European roundup: Bayern ensure top spot, Napoli cling on for nervy victory | European club football

Bayern Munich eased past Schalke 2-0 to make sure of top spot going into the World Cup break as they hunt a record-extending 11th straight Bundesliga crown. The Bavarians, who fielded a starting lineup consisting entirely of World Cup-bound players, scored once in each half, through Serge Gnabry and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, with the Germany international Jamal Musiala delivering both assists.

Bayern’s sixth consecutive league win – and 10th across all competitions – lifted them to 34 points, six ahead of second-placed RB Leipzig. Freiburg and Union Berlin, both on 27, face each other on Sunday.

Bayern had the upper hand from the start but it was not until Musiala, who at 19 is the youngest Bayern player to reach 100 matches, combined well with Ganbry for the lead in the 38th minute.

“Jamal has played an outstanding first half of the season and will hopefully play even better at the World Cup and the second half of the season,” Julian Nagelsmann, the Bayern coach, said of his attacking midfielder. “He listens well and he wants to develop. He just has a lot of talent. He also has improved defensively.”

Musiala, who also has nine league goals, delivered his sixth assist of the season for Cameroon’s Choupo-Moting to tap in seven minutes after the restart and leave Schalke in last place following their eighth loss in the last nine matches.

RB Leipzig muscled their way past their hosts, Werder Bremen, 2-1 to finish the year with their fourth consecutive league victory. Leipzig, who had a bad start to the season with only one win in their first four league matches, have recovered in recent weeks with six consecutive wins across all competitions and a 13-game unbeaten run.

André Silva put the visitors in front in the 31st minute but a deflected shot from Christian Gross drew Werder level in the 56th. Leipzig, however, were sharper up front and Silva superbly flicked the ball to Xaver Schlager, charging into the box, to snatch the winner in the 71st minute.

Xaver Schlager watches his shot go into the net against Werder Bremen
Xaver Schlager (left) scores the winner at Werder Bremen. Photograph: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

The Bundesliga goes into a prolonged break after this weekend’s matches, resuming on 20 January.

Napoli’s nervy 3-2 win over Udinese highlights how the Serie A leaders cannot take their position for granted, their coach, Luciano Spalletti, said. Spalletti’s side almost squandered the chance of setting a club record of 11 consecutive Serie A victories within a season when Udinese substitutes Ilija Nestorovski and Lazar Samardzic both scored late in the game.

“Every victory is a struggle, and the final 15 minutes of this game help to underline just how much these players have achieved so far is not to be taken for granted,” Spalletti told DAZN. “We thought the game was over and took our foot off the gas, but the game is never over because when you can introduce players off the bench like Nestorovski, they can find a way through if you don’t keep the tempo up.“

Napoli go into the World Cup break top of the Serie A standings, with their next game to come in early January, but Spalletti was still cautious about talk of winning the league. “There are six challengers and they are all close by, because it just takes a couple of incidents, a couple of minutes to create problems,” he said.

“This afternoon’s match will help us because it hasn’t happened so far, but we need to be even more determined and committed to the end in every match.”

Champions League last-16 draw: tie-by-tie analysis | Champions League

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Last month, Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Pérez, advocating for a Super League, lamented that his club have faced Liverpool in just nine competitive games. His wish for more has been granted sooner than he expected and perhaps would have liked. Real beat Liverpool reasonably comfortably in last season’s final and had few issues topping a relatively straightforward group, while Liverpool have suffered a miserable start to the season. With Mohamed Salah returning to form, though, Jürgen Klopp’s side may have improved by February and, out of the title race, can afford to focus on Europe. Aurélien Tchouaméni has joined Real and Eduardo Camavinga was beginning to make an impact last season, but the sense remains that the post-Casemiro midfield is yet to be really tested.

Winners Liverpool.

