Casper Ruud continued his excellent winning streak while Stefanos Tsitsipas made it a birthday to remember at the National Bank Open in Toronto.

Tsitsipas turned 23 on Thursday and marked the occasion with a 6-3 6-2 win over Karen Khachanov.

The Greek star was presented with a cake by tournament officials after his win, as the crowd serenaded him with a chant of 'happy birthday'.

It marks a significant improvement on when Tsitsipas turned 20. On that occasion, he lost the 2018 final of this event to Rafael Nadal.

Next up for Tsitsipas is Casper Ruud, who poked fun at his critics after he eased into the quarter-finals.

Ruud, the world number 12, won three titles on clay courts in July and has now continued that form in the ATP Masters 1000 event.

Playing on a hard court has proved no challenge for the in-form Norwegian, who wrote 'Hard Courts' with a smile underneath on the camera after his 6-4 6-3 victory over Dusan Lajovic on Thursday.

"I have seen a lot of people questioning my ability to play on hard court, so I just thought it was funny to write a little note," Ruud said in a news conference.

"I think it's fun to play on hard courts. Even though I (have achieved) most of my best results on clay, my best slam result is from this year’s Australian Open (where he reached the Round of 16), so I think it's a surface that also can suit my game well even though this year has been mainly clay.

“I think I'm motivated to come back to the hard courts. I have had two very good matches here. It's a great start for me to the hard-court swing."

Ruud, in the hunt for his fifth title of 2021, has won the only previous meeting between the duo.

"[I am] looking forward to that battle," Tsitsipas said. "We have played each other in the past. Not an easy guy to play against. Looking for a change, looking for a switch-up this time."

However, there was no place in the last eight for world number seven - and Olympic gold medallist - Andrey Rublev, who went down 7-5 7-6 (7-5) to American John Isner.

Fresh from a triumph in Atlanta, 36-year-old Isner has looked sharp all week and has now won eight successive matches.

It brings up a third quarter-final appearance for the world number 30 in Canada, and he will play French 11th seed Gael Monfils after he got past lucky loser Francis Tiafoe 6-1 7-6 (7-2). Monfils will be competing in his first ATP Tour quarter-final in 18 months.

Top seed Daniil Medvedev proved too good for Australian qualifier James Duckworth, winning 6-2 6-4 in one hour and eight minutes.

Medvedev was in ominous form on the hard court, sending down 10-1 aces and winning 27 of 32 points on his first serve.

The Russian world number two will play seventh seed Hubert Hurkacz who fought back to win 6-7 (7-9) 6-4 6-4 over Nicolas Basilashvili.

Eighth seed Diego Schwartzman lost in three sets to 10th seed Roberto Bautista Agut after the Spaniard saved three match points.

Bautista Agut will next play Reilly Opelka who came from behind, and also saved a match point, to win over Lloyd Harris in three.

World number 56 Russell Henley leads by two strokes from seven players after the opening day of the Wyndham Championship with play suspended late on Thursday.

Henley carded an eight-under-62 including an eagle on the fifth hole and three birdies on the final four to open up a two-shot lead at the Sedgefield Country Club in North Carolina.

The American leads from a group of players on six under including Sung Kang, Ted Potter Jr, Michael Thompson, Chris Kirk, Scott Piercy, Hudson Swafford and Adam Hadwin.

A long list of players were a further stroke back at five-under, led by Webb Simpson, Denny McCarthy, Kevin Kisner and Erik van Rooyen.

World number 19 Simpson fought back after a double bogey on the first hole, with eight birdies across his round.

All of the contenders except for Hadwin got through their 18 holes before play was suspended due to darkness after inclement weather had earlier interrupted. Hadwin got through 16 holes for his six under, with the first round to resume on Friday at 7:30am local time.

April's Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama finished his opening round with a one-under-69, double bogeying the fourth hole around birdies on the second and fifth.

