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    Cesar Azpilicueta recalls nightmare of facing Cristiano Ronaldo 11 years ago when he played for Spanish side Osasuna

    IT is more than 11 years since Cesar Azpilicueta played against Cristiano Ronaldo.And the Chelsea captain will be keen to avoid a repeat of what happened when they met in LaLiga back in May 2010.
    Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid against Cesar Azpilicueta of Osasuna in 2010Credit: AFP
    Azpilicueta said: “I played against him when I was at Osasuna and he was at Real Madrid.
    “I don’t remember the score. Maybe in the Bernabeu we lost!”
    Indeed they did. Osasuna took an early lead but Ronaldo  equalised after twisting an equally fresh-faced Azpilicueta this way and that, then firing in a low shot.
    The score was 2-2 by  half-time and remained that way until Ronaldo headed an 89th-minute winner.
    More recently, in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup, Azpilicueta was watching from the Spain bench when Ronaldo completed a hat-trick with a late free-kick equaliser for Portugal in a 3-3 draw.
    The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has kept up that happy habit of grabbing crucial late goals since rejoining United.

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    Azpilicueta added: “He’s a player that can be dangerous at any time, so we have to be very careful.
    “He has a great ability to find spaces, he can shoot right and left and he’s a very good header of the ball.
    “We are lucky to be in the best league in the world, playing against very tough opponents. Every day you face different challenges.
    “To be part of the era where we have faced Cristiano and Messi is great but you always have to be on your toes because they are very dangerous.”

    Chelsea captain Cesar AzpilicuetaCredit: Signathon
    Tuchel yells out the nickname of Chelsea captain Azpilicueta wrong before Pulisic steps in to correct new boss More

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    Chelsea star Reece James is no traditional right-back, he’s incredibly close to becoming a complete all-round superstar

    WHEN Gareth Southgate was asked about his apparent obsession with right-backs, after selecting four in his initial Euros squad, the England boss gave an interesting answer. “You feel you are looking at four right-backs,” replied Southgate, “I just see four good footballers.” 
    Reece James is becoming a complete, all-round footballer – not just a right-backCredit: Getty
    He might have added that Reece James, Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kieran Trippier are four of England’s finest.
    And the more you watch James as he emerges into world-class status, the greater you understand the wisdom of Southgate’s words. 
    James is no traditional right-back, nor even a typical right wing-back.
    The 21-year-old Chelsea man is close to becoming a complete all-round footballer.
    Having produced a defensive masterclass to pocket Raheem Sterling in the Champions League final victory over Manchester City, James is this season’s leading goalscorer for the Premier League leaders.  
    When team-mate Christian Pulisic was asked whether James could remain top scorer, he replied: “Honestly, the way he strikes the ball, I wouldn’t be surprised. 

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    “He helps the team in so many ways. The sky’s the limit for him.”
    James has already notched five goals and five assists in all competitions – with Mohamed Salah the only other Premier League player to achieve that feat. 
    Even Roberto Carlos, with his famed Hollywood free-kicks, never scored more than five league goals in a season. James has four by November. 
    But then even Brazil’s Galactico left-back didn’t possess James’ finishing prowess from open play. 
    As Joe Cole noted, after another bravura display from James in Tuesday’s 4-0 demolition of Juventus, the Londoner has ‘the technique and composure of a top striker’.
    Mastering the wing-back role is perhaps the toughest in football – it demands speed, stamina and the intelligence to decipher when best to use those attributes, as well as crossing and one-on-one defending.  
    But James has more even than that in his locker – he is a lethal finisher too.
    When last month’s visit to Newcastle was goalless after 65 minutes, James settled the contest with a cushioned right-foot take-down and a thumping left-foot finish, followed by a banger with his right. 
    Against Juve, James forced two fine saves from Wojciech Szczesny before he chested down and rammed home Chelsea’s second. 
    Thomas Tuchel demands his wing-backs play exceptionally high – initially preferring a specialist winger Callum Hudson-Odoi at right wing-back. 
    So this is unlikely to be a one-off purple patch for James. 
    Those who’ve worked with James, from a loan spell at Wigan to international level, speak of a ceaseless desire for all-round self-improvement. 
    Reece James is in staggeringly good form in defence and, particularly, in attackCredit: Reuters
    There have been blips – Bayern Munich’s electric wideman Alphonso Davies toasted James in a 3-0 Champions League home defeat early last year – and it would be fascinating to see those two youngsters go at it again.
    And there was a red card for England last autumn when James uncharacteristically lost his head at the final whistle of a home defeat by Denmark.
    Full-backs have long been under-appreciated in England. None have ever been voted PFA Player of the Year.
    And Ashley Cole, perhaps England’s greatest full-back, never received due respect – although he wasn’t as complete a player as James promises to be. 
    Back to Southgate, then – and an admission that plenty of us have fallen into the trap of believing the caricature of boring old defensive-minded Gareth.
    England’s last two proper games, against Hungary and Albania, proved team-sheets can often be deceptive. 
    With James absent against Hungary, Southgate sent out a flat back-four and five attacking players, yet England spluttered to a 1-1 draw. 
    But when he reverted to a 3-4-3 against a supposedly-decent Albania, England were five-up by half-time, with James rampant. 
    This will surely be the template for next year’s World Cup – with Walker in a back three, James at wing-back, and Alexander-Arnold a back-up. 
    England reached the Euros final without Ben Chilwell featuring, and with James only used in the goalless draw with Scotland. 
    Now, that Chelsea duo are threatening to become an English version of Carlos and Cafu or France’s outstanding 1998 World Cup-winning duo of Lilian Thuram and Bixente Lizarazu. 
    As Southgate said, we must stop thinking of James as merely a right-back. 
    Thomas Tuchel reacts to Chelsea’s stunning 4-0 victory over Juventus More