RB Leipzig's André Silva is congratulated after scoring against Manchester City last season
RB Leipzig’s André Silva is congratulated after scoring against Manchester City last season. Photograph: Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images

RB Leipzig v Manchester City

These teams met in last season’s group stage, City winning 6-3 at the Etihad before a 2-1 defeat in Germany, with qualification long since secured. In the first of those games, Leipzig were managed by Jesse Marsch; in the second by the caretaker Achim Beierlorzer. Since then Domenico Tedesco has come and gone and now, under Marco Rose, there has been a significant upturn. Saturday’s 3-0 win at Hoffenheim extended Leipzig’s unbeaten run to 11 games and they have been prolific in that time. The front four of André Silva, Dominik Szoboszlai, Christian Nkunku and Timo Werner, who should be back from his ankle injury by February, will test City on the counter.

Winners Manchester City.

Club Brugge v Benfica

Club Brugge were the great surprise of the group stage, winning their first three games without conceding a goal. They secured progress with a 0-0 draw at Atlético Madrid, but the heavy home defeat to Porto that ultimately cost them top spot perhaps gave a truer impression of their abilities: no pushovers, well-organised, but essentially limited. Benfica, meanwhile, ended the group stage in joyous form, with Rafa Silva and João Mario playing probably the best football of their careers. There may be defensive concerns but, even more than the 6-1 win at Maccabi Haifa that meant they topped the group, the 4-3 win over Juventus, when they should have won far more convincingly, demonstrated just how dangerous Roger Schmidt’s side can be.

Winners Benfica.

Milan v Tottenham

Tottenham have not lost to Milan in their four previous meetings, a Peter Crouch goal giving them a 1-0 win at San Siro in their last tie in 2010-11, but how good they are at the moment is anyone’s guess. Hampered by injuries to forwards, with a weird inability to play in the first half (particularly when Dejan Kulusevski is absent) and a dislocation between the midfield and the forward line, their results have been rather better than performances so far this season. The Italian champions have suffered only two defeats in Serie A and have in Rafael Leão one of the more exciting forwards in Europe, but they were desperately poor in losing twice to Chelsea during the group stages, with injuries offer only some excuse.

Winners Tottenham.

André-Frank Zambo Anguissa celebrates scoring Napoli’s second goal in their 4-1 win against Liverpool in September
André-Frank Zambo Anguissa celebrates scoring Napoli’s second goal in their 4-1 win against Liverpool in September. Photograph: Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Eintracht Frankfurt v Napoli

Top of Serie A, unbeaten domestically and hugely impressive in the group stage, Napoli may be the most serious Italian challengers since Juventus decided five league titles in five seasons just wasn’t good enough and got rid of Max Allegri. They are playing fast, dynamic football under Luciano Spalletti and, after the failure of Italy, Nigeria and Georgia to qualify for the World Cup, have an unusual number of players who should be refreshed by a winter break. But unfancied as they may be under Oliver Glasner, Eintracht Frankfurt have become masters of the European away leg. Their Europa League success last season featured victories at Real Betis, Barcelona and West Ham, and this season they won on the road against Marseille and, when they absolutely needed it, Sporting.

Winners Napoli.

Borussia Dortmund v Chelsea

After a shaky start, progress from the group ended up being straightforward for Chelsea, but this is a club still undergoing transition as the recent league defeats to Brighton and Arsenal have shown. There were problems to be addressed in the squad even before the complications of sanctions, and recent injuries have exposed the imbalances that Graham Potter will need to resolve. With Sevilla in miserable form, Borussia Dortmund qualified for the last 16 easily enough, thanks in no small part to a 4-1 win in Spain, a game that highlighted just how important Jude Bellingham has become to Alen Terzic’s side. He may be only 19 but only he, Julian Brandt and Nico Schlotterback have played all 13 league games this season.

Winners Chelsea.

Internazionale v Porto

Porto trail Benfica by eight points domestically but they showed admirable resolve to bounce back from successive defeats at the start of the group stage to qualify with four wins in a row. After suffering a knee injury a month ago, Pepe is a doubt for the World Cup but Porto should have his experience back at the heart of the defence for the last 16. This has not been an easy season domestically for Internazionale and they were twice well-beaten by Bayern Munich, but two fine counterattacking performances against Barcelona ensured progress to the knockout phase for only the second time in the past decade. If Romelu Lukaku can rediscover his form and fitness, his partnership with Lautaro Martínez represents a major threat.

