Boxing Day is here! Here’s a rundown of all the Premier League’s games

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Boxing Day is more than a vaguely named holiday (disappointingly, it has nothing to do with pugilism). It’s also the day where Sky, BBC, and ITV producers lose a year off their lives as they futilely try to cover every team in English soccer.

With some rare cancellations (i.e., West Ham-Arsenal), every club in English league soccer will be in action today. That’s 55 matches, 48 of which start at 3:00 p.m. local time. It’s excessive. It’s indulgent. It’s the holiday season is a huge, pie-encrusted nutshell.

But, for countries that don’t celebrate the holiday, that’s we know Boxing Day. It’s the day we wake up from our holiday sojourn to find the Premier League’s comeback with a vengeance. A whole round’s worth of action, normally spread out across two or three days, transpires in seven hours. And your family doesn’t want you to watch.

It’s pretty much why the internet was invented. Can’t watch more than one game? Go to Twitter. Want to watch more than one at once? Have credit card, can access. Throw in the fact that it’s the nadir of college bowl season, one day after the NBA’s showcase, and four days before the NFL resumes, and this year’s Boxing Day is sure to get plenty of coverage.

Here’s the start, our brief preview of the day’s nine matches:

10:00 a.m. Eastern kickoffs

Everton (5th) vs. Wigan Athletic (18th) – The Toffees will be without Marouane Fellani, given a three match break for trying to erase Ryan Shawcross. Everton will have Darron Gibson at their disposal, the former Manchester United midfielder winning the appeal of the red card he saw last weekend at West Ham. Then, Everton got a come from behind victory at the Boleyn Ground, giving them seven points from their last three matches. Wigan, as is their custom, will continue to struggle at the edge of the drop until Roberto Martínez concocts their year’s solution for survival.

Prediction: “This would have been different with Fellani” analysis beaten into the ground by full time.

Fulham (13th) vs. Southampton (17th) – This will be the most entertaining match of the day. Both Martin Jol (Fulham’s manager) and Nigel Adkins (Saints’ boss) are committed to playing progressive soccer. Unfortunately, it’s done neither any good this season, though you could argue Southampton (currently above the drop) are living out a best case scenario. Fulham clearly is not. After three losses in four, the Cottagers have scarcely looked like the European contender they were through the season’s first months.

Prediction: At least four goals, and at least five points where Dimitar Berbatov appears to be smoking a cigarette.

source:  Manchester United (1st) vs. Newcastle United (14th) – Magpies supporters got a reprieve last week thanks to Shola Ameobi’s late goal against Queens Park Rangers. Ultimately, it was just a home win against one of the league’s worst teams. Now they go to Old Trafford after the Red Devils were humbled in Wales. So … good luck with that. Alex Ferguson gave Newcastle some bulletin board material by implying without last year’s “surprise” factor (his theory), the Magpies aren’t actually that good (my inference). They’re unlikely to be famous last words.

Prediction: No attempted murders.

Norwich City (10th) vs. Chelsea (3rd) – Perhaps passing along Chelsea was part of the Paul Lambert settlement. Aston Villa, still pulling their pants up from Sunday’s spanking, send the Blues to Carrow Road with the hopes some of the goals Brad Guzan was able to stop end up behind Mark Bunn. For the Blues, it’s a chance to solidify momentum won at Stamford Bridge. They’re part of a difficult stretch of that will see Norwich (after losing last weekend at West Brom) host Manchester City and visit West Ham after Chelsea leave town.

Prediction: Critical “Oh, there [Luiz] goes, again,” followed by amazed “Oh, there he goes, again!” Potentially within the first eight minutes.Without any self-awareness.

Queens Park Rangers (19th) vs. West Bromwich Albion (7th) – This is the lump of coal in our Boxing Day tin. Queens Park Rangers have been too bad to enjoy, even after Harry Redknapp’s approachreplaced Mark Hughes’ tendency to deploy teams as scared than their coach. West Brom is back on the road less than two weeks after being party to a match debated as the worst of all-time. Unless Romalu Lukaku, last weekend’s hero, has discovered some unexpected consistency (dude’s only 19 years old), this could rival Dec. 16th’s movement at Upton Park.

