Festive Fixtures, by club: Who should love their chances?

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Thirty-nine matches in 14 days. Get your coffee ready.

These are the times that try club’s souls. They won’t necessarily end a season, but they will tax it as Man City learned taking just six of 12 points from last season’s festive fixtures.

[ RECAP: Villa 5-0 Liverpool ]

That wasn’t quite predictable, losing to Palace and Leicester, and it shows that the level of competition doesn’t play as big of a role as you think when navigating through deep waters.

That said, a few thoughts before we list every team’s festive fixture list:

  • It’s difficult to understate how important this run is for Aston Villa, who enters the season above the drop zone on goal differential. Villa gets the 20th, 19th, 18th, and 12th placed teams in the league. Giving them points is not ideal.
  • Leicester City is going to test Brendan Rodgers‘ magic when it meets Liverpool and Man City over the course of five days. Fortunately for the Foxes, it will be Liverpool’s first match since returning from Qatar.
  • Crystal Palace‘s festive fixtures will likely decide whether they’re a Top Six contender or just another mid-table side. Newcastle, West Ham, Saints, and Norwich could be a 9-12 point run, even with three matches away from Selhurst Park, or the Eagles could see themselves passed by at least two of those teams.
  • Manchester United also has a chance to charge into the Top Four with matches against Watford, Newcastle, and Burnley before a trip to Arsenal.
  • If Spurs can beat Chelsea on Sunday, you may well see Tottenham comfortably in the Top Four by the end of the festive fixtures. Jose Mourinho will manage a three-match run versus Brighton, Norwich, and Saints.

Arsenal
Dec. 21 – Everton v. Arsenal
Dec. 26 – Bournemouth v. Arsenal
Dec. 29 – Arsenal v. Chelsea
Jan. 1 – Arsenal v. Manchester United

Aston Villa
Dec. 21 – Villa v. Southampton
Dec. 26 – Villa v. Norwich City
Dec. 28 – Watford v. Villa
Jan. 1 – Burnley v. Villa

Bournemouth
Dec. 21 – Bournemouth v. Burnley
Dec. 26 – Bournemouth v. Arsenal
Dec. 28 – Brighton v. Bournemouth
Jan. 1 – West Ham v. Bournemouth

Brighton and Hove Albion
Dec. 21 – Brighton v. Sheffield United
Dec. 26 – Spurs v. Brighton
Dec. 28 – Brighton v. Bournemouth
Jan. 1 – Brighton v. Chelsea

Burnley
Dec. 21 – Bournemouth v. Burnley
Dec. 26 – Everton v. Burnley
Dec. 28 – Burnley v. Manchester United
Jan. 1 – Burnley v. Villa

Chelsea
Dec. 22 – Spurs v. Chelsea
Dec. 26 – Chelsea v. Southampton
Dec. 29 – Arsenal v. Chelsea
Jan. 1 – Brighton v. Chelsea

Crystal Palace
Dec. 21 – Newcastle v. Palace
Dec. 26 – Palace v. West Ham
Dec. 28 – Southampton v. Palace
Jan. 1 – Norwich City v. Palace

Everton
Dec. 21 – Everton v. Arsenal
Dec. 26 – Everton v. Burnley
Dec. 28 – Newcastle v. Everton
Jan. 1 – Man City v. Everton

Leicester City
Dec. 21 – Man City v. Leicester City
Dec. 26 – Leicester City v. Liverpool
Jan. 1 – Newcastle v. Leicester City

Liverpool
Dec. 26 – Leicester City v. Liverpool
Dec. 29 – Liverpool v. Wolves
Jan. 2 – Liverpool v. Sheffield United

Manchester City
Dec. 21 – Man City v. Leicester City
Dec. 27 – Wolves v. Man City
Dec. 29 – Man City v. Sheffield United
Jan. 1 – Man City v. Everton

Manchester United
Dec. 22 – Watford v. Manchester United
Dec. 26 – Manchester United v. Newcastle
Dec. 28 – Burnley v. Manchester United
Jan. 1 – Arsenal v. Manchester United

Newcastle United
Dec. 21 – Newcastle v. Palace
Dec. 26 – Manchester United v. Newcastle
Dec. 28 – Newcastle v. Everton
Jan. 1 – Newcastle v. Leicester City

Norwich City
Dec. 21 – Norwich City v. Wolves
Dec. 26 – Villa v. Norwich City
Dec. 28 – Norwich City v. Spurs
Jan. 1 – Norwich City v. Palace

