45million (€50m) move to Stamford Bridge from RB Leipzig in June 2020.

The Germany international scored six goals in 35 appearances in his debut Premier League campaign and has found the net on just three occasions in the top flight this season.

However, two of those strikes came in the 6-0 rout of Southampton in his last league game, as many goals as he had managed in his previous 27 appearances in the Premier League. Werner also scored at Real Madrid in the Champions League and was influential in the FA Cup semi-final win over Crystal Palace.

Lukaku has endured similar struggles since his big-money return to Chelsea from Inter at the start of the season, last scoring in the league in December against Brighton and Hove Albion.

The former Manchester United man has been hampered by injuries as well, and although he missed glorious opportunities against Madrid and Palace on his return, Tuchel believes he will soon find his form.

"I don't think he needs inspiration as such, but he needs that one moment, that one spark," Tuchel said on Tuesday when asked if Lukaku could learn from Werner.

"He maybe would've been a natural starter against Crystal Palace given the minutes Kai [Havertz] has played and the matches recently, but after a period of injury he lacked the fitness for matches.

"I don't point the finger at him, it's just a fact.

"Compare the difference in Brentford and Southampton, and the two legs against Real Madrid, you see the effort we put into become a winning team and this is what we need.

"Romelu should've had a goal against Real Madrid and Crystal Palace, but if he plays we need all that he has."

Reece James is another who has suffered with injury problems throughout the campaign, but he has shown encouraging form in recent weeks.

Tuchel acknowledged the brilliance of the England international, even if his adaptability causes many a selection headache whether to play him as a right wing-back or third centre-back.

"I think the back three is a little less demanding physically in terms of the wing-back position given he comes from a long injury," the German added on James.

"It is a bit of an advantage to have him in the back three because it is less demanding physically. He can play both positions brilliantly and we can only pick him once, so we have to decide."

Meanwhile, Tuchel expressed his gratitude to the work of Jorginho, who started against Palace on Sunday after being rested for two league games with Southampton and Brentford.

"He sacrificed for the team and I think you see it now," he said of the Italy midfielder. 

"There are so many demands, and after a big success, like winning the Euros, he felt the pressure. This is normal and sometimes after big success it is difficult to keep on going and going.

"He put the responsibility on his shoulders and always does. That is why I love him. We see we overused him and I feel we see the consequences of that. He is not at his freshest moment at the minute."

One of world football's hottest commodities, Erling Haaland, is reportedly set to join Manchester City in the next transfer window after agreeing to personal terms.

It has long been understood that Haaland would likely not return to Borussia Dortmund for another season, with the Bundesliga club entertaining offers from the world's biggest clubs.

Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain were considered Manchester City's biggest competition for the Norway forward's signature, but a massive contract, recent success and close personal ties to his father seem to have been the deciding factors.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND CHOOSES MANCHESTER CITY

The Daily Mail is reporting Haaland has agreed to a deal with Manchester City that will make him the highest-paid player in the Premier League at £500,000 per week.

With terms agreed, City are expected to trigger Haaland's £62.2million (€75m) release clause and sign him to a five-year deal, which could be announced in the next week.

His father, Alf-Inge Haaland, played at Manchester City from 2000-2003 and is said to have been "heavily involved in the negotiations".

 

ROUND-UP

– According to Goal, Real Madrid did not want to unsettle their dressing room by signing Haaland and making him the highest-paid player.

– Fichajes is reporting Real Madrid's attention will turn to Manchester United's Edinson Cavani now Haaland is out of the picture, while The Mirror claims Madrid have strong interest in Chelsea right-back Reece James.

Liverpool target Serge Gnabry is discussing a contract extension with Bayern Munich, according to Goal.

West Ham are hoping to add Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope, with the England international likely to leave the club if they are relegated, per the Daily Mail.

Arsenal are in the box seat to land Marco Asensio from Real Madrid after Milan rejected his wage demands, reports CalcioMercato.

It's matchday 32. No midweek games and precious points to pick up in the run home.

It's that time of the year when the unconventional pick can define one's season. Who dares wins, in other words.

With that in mind, let Stats Perform lead you by the hand with Opta data as we pick four players who might just give you those precious extra points in the latest Premier League gameweek.

VICENTE GUAITA (Leicester City v Crystal Palace)

The last time Leicester were kept scoreless at home by Crystal Palace in the Premier League was in December 2017, when Claude Puel was still manager of the Foxes.

In 2022, however, only Alisson and Ederson have kept more clean sheets than Vicente Guaita in the Premiership, with Guaita's four coming in his last five appearances.

Of the seven highest rankings in the Premier League for clean sheets in the new year, Guaita also has the third-highest percentage of shots saved at 75.86 per cent.

REECE JAMES (Southampton v Chelsea)

Despite the nature of their Champions League defeat to Real Madrid, against Southampton this weekend, it is almost a certainty that Chelsea will have the bulk of possession.

As a consequence of how Thomas Tuchel's side plays, Chelsea's wingbacks are very prominent in and around the penalty area.

Among Premier League defenders this season, no player has scored more goals than Reece James this season, while Antonio Rudiger is also second.

CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN (Brentford v West Ham)

Needing to back up from Thursday's tussle in the Europa League against Lyon, West Ham could be vulnerable.

