Romelu Lukaku is fit for Chelsea's trip to Brentford on Saturday but a frustrated Thomas Tuchel has revealed Antonio Rudiger will join fellow centre-back Thiago Silva in missing out.

Superstar striker Lukaku withdrew from Belgium duty with muscle fatigue and was a doubt for the Premier League leaders' short hop across west London.

However, Blues boss Tuchel told a pre-match news conference: "Romelu is fine, had all training sessions, he will play tomorrow."

The news was not so positive on Rudiger, though, after he came back from his time with Germany with a back issue.

Christian Pulisic remains out, while Hakim Ziyech has been struggling with headaches.

"Toni Rudiger came back injured from the national team, Christian Pulisic is still injured, we have doubts of Ziyech – he missed two sessions with a headache," Tuchel said.

Veteran centre-back Silva is also absent having featured in Brazil's 4-1 World Cup qualifying win over Uruguay on Thursday night. 

The short turnaround between that clash and Saturday's fixture is a source of frustration for Tuchel, who says the situation is one he has learned to contend with.

"He will be back in the afternoon hopefully safe from this match in Brazil," he said of Silva.

"We had our talk today about Brentford, we had our tactical talk, he missed all that. He played 90 minutes, had all that travelling, he is not available. 

"Of course, I'm not happy, but I knew before when he will come back, when he will travel. I got used to a lot of stuff in national breaks, this is how it is. Are we happy all the coaches with the games players play for their countries? No, they [are] not. Do they ask us anything? No. I knew it before.

"We speak about it during UEFA coaches meetings. The calendar, you have to accept it.

"I'm not even too frustrated about it, but I think it's too many games, too many competitions for the top players in the clubs. The game is for the players, for the spectators, and spectators want the best players on the pitch, healthy and hungry, and we cannot always provide it if you play so many games in so many competitions.

"Given we only have three [substitute] changes, unlike five in other leagues, it's a big thing we have to cope with.

"I'm actually not too frustrated, I know what's coming, I know when the next international break is coming, we try to do our best in every international break."

Romelu Lukaku has described his first spell at Chelsea as "painful", but he insists the experience helped him improve as a player and is confident the timing of his return to Stamford Bridge could not be better.

The Belgium striker joined the Blues from Anderlecht in 2011 as a teenager, but played just 159 Premier League minutes in his first season before loans to West Brom and Everton in the next two campaigns, eventually joining the latter on a permanent basis in 2014.

A further three years on Merseyside were followed by stints at Manchester United and Inter, before Lukaku returned to Chelsea this season.

He has four goals in all competitions so far this term, at least twice as many as any team-mate, from a team-high 25 shots. Left-back Marcos Alonso is next on that list, with 17.

Lukaku has actually marginally underperformed compared to his expected goals total of 4.15, yet he has brought more than goals alone, creating 15 chances – this time just behind leader Alonso (18).

The 28-year-old believes that his time in London played a significant part in his development.

"[My first spell at Chelsea] was painful and helpful, but I would say more helpful because it gave me the mentality and the mindset that I needed to become the player I am today," Lukaku said.

"The team was very good, but nobody saw the extra work they did after the training sessions. As an 18-year-old, I saw first-hand every day how much the players worked on their craft.

"That’s when I knew that was what you had to do to become this type of player. I told myself, 'when I’m not playing, this is what I'm going to do', and it basically just became a lifestyle."

Lukaku is no longer the raw teenager that arrived in England 10 years ago, now back at Chelsea as a seasoned, world-class centre-forward who was a key part of the Inter side that wrested the Serie A title from Juventus last term, scoring every 120 minutes in the league.

He was linked with a return to Stamford Bridge from Everton in 2017, but instead joined United while Chelsea signed Alvaro Morata. However, Lukaku is certain the circumstances of this move are perfect.

"I knew I would improve as a player, so it was just about timing," Lukaku added. "I had two opportunities to come back, in 2016 and 2017, but it didn’t happen for various reasons.

"In the end, it happened because now is the right time, the right age, the team is doing well and everything is there for it to be successful.

"I’m much more calm. I've matured with fatherhood, and I’m more laid-back. After winning in Italy and knowing what it takes to get there, that really helped me. In the last three years, I’ve been able to build something that I can take on for the rest of my career.

"It can be complicated but when you really set your mind to do something, and you really dedicate everything that you have to that goal, you can achieve it. I recognised my little qualities and talent, but I also knew what I was not good at, and I really spent a lot of time working on those attributes to be the complete package.

"Now, it feels good. I'm very happy with the opportunity, and we've started really well as a team. My team-mates have made life very easy for me and the coach is doing a great job. Our performances have been good, but we're always looking for the next challenge."

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel believes Jorginho is the player most deserving of this year's Ballon d'Or, but does not believe the award should be seen as hugely important.

The 29-year-old won the Champions League with the Blues and Euro 2020 with Italy last season and was handed the UEFA Men's Player of the Year prize as a result.

Midfielder Jorginho is now in contention for another individual gong after being named on the Ballon d'Or's 30-man shortlist alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski.

"Jorginho really deserves to win the Ballon d'Or," Tuchel said while attending the Gazzetta festival. 

