Chelsea's technical and performance advisor Petr Cech believes the club did an "amazing job" at navigating the change of ownership last season.

The London club were thrown into uncertain waters when previous owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned by the United Kingdom government in relation to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

A consortium led by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital eventually won the battle to take charge of the club in late May, with Chelsea working under a special licence from the government to operate until then.

Despite the ongoing distractions, Thomas Tuchel led Chelsea to third place in the Premier League and to the EFL and FA Cup finals, where they lost on penalties to Liverpool on both occasions.

Speaking to Stats Perform at a media day ahead of his participation in Sunday's Soccer Aid charity match, former Chelsea goalkeeper Cech said: "Of course, [the ownership situation] is something you are not prepared for but you need to find your way to go through it.

"I think everybody at the football club did an amazing job to be competitive and achieving what we achieved last season.

"So, now we know where we are and obviously, we're preparing for the next season and we hope to be as strong as we can."

Cech also had words of encouragement for Blues fans about next season, with the new owners reportedly willing to provide Tuchel with money to spend on improving the squad.

"We plan to prepare and we will see where what we can do over the summer, but obviously we have our plans for what we want to do and hopefully we'll be successful."

Another area of uncertainty at Stamford Bridge is the future of striker Romelu Lukaku, who is being linked with a move back to Inter after a disappointing campaign.

Lukaku signed for Chelsea from Inter last year for a reported fee of £97.5million (€113.58m), but only managed 15 goals in 44 appearances (29 starts).

"I think he started very strongly and unfortunately had a long-term injury and then COVID, which obviously stopped the momentum for him," Cech said about the Belgium striker. 

"When you go through a long-term injury and then COVID, it takes some time before you go back. So you could see how strong he was at the end of the season when he was back fit.

"I think if he remains with this whole pre-season, then I believe he will have a strong season."

Another player who had an underwhelming campaign for Chelsea was Spanish midfielder Saul Niguez, who said goodbye to the club at the end of his loan spell from Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

"He's still a great player and he has a great personality and it's been great to have him, but at the same time, he had quite a difficult start before he adapted to English football and in a team where there's so much competition for places that he didn't play as much as he would like to," Cech said of Saul. 

"But we've been really happy to have him because, as I said, he's a great personality and a great player. 

"We obviously wish him well now wherever his next steps will go. But I think English football and the Premier League is a particular competition.

"Sometimes you need a bit of time to adapt. Some people adapt faster, some slower but as I said, he had a slower start and then the competition for places was tough so he didn't play as much as we'd like, but it still doesn't take away the qualities he has."

Romelu Lukaku's Chelsea return has not gone to plan – and it may well be that the striker departs after just one season back at Stamford Bridge.

The Belgium international has 11 goals in 31 matches and is struggling to nail down a spot in Thomas Tuchel's starting line-up.

With Chelsea's problems growing off the field, they may now face a big decision regarding their record signing.


TOP STORY – LUKAKU WANTS INTER RETURN AT ALL COSTS

According to Calciomercato, Lukaku is doing everything in his power to push through a return to Inter ahead of next season after departing the Serie A champions in August.

The Italian outlet claims that Lukaku accepts he made a big mistake in departing San Siro and, amid a breakdown in his relationship with Chelsea fans, he is desperate to return.

However, while the 28-year-old is said to be willing to take a pay cut, Inter are unable to finance a permanent transfer and may instead look to purchase him on an initial loan. 

Chelsea would also have to be cleared to sell the player following the heavy sanctions placed upon owner Roman Abramovich by the United Kingdom government this week.

ROUND-UP

- Those sanctions cast doubt over Chelsea's ability to sell or recruit players in the next transfer window, but that has not stopped the Blues being linked with more players. The Mirror reports that they remain hopeful of signing Saul Niguez from Atletico Madrid on a permanent deal.

- Should they be allowed to offload players in the coming months, Tuttosport suggests that Juventus will attempt to sign Jorginho from Chelsea. The Italian club are also reported to be in the mix to land wing-back Emerson Palmieri.

- With Harry Maguire struggling, Fichajes reports that Manchester United are targeting versatile Bayern Munich defender Lucas Hernandez. However, United may face competition from LaLiga heavyweights Barcelona and Real Madrid.

- According to The Sun, United are ready to offer Juan Mata a coaching role should the midfielder call time on his playing career. Mata has played just four games all season, starting two of those, and is due to be out of contract at the end of the season.

- The Daily Mail reports that mega-rich Newcastle United intend to move for Leeds United's in-demand midfielder Kalvin Phillips, who has also been linked with ambitious Aston Villa. Antonio Rudiger of Chelsea is another supposed target for the Magpies.

Thomas Tuchel vowed to never give up on Saul Niguez after Chelsea's midfield selection issues deepened with the loss of Mateo Kovacic to coronavirus.

