Chelsea are eager to fly out Thomas Tuchel to the Club World Cup final, as Jorginho said the head coach could make all the difference.

Tuchel tested positive for COVID-19 in the lead-up to the trip to the United Arab Emirates, with Chelsea announcing that blow to their preparations last Saturday.

The Champions League winners beat Al-Hilal 1-0 in the semi-finals without Tuchel on the touchline, thanks to a Romelu Lukaku goal, and now they are preparing to face Palmeiras in the final.

Brazilian giants Palmeiras, holders of the Copa Libertadores, were 2-0 winners against Al Ahly and will present tough opposition for Chelsea.

Saturday's trophy match is one that Tuchel would want to attend, and Chelsea reportedly have a private jet on standby, but he needs negative test results before he can be cleared to travel to Abu Dhabi.

Asked about preparing for the game without Tuchel, Jorginho said: "Of course it's different. His energy helps a lot, but he's not here now and the staff is trying to do their best. We can feel that.

"We feel sorry Thomas is not here with us, but he's involved all the time, in touch with the staff and team. We can feel the staff, all of them, are doing their best."

It would help, however, if Tuchel can be present in person, rather than making plans from afar.

"Of course it gives you more," Jorginho said. "There's more energy in the changing room. It'll be really important for us if he could be here. That's what we hope but at the moment we just don't know. We can hope."

Chelsea assistant boss Zsolt Low, set to lead the team if Tuchel cannot make the trip, added: "We still hope he can come and enjoy the group and the final as soon as possible.

"He is following the rules and getting tested. There is a lot of time. Any test he does could be negative. We hope this happens in the next hours. Thomas absolutely thinks he can be there, and the team and the whole staff want him to come for the final.

"We hope he can come, but if he cannot, we are still well prepared. We have had a lot of meetings. We had a video conference after the first game analysing it, and seeing what we can do better and what problems we had. We are absolutely clear what happened in the first game and what we have to do better in the second game."

Chelsea have yet to decide whether goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, back from helping Senegal win the Africa Cup of Nations, should come back into the team in place of Kepa Arrizabalaga.

"We have to take this decision tonight or latest tomorrow," said Low. "We talk to Thomas about it, we talk with the goalkeeper coaches, and we will make the final decision tomorrow, some hours before the game.

"Whoever sits on the bench has nothing to be worried or sad about. Both goalkeepers have had big performances in the last weeks, and that's why it's just a decision for this game."

Jorginho will be targeting another major trophy, after his Champions League win with Chelsea and Euro 2020 triumph with Italy last year.

"It's an important trophy. It's February. It's so much. We really want it. We're not thinking about the Premier League right now, we're thinking about tomorrow," Jorginho said. "That's the important thing right now."

This will be the fourth Club World Cup final between an English and a Brazilian side, making it the most commonly contested final by teams from two specific nations.

Brazilian sides have won three of their four games against English opposition at the tournament, the exception being a 1-0 defeat for Flamengo against Liverpool in the 2019 final.

Chelsea lost to Corinthians in the 2012 final, and Palmeiras are bidding to become the fifth Brazilian winners of the competition.

Palmeiras certainly head into the final in strong form, having achieved a 10-game unbeaten run across all competitions (W7 D3), with their last defeat coming back in November against Fortaleza in the league.

Things have not quite gone to plan for Cristiano Ronaldo in his second coming at Manchester United.

The Red Devils are out of both domestic cup competitions and sit well off the pace of Premier League leaders Manchester City, making an unlikely Champions League triumph their remaining hope for silverware this season.

Ronaldo is enduring a five-game goal drought and, according to a report, he could choose to end his second United spell after only one season.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO WANTS MENDES TALKS OVER FUTURE

Cristiano Ronaldo will speak with his agent after growing disillusioned with life at Manchester United, according to the Daily Star.

The forward is hoping to speak with Jorge Mendes when he is back in Portugal for March's World Cup play-off against Turkey about his options after the end of the season.

