What the papers say

Newcastle have dropped out of the fight for Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips due to his loan fee being too expensive, the Telegraph reports. The England international’s proposed move to the Magpies reportedly does not make sense financially. Sky Sports says Juventus, Crystal Palace, West Ham and Everton are all interested in the 28-year-old.

Chelsea are going to demand the £35million release clause for any club who wants to sign their 21-year-old Dutch defender Ian Maatsen, who recently joined Borussia Dortmund on loan, the Telegraph says.

Jesse Lingard could be on the move to the United States with MLS team the Portland Timbers interested in the 31-year-old free agent’s services, the Daily Mail says.

Celtic have got Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher on their radar, the Daily Mail says, but there is also interest from Wolves, Brighton and Brentford for the 25-year-old Republic of Ireland international.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Jhon Duran: Chelsea are reportedly interested in a short loan deal for the 20-year-old Aston Villa forward who has scored two goals in 14 Premier League games this season, Metro reports.

Bruno Guimaraes: Talksport says Paris St Germain are interested in the Newcastle midfielder, who has a £100million release clause.

Gary Cahill insisted he was never going to turn down the chance to join Chelsea after finally completing his £7million move from Bolton on this day in 2012.

Cahill put the finishing touches to a reported five-and-a-half-year contract, having spent more than a fortnight wrangling over personal terms that threatened to scupper the deal.

But the England defender suggested he had no intention of walking away from the protracted negotiations between his representatives and Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourlay.

“Chelsea is a massive club, it is a club that looks to win trophies season in, season out and it is a big opportunity for me to be a part of that,” Cahill told the Blues’ official website at the time.

“Opportunities like this, you can’t turn down.”

Cahill reportedly settled on wages of £80,000-per-week – £20,000 less than the player was said to have demanded during initial talks.

He then travelled to London to undergo a medical and watched his new club’s 1-0 Premier League win over Sunderland.

Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas said: “He has good technical abilities, which is important in the way we want to play and to implement our philosophy.

“Competition will be tight for him, but we brought him in to become better as a team.”

There were no shortage of admirers for Cahill, with Arsenal seeing a bid rejected and Tottenham also going close to landing him.

But Chelsea were the only serious January transfer window bidders, with Bolton opting to cash in on a player in the final six months of his contract.

Cahill spent seven-and-a-half years at Stamford Bridge, making almost 300 appearances in all competitions and winning the Premier League twice, the Champions League, two FA Cups, two Europa League titles and the EFL Cup.

Mauricio Pochettino will give his players “time to breathe” after they recorded three Premier League wins in a row for the first time since October 2022.

Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Fulham at Stamford Bridge me22ans the team have taken 12 points from their last five league games, and are now within three points of the top six.

Chelsea do not play again until January 23 when they face Middlesbrough in the second leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final, looking to overturn a 1-0 deficit to reach their first major final since 2021.

Pochettino will take the opportunity to allow his side time off rather than following the example of other top-flight clubs, many of whom have opted to use the league’s winter break to embark on warm-weather training camps.

“We need to give some rest to the players and staff,” he said. “It’s been a really busy period now, they need to breathe a little bit. This break is well deserved.

“Then we are going to prepare. We’ll have seven days to prepare the second leg of Middlesbrough, and then we are going to play Tuesday, Friday the FA Cup again Aston Villa, then Wednesday against Liverpool in the Premier League. Three different competitions.

“I think they need a few days off. They deserve it. Then after, to attack the second half of the season. They need to have some break.”

Pochettino has hinted that the club could enter the transfer market in January in search of a striker with Christopher Nkunku still unavailable with a hip injury.

The manager admitted to being concerned by the nature of the France international’s problem, which has become “complicated”, particularly with striker Nicolas Jackson likely to be away for the rest of the month at least at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Meanwhile Armando Broja is still looking to find form having only returned in September from nine months out with an ACL injury.

It took a penalty from Cole Palmer in added time at the end of the first half for Chelsea to get the goal that saw them past Fulham, and on the whole it was another frustrating attacking display for home fans to endure.

