What did we learn on Boxing Day?

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Boxing Day 2018 in the Premier League was absolutely wild. And it could turn out to be an incredibly pivotal day as we’ve now hit the halfway point of the 2018-19 season.

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Another shock loss for Man City was compounded by big wins for Liverpool, Tottenham and Man United in the top six. At the bottom, Fulham, Huddersfield and Burnley are in the relegation zone and struggling for confidence.

[ MORE: PL Grades at midway ]

Here’s a look at the key takeaways from the nine PL games played on a crazy Boxing Day.


Man City imploding

Two defeats on the spin to Crystal Palace and Leicester have Pep Guardiola and Man City reeling as they’re now seven points behind Liverpool who sit on top of the Premier League table. They’ve now lost three of their last four PL games, and perhaps some of the desire they had last season is no longer there. City’s home game against Liverpool on Jan. 3 now likely represents a final chance to peg the Reds back. That seems crazy to write with half the season left, but if City were to lose and fall 10 points behind Liverpool, the way Jurgen Klopp‘s men are playing there would be no way back. City lost 2-1 at Leicester as a stunner from Ricardo Pereira did the damage. There is no doubt that Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero are struggling after their returns from injury, while having David Silva only fit enough to come off the bench and Fernandinho out shows that City aren’t coping well with injury absences, especially from a defensive standpoint. Yet with the strength of their squad this is still a huge surprise. Nobody saw this coming from City, and even Guardiola seems to look surprised although he continues to say he is happy with the way his team are playing. The same intensity levels just aren’t there, and the fact that six of his 11 defeats as a PL manger have come in December could point towards fatigue playing a huge part as he demands high-pressing and a high tempo all season long. He may well be happy, but City are losing games and making defensive mistakes that Liverpool and Tottenham are not. The reigning champs are in freefall.


Liverpool, Spurs keep on trucking

As City slip up, Liverpool and Spurs just keep on winning. Liverpool secured an eighth-straight win as they hammered Newcastle 4-0 and have now gone the first half of the season unbeaten. Spurs have won five on the spin and have scored 11 goals in their last two games as they’ve battered Everton 6-2 and Bournemouth 5-0 over the festive period. Mauricio Pochettino‘s stock continues to rise (at Man United and elsewhere) and his players have pushed Spurs up to second in the table, as they continue to defy the odds. Both Liverpool and Spurs have in-form attackers aplenty and they’re also sturdy defensively. Right now Liverpool are the bookies’ favorites to win the league and Spurs are genuine title contenders. This title race could be between Jurgen Klopp and Pochettino with Guardiola looking on enviously. With their high-tempo, full-throttle play, both Liverpool and Spurs have been relentless in recent weeks and they show no signs of taking their foot ff the accelerator. Liverpool have Arsenal and Man City coming up next. Tottenham have Wolves and Cardiff. Maybe, just maybe, Spurs are the darkhorses we should all be keeping a closer eye on.


Pogba the key man for Solskjaer

This managing thing is easy, right? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made it two wins from two to kick off his caretaker reign, as he received a wonderful reception in his first game in charge at Old Trafford. United beat Huddersfield 3-1 and the scoreline suggests an easier time for the Red Devils than it was. David De Gea made a wonderful stop at 1-0, but then Paul Pogba took the game over. He swept home to make it 2-0 and curled home a wonderful second to make it 3-0. Solskjaer said that Pogba is “happy now” and with two goals and three assists in the two games since Jose Mourinho was fired, it is clear that the Frenchman was shackled by United’s former coach. Solskjaer has United playing open, attacking soccer and the mood around United has changed completely. With games against Bournemouth and Newcastle coming up, United are well and truly back in the top four hunt. But we cannot get too far ahead of ourselves. With all due respect, they have beaten Cardiff and Huddersfield. The first big test for Solskjaer arrives on Jan. 13 with a trip to play Tottenham at Wembley. Only then will we be able to see how much these confidence-boosting wins have helped their progression.


Burnley, Huddersfield, Fulham could be cut adrift
Burnley were hammered 5-1 at home by Everton. Huddersfield have lost six straight games. Fulham haven’t won in six. They are all in real danger of being cut adrift at the bottom of the table after the festive period. And there are some huge clashes against one another coming up. Fulham’s game against Huddersfield on Dec. 29 is massive for both teams. The Cottagers were unlucky in their 1-1 draw against Wolves on Boxing Day, as Aleksandar Mitrovic went close on several occasions and Claudio Ranieri has clearly made them a better defensive unit. Huddersfield host Burnley on Jan. 2 in what will be a huge scrap and once again pivotal in deciding which team is going to dig themselves out of danger. Huddersfield are dangerous without being clinical, while Burnley’s previously staunch defensive unit now has more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese. With Southampton, Crystal Palace and Cardiff City all showing signs of progress in recent weeks, that is further bad news for Burnley, Huddersfield and Fulham. Their revival for the second half of the season starts now. It simply has to.


