Five years have passed since Leicester City stunned the football world and sealed their astonishing first Premier League triumph.

The Foxes had faced relegation the previous season before rallying late in the year but then stormed clear at the summit in 2015-16.

Leicester are now regular Champions League challengers, yet the story of that campaign remains remarkable.

With Opta data, we tell the tale of their title success through their three key performers.
 

VARDY'S GOALS

Jamie Vardy's rags to riches football fairytale story is well documented, but by this point in his career it is fair to say he had not yet made the grade in the Premier League. 

Having scored 16 times in their 2013-14 promotion campaign, Vardy scored one, created two more and won a pair of penalties for the further goals in a delirious 5-3 defeat of Manchester United in September 2014, then did not net again until March 2015.

Team-mate David Nugent provided an obvious, easy comparison, the player too good for the second tier but not good enough for the top flight.

Nugent's 20 goals in 46 games in 2013-14 improved his Championship tally to 90 in 254. He had found the net only nine times across 64 Premier League appearances, though, and would add just five more from 29 matches for Leicester.

But where Nugent's 2014-15 season followed a familiar, underwhelming theme, Vardy improved drastically over the course of a relentless run-in.

Playing a vital role as seven wins from nine games lifted Leicester from the foot of the table, Vardy ended the season with five goals and eight assists. Three of his five strikes came from fast breaks, having been involved in 11 counter-attacks – the fifth-most of any Premier League player – as the Foxes found an effective way of playing.

Leicester had fewer fast breaks in 2015-16 (21) than the previous year (34) but still led the league in this regard and scored from six such counters. Four of those goals came from Vardy among a breakout 24 for the season.

Freed by a quick, direct set-up, Vardy ranked fourth in the league for shots (115), second for shots on target (53) and third for touches in the opposition box (221). The ultimate confidence player, Vardy scored in a record-breaking 11 consecutive matches.

The tireless forward maintained his nuisance factor, too, winning possession in the final third 33 times and earning seven penalties – both league highs.

The Leicester number nine took 20.87 per cent of his chances but only marginally outperformed his expected goals (xG) total, his 19 non-penalty goals coming from shots worth a top-ranked 18.34 xG.

Vardy has since become more clinical – peaking with 28.17 per cent shot conversion in 2017-18 – but has never again been so busy in the area.

MAHREZ'S GUILE

Anthony Knockaert also fell into that Nugent group, lasting a mere nine games at Leicester in the top flight having created 2.6 chances per 90 minutes in the first of his three Championship promotion campaigns.

Riyad Mahrez, signed in January 2014, was the Foxes' other star winger and also struggled in his debut Premier League season. Having been involved in seven goals in 19 Championship outings, he could only match that tally again across an entire year in the top division.

As with Vardy, though, Leicester's late-season resurgence allowed the Algeria international to carry momentum into the new campaign; he started the final four matches of 2014-15 and netted both goals in a win over Southampton.

And the improvement in Mahrez's play was even more pronounced.

There were two more goals against Sunderland on the opening day, among 13 by Christmas alongside seven assists. That pace slowed – he finished with 17 goals and 11 assists – but Mahrez trailed only Vardy for goal involvements.

Despite this, Mahrez was far from the most prolific creator. His 68 key passes ranked eighth but made up less than half of leader Mesut Ozil's output (146). Mahrez crafted high-quality openings, however, second only to Ozil (28) in creating 20 'big chances' – situations where Opta would reasonably expect a player to score.

This was all the more impressive as Mahrez was also required to provide an outlet for a side with the third-lowest average possession (42.4 per cent) in the division. Only Wilfried Zaha (274 to 255) attempted more dribbles, while nobody completed more (131).

Mahrez has never once attempted 100 dribbles in a season since joining Manchester City, but the close control and spellbinding skill that is merely another option at the Etihad Stadium then attracted defenders and opened space for sprinters Vardy, Marc Albrighton and Jeffrey Schlupp.

KANTE'S GRAFT

Gokhan Inler was presumed to be the replacement for Esteban Cambiasso, who had led Leicester's rescue act from midfield with five goals – as many as Vardy – at the age of 34.

Inler started only three games but for good reason. Fellow new signing N'Golo Kante was perhaps the biggest game-changer for the Foxes. Opponents might have dominated possession but they could never rest.

Kante, at Caen, had led Ligue 1 midfielders in tackles (178), tackles won (146) and interceptions (110) and ranked second for recoveries (369) in 2014-15.

The transition to the Premier League was seamless. He was first again for tackles (175), tackles won (125) and interceptions (156), although he fell to third in terms of recoveries (326). The man in second was Leicester team-mate Danny Drinkwater.

What the Foxes lacked without the experience of Cambiasso, Kante's bite more than made up for.

The midfielder became more careful in possession following his move, too, losing the ball with just 18.1 per cent of his touches, the lowest rate of any Leicester player with 1,000 touches or more and an improvement on his 23.4 per cent with Caen.

