Tuchel expects ‘big impact’ from Lukaku in second chance at Chelsea

A file photo of Chelsea’s Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku in 2013. Lukaku returned to Chelsea on Thursday for a reported club record fee of $135 million from Inter Milan, 7 years after his first spell at Stamford Bridge. (AFP)
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Updated 13 August 2021

Tuchel expects ‘big impact’ from Lukaku in second chance at Chelsea

  • Lukaku rejoined the Blues on Thursday costing a reported fee of $135 million
  • Tuchel believes the 28-year-old fulfils all the characteristics he was looking for to strengthen his forward line

LONDON: Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel expects club-record signing Romelu Lukaku to have a “huge impact” at Stamford Bridge but played down suggestions his side are now favorites to win the Premier League title.
Lukaku rejoined the Blues on Thursday costing a reported fee of £97 million ($135 million) from Inter Milan.
The Belgian will not be available for Saturday’s league opener against Crystal Palace, but Tuchel believes the 28-year-old fulfils all the characteristics he was looking for to strengthen his forward line.
“We’re happy to have Romelu back in the club. We think in terms of personality, speed, power, he can be hopefully an excellent choice for us,” said Tuchel on Friday.
“He has the power, the physique to help us, he has the experience, the personality to have a huge impact. He is at the same time a humble guy, and a true team player and he cares about Chelsea.
“We had the feeling that it’s worth to try and fight hard and we are happy he is our player now.”
Chelsea were rejuvenated once Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard in January, moving up from ninth in the table to secure a play in the top four and winning the Champions League in May by beating Premier League champions Manchester City in the final.
However, Tuchel said City and Manchester United, both of who have also spent over £100 million in the transfer market, should be considered favorites for the title.
“When you come fourth, you are not the favorites in the next season, we have some gaps to close.
“We let Liverpool pass us in the last match and we have a big gap to close to Manchester United and Manchester City. When I see the transfer market and the activity from City and United, I don’t see why they should be any worse than last season. They improved their squads, they are stable and very strong teams.
“I think we are hungry and challengers for the top four first of all and then after that we will always be hungry to challenge everybody for the best possible outcome.”
The headline-grabbing return of Lukaku has cast further doubt over Tammy Abraham’s future at Stamford Bridge.
Abraham has been linked with a move to a host of club with Jose Mourinho’s Roma leading the chase for the England striker.
“The next days after that we will see what happens, what is Tammy’s wish and what are the possibilities,” added Tuchel. “But right now the focus is for Saturday and there is no news for his situation.”


Arsenal brush aside Newcastle as Howe suffers first defeat

Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli celebrates with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after scoring against Newcastle United, Emirates Stadium, London, England, Nov. 27, 2021. (Reuters)
Updated 27 November 2021

Arsenal brush aside Newcastle as Howe suffers first defeat

  • Second half goals from Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli at the Emirates Stadium made it four wins for Arsenal from their last five league games
  • Eddie Howe was in charge of Newcastle in person for the first time after missing last weekend’s 3-3 draw against Brentford due to a positive COVID test

LONDON: The battle to find balance between attack and defence has been a five-year struggle on Tyneside — and is so far proving the impossible conundrum for Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe.

It was an issue first flagged up by now Everton boss Rafa Benitez under the ownership of Mike Ashley. It’s an argument so often referred to as the “short blanket.”

The concept is a simple one. Pull the short blanket up at one end, your feet are open to the elements at the other, and vice versa. With limited resources, it is tough to provide quality and consistency at both ends.

Steve Bruce, never as eloquent as Benitez, suffered from the same problems. And just 180 or so minutes into his tenure at Newcastle, Howe knows that issue firsthand.

A defensively disciplined display at the Emirates, much more so than at St James’ Park last week, saw the Magpies blunted in attack and ultimately beaten by two moments of real quality.

Second-half goals by Bukayo Saka and his replacement off the bench Gabriel Martinelli ensured United remained at the foot of the Premier League, without a win in 13 in the top flight and with the worst goals against column as well as just six points to show for their early season “efforts.”

Making his debut in the United dugout after a bout of Covid, Howe made three changes from the side that drew with Brentford seven days previously.

Out went Ciaran Clark, Jacob Murphy and Karl Darlow, with Emil Krafth, Ryan Fraser and Martin Dubravka returning to the starting XI.

United were open and expansive against the Bees, but it was more a case of disciplined and compact at the home of the Gunners, as Howe made some tactical tweaks to the side who looked defensively suspect last time out.

And it’s fair to say — for 45 minutes at least — it worked, as United largely frustrated the home side, keeping them at arm’s length.

United’s record against Arsenal home and away is by Premier League standards awful.

They’ve won just once in 20 outings, and have to go back to 2010 for a victory in the red half of North London.