"These individual prizes, however, are not of great value on the football field, it is impossible to make a real comparison.

"Obviously, I would like it if my player wins it, because it would greatly increase the confidence he has in his own means, but for me, it is not an essential thing."

N'Golo Kante, Cesar Azpilicueta, Mason Mount and Romelu Lukaku also represent Chelsea on the shortlist for the prestigious prize, and Tuchel had plenty to say about Lukaku, who returned to Stamford Bridge from Inter in August.

"I'm sorry for the Inter fans, but we have identified in him a player of personality who could also lift the pressure from the shoulders of the youngest and who would give us the opportunity to play football faster," Tuchel added. 

"He had always said he was fine with Inter and with [Antonio] Conte because he had achieved excellent results, but for him, it was important to go back to where he had played as a [young man]." 

Lukaku has made a solid start to life back in London, scoring four goals in nine appearances across all competitions in his second stint as a Chelsea player.

 

Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez believes his side are stronger now than they were three years ago when they made the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.

Martinez's side, who are currently first in the FIFA rankings, will play their World Cup semi-final conquerors France in the final four of the Nations League on Thursday.

After their third-place finish at Russia 2018, Belgium were beaten by Italy in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals in July, prompting suggestions the Red Devils' golden generation had missed their chance for silverware.

Martinez's starting XI in their World Cup semi-final defeat was the oldest (28 years, 356 days) of all of Belgium's line-ups during the tournament, which some might argue was evidence of them being at the peak of their powers.

Between the start of the last World Cup and the present day, Belgium have named a starting XI with an average age of 29 years or more nine times – seven of those have been in 2021 alone. 

"I think I would like to believe that we are stronger just because internally I do feel that we can cope with more players when they are suspended or they are out of the squad," Martinez said during a news conference ahead of the clash with world champions France in Turin.

"I think the pool of players for Belgium now has grown, and as well, an extra three years that we've been able to play together.

"That's what synchronises us, something that you haven't got a lot of in international football. I think we always try to have a certain continuity with the players and try to work like you would do in a club environment.

"The understanding between the players is a lot better. We've been through a lot together. In terms of experience and the pool of players, I believe that we are stronger than we were in 2018."

Martinez conceded France had also grown from their 2018 triumph, citing Kylian Mbappe's evolution into a world-class talent along with the re-emergence of Karim Benzema after international exile and Paul Pogba's return to form.

"I would believe that if you'd ask [France head coach] Didier Deschamps this, he'd also say that his team has improved as well since 2018," Martinez said. "I think this generation in French football, they've got probably three elite footballers per position."

Martinez was full of praise for Belgium forward Romelu Lukaku, who spoke out about his dislike of his tag as a "target man" earlier this week.

Lukaku, who moved from Serie A champions Inter to Champions League holders Chelsea in August, has netted eight times in Belgium's past eight matches and Martinez praised his all-round threat.

"Romelu has become a number nine that can do everything," Martinez said of Belgium's all-time leading scorer. "He can play with his back to the play and run in behind.

"He's got the power, the pace, he's got the understanding of combining with other players as someone that can play with the pace and power, but with intelligence as well.

"I think at his time at the end in Italy with Inter Milan, give him another degree of maturity as well. You're talking about player that is now at the height of his career and his outstanding knack is always scoring goals."

Is there a more reliable way of making sure a football team fails to live up to expectations than to label them the 'Golden Generation'?

Okay, maybe that's a little reductive as 'living up to expectations' is of course entirely dependent on context – the Czech Republic's 'Golden Generation' from 1996-2006 finished second and third at two out of three European Championship appearances. While not successful in the literal sense, most would agree it was a commendable achievement.

But for Belgium's plentiful crop, a lot more was expected than what they've achieved. While perhaps less of a disappointment than England's own 'Golden Generation', third place at a World Cup isn't going to be much of a legacy given some of the talent the Red Devils have had.

Roberto Martinez's side fell at the quarter-final hurdle in Euro 2020, with eventual winners Italy emerging 2-1 victors and Belgium left to watch the latter stages of another tournament pass them by.

At the very least, this week does offer them a chance at a first international trophy. They face France in Turin on Thursday in the second of the 2021 Nations League semi-finals.

But down the line when their best talents have retired, would the Nations League – which probably has a limited shelf-life itself if certain people at FIFA get their way over proposals for biennial World Cups – really suffice as the pinnacle of their achievements?

Red Devils awaiting replenishment

Of course, Belgium do still have time – the next World Cup is only 13 months away.

But how many would realistically consider them among the favourites? Concerns over the age of their squad are valid and, while 13 months isn't necessarily a long time, elite football has a tendency to expose and exacerbate even the slightest weakness, of which age can be an example.

Reaching the 2018 World Cup semi-final was the closest Belgium have come to winning the biggest prize in football, as they got to the last four before ultimately losing to Thursday's opponents France.

 

Martinez's starting XI in that game was the oldest (28 years, 356 days) of all of Belgium's line-ups during the 2018 World Cup. While that may not necessarily be shockingly old in itself, some might suggest that was evidence of them being at the peak of their powers.