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    ‘What possessed him?’ – Chelsea joker Rudiger appears to BITE James’ head in goal celebration to leave fans in stitches

    CHELSEA centre-back Antonio Rudiger appeared to bizarrely BITE Reece James’ hair after celebrating N’Golo Kante’s strike against Leicester.The 28-year-old, who is known to be a joker in the Blues dressing room, reacted in baffling fashion after Kante put the West London outfit 2-0 up at the King Power Stadium.
    Antonio Rudiger left fans it stitches after biting Reece James’ hair following N’Golo Kante’s goal
    German centre-back Rudiger opened the scoring against the Foxes at the King Power StadiumCredit: Reuters
    Rudiger had put the visitors in front with a looping header in the 14th minute, before Thomas Tuchel’s side scored their second just before the half hour mark.
    And the German went overboard while celebrating, as footage appeared to show him looking to take a chunk out of James’ barnet.
    Fans were left in stitches by the defender’s actions, as one user tweeted: “DID I JUST SEE RUDIGER BITE REECE JAMES HAIR AHAHAHAH.”
    Another commented: “Why Rudiger bite James head like shawarma.”
    A third added: “Antonio Rudiger biting Reece James on the top of his head is EXACTLY why Chelsea need to give him what he wants?”
    Meanwhile one posted: “Rudiger biting Reece James’s head as a sign of affection, standard Rudiger.”

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    One then stated: “Why is Rudiger biting Reece James lmao he’s a mad man.”
    Another said: “Rudiger is weird man. What possessed him.”
    Bookmakers Paddy Power joked: “It’s been a decent half of football, but the highlight, without any doubt, has to be Rudiger biting Reece James in the head during the goal celebrations.”
    Rudiger is facing an uncertain future at Chelsea with the player in the final year of his contract.
    German giants Bayern Munich are said to be eyeing up a move, with boss Julian Nagelsmann apparently drawing up a mega-contract worth £400k-a-week.
    Real Madrid are also known to be admirers, while free transfer specialists Juventus have also registered their interest.
    And Rudiger reportedly feels Chelsea’s latest contract offer is a ‘slap in the face’ after the Blues fell short of his wage demands by £60,000-a-week.
    Chelsea legend Ashley Cole hopes Hudson-Odoi will rethink England U21 snub after youngsters break into senior team More

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    Chelsea fight to keep talented youngster Ben Elliott, 18, at club with THREE Prem rivals targeting transfer swoop

    CHELSEA are facing a fight to keep hold of another of their brilliant young players with teenager Ben Elliott being tracked by a trio of Premier League rivals.Southampton, Brighton and Brentford have all shown an interested in the teenager who the European champions are keen to tie down to a new long-term deal.
    Highly-rated Chelsea youngster Ben Elliott, 18, is wanted in a three-way tussle by Southampton, Brighton and BrentfordCredit: Getty
    Playmaker Elliott, 18, has been a highly-regarded member of the Blues academy since a schoolboy and has been part of the club’s under-23 squad for the past 18 months.
    But his current contract runs out at the end of this season and though Chelsea are putting a new deal on the table, they fear he may be tempted to follow a number of other bright talents in making a move elsewhere.
    Brighton bagged a bargain when they captured Tariq Lamptey for £5million with the offer of regular first team football for the then 19-year-old.
    And Saints themselves forked out £5m last summer for another full-back in Tino Livramento – with both players deciding their development would be stifled by a lack of first team opportunities if they stayed at Chelsea.
    So for the two South Coast clubs and Brentford to start showing interest is worrying news for bosses at Stamford Bridge.
    They know they are unable to offer as much realistic chance to first team call-ups, even though he has been training in and around Thomas Tuchel’s squad this season.