And to get a result against a traditionally difficult foe you have to ride your luck, or hope for players to stand up in the key moments. Luckily, as mentioned previously, Howe decided to make the crucial call to bring back Slovak Dubravka, and United needed their reinstated No.1 to produce a number of crucial stops to keep things equal at the break.

His first stop was to palm away a curling Martin Odegaard free-kick, which skirted over the heads of the United wall. The second, as incredibly reactive as it was, was followed by a miss of biblical proportions by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Some excellent work by Saka down the Arsenal left opened things up for Emile Smith-Rowe, whose header was cleared by Dubravka, only to fall to Aubameyang. But with the goal at his mercy, the Gunners’ skipper clipped on to the United post.

While the hosts were the better side, this wasn’t one-way traffic, however. United had some chances of their own.

A Callum Wilson break down the right unleashed Fraser, whose cross deflected into the path of Jonjo Shelvey, but his 25-yard shot was excellently tipped on to the bar by the outstretched arm of goalkeeping man-of-the-moment Aaron Ramsdale.

It wasn’t until added time in the first-half that Arsenal began to up the ante — and it was this increased intensity that carried through into the opening exchanges of the second-half, which bore fruit on 55 minutes.

The tempo upped, Saka linked up with Albert Sambi Lokonga, then on to Smith-Rowe who found Saka again as he rolled off the back of Emil Krafth and guided the ball into the bottom corner from the angle on the left for 1-0.

As resolute as United had looked, it was no less than the hosts deserved.

Then came some controversy — but as typically has been the case this season for the Magpies, it went against the Premier League strugglers. In fact, within seconds they were two goals down and with yet another top flight mountain to climb.

A direct ball over the top for Wilson split the Arsenal backline and just as he appeared certain to pull the trigger in the area, the slightest of shoves from Nuno Tavares was enough to see the United striker lose his balance but not enough to convince the referee or the VAR officials of a foul.

Almost instantaneously, a direct ball at the other end saw the home side’s lead doubled.

A pin-point pass in behind by Takehiro Tomiyasu picked out the freshly introduced Martinelli, who, with his first touch, guided the ball past the helpless Dubravka.

And despite some light sparring at both ends, the Brazilian’s strike was enough to end this encounter as a contest, ensuring the gloom remains on Tyneside.

No one expected a result at Arsenal, a place United lose at on an annual basis, but results are exactly what the Magpies need. Their predicament at the foot of the table is starting to look a little desperate, despite the signs of improvement under Howe.

What the manager needs to work out is whether he is going to try and play his way out of the situation, or solidify a creaking defensive unit and do it the “boring” way.

At the moment, it feels like this is neither.

Fellow relegation battlers Norwich City and Burnley come to St James’ Park in the next seven days — and it is starting to feel like this week is make or break for Newcastle’s Premier League future.


Ali, Shafique give Pakistan solid platform against Bangladesh

Updated 27 November 2021

Ali, Shafique give Pakistan solid platform against Bangladesh

  • Abid Ali scored 93 while Abdullah Shafique was batting on 52 as Pakistan reached 145-0 at stumps
  • Bangladesh were bowled out for 330

CHITTAGONG: An unbroken opening century stand by Abid Ali and debutant Abdullah Shafique gave Pakistan a solid platform after bowling out Bangladesh for 330 on day two of the first Test in Chittagong on Saturday.
Ali closed in on his fourth Test century to stay unbeaten on 93 while Shafique was batting on 52 as Pakistan reached 145-0 at stumps, 185 shy of Bangladesh’s first-innings total.
“In the afternoon, it started to spin a bit. The ball was old. So it was gripping and doing a few other tricks. Our plan was that we have to stay at the wicket and utilize the bad balls,” Ali said after the day’s play.
Pace bowler Hasan Ali led Pakistan earlier with the ball, finishing with 5-51, his sixth five-wicket, which kept Bangladesh in check after the hosts resumed with 253-4 in the morning.
Liton Das top-scored with 114 for Bangladesh, adding just one run to his overnight score, while Mushfiqur Rahim, unbeaten on 82 at the end of the opening day’s play, fell for 91 runs.
Mehidy Hasan struck an unbeaten 38 to take Bangladesh past 300 before he claimed two wickets in two balls to bring an end to Bangladesh’s efforts with the bat.
“When we lost four wickets before lunch, everyone thought we would be bowled out early. Mushfiqur and I put together a good partnership,” said Liton.
“By the end of the day, we were thinking about a big total. But cricket is unpredictable. Pakistan are in a good position now. If we can take two or three wickets tomorrow morning, we will be back on par.”
Pakistan had Bangladesh on the ropes on day one at 49-4 but the hosts fought back thanks to Liton and Mushfiqur.
Pakistan looked sharp right from the start of the second day’s play when Hasan trapped Liton leg-before in the second over of the morning.
Struck on his backfoot, Liton was initially given not out but Pakistan successfully reviewed the decision.
Liton, who shared 206 runs with Mushfiqur in the fifth wicket, hit 11 fours and a six in his 233-ball innings.
Hasan then dismissed Yasir Ali for four with a fine in-swinger that rattled the leg and middle stumps of the debutant.
Faheem took a thin edge from the bat of Mushfiqur, effectively ending Bangladesh’s chance for a big total.
Mushfiqur struck 11 fours in his 225-ball stay at the crease.