Brian Harman, Kevin Na and Will Zalatoris ended the day two under, while American Jason Kokrak improved on his back nine to card an even round following a bogey and double bogey on the 14th and 15th holes.

American Austin Cook, who finished even, was cruelly denied an ace on the 16th when his tee shot horseshoed out of the hole.

Two-time MLB home run leader Chris Davis has parted ways with the Baltimore Orioles and announced his retirement .

The 35-year-old, who won the Silver Slugger Award in 2013 and topped the MLB home run charts in 2013 and 2015, has battled injuries in recent years.

Davis had more than a year remaining on his franchise-record $161million contract with the Orioles.

"After an extended time dealing with my injury and recent hip surgery, I informed the Orioles about my decision to retire effective today," Davis wrote in an official statement.

"I want to thank the Orioles partnership group, led by the Angelos family, the Orioles organization, my teammates and coaches, The University of Maryland Children’s Hospital with whom I will continue to be involved following my retirement and, of course, Birdland. Thank you all for the many memories I will cherish forever."

Davis hit a franchise-record 53 home runs in 2013, earning All-Star selection and topped the majors charts again in 2015 with 47 homers.

The left-handed batter signed a seven-year deal with the Orioles prior to the 2016 season but struggled to re-produce his slugging form in his latter years in Baltimore.

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou heaped praise on veteran English goalkeeper Joe Hart after keeping back-to-back clean sheets for his new club.

The 34-year-old former England international signed with Celtic last week from Tottenham on a three-year deal.

Hart had a scratchy debut in a 4-2 Europa League win at Jablonec last week but has since kept clean sheets as the Hoops recorded 6-0 and 3-0 wins over Dundee and the Czech outfit respectively.

Postecoglou had utilised Vasilis Barkas and Scott Bain in goal in games earlier this season but Hart now appears first choice.

Celtic's victory over Jablonec on Thursday saw them progress into the Europa League playoff round with a 7-2 aggregate win, with Hart making a few key saves.

"He’s a top quality goalkeeper and he was there when we needed him tonight," Postecoglou said after the game.

"Aside from that, he has a real presence around the place and he’s very motivated to have success and that’s the kind of people we need here."

Postecoglou, who took over at Celtic Park in June, has been criticised in some quarters since his arrival, not helped by crashing out of the Champions League in qualifying to Midtjylland and losing to newly-promoted Hearts in their opening league fixture.

However in Thursday's win, Celtic adopted the Australian's renowned possession-based style of play, which served him well in Japan with 2019 J.League champions Yokohama F. Marinos.

"It’s part of who we want to be," Postecoglou said about their style. "We’ve got to be a team that shows no fear and tries to play our football and dictate the game.

"It’s not easy to do, to be fair, and I do put a lot of responsibility and expectation on the players to do that.

"The other side of that is that you do get great rewards if you’re prepared to be brave, and I think that these last two or three games, we’ve got our rewards for it."

Kawhi Leonard has committed his future to the Los Angeles Clippers by agreeing a four-year contract that includes a player option, according to reports.

Leonard had declined a $36million option to enter free agency after the NBA postseason, though it was expected he would opt to return to the Clippers.

The five-time NBA All-Star suffered a serious knee injury during the playoffs, going down during the Western Conference finals. Without him, Los Angeles went on to lose the series 4-2 to the Phoenix Suns.

Having undergone surgery to repair a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, it is unclear exactly when Leonard will be ready to get back on the court. It has been reported he will miss an extended amount of the 2021-22 season as he works his way back to full fitness.

However, the Clippers at least know they have him locked up for the long term. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported on Twitter that the deal is worth $176.3m with an option for the fourth and final year.

Leonard has averaged 26.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists since joining the Clippers in 2019, arriving at the franchise after an impressive title-winning campaign with the Toronto Raptors.

The 30-year-old opted to join forces with Paul George at the Clippers, with their two seasons together seeing the team finish second and then fourth in the West.