Winners Porto.

PSG’s Keylor Navas concedes the only goal of the 2020 Champions League final to Bayern Munich's Kingsley Coman
PSG’s Keylor Navas concedes the only goal of the 2020 Champions League final to Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman (second right). Photograph: Miguel A Lopes/AP

Paris Saint-Germain v Bayern Munich

For most of the group stage Paris Saint-Germain seemed to be cruising to top spot, but they were undone at the last by Benfica’s flurry away to Maccabi Haifa and are punished with a repeat of the 2020 final. In a sense they fell into a trap they had dug themselves by drawing at home against Benfica the day after stories broke of Kylian Mbappé’s supposed unhappiness at the club. The competing egos will always be the biggest challenge for a PSG coach. Bayern are top of the Bundesliga again, but four draws and a defeat at Augsburg have led to a certain amount of chuntering about Julian Nagelsmann, despite six wins out of six in the Champions League. His record in big European games is not brilliant.

Winners Bayern Munich.

Champions League roundup: Benfica eliminate Juventus as PSG run riot | Champions League

Benfica’s Rafa Silva scored twice as the Portuguese side defeated Juventus 4-3 in a thriller at the Estádio da Luz to seal a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League and end the Italian club’s chances in this year’s competition.

Benfica have 11 points from five games, the same as the Group H leaders Paris Saint-Germain, who defeated Maccabi Haifa 7-2 in an equally stunning game at the Parc des Princes. Juve’s three points, meanwhile, leaves them to focus on winning a place in the Europa League, something they can secure on the final matchday when they host PSG.

Benfica are now unbeaten in 20 games in all competitions this season and it was easy to see why on Tuesday night. They were inventive with the ball and might have been out of sight at half-time before a late Juve rally meant a nervous finish. As it was, it is the first time in the Italian giant’s history they have conceded three first-half goals in the Champions League, and the first time since 2013-14 they have failed to get out of their group.

The teenager Antonio Silva scored his first Benfica goal to give the home side the lead after 17 minutes before Juventus drew level when Moise Kean bundled the ball home four minutes later. Benfica were back in front thanks to a controversial penalty that was converted by João Mario before Rafa Silva appeared to make the points safe with two sublime finishes either side of the break.

The visitors pulled a goal back late on through Arkadiusz Milik after he was set up by the young English winger Samuel Iling, and the latter was key in creating a chance for Weston McKennie to score Juve’s third. That led to a tense finish on a night when Benfica looked as though they would humiliate their visitors but had to hold on as Rafa Silva missed out on a hat-trick by hitting the post.

“It’s really a pity and difficult to find the words,” the Juventus midfielder Manuel Locatelli said.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé both scored twice, with Neymar also on target, as the French club’s fearsome attack tore apart Maccabi Haifa in a 7-2 win to send them into the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday.

Lionel Messi celebrates scoring in the thrashing of Maccabi Haifa
Lionel Messi celebrates scoring in the thrashing of Maccabi Haifa Photograph: Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

The irrepressible trio were simply too much for Maccabi to handle although the Israeli side showed plenty of spirit in the Group H clash, with Abdoulaye Seck scoring twice. PSG’s romp means with one game remaining against Juventus they top the standings on goal difference from Benfica.

Despite their heavy defeat, Maccabi remain level on three points with Juve and will go into their last game at home against Benfica still hopeful of sealing a Europa League spot.

Christophe Galtier’s side took a while to find their attacking rhythm but once they clicked they were devastating as they threatened to surpass their 7-1 rout of Celtic in 2017.

“The 4-3-3 system meant the front three could be a little higher up the pitch and they had a little more freedom in their movements thanks to the work of the midfield,” Galtier said. “It’s a privilege to have those players and to see them play like that, for each other.”

Messi started things off in the 19th minute with a sumptuous opening goal scored with the outside of his left foot after being played in by Mbappé on the left side of the area. Mbappé’s opener was just as silky, the French forward bending a right-footer in the 32nd minute past goalkeeper Joshua Cohen who could not be faulted for any of PSG’s goals.