Whilst the transfer window remains open, Pochettino said he is unlikely to be able to switch off from work.

“You need to be always available 24 hours,” he said. “If something happens I need to be in contact with the sporting director and owners. Because always something can appear.”

Chelsea made it three Premier League wins in a row for the first time since October 2022 as Cole Palmer’s penalty guided them to a 1-0 victory over Fulham at Stamford Bridge.

The winning goal came in stoppage time at the end of the first half, the top scorer for Mauricio Pochettino’s side notching his ninth goal of the season after Raheem Sterling was tripped in the box.

However, the move had been started by a moment of Palmer genius, spotting a gap and threading a superb ball through the middle that drew defender Issa Diop into a clumsy foul.

Marco Silva’s visitors never truly looked beaten until the final whistle sounded.

Chelsea, though, defended doggedly in the final moments to breath genuine momentum into their season.

The first half began in a familiar pattern, plenty of possession for the hosts but little or no penetration in the final third. Sterling was busy down the left during the opening 15 minutes, Kenny Tete at right-back barring the way.

The only chance of those opening exchanges fell to Conor Gallagher, the captain lifting his shot a couple of yards over the bar from just outside the box.

Sterling opted for a different tact on 20 minutes, laying it off wide to Enzo Fernandez to cross. His centre was met by Armando Broja at the front post, who failed to get enough of a glance on the ball and thumped his header wide.

The best chance of the half, though, was Fulham’s. Willian fed Andreas Pereira overlapping on the left, who picked out Harry Wilson stealing away into space on the far side. Wilson hit it first time, looking to sneak it inside Djordje Petrovic’s near post, but the goalkeeper spread himself well, rebounding it away with his legs.

Chelsea’s goal in added time at the end of the half was not deserved on the balance of play, but the pass from Palmer to carve out the chance was sublime. Making eyes for a lofted cross, he instead slipped a reverse ball through the middle for Sterling, who in cutting in onto his left was tripped by Diop. Palmer did the rest from the spot.

Chelsea were seeking a fourth win from five in the league, the kind of points return they had not enjoyed since former boss Graham Potter’s early days in charge more than a year ago. They were, in truth, fortunate to lead at the break.

Sterling headed against the post from six yards out at the start of the second half after Fernandez’s cross had picked him out. Malo Gusto played a low ball for Broja at the near post, but he failed to get a touch and it was cleared by Tosin, as a rebooted Chelsea emerged after the break with renewed purpose.

Fulham took time to get going in the second half half but finally found some bite after 70 minutes, Raul Jimenez shooting low first-time at goal and drawing a save from Petrovic dropping to his right. Pochettino responded by sending on Ben Chilwell for his first appearance in nearly fourth months after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Gallagher struck the post with a superb curling effort off the outside of his right boot as Chelsea looked to kill the game off, then Willian just cleared the bar from a free-kick, Fulham refusing to lie down easy.

In the end, the clock ran out on them, as Chelsea’s resurgence under Pochettino rolled on.

Burnley boss Vincent Kompany has told his players the latest VAR controversy to hurt their survival chances shows they must rely on themselves as they cannot expect favours from anyone else.

Kompany was fuming after Carlton Morris’s controversial stoppage-time equaliser cost them victory in Friday’s 1-1 draw with relegation rivals Luton.

Morris headed into an empty net in the second minute of time added on but only after Elijah Adebayo had blocked off Burnley goalkeeper James Trafford as he looked to gather Alfie Doughty’s cross.

Burnley had led since Zeki Amdouni’s 36th-minute strike and appeared on course for only their second home win of the season, one that would put them one point behind the Hatters and two behind 17th-placed Everton, who host Aston Villa on Sunday, but instead the result left them four points adrift of safety.

Kompany’s frustration was obvious in a post-match press conference as he described the situation as a “joke” and pointed to previous incidents at Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth where refereeing decisions have cost the Clarets.