Prediction: West London praying for Atreyu’s help.

source: Getty ImagesSunderland (15th) vs. Manchester City (2nd) – Temper your shock, but the Citizens again failed to inspire last week. The holders needed some Gareth Barry heroics (and some ‘look the other way’ officiating) to take full points at home against the league’s worst team. If they play the same way at the Stadium of Light, Manchester City loses. Yes, even to Sunderland, whose uninspired play continues to be an argument for an artistic integrity element in each final score. Who would have thought figure skating would have the competitive high ground on soccer? Thank you, Martin O’Neill.

Prediction: A disproportionate coverage-to-entertainment ratio.

Reading (20th) vs. Swansea City (11th) – The good news for Reading after last weekend’s heartbreak is an entirely possible rumor linking Arsenal’s Andrei Arshavin to the club (though that’s more likely to be a loan than an outright sale). Unfortunately, with only nine points from 18 games, the Royals need more than a Russian international to save them from regressing to the Championship. And while hosting Swansea City may seem like an opportunity to pick up points, Swans have been a relatively strong road team this season. Bringing the league’s leading scorer (Michu) to the Madejski Stadium, the worst defense in the league will have to transcend their regular performance to give Brian McDermott a chance at full points.

Prediction: Michu continues to justify his impending Spanish national team callup.

12:30 p.m. Eastern kickoff

Aston Villa (16th) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (6th) – There’s an ominous air to this one for Villa. Spurs, one week after being frustrated by the inherently frustrating Stoke, have the feeling of a break out about them, with Clint Dempsey’s availability and Gareth Bale’s return (starting last week) giving André Villas-Boas a full attack at his disposal (an attack that’s now linked to Wesley Sneijder). Though Villa’s only allowed eight goals in as many games at home, they have the worst attack in the league and, at some point, their poor road defending (16 goals allowed in nine non-Chelsea games) is bound to bleed home. Against a team that may play two deep midfielders in front of an athletic defense, success on the counter won’t be as easy won as it was at Anfield.

Prediction: The first real questions about the Paul Lambert era in Birmingham.

2:45 p.m. Eastern kickoff

Stoke City (9th) vs. Liverpool (8th) – Say what you want about Liverpool, but they’ve consistently produced compelling, entertaining (though not necessarily effective) play. And say what you want about Stoke, but they haven’t, but since Sunderland hasn’t been successful in showing why figure skating judges need to be deployed at soccer grounds, Tony Pulis’s methods may continue to prosper. Serving as the soccer world’s answer to Big 10 basketball, Stoke has the league’s best prevention rate while tying for its worst scoring rate. Facing a team that only recently discovered how to score goals, the Potters should improve on their three home goals allowed through eight games.

Prediction: Shawcross versus Suárez more explosive than Potters versus Reds.

Koulibaly left off CAF award shortlist amid Manchester United rumors

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The African confederation somehow managed to leave Kalidou Koulibaly off its shortlist for African Player of the Year, a head-scratching decision considering the rapidly rising stock of the 27-year-old Senegal international.

The CAF announced its 10-man shortlist for the award early Friday morning, before eventually awarding the distinction to Liverpool attacker Mohamed Salah for the second straight year. While Salah is undoubtedly a deserving winner given his goalscoring prowess over the past year and more, a failure to recognize Koulibaly’s presence in the landscape of African footballers is nothing short of embarrassing.

While Koulibaly was left off, Juventus defender Medhi Benatia was on the list, despite proving second-string behind Italians Leonardo Bonucci and Georgio Chiellini. While Koulibaly logged 3,426 minutes in the 2018 calendar year at the heart of Napoli’s defense, Benatia was just utilized for 1,988 minutes. While Koulibaly was an unused substitute just two times the entire 2018 calendar year across all competitions, Benatia has been left on the Juventus bench 14 times this season alone, and 22 times in the 2018 calendar year.

