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.”


Gerrard ‘shocked’ Benitez took Everton job

Updated 21 January 2022

Gerrard ‘shocked’ Benitez took Everton job

  • Benitez, who coached Gerrard for six years at Anfield, was sacked last weekend after just seven months in charge at Goodison Park
  • Gerrard makes his return to enemy territory on Saturday as Aston Villa manager

LIVERPOOL: Steven Gerrard has revealed his surprise that former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez took on the challenge of managing rivals Everton.
Benitez, who coached Gerrard for six years at Anfield, was sacked last weekend after just seven months in charge at Goodison Park.
The Spaniard’s appointment was unpopular among Everton fans from the beginning and he left with the club sitting 16th in the table after a run of one win in 13 games.
Gerrard makes his return to enemy territory on Saturday as Aston Villa manager, hoping to deepen Everton’s fears of being dragged into a relegation battle.
“I’m disappointed for Rafa because obviously I’ve got a relationship and I’ve got an awful lot of respect for him,” said Gerrard.
“I have to be honest, I thought it was a unique appointment at the time. I was surprised and shocked that Rafa wanted to go and have a go at that job.
“With his legacy and his relationship with Liverpool, that was a surprise.”
Duncan Ferguson will take temporary charge of the Toffees at the weekend and Gerrard is expecting a frosty reception as a Liverpool legend.
“Loads of abuse, loads of banter, which is fine, because it takes the heat off my players and they can focus on playing,” he added.
“My shoulders are broad enough and my skin’s thick enough to accept it. I enjoy that warm welcome and I’ve got no problem with it.”


Underperforming Egypt and Senegal look to Salah and Mane for goals

Updated 21 January 2022

Underperforming Egypt and Senegal look to Salah and Mane for goals

  • Salah and Mane netted once each in three group matches while receiving close attention and some rough treatment from opponents
  • Record seven-time champions Egypt face the Ivory Coast in the highlight of an eight-match schedule

YAOUNDE: Underperforming Egypt and Senegal hope Liverpool stars Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane can recapture their Premier League form when the Africa Cup of Nations enters the last-16 stage in Cameroon.
Salah and Mane netted once each in three group matches while receiving close attention and some rough treatment from opponents aware of their scoring potential.
Record seven-time champions Egypt face the Ivory Coast in the highlight of an eight-match schedule spanning four days from Sunday having managed only solitary-goal wins over Guinea-Bissau and Sudan.
An Ivory Coast side including Sebastien Haller from Ajax and Nicolas Pepe from Arsenal were among the most impressive qualifiers from the six groups and eliminated holders Algeria with a 3-1 triumph.
Senegal face dogged Cape Verde, whose forward Garry Rodrigues scored one the best of the 68 goals in the first round with an exquisite back-heel past Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana.
Here, AFP Sport looks ahead to the round of 16 with Gabon, Nigeria, Gambia, Cameroon, Senegal, Morocco, Ivory Coast and Mali the possible winners.
Gabon, often flops at the finals, impressed when holding Morocco despite the absence of stars Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mario Lemina and Denis Bouanga due to the coronavirus.
Jim Allevinah is a clinical finisher and he could give the Gabonese the edge over a Burkina Faso team that needs to improve with a heavy burden on the shoulders of Aston Villa forward Bertrand Traore.
Form and tradition suggest Nigeria, the only nation to win all three group matches, will be too strong for opponents who fell to Mali and minnows Gambia in the first round.
Nigeria have never lost to Tunisia at the Cup of Nations and remain in Garoua while their rivals spent Friday relocating from Limbe at the other end of Cameroon, leaving them little time to prepare.
Guinea are under severe pressure with junta leader Col. Mamady Doumbouya telling the squad they will have to repay the cost of state-funded preparations if they do not bring the trophy back to Conakry.
The absence of suspended captain, Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita, will weaken Guinea and offer hope to Musa Barrow-inspired Gambia, whose performances have mocked being ranked 150th in the world.
After a stunning victory that eliminated four-time champions Ghana, Comoros tackle hosts Cameroon, who boast the leading scorer after the group stage in five-goal Vincent Aboubakar.
“Nothing is impossible in football,” says Comoros coach Amir Abdou, and his team have clinical forward in Ahmed Mogni from the French third division and Serbia-based El Fardou Ben Mohamed.
Unpredictable Cape Verde battled to overcome Ethiopia, lost to Burkina Faso and held star-studded Cameroon while coach Bubista remains at home in the island nation due to Covid-19.
Kalidou Koulibaly-captained Senegal have disappointed, needing 97 minutes to beat Zimbabwe through a Mane penalty then held to goalless draws by Guinea and Malawi.
It is 46 years since Morocco won their only Cup of Nations title and hopes are high that the Vahid Halilhodzic-coached class of ‘22 can go all the way.
Malawi have an impressive forward in Frank Mhango and run relentlessly, but it is hard to imagine the Flames succeeding despite a dramatic recent improvement under a new coach, Romanian Mario Marinica.
Two-time champions Ivory Coast outclassed Algeria and will be favorites to win the match of the round despite having succeeded only once in 10 previous Cup of Nations clashes against Egypt.
But Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz remains hopeful, saying “we have been concentrating on our finishing. Sometimes we try too hard to score and complicate matters.”
Cameroon has been a happy hunting ground for Mali — they achieved their highest Cup of Nations finish of second place 50 years ago and were 2020 African Nations Championship runners-up there.
They won Group F thanks largely to the penalty-taking of top forward Ibrahima Kone while the well organized Equatoguineans exceeded expectations by finishing second in Group E.