But while Burnley will make their feelings known on the issue, Kompany said he and his players must focus on themselves.

“We’ll keep focusing on our performance and to do what we have to do to give ourselves a chance to stay up,” he said when asked if such decisions were going to cost Burnley come the end of the campaign.

“At this moment in time, I don’t want to draw these types of conclusions because it’s admitting defeat and I won’t do it. But it has to rally us if anything, rally us to be more united, more together and more willing to go the extra yard and not expect any favours from anyone.”

VAR controversies have come to the fore this season, and Kompany said there needed to be “better mechanisms” in place to deal with to the system.

“I love this sport and I want to fight for it,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be in the referee’s shoes nowadays, I have sympathy for them. I think there’s a lot of new elements now and scrutiny and it’s difficult for them to even come to a logical decision.

“Them missing something that everyone sees like this is probably the result of the general confusion around a lot of decisions. I have sympathy but I have also a lot of frustration right now.”

Luton boss Rob Edwards admitted he would have been upset to have been on the wrong end of the decision but he and his players could celebrate a point that was their seventh from the last four league games and which moved them level with Everton.

Although Burnley had the better chances in the game, it was Luton who had more of the ball and Edwards said it showed the progression they have made.

“What pleased me most was the performance,” he said. “We’d never have been able to come here and dominate a game like that. We were really good with the ball and I loved a lot of that…

“We have got a fighting chance, it’s a fact. We’re performing really well, we’re in good form. I don’t think anyone can deny that and we are getting points. In the last four games we’ve got points from three of them and we’ve performed well so of course we’ve got a fighting chance.”

Chelsea boss Emma Hayes feels her side are fully prepared to kick off their FA Cup title defence without prolific striker Sam Kerr, who scored the winner in last year’s Wembley final.

The Australia captain on Thursday underwent surgery for an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury and is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

The Women’s Super League-leading Blues first have to find their way past West Ham, who have already been active in the transfer window with the signings of Shelina Zadorsky, Katrina Gorry and Kerr’s fiancee Kristie Mewis, while Chelsea have added defender Nathalie Bjorn from Everton.

Hayes, whose trophy cabinet already includes five FA Cups, said: “I know Sam would expect me to say nothing less. Our focus has got to be on the players that are fit and a good challenge for me is to find those solutions.

“I trust in the squad that we have and we’ve added to that as well.”

The competition’s overall prize pot has been doubled to almost £6million this season, with a minimum £54,000 for fourth-round winners while the losing clubs receive £13,000 – up from £15,000 and £3,750 respectively.

West Ham boss Rehanne Skinner said: “The cup is an incentive in itself but the prize money is a huge incentive, because it’s a significant amount of money when you’re talking about players and making additions.

“Increasing the prize money is really important in helping the growth of the game.”

Fifth-tier Luton are the lowest-ranked team remaining and will face WSL competition for the first time when they host Brighton.

Albion head coach Melissa Phillips said: “The FA Cup is such a special event, the history of the tournament, the magic as they say and what a fantastic match-up we have, a tier-five team and a top-tier team. They’ll certainly be up for the game.”

Phillips’ side were beaten in last year’s semi-final by Manchester United, who take on National League Northern Premier Division leaders Newcastle with over 1,000 Magpies fans preparing to make the trip to Leigh Sports Village.

United boss Marc Skinner confessed last year’s 1-0 loss in the final “feels like yesterday” and vowed his side “want to go one better than we did last year”.

Newcastle striker Katie Barker insisted her side are brimming with confidence, saying: “No matter who we play, we always play a game to win and we’ll do everything we can to win the game.”

Arsenal boss Jonas Eidevall vowed to take the competition seriously, beginning against Watford. He said: “There’s no excuse for not being able to field your best teams in these competitions.”

Durham’s meeting with Manchester City, selected for broadcast on the BBC, will mark the first time the Championship side have been televised.

Durham midfielder Lauren Briggs told the club website: “It’s something we all dream of, a great opportunity, and we’ve worked really hard for this.”