They went 36-16 when Leonard was active in the 2020-21 regular season, outscoring their opponents by 9.0 points per outing. In the 20 games he missed, however, their record was 11-9 and they were outscored by 1.1 points on average.

In the playoffs, L.A. have lost in the Conference semi-finals and Conference finals respectively in the past two seasons.

Ronald Koeman believes Barcelona have a strong enough squad to compete for major honours as long as others step up to fill the void left by Lionel Messi.

Barca are heading into a new season without Messi in their ranks for the first time since 2003-04 following the superstar forward's shock switch to Paris Saint-Germain this week.

Messi scored 672 goals and assisted 265 more for the Catalan giants across 778 appearances, helping the club to 35 trophies across his 17 years in the first team.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner directly contributed to 39 goals in LaLiga last season – scoring 30 and setting up a further nine.

Antoine Griezmann was the only other player to reach double figures for goal involvements (20), with Ousmane Dembele next on the list with nine.

Ansu Fati and Philippe Coutinho had a combined four goals and assists each – the same number as Martin Braithwaite – in what was an injury hit campaign for the pair.

Each of those players remain at Camp Nou, while Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero have been signed as a free agents, though the latter has been ruled out for 10 weeks with a calf injury and neither has yet been officially registered as Barca continue to struggle financially.

And with Fati and Coutinho closing in on returns to action, Koeman has underlined the strength of his squad even without Messi around.

"Of course we will have more difficulties to score goals," he told ESPN. "Messi scored 30 goals last season.

"Other players need to bring more and take the next step and it's more about the team now than individual players.

"It's not always one player, you have to do it together. Hopefully, we get players back from injury like Fati and Coutinho and then we still have a strong squad. 

"We will work harder, we will do more to achieve what people expect from us. We are still in the transition. We have to understand that the start of this season is difficult.

"We still have COVID, for all the clubs, but still we have players with injuries so we cannot put all the players for playing because we are still missing good players. 

"We had a good pre-season, we have young players in, but if we get all the players back from injury the squad is still a strong one."

Barcelona finished third in LaLiga last season – their lowest finish in 13 years – and exited the Champions League to PSG at the last-16 stage.

The Catalans did manage to win the Copa del Rey in Koeman's first campaign in charge, though, and the Dutchman is out to win more silverware in 2021-22.

"The goal is always winning trophies, being champions, to have a good run in the Champions League," Koeman said. 

"Clubs like Barcelona don't have seasons out of winning something. We know that, and the football people will understand it will be more difficult. 

"It's all about working rate and the team and we can make a step forward."

 

The shock exit of Messi will undoubtedly take time for Barca to fully get over, but Koeman reiterated the importance of moving on as quickly as possible.

"We have to understand that there is always an end for a player," the Dutchman added. "You have to close the book because now we have to focus on this new season.

"We have new players in and we have to move forward, and we have time for that. We have young players in the squad this season, and it's also for the future.

"We are working on the future of this club, and it's really important to have our focus on this and not focus on what happened in the last few days."

Messi looked set to sign a new contract with Barca, but the cash-strapped club were unable to fulfil the agreement in place with their greatest ever player.

"I knew there was a difficult situation between the club and Leo Messi and the league to have the possibilities to keep Messi in the club," Koeman said.

"It takes a long time, but I was surprised by the day and the moment I heard that he was finished playing for Barcelona. I knew the financial situation of the club made it difficult.

"I think it was difficult because we are not just talking about any player, we are talking about Leo Messi, the best player in the world through a lot of seasons.

"We were all disappointed that he will not play for us this season. But okay, you have to change fast because you don't stay in the disappointment with the new season starting. 

"You have to understand it was for a few days a difficult situation. Messi meant so much for this club."

The Rugby Championship returns this weekend with a pair of intriguing fixtures.

The tournament took a year off in 2020, reverting to a Tri-Nations format with world champions South Africa absent due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Springboks are back, though, and come into the 2021 edition on a high after beating the British and Irish Lions 2-1.