Lindelof to miss Man United game after break-in at his home

Updated 21 January 2022

Lindelof to miss Man United game after break-in at his home

  • Lindelof’s house was targeted while the Sweden defender was playing in the 3-1 win over Brentford in London on Wednesday
  • His wife and children were in the house when the burglary took place

MANCHESTER, England: Defender Victor Lindelof will miss Manchester United's Premier League game against West Ham on Saturday in order to support his family following a break-in at their house.
Lindelof’s house in the northwest of England was targeted while the Sweden defender was playing in the 3-1 win over Brentford in London on Wednesday.
His wife and children were in the house when the burglary took place.
“I was home alone with both kids but we managed to hide and lock ourselves in a room before they entered our house," Maja Nilsson Lindelof, the defender's wife, wrote in an Instagram story.
“We are OK under the circumstances but it was obviously a very traumatic and scary moment for both me and my little kids. We are now in Sweden and are spending some time off with our families.”
United manager Ralf Rangnick confirmed Friday that Lindelof will not play against West Ham.
“I spoke with him at length on our flight back home from London and also this morning we spoke for about 20 minutes, 25 minutes,” Rangnick said. “He told me what had actually happened and that this was really a traumatic event, especially for his wife and even the 3-year-old son.
“He said to me that he right now needs to stay at home. He doesn’t want to leave his wife and his family on their own, which I can fully understand being a father of two children myself. We agreed that he will not be training today and also not be on duty tomorrow for the game.”


Barca crash out of cup after extra-time defeat by Athletic Bilbao

Updated 21 January 2022

Barca crash out of cup after extra-time defeat by Athletic Bilbao

  • Barca won the Copa del Rey last season and defending their title was probably their best chance of silverware this term