Ronaldo, whose contract runs until the end of 2022-23, wants to see who will be appointed as United's next permanent manager – but he is not in favour of giving the job to interim boss Ralf Rangnick.

ROUND-UP

- Paul Pogba is also looking to leave Manchester United this year when his contract expires, but he will have to accept a pay cut to get a move abroad that he wants, the Mirror says.

- A possible replacement for Pogba could be Youri Tielemans. Het Nieuwsblad reports Leicester City have dropped their asking price for the midfielder, who is wanted by United and Arsenal.

Real Madrid rejected the idea of signing Dusan Vlahovic, now at Juventus, because they are putting everything into getting Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, says Cadena Ser.

- However, AS reports Madrid are still seriously interested in Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland, which could scupper Robert Lewandowski's hopes of moving to the Spanish capital.

Juve defender Matthijs de Ligt is flattered by interest from Chelsea and Barcelona, Sport Mediaset claims.

Barca are also desperate to sign Haaland and will therefore prioritise cut-price deals for defenders, says ESPN. Chelsea trio Cesar AzpilicuetaAndreas Christensen and Marcos Alonso are on their shortlist.

Manchester United remain on the lookout for a full-time manager, three months on from sacking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Ralf Rangnick has taken interim charge until at least the end of the campaign, but some mixed results have hampered his hopes of landing the job permanently.

A number of names have been linked with one of football's most prestigious positions, though one candidate is seemingly favoured by the players.

 

 

TOP STORY – UNITED STARS FAVOUR POCH APPOINTMENT

Mauricio Pochettino remains the favourite to succeed Solskjaer as United's next permanent boss and, according to The Express, that is an appointment that will go down well.

The Red Devils' first-team stars are said to have made clear that Pochettino, who is under pressure a year into his time with Paris Saint-Germain, is their preferred option.

Ajax boss Erik Ten Hag is another candidate to lead United forward from next season, but there are concerns over his lack of experience in English football.

 

ROUND-UP

- While there is uncertainty over who will be in charge at United next season, the Premier League heavyweights are pushing ahead with transfer plans. Sport1 reports that Borussia Dortmund defender Manuel Akanji is one of those being targeted.

- Memphis Depay could be on his way out of Barcelona less than a year after arriving at Camp Nou. Sport claims that Barca have other attacking options in mind, with Dortmund superstar Erling Haaland still on their radar.

- Inter remain in talks with Ivan Perisic over a new contract at San Siro. According to Nicolo Schira, the Croatia international is close to putting pen to paper on an extension that will run through until July 2024.

- Calciomercato reports that Milan are planning talks with the representatives of Lille centre-back Sven Botman. The highly rated defender has been touted as a target for numerous clubs across Europe, most notably Newcastle United.

- Chelsea have not given up hope of tying Antonio Rudiger down to a new deal, according to Goal. It is claimed that the Germany international has been offered close to £200,000 a week to turn down interest from Real Madrid and PSG.

Chelsea assistant coach Zsolt Low heaped praise on Kepa Arrizabalaga following his impressive display in the Club World Cup semi-final win over Al-Hilal.

The 2020-21 Champions League winners progressed to the final of the competition, where they will face Palmeiras after scraping past the Asian champions 1-0.

Romelu Lukaku's 32nd-minute strike settled the contest at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, but it was a generally lacklustre display by Chelsea.

After controlling large periods of the first half, recording 61.9 per cent of possession, the Blues only registered 45.4 per cent after the break and had to rely on important saves from Kepa to keep Al-Hilal at bay.

The Spain international, who was given the nod ahead of Edouard Mendy following the latter's return from his Africa Cup of Nations triumph with Senegal, denied Plymouth Argyle's Ryan Hardie from the penalty spot in the narrow FA Cup victory on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the pick of his saves against Al-Hilal four days on saw him deny Mohamed Kanno in brilliant fashion.