Kovacic returned to training on Monday following a six-week injury lay-off and was expected to be part of Chelsea's squad to face Zenit on Wednesday.

However, Kovacic returned a positive COVID-19 on Tuesday and will miss the Champions League trip to Russia, while he is also set to sit out the league games with Leeds United and Everton.

Chelsea are without fellow midfielders N'Golo Kante and Jorginho, plus defenders Ben Chilwell and Trevoh Chalobah, and Tuchel is cautious about overworking his players.

"We had a bit of an acute overload due to injuries and the schedule," he said at Tuesday's pre-match news conference. 

"Due to injuries in some positions, like central midfield, we have struggled. The game tomorrow is not the problem, it's more the game that comes up on Saturday [against Leeds].

"We had an early game against West Ham and then a late game against Zenit. We had a day off and good training session today. 

"The problem is the next match because we will lose time to sleep and arrive back very early on Thursday. Leeds are an intense team who have prepared to face this match."

Asked about Kovacic's positive coronavirus test, Tuchel said: "I was aware this can happen and I'm not happy, but this is the reality right now. We have to be ready to adapt.

"There is a huge chance that we make changes against Zenit."

Kovacic had previously been recovering from a hamstring injury sustained in training, with the Croatia international's most recent appearance coming on October 26.

Kante has missed Chelsea's previous three games with an ailment sustained in the 4-0 win over Juventus, meanwhile, and Tuchel has no intention of rushing the France international back.

"I'm careful with bringing him back. I have quite an open relationship with him," Tuchel said. "He's a careful person and takes care of his body. 

"I agree he's a superman who makes the difference and everyone in the world wants him on their team. It's not related to age or overload – it was an accident in the match."

The absence of Kovacic, Kante and Jorginho may see Saul come into the side for what would be just his eighth appearance in all competitions since joining on loan in September.

Saul has struggled to impose himself so far, with his passing accuracy of 77.98 per cent the lowest of any Chelsea central midfielder, but Tuchel is hoping to see more from the Atletico Madrid loanee.

"He's one of the guys that needs minutes. He is always in our thoughts and we think about every training session and form," he said. 

"I think he struggled a bit with the intensity and he's a bit unlucky he played against Aston Villa, Southampton and Watford, all three were high-intensity games, above average.

"We try to encourage him because he grows into Chelsea more and more. We won't stop encouraging him and trying to bring out the best. It's possible he will improve tomorrow."

Chelsea have won only three of their past six games in all competitions, most recently losing 3-2 to West Ham on Saturday as they lost control of the Premier League title race.

The Blues are already assured of a place in the last 16 of the Champions League ahead of their clash with Zenit, but they are battling with Juve for top spot.

However, Tuchel is not panicking as his side aim to become the second English team after Manchester United (in both 2003-04 and 2010-11) to win four straight games in the competition without conceding.

"We dropped some points against Man United, found a solution to win at Watford, and we lost with a freak shot against West Ham," Tuchel said.

"We had this before. We lost games and we don't like it. But we're not worried. We have a certain anger and ambition when you don't win. 

"Everyone hates to lose but it happens. But when we analysed the game, the data, watched the game back, I don't think we need to ask big questions."

The only previous meeting between Zenit and Chelsea came in September, the Blues recording a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge through Romelu Lukaku's second-half winner.

Hakim Ziyech ensured Chelsea remained at the Premier League summit with a 2-1 victory over Watford at Vicarage Road on Wednesday. 

The Blues looked set to hand their title rivals a boost by dropping points for the third time in four games, but substitute Ziyech made a decisive impact in the 72nd minute.

Mason Mount gave Chelsea the lead after play was suspended for around half and hour when a fan suffered a cardiac arrest in the stands. Watford later confirmed the individual had been stabilised. 

Emmanuel Dennis equalised before half-time but Mount teed up Ziyech for his first Premier League goal of the season to remove the threat of Thomas Tuchel's men being overtaken by Manchester City or Liverpool.

Watford started brightly and Edouard Mendy had to react quickly to stop Cesar Azpilicueta scoring an own goal in the fifth minute, but there was a significant break in play when a spectator fell ill. 

Chelsea's first effort was cracked against the post by Mount shortly after play resumed but he did not fail at the second attempt, guiding home Kai Havertz's pass in the 30th minute after an exquisite touch from Marcos Alonso.  

Watford drew level on the stroke of half-time, with Moussa Sissoko dispossessing Ruben Loftus-Cheek and launching a break that ended with Dennis finding the bottom-left corner with the help of a deflection off Antonio Rudiger.  

Tuchel hooked Saul Niguez and moved Trevoh Chalobah into midfield for the second half but a hamstring injury meant he had to be replaced by Ziyech in the 60th minute. 