Bristol City host Liverpool in an all-WSL match-up while Championship Sheffield United travel to Tottenham and tier-three Derby welcome top-flight Leicester.

Sunderland face Southampton, Blackburn make the trip to Crystal Palace, Plymouth face Nottingham Forest and Ipswich meet Charlton.

Tier-three Burnley play Championship leaders Birmingham, Reading take on Wolves and London City Lionesses play Moneyfields.

Mauricio Pochettino admitted he is concerned by Christopher Nkunku’s ongoing injury absence with Chelsea’s attacking options looking stretched ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Fulham.

The France international returned from a five-month lay-off following knee surgery only in December but has missed the team’s last two fixtures with a hip issue.

He has been unable to train since before Chelsea’s FA Cup win over Preston on January 6 and the manager said he is unsure when Nkunku, who was the Bundesliga’s top scorer last season with 16 goals for RB Leipzig before moving to west London for £52million, will be available again.

With fellow summer-signing Nicolas Jackson away representing Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations for what is likely to be at least the rest of the month, and Armando Broja still looking to find form after being sidelined for nine months with an ACL injury, Pochettino has few options in Nkunku’s absence.

Chelsea’s goalscoring form has improved significantly on last season, when their return of 38 was the club’s lowest in the league for almost a century.

They currently have 34 at the halfway stage of the Premier League campaign, but despite this they have repeatedly found it difficult to break teams down, and have failed to convert high possession figures into   clear chances.

They enjoyed 72 per cent of the ball and had 18 shots on goal during Tuesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg away to Middlesbrough, yet still slumped to a 1-0 defeat at the Riverside.

“I’m a little bit worried because I don’t have the whole information (on Nkunku’s injury),” said Pochettino. “If he’s going to be ready or not, or available (after) a short period.

“We need to be very clinical and, if it’s possible, to take some decision. If not, we need to think about how we can fix the problem.”

The 26-year-old shone during the team’s pre-season tour of the United States before injuring his knee in a game against Borussia Dortmund in Chicago.

That sent early plans for Pochettino, who had hoped to use Nkunku as the focal point of his side’s new-look attack, into disarray, and heaped pressure on Jackson and Broja – both only 22 – to take up the goalscoring mantel.

The club have been linked with possible moves for Brentford’s Ivan Toney and Brighton’s Evan Ferguson in January to help bolster their attack.

“(Nkunku) was the only player that was performing, of course in a different league, in Germany,” said Pochettino. “But consistently scoring goals. That was the situation before the start of the season.

“When (the injury) happened, we needed to see about Broja after one year (out injured), and Jackson moving from Villarreal, where he wasn’t top scorer.

“The age of the players, (they are) young guys that need to adapt. That was why we felt a little bit more the hit of (losing) Nkunku.

“He was consistently scoring goals. When you miss a player like this, you hope that players that maybe came here and need time to grow and score goals, it (became) a necessity, compulsory for Jackson to score in every single touch.

“Or Broja, after one year out, needs now to play three games in a row. It’s difficult for him.

“It makes our job more difficult. It’s exciting this project, but situations like this make it more difficult. You have to grow at a different pace.”

Mauricio Pochettino confirmed Ben Chilwell’s return to the Chelsea squad for Saturday’s meeting with Fulham at Stamford Bridge after missing nearly four months with a hamstring injury.

The England defender last featured during the 1-0 home defeat to Aston Villa in late September but is set to be named in the matchday party alongside Benoit Badiashile, who has recovered from a muscle issue.

However, Christopher Nkunku remains on the absentee list with the manager revealing that the forward’s recovery from a hip problem has become “complicated”.

Carney Chukwuemeka, who has not played since the second weekend of the Premier League season, will be assessed ahead of the clash against Fulham, while Trevoh Chalobah is training with the first team having missing the entire campaign to date.

“It’s good news about Chilwell and Badiashile,” said Pochettino. “For sure they’ll be in the squad (on Saturday). We need to assess Carney Chukwuemeka.