Meanwhile, New Zealand have already gained an edge over Australia in last week's Bledisloe Cup opener.

The tournament is teed up nicely, as Stats Perform provides the key Opta facts...
 

NEW ZEALAND V AUSTRALIA

Form

New Zealand have won their past five Tests, scoring an average of 58 points per game. However, the All Blacks have won only two of their past six outings in the Tri-Nations and the Rugby Championship (D1, L3) – Australia have won two of the sides' previous three meetings across these competitions (L1).

The Wallabies will have to end a long wait for an away win against New Zealand to further improve on that record, though. The All Blacks are undefeated in their past 26 encounters on home soil (W25, D1) – including last week's Bledisloe I.

Ones to watch

Two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett is among the replacements for an All Blacks side who have scored 15 Test tries from the bench since the beginning of 2020, six more than any other tier one nation. Barrett has not scored in that period and last did so from the bench in a Test in 2016.

For Australia, the performance of one of their inexperienced stars will be key. Noah Lolesio has 57 Test points in 2021, but only five of those came at Eden Park last week as he missed two of three penalties and three of four conversions. He must be more clinical.
 

SOUTH AFRICA V ARGENTINA

Form

Argentina have led at half-time in four of their past five away Tests against South Africa, but they have gone on to win only one of those (L4). That victory, in Durban in August 2015, was the Pumas' only triumph in South Africa and one of only three against the Springboks in 30 Tests (D1, L26).

Both teams come into this match in form, however. South Africa have won nine of their past 10 Tests (L1), including the series win over the Lions, while Argentina have only lost one in eight (W4, D3) and are unbeaten in four (W2, D2).

Ones to watch

Coming off the gruelling Lions series, South Africa have made 12 changes, giving wing duo Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi a rest. That means another opportunity for Aphelele Fassi, who scored on his debut against Georgia last month but will now take on trickier opponents.

In-form Argentina will fancy their chances of disrupting a much-changed home side. The Pumas made the most tackles per game (146) and had the highest tackle success rate (89 per cent) at the 2020 Tri-Nations, with Marcos Kremer leading the tournament with his 72. He has made just 16 tackles from 22 attempts in his past three games, though.

Mikel Arteta is unsure whether Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will rediscover his best form in 2021-22.

Aubameyang signed a huge £250,000 per week contract at Emirates Stadium in September 2020 but then failed to live up to his billing as the Gunners slumped to eighth in the Premier League last term.

The former Borussia Dortmund forward endured by far the worst season of his Premier League career, contributing 10 goals along with three assists.

His 13 goal involvements were his fewest in a single campaign in England, including 2017-18 when he joined in the January and tallied 10 goals and four assists.

Aubameyang has turned 32 since the end of 2020-21 and it was put to manager Arteta on Thursday that this could be the start of an extended slump.

Arteta could not rule out that possibility but is waiting to see how the Gabon international performs as fans return this year to hopefully spell a more normal season.

"I don't know – last season and everything that happened individually, collectively around the club for everybody, it was difficult to measure if that's a trend or a one-off," Arteta said ahead of Arsenal's opening game against newly promoted Brentford on Friday.

"Our job is to help the players get the best that they have, and we know that with [Aubameyang] we are stronger.

"He scores goals and that's one of the most important things in this game."

Aubameyang declined in several areas of his game last season, although it was his profligacy in front of goal that caused most concern.

The striker's conversion rate fell to 17.5 per cent, ranking 13th among the 27 players to score 10 or more – a list he had topped when netting with 32.3 per cent of shots in his first half-season at Arsenal.

Aubameyang was still ahead of Harry Kane, the division's top scorer, in this regard, but his average of 2.2 attempts per 90 minutes represented another worrying low despite taking more touches in the opposition box (4.8 per 90) than a year earlier (4.4 touches, 2.7 shots, 22 goals).