The game appeared to be heading for a draw until Mount picked out Ziyech in the centre of the box and the Morocco international's first-time effort had too much power for Daniel Bachmann to keep out. 

Bachmann did well to stop Ziyech doubling his tally in the closing stages but Watford were unable to come back a second time and salvage a result. 

What does it mean? A first for Chelsea 

Thanks to Ziyech's winner, Chelsea have been victorious in three successive league matches at Vicarage Road for the first time. 

It was the Blues' eighth win in nine Premier League meetings with Watford, with Claudio Ranieri unable to become the first former Chelsea boss to beat them in the competition with two different clubs. 

Mount in peak form 

Having been a substitute in Chelsea's previous two games, Mount excelled on his return to the starting line-up. His goal made him the first player to reach double figures in all competitions for the Blues under Tuchel. 

So long, Saul? 

In his first Premier League start since his debut back in December, Saul failed to impress. He had just 18 touches and made only nine passes – seven of which were completed. His loan from Atletico Madrid could well be cut short in January given his struggles at Stamford Bridge. 

What's next?  

Chelsea head to rivals West Ham for a derby at London Stadium, while Watford face another tough test with Manchester City visiting Vicarage Road. 

Thomas Tuchel was delighted with the all-round display of Saul Niguez as the Chelsea midfielder impressed in Tuesday's EFL Cup tie with Southampton.

Chelsea required a penalty shoot-out for the second round running in the competition, as Reece James' cool spot-kick ultimately sealed the Blues' progression to the last eight.

James' penalty sealed a 4-3 shoot-out win after Theo Walcott and Will Smallbone failed to convert their efforts following a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.

The five-time champions have now won all three of their matches against Southampton in the competition. The last such meeting was back in 1997-98, with Chelsea going on to lift the trophy that season.

Saul had played only once – against Malmo in the Champions League last week – since featuring against Aston Villa in the previous round, yet the Atletico Madrid loanee, who was taken off at half-time in his sole Premier League appearance, completed the full game.

He went close to opening the scoring with an excellent header six minutes in, forcing Fraser Forster into a top-class save.

Having seen another header saved just before the hour, Saul then had two attempts from the edge of the area in quick succession, with a crisp strike flashing just wide before Forster again denied the Spain international, diving to his right to keep out a shot that was dipping in.

 

Saul finished on four efforts in total, with a joint game-high three on target, and along with midfield partner Mateo Kovacic, the 26-year-old went in for a game-leading six tackles, completing three, though he did concede four fouls.

It was a performance that left Tuchel highly impressed.

"[He had] a good match, a huge step in the right direction for him," Tuchel told reporters.

"I am happy. We thought maybe he would be struggling with the intensity at the 70th minute but he got better and better, had chances and shots.

"We thought let's keep him and give him the minutes. It was a good step for him."

Tuchel explained that Chelsea's options were limited after three players who could have started – Cesar Azpilicueta, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen – were unable to train ahead of the match.

"Azpi injured his shoulder, let's see," Tuchel said. "We hope he will be fit, he is a tough guy. Maybe he will be fit Saturday [for the game against Newcastle United]. Ruben has a pain in his hip, in his joint. Andreas had tooth surgery and should be fine to train on Thursday."

Chelsea had 23 shots in total, with 14 on target – Forster pulling off 13 saves in total and only beaten by Kai Havertz's header. Southampton, who equalised through Che Adams, had plenty of chances themselves, however, with Kepa Arrizabalaga making six stops.

"It was an intense match of football, nice to watch for the spectators," Tuchel added. "It was an open fight, an intense match. We did a good shootout, a lot of quality. I liked the energy today, it was a good game."

Gianluigi Donnarumma's move to Paris Saint-Germain dominated headlines following a busy off-season in the French capital.

Donnarumma was part of an incredible transfer window for PSG, which included the likes of Lionel Messi and Achraf Hakimi arriving.

But Donnarumma is already reportedly considering his future with the Ligue 1 giants.

 

TOP STORY – DONNARUMMA WEIGHING UP FUTURE

Gianluigi Donnarumma will leave Paris Saint-Germain if he continues to be overlooked in favour of Keylor Navas, according to Calciomercato.

Donnarumma only joined PSG from Milan on a free transfer at the start of the season, but he has found himself playing second fiddle to Navas in Paris.

The Italy international has already been linked with Juventus and Barcelona.

 

ROUND-UP

Luis Suarez is seeking a new contract at Atletico Madrid but the LaLiga champions want to hold off until the end of the season before deciding, per Saturday's Marca. Atletico have been linked with wantaway Fiorentina star Dusan VlahovicManchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal and Inter have also been linked to Vlahovic.

Bayern Munich are pushing to sign Salzburg forward Karim Adeyemi, reports Sport1. The 19-year-old has impressed in Austria, where he has been linked with Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid, Inter and Real Madrid.