Sheffield United
Dec. 21 – Brighton v. Sheffield United
Dec. 26 – Sheffield United v. Watford
Dec. 29 – Man City v. Sheffield United
Jan. 2 – Liverpool v. Sheffield United

Southampton
Dec. 21 – Villa v. Southampton
Dec. 26 – Chelsea v. Southampton
Dec. 28 – Southampton v. Palace
Jan. 1 – Southampton v. Spurs

Tottenham Hotspur
Dec. 22 – Spurs v. Chelsea
Dec. 26 – Spurs v. Brighton
Dec. 28 – Norwich City v. Spurs
Jan. 1 – Southampton v. Spurs

Watford
Dec. 22 – Watford v. Manchester United
Dec. 26 – Sheffield United v. Watford
Dec. 28 – Watford v. Aston Villa
Jan. 1 – Watford v. Wolves

West Ham United
Dec. 26 – Palace v. West Ham
Dec. 28 – West Ham v. Leicester City
Jan. 1 – West Ham v. Bournemouth

Wolves
Dec. 21 – Norwich City v. Wolves
Dec. 27 – Wolves v. Man City
Dec. 29 – Liverpool v. Wolves
Jan. 1 – Watford v. Wolves

Gomes return gives Everton boost despite defeat

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Everton lost the first game of a gauntlet four-game swing, losing 3-2 at Arsenal despite leading inside two minutes of the match. But while Everton left the Emirates without any points, it gained a massive boost with the return of Andre Gomes.

The Portuguese central midfielder, signed from Barcelona, made his return to the field on Sunday off the bench in the 59th minute for his first game since suffering a gruesome injury on November 3 against Tottenham. Gomes appeared to break his leg after a sliding tackle from behind from Heung-Min Son, but in less than four months, Gomes is now back in action.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

“I need to thank everybody. The team, they were great, my supporters, Evertonions, and also in general football supporters, everyone has been wonderful with me,” Gomes said after the Arsenal match. “(It) gives (me) confidence when you feel like you have the support of the people. I just pushed myself to the my limit, I wanted to be back as soon as possible, and I’m glad I have the help of everybody around me.”

This is huge for Everton and head coach Carlo Ancelotti. Without Gomes, and the oft-injured Fabian Delph (though Delph started against Arsenal), Everton really lacked pace and power in the center of midfield. Morgan Schneiderlin is a decent passer but doesn’t have the pace required for the Premier League, and then Ancelotti was dropping Gylfi Sigurdsson further back in midfield to play alongside Schneiderlin or Delph.

With Gomes back in contention for a starting spot, Ancelotti can play Sigurdsson closer to the opposing goal and partner him with either Delph or the still-young Tom Davies, who can do even more running to win the ball back and get it to Gomes.

“He did really well without problem,” Ancelotti said post game. “(He was) very strong in the tackle. The player is really important for us and he will play next game.”

Looking forward, it’s also huge for Everton to get Gomes back because they’re in the middle of one of the season’s toughest stretches. After facing Arsenal today, Everton hosts Manchester United, visits Chelsea, and then hosts Liverpool on Monday, March 16 in the Merseyside Derby.

Galatasaray wins bonkers derby over Fenerbahce

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Goals. Fights. Red cards. Yellow cards. Horror tackles. Passion in the stands.

The Intercontinental Derby in Istanbul today had just about everything.

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For the first time this century, Galatasaray defeated Fenerbahce in the Turkish Superlig, winning 3-1 on the road. With the victory, Galatasaray moves into a three-way tie for first place in the league. As mentioned above, the game featured 12 yellow cards, VAR reviews, two red cards, and countless other dangerous plays that the officials let go with just a warning.

Max Kruse put the Asia-based Fenerbahce in front off a penalty kick that was confirmed by VAR, but Dutch defender Ryan Donk equalized for the European-based Galatasaray in the 39th minute off a bullit header in the box from a corner.

With both teams trading chances, the tempers exploded in the 77th minute after Henry Onyekuru was taken down on the left side of the box. VAR confirmed that decision as well and former Atletico Madrid star Radamel Falcao powered the penalty in to give Galatasaray a huge lead.