Even then, it was not as straightforward as a single signing fixing every issue. Idrissa Gueye, another Ligue 1 recruit, ranked second in tackles, tackles won and interceptions and first in recoveries yet was relegated with Aston Villa.

But Kante's infectious tenacity set the standard at the King Power Stadium and only Tottenham blocked a greater share of their opponents' shots (32.7 per cent) than Leicester (30.6), contributing to a conversion rate of just 6.9 per cent.

When Kante then left for Chelsea at the end of 2015-16, struggling Leicester waited only until January before signing another tough tackler in Wilfred Ndidi, one of just two players – the other being Gueye – to have since registered 130 or more tackles in a single Premier League season (each doing so twice).

In that time, nobody has been able to match Kante's title-winning mark.

Thomas Tuchel accepted there is a "race" for Erling Haaland and talked up the "world-class" talents of Sergio Aguero but was reticent to talk about Chelsea's reported interest in the star duo.

Borussia Dortmund striker Haaland is a man in demand in the close-season transfer window, with his father Alf Inge and representative Mino Raiola said to have met with both Barcelona and Real Madrid this week.

Talks are also said to be taking place with the Blues, Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United, with Haaland – who has 49 goals in as many games for Dortmund – seemingly set for a new venture.

Chelsea boss Tuchel was asked about their own pursuit at a pre-match conference for Chelsea's Premier League clash against West Brom this weekend.

"I will not answer that out of respect for the player and Borussia Dortmund," Tuchel said. 

"There is big news around him and his agent. It seems like they are creating a race for the player and I will fully accept he is a player for Borussia Dortmund, a promising player of course.

"But he isn't our player and is not in our squad. So, we will not comment on anything else regarding Haaland."

A new striker is thought to be high on Chelsea's list of priorities and City legend Aguero has also been linked with a switch to Stamford Bridge.

Aguero will depart the Etihad Stadium at the end of the campaign, after a decade of service during which time he has become the club's all-time leading scorer.

"You can ask but it's the same answer as Haaland. We have full respect for Manchester City and Sergio Aguero, who is a big player for them," Tuchel added.

"There is no words needed for me about the achievements of this guy, he is a world-class player.

"But we have three competitions in which we are in with Manchester City so I will not speak about their player."

Chelsea's links to strikers comes amid a poor run of goalscoring form from Timo Werner, a big-money recruit from RB Leipzig.

Werner has just five Premier League goals this term, while he has not scored since the 2-0 win over Newcastle United on February 15.

His woes were highlighted by a poor miss in Germany's shock 2-1 defeat to North Macedonia this week but Tuchel insists Werner is still contributing to the Blues' cause.

"It was a bad pass from Ilkay Gundogan is how I see it! I'm only joking. He missed that chance and everybody is passionate to talk about it, which is a bit annoying," Tuchel said.

"It's easy at the moment to point the finger at Timo, which I can't understand. I am happy he is back here.

"To look at it honestly, he is in a moment where he lacks confidence and things aren't too easy. The goals are not working out as usual but he works out for us.

"He still scores for us, still assists for us, still wins penalties. If this is the most critical point of his career you can say it's still pretty impressive so far.

"Timo has scored since he was five years old and he never stopped. So he can trust his brain and body, it will come back. That's easier said than done.

"Yesterday I sent him in from training because he wanted to do extra finishing with us. But I sent him in because it will come. The goals will come.

"Of course, he needs to do something and the best thing to do is to work hard. Work hard against the ball, make runs, don't hesitate, be fearless, don't overthink it.

"That's easy for me to say but it's the challenge right now. Timo will start tomorrow and there we go."

While Werner will be involved, influential midfielder N'Golo Kante is out after injuring his hamstring while away with France.

Tuchel also expects Kante to sit out Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final first-leg tie against Porto, in which they are the designated away side for a match taking place in Seville.

"Yes, probably [he will miss Porto]," Tuchel said. "He is doing individual training. He can't be with the squad.

"Then we have just three days to prepare. We have a muscle injury, as we communicated with the national team. So my realistic approach is to think about Porto, maybe the second game against Porto."

N'Golo Kante is to return to Chelsea on Friday after being ruled out of France's World Cup qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Bosnia-Herzegovina with a hamstring injury.

The 29-year-old played the full 90 minutes of Les Bleus 1-1 draw with Ukraine in their opening Group D match at the Stade de France on Wednesday.

However, Kante sustained a minor injury late on in the game and will now be assessed by Chelsea, who have key fixtures to come in three competitions in April.

A statement on the French Football Federation website on Thursday read: "The Chelsea midfielder felt a pain in the hamstrings of the left thigh at the very end of the match against Ukraine.

"He had clinical and radiological examinations on Thursday, which revealed a small lesion.

"In consultation with Doctor Franck Le Gall, national coach Didier Deschamps has decided to put N'Golo Kante back at the disposal of his club on Friday."

Deschamps has opted against calling up a midfield replacement for Kante ahead of the games with Kazakhstan on Sunday and Bosnia-Herzegovina three days later.