- Porto's Luis Diaz is attracting interest from Newcastle United, Chelsea, Bayern and Madrid, claims Nicolo Schira.

Antonio Rudiger's priority is to stay at Chelsea but Fabrizio Romano says the race is open to sign the Germany defender, with Madrid and Bayern among his admirers.

- Mundo Deportivo claims Inter midfielder Marcelo Brozovic has emerged as an option for Atletico, who are planning for life without Saul. Brozovic has been linked with Manchester United and Barca.

 

Thomas Tuchel decided against using Saul Niguez against Southampton to protect the midfielder as he continues to pay the price for a difficult debut.

Saul struggled on his only Premier League outing for Chelsea since joining from Atletico Madrid on an initial loan on transfer deadline day, lasting just 45 minutes before being hauled off against Aston Villa.

The Spain international gave away possession 10 times, misplaced seven of his 38 passes and conceded a team-high three fouls in the Blues' eventual 3-0 win.

Tuchel said at the time the 26-year-old would need time to adapt to the intensity of the English game after spending his entire senior career to date in Spain.

Saul has featured only once since, playing 76 minutes of last month's EFL Cup penalty shoot-out victory against the same opponents.

With N'Golo Kante out with coronavirus and Jorginho rested from the beginning against Southampton, Tuchel started Ruben Loftus-Cheek and brought on Ross Barkley from the bench.

Tuchel revealed on the back of the 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge that he did not feel the time was right to select Saul against an energetic Southampton side.

"He was very, very close to start," Tuchel said. "But in the end I decided against it.

"I thought to put him in another high pressing match, against an opponent pressing so high in the centre of the pitch, would it be fair to say, 'Okay now prove it and let’s see if your adaption has gone further?'

"I hesitated a little bit. He does not need to worry. Just work hard and adapt and the chances will come. We have only 11 to give a chance. I would like to see it in a positive way.

"If you turn it around of course you have eight players who we didn't trust today from the beginning. This is a reality. I cannot hide from this reality."

The 22 league starts made by box-to-box midfielder Saul last season was his lowest tally since 2014-15, a drop from 35 starts in 2019-20, 32 in 2018-19 and 35 again in 2017-18.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel "couldn’t care less" if Romelu Lukaku scores ore goals than Cristiano Ronaldo this season after both new signings netted Premier League doubles.

Lukaku, who joined Chelsea from Internazionale last month, scored the first and third goals in the Blues' 3-0 win over Aston Villa on Saturday.

Meanwhile Ronaldo starred in his second debut for Manchester United, netting a brace as they won 4-1 over Newcastle prompting comparisons between the pair.

"I couldn't care less as long as Lukaku scores for us," Tuchel said when asked who he thinks will score more this season during the post-match news conference.

"Honestly, I know you'd like to have a good answer but unfortunately, I don't have one. Lukaku was decisive for us today and that is what we are looking for.

"He wants to score for Chelsea, help the team with his goals, that is what he did today.

"That is why he is here. He is not shy to speak this ambition out loud because he is full of confidence and is the kind of personality that can handle it. This is what he showed in the first games and today."

Another new Chelsea signing Saul Niguez made his club debut, starting but being replaced at half-time after an underwhelming display.

Tuchel admitted the Spanish midfielder "struggled" but put the blame on himself rather than the player who joined on loan from Atletico Madrid on deadline day.

"He struggled. I take the responsibility for that," Tuchel said.

"I put him into a difficult match after a national break. It was hard for him to adapt to the physicality, and to the intensity and high pressing of Aston Villa. It was also a bit hard for him to adapt to our system and our principles.

"We thought to give a bit more stability to the centre to switch the shape to a 5-3-2 in the second half with Jorginho.

"It was a tough one, but I hope he accepts it is my responsibility. In training it looked like he had no problem to adapt, but it was training.

"The game was very intense today, he had some easy ball losses so that’s why I thought before he loses more confidence I would take him off."

Romelu Lukaku finally scored at Stamford Bridge and declared it a "childhood dream" fulfilled as his double sank Aston Villa.

Chelsea scored a battling 3-0 win over a Villa side who gave as good as they got in the first half, with Blues boss Thomas Tuchel admitting they had him worried.

It was Lukaku's lethal finishing that proved key, though, as he slotted a clinical opener and smashed in a clincher in second-half stoppage time.

Those were his only two shots of the game, as Chelsea secured their 600th Premier League win. Manchester United were previously the only team in the league's history to reach that tally.

Chelsea's other goal came from Mateo Kovacic, who pounced on a short backpass from Tyrone Mings to clip in a classy finish early in the second half, taking some of the sting out of Villa.