Since Russia 2018, Belgium have only got older. Now, you might be inclined to say, "Yeah, that's how aging works, genius", but football is obviously cyclical. Teams don't just age for eternity, they are refreshed and replenished.

It's difficult to say that's happening on a consistent basis with Belgium, though.

Young Lions setting the example

Gareth Southgate's England got just as far as Belgium in Russia and their squad was already rather young (26.0 years), with only Nigeria (25.9) having a younger group of players at the tournament.

The third-place play-off – when fringe players were given opportunities – aside, England's starting XI's average age only dipped below 26 once, and that was their third group game (also against Belgium) having already secured a spot in the next round.

But there were clear signs of further refreshment to Southgate's team after the tournament, with their first XI's average age not reaching 26 again for more than two years (November 2020).

 

Between the start of the last World Cup and the present day, Belgium have named a starting XI with an average age of 29 years or more nine times – seven of those have been in 2021 alone. Their oldest average age in that time, 30 years and 148, was during the 1-0 win over Portugal at Euro 2020.

Of course, it didn't work out too badly on that occasion, and their collective age isn't necessarily a barrier in a given game, but it does suggest Martinez has to be reliant on his older players because the next generation isn't of the same calibre.

The starting XI selected against Portugal at the Euros was the second-oldest named by any team at the tournament after Slovakia.

While key players such as Romelu Lukaku, Yannick Carrasco, Youri Tielemans and Thibaut Courtois haven't reached 30, Kevin De Bruyne, Axel Witsel, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Eden Hazard have.

So, what of the next generation?

Belgium's next hopefuls

Belgium's youngest team of 2021 – and fourth-youngest since the start of the last World Cup – was named last month (26 years, 364 days) in the 1-0 win away to Belarus.

Among the 15 players who featured, only three were 24 or younger: Dodi Lukebakio, Tielemans and Alexis Saelemaekers, who at 22 was the youngest. Zinho Vanheusden (also 22), Yari Verschaeren and Charles De Ketelaere (both 20) were unused substitutes.

Arsenal midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga (21) had been in the squad, while Jeremy Doku impressed with his pace and trickery at Euro 2020 despite only turning 19 in May. These, for the time being, appear to be Belgium's next biggest hopes.

Lokonga looks set to be an interesting option in midfield. Athletic and a hard worker, his 62.2 per cent duel success was the 15th highest among outfield players in the Belgian Pro League last season, but he's also an assuring presence in possession.

 

Of the Pro League players to attempt at least 30 dribbles last term, Lokonga (41) ranked third in terms of completion percentage (72.1), while no midfielder or winger recorded more ball carries (627) than him. Among the same group, only three – two of whom were wingers – carried the ball further upfield over the course of the campaign than Lokonga (3,356.9 metres).

His former Anderlecht team-mate Verschaeren has been around for a few years now, with this impressively his fourth season in the club's first team. Last term saw him progress as a goal threat, improving from two the season before to six, but early suggestions he could be the 'next Eden Hazard' haven't really been on the money.

While Hazard has always been renowned for his dribbling, Verschaeren is a rather less conventional winger in that sense given he only attempted 1.8 per 90 minutes in 2020-21. Instead, his strength lies in link-up play, with just six players among forwards and midfielders (at least 900 minutes played) bettering his 83.5 per cent pass completion in the attacking half of the pitch.

Although his shot-ending sequence involvement average of 4.1 per 90 minutes was unspectacular, it was above average, whereas his goal-ending sequence involvement of 0.8 each game was bettered only seven.

But where Verschaeren's stock may not have risen as quickly as some expected a couple of years ago, De Ketelaere does appear to be on a good trajectory.

Capable of playing as a striker, winger or No.10, De Ketelaere has often been deemed lightweight despite his height and easily knocked off the ball. His duel success has improved to 54.6 per cent this term from 44.3 – among the worst – last season, a consequence of him bulking up somewhat, and although he continues to lack presence aerially (36.8 per cent aerial success), De Ketelaere can get by because he's a good technician.

He was important as an associative player in attack in 2020-21, as demonstrated by the fact he was involved in shot-ending sequences with a total xG (expected goals) value of 21.8, the seventh-highest in the Pro League, while he's already matched last season's goals output of four.

 

Doku is seemingly the outstanding one of the bunch in terms of flair, at the very least. He attempted (184) and completed (110) the fifth-most dribbles across the top five European leagues last season, encouraging proof of his confidence and technique.

Currently injured, Doku still has plenty to work on in terms of his end product, but the raw minerals are there, and he didn't look out of place at Euro 2020.

Are these youngsters enough to carry the burden of expectation that's been cultivated by Belgium's 'Golden Generation', though? At the moment it's difficult to say the new kids on the block are generally of the same quality on an individual level, because Lukaku, De Bruyne, Hazard et al have just been so good over the years.

While Nations League success may not cut it as a satisfactory legacy for this Belgium team, winning the title in Italy might just give them the nudge their collective mentality needs ahead of what looks likely to be a last realistic tilt at the World Cup for a while.

Romelu Lukaku hates being labelled a "goal poacher" as the Chelsea and Belgium striker believes he is an all-rounder in attack.

The 28-year-old returned to Chelsea from Inter in August and has scored four goals in nine appearances this term.

