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Analyzing the Premier League’s Top Six schedules this congested month

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Tuesday begins the annual expedition that is the Premier League holiday season, a congested schedule that brings each club a vicious batch of five matches in, at most, 22 days.

How will that run affect the race for European places and the title? This is, after all, the most trying time of the season given the busy slate and often-troubling weather (let alone ordinary human holiday stresses).

One of the overlooked aspects of this holiday season is that life is, for the most part, just as congested as usual for the powers still alive in Europe and Cup competitions. While this means they’ve put more miles on their players’ legs, it also breeds an unfamiliar bit of business for sides who have not endured such a stretch earlier in the season.

[ MORE: Breaking down UCL, Europa draws ]

Let’s take a gander at the schedules of the Premier League’s Top Six. While we suppose excluding Watford — three points back of sixth-place United —  is a bit naive given Leicester City’s 2015-16 season, we are doing so. Forgive us, Sir Elton.

There’s a sincere run of opportunity ahead for the current first, fifth and sixth place sides. Aside from Chelsea’s Jan. 4 date at White Hart Lane, there isn’t a contender on the slates of the Blues, Manchester United, and Spurs (again, apologies to Watford).

Man City’s schedule is a mixed blessing. Having to stare down Arsenal and Liverpool in a 13-day span is a big challenge, but also affords Pep Guardiola‘s bunch the opportunity to close gaps on both.

Liverpool also faces a Merseyside Derby over the holiday slate, while Arsenal will take on Everton as well.

[ MORE: Mourinho praises Jones, Rojo ]

This is a clear opportunity for Jose Mourinho and United. Sure, three of their five dates are away from Old Trafford, but only West Brom is outside the Bottom Six.

Chelsea

Wednesday at Sunderland
Saturday at Crystal Palace
Dec. 26 vs. Bournemouth
Dec. 31 vs. Stoke City
Jan. 4 at Tottenham Hotspur

Arsenal

Tuesday at Everton
Sunday at Manchester City
Dec. 26 vs. West Bromwich Albion
Jan. 1 vs. Crystal Palace
Jan. 3 at Bournemouth

Liverpool

Wednesday at Middlesbrough
Dec. 19 at Everton
Dec. 27 vs. Stoke City
Dec. 31 vs. Manchester City
Jan. 2 at Sunderland

Manchester City

Wednesday vs. Watford
Sunday vs. Arsenal
Dec. 26 at Hull City
Dec. 31 at Liverpool
Jan. 2 vs. Burnley

Tottenham Hotspur

Wednesday vs. Hull City
Sunday vs. Burnley
Dec. 28 at Southampton
Jan. 1 at Watford
Jan. 4 vs. Chelsea

Manchester United

Wednesday at Crystal Palace
Saturday at West Brom
Dec. 26 vs. Sunderland
Dec. 31 vs. Middlesbrough
Jan. 2 at West Ham United

Standings

 

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Chelsea 15 12 1 2 33 11 22 7-0-1 5-1-1 37
 Arsenal 15 10 4 1 36 15 21 5-2-1 5-2-0 34
 Liverpool 15 9 4 2 37 20 17 5-2-0 4-2-2 31
 Manchester City 15 9 3 3 32 19 13 3-3-1 6-0-2 30
 Tottenham Hotspur 15 7 6 2 24 11 13 5-2-0 2-4-2 27
 Manchester United 15 6 6 3 20 16 4 3-4-1 3-2-2 24

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Benzema: ‘I’m F1’ quality compared to ‘go-kart’ Giroud

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It would appear that Karim Benzema lives for exactly two things in life: scoring goals and creating/participating in very public drama.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Benzema, who hasn’t feature for France’s national team since he was allegedly involved in a scandal to blackmail teammate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape in 2015, slammed compatriot forward Olivier Giroud as the “go-karting” alternative to his own “F1” quality.

His main gripe with Giroud doesn’t appear to actually be with the player himself, but the fact the two get compared to one another so frequently. In Benzema’s absence from Les Bleus, Giroud has been the main beneficiary, leading many to wonder if the team could have reached greater heights with Benzmea in the team instead — quotes from Sky Sports:

“You shouldn’t confuse F1 and go karting and that’s me being kind. On to the next topic. I’m not talking about him [Giroud] anymore. I just know that I’m F1.