This was Lukaku's 15th game at Stamford Bridge, spread across appearances representing Chelsea, Everton and Manchester United, and it was the first time he got on the scoresheet.

"I've waited. It's been my dream since I was 11. I've worked hard for this moment," Lukaku said. "It's a childhood dream for me. I'm very happy to be in this situation, but the work has to keep going."

The £97.5million signing from Inter has made a stunning start to his second spell at Chelsea, having barely made an impact on the first team in his previous stint.

Lukaku's opening goal saw him show quick feet to get past Axel Tuanzebe before finishing in style, and the second was a shot into the top-left corner from just inside the penalty area.

"Playing in Italy, I was playing in a league where I would have one or two chances in a game and I had to take them," Lukaku said on Sky Sports, explaining his precision.

"With the experience and the hard work and my team-mates understanding me, I'm very happy with the situation I'm in."

Lukaku was a team-mate of Tuanzebe at United and explained that gave him the knowhow when it came to stepping inside the defender's challenge and offloading a shot with his right foot.

"I've played with Tuanzebe back in the day and he knows I'm left-footed," Lukaku said.

The 28-year-old's delightful second was a satisfying way to cap Chelsea's day.

"The contact was good. I hit it cleanly and the touch was good," Lukaku said. "I got it out of my feet quickly. That's just work, a lot of finishing day-in and day-out. That's just pure training."

Tuchel was concerned by Villa's sharp performance before the interval, but he said Chelsea were "more controlled, more fluid" in the second half. He felt others could have done better with chances for the hosts but had no complaints about Lukaku.

"He is full of confidence and totally aware of what he's going to do, what he wants to do," Tuchel said. "He is absolutely confident to score and that helped us a lot."

Tuchel fielded new recruit Saul Niguez in his starting XI but substituted the Spanish midfielder at half-time.

The addition from Atletico Madrid struggled to get to grips with the high-tempo game on his debut, winning just one of nine duels and giving away a team-high three fouls.

"Saul had a bit of trouble to adapting to the intensity and our structure and style of play and the intensity of the Premier League," Tuchel said.

The Chelsea boss said making the change and bringing on Jorginho in Saul's place was "hard to do", but pointed out: "He had some big mistakes, passing mistakes and errors. You could see he was not fully adapted."

Tuchel insisted the 45-minute outing for Saul could be brushed aside, declaring it his own responsibility that the selection did not work out.

"I'm happy because we escaped with a perfect result on a perfect evening for our striker," Tuchel added.

Thomas Tuchel revealed Saul Niguez has been a long-term target for Chelsea and the Atletico Madrid loanee could be in line for his debut against Aston Villa.

The 26-year-old won LaLiga with Atletico last term before joining the Blues on a season-long loan, Tuchel's men reportedly holding a purchase option for £30million (€34m) after paying an initial loan fee of £5m (€5.8m).

As Chelsea look to become the second team, after Manchester United, to reach 600 Premier League wins, Tuchel explained his new recruit's debut has been years in the making.

"He was with us now for two weeks," Tuchel told reporters. "He played on the highest level. I think the picture is very clear. The club follows him for years.

"We know the player very well. He had a quick adaptation with Marcos Alonso and Kepa [Arrizabalaga], in welcoming him into the group.

"He is in the squad for tomorrow. Jorginho can never say no when Italy plays, even when they are 5-0 up, so he is quite tired. It's absolutely possible Saul plays for us."

Saul only managed 22 league starts last campaign, his fewest since 2014-15, but still ranked fourth for attempted tackles in LaLiga for Atletico (57).

Indeed, prior to his departure, only Real Madrid's Casemiro (190) had attempted more tackles by a midfielder than Saul (159) in the Spanish top flight since August 2019.

With N'Golo Kante out injured with an ankle problem sustained against Liverpool, the Spain midfielder could provide vital legs in Tuchel's midfield.

But Tuchel credited those above him in the Chelsea hierarchy for securing the deal from Diego Simeone's side.

"Marina [Granovskaia] was in charge, the best person," the Blues head coach continued. "We were in contact. We knew about the situation.

"We knew things could happen later, we were very aware. I assured everybody that I'm also happy if we cannot bring a player in. We would find a solution in the squad. It was clear, we would try for [Jules] Kounde and Saul.

"In the end, it was possible to get Saul which was a key position for us to have more alternatives. A lot of competition [is] now going on. It's my job to be a good moderator."

The transfer window officially closed on Tuesday, meaning clubs across Europe must now make do with the players available to them until at least January.

It has been an eventful few months, with Lionel Messi ending his 21-year association with Barcelona by joining Paris Saint-Germain and Cristiano Ronaldo sealing an emotional return to Manchester United from Juventus.

The drama continued to unfold right through until the final stages of the window as Antoine Griezmann rejoined Atletico Madrid on an initial loan and Chelsea snapped up Saul Niguez from the Spanish champions, while Real Madrid brought in rising star Eduardo Camavinga from Rennes.