He has been one of the most prolific frontmen over the past decade, the Belgium international reaching double figures for league goals in each of the last nine seasons.

Since the start of 2019-20 when joining Inter, Lukaku's 50 goals in 78 league appearances is a tally bettered by only five others in Europe's top five divisions.

Of those half-century of goals, just two have come from outside the penalty area – against Brescia in 2019-20 and Genoa in 2020-21, both during his time with Inter.

However, Lukaku feels his reputation can sometimes precede him.

"The way I'm built – I'm quite big – everybody thinks I'm a sort of target man: just holding up the ball and being a goal poacher," he said in an interview with UEFA. 

"But I've never played that way and I hate it. My biggest strength is that I'm dangerous when I'm facing towards the goal, because that's when I rarely make wrong choices.

"After I pass the ball, I know where I have to position myself in the box. 

"I can do a bit of everything and in some games when I know there is a lot of space behind the defence, I play differently. 

"The reason I'm so productive [in front of goal] is because I can do a bit of everything."

Lukaku marked his 100th cap for Belgium with his 67th goal in last month's 3-0 win against the Czech Republic, extending his record as his country's all-time leading scorer.

"To have reached 100 caps is something you really strive to achieve as a young player," he said. "I was lucky that I started out at an early age. 

"I'm 28 now; nearly 12 years have passed with lots of ups and downs, but as a team we have always continued to grow. 

"In the end, the ultimate goal remains to win and that's my motivation. Every time I play for the national team, I want to win. And to win a tournament."

Despite being on course to finish as the world's top-ranked nation for the fourth year running, Belgium have yet to claim any silverware with their golden generation of talent.

That could change this week, though, as Roberto Martinez's men take on France in the Nations League semi-finals on Thursday, with Spain and Italy also vying for a place in Sunday's final.

"In recent years, we have always managed to have a good start at tournaments and the expectations were always high," Lukaku said. 

"At Euro 2016 we didn't deliver. It was very hard. During the 2018 World Cup we did quite well.

"But I think now in the Nations League we must do really well, so that we can peak at the next World Cup."

With another international break almost upon us, fantasy football players will be able to rest easy for a couple of weeks at the start of October.

But first, there are plenty of important points to be had.

With Liverpool hosting Manchester City, Chelsea eager to get back to winning ways and Arsenal preparing for a tricky test at Brighton and Hove Albion, there is plenty of value to be had with some wise selections.

Allow Stats Perform to lend a guiding hand, with the help of Opta data...

 

EDOUARD MENDY (Chelsea v Southampton)

Back-to-back defeats to Manchester City and Juventus have somewhat derailed Chelsea's good start to the season, and Thomas Tuchel will expect a response against Southampton.

Saints have failed to score in their past three league matches and, in Edouard Mendy, they will be facing the goalkeeper with the best save percentage in the division this season (90 per cent), out of those to have played more than once in the competition.

Mendy is conceding just once every 225 minutes on average, a stat likely to worry winless Southampton but bring encouragement to fantasy football players.

 

ANDY ROBERTSON (Liverpool v Manchester City)

Since the start of last season, Andy Robertson has provided eight Premier League assists. The only defender with more is, you guessed it, Liverpool team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold (nine).

The England right-back is also the only defender since last September with more passes into the box and chances created than Robertson, who has managed 329 and 52 respectively.

With Alexander-Arnold ruled out by Jurgen Klopp due to injury, Robertson could play an even more pivotal role for the Reds against the reigning champions.

 

JOAO CANCELO (Liverpool v Manchester City)

If you are looking for value in both boxes, Joao Cancelo may well be your best bet.

No Premier League defender has had more touches in the opposition box (16), while only Cancelo and team-mate Ruben Dias can boast five clean sheets in the competition in the 2021-22 season so far.

With 10 shots and one assist to his name, Cancelo will be another full-back to watch with interest at Anfield.

WILFRIED ZAHA (Crystal Palace v Leicester City)

Leicester could be vulnerable after a Thursday Europa League trip to Poland, especially with Palace having gone three home games without defeat while conceding just once.

The Foxes also happen to be among Wilfried Zaha's favourite opponents. The Ivory Coast international has six goals and two assists against them in 12 games, more than he has against any other side.

It is perhaps also worth mentioning that, as a player, Palace boss Patrick Vieira played 11 times against Leicester and never lost.

 

ALLAN SAINT-MAXIMIN (Wolves v Newcastle United)

Aside from being one of the most fun players in the top flight, Allan Saint-Maximin is also Newcastle's greatest goal threat.

With two scored and three assisted, he has been directly involved in 71 per cent of all the Magpies' league goals this season and has had a hand in at least one in each of his past four appearances.

Newcastle have only won one of their most recent nine league encounters with Wolves, who themselves have not beaten their next opponents at home since April 1993. Perhaps Saint-Maximin is the man to tip the balance.

 

NEAL MAUPAY (Brighton and Hove Albion v Arsenal)

Speaking of key players, Brighton owe half of their eight league goals this season to Neal Maupay, who is looking to score in three consecutive top-flight matches for the first time in a year.

