Top 5 Premier League storylines: Boxing Day

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Here’s a look at what we should keep an eye out for on Boxing Day in the Premier League.

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December 26 always dishes out some late Christmas gifts, and shocks, around the PL.

This year should be no different…


Liverpool to stay unbeaten? – Liverpool v. Newcastle United, 10 a.m. ET NBCSN [STREAM]

It is 18 and counting for Jurgen Klopp‘s men, who host Newcastle United at Anfield in a fixture which has historically provided plenty of goals and dramatic moments. Klopp and the Liverpool faithful will be hoping it is nothing more than a routine win to keep them four points clear atop the table. With just seven goals conceded so far this season, Virgil Van Dijk in majestic form and squad rotation working out very well, the Reds should be just fine. Newcastle have the potential to cause a shock with Salomon Rondon getting on the end of things, but everything points to Liverpool being unbeaten for the first half of the season.


Man City, Guardiola need a positive response – Leicester City v. Man City, 10 a.m. ET – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

After their shock loss at home to Crystal Palace, Pep Guardiola needs a big response from his stars away at Leicester. Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero have returned form injury in recent weeks, but the loss of David Silva and Fernandinho has arguably been a bigger blow in City’s engine room. Leicester will be buoyed by their win away at Chelsea and they will look to stay tight and use James Maddison and Jamie Vardy on the counter to cause City problems. Ahead of their Jan. 3 game against Liverpool, City need to keep the gap between themselves and Liverpool to at least four points. But Leicester is a tough place to go, especially on Boxing Day and especially with plenty of doubts creeping in about City repeating their title heroics of last season.


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s Old Trafford return – Man United v. Huddersfield Town, 10 a.m. ET – NBC Sports Gold[STREAM]

A perfect start for Solskjaer at Cardiff saw United score five times in a Premier League game for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge. After that big win, the Norwegian’s return to Old Trafford as United’s manager will have the home fans lauding him even more. He is a club legend and he is trying to help them return to the glory years of the Ferguson era. Alongside him is Mick Phelan, Sir Alex’s former assistant, and they’ve simply taken the shackles off this team. Jose Mourinho asked this group of young, attack-minded players to play in a safety-first manner and they couldn’t do it. Solskjaer may not be the right man to lead United beyond this season when his caretaker role is due to expire, but beating Huddersfield (who have lost five on the trot) and Bournemouth in the next two games will give the Red Devils plenty of momentum heading into the next year. The top four dream is now back on for United.


Chelsea aim to get back on track – Watford v. Chelsea, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN [STREAM]

Antonio Rudiger called Chelsea’s defeat at home to Leicester “stupid” and that was a fair summation. Maurizio Sarri‘s men are the most Jekyll and Hyde team in the Premier League this season. They’ve beaten Man City and Arsenal, pushed Liverpool all the way but lost to Wolves and now Leicester and were humiliated by Tottenham. The mentality issue is something Sarri and his players keep bringing up and that is a pretty easy excuse. The issues run a lot deeper at Chelsea, as this squad is largely the same one which downed tools first under Mourinho and then under Antonio Conte just a season after winning the Premier League title for both. A trip to Watford, who have won two on the spin and sit seventh, will be a real test for Chelsea’s creaking defense. It will be intriguing to see if either Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud return to the starting lineup as the false nine with Eden Hazard as the fulcrum faltered against Leicester. More than that, it will be intriguing to see if Chelsea can get themselves up for a clash against a team outside of the top six.


Big home games for basement boys – Fulham v. Wolves, 7:30 a.m. ET – NBCSN [STREAM& Burnley v. Everton, 10 a.m. ET – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Boy, how both Fulham and Burnley need big wins on Boxing Day. Both play at home and both have tricky tests against top 10 teams. Fulham host Wolves, while Burnley welcome Everton to Turf Moor. Being in the bottom three for Christmas has been compounded by big wins for Southampton, Crystal Palace and Newcastle over the past few weeks. The only saving grace for Fulham is that Claudio Ranieri‘s men are just four points from safety despite all of their struggles, while Burnley are two points from safety. Both teams need to focus on sorting out their defensive issues if they’re going to remain in the top-flight and getting big wins on Boxing Day can propel an upturn in the second half of the season.