It began to turn ugly for Maccabi three minutes later when Mbappé and Messi combined to play in Neymar and the Brazilian’s shot went in on off the post. PSG switched off defensively to allow an unmarked Seck to head in from Omer Atzili’s free-kick but Messi then swapped passes with Neymar before dropping his shoulder and belting a left-footed shot low into the corner to make it 4-1 at half-time.

It took Messi’s Champions League total to 129, 12 behind the record of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Maccabi actually controlled the opening 10 minutes of the second half and when PSG made a hash of clearing a corner, Seck looped a header over Gianluigi Donnarumma and into the net. The visiting fans celebrated joyously but PSG then moved through the gears to run riot.

In the 64th minute Mbappé was picked out by a diagonal pass from Achraf Hakimi and he took a deft touch before picking out the far corner. As Maccabi finally lost heart Neymar’s dribble and low cross ended with Sean Goldberg netting an own goal.

Messi, who was denied a record ninth Champions League hat-trick by the crossbar, then set up Carlos Soler to wrap up the scoring with a low shot.

“We caught Paris on a good day. The smallest slip in concentration against players like that and they can score or have a big chance,” Maccabi defender Dylan Batubinsika said.”

RB Leipzig took a big step towards the Champions League knockout stage with a 3-2 home win against the holders Real Madrid.

With Real having already qualified for the last 16 their manager, Carlo Ancelotti, rested several regular starters and his side were dominated early on by a young Leipzig team. The hosts took the lead on 13 minutes with Josko Gvardiol scoring on the rebound from a Thibaut Courtois save after a bullet header by André Silva.

With the European champions still recovering from that blow, Leipzig extended their advantage five minutes later when David Raum tried to pass into the box but the ball deflected off a defender into the path of Christopher Nkunku who was quick to react and rifled the ball in off the crossbar.

Leipzig had two more great chances but Courtois saved Amadou Haidara’s strike from the edge of the box and Nkuku put a close-range shot wide after beating the onrushing Real goalkeeper to the ball but ending up with a tight angle trying to find the empty net.

“I think we came out very distracted in the beginning of the game and were caught sleeping against a team that is very aggressive,” Courtois said.

Leipzig are second in Group F on nine points, one behind the leaders Real and three ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk, who they face in their final group game next week in need of a draw to guarantee a top-two spot.

Milan revived their hopes of reaching the last 16 with a 4-0 win at Dinamo Zagreb. Back-to-back defeats by Chelsea in their two previous matches had left the Serie A champions with plenty to do to qualify for the knockout stages, but Matteo Gabbia’s first-half header set them on their way to a crucial victory in Croatia.

Rafael Leão’s solo run and finish early in the second half put the game beyond the home side before Olivier Giroud made sure of the three points with a penalty just before the hour mark. A late own goal put the seal on the second win of Milan’s European campaign and one that moves them up to second place in Group E on seven points. If they avoid defeat next week against Salzburg they will reach the last 16.

“I think it is clear that our growth continues with qualification,” the Milan head coach, Stefano Pioli, said.

Sevilla kept alive their slim hopes of reaching the last 16 after second-half goals from Youssef En-Nesyri, Isco and Gonzalo Montiel secured a convincing 3-0 home win against 10-man FC Copenhagen in Group G.

Celtic’s out of Champions League as Timo Werner leads RB Leipzig win | Champions League

Celtic continue to learn only harsh lessons in the Champions League. For the second game in succession, nobody could reasonably claim they were outplayed by RB Leipzig but the more ruthless team prevailed.

Timo Werner struck the initial blow to Ange Postecoglou and his team. Emil Forsberg added gloss to Leipzig’s victory. Celtic’s manager was short of integral resource and, contrary to cliche, it would be unfair to suggest his style was responsible for this result. Celtic are just finding games with the big boys tougher than they had imagined.

Nobody attended this fixture thinking they would witness anything approaching the mundane. Last week’s clash in Germany, which Leipzig won 3-1, was chaotically open. Defensive connoisseurs may have sniffed at that but it provided wonderful entertainment.