Arsenal are one of his preferred opponents, too: he has scored the winner in two out of three league meetings with the Gunners.

Mikel Arteta's side should be feeling positive after their derby win, but the Seagulls have won three of their past four home matches in the league, as many as they had managed in their previous 22.

 

ROMELU LUKAKU (Chelsea v Southampton)

After drawing a blank in his previous four outings in all competitions, Romelu Lukaku will be keen to get back among the goals.

Chelsea's record signing will be glad of his next opponents, then: he has nine goals in 12 previous Premier League games against Southampton and has never scored more against a single side in the division.

The Blues have scored six first-half goals in 2021-22 – only Liverpool can match that tally – so an early Lukaku strike may well be on the cards.

Thomas Tuchel does not expect Reece James to link up with the England squad next week, joking the defender will only be able to play water polo as he is still training in the swimming pool on his return from injury.

James was included in Gareth Southgate's 23-man squad on Thursday for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers with Andorra and Hungary, despite sustaining an ankle injury in the first half of the Blues' 1-0 defeat to Manchester City last week.

The 21-year-old subsequently sat out the Blues' 1-0 loss to Juventus in the Champions League in midweek and will play no part in Saturday's Premier League clash with Southampton.

Southgate called up James in the hope of using him in one of England's October fixtures, but Tuchel does not believe that will be possible.

"I was a bit surprised. I understand he was selected for the [England] football team but this will not happen," Tuchel said at a pre-match news conference on Friday. "My last information is he will not go. It can only be a misunderstanding.

"When I saw it, I thought maybe Reece goes with the water polo team for England as right now he trains only in the pool."

Southgate also called up fellow injured Chelsea player Mason Mount, who has sat out the Blues' last two matches, though Tuchel is more optimistic about the midfielder's chances of playing during international break.

"Mason is in the squad [to face Southampton], Mason is back. It was not a long injury, it was a minor injury. Obviously, a given he is nominated and he's happy to be and will give everything to do his best for the England squad."

While James and Mount were called up for England duty, Ben Chilwell was overlooked by Southgate due to a lack of playing time for Chelsea this season.

The former Leicester City player made just his third appearance of the campaign as a half-time substitute against Juventus and has yet to play a single minute in the league.

"It would have been nice for him to be selected," Tuchel said. "He has his own story. But I can understand and I'm sure that he knows he has to earn it. 

"He hasn't had had many minutes. Once he plays more for us he will have the chance to get selected [for England] again."

Chelsea welcome Southampton to Stamford Bridge seeking their first win over the Saints in four attempts in the league, with this their longest winless run in this fixture since between October 1990 and December 1993 (seven games).

Tuchel's men have lost back-to-back games in all competitions, having previously gone eight without defeat to begin the campaign, but the German coach is not reading too much into the quickfire losses to heavyweights City and Juve.

"We have not trained a lot. We used the days off instead for recovery," Tuchel said. "It's been business as usual. We always demand the very best no matter if we lose or win. 

"We hate to lose. We came back strong after losing two matches last season. We need to respect the quality of our opponents. 

"We missed a little step from 90 per cent to 100 per cent but we don't need to question ourselves deeply. We played two extremes. Now we play another high pressing team. 

"Losses don't feel good. Man City made us underperform. Now it gets tougher to play away games. We will not be the last team to lose against Juve."

Romelu Lukaku has scored nine times in 12 Premier League games against Southampton – only against West Ham has he scored as many – but he enters Saturday's clash without a goal in his last four matches for Chelsea.

The Belgium international has managed just two shots on target across those four fixtures but Tuchel feels it is down to other players in the Chelsea team to step up and help out the prolific striker. 

Tuchel said: "I think that football right now is about connection. I think he has this with Mount and [Mateo] Kovacic. Everyone else lacks it a little bit.

"We need to learn and adapt and create. There will always be matches like this against Juve where there is no place to go."

Romelu Lukaku needs more support from his team-mates at Chelsea, according to former France international David Trezeguet.

Lukaku made the move back to Stamford Bridge in August for a club-record £97.5 million fee from Inter, having scored 24 goals in 36 Serie A games during the Nerazzurri's title-winning 2020-21 campaign.

The Belgium forward has scored four times in eight games across all competitions for the Blues, including the winner against Zenit in their Champions League opener.

His header against the Russian Premier League outfit made him just the second player to score for two English clubs on debut in the competition but Lukaku fired a blank in the following 1-0 loss to Juventus on Wednesday.

Former Bianconeri star Trezeguet believes Lukaku needs more help from his Chelsea colleagues if Thomas Tuchel's side are to get the best out of the 28-year-old.

"Lukaku has proved to be competitive, but the world changes without [Antonio] Conte," Trezeguet told Italian outlet La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"Chelsea’s playing style is not as direct. I think he is a strong number nine, but he needs support from the team."

Federico Chiesa proved the thorn in Chelsea's side in their Group H clash, scoring the earliest second-half goal in the competition as he turned past Edouard Mendy just 10 seconds after the restart.

Operating up top for Massimiliano Allegri's team, Chiesa caused chaos and Trezeguet was impressed with the alternate option the Italy forward can provide Juventus.

"[He is] not a classic centre forward, that’s for sure," he continued.