Chelsea face West Brom in the Premier League on April 3, before taking on Porto in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on April 7.

Thomas Tuchel's men also have an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City in three weeks' time.

Kante has been used 36 times in all competition by Chelsea this season and was hailed as "world class" by Tuchel earlier this month following a string of impressive displays.

Only two midfielders to have played at least 10 Premier League games this term have made more interceptions per 90 minutes than Kante's 2.56 - Burnley's Josh Brownhill (2.59) and Wilfried Ndidi of Leicester City (2.76).

No other Chelsea regular averages more than two interceptions per game in the competition, Jorginho being next highest with 1.81.

Kante also ranks highly for recoveries, averaging 8.23 per 90 minutes, though that is still some way behind Ndidi's 9.37.

Thomas Tuchel described N'Golo Kante as "a big gift" after the France international played a starring role in Chelsea's Champions League victory over Atletico Madrid.

Kante was instrumental in midfield as goals from Hakim Ziyech and Emerson earned Chelsea a 2-0 second-leg win at Stamford Bridge to go through to the quarter-finals 3-0 on aggregate, and Tuchel acknowledged the 29-year-old's importance to his team.

Kante's passing accuracy of 87.7 per cent and his tireless energy throughout the game were catalysts for a performance that made the leaders of LaLiga look out of their depth.

Tuchel hailed Kante's contribution, telling reporters: "I never know the age of my players, I just judge from performance. You play with N'Golo Kante and you always have more.

"His intensity and volume are outstanding. It is a pleasure to be coach of him. He is a big gift for me, so humble, such a big helper on the pitch.

"He and Mateo Kovacic needed to step up today, we rely on them, and they took the weight on their shoulders and did a fantastic job."

Chelsea are unbeaten in 14 games in all competitions, and 13 since Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard as head coach on January 26.

The Blues are competing on three fronts as they sit fourth in the Premier League, prepare for an FA Cup quarter-final against Sheffield United on Sunday, and brace themselves for the Champions League quarter-final draw on Friday.

Tuchel took a moment to reflect on a highly impressive start to his tenure, saying: "From the very first moment I felt like a part of a family, of a well-structured club.

"Everybody in this club thinks about football. I feel like a part of it. Part of the team.

"The input of the players and their approach to the game and to training is outstanding - it's what the Premier League demands.

"From here we go and we take it step-by-step and we encourage them. We have so many good habits, and our attitude to training and games is amazing.

"Our job is to play our part, my job to play my part, this is what it is all about."

N'Golo Kante has put fitness worries behind him and is back to doing the work of two people at Chelsea, winning the approval of new boss Thomas Tuchel in the process.

Kante did not start any of Tuchel's first five Premier League games in charge at Stamford Bridge and was also restricted to a 16-minute cameo in the 1-0 Champions League win at Atletico Madrid.

However, Thursday's victory by the same scoreline over Liverpool was Kante's third straight appearance in a Premier League XI and he turned in a typically all-action display.

The 29-year-old France international gained possession 11 times at Anfield, more than any other Chelsea player, while his 14 duels contested were only bettered by Jorginho and Timo Werner (both 16).

"Super big," Tuchel replied when asked how important it was to have Kante back to his best.

"It was clear from the first second in training what this guy is capable of doing. It's unbelievable.

"You see his intensity and in the physical report after matches, you think they maybe tracked two people and put them into one sheet.

"It's unbelievable in terms of what he delivers, in terms of intensity, in terms of ball recoveries and devotion to a group. This is world class, the highest level, and very, very happy that he's in our squad."

Despite not enjoying the most memorable season of his career, the two-time Premier League champion and World Cup winner has made more recoveries (200), tackles (76) and interceptions (57) than any other Chelsea midfielder across all competitions.

Tuchel has an enviable array of options to deploy in the deeper central midfield positions, with the passing accuracy offered by Mateo Kovacic (91.5 per cent) and Jorginho (89) outstripping the less-smooth Kante (86.6).

These figures widen from Tuchel's first game in charge against Wolves on January 27 onwards, with Kovacic and Jorginho almost identical on 91.5 and 91.3 respectively, while Kante is back on 82.5 per cent. Indeed, no Chelsea player ceded position more frequently than the former Leicester City man (18) against Liverpool.

However, Kante brings so much to Chelsea in those aspects more associated with his game.

Despite having restricted game time under Tuchel so far, his per 90 minutes average for recoveries (9), tackles (4.6), interceptions (2.5) and duels won (7.4) are the best of any Chelsea midfielder during this period.

For context, none of his other counterparts average more than one interception per game, while Jorginho's average of 2.7 tackles is the next best behind Kante.

"He comes from injury, he will not now play every game 90 minutes before we arrive at the international break," Tuchel said, adding a note of caution.

"We have to manage him, we do this together with our physical coaches. We have to take care of him so he arrives fit for the international break and, when he comes back, I hope we can rely on him in every game.