And Low, who oversaw Chelsea in the absence of Thomas Tuchel following a positive COVID-19 test, highlighted the performance of his goalkeeper.

"[Kepa's] very important," he said. "In the cup, he did a big performance to save the penalty. 

"Today when we needed him, he was there and made one big save. 

"He's in very good shape; he plays and trains well. We're lucky to have him. 

"In the next days, we have to decide who plays the final. 

"We're waiting for Thomas' opinion and the goalkeeping coaches before we take the decision for the final."

Low also applauded Lukaku, who netted his first goal since the 5-1 win over Chesterfield in the FA on January 8.

Other than his strike, though, the Belgium international registered just one shot on goal – straight at the goalkeeper – and was caught offside on three occasions.

Nevertheless, Low insisted he was delighted with the striker's efforts.

"Everyone's very happy he scored," he added. 

"He fought very hard and tried hard in the last game; that's why we gave him the chance. 

"We hoped for a bit of luck to score today. He's very happy, we're very happy and hope he continues and scores in the final."

Chelsea made hard work of reaching the Club World Cup final with a 1-0 win against Al Hilal in the last four on Wednesday.

Thomas Tuchel's side – playing without their coach following his positive coronavirus test – were in control from the outset and should never have been in danger of becoming the first European champions to fall short of the final since Manchester United in 2000.

But slack play in the final third, when both shooting and playing the final pass, meant Romelu Lukaku's first-half strike was their only goal and Kepa Arrizabalaga had to step up at the other end. 

Asian champions Al Hilal, who had scored six against Al Jazira in the previous round, remained in the game until the final whistle but could not find the leveller to prevent Chelsea advancing to face Palmeiras in Saturday's decider.

Setting the tone for much of the contest, Lukaku had initially been frustrated in his pursuit of a first goal in more than a month, repeatedly taking up promising positions without finding the finishing touch.

But Chelsea's record signing could not miss on 32 minutes when Kai Havertz's cross bounced kindly off unwitting defender Yasser Al-Shahrani into the six-yard box, allowing the forward to slam into the net right-footed.

Havertz came close to scoring himself at the start of the second half as he followed a brilliant run down the left by beating Abdullah Al-Mayoof from a tight angle, only for the ball to bounce back out off the near post.

With Al Hilal still just one behind, Kepa was twice required to come to Chelsea's rescue, advancing from his line to block from Moussa Marega and then pulling off a sublime stop from Mohamed Kanno.

An extended spell of pressure followed, but Chelsea held on to give themselves a second shot at a first Club World Cup title after 2012's final failure.


What does it mean? Improvement needed to avoid final repeat

Wasteful Chelsea underperformed their expected goals total of 1.60, but that figure also does not take into account the numerous occasions when the final ball was not quite right or Lukaku mistimed his run.

Such profligacy allowed Al Hilal to grow into the game and rack up 12 shots worth a combined 0.95 xG themselves – albeit while similarly failing to convert.

Palmeiras, Chelsea's final opponents, may not be quite so forgiving, and Blues supporters have painful memories of coming up short against Brazilian opponents after Corinthians were crowned world champions 10 years ago.

Keeper Kepa keeps delivering

Edouard Mendy enjoyed a warm welcome as he linked up with the Chelsea squad having won the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, but the goalkeeper has scarcely been missed – particularly in the past two matches.

Kepa counted an 118th-minute penalty among four saves in a nervy FA Cup win over Plymouth Argyle on Saturday and had to be at his best again against Al Hilal. There were three stops this time, with his save from Kanno the game's standout moment.

Still Luk-ing for best form

Lukaku would have been relieved to get on the scoresheet having not netted since a 5-1 win against Chesterfield on January 8.

Yet there were few signs of a scoring return triggering an improvement in performance levels here. Besides his goal, Lukaku had only one shot – straight at the goalkeeper – while he was caught offside on three occasions.