MADRID: Barcelona were dumped out of the Copa del Rey on Thursday as Ferran Torres’ first goal for the club failed to prevent a dramatic 3-2 defeat after extra-time by Athletic Bilbao.
Disappointment for Barca was compounded by the sight of a visibly upset Ansu Fati going off injured in the second half of normal time at San Mames.
Fati only returned earlier this month after two months out with a hamstring problem, having also come back in September following 10 months out with a knee injury.
Another spell on the sidelines for Fati would be a huge blow to Barca’s hopes of making La Liga’s top four. Pedri also asked to go off in extra-time.
Real Madrid needed an extra 30 minutes as well to defeat Elche 2-1, with Eden Hazard scoring the winner after Marcelo’s red card forced La Liga’s leaders to come from behind with 10 men.
Barca were hoping to join them in the last eight but instead it is Athletic who advance, joining Madrid, Real Sociedad, Mallorca, Rayo Vallecano, Cadiz, Valencia and Real Betis in Friday’s draw for the last eight.
Madrid will be firm favorites, particularly after Sevilla crashed out at the hands of Real Betis, who are now perhaps the greatest threat to Carlo Ancelotti’s side winning their first Copa del Rey since 2014, during Ancelotti’s first tenure as coach.
Barca won the Copa del Rey last season and defending their title was probably their best chance of silverware this term.
They are out of sight in La Liga and were beaten by Madrid in last week’s Spanish Super Cup, with the Europa League now their only realistic remaining route to a trophy.
Only 102 seconds had passed when Iker Muniain sent San Mames apoplectic by collecting Nico Williams’ cross at the back post, before turning and bending into the far corner.
But Barcelona were level in the 20th minute, and from a similar angle, as Torres shifted right, inside Oscar De Marcos, and whipped a stunning shot into the net.
Inaki Williams hit the bar with a long-range effort late on but the real drama was still to come. Athletic thought they had won it in the 86th minute when Inigo Martinez prodded in at the back post ahead of the sliding Gerard Pique.
Barcelona, though, found a way back in the 93rd, as Dani Alves bicycle-kicked Jordi Alba’s cross back into the area and Pedri’s hit on the stretch was too powerful for Julen Agirrezabala’s right hand.
Barca celebrated like it was the winner but there was extra-time to come and injuries. Fati went off and then Pedri asked to depart.
Then in the 103rd minute, a sliding Alba stopped Nico Williams’ cross with his right arm and after consulting the replay, Jose Munuera pointed to the spot. Ter Stegen dived right, Muniain shot left.


Barty, Osaka on collision course as Nadal faces Khachanov

Updated 21 January 2022

Barty, Osaka on collision course as Nadal faces Khachanov

  • Osaka, who won at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021, will simultaneously be playing Amanda Anisimova on the adjacent Margaret Court Arena
  • Nadal faces dangerous Russian 28th seed Karen Khachanov in the late match

MELBOURNE: Top seed Ashleigh Barty and defending women’s champion Naomi Osaka can set up a mouth-watering last-16 clash as the Australian Open reaches the third round on Friday, with Rafael Nadal also in action as he targets a 21st Slam title.
World number one Barty, who has been in dominant form in 2022, faces the experienced Italian 30th seed Camila Giorgi to begin the night session on Rod Laver Arena.
Osaka, who won at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021, will simultaneously be playing Amanda Anisimova on the adjacent Margaret Court Arena.
Nadal faces dangerous Russian 28th seed Karen Khachanov in the late match, with the Spaniard warning that his best is still to come as he works his way back to peak form after an injury-hit 2021.
Barty, chasing a first title at her home Slam, has barely broken sweat so far, dropping only three games in two matches.
The Wimbledon champion won the warm-up Adelaide International with a serve that was untouchable, and it has been flawless so far in Melbourne as well.
“Just continually trying to make it a weapon,” she said of her serve, which has not been broken for 48 straight games stretching over five matches.
“I’m not the biggest girl out there, but I know I’ve got a sound technique and I know if I can get my rhythm right and use it effectively, it can be a weapon.”
Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka says she has been taking unlikely inspiration during the first Slam of the year from maverick Australian Nick Kyrgios and Brit Andy Murray, who tweeted that he was enjoying watching her.
“Definitely means a lot. For me it was a really cool moment,” she said of Murray’s message.
Nadal’s path to become the first man to win 21 Grand Slams — he is tied on 20 with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic who are both absent — could see him meet Olympic champion Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals.
But first he needs to despatch Khachanov — with the prospect of another Russian, last year’s semifinalist Aslan Karatsev, awaiting in the last 16.
“I think playing against Khachanov is going to be a big challenge,” said Nadal, who said he was not looking beyond Friday’s match.
“I never think that far. Just staying focused on my daily work, on what’s coming, and that’s it. One moment in time, that’s it.”
Third seed Zverev faces Moldovan qualifier Radu Albot out on “party court” John Cain Arena, while Italian seventh seed Matteo Berrettini takes on Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz in the men’s draw.
The women’s action on Rod Laver begins with Belarusian former two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka taking on Ukrainian 15th seed Elina Svitolina.
They will be followed by the French Open champion and fourth seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic against Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko.