Boxing Day Roundup: Man City, Arsenal, Man Utd, keep rolling as strugglers also shine

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This ‘Christmas Cracker’ just kept on giving more delight on Thursday, as a Boxing Day Bonanza ensued in the Premier League.

Massive wins for Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United and Newcastle saw the chasing pack stay together at the top.

However, the little guys also plucked up some courage and dug deep to grab three points, as Sunderland, Fulham and Crystal Palace all prevailed away from home to boost their survival hopes.

City downed Liverpool on Boxing Day at the Etihad as Manuel Pellegrini’s men sent out a message with two-straight home wins against league leaders Arsenal and now Liverpool. Will the Citizens now reach the summit? They’re only one point behind the Gunners and always looks so dangerous in every game they play.

(MORE: Latest Premier League Standings)

This year Boxing Day marked the first time in over five years that 10 PL matches were all played on the same day (excluding the final day of every campaign) and we had bucket loads of controversy, stunning goals and talking points to chew on as our Christmas dinner was still being digested.

What a magnificent day of action it was, let’s roundup all the action with recaps, analysis, video highlights and much more from every single game that place on another famous Boxing Day slate of matches.

Let’s get to it.

Man City 2-1 Liverpool

Another stirring comeback saw Manuel Pellegrini’s side make it nine wins from nine at home. Liverpool went ahead early on as Philippe Coutinho finished off a lovely move, but City hit back through Vincent Kompany and Alvaro Negredo to lead 2-1 at the break. That was how it would remain after Raheem Sterling spurned a great chance to level from close range, in a truly encapsulating game between two sides that will be scraping it out at the end of the season.

Hull City 2-3 Man United

Hull were 2-0 up at home against United within the first 15 minutes as goals from James Chester and David Meyler put the Tigers in dreamland. However Untied came roaring back as Chris Smalling and Wayne Rooney leveled things before the break, and Chester went from hero to villain as his own goal handed United all three points. Superb comeback from the Red Devils.

West Ham 1-3 Arsenal

After a slight scare at the start of the second half when Carlton Cole put the Hammers ahead, Arsenal got their heads down and ground out a vital win away at Upton Park. Two strikes from Theo Walcott put them ahead, before German international Lukas Podolski came off the bench to seal the three points and put Arsenal top of the league.

Aston Villa 0-1 Crystal Palace

A marvelous stoppage time strike from Dwight Gayle handed Crystal Palace all three points as the Eagles climbed out of the drop zone. Villa were poor and Paul Lambert’s time is running out, but Tony Pulis’ is orchestrating Palace’s great escape expertly.

Cardiff 0-3 Southampton

Three goals in 13 first half minutes saw the Saints tear apart Cardiff in a rampant first half display. A Jay Rodriguez double and a strike from Rickie Lambert gave the Saints their first win in seven games, as Malky Mackay’s problems worsen on and off the pitch.

Chelsea 1-0 Swansea

The Blues made hard work of this, but Jose Mourinho’s men dominated for large spells and really should have won by a wider margin. Eden Hazard’s strike turned out to be the game winner, as Chelsea keep up the chase on those above them.

Everton 0-1 Sunderland

One incident changed the entire complexion of this match, as USMNT ‘keeper Tim Howard was sent off in the 23rd minute for taking down Sunderland’s Ki following a defensive mix up. The Black Cats South Korean midfielder then got up and slotted home the PK, which turned out to be the game-winner despite 10-man Everton’s constant barrage of efforts that Vito Mannone heroically stopped. Massive win for Gus Poyet’s Sunderland.

Newcastle 5-1 Stoke

The Potters lost the plot at St. James’ Park, as Oussama Assaidi’s opener gave Stoke the lead but two quick-fire red cards and manager Mark Hughes being sent to the stand by Martin Atkinson changed the entire game. Loic Remy missed a penalty, but then scored the equalizer before half time. Newcastle accelerated away against the brave 9-men of Stoke in the second half, as Remy added another, before Yohan Cabaye, Yoan Gouffran and Papiss Demba Cisse rounded things off.

Norwich 1-2 Fulham

Massive win for the Cottagers, as Scott Parker’s late stunner gave them a vital win away at Carrow Road. Norwich went ahead through Gary Hooper’s deflected effort, but Pajtim Kasami’s free kick made it 1-1 at the break. Parker’s late strike sent Fulham wild as they close the gap on everyone around them at the bottom.

Tottenham 1-1 West Brom

Spurs struggled against a plucky West Brom side at White Hart Lane as Christian Eriksen’s sublime free kick was cancelled out a minute later by Jonas Olsson in the first half. Tim Sherwood’s first game as new head coach ended in a draw, and he’ll be disappointed his side didn’t take all three but relieved they didn’t throw it away.

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.