FOLLOW LIVE: Southampton v. Derby County

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Southampton and Derby County chase the final spot in the fourth round proper of the 2018-19 FA Cup with a replay at St. Mary’s on Wednesday.

[ FOLLOW: FA Cup scoreboard ]

The clubs drew 2-2 at Pride Park on Jan. 5, with a Nathan Redmond 2-0 lead going to waste for the Premier League visitors.

The victor gets a trip to the Crown Ground to face League One’s Accrington Stanley on Jan. 26.

Full fourth round fixture list

Jan. 25
Arsenal v. Manchester United

Jan. 26
Accrington Stanley v. Derby County or Southampton
Brighton and Hove Albion v. West Bromwich Albion
Bristol City v. Bolton
Doncaster Rovers v. Oldham Athletic
Man City v. Burnley
Middlesbrough v. Newport County
Newcastle United v. Watford
Portsmouth v. Queens Park Rangers
Swansea City v. Gillingham
Shrewsbury Town v. Wolves
Millwall v. Everton
AFC Wimbledon v. West Ham United

Jan. 27
Crystal Palace v. Spurs
Chelsea v. Sheffield Wednesday

Jan. 28
Barnet v. Brentford

Leeds’ Bielsa admits he spied “all the rivals”; How widespread is spying?

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Managerial darling Marcelo Bielsa spoke out Wednesday as fallout continues from a Leeds United scout caught spying on Derby County last week.

Bielsa says he’s spied on every team the club has played in the Championship this season.

[ MORE: Neymar praises Weah ]

How rare is this? And how big of a role has it played in Leeds’ 4-point lead in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League? From the BBC:

“I observed all the rivals we played against and watched the training sessions of all opponents,” he said. “All the information I need to clarify, I gather it without watching the training session of the opponent, so why did I send someone to watch them? Just because I thought I wasn’t violating the norm. I gathered information that I can obtain in another way.

“We feel guilty if we don’t work enough, it [watching the opponents train] allows us to have less anxiety and in my case I am stupid enough to allow this kind of behavior.”

The 63-year-old Argentine has spent time at Lille, Lazio, Marseille, Athletic Bilbao, and Espanyol in addition to running the national teams of Argentina and Chile.

It does raise the question of how much spying is done in soccer. We know that the NFL’s New England Patriots cheated during a game against the New York Jets and that MLB teams try to steal signals, but sneaking around a training session… is that okay? Should it be?

55-goal Martinez re-ups with Atlanta through 2023

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Josef Martinez has signed a new deal with Atlanta United, with a contract tying him to the club through the 2023 Major League Soccer season.

Martinez, 25, has 55 goals in 61 games for the Five Stripes since arriving from Torino in 2017, a strike rate unlike anything the Venezuelan had been able to do in his career with the Serie A club, Young Boys, or Caracas.

[ MORE: Neymar praises Weah ]

That development has him happy to lock down a new Designated Player deal in Georgia, one that certainly would raise his transfer value. From AtlUtd.com:

“This means a lot to me because of the affection that the fans have shown me, that the fans show all of the players. It’s unique,” Martinez said. “They recognize the effort that you give and they know you did everything to win, and I think that’s why we love playing here. I have to thank everyone. My teammates, the city, my family and friends, because this is a dream I’ve always had. I’ve said before that I don’t want to go anywhere because this is my home. You can expect more work, more intensity, because that’s who I am. I want to win. I want to do everything for my teammates and for the city.”

With neither Newcastle nor Real Betis ready to meet Atlanta’s transfer fee for Miguel Almiron, the Five Stripes are in a bit of a bind with a reported deal for expected DP Pity Martinez despite having the league maximum three DPs in Martinez, Almiron, and Ezequiel Barco. Perhaps the European clubs are trying to force Atlanta’s hand.

Men In Blazers Podcast: De Gea heroics; Liverpool, Man City wins

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Rog and Davo applaud David De Gea‘s goalkeeping heroics in Manchester United’s 1-0 victory over Tottenham. Plus, wins for Liverpool and City in the title race.

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