Chelsea needed an 89th-minute penalty from substitute Noni Madueke to edge past Crystal Palace 2-1 at Stamford Bridge and climb back into the top half of the Premier League table.

It had looked like being another frustrating home outing for Mauricio Pochettino’s side for most of the second half, after Michael Olise had cancelled out Mykhailo Mudryk’s early goal with a brilliant finish on the half-volley on the stroke of half-time.

Nicolas Jackson missed a superb chance to win it, slotting the ball wide after being set up by Conor Gallagher.

But with the game drifting towards what would have been a deserved point for Palace, there was a final twist, Eberechi Eze tripped Madueke as he sought to control the ball on the edge of the box, and the England Under-21 international won the match from the spot with his first league goal of the season.

Chelsea opened the scoring after 13 minutes, and it began with Malo Gusto slipping his man in midfield with a smart shimmy and turn.

Driving over halfway, his pass forward was wayward, but interest in Chelsea’s attack was revived by a critical slip by Nathaniel Clyne whose stumble let the ball run on. That allowed it to reach Christopher Nkunku, who fed the galloping Malo Gusto on the overlap and his centre was gratefully turned home first time by Mudryk.

The Ukraine international had made an electric start and would have made it two shortly afterwards but for a smothering block by Palace goalkeeper Dean Henderson, closing the angle well after Mudryk had been slipped in by a deft Jackson back heel.

There was a fluency about Chelsea that has rarely been seen in recent weeks. Nkunku on his long-awaited first start was at the heart of things. Fresh from his role in the opening goal, he played a wonderful ball in for Jackson, whose low drive was aimed fractionally wide of Henderson’s far post.

The France international might then have had his first Stamford Bridge goal after 25 minutes had he not kicked the turf when clean through on goal, under pressure from defender Chris Richards.

Chelsea were industrious with the ball, racking up 323 passes during the first half and recording 63 per cent possession and – unlike so often this campaign – they had created gilt-edged chances to go with it.

And yet, in the final seconds of the half, a familiar sinking feeling for home supporters. Richards went in strong on Levi Colwill to win the ball in midfield and it broke out wide to Jordan Ayew.

Palace had men in the box and the one picked out by Ayew’s laser-like aim was Olise, who brought it down confidently on his chest, took a momentary glance at Djordje Petrovic and lashed it inside the Chelsea goalkeeper’s near post to make it 1-1.

Palace were without a win in seven games but the goal, though against the run of play, brought belief.

Eze whistled a free–kick past the post as the visitors registered the first chance of the second half, as Roy Hodgson’s side went toe-to-toe with their hosts.

Pochettino left Thiago Silva on the bench for only the second time in the league this season, but called on the 39-year-old just before the hour mark, alongside Romeo Lavia, who finally made his Chelsea debut.

Armando Broja was also sent on as the spectre of another disappointing home result loomed.

Minutes later, their moment looked to have arrived. Moises Caicedo scooped a pass forward to Gallagher who had found space centrally and the captain showed a keen awareness of space to find Jackson running through, but – with only Anderson to beat – he clipped the ball agonisingly wide.

That was followed by a fine, prodded finish from Axel Disasi’s pass that VAR rightly ruled out for offside.

Broja took one down and well drilled into the side netting, after Olise had drawn a smart near-post stop from Petrovic at the other end.

Chelsea thought two more points had slipped away at home. Then with two minutes to go, Madueke went over Eze’s leg, a VAR review yielded a penalty and the substitute picked himself up knock home the winning goal.

Mauricio Pochettino admitted his Chelsea players are falling well short of the targets set for them in pre-season as they seek respite from their sporadic Premier League form at home to Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

Results at Stamford Bridge have been the only bright spot in recent weeks with three straight wins in west London during December, meanwhile fortunes on the road have taken an alarming downturn.

Defeat against Wolves at Molineux on Christmas Eve was their fourth away loss on the spin following reverses at Newcastle, Manchester United and Everton, and has left the team facing the likely prospect of failing to qualify for Europe for a second season.

A Carabao Cup semi-final against Championship side Middlesborough in January could open the door to a possible route into the Europa Conference League, but a current league placing of 10th sees them trailing the top four by 14 points.

Pochettino admitted it is not what he anticipated approaching the midway point of his first Chelsea campaign.

