Big winners, losers from festive period

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Which teams ‘won’ the busy festive period in the Premier League? Who were the big losers?

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With four games played in the space of 10 days the action came thick and fast and teams up and down the league either improved their standing drastically or slumped to set up contrasting emotions heading into the second half of the season.

The likes of Man City, Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal have had a topsy-turvy festive period with each of them taking one step forward then one step back.

Below we take a look at the big winners and losers from across the Premier League.


Winners

Watford: My word, who saw this coming!? Nigel Pearson has had a superb impact as Watford’s new manager, with fine displays against Liverpool, Man United, Sheffield United, Aston Villa and Wolves. Beating Man United, Villa and Wolves was a huge boost and the Hornets look much more solid defensively and Troy Deeney‘s return to fitness has given their attack a huge boost. There is still plenty of work for Watford to do in the coming months but after just one win in their opening 17 games of the season they’ve now won three of their last four. We all knew that Watford’s squad had the quality to be in the top 10 of the Premier League but they now have the structure to get themselves out of trouble in their battle against relegation. A simply amazing festive period for the Hornets.

Southampton: Talking of amazing festive periods, Southampton probably enjoyed the best and it equally came out of nowhere. Saints enjoyed convincing shutout wins against Chelsea and Tottenham, hammered relegation rivals Aston Villa and drew against Crystal Palace when they should have won. Ever since the 9-0 hammering at home against Leicester City they have looked a different team with Ralph Hasenhuttl going back to basics and Saints have improved drastically at the back. Danny Ings is on fire and is the form striker in the Premier League, so that helps too, but Saints have played so well over the last few months and probably should have more points on the board than they have right now. With Jan Bednarek and Jack Stephens forming a great central defensive partnership, Ings scoring goals and the likes of Moussa Djenepo and Nathan Redmond impressing, Saints have found a winning formula and they should be pushing for the top 10 instead of being in a relegation scrap in the final months of the season.

Liverpool: They’ve had a perfect season and as many predicted Liverpool would falter in a busy festive period which saw them travel to Qatar to win the Club World Cup they didn’t miss a beat. Jurgen Klopp‘s side are a ruthless winning machine and they’ve been that way all season long as they’ve not always been at their best but they remain unbeaten. They hammered second-place Leicester to set the tone and outlasted a spirited Wolves at Anfield to underline the fact they can win however they want, whenever they want. The festive period is crucial in deciding the title race and this one has looked lopsided for a while and looks even more so. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Roberto Firmino, Naby Keita and Alisson have been particularly brilliant as new heroes keep stepping up.


Losers

Tottenham: Jose Mourinho’s first proper meltdown as Tottenham’s manager took 42 days to arrive. But there’s no wonder it did after this festive period. Spurs lost at home to Chelsea to kick things off, then narrowly beat Brighton after being outplayed, drew at Norwich when they should have lost, then lost at Southampton after a torrid display. Add to that Heung-Min Son being sent off against Chelsea to miss the festive games and Harry Kane then getting injured as he was forced to play each game due to Son’s absence and it was an awful holiday season for Spurs. Even though other top four hopefuls struggled, Spurs sit six points from the Champions League spots. Even though he’s back in a job in the Premier League, there was little festive cheer in the Mourinho household this holiday season.

Bournemouth: The Cherries are in the bottom three and Eddie Howe’s injury-hit side look so short on confidence as their usual attacking flair has disappeared. Add in their defensive injuries and Bournemouth are in serious trouble and in serious danger of relegation. Each season there is always one team which drops from midtable to be embroiled in the battle at the bottom and it looks like Bournemouth are that team. Defeats to West Ham, Brighton and Burnley over the festive period, all without scoring a goal, underlined the huge problems they have with Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Josh King stone cold in front of goal. Bournemouth’s defensive issues were always papered over by the fact that could score three or four each game. That is no longer the case and since they were promoted in 2015 this will be their most serious battled against the drop.

Norwich City: No wins in their last eight games and VAR was not helpful to them in their draws at home against Spurs and Crystal Palace. Daniel Farke‘s side have been playing well but not getting results and that is the most demoralizing thing as they have now been cut adrift at the bottom of the table and are seven points from safety. Teemu Pukki, Todd Cantwell and Emiliano Beundia continue to create chances and scored goals between them but defensive mistakes have cost Norwich all season long and they just aren’t able to see out games they should win.

Champions League score predictions: Round of 16

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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is finally back as the Round of 16 kicks off this week and two of the four Premier League clubs are in action.

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Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, the two finalists from last season, are first up and both will be happy enough with their draws in the last 16.

That said, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool know that Diego Simeone’s Atleti are a very dangerous team to play as they will scrap and battle for every ball against the reigning European champions. As for Spurs and Jose Mourinho, the news that Heung-min Son has broken his arm and could be out for the rest of the season is a huge blow but they host an inconsistent RB Leipzig.

Borussia Dortmund host Paris Saint-Germain and Atalanta host Valencia in the other last 16 ties this week and both should be cracking encounters between two very evenly-matched teams.

[ MORE: Which Premier League team(s) will reach last eight? ]

Next week the other four last 16 first legs take place as Man City and Chelsea are in action against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively. Out of the four Premier League teams still in the competition, Liverpool and Spurs will be the most confident of advancing.