"He loves spaces, he likes to start wide, he will never be a player like [Victor] Osimhen. For me, he is a winger or a support striker.

"Federico is having fun, even when he makes mistakes, he seems to have fun.

"He must learn how to manage himself during the game, move on the pitch and understand what his team-mates do. He'll get there."

Romelu Lukaku is being misused by Chelsea and the Blues could be the best team in Europe if they utilise him correctly, according to Antonio Conte. 

The Belgium star returned to Stamford Bridge for a club-record £97.5million fee from Inter in the close season, having scored 24 goals in 36 Serie A games during last term's title-winning campaign under Conte. 

The 28-year-old has managed four goals in seven outings in all competitions for the Blues, including the winner against Zenit in their Champions League opener. It made him only the second player to score for two English clubs on debut in the competition after Mario Balotelli. 

However, Conte believes Thomas Tuchel can get more out of his new signing to make Chelsea the best team in Europe. 

"He [Romelu Lukaku] is a very specific striker," Conte told Sky Sport Italia ahead of Chelsea's Champions League clash with Juventus on Wednesday. 

"Bringing Lukaku into the box, he is dangerous. However, when he starts from midfield, he is incredibly quick. It is very difficult to find a player who is a target man but can also run from midfield. 

"The good thing about Romelu is that he can hurt you anywhere. If you keep him far away from the penalty area, he can kill you with his pace. If you have him in the box, he has the physicality to be a target man. 

"Last season, they didn’t have a proper centre-forward, so they rotated positions, whereas Romelu is a real reference point in attack. If they can figure out how to use Lukaku, Chelsea can become the team to beat in the Champions League this season." 

Indeed, Lukaku has gone from strength to strength following his first goal for Chelsea against Arsenal in his 16th appearance for the club, nine years and 360 days after his initial debut. 

But Conte insists Lukaku, who last term became the only player in the past 15 Serie A seasons to have at least 20 goals and 10 assists in a single campaign, can offer more for Tuchel if the Blues utilise him correctly. 

"He is a generous, one who also gives you assists," Conte continued. "This is Lukaku's specific [talent], which I also see in [Erling] Haaland. 

"He still has room for technical improvement, but he has already reached very high levels. He can improve in some phases of the game, he needs to be switched on sometimes. 

"He is impressive, he is one of the most difficult forwards to face. He must always be played, but at Chelsea they have not quite understood how to use him." 

Giorgio Chiellini is urging Juventus not to focus all of their attention on Romelu Lukaku when they face Chelsea on Wednesday, also highlighting the qualities of Jorginho, who he is backing to win this year's Ballon d'Or.

Juve made a winning start to their Champions League campaign two weeks ago with a 3-0 victory over Malmo, though they will expect a rather trickier challenge as Chelsea visit Turin on matchday two.

The contest will see Chiellini renew hostilities with Lukaku, their pair having enjoyed some bruising tussles during the Belgian's time in Serie A with Inter.

But the Chelsea player Chiellini seems to hold in the highest regard is Jorginho, a player he featured alongside as Italy won Euro 2020 earlier this year.

That success coupled with Chelsea's Champions League win in 2020-21 saw Jorginho win the UEFA Men's Player of the Year award in August, and Chiellini believes he deserves to add the Ballon d'Or to his collection as well.

Asked about the prospect of going up against Lukaku again, Chiellini said: "Lukaku is a great player, we will have to be careful.

"It will be important not to allow the qualities of champions like Lukaku to come out. He's a great player, whom they paid a lot for. He's not there by chance, but maybe it's a bit diminishing to talk about just the meeting of me and Lukaku – it's not just Lukaku.

"Chelsea have many champions: let's think of our great friend Jorginho, who is the 'lighthouse' of this team.

"I truly hope he can win the Ballon d'or because he's a good friend of mine and it's also an award that would feel like it's mine as an Italian and a player who was involved in the [Euro 2020] win."

Jorginho has not always had it easy at Chelsea, with many critics sceptical of his suitability to the club and English football in general, but Chiellini believes the fact he has outlasted both Maurizio Sarri and Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge is telling.

"I always thought he was a good player but after two or three sessions in the national team under [Roberto] Mancini, I realised just how good he is," Chiellini continued.

"What a top player he is. He maybe doesn't have great physical qualities, but the real difference is in his head, his mentality, and I was really happy because many said he could only play with Sarri.

"Instead, two other coaches arrived at Chelsea and then in the national team. Wherever he goes he plays as a regular, so I'm happy for him and he definitely deserves an award, so I truly hope he wins the Ballon d'Or."

Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri was questioned on the form of his own midfielders, specifically Adrien Rabiot.

The Frenchman has only impressed in spells since joining from Paris Saint-Germain two years ago and Allegri clearly wants more – though he is adamant Rabiot has the capacity to improve.

"It's similar to [Federico] Bernardeschi," Allegri said. "The difference among players is when they come to Juve – if a big club chooses them, there's obviously a reason, but the difference in their career depends on mentality, their specific objective in helping the team and the capacity to improve, being determined in training sessions, scoring, defending.

"These are the elements that make the difference. How many good, technical players haven't been able to explode in their careers because maybe there was something missing?