“We’re so far away (from the target),” said the Blues boss. “Our target was to be on the top, even if no one believed us. But in the circumstance, we are fighting for different things.

“We are Chelsea, because our history demands us to be at the top. At the moment, being realistic, we need to increase the way that we compete if we want to win more games.

“We need to compete better than (against Wolves). I think the performance from the beginning of the season has not been bad. We can say it’s very good. But in terms of competing, we are in the bottom. That’s why we are not in a better position in the table.

“In football you need to have the knowledge, the quality, the set-up. But at some point in football in 90 minutes, you need to compete. You need to show in the way you play football. We need to improve there, and that’s about having all the players (fit), spending time with them together.

“We need to finish well, winning the (Palace) game, then to go to Luton (on December 30) and then start the new year with different feelings.”

Pochettino confirmed that Enzo Fernandez will miss the meeting with Roy Hodgson’s side having sat out the loss at Molineux.

Moises Caicedo is likely to return after illness prevented him traveling to Wolves, though Lesley Ugochukwu has a hamstring injury that forced him off on Sunday.

It means Chelsea’s injury woes show no sign of abating.

“The frustration is there, the disappointment,” said Pochettino. “The medical staff are working so hard to anticipate and try to avoid these types of problems.”

What the papers say

Chelsea are looking at a double January raid on Lisbon side Sporting, according to the Evening Standard. Ivory Coast defender Ousmane Diomande, 20, and Sweden striker Viktor Gyokeres, 25, are in the Blues’ sights.

Manchester City are in talks with River Plate midfielder Claudio Echeverri. The Times reports City plan to loan the 17-year-old back to the Argentinian side, who have a £21.4million release clause in his contract.

Sunderland midfielder Pierre Ekwah, 21, is catching the eye of several Premier League clubs, reports the Evening Standard. Sunderland are keen to keep the French youngster but Crystal Palace, Fulham and Nottingham Forest are all circling.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is close to making a return to management, according to the Daily Mirror. The former Manchester United manager, 50, is the front runner to take over at Turkish club Besiktas.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Said Benrahma: West Ham’s 28-year-old Algeria winger is interesting Lyon, according to talkSPORT.

Roberto Firmino: Steven Gerrard’s Al-Ettifaq could takes the former Liverpool forward, 32, from Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ahli.

Mauricio Pochettino refused to accept a lack of discipline is responsible for Chelsea’s unwelcome position as the Premier League team with the most yellow cards this season.

The team collected five bookings during the 2-1 defeat to Wolves at Molineux on Christmas Eve, amongst them Cole Palmer who will now miss Wednesday’s game against Crystal Palace after accruing five for the campaign.

Raheem Sterling also saw yellow for simulation when he sought a penalty in stoppage time, as Chelsea chased what would have been an undeserved equaliser against Gary O’Neil’s side.

The team has already seen suspensions for Reece James, Malo Gusto and Conor Gallagher after being sent off earlier in the season, whilst summer signing Nicolas Jackson is only two bookings short of 10 for the campaign and a further two-match ban, having also been suspended in September.

Yet Pochettino insisted that a will to improve the team’s spluttering league form is what is causing his players to act rashly.

“No, it’s representative that we play for Chelsea, we are in a big club, you feel the pressure,” he said. “When you are frustrated, and you don’t have maybe the experience of other teams, you make a mistake.

“Palmer is playing for us his first season as a regular. It’s normal. The players care, they want to win, they are frustrated.

“It’s not discipline. We need to have more the capacity to read the situation of the game.”

Pochettino also pointed towards injuries as a contributing factor in his team’s struggles, with at least eight players unfit for the meeting with Palace at Stamford Bridge.

Enzo Fernandez is set to be missing for the second straight game, whilst the manager has hinted he does not yet believe Christopher Nkunku and Romeo Lavia are fit to start after long spells out.

“My focus now is to recover players and to fix the many, many things that are going on from the beginning of the season,” he said.

“If you’re going to see the squad for the next game, you’re going to see more than eight first-team players (missing).

“I’m frustrated and disappointed not to be able to use all the players at the same time. That is why sometimes we’ve been up and down in our results.”

Mauricio Pochettino lamented Chelsea’s lack of ruthlessness in front of goal after a flurry of missed chances contributed to a 2-1 defeat to Wolves at Molineux.