"I'm very, very happy to have him, Kova and Jorginho in defensive midfield. This is exactly the level we need in games of the highest level. I'm super happy with all of them."

This competition for places is something Tuchel has already seen to be paying dividends.

"I feel an unbelievable attitude towards training and towards games, I feel the bond between players that is necessary," he added.

"In the whole world where football is played, the teams that stand out are the teams that fight for each other, who are ready to sacrifice, who are happy for each other, who push each other from the bench. This is exactly what I found."

N'Golo Kante has put fitness worries behind him and is back to doing the work of two people at Chelsea, winning the approval of new boss Thomas Tuchel in the process.

Kante did not start any of Tuchel's first five Premier League games in charge at Stamford Bridge and was also restricted to a 16-minute cameo in the 1-0 Champions League win at Atletico Madrid.

However, Thursday's victory by the same scoreline over Liverpool was Kante's third straight appearance in a Premier League XI and he turned in a typically all-action display.

The 29-year-old France international gained possession 11 times at Anfield, more than any other Chelsea player, while his 14 duels contested were only bettered by Jorginho and Timo Werner (both 16).

"Super big," Tuchel replied when asked how important it was to have Kante back to his best.

"It was clear from the first second in training what this guy is capable of doing. It's unbelievable.

"You see his intensity and in the physical report after matches, you think they maybe tracked two people and put them into one sheet.

"It's unbelievable in terms of what he delivers, in terms of intensity, in terms of ball recoveries and devotion to a group. This is world class, the highest level, and very, very happy that he's in our squad."

Despite not enjoying the most memorable season of his career, the two-time Premier League champion and World Cup winner has made more recoveries (200), tackles (76) and interceptions (57) than any other Chelsea midfielder across all competitions.

Tuchel has an enviable array of options to deploy in the deeper central midfield positions, with the passing accuracy offered by Mateo Kovacic (91.5 per cent) and Jorginho (89) outstripping the less-smooth Kante (86.6).

These figures widen from Tuchel's first game in charge against Wolves on January 27 onwards, with Kovacic and Jorginho almost identical on 91.5 and 91.3 respectively, while Kante is back on 82.5 per cent. Indeed, no Chelsea player ceded position more frequently than the former Leicester City man (18) against Liverpool.

However, Kante brings so much to Chelsea in those aspects more associated with his game.

Despite having restricted game time under Tuchel so far, his per 90 minutes average for recoveries (9), tackles (4.6), interceptions (2.5) and duels won (7.4) are the best of any Chelsea midfielder during this period.

For context, none of his other counterparts average more than one interception per game, while Jorginho's average of 2.7 tackles is the next best behind Kante.

"He comes from injury, he will not now play every game 90 minutes before we arrive at the international break," Tuchel said, adding a note of caution.

"We have to manage him, we do this together with our physical coaches. We have to take care of him so he arrives fit for the international break and, when he comes back, I hope we can rely on him in every game.

"I'm very, very happy to have him, Kova and Jorginho in defensive midfield. This is exactly the level we need in games of the highest level. I'm super happy with all of them."

This competition for places is something Tuchel has already seen to be paying dividends.

"I feel an unbelievable attitude towards training and towards games, I feel the bond between players that is necessary," he added.

"In the whole world where football is played, the teams that stand out are the teams that fight for each other, who are ready to sacrifice, who are happy for each other, who push each other from the bench. This is exactly what I found."

Lionel Messi is reportedly open to staying at Barcelona, but the LaLiga giants have work to do.

Messi, 33, stayed at Barca after sensationally requesting to leave ahead of this season.

But the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is out of contract at the end of the campaign, leading to more talk over his future.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI OPEN TO BARCELONA STAY

Messi is open to staying at Barcelona and is prioritising the sporting project over the economic offer, according to Marca.

The report says Barca strengthening their squad could convince Messi, who has been linked to Manchester City.

Signing City forward Sergio Aguero, Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, Chelsea's N'Golo Kante or Liverpool's Roberto Firmino would help Barca's position in their bid to re-sign the superstar.

ROUND-UP

- With Real Madrid linked with a move for Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, such a deal could lead to questions over Eden Hazard. AS reports Mbappe joining Madrid could lead to an exit for Hazard, who has struggled with injuries since joining the LaLiga giants.

- Staying at Real Madrid and there is uncertainty over Raphael Varane's future. AS reports Madrid are prepared to listen to offers for Varane ahead of next season if they cannot agree to a new deal with the defender, who is out of contract in 2022. Manchester United have been linked with Varane, who is valued at £60.7million (€70m).

- Harry Kane has again starred for Tottenham this season. The Telegraph reports the forward, who is contracted until 2024, is set to stay at Spurs for at least another campaign.

- Amid suggestions Sevilla defender Jules Kounde is too expensive, Manchester United could look elsewhere. Eurosport reports Villarreal's Pau Torres may be a more realistic target due to his reported release clause of around £43m (€49.6m).