    Elliott is exactly the kind of profile that fits the models of Saints, Brighton and Brentford like to work with in developing young talent who could not only thrive in the first team but also be sold on for big profit.
    And the trio could even make their moves in January to avoid him becoming a free agent in the summer.
    A bid of around £800,000 might be enough to land the prospect If he decides his future lies away from Chelsea.
    Thomas Tuchel reacts to Chelsea’s draw with Burnley More

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    Chelsea legend John Terry told ex boss Antonio Conte to leave him out of squad for entire final season to give Ake a run

    JOHN TERRY has revealed he told Chelsea boss Antonio Conte to leave him out of the squad for entirety of his final season – in order to give Nathan Ake a chance.JT was itching to see the Dutch youngster, 21 at the start of the 2016-17 campaign, given a chance at Stamford Bridge, even if it meant sacrificing his own minutes.
    Terry told Conte to drop him from the squad in order to give Ake a chance
    Speaking with snooker legend Stephen Hendry on an Instagram Live Q&A, Terry revealed he told Conte to give Ake the senior match-day experience, even if it was watching from the bench.
    But Ake only played four times all season and was sold to Bournemouth in the summer after Terry’s retirement, having spent the first half of the season on loan on the South Coast.
    Chelsea did go on to win the Premier League that season, with a back-three of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill.
    Looking back at his final season in West London, Terry said: “I went to see [Conte] around Christmas time.
    “I was like ‘gaffer, listen you’re putting me on the bench and we’ve got Nathan Ake’, who for me was an unbelievably talented young player.
    “I said ‘put him on the bench because the chances of him coming on are really slim, it’s going to be great experience for him’.
    “‘He was on the bench for about seven, eight or ten games, and he ended up playing against Spurs in the [FA Cup] semi-final that year.
    “And it was just little stuff like that. I’m not sure players would have done what I did.”

    Ake ultimately played just four times for Chelsea in 2016-17, including the FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham.
    But he was sold to Bournemouth for £20million as Terry quit the club to join Aston Villa, where he is now assistant manager.
    Ake, now 26, has gone on to receive international recognition with Holland and signed for Manchester City in a £40million deal in 2020.
    Pedro combines with Chelsea teammates to score a cracker of a goal in training More

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    Chelsea keeper Kepa wanted by Juventus with Italians desperate for transfer as replacement for ex-Arsenal ace Szczesny

    JUVENTUS are reportedly eyeing up a swoop to bring Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to Turin next year.The 27-year-old is a peripheral figure at Stamford Bridge having lost his starting spot to Edouard Mendy last season.
    Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga is a reported target for Juventus in 2022Credit: PA
    Arrizabalaga, who is tied down in West London until 2025, has featured in just three games in all competitions this season.
    But despite his lack of game time, Juventus are said to be keen to secure his services to replace ex-Arsenal shot-stopper Wojciech Szczesny.
    According to Fichajes, boss Massimiliano Allegri is desperate to bring the Spain international to Italy.
    It is said that Juve have run out of patience with Szczesny, who has been plagued by inconsistent performances this term.
    And they have made signing Arrizabalaga their priority in 2022.
    However, the news outlet claims that the Old Lady will wait until the summer to do business and will not make a move for him in the winter transfer window.

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    Juventus are said to have always been interested in the goalkeeper – even during his time at Athletic Bilbao before he made the switch to England.
    However they could face competition from their Serie A rivals Lazio in the race to prise him away from the Premier League.
    A report from Corriere dello Sport has declared that former Blues boss Maurizio Sarri is keen on a reunion with Arrizabalaga.
    They state that Lazio and Chelsea held talks over a possible loan move in the summer, but the player decided to stay to fight for the No1 spot.
    Speaking last month, German gaffer Thomas Tuchel insisted that Arrizabalaga is ‘happy’ at Chelsea.
    He remarked: “He seems happy to me in the place that he is and the part he plays in this team.