Mario Lemina headed the hosts into the lead early in the second half, rising to nod Pablo Sarabia’s corner into the far corner after the visiting defence had failed to make a serious attempt to clear the ball.

It was fair reward after a first half in which Gary O’Neil’s side held Chelsea off well, though they were helped significantly in their task by wayward finishing, most notably from Raheem Sterling who spurned a golden chance when he shot straight at Jose Sa instead of playing in Cole Palmer for a tap-in.

It was an inexplicable lapse in judgement from the England forward, who after a lively start cut a frustrated figure for the rest of the game, culminating in a yellow card for simulation in the final moments as he appealed for a penalty.

Chelsea had 16 shots on goal but tested Sa only infrequently as once again this season possession around the penalty area and decent sights of goal were not capitalised upon.

Matt Doherty added a second in the third minute of added time after Benoit Badiashile’s atrocious attempted clearance.

By the time substitute Christopher Nkunku headed his first Chelsea goal on his Premier League debut, there were few away fans who had remained inside Molineux to see it.

“We made a mistake, we need to blame ourselves,” said Pochettino. “That’s why we didn’t win today, because in the first half we had the chances to score. In the Premier League if you’re not clinical enough when you have chances, always you can concede.

“We didn’t compete in the first five minutes of the second half, we conceded too many corners. In these moments it’s about competing better and being stronger.

“I agree we’re our own enemy. I don’t want to take credit away from Wolves. They scored and they did their job. But in the first half we were the better side. And because of lack of capacity to score, we didn’t win the game.

Wolves had been tipped to struggle after O’Neil replaced former boss Julen Lopetegui days before the start of the season, with financial constraints placed on their transfer business by Financial Fair Play regulations over the summer.

They now sit level in the table on points with Chelsea boasting a near identical league record, despite Pochettino’s side having spent upwards of £1billion on recruitment during the last 18 months.

One of the summer’s big-money buys Nicolas Jackson, who cost £32million from Villarreal but has scored only seven times in the Premier League, was greeted with ironic cheers from visiting supporters when he was substituted, with frustration growing with his patchy, inconsistent form since arriving at Stamford Bridge.

“I didn’t hear the fans,” said Pochettino. “(But) always it’s about expectation, how you manage that. A striker that arrives at his age, a new league like the Premier League, it’s (important) not to blame him.

“The frustration from the fans you can accept. But we need to blame all together. Football is a collective sport and we cannot blame only one.

“But he is young, it’s his first season in the Premier League and  the expectation is massive. There is pressure to play for Chelsea.”

Wolves boss O’Neil reflected on a game that his side deserved to win despite having to name an inexperienced bench with players unavailable.

“It was a tough day for us with a call from the doctor this morning around illnesses,” he said. “I had to call up some young lads last minute to make up the squad.

“Going against what Chelsea had, especially late on in the game, I thought it might have been tricky for us once we started to tire.

“But the lads manage to produce another fantastic performance here in front of the home fans and we deserved the win really.”

Chelsea slumped to a third defeat in four Premier League games as second-half goals from Mario Lemina and Matt Doherty earned Wolves a deserved 2-1 victory at Molineux.

Lemina headed in unmarked from Pablo Sarabia’s corner early in the second period, just reward after Gary O’Neil’s side had weathered early pressure and the hosts had spurned a host of chances, most glaringly from Raheem Sterling.

Chelsea laboured to find a way back, but as so often this season failed to find the key pass in the final third, with Cole Palmer noticeably out of sorts.

Then in stoppage time and with the visitors committed forward, Wolves broke and Hugo Bueno crossed for Doherty to take advantage of a poor clearance to slam home a second.

Substitute Christopher Nkunku headed his first Chelsea goal in the dying minutes, but Mauricio Pochettino’s side slipped to a third away league defeat on the spin.

Armando Broja spurned the game’s first opening. After Sterling fed Malo Gusto down the right, his low cross into the box arrived perfectly at the foot of the Albanian, playing as a lone striker with Nicolas Jackson moved to the wing. Looking to shoot first time, Broja kicked at fresh air and the chance was gone.

Sterling was Chelsea’s clearest danger in the first half, running at Wolves down either flank and pitching inviting deliveries. The best of them fell to Jackson who had found space, but as the ball dropped, his touch failed to match his movement and the pass squirmed beneath his foot and away.