Five minutes later, as Younes Belhanda was coming off the field as a substitution, a scuffle that he started with Deniz Turuc ended with both players getting sent off. Awkwardly, Ahmet Calik had come onto the pitch for Belhanda, but Belhanda’s actions just before he left the pitch meant that Calik wasn’t officially in the game yet and the substitution was cancelled. Calik eventually entered as a sub for Radamel Falcao, while both teams were reduced to ten players on the pitch.

In the 89th minute, Fernando Muslera dived to make an outstanding save on a powerful free kick from Mehmet Ekici, and eight minutes later deep into second half stoppage time, Muslera played provider. His long pass from inside the box found Onyekuru in space and the Nigerian dribbled forward, rounded Fenerbahce goalkeeper Altay Bayindir and scored before going into a slide celebration in the corner.

The game had a couple of Premier League connections. Former Fulham midfielder Jean-Michael Seri and Falcao, formerly of Manchester United, both started for Galatasaray. Goal-scorer Ryan Donk played a decade ago one season for West Bromwich Albion and Sofiane Feghouli played recently for West Ham. For Fenerbahce, Mauricio Isla also played one season for Queens Park Rangers.

Watch the highlights from this wild and crazy – and totally on-point – derby below.

Ziyech’s Chelsea contract details confirmed

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Chelsea has confirmed the contract details of talented midfielder Hakim Ziyech who will join this summer.

The London giants announced on Sunday that Ziyech has signed a five-year contract with Chelsea, beginning on July 1 this summer when his transfer from Ajax is completed.

On February 13, Chelsea and Ajax came to an agreement on a transfer fee for Ziyech, reported to be in the region of $43 million.

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“I am delighted and proud to have signed for such a huge club as Chelsea,” Ziyech said in a statement. “I am looking forward to next season and hope we can achieve great things together.”

Chelsea was intent on signing Ziyech ahead of the competition and made Ajax a deal they couldn’t refuse.

The left-footed playmaker has been a star for Ajax and in the UEFA Champions League for the last few seasons, helping lead Ajax to the Champions League semifinals last season. So far this season, he’s scored eight goals and recorded four assists between the Dutch Eredivisie and the Champions League.

Ziyech’s arrival this summer surely spells the end of time for Pedro and William as attacking midfielders at Chelsea. The Dutchman, who usually plays as a right winger, cutting inside with the left foot, could create a great combination with Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham, and Mason Mount moving forward. Chelsea could also certainly sign another one in that position, to keep a deep squad in case of injuries and/or fatigue.

Arteta vows to keep Aubameyang: “Our most important player”

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Arsenal completed a hectic week with a hectic win prodded by its two top performers of the season.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice and Bernd Leno made key late saves as the exhausted Gunners outlasted Everton 3-2 at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was effusive in his praise, relatively speaking, for both players. He said that Leno “saved” Arsenal, and went long on Aubameyang when asked how important the player is to the club’s future.

“Incredible,” Arteta said. “The amount of work he’s doing. Before I had my questions, (but he’s) shown the commitment that he’s shown to his teammates and the club. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to do it, or do it physically. So it’s either you want to do it or don’t.

“He’s our most important player. Stats wise, there’s no question. As much as I can and the club can, we will try to convince him to stay with us.”

Arteta also appreciates the effort his men put in against an energetic Everton side three days after outlasting Olympiacos in Greece.

“Coming back from Europe, three games in seven days, conceding a goal in the first minute, the way we reacted, the way we played for 60-65 minutes was exactly what I wasn’t from my team,” Arteta preened. “The resilience some of the players showed when they were absolutely knackered and kept going and going. This was exactly what I wanted. … Everybody was looking at me, saying ‘I’m cramping. I’m doing this, doing that.’ We could only change two players. I tried to condense the midfield and have a little bit more energy.”

Leno was very happy with Arsenal’s effort.

The Gunners have been much better since Arteta implemented his system, even if their 270-minute shutout streak died in the first minute on Sunday.

“You could see that our power was at the end,” Leno said. “We were fighting. You can see how happy everyone was after this game because we deserve this and we have to keep going.”

Aubameyang praised his keeper.

“We are always happy to have him. He saved us a couple of times at the right moment. We’re proud of him and we know that we can count on him. He gives us more energy to push.”

The ninth-place Gunners are four points off fifth place and, of course, still alive for a Champions League berth through the Europa League.

Staying in the Champions League is probably their only path to keeping Aubameyang, and Arteta’s description of the Gabonese star doesn’t try to disguise the need to keep him in North London.