With Kylian Mbappe staying at PSG and Harry Kane still a Tottenham player, Jack Grealish's £100million switch to Manchester City from Aston Villa was the biggest deal in monetary terms, followed by Romelu Lukaku's £97.5m (€115m) move to Chelsea from Inter.

Stats Perform takes a look at the best deals that went through.

Hakan Calhanoglu: Inter to Milan (free transfer)

After failing to agree new terms at Milan, Calhanoglu completed a shock move across the city to rivals Inter, signing a three-year deal.

While not necessarily the most popular transfer, getting a player who created 98 chances last season – the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues – for free is quite something.

The Turkey international got a goal and an assist on his debut in the 4-0 win over Genoa, prompting coach Simone Inzaghi to proclaim the player "doesn't realise how good he is".

Manuel Locatelli: Sassuolo to Juventus (loan with €25m obligation)

One of Italy's most prized young assets, Locatelli secured a move to Juventus on a two-year loan that includes an obligation to buy for an initial €25m.

Among midfielders in Serie A last season, the 23-year-old made the most touches (3,304), passes (2,749) and tackles (81). He then impressed as Italy won Euro 2020, scoring twice in the group-stage win over Switzerland.

For a club looking to strengthen while saving money, this could prove a shrewd deal for Juve.

 

Danny Ings: Southampton to Aston Villa (£25m)

Villa appear to have invested the money they received for Grealish in shrewd fashion, signing Leon Bailey, Emiliano Buendia and striker Ings.

While the Ings deal materialised very quickly in early August, he certainly did not seem to need much time to adjust to new surroundings, scoring twice in his first three league games this season.

With 34 goals across his final two league campaigns with Southampton, there is reason to think the 29-year-old could be one of the smartest signings of the window.

Lionel Messi: Free agent to Paris Saint-Germain

The most spectacular free transfer of all time came after Barcelona had agree a new contract with Messi only to be forced to admit they could not let him sign it due to financial restrictions.

A tearful Messi bade farewell to his boyhood club before securing a move to PSG, who now boast a frankly terrifying forward line of Messi, Neymar and Mbappe.

Describing it as a 'free' transfer is somewhat misleading given the various costs involved in the different aspects of the deal, but for PSG to sign arguably the greatest player in history without paying a transfer fee is pretty amazing business.

 

Romelu Lukaku: Inter to Chelsea (£97.5m)

Chelsea smashed their transfer record to bring back Lukaku, whose last action in his first spell at the club was to miss a penalty in the UEFA Super Cup shoot-out loss to Bayern Munich in 2013.

Lukaku plundered 24 goals and 11 assists in 2020-21 to fire Inter to the title and claim Serie A's MVP award, after which he pushed for a return to Stamford Bridge, where he felt he had unfinished business.

It might have been a serious financial outlay, but Lukaku showed in the 2-0 win at Arsenal what a difference he could make to a Chelsea side who are extremely tough to beat but not exactly free-scoring.

Eduardo Camavinga: Rennes to Real Madrid (€30m)

Madrid may have missed out on top target Mbappe, but they managed to get a deal over the line for fellow Frenchman Camavinga, bringing an end to 18 months of speculation surrounding the young midfielder.

It is the first time Madrid have spent money on a transfer fee since 2019, when they signed Eden Hazard from Chelsea for €100m, and in Camavinga they are signing a player for the here and now rather than the future.

Since making his debut for Rennes in April 2019, no player in Ligue 1 has attempted (230) or won more tackles (139) than the three-cap France international, who will now provide competition for Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Federico Valverde.

 

Saul Niguez: Atletico Madrid to Chelsea (loan with option to buy for £30m)

After being regularly linked with the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool in recent years, Saul will finally get a chance to play in the Premier League with Chelsea this season.

A box-to-box midfielder, the Spain international is at his best operating in a central role, though his versatility and workrate have often seen him deployed out wide by Atletico coach Diego Simeone.

He made just 22 league starts last season, his lowest figure since 2014-15. However, since August 2019, Real Madrid's Casemiro (190) is the only midfielder to have attempted more tackles than Saul (159) in LaLiga.

Antoine Griezmann: Barcelona to Atletico Madrid (loan deal with an obligation to buy)

Two years after leaving Atletico in a big-money transfer, Griezmann has returned to the Spanish capital to boost an attack that already includes Luis Suarez, Joao Felix, Angel Correa and fellow new recruit Matheus Cunha.

Griezmann's Camp Nou career never truly took off and he failed to score or create a single opportunity across Barca's first three league games this season.