After half an hour, it was the turn of his team-mates to vent their anger towards the England international. Sterling did brilliantly to harry and dispossess Joao Gomes, Wolves’ last man, who dithered on the ball deep in his own half. With the defence stranded upfield, Sterling advanced on goal with Jackson and Palmer wide open beside him. Either player would have had a tap-in; instead, Sterling inexplicably went alone and hit a weak shot straight at Jose Sa.

Wolves’ best chances of the half came in the closing seconds, first when Sarabia fired just wide from the edge of the box via a deflection, then Hee Chan Hwang raced clear of Levi Colwill from a ball over the top and lashed over.

They began the second half with similar urgency, Gomes hitting a shot that nicked off Lesley Ugochukwu and grazed the post before defender Toti got forward from the back and drew an outstanding point-blank save from Chelsea’s stand-in goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic.

It was a warning the visitors did not heed and the goal moments later was an almost carbon copy of Toti’s chance. Sarabia’s corner dropped into the heart of the Chelsea penalty area, but despite the obvious danger no one in blue jumped or moved to attack the ball.

That left Lemina with a simple header, climbing above the grounded Ugochukwu to nod towards the back post and in beyond the stranded Petrovic.

Pochettino sent on Nkunku for his Premier League debut, with the ineffectual Broja departing. He nearly offered Chelsea instant reprieve, denied on the goal line by Toti, who gratefully booted clear.

Sterling then went close again, set up by Palmer on the right after Nkunku had picked him out only for an heroic last-ditch block from Craig Dawson diverting the ball over Sa’s crossbar. The balance of the game was tipping in Chelsea’s favour.

Their growing confidence led to their undoing. Three minutes into added time, Bueno broke down the left, Benoit Badiashile’s attempted clearance was atrocious and Doherty crashed it home to take the roof of Molineux.

Nkunku headed in from Sterling’s cross minutes later, but barely any Chelsea fans had stayed to see it.

Mauricio Pochettino called on the Premier League to reassess the way it schedules fixtures over the Christmas period to even out the time that teams have to recover.

Chelsea face Wolves at Molineux on Christmas Eve before welcoming Crystal Palace to Stamford Bridge three days later.

Palace, by contrast, will have had double the recovery time having most recently played six days earlier on December 21 against Brighton.

Gary O’Neil’s side will also have enjoyed two extra recovery days compared with Pochettino’s team, with Chelsea having been in action against Newcastle in their Carabao Cup quarter-final on Tuesday.

The Blues will have played a total of eight games in December by the time they sign off 2023 with a game away at Luton on December 30.

Pochettino was asked whether he believed too much was expected of players over the festive period, but insisted that his priority was every team being given equitable time to recover between fixtures.

“The problem is the difference between the teams,” he said. “If we all play on the 24th or we all play on the 27th, we are in the same circumstance.

“But the problem is that one plays (on the 21st) another on the 27th. That is a big disadvantage or advantage. But I don’t complain.

“The problem is to organise the situation better, because it’s not fair. It’s not to make an excuse, not to open the umbrella before the rain.

“But come on, it’s a fact. It’s the reality.”

The manager reiterated his call for patience with summer signing Christopher Nkunku after he made a long-awaited debut during Tuesday’s quarter-final win.

The 26-year-old performed well on Chelsea’s pre-season United States tour before picking up a knee injury which required surgery.

Since then, the team have signed Cole Palmer from Manchester City, who can occupy similar positions in the final third of the pitch as Nkunku, whilst Pochettino has also gained more of a sense of his favoured starting XI and style.

“I don’t see him in a different way, only that after his injury he is a different player than before, because of the form today,” said the manager.

“Maybe in some positions it’s going to be tough for him to cope with the demands. You will see in the future.

“I’m not going to put pressure on him. I’m so happy that he made his debut against Newcastle. We’re going to push him, to help him to perform better every day.

“He needs to be clever also to understand that he needs to push himself. He needs to make a double effort, double in everything. He needs to make an impact.

“In the long term, he’s going to be important for the club and for the team.”

The European Super League needs English clubs more than they need the breakaway competition, says football finance expert Dan Plumley.

The European Super League was initially announced back in April 2021, with 12 of the continent's biggest clubs announcing their intention to join. Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham all agreed to participate.

