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Kane faces possible career-changing game vs. Ronaldo and Real Madrid

Kane faces possible career-changing game vs. Ronaldo and Real Madrid

ESPN

Captain Gary Cahill says Chelsea are determined to bounce back from last Saturday's limp loss to Crystal Palace by showing their true pedigree.

The Blues, crowned champions in May, were beaten 2-1 by the Premier League's bottom club and have a chance to make amends in the Champions League against Roma on Wednesday night.

Antonio Conte's men will be seeking a third win from three Group C games after a 6-0 win over Qarabag and the impressive late victory at Atletico Madrid, which has been followed by successive Premier League defeats, against Manchester City and then Palace.

Cahill said on chelseafc.com: "When you have had a bad result and a bad performance, you want to play again as soon as possible, which is midweek for us, to try and put it right.

"The result is gone and you go in and you work and you work and you go to produce a performance on Wednesday that we know we can produce to get that winning feeling back and then we go from there.

"You saw the real Chelsea last season and it is important we try to emulate that sort of form this season consistently.''

Striker Alvaro Morata could return following a hamstring injury, but key midfielder N'Golo Kante is out with a hamstring problem of his own.

Victor Moses picked up a hamstring injury and the wing-back's place is likely to go to Davide Zappacosta.

Midfielder Danny Drinkwater is still recovering from a calf problem which has delayed his debut since his deadline-day arrival from Leicester.

For several months Antonio Conte has given off the weary air of a man meeting the challenges facing Chelsea with grim determination rather than his usual intense energy, but in the aftermath of Saturday's lacklustre defeat against Crystal Palace his sceptical assessment of the landscape carried greater resonance.

"I think every season is different," he told reporters. "Last season is the past. Now it is another squad, different players and for this reason, if we compare last season, we didn't play Europa League or Champions League.

"This season we are facing four competitions, and we are having a few problems doing this. When you have a few injuries, you are in trouble. We mustn't be happy. This season will be very difficult for us. For this reason we have to put 150 percent in; 100 percent won't be enough."

Chelsea were everything Conte hates in a football team at Selhurst Park: lethargic, unbalanced and utterly lacking in "personality" -- all against a team that had failed to even register a Premier League goal prior to Saturday. In their opening-day defeat to Burnley they could at least point to a combination of misfortune and indiscipline, and in losing to Manchester City they were jaded and outplayed by elite opponents at the peak of their powers.

Unlike last season, Conte has also never been able to call upon his strongest XI, losing Alvaro Morata and N'Golo Kante to injury just as Eden Hazard had begun to show signs of rediscovering his best form after sitting out the whole of preseason with a broken ankle.

But the Premier League table doesn't care for mitigation, and all defeats are of equal weight when the points are tallied. After eight matches, the wider picture painted is one that justifies Conte's pessimism: if recent history is anything to go by, Chelsea's title defence is already over.

That may sound overly dramatic, but the reality is that no team in the Premier League era has lost three of its first eight matches and gone on to win the title. On average the eventual champions lose just under 4.3 matches in a 38-game season. Having already tasted defeat three times in the first three months, Chelsea's margin for further error between now and May is negligible.

Other champions have had poor starts. Manchester United went winless in their opening three matches in the 1992-93 and 2007-08 seasons, but on both occasions then propelled themselves back into contention with five-game winning streaks. Chelsea tied the Premier League record for successive victories with 13 wins in a row between October and January last season, and it's hard to see them getting back into the title conversation without a similar run this time around.

No team has taken fewer than 14 points from their opening eight Premier League matches and gone on to win the trophy (losing to Palace left Chelsea on 13), and no team has overcome the nine-point gap that lies between Chelsea and leaders Manchester City at this stage. Larger deficits have been made up later in the title race, but the numbers since 1992 suggest that if you want to be champions of England, a poor start is a luxury that cannot be afforded.

It must be acknowledged that the fixture list has been less than kind to Chelsea, with matches against Tottenham, Arsenal and City in their opening eight games. That said, Conte's men took four points from those three games, a middling but hardly disastrous return. Inexcusable defeats against Burnley and Palace are far more likely to prove their undoing.

Chelsea are now in a position where they would have to make Premier League history in order to retain their title. In terms of talent they are well capable, and Conte remains an exceptional coach, but believing in them at this stage would be so much easier if City didn't look destined to break more than a few records of their own.

In the 25 seasons of the Premier League, only one team has managed to take the maximum 24 points from their first eight matches -- Chelsea under Jose Mourinho in 2005-06. City have taken 22, a total matched only by two other teams in competition history (City in 2011-12 and Chelsea in 2014-15). Judging solely on results, Pep Guardiola's team bear comparison with the most dominant early-season leaders we have seen.