"Rabiot is a player, if I was him, I'd be very angry with myself because he's a player who's been here two years, how many goals he scored? Ten [six] in two seasons? That's not acceptable. He needs to improve in order to get much better and I'm pretty sure he'll be able to do that this year."

It was almost as though Thomas Tuchel was trolling Pep Guardiola, picking three defensive midfielders and two strikers. 

Guardiola had paid a high price for leaving his water carriers out of May's Champions League final battle between these teams. On Friday, he pointedly stressed he would not complain about his squad, yet also acknowledged City lacked a lethal finisher in the mould of a Romelu Lukaku. 

But this was a day when Guardiola resoundingly won the tactical battle, inflicting a first defeat of the season on Tuchel's Chelsea, ending City's sequence of three successive defeats to the men in royal blue. 

Chelsea had last enjoyed a longer run of wins against City when they strung eight together from December 2005 to March 2009, the balance of power in English football being very different in that period. 

Now City are champions of the Premier League and have been so five times in the last 10 seasons, and, A-list striker or no A-list striker, they might just pull it off again. 

Tuchel put an inordinate level of trust in the Lukaku and Timo Werner frontline combination working, as they began a game together for the first time. That smacked of cavalier coaching, an uncalled-for tactical shift in the biggest match of Chelsea's season so far, disrupting the system that last week delivered a ruthless 3-0 win at Tottenham. 

By sacrificing a midfield berth, Chelsea could not compete with City in that area, and duly the supply to Lukaku and Werner was hopelessly inadequate. 

And how did the Lukaku-Werner combination work out across the 90 minutes? Werner played one pass that found his new £97.5million team-mate, and Lukaku did not find the German with the ball at all. 

The midfields were silk and sandpaper, City with all the finesse and Chelsea the industry, but whereas City had a little snap too, with Rodri selected in the anchor role, Chelsea were woefully short of invention, utterly reliant on their full-backs pushing forward. They wanted to strong-arm their way to victory, and instead their limitations were laid bare. 

"Champions of Europe, we know what we are", sang the Chelsea fans at kick-off, followed by "Champions of Europe, you'll never sing that". 

Their songs soon fell flat. 

Guardiola left Rodri and Fernandinho out of his Champions League team, when at least one of them had played in 59 of City's 60 games up to that point of the 2020-21 season, and Chelsea got the better of a team lacking its usual steel. 

It was a decision that felt over-thought, Guardiola outwitting himself in his eagerness to surprise Chelsea. But Rodri was back here, helping to shield a defence that might have expected a busier afternoon. 

Of course N'Golo Kante started for Chelsea, after his starring role against City in that European showpiece, but did Chelsea really need both Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic alongside him, leaving Kai Havertz, goal hero of the May final in Porto, and Hakim Ziyech on the bench? No ship requires three active anchors, and their inclusion suggested Tuchel had gone overboard. 

Chelsea had just 33.3 per cent of first-half possession, and that figure was bolstered by them seeing more of the ball in the final 10 minutes, having been under 30 per cent until then. 

City had six shots to Chelsea's one by the break, and the visitors were winning 56.3 per cent of the duels, Rodri finding his man with 41 of 42 passes by the break, also winning possession seven times, more than anyone. 

Come full-time, City led 15-5 on shots, 4-0 on shots on target, Rodri had completed 74 of his 78 passes (94.9 per cent) and finished with a team-high 10 possession wins. His presence was colossal, allowing the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden to rampage. 

Guardiola said City would "do it as a group" as they aim to come up with the goals a world-class striker might score. He missed out on Harry Kane and Cristiano Ronaldo, but in Gabriel Jesus he has a Brazil international who might just fancy showing his boss he can be a 20-goal hitman again. 

Chelsea were undone in the 53rd minute when Joao Cancelo's shot after a short-corner move only ran as far as Jesus, who turned sharply and fired, with the help of a deflection of Jorginho, into the bottom left corner. 

That was the first shot to hit the target in the match, Opta said, and there was almost a second City goal moments later when Grealish sidestepped Cesar Azpilicueta on the left and curled towards the far post, with Edouard Mendy's fingertips pushing the ball wide for a corner. 

Thiago Silva cleared off the line from Jesus, then Mendy denied Grealish late on as City pushed for the second goal they surely deserved. 

Chelsea had just 39.62 per cent of possession in the Champions League final but dominated the chances there, with an expected goals (xG) total of 1.45 to City's 0.45 reflecting their greater threat in the final third. 

Here, it was City with 1.45 xG against Chelsea's paltry 0.2, Guardiola getting one over the team who have given him plenty of anguish over the years, inflicting eight defeats, more than any other against a Pep side. 

Guardiola's players celebrated with their fans, who included Oasis' Noel Gallagher, tossing shirts into the crowd, knowing this time they and their coach had implemented a master plan. 

Thomas Tuchel has partnered Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku in the Chelsea attack from the start for the first time for the visit of Manchester City, who have a number of stars back fit.

Chelsea head into Saturday's Premier League clash at Stamford Bridge top of the table, three points ahead of champions City.