Below we predict the scores for the UCL round of 16 games taking place over the next two days. Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday
Atletico Madrid 1-2 Liverpool
Borussia Dortmund 3-2 PSG

Wednesday
Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 RB Leipzig
Atalanta 2-1 Valencia

Lampard issues Chelsea injury update; Pulisic remains out

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Chelsea boss Frank Lampard issued a lengthy injury update after their 2-0 defeat against Man United and USMNT fans will not be happy to hear that Christian Pulisic remains out.

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Ahead of Chelsea’s pivotal top four clash at home against bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Lampard could be without as many as five key players.

Andreas Christensen broke his nose and came off at half time against United, while N’Golo Kante was subbed off early after yet another leg injury for the French superstar.

“Callum, no. Pulisic, no. N’Golo, no, from that today. Tammy is a maybe. It is not going our way with injuries at the moment but the players who come in they have to show that. That is what the squad is there for. It is frustrating,” Lampard told Chelsea TV when asked about availability for Saturday.

Lampard then gave an extra update on Kante, who walked through the mixed zone after the game looking okay and told the French journalists who were assembled that it wasn’t too bad.

“It is an adductor injury,” Lampard confirmed. “We will have to assess it and scan it. It doesn’t look great. It is on the same leg [as he injured before].”

With four wins in their last 14 Premier League games Chelsea are not in good form and are just one point ahead of fifth-place Tottenham ahead of their game this weekend.

They also have a nasty habit of dominating matches but are failing to put multiple chances away and with these injuries piling up it certainly makes Chelsea’s decision to not spend in the January window to strengthen their squad, especially in terms of strikers, very surprising.

With Bayern Munich coming up in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last 16 tie next week, Lampard will hope Chelsea’s luck turns and plenty of players return from injury.

FC Cincinnati coach Jans resigns amid investigation over remarks

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CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati coach Ron Jans resigned amid an investigation by Major League Soccer of his use of a racial slur in the locker room.

Jans resigned late Monday, FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding said: “The club had suspended Jans pending the investigation, which was prompted by a complaint from the MLS Players Association.

“As Major League Soccer’s investigation unfolded and some themes emerged, Ron offered his resignation and we agreed that it was the best course of action for everyone involved with FC Cincinnati,” Berding said.

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The club designated Yoann Damet as interim head coach while the team conducts a search. Cincinnati is training in Florida for its second season in MLS.

Cincinnati has been through two head coaches during its brief stay in the league. It fired Alan Koch after its 11th first-tier match, which left the expansion club with two wins, seven losses and two draws.

Damet also was the interim head coach while the team conducted a search that resulted in Jans’ hiring last August.

Cincinnati finished with the worst record in MLS in its inaugural season, with six wins, six draws and 22 losses. It scored a league-low 31 goals in 34 matches.

Cincinnati gained entry into MLS after a successful debut under Koch, who led the team to the semifinals of the United Soccer League’s playoffs in both 2017 and 2018.

German fans turn on fellow supporter for racist abuse

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BERLIN — The fans of German soccer club Preußen Münster showed how racist abuse can be handled, shouting “Nazis out! Nazis out!” after one of their own fans targeted a visiting player with monkey chants.

The perpetrator was a 29-year-old man who was forced out of the stadium. And the player, Würzburger Kickers defender Leroy Kwadwo, thanked the opposing fans their “exemplary” reaction.

“I was racially abused by one single spectator. It just makes me sad,” Kwadwo wrote on Saturday, a day after the match. “I indeed have a different skin color, but I was born here in this wonderful land that has given my family and I so much and made so much possible. I am one of you. I live here and can live my calling as a professional with the Würzburger Kickers.

“Something like yesterday just makes me sad and angry because everyone has to know, racism does not belong in OUR world. We all have the opportunity to oppose it and stop it if it happens.”

The incident occurred during a third-division match in Münster.

On Monday, Münster said it would seek to ban the suspect from all German stadiums for three years, the toughest possible sanction permitted under current regulations.

“The least we an do is ensure that this person is no longer allowed in our stadium,” Münster president Christoph Strässer said. “We will not tolerate racism or any form of discrimination. The issue of integration is naturally important to us as a sports club, and Article 1 of the constitution applies primarily, namely: Human dignity is sacrosanct. That goes for everyone in this country.”

The perpetrator also faces legal consequences. Local police said the man would be charged with incitement, which can lead to financial penalties and a jail term of three months to five years if convicted.

Referee Katrin Rafalski stopped the 0-0 draw in the 88th minute after being informed of the racist abuse by Kwadwo. It was followed by a stadium announcement against the abuse and the “Nazis out!” chants from the fans.

The German soccer federation praised the fans’ reaction on Twitter on Saturday.

“So sad and shameful as the racist incident against Leroy Kwadwo was, so exemplary was the immediate reaction to it,” the federation said. “The third division stands together and says, no to racism and discrimination!”

The incident occurred only days after Bundesliga club Schalke was fined 50,000 euros ($54,600) after some of its fans subjected Hertha Berlin player Jordan Torunarigha to racist abuse during a German Cup game on Feb. 4.

Torunarigha, the son of former Nigerian player Ojokojo Torunarigha, was targeted with monkey chants and was eventually sent off in extra time when he picked up a second yellow card after appearing increasingly upset as the game went on. The 22-year-old German defender was consoled by Schalke’s Amine Harit.

Numerous other racist incidents have tarnished European soccer this season.

On Sunday in Portugal, Porto striker Moussa Marega was visibly angered by monkey noises targeting him after he scored his team’s second goal in a 2-1 win at Guimarães. Several Porto and opposition players attempted to dissuade him from walking off the field in the 71st minute, when he demanded to be substituted.