What's next?

Chelsea play Palmeiras on Saturday for the title after Al Hilal are in action in a third-place play-off against Al Ahly.

Chelsea playmaker Hakim Ziyech has seemingly called time on his international career, saying he will not play for Morocco again.

Former Ajax star Ziyech has not played for his country since a friendly against Burkina Faso in July due to a reported falling out with head coach Vahid Halilhodzic.

Ziyech was not included in Morocco's squad for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Without him, Morocco progressed to the quarter-finals, but lost to eventual runners-up Egypt at that stage.

After Morocco's elimination from the tournament, Halilhodzic said that Ziyech would not be welcomed back into the fold "even if his name was Lionel Messi".

 

Ziyech, speaking to ADSports TV, has now had his say, and believes it is very clear he will not be featuring for Morocco again, at least while Halilhodzic remains in position.

"I understand them, but I will not return to the Moroccan national team and this is my final decision," Ziyech said.

"It's all clear for me how things are going over there and I am focusing on what I am doing and, right now, that is my club.

"At the end of the day, it's a decision he makes and you have to respect it. All the lying that comes with it, it's, for me, clear and I will not return to the national team.

"I understand and feel sorry for [the fans], but that's the situation we're in."

Halilhodzic has previously hit out at Ziyech's behaviour and attitude while on international duty, claims that the 28-year-old has refuted.

Chelsea coach Zsolt Low is confident his side can cope without Thomas Tuchel on the sidelines for Wednesday's Club World Cup semi-final against Al Hilal.

Tuchel missed Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round win against Plymouth Argyle after testing positive for coronavirus and was also unable to fly out to Abu Dhabi.

The German will definitely miss the clash with Asian champions Al Hilal, but he could return for a potential final against either Palmeiras or Al Ahly on Saturday.

Low and Arno Michels will continue to fill in and the former insists Chelsea's preparations have not been hampered too much as Tuchel is providing regular input from London.

"We are constantly in contact with Thomas. We're using video calling all the time," Low said at a pre-match news conference on Tuesday.

"We change our ideas a lot of times in the day. We have good conversation to make it like he is here with us together.

"Petr Cech supports us well when Thomas is not here. We have a good medical staff, team management. We have a lot of support. And a lot of video calls with Thomas. 

"He'll support us as best he can and give us every day preparation in meetings. In the next days there's the possibility to talk to the team."

 

Despite the four-hour time difference between London and the United Arab Emirates, Low says Tuchel is available at any time of the day.

"It's not necessary for him to change time zone. We have meetings with an alarm call," he said. "If we need him at 6am, we need him at 6am. 

"We are training in the afternoon so Thomas is already awake then anyway. In the hotel it's a bit easier for him to chat to the team because of the connection. 

"Maybe here in the dressing room can be more difficult. We all the time have phone contact also during the game so he can analyse and try to translate to the team.

"Phone calls and messages aren't Thomas' strongest part but he needs to be prepared and ready and be with us on the phone. He's been absolutely perfect in the last few days."

Tuchel is continuing to isolate, but if he returns a negative test by Thursday he will be in place for this weekend's final – assuming Chelsea first overcome Al Hilal.

"He'll follow the government rules, get tested every day and we hope the next will be negative so he can travel as fast as possible and enjoy the group and the team," Low said. 

"We hope but we have texts, phone calls, video calls and give him the feeling he's with us. We need his absolute support. In 24 hours he could be here."

Al Hilal beat Al Jazira 6-1 to set up a showdown with Chelsea, who are looking to add the Club World Cup to their collection following last year's Champions League triumph.

The Blues were beaten 1-0 by Corinthians in the final in their only participation in the tournament a decade ago, but they are favourites to go all the win this time around.

"We have to take that role after winning the Champions League," Low said. "We know we're a good team and play a good game but Al Hilal are very good.

"Leonardo Jardim is a very good coach and they have a very good team. We take the role as favourites but for sure it will be a difficult game tomorrow."