- Alexandre Lacazette seems set for an Arsenal exit. The Mirror reports Monaco are targeting the forward ahead of next season.

Thomas Tuchel is confident Chelsea will get to see the best of the "incredibly talented" Kai Havertz but warned there is no quick fix to help him reach his full potential. 

Havertz was a big-money signing by the Premier League club prior to the start of the season, having starred in the Bundesliga for Bayer Leverkusen in recent years. 

However, after a solid beginning to his career at Stamford Bridge, the 21-year-old has found it tough going in recent months, not aided by contracting coronavirus in November. 

Having scored one goal and set up another in his opening five league games, Havertz has managed just one solitary assist since, creating a total of 13 chances in his 18 appearances, albeit only 12 of those have been starts. 

The Germany international has missed Chelsea's previous three games through injury and while Monday's clash with Newcastle United may come too soon, Tuchel is willing to be patient with his compatriot. 

"I'm pretty sure we will see him," he replied when asked if Chelsea will see the same Havertz who dazzled for Leverkusen.  

"It takes time, there is no short answer – if there was, I'd go and talk to him in that way to bring out his full potential. What we know and can rely on is that all this potential is in him and it's logical that he can show it on the pitch.  

"For every transfer, for every change of club for the player, it's different. Sometimes it needs a little more time to adapt, sometimes it can be quick, sometimes it can be between one match and another, sometimes a process.  

"All we can do is push him, support him, give him what he needs. We figure this out with us right now. 

"He had a pretty good start with us, he had good matches, and I have the feeling that I see a guy that is totally clear, totally self-aware, very humble and incredibly talented. There are no doubts that he will show this – the sooner the better. 

"Now, unfortunately, he missed some training sessions and games for us, but hopefully he can come back in the next few days, because I'm absolutely convinced he will have a big impact at this club."

Tuchel appreciates he is not short of options within his squad, particularly in midfield where Jorginho, N'Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic are seemingly vying for two positions. There is also Billy Gilmour too, showing the strength in depth at Chelsea.

The former Paris Saint-Germain coach is pleased with the competition for places and understands he will have to manage expectations when it comes to first-team minutes.

"If we have difficult decisions to make, everything is good as we have a full squad available," Tuchel said.

"If I have a difficult decision to make, it's my job to manage them. It's my job to trust also the guy from the bench. Is it possible to achieve our goal with 12, 13, 14 players? No, it's simply not possible. 

"To have the three guys is a big gift for me for the two positions. To have a fourth guy like Billy Gilmour is absolutely necessary on this kind of level we expect from us, what the supporters also expect from the team. 

"We need exactly this kind of quality and I'm not worried about the management, because I feel a group that is strong, I feel a bond between the players.

"Yes, we will have to prove it when things become a bit difficult, a bit complicated. But, until today, I feel a very good atmosphere, and it's my job to manage that, to focus on that and create it. 

"They can be competitive with each other but we need to be allies, need to be close and understand this is an effort of the whole team."

Tuchel confirmed Timo Werner is expected to be back to face Newcastle, while Thiago Silva is targeting a return to action against Southampton on February 20.

The game will mark a first for the Chelsea boss, who has never previously managed a top-flight match on a Monday. His last match in any competition on that day was back in August 2016, when he led Borussia Dortmund to a 3-0 win in the first round of the DFB-Pokal.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is delighted to have the chance to finally work with N'Golo Kante, a midfielder who "makes teams better".

Due to a hamstring injury, Kante has made just two substitute appearances since Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard in charge at Stamford Bridge last month. 

However, he has been deemed fit enough to start Thursday's FA Cup tie with Barnsley and Tuchel has talked up the qualities of the France international, who was strongly linked with Paris Saint-Germain during the German coach's time in charge at the Ligue 1 club.

"I think N'Golo fits into any manager's plans on the planet. I was desperate to have him in my teams [in the past]," Tuchel told reporters. 

"I am so happy to have him back again. We put him on the pitch against Tottenham and he helped everybody on the pitch, which is what he does. 

"To see the guy live, to see how he works, how humble he is, the quality he gives to the team. I am so humble to be his coach. He will start tomorrow." 

Kante has made 26 appearances in all competitions this term, 19 of which have come in the Premier League. 

The former Leicester City player ranks particularly high for interceptions - only six players in the division to have played at least 13 games have managed more per 90 minutes than Kante's average of 2.32. 

For all of the midfielder's undoubted quality, though, keeping him fit is now the biggest challenge for Tuchel. 

"I'm not concerned about any more injuries because I feel the support and quality of the medical department," he said. "We can manage his minutes and workload and take care of him. I'm not concerned about his quality.  

"What I see on the pitches here at Cobham is, how can I put it, everything I expected - and I expected a lot because I am a huge fan of him. 

"I can see the input he has on teams. He makes teams better. He has the mentality of a water carrier but on such a high level." 

Tuchel also confirmed at Wednesday's pre-match news conference that Hakim Ziyech will play a part against Championship side Barnsley. 