Brentford's Christian Eriksen has either scored or assisted in his last two Premier League games for the Bees, while the Dane last did so in three consecutive Premier League appearances in April 2019. 

In three Premier League starts for Brentford this season, they have won all three games, and Eriksen has completed the most passes (111) in those games, played the most passes into the penalty area (26) and created the most chances (five).

HARRY KANE (Aston Villa v Tottenham)

Tottenham are starting to find their rhythm under Antonio Conte, even despite March's 3-2 defeat to Manchester United, and Harry Kane remains as pivotal as ever.

No player in the Premier League has contributed to more goals in 2022 than Kane, with eight goals and five assists over that period.

Kane has also been involved in a goal in each of his last six Premier League appearances, and only between July and November 2020 (eight games) has he been on a longer streak.

Kyle Walker-Peters and Tyrick Mitchell have been called up to the England squad for the first time after Gareth Southgate was forced to make four changes to his squad.

A hamstring injury to Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold and fitness concerns over Chelsea's Reece James left the Three Lions with Luke Shaw as their sole fit full-back in the 25-man squad that was named on Thursday.

Newcastle United's Kieran Trippier and Chelsea's Ben Chilwell are injured, while Kyle Walker of Manchester City was left out as Southgate considered his options. Manchester United man Shaw, while called up, has not played since the end of February after contracting coronavirus.

Southgate has reacted to the latest setbacks by calling in Southampton full-back Walker-Peters and Crystal Palace's Mitchell, who could make their senior debuts across friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast.

Walker-Peters won the Under-20 World Cup in 2017, but Mitchell has not featured for any of England's youth sides.

Meanwhile, West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone replaces Arsenal's Aaron Ramsdale, who missed Saturday's 1-0 win at Aston Villa with a muscle injury.

The final change saw Tammy Abraham, who scored twice in Roma's 3-0 derby win over Lazio on Sunday, drop out as Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins comes in.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel said in no uncertain terms that he feels Reece James is not physically ready to go away on international duty.

James, 22, has had a rough run with injuries after tearing his hamstring against Brighton late in December, briefly returning in the first week of March before getting sidelined once again.

The impressive full-back is having a great season, with five goals and six assists from 17 Premier League appearances.

England manager Gareth Southgate turned heads when he named James in the squad for upcoming friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast, but Tuchel was firm when asked for his thoughts.

"[Technical and Performance Adviser] Petr Cech will have this chat because, of course, the recommendation is that [James] does not go [on international duty]," he said following Chelsea's 2-0 FA Cup win against Middlesbrough.

"He is still in individual training, otherwise, we would have brought him to Lille and we would have brought him here for sure. There is no doubt about it. 

"He is still in individual training, he needs one more week of rehabilitation and I think we can provide this much better – it is not the job of the national team to do this."

Chelsea will next play Brentford on April 2, before hosting Real Madrid in the Champions League a few days later.

Thomas Tuchel knows Andreas Christensen could be on his way out of Chelsea in light of reports he is set to sign for Barcelona.

Tuchel conceded that Christensen may have already decided to leave the European and world champions for pastures new at the end of this season, but made clear he wants the 25-year-old centre-back to stay.

Reports on Wednesday suggested the Denmark defender is on the verge of agreeing terms with Barca.

Speaking at a media conference ahead of the Blues' Premier League fixture at Norwich City on Thursday, Tuchel said when asked about Christensen's future: "It's in doubt, no?

"We hear the rumours and the situation with Andreas has clear for many weeks and we are not happy about it, because we think that it's best for him to stay and we rely heavily on him.

"He did not sign yet, so you cannot not communicate. This is also a signal to us and communication from his side is that he did not sign until now, so we have to consider the possibility that he leaves us.

"Will we like it? No. Will we live with it? Yes. Things are not personal [and] never should be personal, but this can happen and I have no further information."

Tuchel also confirmed Reece James is a doubt for the trip to Carrow Road after suffering a muscle injury in the 4-0 win at Burnley on Saturday.

The England right-back recently returned from injury and registered a goal and an assist at Turf Moor before being replaced by Mateo Kovacic in the 70th minute.

"Reece James has a bit of a muscular problem after his last three matches," Tuchel said. "Not in his injured leg, the other leg. We thought he could be on the [training] pitch today but he couldn't so we need further examinations to see what is going on.

"He felt it during the match so that's why we took him out and it didn't get better. It's obvious what he can give to our team, so not good news at the moment."

Tuchel is proud of the manner in which his players have gone about their business amid uncertainty at Stamford Bridge following Roman Abramovich's decision to sell the club.

"To have clarity is always better than to have uncertainty, but I have to say we produced performances and we produced results in times of global uncertainty and also club-wise uncertainties, that makes us proud," he said.

"It shows we can trust in ourselves and gives us a lot of trust in the culture of the club and here at Cobham. At the moment I have absolutely no more information than you have [on the sale], for sure."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wolves 0-2 Crystal Palace: Shaky Wanderers lose again

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

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

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

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

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

 

Burnley 0-4 Chelsea: Blues cruise at Turf Moor

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That's why he can perform like this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chelsea boss said James would not travel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROUND-UP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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