However, a fan backlash eventually forced nine of the clubs to back down, including all six English teams, and the Super League looked to be a thing of the past.

A ruling this week may have given it a second life, though, with the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg deciding FIFA and UEFA "abused a dominant position" in blocking the Super League.

A new proposal was swiftly announced, but all six English clubs invited to join rejected the request.

Plumley believes the Super League would need the support of English clubs to get off the ground, though he did warn their involvement could still be a possibility despite the heavy opposition seen after the initial launch in 2021.

When asked if the Super League required the English clubs' involvement, Plumley told Stats Perform: "Yes, I think that's absolutely the way to position it at the moment.

"And I'm not saying that it would never happen. The Premier League clubs don't really need to go following the Super League, but the Super League would be better with English clubs.

"I don't think the Super League idea is ever going to be fully dead in the water. I think we'll see it in some way, shape or form, and maybe it will happen.

"When you're talking about lots of money on the table, a lot of clubs will often look for the best deal on the table and if that is a European Super League in the future, that's when heads might start to be turned.

"But the English situation is a bit of a problem for them, because you're talking about wanting the biggest clubs in the world to be part of it. And there are some very big English clubs that have already ruled themselves out."

Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid are two of the clubs spearheading the Super League project, with the latter's president Florentino Perez hailing the ECJ's ruling as a "great day for the history of football".

Plumley feels the poor financial situations of Barcelona and Madrid are a key reason behind their Super League support, as well as the recent power shift towards the Premier League in terms of revenue and talent.

"I think, certainly for them, the driving force over the last couple of years has been financial," Plumley stated. "We know the financial situation at Barcelona has not been great. We know Real Madrid have had problems as well.

"I think the other thing with those two clubs that we've seen is a real stubbornness to dig their heels in. They wanted to be proved right and in a way that verdict does prove them right. Part of their argument was that UEFA and FIFA were acting unlawfully by blocking it.

"I think what's hurt Barcelona and Real Madrid along the way is all the other clubs that have moved away from the project.

"I think it's symptomatic also of Barca and Real's position in Spain. Yes, they are dominant, but where are they seeing the growth?

"I don't think they're seeing as much growth as potentially the Premier League's got to offer and those are little things where it becomes about, 'well, now I'm going to look at my own self-interest'. You can see how they've tried to leverage that through the Super League.

"At the end of the day it comes down to finance, and certainly in the early stages of it, it was all about money for those two clubs. Don't get me wrong, it probably still is, but I think a lot of it then was they felt like they needed to see the case through because they dug their heels in."

Mauricio Pochettino said club bosses must be “clever” enough to ignore abuse directed at footballers and managers via social media after Reece James revealed that he had been targeted online after undergoing surgery.

The Chelsea captain wrote on his Instagram account on Thursday that he had received “significantly more hate and negativity” since sustaining the hamstring injury that forced him off during the team’s 2-0 defeat to Everton.

It is the second significant injury the 24-year-old has suffered this season, having also missed a large part of the last campaign, with Pochettino indicating a lay-off of “several weeks” possibly stretching to months.

Former Chelsea manager Graham Potter last season gave an alarming account of the abuse directed at him whilst he was in charge, which included emailed threats made against his family.

And Pochettino said that he too had been targeted, albeit to a lesser extent, after matches this season.

The Argentinian, who takes his team to Molineux to face Wolves on Christmas Eve, said: “We are really exposed. Today it’s so easy to try to damage people.

“It’s so easy to write things. It’s very fashionable to speak badly.

“What makes me sad is not the social media, the people that have access to write this negativity. What makes me sad is that the people that are involved in this business pay attention.

“No one is going to damage me. Maybe (club colleagues) can damage me with words. When I have appreciation and respect for someone and they say something, of course it makes me think.

“But if I go on social media and someone abuses me? I don’t care. It’s not going to change my mood or my way to see things. When we lose games I receive abuse on social media, I receive SMS (messages), WhatsApps, emails that I never open. Not too many. A few.

“It makes me sad for the people that are involved.

“If I am a coach, am I going to make a decision (based on) what the people think about this? If there is an owner that follows social media and says ‘that changed my view’, I say ‘come on’.

“People that manage this business need to be clever, and to be clever means to trust in the people that you have. I need to trust in my owner, I need to trust in my sporting director.”

