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Top Premier League Storylines – Boxing Day

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The festive season is here, and as Leicester City proved, Boxing Day is sure to give us plenty of gifts.

[ MORE: Week 19 roundup ]

With that in mind, it’s time to cheat and get a look ahead at what will be waiting for us wrapped all nicely on Boxing Day for fans to open with excitement…

Can Manchester United hold a lead?

The Red Devils host Burnley at the friendly confines of Old Trafford, a thankful return for Jose Mourinho who been treated poorly by Fergie Time away from home. Manchester United has conceded a 90th minute winner at Bristol City and a 95th minute equalizer at Leicester City in its last two matches, and even going back a month, they coughed up an 89th minute winner at Basel in Champions League play as well. So now, facing a strong but beatable side in Burnley, can Manchester United not only gain a lead but hold it in front of the home fans?


Will one of the 3 teams fighting for fourth slip?

It appears – for now – that Manchester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea will likely all be top-four teams when the season comes to a close. It would take a calamity for Pep Guardiola to lose the Premier League title, Jose Mourinho’s side is still as strong as they come in the English top flight, and it’s hard to imagine the defending champions slipping up enough to fall out of a Champions League place. That means Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham will duke it out for the final spot in Europe’s top competition, and that promises to be one of the most exciting races left in the Premier League.

On Boxing Day, Tottenham hosts 13th-placed Southampton, Liverpool welcomes basement-dwelling Swansea City to Anfield, and Arsenal travels to a somewhat revitalized Crystal Palace. Will any of the three misstep? They’re all separated by a minuscule one-point margin, so any room for error is all but gone.


Can Mark Hughes build on Stoke City’s win?

There were rumors that Mark Hughes could be sacked on the doorstep of Christmas if Stoke City did beat West Brom last time out. The Potters rose to the occasion, and they held off the Baggies at home – barely. So now, the question becomes, can he put together consecutive victories for the first time this season as they visit Huddersfield Town? The Terriers have been a completely mixed bag this season, and Hughes can catch them in the table and possibly move Stoke a game outside the top half with a win. That would surely put the rumors of his dismissal to bed for the near future.


Will Pep Guardiola help out Rafa Benitez?

This holiday season, Newcastle fans will be wishing for what could end up being one of the biggest wins in club history should they pull off the stunner against Manchester City at home during the holidays. However, that is surely one of the more unlikely scenarios looking up and down the Boxing Day fixture list. So, we take a different approach here…

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez has begged and pleaded with his bosses to bring him reinforcements in January. With the Toon set to face off against the Manchester City juggernaut, there’s an quirky angle to this daunting matchup: the harder Newcastle falls to the best team the Premier League has seen in some time, the more ammunition Benitez has to slide under Mike Ashley’s door to bolster his case for bigger spending. Obviously, every match is critical with the team just two points above the relegation zone, but in a game they’re unlikely to collect any spoils from in the first place, could now be the time Benitez truly gets his wish?

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

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According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”

Guardiola happy to reach final, knows Man City to be judged by hardware

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Bristol City made its interesting late with a pair of goals, but Manchester City’s League Cup destiny was never in jeopardy in a 3-2 second leg win at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

[ RECAP: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

That sent the club into the Feb. 25 final with a 5-3 aggregate win, and it’s very difficult not to leap to the story line that is Pep Guardiola‘s chance at a first significant title in his reign at Man City.

The closest City came to hardware last season was being bounced by Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal. This time, City is the favorite to win at least three of its four entered competitions: the Premier League, the League Cup, and the FA Cup.

But to hear Pep say it, for now the club is just happy to have earned one final berth. From the BBC:

“We are so happy to be there, to reach this final. We played an amazing game until 2-0 and then we lost control, these type of games never end until the end. This is a lesson for next weekend in Cardiff in the FA Cup and especially for the Champions League.

“It’s not for me, it’s for Manchester City, a club who are trying to reach another level. … I know that we will be judged by trophies we win but we are so happy. Nobody can take away what we have done, but Chelsea or Arsenal are strong teams.”

Guardiola was serious about not overlooking the Robins, as he rolled out a very similar lineup to the full-strength bunch that beat Newcastle United 3-1 at the weekend. That may have cost City late, but it had already built a 4-1 aggregate lead with two superior away goals.

Yes, Guardiola is a man who measures himself by the way his club plays but also by winning in that attractive fashion. Expect a determined club to stride into Wembley late next month.

Chelsea and Arsenal square off Wednesday at the Emirates Stadium for the right to match up with Man City, who won the tournament in 2014 and 2016. Even year dominance?

Man City into League Cup final (video)

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  • City outshoots Bristol 28-5
  • Sane, Aguero put MCFC up 2-0
  • Pack, Kent pulls two back for Bristol
  • De Bruyne answers in stoppage
  • City wins 5-3 on aggregate

A pair of late goals put a scare into Man City, but the Premier League leaders scored just before and right after halftime to insure its first leg lead en route to a 3-2 win over Bristol City at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

City wins 5-3 on aggregate in the League Cup semifinal, with Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, and Kevin De Bruyne scoring in the second leg.

Pep Guardiola moves to within 90 minutes of his first significant title as Man City boss, and will face either Chelsea or Arsenal on Feb. 25 at Wembley Stadium.

Marlon Pack and Aden Flint scored for Bristol City.

[ MORE: Full stats, box score ]

Sane scored in the 43rd minute and Sergio Aguero struck less than four minutes after the teams returned from the halftime break.

An errant John Stones clearance helped Bristol to the scoreboard in the 64th minute, with Pack scoring the goal.

Flint then nodded home in stoppage time to give the Robins hope for a miracle win, but new contract hero De Bruyne scored within a minute to burn those hopes to the ground.

Bristol would be in the Football League Championship playoffs if the season ended now, sitting in fifth place.

Midfielder Lassana Diarra joins PSG on short-term deal

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain has made its first signing of the winter transfer window by hiring midfielder Lassana Diarra on a short-term deal until June 2019.

The 32-year-old holding midfielder will once again try to revive his career in the French league after a successful stint at PSG’s bitter rival, Marseille, that ended last year.

The much-traveled Diarra, who was born in Paris, then played for a few months with United Arab Emirates club Al Jazira.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Diarra, a former Chelsea, Arsenal and Real Madrid player, won English and Spanish league titles in 2006 and 2012. He has 34 caps for France and featured at the European Championship in 2008.

His strong performances with Marseille earned him a recall from France, but he eventually pulled out of Didier Deschamps’ squad for Euro 2016 because of a left knee injury.

“I am very happy to have signed for my hometown club,” Diarra said. “Paris Saint-Germain represents a lot to me and, with the international dimension the club has taken in recent seasons, it is every player’s dream to play here. I am lucky enough to make this dream come true.”

Diarra joined on a free transfer and his signing won’t affect PSG’s bank accounts, which are under UEFA’s scrutiny.

PSG is under pressure to sell players to balance the books after splashing out 402 million euros ($473 million) on forwards Neymar and Kylian Mbappe last year. That led to Qatari-owned PSG being placed under investigation by UEFA for potential breaches of Financial Fair Play rules.