The Blues have beaten City in all three meetings since Tuchel took charge – including the Champions League final – and are looking to become the first side to defeat Pep Guardiola in four consecutive matches.

But Tuchel has mixed things up for this game, shifting from his usual 3-4-3 to a 3-5-2 formation, including N'Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic in central midfield after the trio excelled in the second half of last week's 3-0 win at Tottenham.

Most notably, that switch has created space for Werner in the front line next to record signing Lukaku.

Werner assisted Antonio Rudiger's strike at Spurs and then scored in the midweek EFL Cup tie against Aston Villa, as he aims to build on a disappointing 2020-21 campaign in which his 12 goals hugely underperformed his 21.1 expected goals.

The Germany forward and Lukaku have only previously played 61 minutes together so far in all competitions, although Chelsea have netted two goals and conceded none in that time.

Thiago Silva – outstanding at Tottenham – only made Tuchel's bench, but Edouard Mendy was passed fit to start in goal, facing an attack-minded City line-up.

Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden each came in for their first league starts of the season, yet it was Gabriel Jesus – playing from the right in the early stages of the campaign – who looked set to lead the line.

Guardiola had named a different midfield for all three prior meetings with Tuchel's Chelsea in 2021 but has reverted back to Rodri, who started the league defeat.

In a familiar 4-3-3, Aymeric Laporte was also cleared to line up alongside Ruben Dias.

Romelu Lukaku believes taking the knee could be losing its effectiveness in football's fight against racism as he called on social media companies to do more to combat online abuse.

Chelsea full-back Marcos Alonso recently revealed he would no longer be taking the knee before matches, with the Spain international saying the gesture is "losing a bit of strength".

Players in Premier League teams have been taking the knee before games since matches resumed in June 2020 following the United Kingdom's first coronavirus-enforced lockdown, after the unlawful police killing of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis the previous month had sparked protests against racial injustice across the globe.

Some players, such as Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha, have since elected not to take the knee, though the majority of teams and players in the top flight still do so.

However, Lukaku - who was the subject of racist abuse during his time with Inter in Serie A - has now joined his team-mate Alonso in doubting the strength of the gesture.

The striker told CNN: "I think we can take stronger positions, basically. Yes, we are taking the knee, but in the end, everybody’s clapping but, sometimes after the game, you see another insult."

Lukaku added that social media executives must take the lead in tackling online hate.

"The captains of every team, and four or five players, like the big personalities of every team, should have a meeting with the CEOs of Instagram and governments and the FA and the PFA, and we should just sit around the table and have a big meeting about it," Lukaku said.

"I have to fight, because I'm not fighting only for myself. I'm fighting for my son, for my future kids, for my brother, for all of the other players and their kids, you know, for everybody.

"At the end of the day, football should be an enjoyable game. You cannot kill the game by discrimination. That should never happen."

Nuno Espirito Santo insisted he was only interested in "amazing" Harry Kane when the Tottenham boss was asked to compare his star striker to Romelu Lukaku.

Lukaku has made a flying start to life back at Chelsea, who Spurs face on Sunday, with the Belgium international scoring four goals in as many games.

Kane, meanwhile, had a stuttering start to the season after a move to Manchester City failed to materalise.

The England captain has managed just two shots in his first three Premier League appearances this season and his lean spell continued as he failed to score against Rennes in the Europa Conference League on Thursday.

The last time Kane had two or fewer attempts across a three-match span in the Premier League was back in October 2014, but he did not start any of those outings against Sunderland, Southampton and Newcastle United, which produced a total of one effort at goal.

Lukaku, on the other hand, has scored three times from 12 shots for Chelsea in the top flight this term, registering an attempt every 8.5 touches and a goal every 34 touches.

Asked to compare the two forwards, and if he would swap Lukaku for Kane, Nuno told a news conference: "Harry's an amazing player.

"I only speak about Tottenham players. I don't even consider [swapping Kane and Lukaku] because it's something I don't think about, for me it doesn't make sense."

Asked what Kane needs to work on to get back to the form that saw him win the Premier League Golden Boot last season, Nuno added: "I think he has to improve, we are on this process to find the best levels of fitness, but his dedication has been huge."

Spurs will be hoping Kane's early season slump came to its nadir last Saturday, in the 3-0 defeat to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

For the first time in his Premier League career, Kane went a full game without having an attempt on goal or a single touch in the opponent's area, while he had just 37 touches – fewer than any other Tottenham outfielder who played the full game – and lost possession 16 times without recovering it once.

Nuno may need Kane on top form against a Chelsea team who look well set to challenge on all fronts this season.

The European champions are unbeaten in five games across all competitions, taking 10 points in the league – one more than Spurs – and getting their Champions League title defence off to a winning start against Zenit, with Lukaku on target in that victory.

"Very good team, and Thomas [Tuchel] is doing an amazing job," said Nuno.

"They have an amazing squad, talented players, they play good football, they are organised, they are intense. They are European champions, so we must be wary of that. But on Sunday we will compete, that's a promise.

"Thomas already did an amazing job at Borussia Dortmund, a fantastic job at Paris Saint-Germain. He and his coaching staff have enormous quality so I'm not surprised by the work of Thomas. For me it is not a surprise because you can see how well they play."

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