The Champions League winners have made the final of the Club World Cup at 16 of the previous 17 editions, with Manchester United in 2000 the only exception.

Chelsea have lost just one of their past 15 games in all competitions, meanwhile, with their only loss in that period coming against Premier League champions Manchester City.

The English heavyweights will be without Reece James against Al Hilal, despite the defender being included in their squad, while Mason Mount will undergo a late fitness test.

Edouard Mendy is also set to link up with the squad ahead of the match, despite featuring for Senegal in Sunday's Africa Cup of Nations final win against Egypt.

Karim Benzema leads the LaLiga scoring charts this term with 17 goals.

But Real Madrid are set to revamp their attacking options if transfer speculation is true.

Benzema turned 34 in December and is contracted until 2023.

TOP STORY – BENZEMA CONCERN ON MADRID FUTURE

Madrid top scorer Benzema has requested a meeting with president Florentino Perez over concerns on his future with Erling Haaland's potential addition, reports Onze.

Los Blancos are set to be bolstered by forwardKylian Mbappe's arrival in the off-season to form an attacking trio alongside Benzema and Vinicius Junior.

But Haaland's potential move from Borussia Dortmund has left Benzema fearing he may lose his spot.

ROUND-UP 

- Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is being lined up by Bayern Munich as their ideal replacement for Niklas Sule, claims Fichajes. Sule has confirmed his exit to Borussia Dortmund for next season.

- Juventus have a new plan ahead of fresh contract talks with Paulo Dybala, according to Calciomercato. Dybala is unsigned beyond this season.

- Manchester United and Brazilian giants Flamengo have agreed to a £12m fee for the permanent sale of Andreas Pereira, reports Universo.

- Atletico Madrid, who are looking to replace the departed Kieran Trippier, are set to make a €30m offer for Aston Villa full-back Matty Cash, claims Mundo Deportivo.

- Calciomercato reports that Milan still have an eye on Club Brugge's Dutch talent Noa Lang.

Rising Spain star Gavi has earned plenty of admirers since bursting onto the scene last year.

Gavi has made 26 LaLiga appearances for Barcelona despite only turning 17 in August.

The teenager has also been capped by Spain, with four appearances to his name.

TOP STORY – REDS PLOT GAVI SWOOP

Liverpool are set to make an audacious swoop for Barcelona teenager Gavi amid the Blaugrana's financial issues, reports the Daily Express.

Barca have been trying to convince the 17-year-old to re-sign with the club but have not met his salary demands yet.

The Reds are hoping to capitalise on that situation, with a view to an offer in the near future.

 

ROUND-UP

Borussia Dortmund are in contract talks with outgoing Bayern Munich defender Niklas Sule, claims Transfermarkt's Manuel Veth. Sule has confirmed he will leave Bayern when his contract expires at the end of this campaign and is reportedly asking for €12-15million per season.

- Former Germany national team head coach Joachim Low is being lined up as Carlo Ancelotti's successor at Real Madrid, claims El Nacional.

Barcelona could swoop for Chelsea target Jules Kounde with the Catalans lining up an off-season move for the Sevilla defender, according to the Daily Star.

- Express reports Barcelona are also looking to seal deals for Chelsea defenders Cesar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen in the coming days.

Manchester United and Chelsea will both chase West Ham United's Declan Rice in the next transfer window, reports Sky Sports.

Al Hilal thumped hosts Al Jazira 6-1 on Sunday to book their place in the Club World Cup semi-finals against Chelsea.

2020-21 UAE Pro League champions Al Jazira opened the scoring through Abdoulay Diaby after 14 minutes, but goals from former Premier League forwards Odion Ighalo and Matheus Pereira put Al Hilal into the lead before the break.

That narrow lead was extended into an emphatic scoreline in the second half, as Mohamed Kanno, Salem Al-Dawsari, Moussa Marega and Andre Carrillo all found the back of the net.