    “He is pushing and he is fighting for his chances — but you cannot force situations.
    “Now I have the feeling with his mindset that he is here, with the calmness and the positivity he trains with and he gets the rewards and it came to him.
    “It was not necessary to prove to me he is a good keeper. I see this everyday.”
    Chelsea boss Tuchel confirms that they will be without Lukaku, Werner and Pulisic due to injuries More

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    Pulisic ‘really suffering’ with ankle problem as Tuchel opens up on Chelsea star’s injury nightmare

    CHRISTIAN PULISIC is toiling with an ankle injury that has kept him out of action for Chelsea since September. Thomas Tuchel claims the USA star is having a tough time on the sidelines with the player set to miss his team’s Champions League clash with Malmo.
    Christian Pulisic picked up an ankle injury on World Cup qualifier duty for the USA against HondurasCredit: Getty Images – Getty
    The fleet-footed forward, 23, has been battling with ankle damage caused during the USA’s 4-0 World Cup qualifying win against Honduras last month. 
    On the latest status of the injury Blues boss, Tuchel told Goal: “He got injured during a match with the USA, with a foul, a tough foul, and he hurt his ankle.
    “There is nothing to worry about in terms of details, and that we are hiding details. 
    “I cannot give you all of the details because I am not a doctor, but at the moment he has had some setbacks from pain.
    “It is simply the pain in the ankle that disturbs him. 
    “Once these players with quick movements like Christian, once they feel this pain and they are not free in the movement the recovery is not happening.

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    “You start all over again and you reach a certain point, and the pain comes back.
    “And you have to do a little pause and start all over again.
    “So right now, we are very, very close. He was so close to coming to team training last week and had a little setback and reaction, with pain. Nothing serious. From there on we go.”
    Everybody is doing their very bestUnfortunately, the injury takes its time.Thomas Tuchel
    Pulisic, who notched up six goals and four assists in 43 Blues games last term, has made just one top-flight appearance so far this season. 
    The American netted in a Prem match win against Crystal Palace on August 14 but has not played for Tuchel’s side since.
    A positive Covid-19 test followed by the ankle damage on international duty has led to the player missing 11 Prem and Champions League games so far this term.
    And the player who helped his side win a Champions League crown last season is determined to get back to full fitness.
    Tuchel added: “He is very impatient, of course, and he does everything and we can see him suffer in every meeting.
    “And every time we meet him here (at the training ground) he is really suffering and he wants to be on the pitch and help us.
    “Everybody is doing their very best. Unfortunately, the injury takes its time.”

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    Thomas Tuchel says Edouard Mendy isn’t bothered about lack of Ballon d’Or shortlist but he thinks the whole team should be nominated More

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    ‘I think this Chelsea team are resilient’ – Gary Neville backs Blues to win Prem title ahead of Man City and Liverpool

    GARY NEVILLE believes Chelsea have a “great” chance of winning the Premier League title as he hailed the club’s dogged resilience.The Blues moved back to the top of the table on Saturday after winning 1-0 away at local rivals Brentford having survived a second half onslaught from the Bees.
    Man Utd legend Gary Neville believes table-toppers Chelsea could win the Premier LeagueCredit: Getty
    Thomas Tuchel’s side beat local rivals Brentford on Saturday in a hard-fought encounterCredit: PA
    It was the west Londoners’ sixth top-flight win from their opening eight games and fifth clean sheet.
    Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy put in a man of the match performance at the Brentford Community Stadium as the visitors withstood huge late pressure.
    Commenting on Chelsea, Neville highlighted the squad depth and mental toughness of Thomas Tuchel’s side who were missing Antonio Rudiger, Thiago Silva, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic.
    He told Sky Sports: “I think Chelsea can win the title.
    “I know people will say Manchester City or Liverpool and you can’t disagree with that given what they’ve done over the last three or four years.
    “City’s performance at Chelsea a few weeks ago was incredible, but I do feel this Chelsea team are resilient and are tough to play against.

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    “I can’t think that any team in the league would like to play against them.
    “I know Brentford have enjoyed the last 10 to 15 minutes, but this was a tough game for them for the first 70-80 minutes.
    “They couldn’t get into it, they had to change and they had a bit of joy at the end.
    “That was a Chelsea team that had a few players missing as well, and they’ve got so many to come back.
    “They had so many good players coming off the bench too, so I feel they’ve got a great shout of winning the title.”
    He added: “You’d have to still say Manchester City are the favourites for the title, and I picked them at the start of the season.
    “But Chelsea have played Arsenal, Tottenham, City and Liverpool and only lost once. They’re top of the league despite having a really tough start.
    “[Romelu] Lukaku has not been at his best, either, which is another good sign.
    “They’re top of the league and their star striker isn’t firing when you know he will at some point.
    “I think Chelsea’s squad is really strong and we’ve seen today that even without a couple of centre-backs, they can produce a strong performance.
    “I’m saying City, but I’m saying Chelsea could go close, if not win it.”
    Tuchel reacts to Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Brentford More