“Trevoh Chalobah is working with the group, we’ll assess day by day. He’s doing well. They’re so close to being involved again.

“I am worried about the situation of Nkunku. (It has been) now 10 days that he can’t train. We’re assessing him.

“He suffered a small issue and it became complicated. After six months that we were waiting for him, he was so close to feeling comfortable, he started against Crystal Palace (on December 27). We’re disappointed. We want him (back) as soon as possible.”

The France international was made to wait until December for his first start for the club following his summer move from RB Leipzig, after a knee injury sustained in pre-season ruled him out.

His absence places further pressure on Pochettino’s limited attacking options, with Nicolas Jackson away representing Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations and Armando Broja searching for form after returning from an ACL injury in September.

The PA news agency understands that striker David Fofana will join Burnley on loan for the rest of the season after his stay at Bundesliga side Union Berlin was cut short.

Meanwhile the club confirmed on Friday that Netherlands Under-21 international Ian Maatsen, who has made only three starts this season, has moved to Borussia Dortmund on loan for the remainder of the campaign.

“It’s good for the club, it’s good for him,” said Pochettino. “We hope he’ll have the possibility to play more than here. For both sides it’s a good decision.”

The manager called on his players to re-find the momentum saw them win four out five games in all competitions prior to Tuesday’s defeat to Middlesbrough in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final.

Victory against Marco Silva’s side in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off would see them at least temporarily move above eighth-placed Manchester United, while a win of sufficient margin could see them climb as high as seventh, their highest league position since November 2022.

“We didn’t perform badly against Middlesbrough,” said Pochettino. “We came from a few victories. We need to keep the momentum.

“It’s true that after the first 90 minutes we are 1-0 down. We need to keep the belief, the team is preparing well, confident for (Fulham). I’m so sure we’ll do a good job.

“But when you lose a game to a Championship team, you need to accept the criticism. We have the chance (on Saturday) to put all these bad feelings out by performing in the right way.”

Jamaican international Dujuan 'Whisper' Richards is gradually working his way up the ranks at English Premier League (EPL) outfit Chelsea, as he was recently promoted to first-team training at Stamford Bridge.

According to a Chelsea Chronicle report, Richards, who was among a number of exciting young talent recruited by Chelsea from all over the world, has progressed rapidly since his arrival at the West London club late last year, and expectations for his future with Mauricio Pochettino's side are high, especially as he continues to improve in his craft.

Richards, a product of Craig Butler's Phoenix Academy renowned for producing Aston Villa’s Leon Bailey, burst into prominence last year with his performances in the ISSA schoolboy football competitions. The exciting youngster’s highlight reels from the tournament went viral on social media and attracted the attention of several Premier League clubs. Among them, Newcastle United and Chelsea.

Richards spent a trial at Newcastle, but in the end, it was Chelsea who won the race for his signature, as they wrapped up a pre-contract in June.

By then, Richards had already become a fully-fledged senior Jamaican international. He made his senior Reggae Boyz debut in March against Trinidad and Tobago, when he became the youngest player to represent Jamaica in the last 20 years.

Richards was also included in Jamaica’s squad for the Concacaf Gold Cup and got on the scoresheet in a 4-1 win over the Soca Warriors. That goal etched his name in the annals of the country's football history as the youngest Jamaican to score in the competition and the second youngest player overall, behind Canada’s Alphonso Davies.

Having waited patiently until his 18th birthday on November 10th to join Chelsea, the towering striker is now making the most of the opportunity, as he has reportedly impressed coaches with his performances since transitioning to regular first-team training.

What the papers say

Chelsea will have to pay more than £100million if they want to sign 19-year-old Irish striker Evan Ferguson as Brighton resist letting go of the teenager, the Evening Standard says. Ferguson has signed a deal with Brighton until 2029 after a promising start to his career, including scoring six goals for the club this season.

Everton have slapped a £60million fee on 22-year-old midfielder Amadou Onana, and i sport reports that Arsenal, who are interested in the Belgian, will have to sell a player to afford him.