Race for seventh place is on

Everton and Leicester were always going to be the safe bets to be the ‘best of the rest’ in the Premier League, and big wins for both on Boxing Day underlines their status as the favorites to finish seventh and secure a Europa League spot. Everton hammered Burnley 5-1 and Marco Silva‘s men were unlucky a few days ago to miss chances, have decisions go against them and face a ridiculously clinical Spurs. The Toffees will be right up there with Richarlison and Gyfli Sigurdsson delivering goals and assists. They just have to sort out their defense. As for Leicester, Claude Puel was under pressure this time last week. He has now led Leicester to back-to-back wins against Chelsea and Man City. What a strange game this is. The Foxes are back to being their clinical best and against the top teams they are forced to sit back, defend and then counter. That suits their players down to the ground. What doesn’t is Puel’s penchant to have his teams possess the ball and against the teams in the bottom half of the table, as Leicester often run out of ideas in attack and are frustrated. They must play on the counter more often if they’re going to seal seventh place. With Watford, Bournemouth and Wolves all in the hunt too, the battle for seventh and the Europa League has perhaps never been this muddled. It’s fantastic.

FIFA propose salary cap, transfer fee talks

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has proposed talks with leagues across the globe about potentially implementing a salary cap and limits on transfer fees as the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The leader of soccer’s world-governing body released a lengthy video statement Saturday, in which he also asked league associations to work together to find the best solutions for the club and international calendar moving forward.

Last week he said FIFA wanted a ‘common sense’ approach to players who are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and that players showing messages of support should be ‘applauded and not punished’ despite FIFA’s previously strict rules around players sharing political, religious or personal messages during games.

FIFA are working on a financial package which they hope to discuss with members and finalize in their next council meeting later this month but recent talks with associations across the globe have suggested a salary cap or transfer fees limit could work.

Here is what the FIFA chief had to say specifically when it comes to soccer adapting to the changing financial environment.

“On the financial and governance aspects, I also heard some interesting proposals on a wide range of topics,” Infantino said. “From salary caps to transfer-fee caps or other taxation mechanisms, to the possible obligation for governing bodies, competition organisers and clubs to build reserves or to contribute to a reserve fund which can be of assistance in hours of need such as now.

“I personally advocate for clearer and stricter financial regulations, imposing full transparency and good governance principles, and not only limiting this to the transfer system, but to the entire football ecosystem. FIFA is doing already a lot of work on this area, even if we face some strong vested interests who fight against our plea for a better global governance in our sport.

“Dear friends, we will need your full support and commitment to move to the next level of good governance in football globally. I think that these and other measures, projects and ideas should be discussed at all levels. I know that this is something that will spark intense debate, but debate is healthy, and we should speak about it all together – as we stand together during this difficult period.”

Quite how a salary cap or a limit on transfer fees would work remain to be seen but given the huge financial burden places on clubs during the coronavirus pandemic, it is a very plausible solution to help stop clubs from going out of business.

With governing bodies such as UEFA placing strict financial fair play rules on clubs to stop them from spending beyond their means, FIFA doing something similar would be possible.

Would clubs, leagues and associations sign up for these new rules? In the short-term, probably. Long-term, it would be tough. Nobody knows how long sports, and society, will be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and even if a vaccine is found and fans can return to stadiums and things go back to relative normality, the financial implications of the past four to five months is likely to be felt for years to come.

The salary cap system will not work for every league or even every region but as we’ve seen in Major League Soccer, it can bring stability and certain leagues need that across the globe.

Premier League confirm zero positive COVID-19 test results

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Following the latest batch of tests on players and club staff the Premier League have revealed that there were zero positive results out of 1,195 COVID-19 tests taken on Thursday June 4 and Friday June 5.

The last three rounds of testing has now seen one positive result as Tottenham Hotspur confirmed the individual that tested positive earlier week was one of their players or staff.

With the sixth round of testing now completed in the Premier League, a total of 6,274 COVID-19 tests have now been carried out with 13 positive results.

All players and staff at Premier League clubs will be tested twice a week during the strict return to training protocols put in place, as full contact training is now up and running and a restart date of June 17 has been set.

Here is the statement from the Premier League in full on the latest result:


The Premier League can today confirm that on Thursday 4 June and Friday 5 June, 1,195 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19. Of these, zero have tested positive.

The Premier League is providing this aggregated information for the purposes of competition integrity and transparency. No specific details as to clubs or individuals will be provided by the League and results will be made public after each round of testing.