As a result, his number of 'big chances' – situations where the player would reasonably be expected to score – dropped from 0.8 to 0.5 per 90.

And Aubameyang was actually slightly fortunate to reach double figures.

Although he marginally underperformed his expected goals total of 10.2, his expected goals on target value – which measures the quality of the shot rather than the quality of the chance – of 7.8 spoke to his below-par finishing.

At the other end of the pitch to Aubameyang, it appears Arsenal are still attempting to add to their options, with the Gunners having reportedly lodged a £24million bid for Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.

Those reports emerged on Wednesday but were swiftly shot down by Blades boss Slavisa Jokanovic, who insisted Ramsdale is not for sale.

"I don't have any intention to sell him," said Jokanovic on Thursday. "He will be in my starting 11 for the next game.

"He is a very good keeper and I am really happy working with him. He's a really expensive keeper too."

Ramsdale moved to the Blades from Bournemouth in 2020.

David Turnbull's double helped Celtic secure a safe passage through to the Europa League play-off round as the Scottish side saw off Jablonec 7-2 on aggregate.

Celtic, playing in front of a full house at Celtic Park for the first time since March 2020, held a healthy lead from the first leg and had little trouble seeing the job through.

Scotland international Turnbull opened the scoring in Glasgow with 25 minutes played and doubled his tally 10 minutes into the second period with a fine finish.

James Forrest tapped in a third to make it 3-0 on the day to Celtic, who will now face AZ over two legs for a place in the group stage of the competition.

Ange Postecoglou's side were on top from the off and thought they had taken the lead inside 14 minutes, only for Kyogo Furuhashi to be flagged for a marginal offside call.

The home side's pressure told soon after when Greg Taylor played in Turnbull and the midfielder poked the ball past Jan Hanus with the outside of his boot.

Despite a drop off in tempo, Celtic remained in complete control and went further in front thanks to Turnbull's shot from outside the box that Hanus could not get down to.

Joe Hart twice made saves as Jablonec finally gave the home keeper something to do, but the final goal of the one-sided tie went Celtic's way.

Forrest was on hand to slide in and convert after Odsonne Edouard, brought on as a second-half substitute for the third game running, had a shot well saved.

Monster Energy Yamaha have withdrawn rider Maverick Vinales from Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix following his "irregular operation of the motorcycle" in last week's race.

The 26-year-old failed to finish the Styrian Grand Prix due to what he put down to multiple electrical issues.

However, Yamaha said in a statement on Thursday that Vinales' actions "could have potentially caused significant damage to the engine" and have withdrawn the Spaniard from the 11th round of the championship.

Yamaha's decision was taken after "an in-depth analysis of telemetry and data over the last days".

Vinales, who races alongside championship leader Fabio Quartararo, will not be replaced by another rider at the Red Bull Ring.

The nine-time MotoGP race winner announced in June that he is to leave Yamaha a year early at the end of the 2021 season.

Tottenham have confirmed their squad numbers for the upcoming campaign, with Manchester City target Harry Kane keeping the 10 shirt.

Kane has worn 10 for Spurs since the 2015-16 season, though the England captain seemingly wishes to leave the club.

He has three years remaining on his Tottenham contract, but Premier League champions City have made last season's Golden Boot winner their priority signing after they sealed the arrival of Jack Grealish from Aston Villa.

City splashed out a British record fee of £100million on Grealish, and reportedly had a bid of a similar amount for Kane turned down by Tottenham earlier in the transfer window.

Pep Guardiola has outlined his intention to sign Kane if possible, though City's manager acknowledged the ball will ultimately be in Tottenham's court.

On Thursday, reports emerged that Kane – who is set to return to training with Spurs on Friday – would be the subject of a second offer from City worth in the region of £150m.

However, despite the uncertainty over his future, Kane was named among the Spurs players to be given squad numbers for the season.

He keeps the number 10, while Bryan Gil, signed from Sevilla in a part-exchange deal with Erik Lamela, takes the 11 jersey that was vacated by the Argentinian.