Then there is the style in which City are achieving their results, scoring a ridiculous 29 goals in eight matches. The record for goals in a Premier League season is 103, set by Chelsea under Carlo Ancelotti in 2009-10. To do it, they averaged 2.71 goals per game. City's average stands at 3.63 per game -- a limited sample size, of course, but one that leaves them well placed to establish themselves as the most devastating attacking team seen in English football's top flight for decades.

Asked about City's rampant form after the Palace loss, Conte repeated a common mantra: "We know very well the potential of the other teams but it is important for us to look at ourselves." The problem is that with Premier League history against them and potential history-makers ahead of them, self-reflection is unlikely to be enough.

Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.

Saturday's goalless draw between Liverpool and Manchester United was the second consecutive 0-0 at Anfield between the sides and Jose Mourinho is yet to win at any of the Premier League's "big six" since arriving at Old Trafford last summer. This was classic Mourinho: Play defensively and settle for a draw, against a big side.

The critics had their complaints ready before the match even began, but look beyond the score and this was actually a perfectly entertaining match, at least for the first hour. Both sides had presentable goalscoring opportunities and the main reason the game remained goalless was the excellent performance of David De Gea, who made a truly wonderful save from Joel Matip.

The "expected goal" statistic from the game was 1.8-0.3 in favour of Liverpool, which tells us two things. First, the game was reasonably open and the chances created were of better quality than several others games in England's top flight at the weekend, including Watford's win over Arsenal. The ball simply didn't cross the goal line; it was a very different goalless draw from last season's snoozefest.

Second, more importantly, it demonstrates that United were not defensively solid: Liverpool created much the better opportunities. The main story is surely that the away side simply didn't play very well.

Mourinho was concerned about Liverpool's counter-attacking, so was cautious in the number of men he committed into attacking positions. Further, the use of Ashley Young on the wing is always a surefire sign that United will be playing defensively.

But their primary method of attack -- attempting to play direct balls toward Romelu Lukaku and depending upon him to get the better of Dejan Lovren -- seemed a reasonable bet. Going into the game, you'd back the Belgian forward but Lovren had a tremendous game. Tenacious without being reckless, he stuck tight to his man and won the ball quickly and cleanly, with Matip always in a good covering position behind.

Lukaku wasn't able to get the better of Liverpool's full-backs, either. Alberto Moreno was barely troubled on the left and has improved the defensive side of his game. On the opposite flank, Joe Gomez was arguably the star performer and showed tremendous defensive discipline to help deny Lukaku the one time he escaped the attentions of Lovren.

This was the game's key incident. After 43 minutes, Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lukaku were involved in a clever passing triangle on the edge of the Liverpool box, which led to United's striker going through on goal. He shaped as if to shoot left of Simon Mignolet, but Gomez darted inside to cover behind his centre-backs, which seemingly forced Lukaku to instead shoot straight at Liverpool's goalkeeper.

This was United's best chance and a rare time they got numbers into attacking positions. But Mourinho will have been concerned by what happened next: United throwing players forward had created their most clear-cut opportunity, but immediately played into Liverpool's hands.

After Roberto Firmino launched a counter-attack, Mohamed Salah dribbled down the right and then slipped in Philippe Coutinho, who couldn't quite find the angle to switch the ball into the path of the onrushing Emre Can.

Mourinho made little attempt to win the game after half-time but neither did Jurgen Klopp. Having started with three solid central midfielders -- Can, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum -- a natural move would have been to sacrifice one of them to introduce Daniel Sturridge, the penalty-box poacher Liverpool were sorely missing, with Coutinho reverting to his favoured position as part of a midfield trio.

In fact, Coutinho played so deep from his nominal wide-left position that he often appeared more like a fourth midfielder anyway, leaving Liverpool undermanned in the box. As it was, Klopp didn't make any substitutions until the 78th minute and, when he did, replaced his front three, which hardly constituted an attacking move.

Granted, Firmino, Salah and Coutinho had endured a long week of travelling and Klopp was probably right to give them a breather. Indeed, it's worth considering whether Liverpool will continually suffer because their four key attackers -- the aforementioned three and Sadio Mane -- face considerable journeys back from international duty on a relatively regular basis.

Klopp has deliberately built a team without an out-and-out striker and while that's a valid approach in 2017, it is not a coincidence that Liverpool's goal return is frequently less than their pressure and chances would suggest. Sometimes you need a proper No. 9 and Saturday was one of those occasions, yet Sturridge played only 10 minutes.

But the post-match focus was on Mourinho and his defensiveness. Curiously, these performances seem to constantly prompt comparisons with United's displays under Sir Alex Ferguson, complete with questionable assertions that the legendary manager would never been so defensive in a Premier League match. This, though, is a re-writing of history.