Also acknowledged on the list was Arsenal youngster Alex Iwobi, and while the 22-year-old is undoubtedly a rising talent on a large Premier League club and is slowly endearing himself to the fanbase, he has still logged just nine starts in Arsenal’s 16 Premier League matches this season and had just three goals and 11 assists across all competitions in the 2018 calendar year.

In the last year or two, Koulibaly has been regarded as one of the best center-backs in all of Europe, and it has resulted in rumors of an expensive move. The London Evening Standard reports that two bids for Koulibaly from Manchester United have already been rejected, while a third is potentially on its way that would make Koulibaly the most expensive defender in history, passing Liverpool’s capture of Virgil Van Dijk. That move would make sense as Manchester United’s defense has often been the team’s downfall this season, and the club is desperate for a big signing to land major success, with recent expensive captures Fred, Romelu Lukaku, and Paul Pogba all receiving plenty of criticism in their Manchester United tenures so far.

The Evening Standard report says that Koulibaly was on Manchester United’s radar last summer, but the team instead focused on attempts at other defenders, naming Toby AlderweireldHarry Maguire and Jerome Boateng as players Manchester United made runs at instead. Manager Jose Mourinho has been extremely open about his disappointment in United’s failure to bolster its central defensive ranks in recent transfer windows, only adding Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly in the last three years.

While Manchester United certainly won’t be deterred by the CAF’s massive error, the egregious miss still degrades the award’s prestige when clearly deserving players are shunned for bigger names in what has creeped ever closer to becoming nothing more than a popularity contest.

PL Preview: Fulham v. West Ham

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  • Fulham has won 3 of the last 4 games vs West Ham at home
  • West Ham has not won 4 PL games in a row since 2014
  • Fulham has gone 20 PL games without a clean sheet, conceding 51 goals in that span

Fulham begins a critical four-game stretch, sitting bottom of the Premier League table and needing points as they host West Ham at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, live on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

The Whites’ next four matches see them take on the Hammers, followed by games against Newcastle, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Huddersfield Town. They sit in the basement of the standings, but are just four points from safety. Fulham has secured four points in four matches under new manager Claudio Ranieri, but were also thoroughly beaten by both Chelsea and Manchester United, meaning the games against fellow relegation candidates are becoming more and more critical.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa is unavailable after a controversial second yellow card against Manchester United saw him sent for an early shower. Maxime Le Marchand is a big miss for the Whites, out with an undisclosed muscular injury, but that is the extent of their unavailable list as Calum Chambers, Floyd Ayite, Andre Schurrle, and Kevin McDonald are all ready to go, Ranieri confirmed.

Meanwhile, Jack Wilshere will miss his third straight match for West Ham as he recovers from an ankle injury, and Lucas Perez is likely unavailable due to a cut on his foot, but otherwise the Hammers are fully fit as they look for an opportunity to move into the top half of the table.

West Ham was in the bottom third of the table for much of the first few months of the season, but they have climbed to 11th with a run of seven matches that features just one loss. That includes a current three-match winning streak that has seen West Ham drop three relegation candidates in Newcastle, Cardiff City, and Crystal Palace, by a combined 9-3 score. With Fulham up this weekend followed by matches against Watford, Southampton, Burnley, and Brighton, this is the time for the Hammers to pick up a swath of points and brace for a grueling final third of the season.

What they’re saying

Ranieri on Fulham’s lack of a clean sheet this season: “The players are improving a lot with my tactics. It’s normal they need time to understand everything. Sooner or later, we’ll keep a clean sheet – I hope it’s sooner rather than later.”

Pellegrini on playing a team near the bottom: “I said last week, the most stupid thing we can do is to believe that because we are playing against teams near the bottom of the table we will win. We must be very careful, thinking game by game.”

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Prediction

While West Ham is playing well, they will be up against a team that knows this four-game stretch is critical. Still, Fulham’s midfield is a complete mess, and they have lots to work on. The defense is a bad matchup for a Hammers side on a roll in front of net. That run will continue, as West Ham wins 3-1 behind another big attacking performance.

Salah named BBC African Player of the Year

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With an incredible 44 goals in 52 games last season, Mohamed Salah was the clear choice for the BBC’s African Player of the Year.