Fulham, Everton and clubs overseas are said to be interested in Brentford’s 26-year-old midfielder Frank Onyeka, the Guardian reports.

The Times says West Ham are interested in Mexican striker Santiago Gimenez, who Feyenoord value at £30million. The 22-year-old has scored 18 goals in 16 Eredivisie games this season.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Jack Clarke: Football London reports West Ham and Crystal Palace are interested in Sunderland’s 23-year-old forward who is valued at around £20million.

Victor Osimhen: Senior figures at Real Madrid believe the club should sign the 25-year-old Napoli striker instead of Paris St Germain’s Kylian Mbappe, according to Football Transfers.

Chelsea have recalled David Fofana from his loan at Union Berlin.

The 21-year-old striker featured 17 times for the Bundesliga side including four matches in the club’s debut Champions League campaign, scoring twice in total.

Having arrived at Stamford Bridge for £10.9million from Norwegian outfit Molde in January 2023, he made three Premier League appearances under former boss Graham Potter last season before agreeing what was due to be a 12-month switch to Germany.

He returns early to west London with the club currently lacking in attacking options, with Nicolas Jackson away representing Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations and Christopher Nkunku having missed the last two games with a hip injury.

Armando Broja has been the only recognised striker available to manager Mauricio Pochettino in recent weeks but has scored just twice this season since recovering from an ACL injury.

Union have endured a difficult campaign after finishing fourth last time, losing nine games in a row which led to the sacking of manager Urs Fischer in November.

They were eliminated in the group stages of the Champions League, collecting two points from their six games.

Meanwhile goalkeeper Jamie Cumming has joined League One promotion hopefuls Oxford on loan for the rest of the season.

The 24-year-old, who has not played a senior competitive game for the Blues, spent 2022-23 on loan at MK Dons where he won player of the year.

What the papers say

Conor Gallagher is reportedly at the head of Tottenham’s transfer wishlist as Ange Postecoglou searches for a number eight. According to The Independent, Spurs are aiming to complete the transfer in January, with Chelsea bosses believed to be willing to make a deal for the right price.

Staying with Tottenham, The Independent says Bayern Munich are in talks to sign Spurs defender Eric Dier. It comes after the north London outfit beat Bayern in the race for the signature of centre-back Radu Dragusin.

The Telegraph reports Newcastle have had an approach for forward Dominic Solanke turned down by Bournemouth. Bosses at the Cherries are said to be determined not to release the 26-year-old this month.

Brentford and Crystal Palace are interested in Sunderland forward Jack Clarke, according to the Evening Standard.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Erling Haaland: AS reports Real Madrid are assessing a potential approach for the Manchester City striker amid concerns over whether Kylian Mbappe will leave Paris St Germain to join them.

Hannibal Mejbri: The Evening Standard says the Manchester United midfielder is on the brink of a move to Sevilla after choosing the LaLiga side over Everton, with the loan fee reportedly stretching to seven figures.

Nicolas Anelka joined Chelsea from Bolton on this day in 2008.

The France striker, then aged 28, completed a move to Avram Grant’s side for a fee of £15million.

The Blues had been looking for extra firepower to help them overcome the loss of Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou to Africa Cup of Nations duty.

“Chelsea are a big club. I have proved that I can score goals at the top level and I can do the same for Chelsea,” said the much-travelled Anelka, who counted Arsenal, Real Madrid, Paris St Germain, Liverpool and Manchester City among his former clubs.

“I want to tell the Chelsea fans that I see this as a great opportunity and an honour to play for Chelsea and I will not disappoint them.

“Chelsea is the team I really wanted to join and I hope this will be the last club that I play for.

“I am delighted everything has been sorted out. This was a fantastic opportunity that I couldn’t turn down.

“I am really looking forward to working with Avram and Chelsea’s style of football really suits my game.”

Anelka would go on to score 59 goals in 184 games for the Blues and his time at Stamford Bridge saw him win the Premier League and two FA Cups.