Chelsea are seeking a third consecutive win in all competitions for only the second time since March when they take on Gary O’Neil’s side, having defeated Sheffield United in their last Premier League outing and edged past Newcastle on penalties to set up a Carabao Cup semi-final against Middlesbrough.

After Tuesday’s cup win, substitutes and unused players joined the celebrations – a sign, thinks Pochettino, that his young side are maturing.

“It’s about giving them the possibility to take decisions and be treated like men,” he said. “They are mature enough.

“You provide the capacity for them to decide if they want to be or not. Whoever doesn’t want to be here is open to (leave). It is about creating a natural environment where everyone is going to be strong.

“If you want to belong to the group, you have the opportunity.”

Mauricio Pochettino warned Premier League football is “not a charity” amid pressure to name summer signings Christopher Nkunku and Romeo Lavia in his starting line-up following injury.

Belgium international Lavia, who joined from Southampton in August in a £58million deal, is yet to make his debut for the club while ex-RB Leipzig forward Nkunku was made to wait until the final 20 minutes of Tuesday’s Carabao Cup win over Newcastle for his bow following knee surgery.

He had previously been an unused substitute during last week’s 2-0 win against Sheffield United.

Pochettino confirmed Lavia could be included in the squad for the first time when Chelsea visit Wolves on Christmas Eve but said Nkunku – who scored in the penalty shoot-out victory against Eddie Howe’s side and drew a wave of excitement from around Stamford Bridge when he was introduced – is still some way from being fit to play from the start.

Neither player has featured in a league game this season and despite a lengthy injury list that could see as many as eight first-team players unavailable for the trip to Molineux, the manager said there are more factors for him to consider than simply fitness.

“All players after a big period out, they are desperate to be involved,” he said. “They can be involved, but at which level? It’s easy to say ‘I want to play’ but we are competing, and it’s serious the competition.

“After six months, like Nkunku and like Lavia, they need to understand that to be involved they need to train really, really hard every day. They need to make an impact every time they go on the pitch. It’s not like we are playing pre-season games.

“The player needs to understand that it’s not a charity thing, we’re not playing for a joke. We need to win. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to understand the environment of the players.

“People are disappointed because Nkunku didn’t play against Sheffield United. I am disappointed to have a player that I wish would be an important player for us but cannot help the team.

“If he didn’t play, it’s not because we didn’t believe in him or Lavia, it’s because there are players that have been fit and training for six months who are more ready to make an impact than these guys.

“It’s about the moment, today. Who is ready to compete and provide the things we expect?

“It annoys me sometimes. People around the player complain. Come on. The club is disappointed that it’s invested in (players) to perform and to score goals. To get the right balance in this business is important.”

Pochettino confirmed Reece James will be out for “several weeks”, likely stretching to months, after undergoing surgery on a hamstring injury this week, while Enzo Fernandez will be assessed ahead of Wolves after being withdrawn through illness on Tuesday.

The manager gave his backing to Chelsea’s statement on Thursday that the club does not intend to sign up to a revived incarnation of the proposed European Super League, after UEFA’s threat to sanction clubs who took part was ruled unlawful.

“My thoughts are the same as the club statement,” he said. “I support the decision of the club. Fully committed with the club and Chelsea.

“I was listening yesterday and today to the radio in Spain for the explanation. It’s difficult to see how it’s going to happen.”

The Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ have all now distanced themselves from the possibility of joining any new European Super League.

Arsenal became the last of the clubs who joined the original Super League in 2021 to confirm their position on Friday.

The Gunners issued a statement saying they will continue in UEFA competitions despite a European Court of Justice ruling which has at least opened the possibility of a club-led tournament to rival the Champions League being launched.

Liverpool have not commented directly since Thursday’s ruling but the PA news agency understands legal consent on the issue of joining new competitions has rested with the recognised supporters’ trust, the Spirit of Shankly (SoS), since the Reds’ withdrawal from the Super League two years ago.

SoS’ statement on Thursday said Liverpool’s position had not changed since 2021. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham all issued statements on Thursday pledging commitment to UEFA competitions.

The original Super League plan fell apart within 72 hours, as the English clubs withdrew one by one amid fan protests, pressure from the British Government and opposition from UEFA and FIFA.