“He has his career, he does what he wants and scores the goals that he wants to score. He’s in his corner and I’m in mine, I’m not thinking about him. If we’re talking about playing style, his suits France well.

“It’s good because there are fast players like (Kylian) Mbappe and (Antoine) Griezmann who play out wide or feed off the centre-forward. When Giroud is up front, he’s a handful for defenses, which gives the other two plenty of space to show what they can do.

“He occupies defenders and it works. It might not be brilliant to watch and you won’t say, ‘Wow, that was incredible.’ Does everyone like that style of play? I don’t know, but it suits France well.”

Giroud: 39 goals (third-highest) in 97 appearances for France. Benzema: 27 goals in 81 appearances.

Guardiola: ‘We will come back stronger, kinder … and a bit fatter’

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Through all of the innumerable challenges and tragedies the world is currently facing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is doing his best to not only help the fight back in his native Spain, but also give everyone a chance to smile and laugh at their own expense.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Guardiola, who last week donated $1.1 million to fight the virus in Catalonia, released a video message of encouragement and hope on Monday — encouraging everyone to stay inside, and hopeful of returning to a sense of normalcy in short order:

“We miss football. We miss the life that we had a few days ago but now is the time to listen, to follow our scientists, doctors and nurses.

“You are my football family and we are going to do everything possible to make you feel better. We’ll come back from this stronger, better, kinder … and a little bit fatter. Stay inside, stay safe.”

Germany’s UCL clubs pledge support for cash-strapped clubs

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DUSSELDORF, Germany — Four German soccer clubs have pledged a combined $21.9 million to support other teams struggling to stay afloat after games in the country were suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen will forgo $13.7 million in as-yet undistributed TV money and add another $8.2 million from their own funds. All four clubs played in the Champions League this season, giving them extra income.

The German Football League, which oversees the top two divisions, will decide how the money is distributed. The league has previously said it fears many clubs could face financial collapse if games can’t resume.

“In these difficult times, it’s important that the stronger shoulders support the weaker shoulders,” Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said on Thursday.

It’s the latest in a string of gestures to help those in need in German soccer. Players at clubs including Bayern, Borussia Monchengladbach and second-tier Karlsruhe have agreed to voluntary pay cuts to help other staff.

[ MORE: Tottenham offer stadium to help with coronavirus effort ]

Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said clubs had a responsibility to keep other teams running in what could be a long period without income from ticket sales and sponsors.

“We have always said that we would show solidarity if clubs, through no fault of their own, should run into difficulties that they can no longer overcome themselves,” Watzke said in a statement.

“BVB is currently having a major impact on society through a wide range of initiatives. And naturally we are prepared to help out other professional football clubs if it is ultimately a matter of cushioning the financial effects of the pandemic.”

Transfer rumor roundup: Sancho to Man Utd; Madrid’s Haaland backup plan

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A roundup of all of Monday’s biggest transfer rumors, including those involving Premier League clubs…

[ MORE: Tottenham offer stadium to help with coronavirus effort ]

Jadon Sancho is a virtual lock to leave Borussia Dortmund and return to the PL this summer, and the 20-year-old winger will almost certainly command a transfer fee of more than $150 million just three years after signing from Manchester City for just $10 million. Today, it’s Manchester United who are rumored as frontrunners for Sancho’s services, based upon reports that Sancho has “unofficially confirmed” he will choose to join Man United when the transfer window opens.


Updating a transfer rumor from last week, Real Madrid are still very much in on another Dortmund starlet, Erling Haaland, but that doesn’t mean they’re putting all of their eggs in one basket. Los Blancos are reportedly eyeing Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a former Dortmund man himself, as a backup option should Haaland remain at Dortmund or land elsewhere this summer. Aubameyang, who’ll turn 31 this summer, isn’t likely to move for less than $60 million, which could prove a stumbling block.


If the rumors are to be believed, this summer will be a costly one for Man United, who are also interested in Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez. The price tag on the 25-year-old? Close to $170 million. It would seem unlikely that United could afford Niguez (at that price) without getting $100 million (at least) for Paul Pogba.


Another current Arsenal (and former Dortmund) player, midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, hopes to turn his loan to Roma into a permanent move this summer. Arsenal are expected to ask $22 for the 31-year-old, but the Serie A side is hoping to pay closer to $12 million instead.