Ziyech's first season at the club has been hampered by injuries and Tuchel has challenged the Morocco winger to regain the type of form he displayed at Ajax. 

"Hakim is another one who hopefully tomorrow we will see the best of him," the German coach said. "We count on Hakim to do something different, no doubt about that.  

"He has lots of quality and we count on him like everyone else. He has had a good training week and will have the chance to show the same quality he shows in training." 

"For me it's clear he needs to adapt to this kind of football, this kind of league. He's come from a strong Ajax squad, but they were the benchmark in the league. 

"And it's not the same intensity and it's not the same competition as it is here. But he's adapting, and he has the certain quality to decide matches and the certain quality to do the unexpected." 

Thiago Silva remains on the sidelines with a hamstring problem, although Tuchel provided a positive update on the veteran defender's injury. 

"He feels better and better, which is good, and he's getting the right treatment," he said. 

"One thing we can be sure of with Thiago is that he will be spending every minute available to him to speed up the process of healing. It is a muscle injury, though, so we cannot force it and we will wait for Thiago."

Chelsea have been eliminated from just two of their previous 54 FA Cup ties against opponents from a lower division, though one of those instances was against Barnsley, back in the 2007-08 season.

"We play every competition to win it," Tuchel said. "Every round in a cup competition is the most important round.

"It's an elimination game so we have to be totally focused and on point tomorrow when the match starts. Winning the competition would be huge. It's one of the most prestigious cups in the world and it's played at Wembley. 

"Even as a little boy in Germany, with no internet or sports channel, you know the words Wembley for sure. It's a big, big game to play in and a big goal to achieve. But tomorrow is the most important game."​

Lionel Messi reportedly remains a target for Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi, 33, is contracted at Barcelona until the end of the season, having stayed at the club after sensationally requesting to leave earlier this year.

With uncertainty still surrounding his future, the Barcelona star is apparently wanted by PSG.

 

TOP STORY – PSG EXPLORING POSSIBILITY OF SIGNING MESSI

PSG are exploring the possibility of signing Barcelona star Messi, according to ESPN.

Along with Manchester City and Inter, PSG have been among the clubs most heavily linked with a move for the Argentina international.

The report says Neymar and sporting director Leonardo have discussed bringing Messi to PSG.

It comes just days after Neymar said he wanted to play with Messi again and was keen for it to happen "next season".

 

ROUND-UP

- Still linked with Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, Manchester United could look elsewhere. The Sun reports United are eyeing Leicester City winger Harvey Barnes as a possible alternative.

- Staying at Manchester United and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been under some pressure. Bild reports the Premier League giants are interested in PSG coach Thomas Tuchel if they decide to sack Solskjaer.

- With Christian Eriksen seemingly set for an exit, Inter are considering their midfield transfer targets. CalcioMercato reports Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante remains Inter's dream signing, but Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum is also an option with his contract expiring at the end of the season. However, the report also says Inter could challenge Liverpool for the signing of Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder Yves Bissouma.

- Also at Liverpool, the Premier League champions are reportedly still eyeing a centre-back amid their injury woes. Bild reports RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano is on their list, as is his 21-year-old team-mate Ibrahima Konate.

- Atlanta United could be close to appointing a new coach. TyC Sports says former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Argentina defender Gabriel Heinze, most recently in charge of Velez Sarsfield, is a step away from taking over at the MLS club.

"Ridiculous" was a word used by Frank Lampard to sum up N'Golo Kante last week - and with good reason. 

The Chelsea midfielder is back fit, back in the side and more or less back to his best, having missed 16 Premier League matches last season. 

Kante's "quietly influential" form has helped Lampard's side to a strong start to the season that has left some to bill Sunday's derby clash with Tottenham as something of a title showdown – or at least a game that could well highlight which of the two has the best chance of dethroning Liverpool. 

A win for either side will move them top of the table after 10 games, but Kante's recent performances might just indicate Chelsea have the edge.

BACK WHERE HE BELONGS?

In 2018-19, Maurizio Sarri preferred Jorginho at the base of midfield, with Kante generally shifted to the right of a three. 

The system was hardly a failure: Chelsea returned to the Champions League, won the Europa League and only lost the EFL Cup final on penalties to Manchester City. Few, though, ever thought it brought the best out of Kante. 

Since taking charge last year, Lampard has shifted Kante back towards the middle and, as can be seen from his average touch maps, 2020-21 sees a full return for the France international as the midfield anchor.

N'Golo Kante's touch maps by season, from 2018-19 (L) to 2020-21. The shift from the right-hand side towards the base of midfield is clear.

He is averaging 82 touches per 90 minutes in the Premier League, the highest figure he has ever posted for Chelsea, five more than in his title-winning debut season in 2016-17. He is also averaging 67 passes per game, more than he ever has before for the club.

In other words, Kante is very much at the heart of Lampard's Chelsea.

He is also back to his exceptional defensive levels in 2020-21, averaging three interceptions per game – again the most in his Chelsea career – as well as three tackles, his highest figure under Lampard.