Djokovic helps Serbia past Austria at Davis Cup Finals

Updated 26 November 2021

Djokovic helps Serbia past Austria at Davis Cup Finals

  • Djokovic beat Dennis Novak 6-3, 6-2 to give Serbia a 2-0 lead over host Austria
  • The victory extended Djokovic's winning streak in Davis Cup singles matches to 15

DUBAI: Top-ranked Novak Djokovic secured a victory for Serbia, 40-year-old Feliciano Lopez got defending champion Spain off to a solid start.
And a young Italian team rolled past the 32-time champion United States in the Davis Cup Finals on Friday.
Djokovic beat Dennis Novak 6-3, 6-2 to give Serbia a 2-0 lead over host Austria in Innsbruck after Dusan Lajovic had defeated Gerald Melzer in three sets to open the best-of-three series in Group F.
The victory extended Djokovic's winning streak in Davis Cup singles matches to 15.
“It feels great to play for Serbia again," said Djokovic, who helped his country win the Davis Cup in 2010 but more recently failed to win a medal in either singles or mixed doubles at the Tokyo Olympics. “It’s been a long year but you always find motivation playing for your country."
Djokovic won seven consecutive games from 3-3 in the first set to take control.
“I’m really pleased with the way I ended the match today,” he said.
Djokovic had also been scheduled to play in a potentially decisive doubles match but then was replaced by Nikola Cacic after winning his singles match.
Lopez gave Spain an early lead over Ecuador in Group A with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Roberto Quiroz at home in Madrid. Then Pablo Carreno Busta edged Emilio Gomez 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
Lopez was thrust into singles action when Carlos Alcaraz had to be dropped from the team after testing positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, as Spain was already without injured Rafael Nadal and Roberto Bautista Agut.
The United States, meanwhile, got off to a rough start against host Italy in Turin. Lorenzo Sonego beat Reilly Opelka 6-3, 7-6 (4) in his home city in Group E and then Jannik Sinner dominated against John Isner 6-2, 6-0.
Each matchup on indoor hard courts is a best-of-three series featuring two singles and one doubles match. The six group winners plus the two second-place teams with the best records based on sets and games will advance to the quarterfinals.
The semifinals and final will be played in Madrid.
Lopez, who was once ranked as high as No. 12, has fallen outside the top 100 in both singles and doubles. His career has gone on for so long that he has already started his post-playing career, having been named the Madrid Open tournament director.
“I still have the passion for the game. This is obvious,” Lopez said. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this. I didn’t expect to be playing but many things happened this week. … I ended up playing a great match.”
The big-serving Opelka double-faulted to hand Sonego the only break of their match and then made a few more errors in the tiebreaker as the Italian closed it out with a volley winner on his first match point.
Isner held serve only twice against the 20-year-old Sinner, a new top-10 entrant.