On-loan goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini has been handed the number 22, while defender Cristian Romero, who also joined from Atalanta, has taken the number four that was previously occupied by Toby Alderweireld.

Nuno Espirito Santo's side kick off their Premier League campaign against City on Sunday. It remains to be seen as to whether Kane will feature.

Atletico Madrid defender Jose Gimenez has signed a new deal with the LaLiga champions until June 2025.

Gimenez has made 216 appearances for Atletico over the past eight seasons, winning the Europa League, Supercopa de Espana, the European Super Cup and two LaLiga titles during that period.

The 26-year-old was due to be out of contract at the Wanda Metropolitano in 2023, meaning the new deal is a two-year extension.

"Atletico de Madrid are delighted to announce that Jose María Gimenez has renewed his contract until June 30, 2025," a club statement confirmed on Thursday. 

Gimenez played 26 times in an injury plagued 2020-21 campaign, including 21 outings in LaLiga as Atleti won the title for a second time under Diego Simeone.

The Uruguay international joins fellow centre-back Stefan Savic in extending his stay in Madrid, the latter's three-year deal having been announced on Wednesday.

Atleti also moved to bring in Rodrigo De Paul during the close-season to strengthen a problem position, while keeping hold of the core group of their squad from last term.

Simeone's side begin their LaLiga title defence away at Celta Vigo on Sunday.

Romelu Lukaku has returned to Chelsea.

Seven years after leaving Stamford Bridge, the Belgium forward has become one of Europe's leading strikers, and the Blues have now paid a club-record fee – believed to be £97.5million (€115m) – to secure his signature.

Lukaku leaves Inter having led them to their first Serie A title in more than a decade, scoring 24 goals for the Nerazzurri in Serie A last term.

The 28-year-old brings strength, pace and supreme finishing to Thomas Tuchel's side – arguably the one area of Chelsea's squad that was lacking last term, albeit they still went on to win the Champions League.

Chelsea are not shy of attacking talent, with Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech having all arrived in 2020, while Mason Mount thrived under both Frank Lampard and Tuchel.

With Lukaku on board, Stats Perform assesses how Chelsea might line up in 2021-22.

 

3-4-3: Edouard Mendy; Thiago Silva, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger; Reece James, N'Golo Kante, Jorginho, Ben Chilwell; Kai Havertz, Romelu Lukaku, Mason Mount.

Tuchel implemented a back three upon his arrival in January, and the formation switch helped turn Chelsea's fortunes around. This potential XI is based on the team Chelsea started in the Champions League final against Manchester City in May, albeit with Andreas Christensen – who enjoyed a brilliant Euro 2020 with Denmark and ended the season strongly for the Blues – in for Cesar Azpilicueta.

Lukaku could act as an out-and-out replacement for Werner, whose finishing all too often let him down last season. The Germany forward provided eight assists and netted six league goals, but from 79 attempts, giving him a shot conversion rate of just 7.59 per cent, while he only netted five of the 23 big chances that came his way in his maiden Premier League campaign. Lukaku, on the other hand, converted 25 per cent of his 96 shots in Serie A, scored 20 big chances from 39 and added a further 11 assists.

As demonstrated in the Super Cup against Villarreal on Wednesday, Chelsea need a focal point for their attack, and they now have just that.

3-5-2: Edouard Mendy; Thiago Silva, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger; Callum Hudson-Odoi, N'Golo Kante, Jorginho, Mason Mount, Ben Chilwell; Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner.

Based on the system in which Lukaku excelled at Inter under Antonio Conte, the former Everton and Manchester United star could easily be used in tandem with Werner in a front two – and it could be to great effect for Chelsea, should he replicate his partnership with Lautaro Martinez, who scored 17 Serie A goals in 2020-21.