There were plenty of occasions when Ferguson set up defensively and based around the counter-attack in big games during the mid-2000s. The use of Park Ji-sung was equivalent to Mourinho's use of Young, while Wayne Rooney spent long periods screening his own left-back in a similar manner to Anthony Martial at Anfield.

In fact, one of Ferguson's primary inspirations during this period was clearly Mourinho, whose safety-first approach at Chelsea revolutionised the Premier League and forced his managerial rivals to adjust.

More than a decade later, there's certainly an argument that Mourinho might need to adjust to win more games in a season that will probably require 90 points for the title. To get to that stage, however, it's probably about playing better than they were on Saturday, as opposed to simply attacking more.

Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.net and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.

MADRID -- Mauricio Pochettino believes that Harry Kane could spend his entire career at Tottenham, claiming the England forward has the connection to the club that may yet see him do for Spurs what Francesco Totti did for Roma.

Totti spent over 20 years at Roma, retiring at the end of last season's to a hero's reception at the Stadio Olimpico after rejecting a series of opportunities to leave the club for bigger and more high-profile clubs.

With Kane set to face Real Madrid for the first time on Tuesday, Pochettino was asked by the Spanish media at his news conference in the Santiago Bernabeu whether the 24-year-old has what it takes to be a Real player.

But Spurs manager Pochettino responded by claiming Kane could see out his career as a one-club man at Tottenham.

"Harry Kane was so emotional when he saw the last game of Totti in Rome," Pochettino said. "He only played in one club and Harry was very emotional.

"I was saying that Harry could have the same career as Totti. The most important thing is that he is happy at Spurs, but who knows where we are going to be tomorrow? We should enjoy the present.

"He is from the academy and identifies with the club. He is a player who likes scoring goals in a Tottenham shirt.

"He identifies with Tottenham values and I hope he stays with us a long time because he is a great professional and a model for his teammates.

"We all agree that he is one of the best forwards in the world. He is one of the best, he is playing really well and the potential to grow is great. He is still really young and will get many chances to improve."

While Spurs remain bullish about Kane's long-term future at the club, reports have suggested that chairman Daniel Levy is keen for Pochettino to remain as manager for 15 years.

Pochettino has also been cited as a possible future Real manager, but the Argentine claimed that he would happily commit himself to Spurs for the long-term because of his belief the team is developing as quickly as the club.

"15 years?" Pochettino said. "It's up to him [Levy]. It's always up to the owner or chairman to decide if you're a manager for a short time or long period.

"I'm so happy. I enjoy my time at Tottenham, it's a club with big potential, new stadium and facilities which will be best in Europe.

"And at the same time, to be a competitive team and win a trophy. But I am happy to hear Daniel is being so kind to me, telling everyone what to expect.

"I always try to be honest. I don't like to lie. Sometimes I lie a bit to my wife but not to the media! It's impossible.

"I could not train Barcelona, for many reasons we shouldn't get deep into. I hope I stay 10-15 years at Tottenham. If he [Levy] wants I would love to sign that contract."

Spurs face Real without the suspended Dele Alli, but Danny Rose has travelled to Madrid after a long-term knee injury, with Pochettino admitting the England left-back could start the game on the bench.

"To play from the start, no, but we have to decide tomorrow about being on the bench," the manager said of Rose. "He is excited, motivated and happy and it is good for the group."

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_

MARIBOR, Slovenia -- Dejan Lovren believes Romelu Lukaku deliberately struck him in the face in Liverpool's draw with Manchester United on the weekend.

Lukaku appeared to catch Lovren in the head with his boot after a tackle during the first half at Anfield, but did not receive any punishment from referee Martin Atkinson.

The FA will take no further action against the Manchester United forward, while Lovren insists the incident is now in the past.

When asked to explain what happened on Saturday, Lovren told a news conference: "I made a tackle there and I just felt he was over me and could just move away. To be honest, my point of view is that he did on purpose.

"Normally you would apologise after that, but I saw that he was nervous during the game. I think maybe that was also the reason.

"It's over and I cannot change it and nobody can change it. It is what it is."

On the FA's call, the Liverpool defender added: "It's not my decision. I cannot say I'm disappointed, but it is what it is and we need to move on. That's football -- it's part of the game."

Lovren was speaking to the assembled media in Slovenia ahead of Liverpool's Champions League tie with Maribor on Tuesday night.

Liverpool are looking to record their first win of the group stages after frustrating draws with Sevilla and Spartak Moscow in the opening two matches.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp is adamant his players will not underestimate the Slovenian champions, insisting the game does not provide the opportunity to make wholesale changes.