The company behind the original project, A22, announced details for new “open and meritocratic” men’s and women’s competitions within hours of the ECJ ruling on Thursday morning. In the men’s competition, 64 teams would be involved with 20 places available each year to teams based on their domestic performance.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin mocked the proposals and said the format was “even more closed” than the one put forward in 2021, but A22 founder John Hahn told PA the principles of relegation and promotion were in line with domestic competitions across UEFA’s 55 member associations.

Real Madrid and Barcelona, key supporters of the 2021 project, are on board. Juventus and AC Milan, two of the other 12 involved, have not commented yet but Inter Milan have strongly rejected it, so too Spanish side Atletico Madrid.

The president of Italian champions Napoli, Aurelio De Laurentiis, said his club was ready to hold talks over the new project. Napoli were not part of the 2021 project.

Ceferin said “football was not for sale” at a press conference on Thursday, which significantly featured executives from all the key stakeholder groups – clubs, leagues, players and fans.

Clubs have gained considerable concessions since 2021 – a new Champions League format starting next season featuring more matches, and the scope for even more in the future, and the establishment of a joint venture between clubs and UEFA to control commercial matters linked to the Champions League and other club competitions.

The ruling on Thursday clearly empowers clubs, but in the short term may be the catalyst for further reform in their favour rather than revolution.

Chelsea captain Reece James has undergone surgery and hit out against negative comments regarding his latest setback.

The 24-year-old limped off in the first half of Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat at Everton last week with a recurring hamstring injury and underwent an operation to try and solve the issue.

It is James’ third longer-term hamstring problem within the last 12 months which prompted negative and abusive messages from fans towards the England full-back.

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A post shared by Reece James (@reece)

 

James took to social media to give an update following the operation.

He posted on Instagram: “The footballing world knew I got injured but the procedure I would go down this time took slightly longer to figure out the best solution.

“I had surgery today to try fix my reoccurring hamstring issue, the recovery has started, both physically and mentally.

“Since this injury I’ve had a good amount of support but significantly more hate and negativity. Believe me I don’t wanna be injured, I’m happiest when I’m playing football.

“Thanks to the understanding people that support me despite the highs or the lows, it goes a long way. Stay well, Reece.”

Erin Cuthbert’s second-half brace helped Chelsea take control of Group D in the Champions League with a 3-1 win at Hacken.

The two teams had played out a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge last week, which left the Swedish outfit top after three matches, but Emma Hayes’ side were able to finish 2023 with a crucial victory.

Sam Kerr broke the deadlock with her ninth goal of the campaign and, while Clarissa Larisey scored for Hacken to ensure it was 1-1 at half-time, Cuthbert netted twice in the space of 12 minutes after the break.

It ensured the Women’s Super League champions moved into top spot of the group after four matches and hold a one-point advantage over Hacken while Real Madrid, who they will host on January 24, are no longer able to qualify for the knockout stage following a 1-0 loss to third-placed Paris.

Hayes had warned her players there were no excuses despite this being their fourth match in 10 days but they nearly conceded early on at Bravida Arena.

Only four minutes were on the clock when Anna Anvegard hit the crossbar after Larisey’s cross, but Chelsea regrouped and a Lauren James curled effort signalled their intentions.

While Hacken goalkeeper Jennifer Falk was equal to James’ 20-yard strike, she had no answer to the prolific Kerr minutes later.

Johanna Rytting Kaneryd was the architect of the opener after she outmuscled Elma Junttila-Nelhage on the right before she cut back for Kerr, who fired into the roof of the net from close range in the 14th-minute.

It was a much-needed opener for the WSL champions, but they were caught out with 26 minutes on the clock by a slick counter-attack.

Jusu Bah showed great speed out wide and crossed in from the left where Larisey powered home a header.

Chelsea could have retaken the lead before half-time, but Falk pushed wide a firm strike by Sophie Ingle.

It was a different story after the break with Anvegard firing against the woodwork again for the hosts after linking up with Larisey, which proved a crucial moment in the group fixture.

Minutes later and Hayes’ team were back in front when Rytting Kaneryd’s cross was cleared to Ingle, who showed her composure to pick out Cuthbert and the Scotland international rifled into the bottom corner to make it 2-1 after 52 minutes.

It was Cuthbert’s first goal in this season’s Champions League but she doubled her tally again with 64 minutes played.

Kerr’s smart pass sent Cuthbert away and after she fooled Filippa Curmark with a fake shot, the midfielder’s low effort was too powerful for Falk.