Round 1: 17-18 May – 748 tested, with six testing positive from three clubs.
Round 2: 19-22 May – 996 tested, with two testing positive from two clubs.
Round 3: 25-26 May – 1,008 tested, with four testing positive from two clubs.
Round 4: 28-29 May – 1,130 tested, with zero testing positive.
Round 5: 1-2 June – 1,197 tested, with one testing positive.
Round 6: 4-5 June – 1,195 tested, with zero testing positive


Watford season restart preview

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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they are at ahead of the final nine weeks of the season as Watford are up next.

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Focusing on Nigel Pearson’s Watford, they have battled back from an awful first half of the season (which included having three different managers) to drag themselves out of the relegation zone as things stand. However, there is plenty of hard work ahead for the Hornets as they try to preserve their Premier League status.

[ MORE: Every PL season restart preview ] 

Let’s take a closer look at all things Watford when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Watford were rock bottom and looked doomed heading into December but the turnaround since Nigel Pearson arrived has been remarkable. They won once in their opening 17 Premier League games of the season as first Javi Gracia then Quique Sanchez Flores were sacked, and Nigel Pearson arrived to bring organization and defensive stability. He has done more than that as home wins over Man United, Aston Villa, Wolves and Liverpool has breathed new life into their season. Now, Watford are still only out of the relegation zone on goal difference (one goal, to be exact) and if Aston Villa win their game in-hand they are back in the bottom three. That said, any Watford fan would have bitten your hand off in December had you offered them this scenario heading into the final nine games of the season. Their home form should see them over the line but there are plenty of tetchy games coming up between now and late July for Watford. If Troy Deeney can return to training and action, that will be a big boost, but losing Gerard Deulofeu to a serious knee injury just before the suspension was a cruel blow as he’d been the catalyst to turn their season around.


Tactical analysis: There’s no doubt Watford have the talent to be further up the table, just as it showed last season when they were battling in the top half for most of the campaign (before their famed second half of the season slump hit) and reached the FA Cup final. Putting players in the right positions is key and Abdoulaye Doucure has been vital to their turnaround in form. His surging runs from midfield were not impacting play enough earlier this season but Pearson has moved him into almost a No.10 role and he’s flourished. With Etienne Capoue and Will Hughes in deeper central midfield roles behind Doucoure, they have found the right balance in the engine room. The French midfielder causes havoc and has defenses dropping off, which allows the wingers and forwards around him to find space. Defensively, Ben Foster has been great all season in goal and Pearson is very good in setting up his teams to be tough to break down in two solid blocks and then lethal on the counter. Ismaila Sarr has settled down in his first season in the Premier League (Liverpool know all about that) and he will have a big say in their battle against the drop as he will cut in from the right flank. Watford are now sturdy and if Andre Gray can hold the ball up in Deeney’s absence, Sarr and Doucoure will give him plenty of support in attack.


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Foster —–

— Feminia — Cathcart — Kabasele — Masina —

—- Capoue —- Hughes —- 

— Sarr — Doucoure — Pereyra —

—– Deeney —–


Remaining schedule:
Home: Leicester, Southampton, Norwich, Newcastle, Man City
Away: Burnley, Chelsea, West Ham, Arsenal

Predicted finish: They don’t have the easiest run-in but given the fact they’ve beaten Man United and Liverpool, we know this Watford side under Pearson has a shock up their sleeve. Wins against relegation rivals Norwich and West Ham will be key and they will likely need two more wins from their other seven games to have a chance. That is doable and I think with Bournemouth and Aston Villa having a very tough run-in, Watford will just stay up. Just. No matter what happens, Pearson has done a fine job to organize them and he is a master at orchestrating great escapes against relegation.

Dortmund beat Hertha on day of Bundesliga protests (video)

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Borussia Dortmund beat Hertha Berlin 1-0 in a hard-fought encounter at the Westfalenstadion, as Saturday saw Black Lives Matter protests and messages of support take place across the Bundesliga in Germany.

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Dortmund and Hertha led the protests, as players and staff from both teams knelt as one before kick off to show support for the movement sweeping across the USA, Europe and now the world.

After Bayern Munich’s players wore armbands which read ‘Black Lives Matter’ and had warm-up shirts which called for an end to racism, while Dortmund had warm-up shirts on which read ‘No Justice, No Peace’ among other messages of support after widespread protests in the USA.

As for the action once the game started at Dortmund, Jadon Sancho (who last weekend paid tribute to George Floyd) went close on several occasions throughout but a battling and in-form Hertha came close to taking a shock lead in the second half but Alexander Esswein dragged his shot inches wide.

Moments later Dortmund finally broke through as Sancho clipped the ball into Julian Brandt who nodded down for Emre Can to calmly slot home and seal all three points.

The victory means Dortmund are steady in second place but are seven points behind leaders Bayern Munich with four games remaining. Hertha lost for the first time since the restart but remain well in the hunt for Europa League qualification.

Below are videos of the protests from both clubs, plus the game-winner for Can which just about keeps Dortmund in the title race.