The BBC announced the honor on Friday, with Salah being chosen ahead of Medhi Benatia (Juventus), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), Sadio Mane (Liverpool) and Thomas Partey (Atletico Madrid). Salah hasn’t scored quite at the same rate in the second half of 2018, but he’s still managed 13 goals in 25 matches in all competitions. It’s Salah’s second-consecutive year winning the award from the BBC.

“It’s a great feeling to win again. I’m happy and I would like to win it also next year!” Salah said, via the BBC. “There have been many good moments in 2018,” he added. “The game against Roma at Anfield [Champions League semi-final first leg] was unbelievable. I’m scoring goals and helping the team to get the points to be top of the league. That’s always a great feeling.”

Even without Salah scoring nearly a goal a game, he’s helped his side to the top of the Premier League thanks to improved defensive performances.

In addition to his goalscoring for Liverpool, Salah scored the game-winning penalty kick in 2017 to put Egypt into the 2018 World Cup and although the Pharaohs were unable to get out of their group, Salah scored both of his nation’s goals.

Even with the strong work from the other players on the short-list, it will take a lot to unseat Salah for the 2019 award as well. As long as Salah continues scoring at his current rate and Liverpool finishes in the top two in the Premier League – as well as making a deep Champions League run – it’s Salah’s to lose again.

PL Preview: Tottenham v. Burnley

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  • Spurs have lost only one of their eight PL matches against Burnley, with that defeat coming back in May 2010 under Harry Redknapp.
  • Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is yet to draw a PL match this term, despite playing 16 fixtures. Only Manchester United, with 17 matches in 2012/13, and Bolton Wanderers, with 18 matches in 2011/12, have had longer runs without a draw from the start of a season.
  • Burnley is looking for its first away win against Spurs in any competition since January 1983, when Burnley triumphed 4-1 in a League Cup quarter-final.

Tottenham looks to carry on the momentum from its unlikely draw at Barcelona securing UEFA Champions League survival as it welcomes Burnley to Wembley Stadium, Saturday (Watch live at 10:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Despite the defeat at Arsenal, Tottenham are in decent form, and with a win against Burnley, it would be Tottenham’s sixth in the club’s last seven games. On the other side, Burnley sit just two points above the relegation zone, making it crucial they come away from Wembley Stadium with at least a point as they look to survive the busy holiday season. Burnley finally got out of the relegation zone last week with a win over Brighton and Hove Albion and are looking to build on that momentum.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Tottenham does have several injury concerns, with Serge Aurier (groin), Mousa Dembele (ankle), Victor Wanyama (knee), Kieran Trippier (groin), Davinson Sanchez and Juan Foyth (both hamstring) all needing to be assessed. For Burnley, manager Sean Dyche will only have to worry about Johann Berg Gudmundsson (hamstring) and Steven Defour (calf), who both have fitness tests ahead.

What they’re saying

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino on facing Burnley: “We need to play against Burnley like we played against Barcelona, that’s the challenge. The way we are going to approach the game will be key. We need to take the game in the same way as Barcelona with the same motivation, the same energy. The three points we need to win are as important as against Barcelona or any other team.I am more motivated to play against Burnley than the previous games because we are trying to reduce the distance between Liverpool and Manchester City. We are going to play for three very important points. To be in the top four of the Premier League and to keep that position is a massive motivation. It’s such an important game.

Burnley manager Sean Dyche on facing a big side in Tottenham: “Tottenham are having a fine start to the season and they had a great result the other night. I really like the way they go about their business. Their manager plays direct football but in a passing style, if they can get out quickly then they do. They’re effective. They don’t keep the ball for the sake of it. They keep the ball but try and penetrate and with that they are an effective side. We go down there with a bit more freedom, the expectation changes. Last week against Brighton when there is really heavy expectation for us to get a result.

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Prediction

Tottenham is on a high after Tuesday’s heroics and while it can be difficult to face a team farther down in the table, this experience side knows that Burnley is no pushover. That being said, the quality of Tottenham should help the club see this through. Tottenham 2-1 Burnley