The sense of a rollercoaster ride was endorsed within seconds of kick-off, as Daizen Maeda flicked Reo Hatate’s cross narrowly over the bar. Leipzig responded via Dominik Szoboszlai, who volleyed just wide after David Raum’s excellent delivery.

Celtic’s desire to play on the front foot here was partly dictated by the fact they had precious little option. Oliver Abildgaard, a defensive midfielder signed for occasions such as these, was not deemed fit enough to start. Matt O’Riley and Hatate, who are both considerably more effective in the final third than the opening one, had to play as anchors. Leipzig spent the opening stages trying to expose Celtic’s forward-thinking instincts.

Instead, Celtic came the closer to an opening goal. O’Riley cracked a shot against a post from 20 yards, with Greg Taylor’s attempt from the rebound bouncing off the crossbar. Leipzig, initially so composed, had been creators of their own problems after Raum passed the ball straight out of play for a corner. As Kyogo Furuhashi headed narrowly over the visiting bar, Celtic Park believed this Champions League campaign had a pulse.

Celtic, already minus the influential Jota and their captain, Callum McGregor, owing to injury, watched Liel Abada limp off before the interval. Leipzig almost rubbed salt in the wound; Joe Hart produced a fine save to deny Chelsea-bound Christopher Nkunku.

Hart was called into action again within five minutes of the restart. After a spell in which Celtic failed time and again to clear their lines, the outstanding Amadou Haidara threaded a pass to Willi Orban. Hart smothered the centre-back’s low drive.

Celtic's Matt O'Riley covers his face in despair after the match
Celtic’s Matt O’Riley looks dejected after the defeat Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

News that Shakhtar Donetsk had taken the lead against Real Madrid seemed to fuel the desire of the Celtic support. Three points, desirable before a ball was kicked against Leipzig, suddenly felt a necessity.

Szoboszlai almost piled on the agony. In a bizarre, slow motion moment after being sent through on goal the Hungarian slipped on his backside. Celtic mopped up the danger as Szoboszlai clambered back to his feet with red face. It summed up Leipzig’s evening to that point, which had included only traces of menace with half an hour to play.

Postecoglou soon rolled the dice. Furuhashi and Hatate, ordinarily key players, were among three withdrawn. The arrival of Giorgos Giakoumakis suggested a more direct approach. This, at a time when Leipzig were beginning to tighten their grip on the game. Mohamed Simakan was next to endanger Hart’s goal, with a shot which flew high and wide of the goalkeeper’s upright.

Hart breathed a sigh of relief after VAR adjudged he had not upended Nkunku inside the penalty area. The forward’s pace in almost reaching nothing more than a hopeful pass was quite the sight, but he was looking for the spot-kick long before tumbling to the turf.

The brief flurry of controversy soon paled into insignificance. Werner, who had been quiet until that point, banged a header beyond Hart from an André Silva byline cut-back. It was a majestic goal.

O’Riley blasted a shot which stung the palms of Janis Blaswich. Giakoumakis fluffed his lines at the back post. Enter Forsberg, who made no mistake when concluding a sweeping counterattack. Werner had turned creator. Yet another moment of brilliance summed up the difference between the two sides. Celtic must focus on the domestic front.

Ange Postecoglou and Celtic need to break cycle of European failure | Celtic

We are three weeks shy of the anniversary of a famous Celtic triumph. On 7 November 2012, Barcelona – Messi, Iniesta, Xavi et al – were vanquished 2-1 in Glasgow’s east end. Celtic were marching towards the last 16 of the Champions League with Miku, a loanee striker from Getafe, plus a centre-back pairing of Efe Ambrose and Kelvin Wilson. It was a special occasion that turned heads across Europe.

The intervening years have witnessed a cycle Ange Postecoglou must try to break. Including for the good of his own career. There has been the odd high point – successive Europa League wins over Lazio in 2019, for example – but Celtic’s dominance in Scotland has been tempered by also-ran status in Europe. Knockout defeats have come against AEK Athens, Ferencvaros, Malmo, Cluj, Maribor and Bodø/Glimt.