However, he saw his effort saved in the decisive spot-kick in the 2008 Champions League final penalty shootout defeat by Manchester United in Moscow.

Anelka left Chelsea in January 2012 when he moved to Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua and he had further spells at Juventus and West Brom before finishing his career with Indian club Mumbai City.

Middlesbrough boss Michael Carrick has told his players to embrace the challenge of walking into the lion’s den at Chelsea with a place in the Carabao Cup final at stake.

Boro head coach Carrick saw his team secure a 1-0 first-leg lead at the Riverside Stadium on Wednesday evening, which will send them to Stamford Bridge on January 23 with something to defend.

The Sky Bet Championship promotion hopefuls had to endure a tide of pressure on their own pitch to emerge with a clean sheet, and they can expect an onslaught on a night when a repeat would send them to Wembley.


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However Carrick, whose side lost 1-0 to Chelsea’s Premier League counterparts Aston Villa in the FA Cup third round at the weekend, said: “It’s embracing it.

“The last two games the boys have coped very, very well with Villa at the weekend and tonight, this being different because it’s obviously a lot further on in the competition and there was much more of an opportunity in this one with the expectations, the hope, the challenge that they faced.

“I couldn’t have hoped or asked for anything more. I keep saying the next one is a totally different one, it’s a new challenge totally.

“The boys will be ready for it and we’ll be ready to perform. We’ll look forward to it and embrace the challenge because it’s an unbelievable challenge and position that we find ourselves in.”

Hackney’s 37th-minute strike, which came after Isaiah Jones had made the most of Dan Barlaser’s fine through ball, ultimately settled a game in which Mauricio Pochettino’s expensively-assembled side dominated possession, but failed to make the most of the chances they created with Cole Palmer passing up no fewer than three himself.

Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo alone cost in excess of £220million, but along with Conor Gallagher, got little change out of a Boro midfield of Hackney, Barlaser and Jonny Howson to leave Carrick purring.

Asked if it was his best night yet as a manager, the 42-year-old former Manchester United and England midfielder said: !It’s as proud as I’ve been, I have to say again, of the players.

“Knowing what they’ve put in and how close a group they are and seeing the stadium supporting the lads right to the end when they needed that bit of help for the last 10 minutes or so, standing there and seeing that made me hugely proud, so it was a good night for that, a really good night for that and hopefully we can create some more of them in the future.”

Pochettino was measured after a disappointing night on Teesside, during which he admitted the Blues had been punished both for their mistakes and their profligacy in front of goal.

The Argentinian said: “I am disappointed because I think we deserved a different result, but sometimes you don’t play well and you win.

“For us, it’s like we need to play well, we need to score goals. We play well, but sometimes we are not clinical enough and sometimes we are punished. That is the process in this moment we are in.

“Always when you are building a team, this kind of scenario is tough because you not only need to play well, but you need to deserve and have some luck.”

What the papers say

Tottenham will have to battle Bayern Munich to sign their top defensive target Radu Dragusin from Romania after the German giants tabled a late offer, the Telegraph reports. The 21-year-old defender plays for Genoa in the Serie A and has scored two goals and added an assist in 19 games in the competition this year.

The Mirror says Jadon Sancho, who was confirmed to be in negotiations with Borussia Dortmund, will return to Manchester United after a loan deal with the German club as they can not afford the transfer fee. The 23-year-old has only played three games this year for Erik ten Hag’s side.

Newcastle United will staunchly reject any offer from Paris St Germain for their Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, the i reports.

Tottenham will join Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool in the race for 21-year-old Middlesborough midfielder Hayden Hackney, the Evening Standard reports.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Jordan Henderson: The former Liverpool captain, now at Al-Ettifaq in the Saudi Pro League, has drawn interest from Ajax, but will have to stave off competition from British and German clubs, ESPN says.

Vangelis Pavlidis: The Evening Standard reports the Greek striker, 25, is now on the Fulham’s radar. Pavlidis, who is at AZ Alkmaar, is also being monitored by Chelsea, AC Milan and Barcelona.

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