But Simeone will be confident he can get the Frenchman, who scored 94 LaLiga goals in 180 appearances in his first stint at the club, operating at somewhere close to his former glory.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo: Juventus to Manchester United (£12.9m rising to £19.7m)

Twelve years after departing Old Trafford, Ronaldo is once again a Manchester United player after completing a surprise return to the club where he won the first of his five Ballons d'Or.

Ronaldo scored 118 goals in 292 appearances under Alex Ferguson in his first spell, 42 of those goals coming in the 2007-08 season alone, and he remains a prolific forward despite his all-round game changing with time.

The Portugal captain scored 29 league goals in his third and final season with Juventus to win the Capocannoniere, making him the first player to finish as top scorer in Serie A, LaLiga and the Premier League.

Saul Niguez wants to rediscover his best form at Champions League holders Chelsea after his Atletico Madrid frustrations, saying: "I don't want to see the Saul that you've seen these last two years".

Saul will spend the 2021-22 season on loan at Chelsea following Tuesday's deadline-day move, with the European champions reportedly having the option to buy the Spain international for £30million (€34m) after paying an initial loan fee of £5m (€5.8m).

The 26-year-old was part of Atletico's title-winning side in LaLiga last season, however, he found himself playing out of position under Diego Simeone in the Spanish capital.

As he prepares for life at Stamford Bridge, Saul – also linked with Premier League giants Manchester United and Liverpool – is relishing the opportunity to start fresh in London.

"The only negative was not playing in my position [at Atletico]," Saul said in an interview with Ibai Llanos on Twitch.

"I could not show what I would like. I had a block in my head that did not allow me to play in another role. Chelsea's option was to leave my comfort zone. It won't be easy to get into that team."

A box-to-box midfielder, Saul is at his best operating in a central role, though his versatility and work-rate has often seen him deployed out wide by Simeone.

Saul made only 22 league starts last season, his lowest figure since 2014-15. This perhaps explains why he ranked only fourth in the Atleti squad for attempted tackles in the top tier, with 57.

However, since August 2019, only Real Madrid's Casemiro (190) had attempted more tackles by a midfielder than Saul (159) in LaLiga.

"At Chelsea I will train in my position. Then we will see if I play. That is the biggest cause of my decision," Saul added.

"I want to go to Chelsea, try the experience and then see what happens. I don't want to think further. I want to go, compete and help Chelsea.

"Personally, I want to go back to being the Saul that I want to see. I don't want to see the Saul that you've seen these last two years. I was very frustrated not being able to show people what I am capable of."

Antoine Griezmann and Saul Niguez were the big names to move late on deadline day, with Atletico Madrid having a busy night.

Griezmann's move to his former club completed a day of outgoings for Barcelona, who sold Emerson Royal and Ilaix Moriba, as well as loaning out Ray Minaj.

Ronald Koeman's Barca did get one player in, however, who will seemingly replace Griezmann in attack.

Barca's LaLiga rivals Real Madrid did not manage to get a mega deal for Kylian Mbappe over the line, despite a reported bid of €200m having been lodged on Tuesday, though Los Blancos did sign Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga.

Cristiano Ronaldo's move back to Manchester United was confirmed early on, but there was plenty of late action in England, too.

 

Another returning king as Chelsea call on Saul

Romelu Lukaku back to Chelsea. Ronaldo back to United. Now, Griezmann has made a return to one of his former clubs, with the 30-year-old re-joining LaLiga champions Atleti on a season-long loan.

There is an option to make the deal permanent for €40million – just the €80million less than Barca paid for the France forward in 2019.

Replacing Griezmann at Barca is Luuk de Jong, with Koeman turning to his compatriot from Sevilla. Messi to De Jong... not quite the end to the window Barca fans would have had in mind.

Saul, meanwhile, is leaving LaLiga. He has joined Chelsea on a loan deal from Atleti, with an option to buy for a reported £30m.

 

No Madrid move for Mbappe... yet

A third Madrid bid for Mbappe was reportedly lodged, and ignored, on Tuesday, as Florentino Perez's obsessive hunt of the Paris Saint-Germain star proved fruitless.

However, Mbappe is out of contract next year, so he may well be a Galactico soon enough.

One player who will be playing in the famous all-white strip this season is teenage midfielder Camavinga, who has joined from Rennes.

As well as keeping Mbappe, PSG added to their squad, completing a stellar transfer window by signing Sporting CP left-back Nuno Mendes to fill what has proved a problem position. Pablo Sarabia went the other way.

In Italy, Milan marked a quiet end to the window overall by confirming the signings of Yacine Adli and Messias Junior.

Inter already had their business done, while Juventus confirmed Moise Kean's return on Tuesday morning. The Bianconeri also signed Mohamed Ihattaren, who was then loaned to Sampdoria.

Ronaldo headlines Premier League moves

The early confirmation of Ronaldo's move back to United being complete was the biggest story of the day in England's top flight. It also paved the way for the Red Devils to sell Daniel James, who moved to Leeds United.