It would be unfair to place troubles of the past at Postecoglou’s door. His own record in European competition reads: played 17, won six, drawn two and lost nine. Celtic have scored 28 times in Europe on his watch while conceding 34. While the strength of Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen is a contextual factor, so, too, is the weakness of Jabonlec, who Celtic beat 7-2 on aggregate last season.

Postecoglou is due huge credit for re-establishing Celtic as the strongest force in Scotland but the ambitions of manager or club cannot end there. This is a business that recently reported operating expenses of £91.7m against revenue of £88.2m. Celtic can hardly plead poverty. Wild celebration greeted a stoppage-time winner at St Johnstone on Saturday; notched by a player bought for roughly the entire first-team wage budget of the opposition.

Celtic have suffered before through over-emphasis on Scotland rather than the kind of football world they briefly sampled when Barça were seen off. Titles and trebles? Lapped up without cognisance of a bigger picture.

The visit of RB Leipzig to Celtic Park on Tuesday is therefore hugely significant. Celtic had opportunity to win the corresponding fixture in Germany last week before the lethal – and not uncharacteristic – concoction of missed chances and comedy defending was seized upon. Celtic should definitely have defeated Shakhtar Donetsk but did at least emerge with a score draw. Real Madrid swaggered to a 3-0 win in Glasgow but were rattled for a half when Celtic displayed the best version of themselves.

Celtic’s Wanyama celebrates scoring against Barcelona in the memorable win in 2012.
Celtic’s Wanyama celebrates scoring against Barcelona in the memorable win in 2012. Photograph: David Moir/Reuters

Postecoglou needs to use this week to kickstart not only his Champions League campaign. Since breezing past Rangers in early September, Celtic have slipped to defeat at St Mirren before unconvincing wins over Motherwell and St Johnstone. Yes, they remain top of the tree in Scotland and the clear favourites to retain the title, but there is a current sloppiness to their play.

Brendan Rodgers, successful and revered at Celtic – until he accepted the overtures of Leicester – was widely criticised for failure to implement a Plan B in European football. Celtic suffered some especially harrowing nights, albeit against top-level teams, with him in charge. Postecoglou has to be mindful of falling into the same trap. The fatigue that hits his players midway through the second half of games is far more likely to be seized upon at this level.

The openness Celtic display can be riveting, but when forwards are profligate it creates stress for defenders. Celtic concede far too many European goals. Having rose petals thrown at feet in Scotland is one thing, but Postecoglou would raise his profile in loftier circles should he make Celtic anything close to a force in Europe once again. This shouldn’t be out of the question if the club has appropriate strategy.

The Australian’s future is relevant. At 57, after a somewhat itinerant career, this marks his first major role in Europe. Just as it would be bizarre to suggest the ambitions of Reo Hatate, Jota, Kyogo Furuhashi or Josip Juranovic end with the Scottish top-flight, Postecoglou should have a broader plan. Not that he is likely to receive his current level of control elsewhere. Celtic still have no director of football, essentially because their manager does not want one. Try selling that to a major club in England or Spain.

Rodgers and Steven Gerrard were afforded straightforward switches from Glasgow to the Premier League because of existing reputation in England. Neil Lennon defeated Barça and ended up in Bolton. Alex McLeish departed Rangers in 2006 after a generally successful spell but found no takers south of the border. Earlier, Walter Smith’s best offer came from then-struggling Everton. While he is known to the City Football Group, having previously coached Yokahama Marinos, Postecoglou may need European scalps to boost his own standing before the inevitable point where he grows bored with Scottish football’s two-horse tedium.

Defeating Leipzig would boost brand Ange and create fresh respect for Celtic. The latter is well overdue.

Goals, assists, versatility: why Chelsea want to sign Christopher Nkunku | Chelsea

The transfer window closed a little over a month ago and Chelsea are already making moves in the market for next year. It’s rarely straightforward with Chelsea, who relieved Thomas Tuchel of his duties after spending a record £266m in the summer window, but the decision to move early for Christopher Nkunku is one that should excite supporters.