Hacken pushed for a response and substitute Molly Johansson found the net in stoppage-time, but it was ruled out for offside and Chelsea earned a crucial three points.

Armando Broja believes Chelsea dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Newcastle in the Carabao Cup shows the strong bond the new-look team are building.

Broja revealed he was set to be Chelsea’s fifth penalty taker, but he was not called upon as Djordje Petrovic’s save from Matt Ritchie’s spot-kick sent Mauricio Pochettino’s men into the semi-finals.

Mykhailo Mudryk capitalised on Kieran Trippier’s mistake to equalise for the Blues in added time, cancelling out Callum Wilson’s opener, before the hosts held their nerve in the shoot-out.

Striker Broja said: “I was (going to take the fifth penalty) and I was quite excited actually.

“But Petrovic put on an unbelievable display, so it didn’t quite get to me.”

Tenth-placed Chelsea head to Wolves in the Premier League on Christmas Eve, with Tuesday night’s win offering a welcome boost after a difficult first half of the season under Pochettino.

And Albanian international Broja feels the manner of the victory is evidence of the character of the side.

“Games like this show our spirit and the bond where we dug deep,” he said.

“We got the equaliser even though it was in the 92nd minute and we got to penalties.

“We’re a new team, with a new manager and everyone’s trying to gel together.

“It’s not going to be easy straightaway because we have a whole bunch of new players, so we need to get that rhythm and get that bond together. It’s not going to happen overnight and people need to understand that.

“We keep playing for the badge.”

Victory in the Carabao Cup would give Chelsea their first piece of silverware since they lifted the Club World Cup in February last year.

Broja added: “This is a chance for us to win and trophy and we want to win a trophy, that’s what this trophy is all about.”

Mauricio Pochettino said Chelsea are a “healthy group” after watching them edge beyond Newcastle on penalties at Stamford Bridge to book a place in the Carabao Cup semi-final.

Newcastle looked to have done enough to progress after holding Chelsea at arm’s length for much of the game following Callum’s Wilson’s first-half strike.

Then at the death, Mykhailo Mudryk appeared inside the box to nick the ball away from Kieran Trippier, clipping a finish inside the far post to rescue Pochettino’s side.

Chelsea were on target with all four spot-kicks as Trippier again was culpable for Newcastle, failing to hit the target before Matt Ritchie saw his effort saved by goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic.

Earlier, Wilson had given Newcastle a deserved lead, taking advantage of a calamitous mix-up between Thiago Silva and Benoit Badiashile and racing clear to score on the counter.

“To concede the way we conceded, when we didn’t deserve to, it can affect any team,” said the manager.

“But we reacted really well, dominated the game against a good team like Newcastle, kept pushing in the second half, made some changes and tried to provide the team some impact.

“The most important (thing) in football is to believe to the end. We kept believing. We know penalties are a lottery, but of course talent and quality (matter). Our objective before the game was to go through and now we’re in the semi-final.

“When you see the whole squad, players that weren’t involved or were injured, they wanted to share their happiness in the middle of the pitch. We’re a healthy group of players, but they need time. We create the platform for them to improve every day. We’re going to build a very good team that can compete.”

Pochettino gave a long-awaited debut from the bench to summer signing Christopher Nkunku after injury with 20 minutes to go, in place of the willing but largely ineffective Nicolas Jackson.

The manager reiterated the need not to lump too much expectation too soon on the 26-year-old’s shoulders after a lengthy spell out.

“We’re talking about players that are young, or who have arrived and suffered an injury, like Christopher,” he said. “They need game time to start to perform and to get their best form. Everyone can judge.

“The expectation is to see the best of Nkunku, but we need time for him to perform the way we expect. It’s one thing to be available, it’s another to perform in the way we expect.”

Pochettino confirmed Enzo Fernandez had been withdrawn in the first half suffering from stomach sickness while Levi Colwill, taken off at the break, was tired but not injured.

Newcastle boss Eddie Howe reflected on a missed opportunity for his team to reach the Carabao Cup last four for the second straight season.

“A tough ending to the game,” he said. “It was a really good away performance until the last moments. I didn’t see a goal coming at that stage.

“It’s just one of those things that can happen in a football match. We covered space well, limited them to half-chances. There are a lot of positives to take but we don’t feel that right now.”

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