"I know everybody is thinking ahead of a game like this that this is the place where you should rotate or whatever," Klopp told a news conference. "It is the last place where I would do things like this.

"Yes, we will make one or two changes, but the first job is not to think the same thing what obviously you think already and underestimate the opponent. It's so important.

"They had nine Champions League games so far -- they've chosen the hard way. I heard that the stadium is usually not so loud, but [it's a] Champions League night, so it will be loud. It will be a special atmosphere.

"We need to think about this and not who we can bring over and give Champions League experience to or whatever."

Liverpool have already confirmed at least one change will be made for the Maribor game, with Loris Karius set to replace Simon Mignolet in goal.

Meanwhile, Lovren says he is now fit after troubling back and groin injuries that were forcing him to take painkillers and miss training sessions.

"I'm fit now," the central defender said. "I had issues with my back and my groin one week ago.

"I skipped the first match of the internationals, so I think that helped me to put the pain a little bit down.

"Yes, I was struggling. But now it's over and I'm feeling good and feeling fit."

Glenn is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.

MADRID, Spain -- Remember when Harry Kane had to prove to the world that he was not a one-season wonder?

It wasn't that long ago but, having scored 21 Premier League goals for Tottenham in his first full season at the top level in 2014-15, Kane responded to his doubters with 25 league goals the next season and 29 the year after.

He has six in eight games so far for Spurs in the Premier League this season, so it is safe to suggest that the 24-year-old has silenced even his most ardent critics. Nobody now questions whether Kane is the real deal. But it seems there is always another challenge for the current England captain, another mark that he must pass, before being bestowed with the true mark of greatness.

And the next box waiting to be ticked comes this week, with Kane and Spurs facing perhaps the toughest challenge of them all with a Champions League group stage clash against Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday.

For Spurs collectively, Mauricio Pochettino's young team will be measured against the reigning European champions in their own intimidating fortress. But Kane will also inevitably find himself judged against the goal scoring feats of Cristiano Ronaldo and on how well he performs on the biggest stage of club football.

There will also be the Gareth Bale subplot -- the Wales winger is fighting a losing battle against a calf injury to be fit to face his former club -- and the speculation surrounding whether Kane has what it takes to follow his old Spurs teammate to Madrid.

Not that anyone is suggesting that Kane will be putting himself in the shop window on Tuesday night. The man himself has made no noises whatsoever about moving away from Tottenham and the club will resist any offer for their talisman, but it would be naive to think that Real's scouts will not be watching Kane closely when he's playing in their stadium.

Identifying, and then signing, the world's best players is what Real do and Spurs have had recent experience of their ability to get whoever they want having seen Bale and Luka Modric lured to the Bernabeu from White Hart Lane.

On Tuesday, Kane will be just 34 days older than Bale was when he left Spurs for Real in 2013 for a world record €100 million, so it is legitimate to compare the two players in terms of status and development at the same age.

Kane is now unquestionably the star name in English football and Tottenham's leading light; Bale held a similar position in 2013, albeit as Wales's top player rather than England's, but the winger held one crucial edge over Kane by virtue of his Champions League record.

Bale's hat trick in Tottenham's 4-3 win against Inter Milan in October 2010 saw him announce himself to the world on the European stage and he has not looked back since. Those performances during the 2010-11 Champions League campaign caught Real's attention and if Kane can replicate that in any way then he can move himself to an even higher plane than he occupies now.

Scoring a hat trick against Cypriot outsiders Apoel Nicosia is one thing, but doing it against the very best is a different matter altogether -- that is the door that Kane now has to walk through if he is to join the likes of Bale just beneath Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the Champions League hierarchy.

Maybe he can climb even higher and rub shoulders with Ronaldo and Messi, but the comparisons with those two -- and there have been some -- are premature and overlook the reality that Kane remains a relative novice at the highest level.

His lack of experience in the Champions League ensures that Tuesday's trip to the Bernabeu will be his first. Kane has also not played against the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus, so it is clear that he still has something to prove against Europe's elite.

But Kane has a track record of overcoming all the challenges placed before him, and in spectacular style. The "one-season wonder" now has 84 goals in 124 Premier League appearances for Spurs, he has scored 12 goals in 23 games for England and, in the Champions League, he has already bettered his return of two goals in three games last season by hitting five in two outings already this term.

He is an established Premier League superstar, but that status has still to be earned in the Champions League. It is against heavyweights such as Real Madrid, that Kane can smash through another ceiling.

If he can walk off the Bernabeu pitch having gone toe-to-toe with Ronaldo, in terms of influence on his team and goal scoring contribution, it will be a career-changing performance. Kane has that potential in his locker but he will send his career into the stratosphere if he delivers in Madrid on Tuesday.

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_

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