Asian champions Al Hilal will face European counterparts Chelsea in the last four on February 9, while Al Jazira play Monterrey earlier that same day in the fifth-place play-off.

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.

Middlesbrough's reward for knocking Manchester United out of the FA Cup is a home tie with Tottenham in the fifth round.

Chris Wilder's Boro eliminated the Red Devils on Friday on penalties after a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford and will now face Antonio Conte's Spurs, who beat Brighton 3-1 on Saturday.

Only one guaranteed all-Premier League tie was drawn for the fifth round with Southampton hosting West Ham after David Moyes' side survived a scare at National League North outfit Kidderminster Harriers.

Among the Premier League elite, Chelsea will travel to Luton Town,  Manchester City are away to Peterborough United, and Liverpool will welcome Norwich City to Anfield should they get past Cardiff City on Sunday.

Cup holders Leicester will be at home to Huddersfield Town if they beat Nottingham Forest, while Stoke City travel to Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace.

Frank Lampard's Everton will play either Bournemouth or Boreham Wood at Goodison Park, where the former Chelsea boss got off to a tremendous start with a 4-1 win over Brentford on Saturday.

FA Cup fifth-round draw in full:

Luton Town v Chelsea, Crystal Palace v Stoke City, Peterborough United v Manchester City, Liverpool or Cardiff City v Norwich City, Southampton v West Ham, Middlesbrough v Tottenham, Nottingham Forest or Leicester City v Huddersfield Town, Everton v Bournemouth or Boreham Wood.

Ties will be played week commencing February 28.

Sweden striker Alexander Isak's reputation continues to grow at Real Sociedad.

The 22-year-old has netted eight goals in all competitions this season after 17 strikes in LaLiga last term.

Isak is contracted with Sociedad until 2026, meaning they are under no pressure to cash him in.

However, there appears to be plenty of interest among clubs who want to test La Real's resolve to keep him.

TOP STORY – BLUES AND RED DEVILS ENTER ISAK RACE

Chelsea and Manchester United have both joined the race to sign Real Sociedad forward Alexander Isak, according to The Mirror.

Arsenal have been keen on the 22-year-old Sweden international, who has a £75million buyout clause in his contract.

United are said to view Isak as an ideal replacement for veteran forward Cristiano Ronaldo whose future at Old Trafford is unclear.

 

ROUND-UP

Juventus are bullish that they can beat Tottenham in the race to sign Roma's Nicolo Zaniolo, claims La Gazzetta dello Sport. The Bianconeri view Zaniolo as a replacement for Paulo Dybala, whose contract is running down.

Manchester United and Liverpool have joined Real Madrid and Barcelona in keeping tabs on Serge Gnabry's contract situation at Bayern Munich, reports The Mirror. According to Sky Germany, Bayern and Gnabry are having a stand-off in discussions over an extension.

Liverpool's deal to land Fulham's Fabio Carvalho is not dead, says Football Insider, with the two parties set for new talks with a view to an off-season switch. Calciomercato claims that Milan have also reached out to Carvalho's representatives.

- The Sun reports that Premier League giants Manchester United and Chelsea are monitoring 16-year-old Blackburn Rovers defender Ashley Phillips, with Everton and Tottenham also keeping tabs on the teenager.

Chelsea coach Arno Michels said Kepa Arrizabalaga deserves the trust of the club after his crucial penalty save secured their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the expense of Plymouth Argyle.

The Blues fought back from a goal down to beat the League One side 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, Marcos Alonso netting an extra-time winner after Cesar Azpilicueta had cancelled out Macaulay Gillesphey's shock eighth-minute opener.

Plymouth had a great chance to force a shoot-out after Ryan Hardie won a penalty from Malang Sarr in the 116th minute, but his tame effort was comfortably saved by Kepa.