This formation would allow Jorginho to sit in front of the defence and distribute the ball forward – perhaps in the same mould as Inter's Marcelo Brozovic – while Mount can drop in to receive and drive forward with the ball. The wing-backs provide width, with Callum Hudson-Odoi potentially coming in to offer another attacking threat to balance out the extra man in midfield.

4-3-3: Edouard Mendy; Reece James, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger, Ben Chilwell; N'Golo Kante, Jorginho, Mason Mount; Hakim Ziyech, Romelu Lukaku, Christian Pulisic.

Another system which has been utilised by Tuchel in the past is the 4-3-3, which he often employed during his time at Paris Saint-Germain. The centre-backs are interchangeable – such is the depth of quality in that area for Chelsea – while James and Ben Chilwell would be the offensive full-back choices, with Azpilicueta certainly another option.

In midfield, Jorginho sits with N'Golo Kante given licence to hassle the opposition, freeing up Mount to be the creative fulcrum. In the forward line, Ziyech, who scored the opener against Villarreal before going off with a shoulder injury, excelled in a role off the right in his time at Ajax and his wonderous left foot can be lethal from wide positions, whether to cross or shoot. On the other flank, Christian Pulisic or Werner would provide the pace and tenacity to link up with Lukaku, who can either hold up the play or stretch the defence.

4-2-3-1: Edouard Mendy; Reece James, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger, Ben Chilwell; N'Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic; Christian Pulisic, Kai Havertz, Mason Mount; Romelu Lukaku.

With so many options at his disposal, Tuchel is sure to chop and change. This formation would see Mateo Kovacic drop in alongside Kante, while Pulisic switches over to the right to make way for Havertz, who would occupy the number 10 position.

Mount has established himself as a pivotal figure, and would have the freedom to roam from the left, with Lukaku having three sharp, incisive playmakers behind him, though Werner could also be called upon to play on the left and inject even more pace. Indeed, this is the system in which he enjoyed some brilliant campaigns during his time at Everton, and is another example of his versatility. 

Romelu Lukaku feels "happy and blessed" after sealing a return to Chelsea, a club that has always remained close to his heart.

Lukaku led Inter to their first Serie A title in over a decade last season, scoring 30 goals and providing 11 assists across all competitions for Antonio Conte's team.

Conte had wanted to bring the powerful forward back to Chelsea – who sold him to Everton in 2014 – during his time in charge, but Lukaku instead moved to Manchester United.

Now 28, Lukaku is back at Stamford Bridge following a transfer reportedly worth £97.5million, a club record and just shy of the British record Manchester City paid Aston Villa for Jack Grealish.

"I'm happy and blessed to be back at this wonderful club," Lukaku, who joined Chelsea from Anderlecht in 2011 but failed to score in his first spell at the club, told the Blues' official website.

"It's been a long journey for me: I came here as a kid who had a lot to learn, now I'm coming back with a lot of experience and more mature.

"The relationship I have with this club means so much to me, as you know. I have supported Chelsea as a kid and now to be back and try to help them win more titles is an amazing feeling.

"The way the club is going fits my ambitions perfectly at 28 and just coming off winning Serie A. I think this opportunity comes at the right time and hopefully we can have a lot of success together.

"Since I left Chelsea, it's been a long journey with a lot of ups and downs, but these experiences made me strong and the challenge is to try to help the team win some more trophies. I can't wait to get started and to help the club achieve more success."

Lukaku represents the first major piece of business for Chelsea during the transfer window, with Olivier Giroud sold to Milan.

Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia added: "Romelu Lukaku is quite simply one of the world's best strikers and goalscorers.

"We are absolutely delighted to be bringing him back to the club he loves and are excited to be adding his talent to our Champions League-winning squad.

"We are of course looking to build on last season's success, and Lukaku will play a big role in achieving our targets. I'm sure all Chelsea fans will join me in saying 'welcome home, Romelu!'"

Thomas Tuchel's squad begin the new Premier League season against Crystal Palace on Saturday. 

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