The caveat is his passes in the final third have dropped by an average of six per game compared to last season and by nine compared to 2018-19, but the creative talent at Lampard's disposal means the burden of attacking is no longer on Kante's shoulders.

HOJBJERG BATTLE AWAITS

If Chelsea's form is based in part on the performances of Kante, Tottenham's strong start to the season is very much built on the work of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

Signed from Southampton for a reported £15million fee, the 25-year-old has established himself as Jose Mourinho's most important player behind the relentlessly brilliant Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.

Through nine rounds of the 2020-21 Premier League campaign, Hojbjerg had managed more touches (809), attempted more passes (695) and completed more passes (619) than any other midfielder in the competition. He has also got stuck into 29 tackles, the third-highest number for midfielders this term and four more than Kante.

Hojbjerg might not be a player of the Kante mold, but the two have had remarkably similar influences on their teams. Each has one assist in nine league starts, their passing accuracy practically matches (88.5 per cent for Kante, 89.1 for Hojbjerg), and they have made exactly the same number of recoveries (64).

Effective as they are without the ball, so much of Chelsea and Spurs' good work with it also relies on these two.

Kante has started 139 open-play sequences this season, eclipsing Hojbjerg (111), but that is about as big a difference as you will find.

Of those sequences started by Kante, 13 have ended in a shot and two in a goal; for Hojbjerg, 11 have ended in a strike at goal and one has seen Spurs get on the scoresheet.

Indeed, in terms of involvements in open-play build-up, Kante has managed 423, only slightly up on Hojbjerg's 415. Of those tallies, each player has seen 31 of those involvements end in a shot; when it comes to resulting in a goal, Hojbjerg edges Kante eight to three.

On Sunday, the winner of the battle for midfield control between these two could well swing the match in his side's favour.

N'Golo Kante is playing like a midfield boss again for Chelsea and Frank Lampard could not be happier for the two-time Premier League winner.

The midfield dynamo, who played a big part in Leicester City's title success before repeating the feat with Chelsea, has shaken off ankle and muscle injury strife to shine this season.

He captained the side in a comfortable 2-0 win at Newcastle United on Saturday, as Chelsea at least briefly went to the top of the table.

It was a frustration to Lampard that Kante missed large part of the 2019-20 campaign, because the manager knows the World Cup winner brings proven quality and valuable experience.

Kante is playing a key role for a Chelsea side that are unbeaten in nine games across all competitions, winning five in a row.

Lampard said: "I'm really, really happy with how he’s playing.

"Last year he missed 50 per cent of the games with injuries, he had a tough time for different reasons and we are working very hard on that to get him as fit and fresh [as possible]. 

"Now we are managing his training and game time, but his levels of performances are really high."

Lampard sees Kante as not so much an organiser and a disrupter of play, which are clear strengths, but as a footballer with a broad, under-rated range of qualities.

"I keep saying every time I get asked about N'Golo that I have so much faith in him and the top midfield player that he is in world football," said the Chelsea boss. "Not just at breaking up and winning balls back, as we know that is a huge quality of his, but his passing and supporting in midfield and playing in that deeper role now."

Kante made four tackles and three interceptions against Newcastle, which were both team-highs. He played 75 passes - 70 short and five long - and had 93.8 per cent accuracy with his 48 passes inside the Newcastle half.

Such data draws perhaps less attention than the goals and assists Chelsea will also require to sustain a challenge at the top of the table, but Lampard appreciates the significance.

Another title tilt is something that the manager is reluctant to talk about, but should Kante stay fit then it might be a realistic ambition.

Lampard knows Chelsea are better off with the 29-year-old in their team, which is why he has been starting almost every game this term, and the Blues certainly hope the worst of Kante's injury troubles are over.

“I don't want to tempt fate because at the minute he is going well," Lampard said. "We have had a better period of him to get him in a place where we are really happy."

For Chelsea, it is a case of ensuring Kante does not over-stretch himself.

Nobody ran further in Chelsea's team than Kante's 11.33 kilometres at St James' Park, and the impact of his exertions is closely monitored.

"We're very aware and we keep check on his training and his numbers and how much distance he travels, because every time you train and allow him off the leash in training he makes ridiculous output because that’s the way he plays," Lampard said.

"We are very careful with that and at the minute we are in a good place and hopefully that continues."

France booked their place in the Nations League Finals at the expense of holders Portugal as N'Golo Kante's second international goal secured a 1-0 win in Lisbon.

The World Cup winners and the European champions came into Saturday's match tied on 10 points at the top of Group A3 through four matches, but the head-to-head primary tie-breaker made this clash pivotal after a goalless draw in France.

Kante's strike proved the difference as the Chelsea midfielder stepped up in the 53rd minute after the plethora of attacking talent at both ends had misfired.

France were without Kylian Mbappe due to a hamstring injury, but Anthony Martial might have had a first-half hat-trick and would have been relieved to see Kante come to his aid.