Chelsea have had mixed fortunes when signing players from the Bundesliga in recent years. They bought Timo Werner from RB Leipzig for £50m in 2020 only to sell him back to the German club for half that price this summer; and Kai Havertz, who also joined in the summer of 2020, has not always made the impact supporters would have expected. The hope is that Nkunku will buck that trend. A deal has not yet been confirmed but Chelsea are trying to avoid the possibility of missing out on the France international by outlining their intentions early.

Nkunku put pen to paper on a two-year contract extension with RB Leipzig earlier this year, which contains a £52.8m release clause. Chelsea want to finalise a pre-contract agreement with Nkunku now to avoid a scramble for his services next summer. They are willing to match his release clause – or even better it.

RB Leipzig have made a slow start to the season. They are 11th in the 18-team Bundesliga following three wins, two draws and three defeats in their first eight games. Nkunku, though, has been a bright spot. He has scored six goals in their eight games, an impressive return for a side that ranks ninth for chances created per game (9.6) in the Bundesliga this season.

Nkunku has been directly involved in 39 league goals since the start of last season, scoring 26 times in that period. He is one of only five players to have registered double figures for both goals and assists since the start of last season. Only Robert Lewandowski, Patrik Schick and Erling Haaland scored more goals than Nkunku in the Bundesliga last season.

What stands out most about Nkunku, though, is his versatility. The 24-year-old is able to play in any number of positions along the frontline, be it leading the charge, operating out wide or in support of the striker, though it’s worth noting he is best suited to a central role. Crucially, his performance levels do not suffer a big dip when he is deployed in a different position and this may be a driving force behind Chelsea’s desire to sign him.

Graham Potter replaced Tuchel at Stamford Bridge last month and won his first league game in charge at the weekend as Chelsea beat Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park thanks to a late Conor Gallagher strike. After a 1-1 draw with Salzburg last month, Potter elected to move from a three-man backline to a four-man defence against Palace, but the new Chelsea boss is prepared to tinker mid-match to help break down opponents, which is why Nkunku is such an appealing signing.

Christopher Nkunku celebrates after scoring a hat-trick for RB Leipzig against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium last season.
Christopher Nkunku celebrates after scoring a hat-trick for RB Leipzig against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium last season. Photograph: Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Getty Images

It was difficult to predict how Brighton would line up under Potter last season. The manager started his side in 13 different formations across the 38-game campaign, with 3-5-2 his most used system, but even then he used that setup just nine times. That unpredictability highlights how rigorously Potter prepares for each game and his in-game tactical flexibility means that Chelsea will start in one system but quickly change to another in their quest for a goal. Nkunku would help Potter continue this approach at Chelsea. Whether the manager wishes to have one striker with two players in support, or, as he did at Palace, start in a 4-2-2-2, Nkunku would be able to play to a high standard.

Nkunku also has a keen eye for a defence-splitting pass. He has made 14 key passes from open play in the Bundesliga this season – only seven players have more. For context, Raheem Sterling is top of this metric for Chelsea this season with 11. Nkunku is willing to drop deep or to the flanks to find pockets of space and receive the ball from teammates. This quality will help Chelsea transition from defence to attack with relative ease and, with a striker as rapid and lethal as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang playing off the shoulder of the last defender – provided he is still at the club this time next year – there is the potential to forge a decent attacking partnership.

That said, Nkunku does not offer a great deal from a defensive viewpoint, so playing him in a system that requires a selfless approach from the attacker would not benefit him or the team. Indeed, he has committed more fouls (six) than he has made successful tackles (two) in the Bundesliga this season, but then for a player as naturally gifted and dangerous as Nkunku, asking him to carry out defensive duties may be a waste of his talent.

Either way, Nkunku is a good fit for Potter and a player who should improve a Chelsea side that has scored just 10 league goals this season, four fewer than 19th-placed Leicester and just half as many as Arsenal. Central midfield is another area of concern for Chelsea given Jorginho’s advancing years, coupled with N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovacic’s ongoing injury concerns, but, with Nkunku on the market and the attack in need of a refresh, they should not pass up the opportunity to pursue the RB Leipzig star.