The Spain international, who became the world's most expensive goalkeeper when he joined Chelsea from Athletic Bilbao for £71.6million (€80m) in 2018, has not always proved reliable as a regular number one but his penalty record has been impressive.

In this season's UEFA Super Cup, he came off the bench for the shoot-out against Villarreal and made two saves to seal the trophy for his side.

"It's not about his penalty save but also about his performance, which was very good," said Michels. "Since the last matches, I found him very reliable in his game, so we're very happy with Kepa.

"He deserves our trust because he's a fantastic guy who is doing constantly very good and reliable work in training.

 

"He has these strengths to save penalties and has shown it a few times now, in the [EFL] Cup twice and against Villarreal. Even in training, it is hard to beat him. He has the ability to read the mind of the player and what he's going to do so we're pleased he could save us today."

Chelsea's coaching staff took a collective approach to overseeing Saturday's game as head coach Thomas Tuchel is isolating at home after testing positive for COVID-19.

Tuchel was in contact with assistant coach and analyst Benni Weber through the contest as Chelsea eventually battled their way through.

"We saw it as a team effort with Zsolt Low, Anthony Barry and me as well, with Hilario and Benni included," said Michels.

"We all felt a little bit excited because we're used to having Thomas on our side, so it was definitely different, but the team made it very easy for us and helped us in our work. We felt very good and supported."

Chelsea now head to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup, for which they will hope to have a few players recover from muscular concerns.

"Mason [Mount] felt it in extra time when he had a shot," said Michels. "It was not a serious problem during the game, and he realised quickly that he felt pain, so we took him off and there will be further exams. Hopefully, it’s not too bad but right now I cannot promise what the situation is.

"Hakim [Ziyech] had a bit of a problem and Azpi with his hamstring. I wouldn't say they are injuries, but we have a few muscular problems. Hopefully, they are only little ones, so they are back in training tomorrow [Sunday] or Monday."

Chelsea escaped an FA Cup shock at Stamford Bridge on Saturday as they beat Plymouth Argyle 2-1 after extra time.

Thomas Tuchel, absent from the game after a positive COVID-19 test, saw his side battle back from an early Macaulay Gillesphey header through the unlikely duo of Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso.

Azpilicueta's stylish finish drew the Blues level but it was not until the 16th minute of the additional period that Alonso struck to send them into round five.

Plymouth nearly forced a shoot-out but Ryan Hardie's penalty was comfortably saved by Kepa Arrizabalaga in a dramatic finish, the Chelsea keeper sparing the blushes of Malang Sarr. 

The visitors, whose last win over Chelsea was in the EFL Cup 42 years ago, had previously gone 13 consecutive FA Cup ties against top-flight teams without going through since they beat West Brom in 1983-84.

Their travelling fans were understandably in raptures when Gillesphey outmuscled Romelu Lukaku to glance in Jordan Houghton's cross in just the eighth minute to put them ahead.

Luck then played its part in preserving Plymouth's lead, Mateo Kovacic and Callum Hudson-Odoi each hitting the crossbar and the former rifling a low shot off the left-hand post.

Chelsea got their equaliser four minutes before the break, though, Azpilicueta backheeling home Mason Mount's low cross from the right.

The Spain defender repeated the trick just before the hour mark, but he was clearly offside following a header from Lukaku, who had earlier failed to meet a teasing Mount cross.

Chelsea could not turn dominance of the ball into many meaningful chances, though, and Kepa Arrizabalaga had to be alert to block an effort from Hardie, who was through on goal.

Michael Cooper then flew to his right to tip over a Mount strike as Plymouth stayed resolute against an attacking quintet of Lukaku, Mount, Ziyech, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz to force the extra 30 minutes.

Just before the extra-time interval, Chelsea finally put a clinical move together, Havertz playing a one-two with Werner before squaring for Alonso to side-foot home.

That looked like being the end of the drama but, in the 117th minute, Hardie won a penalty from Sarr only to see his poor attempt saved by Kepa.

 

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