The first miss from the Manchester United forward came as he ran onto Antoine Griezmann's incisive pass but was quickly confronted by Rui Patricio, who had earlier saved comfortably from Kingsley Coman and this time blocked bravely.

France remained on top and Martial should have scored as he turned Adrien Rabiot's wayward acrobatic effort onto the crossbar from four yards, before Patricio made another sublime stop from a close-range attempt.

Fortunately for the visitors, Cristiano Ronaldo was similarly wasteful with a header over the top on the stroke of half-time.

It was Ronaldo's failing which would prove costly following the restart as Patricio spilled Rabiot's low shot and the unlikely figure of Kante pounced to prod into the net.

Jose Fonte directed an unmarked header onto the post as Portugal threatened a response, but that was as close as they came.

Ronaldo was unable to forge a first career goal against France to rescue his side, although he teed up Joao Moutinho for a powerful blast that drew an outstanding save from Hugo Lloris.

What does it mean? Revenge at last

France have won the World Cup since losing the Euro 2016 final on home soil, but they had not beaten conquerors Portugal since that painful occasion.

Deservedly dumping Fernando Santos' side out of a tournament they won last time out would have been particularly satisfying – especially without Mbappe.

It will be Portugal's turn to seek a response as the teams meet once again in Group F at Euro 2020.

Griezmann the creator

In Mbappe's absence, many might have expected Griezmann to step up as France's chief goal threat. Instead, he was their creator.

The Barcelona forward had just one shot, which missed the target, but played three key passes. His gorgeous ball to Martial after 12 minutes deserved a better finish.

Patricio pays price

Although Portugal came into the match later in the second half – finishing with 18 attempts – they were outplayed before the break and relied on Patricio to come to their rescue time and again.

The Wolves goalkeeper made six saves in should have dealt with Rabiot's shot better, instead committing a costly error.

What's next?

France play Sweden and Portugal visit Croatia in the final round of Nations League group games on Tuesday, but the results are now largely academic.

Will Manchester City land Lionel Messi?

City were reportedly close to luring Messi to the Premier League during the previous transfer window.

Messi remains at Barcelona, but City are believed to be planning another move.

 

TOP STORY – CITY CONTEMPLATING MESSI MOVE

Manchester City are considering an offer to prise Lionel Messi from Barcelona in January, according to the Daily Star.

Messi handed in a transfer request at the start of the season and the Barca captain was tipped to join City before opting to remain at Camp Nou.

Pep Guardiola's City, however, have not given up on Messi as they eye a £15million (€16m) bid for the six-time Ballon d'Or winner – who was also linked to Juventus, Inter and Paris Saint-Germain previously.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Mirror claims Barca are eyeing January moves for Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and City defender Eric Garcia. Lyon captain Memphis Depay has also been linked.

Liverpool and Tottenham are set to battle it out for the signing of Leeds United's £50million midfielder Kalvin Phillips, reports the Mirror.

- The Sun says Manchester United are circling for Real Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde. United believe a swap deal involving Paul Pogba could be possible due to Valverde's £640m (€705m) release clause.

N'Golo Kante has no intention of leaving Chelsea, according to Le10 Sport. The France international has been linked to Inter and Madrid.

Will he or won't he?

That's the question regarding Jadon Sancho and a possible move to Manchester United.

United, however, are reportedly bullish about their chances of prising the England international from Borussia Dortmund.

 

TOP STORY – SOLSKJAER CONFIDENT IN SANCHO PURSUIT

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has told Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho he expects the blockbuster transfer to be completed, according to Dagbladet.

United have so far been unable to prise Sancho from Dortmund, who refuse to budge on their £108million (€120m) asking price, with the transfer window set to close on October 5.

However, Solskjaer appears confident of landing his number one target.

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona could announce the signing of Ajax full-back Sergino Dest on Tuesday, reports Fabrizio Romano. Bayern Munich are also trying to prise the United States international from Amsterdam.

- The Telegraph says Tottenham are eyeing Bournemouth forward Josh King, who was previously linked to United.

United are closing in on Porto full-back Alex Telles. Romano claims personal terms have been agreed, with final details and agents commission remaining as United and Porto negotiate a fee.

- The Guardian reports Tottenham have not given up on signing Inter centre-back Milan Skriniar. Inter are holding out for £55m (€60m) but Spurs are only prepared to pay between €30m-€35m. Napoli's Nikola Maksimovic could reportedly replace Skriniar in Milan.

- According to L'Equipe, Leeds United are nearing a deal to sign Bayern midfielder Michael Cuisance. Leeds have been unable to meet Udinese's demands for star Rodrigo De Paul.

Marcelo Brozovic has realised Inter want to sell him as the Croatia international eyes an exit, reports Calciomercato. It comes as Inter chase Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante, who has since been linked to United.

- Romano says Milan are confident of completing a deal for Bodo/Glimt star Jens Petter Hauge, who impressed during the Europa League qualifier at San Siro.

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