Arsenal blocked Everton's attempts to sign Ainsley Maitland-Niles, though Hector Bellerin did leave the Gunners to head to Real Betis on loan. Mikel Arteta's Gunners completed their record-breaking transfer window (in terms of overall spend) with the acquisition of Japan defender Takehiro Tomiyasu from Bologna. Earlier in the day, Arsenal loaned out Reiss Nelson and Alex Runarsson.

Their north London rivals Tottenham completed the signing of Emerson from Barca, with Serge Aurier's time at Spurs subsequently being brought to an end by the mutual termination of his contract.

Everton's hunt for a right-back was to no avail. The Toffees did bring in Salomon Rondon on a free transfer, handing the forward a two-year deal with an option for a third. James Rodriguez was involved in a mooted part-exchange deal with Porto for Luis Diaz, but the Colombian star is staying put.

Manchester City rounded off their dealings by sending out seven players on loan. Among them was Patrick Roberts, who was one of three players to join Ligue 1 club Troyes.

Wolves were unable to complete deals for Kieffer Moore or Boubacar Kamara. A late offer from Spurs for Adama Traore was reportedly rejected.

Czech Republic midfielder Alex Kral joined West Ham on loan from Spartak Moscow. He was the Hammers' second signing of the day, with Croatia playmaker Nikola Vlasic having arrived early on.

There were two outgoings at Celtic. Scotland international Ryan Christie signed for Bournemouth, while Crystal Palace bought striker Odsonne Edouard for a reported £15m. The Hoops replaced him with Greece forward Giorgos Giakoumakis.

Chelsea have completed the signing of Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez on loan for the remainder of the season.

The European champions were successful with a late move for Saul on deadline day and reportedly have an option to buy for £30million (€34m) after paying an initial loan fee of £5m (€5.8m).

Saul had been linked with Manchester United and Liverpool previously but will get his first experience of playing in the Premier League for the Blues.

The 26-year-old was part of Atleti's title-winning side in LaLiga last season, but Diego Simeone refused to rule out the prospect of the player leaving after a 2-2 draw with Villarreal on Sunday.

Saul is contracted to the reigning Spanish champions until 2026 but may have played his last game for the club.

"I am very excited to start this new challenge with Chelsea. Blues fans, I am one of you now and I can't wait to wear the shirt, start training and see all of you. See you soon!" Saul said.

Saul's arrival comes after Chelsea paid out a club-record fee to bring Romelu Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge from Inter earlier in the same transfer window.

Club director Marina Granovskaia said of the latest recruit: "We welcome Saul to the club and believe he completes our squad as we compete for honours in five different competitions this season.

"He is a proven winner, a player with huge experience and we know he will be very well-suited to the challenges that face us on all fronts in the coming year."

A box-to-box midfielder, Saul is at his best operating in a central role, though his versatility and work-rate has often seen him deployed out wide by Simeone.

He made only 22 league starts last season, his lowest figure since 2014-15. This perhaps explains why he ranked only fourth in the Atleti squad for attempted tackles in the top tier, with 57.

However, since August 2019, only Real Madrid's Casemiro (190) had attempted more tackles by a midfielder than Saul (159) in LaLiga.

The Spaniard is a proven goal threat too, with his best tally of six coming in 2019-20. When compared to Chelsea's current crop of midfielders, only Jorginho, who takes penalties, has matched or beaten Saul's scoring record.

Chelsea were also believed to be keen to sign Jules Kounde from LaLiga as well, though a deal for the Sevilla centre-back failed to materialise.

Chelsea have completed the signing of Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez on loan for the remainder of the season.

The European champions were successful with a late move for Saul on deadline day and reportedly have an option to buy for £30million (€34m) after paying an initial loan fee of £5m (€5.8m).

Saul had been linked with Manchester United and Liverpool previously but will get his first experience of playing in the Premier League for the Blues.

The 26-year-old was part of Atleti's title-winning side in LaLiga last season, but Diego Simeone refused to rule out the prospect of the player leaving after a 2-2 draw with Villarreal on Sunday.

Saul is contracted to the reigning Spanish champions until 2026 but may have played his last game for the club.

"I am very excited to start this new challenge with Chelsea. Blues fans, I am one of you now and I can't wait to wear the shirt, start training and see all of you. See you soon!" Saul said.

Saul's arrival comes after Chelsea paid out a club-record fee to bring Romelu Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge from Inter earlier in the same transfer window.

Club director Marina Granovskaia said of the latest recruit: "We welcome Saul to the club and believe he completes our squad as we compete for honours in five different competitions this season.

"He is a proven winner, a player with huge experience and we know he will be very well-suited to the challenges that face us on all fronts in the coming year."

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