FIFA says opponents of 2-year World Cup fear losing top spot

Updated 26 November 2021

FIFA says opponents of 2-year World Cup fear losing top spot

  • “Those who are against are those who are at the top,” Infantino told officials

GENEVA: Opponents of FIFA’s push for World Cups every two years seem scared of being toppled from the top of world soccer, its president Gianni Infantino said on Friday.
Infantino’s speech to African soccer leaders was a clear criticism of Europe and South America which have dominated every World Cup and are threatening a boycott of biennial men’s tournaments.
“Those who are against are those who are at the top,” Infantino told officials from the 54-nation Confederation of African Football meeting in Cairo.
“It happens in every sector of life, when there are reforms and changes, those who are at the top don’t want anything to change,” said Infantino, who was a long-time senior official at UEFA until being elected FIFA president in 2016. “They are afraid, maybe, that if something changes their leadership position is at risk.”
Europe and South America have provided every team to play in all 21 World Cup finals since the first in 1930, and their historical strength has earned them at least 18 of the 32 entries at the 2022 edition in Qatar.
“We understand that and we compliment and applaud them for having been so successful in reaching the top,” Infantino said. “This is fantastic and they are an example for everyone. But at the same time we cannot close the door (to others).”
No African team has reached a men’s World Cup semifinal and the continent has just five of the 32 entries. That rises to at least nine when the 48-team tournament debuts in 2026.
Infantino has pushed for biennial World Cups to help other regions develop and close the gap — by giving nations more chances to qualify and players more chances to perform on the biggest stage.
An extra men’s World Cup in a four-year cycle would likely add around $3 billion at current levels to FIFA income and increase funding to its 211 member federations and six continental bodies.
“It is our responsibility to keep the dream open to give opportunities to everyone,” the FIFA leader said.
Still, the backlash from all levels of European soccer since FIFA formally detailed its biennial plan in September led Infantino to say last month that any changes must be reached by consensus without doing harm to the game.
European and South American soccer officials see threats to the status of their own continental and domestic competitions, and an increased workload for players.
Infantino hinted again on Friday that a modified tournament could be a solution to getting wider support.
“Will it be with the World Cup or will it be in another way?” he told members of CAF, which is currently the continental body most closely aligned with FIFA. “We have to study, of course, all this.”
Annual 48-team youth tournaments, instead of the two-yearly World Cups for men and women at under-20 and under-17 level, are also part of FIFA’s plan to develop soccer.
It was detailed in Cairo by Arsène Wenger, the former Arsenal coach who is FIFA director of global development.
Infantino warned of losing a generation of youth players whose birth year falls at the wrong time in the current cycle of tournaments.
FIFA has organized an online summit of its 211 members on Dec. 20 to discuss a strategy for future tournaments.
No vote on biennial World Cups is expected then amid the current opposition, which includes a show of unity by UEFA and South American soccer body CONMEBOL. They have created a shared office in London that opens next month.


Covid cases force Nagelsmann into a reshuffle at Bayern Munich

Updated 26 November 2021

Covid cases force Nagelsmann into a reshuffle at Bayern Munich

  • Bayern head coach Julian Nageslmann still has plenty of talent available against second-from-bottom Bielefeld
  • Midfielders Michael Cuisance, Serge Gabry and Jamal Musiala are quarantining as contact cases but defenders Niklas Suele and Josip Stanisic returned to training

BERLIN: Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich must reshuffle their starting side — with five players in quarantine — before hosting struggling Arminia Bielefeld on Saturday in a final tune-up ahead of their top-of-the-table clash at Dortmund.
Bielefeld earned a 3-3 draw when the clubs met in Munich last February and have picked up four points from their last two league games.
Yet even with a host of stars sidelined, Bayern head coach Julian Nageslmann still has plenty of talent available against second-from-bottom Bielefeld.
“We are concentrating on the players who are there — the four World Cup winners and nine Champions League winners,” Bielefeld coach Frank Kramer quipped drily.
Bayern are missing midfielder Joshua Kimmich and back-up striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who also miss next weekend’s clash at second-placed Dortmund after both tested positive for Covid-19.
Midfielders Michael Cuisance, Serge Gabry and Jamal Musiala are also quarantining at home as contact cases, but defenders Niklas Suele and Josip Stanisic returned to training on Wednesday after previously testing positive.
A shock defeat at Augsburg trimmed Bayern’s lead in the table to just a single point ahead of Dortmund.
Record numbers of coronavirus cases in Germany this week means a tightening of hygiene rules at Bundesliga stadiums.
Bayern’s Allianz Arena will be at 25 percent capacity — up to 18,745 — on Saturday.
There will be reduced capacity at all grounds, apart from RB Leipzig, who must play behind closed doors against Leverkusen on Sunday due to restrictions in Saxony.
A crowd of 13,000 is expected at Wolfsburg, who host a Dortmund side licking their wounds after their mid-week Champions League exit.
A 3-1 loss at Sporting Lisbon was Dortmund’s third straight European defeat, blocking their route to the knock-out stages and consigning them to the Europa League.
Failing to reach the Champions League’s last 16 will cost Dortmund around 9.5 million euros ($11 million).
“It’s not only a setback financially, but it also hurts from a sporting perspective and image,” said sports director Michael Zorc.
Dortmund still have star forward Erling Braut Haaland sidelined by a hip injury, but hope Youssoufa Moukoko, 17, can return after missing nine of their last ten games with knocks.
Belgium winger Thorgan Hazard is out after testing positive for Covid last Monday.
Fresh from thrashing Brugge 5-0 in the Champions League, RB Leipzig can break into the top six with a home win Sunday against fourth-placed Leverkusen.
Leipzig are missing Spanish playmaker Dani Olmo, 23, who tore a thigh muscle last weekend, a latest injury setback for the Spain midfielder who has been blighted by knocks since playing in both this summer’s Euro 2020 finals and Tokyo Olympics.
Leizpig’s erratic form this season has not affected the 24-year-old whose 13 goals and 11 assists means he must soon be knocking on the door of selection for France.
Usually a winger, Nkunku, 24, shone with two goals and an assist in the thrashing of Brugge after moving across to attacking midfield.