Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Liverpool's Klopp rips AFCON move
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Liverpool’s Klopp rips AFCON move, says FIFA needs to step in but won’t

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Jurgen Klopp is furious about Cameroon moving the Africa Cup of Nations to January 2021, something that would hinder the Reds’ likely title defense.

(No, Klopp is not counting his title chickens before they hatch, even if it’s a foregone conclusion).

Cameroon moved the tournament from summer to winter due to its climate, which seems like a decision that could’ve been made ages ago. The nation had hosting rights stripped away for the 2019 tournament, but will host in 2021.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The Reds could be without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Naby Keita for the better part of a month should Senegal, Guinea, and Egypt all qualify for the tournament. Joel Matip could be there with hosts Cameroon if the federation is successful in convincing him to return to the international fold.

Klopp went on a lengthy and mostly understandable diatribe against the move. We write mostly because there’s something lost in translation regarding the import of the tournament.

He’s upset at how it will tax his squad and how he keeps the players happy if he needs to add players just to deal with one month of the schedule.

“Do we really want to open this book? I couldn’t respect Africa Cup of Nations more than I do, I like it, I’ve watched it a lot. Difficult circumstances a lot of times,” Klopp said, via The Liverpool Echo. “It is another tournament, there are too many of them. Other thing is it doesn’t help African players. We won’t sell Naby, Mo or Sadio because of it but if we bring someone in, it affects the decision. Normal process. We have to think about that. Players aren’t asked. … FIFA, who should [step in] doesn’t look like being involved. It’s a strange situation. If we want lesser games they will say take less money. I will say, I am ready to do so. Yes.”

He continued.

“For us it’s a catastrophe, If we say (a player) can’t go, he’s suspended. How can the club who pay his salary not decide. If he’s injured and we say he cannot play for us, we have to send him to Africa so they can have a look. We don’t have any say. We just plan the route. These are all things that should not be like this. I speak about it now and no one will listen. The moaner from Liverpool again. It’s a complete waste of time. As long as nothing changes, I will keep saying it. It’s about the players, not me.”

Manchester City (Riyad Mahrez), Arsenal (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), and Leicester City (Wilfried Ndidi) are among the many clubs who could lose stars for a month.

Premier League Storylines: Matchweek 23

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The January schedule is filling up, and teams are hoping to navigate the crowded fixture lists with injuries piling up through the winter months. With the FA Cup returning next week and managers hoping to limit minutes as much as possible, this weekend’s games will be critical.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The race for the Champions League spots is heating up, and a number of teams can make serious moves this weekend.

Can Spurs gain ground against the tide? [ STREAM ]

  • Watford v. Tottenham Hotspur, Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Tottenham doesn’t have Harry Kane. We know that. It’s time for Jose Mourinho to put up or shut up. Spurs haven’t scored in either of their last two Premier League games, and now Mourinho has had the time to figure things out. They now travel to Watford who is running on a high, having won each of their last three league games despite some discipline issues. The Hornets haven’t lost since December 4, which feels like an eternity ago.

Will Arsenal continue to improve under Mikel Arteta? [ STREAM ]

  • Arsenal v. Sheffield United, Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

The Gunners have shown real – but slow – improvement under Mikel Arteta. There are still serious flaws, however, and Sheffield United is a team that can take advantage if given the chance. This is a litmus test match for the Gunners, and a win could get them as many as three places in the table. They were held off the scoresheet against the Blades last time around, and could complete their first double over Arsenal since the 40’s. Oh yea, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is out suspended, a massive loss for the Gunners up front.

Can Aston Villa pull themselves out of the relegation zone, and Brighton into it? [ STREAM ]

  • Brighton Hove & Albion v. Aston Villa, Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold)

Aston Villa was pummeled by six Man City goals last time out, and the feeling around Villa Park is one of trepidation. Still, the results are there to give fans some hope, and one this weekend would turn things around completely. Three points on the road at Brighton would draw them level with the Seagulls in the table and give them a huge boost in the crowded relegation battle. Jack Grealish has been a motor for Villa this season, but the critical component in a game like this is the defense, a back line that’s given up 43 goals in 22 matches. Will Brighton punish the Villains at the Amex?

Which Chelsea will show up on Tyneside? [ STREAM ]

  • Newcastle United v. Chelsea, Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC)

Chelsea has been extremely Jeckell & Hyde over the past month, with wins over Arsenal and Spurs but losses to Bournemouth and Southampton and a draw with Brighton. All told, it’s been two months since their last back-to-back wins. Newcastle, meanwhile, put together a draw against a scrappy Wolves side before punishing Rochdale in their FA Cup replay. Christian Pulisic is still injured, but the Blues remain one of the strongest attacking threats in the Premier League. A road loss, however, and the five-point gap to Manchester United could thin considerably.

Can Manchester United put in a shift against Liverpool? [ STREAM ]

  • Liverpool v. Manchester United, Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

What a test for Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Defensive problems at key moments have plagued Manchester United this season, and like Chelsea, inconsistencies have proven vital. This game is critical for Solskjaer in the top four race, because a loss risks them falling a significant eight points back of the Champions League places. Still, while the United defense doesn’t instill fear in Premier League opponents, they’ve pulled out solid shifts against good teams this season, like holding both Spurs and Manchester City to a single goal in early December.

Liverpool can afford a few missteps, and Jurgen Klopp has managed his players’ minutes to perfection this campaign. A 14-point lead at the top of the table and a game in hand over Man City means we could see more players rested, and that gives the Red Devils even more hope.

Bonus: Can Pep Guardiola win on his birthday? [ STREAM ]

  • Manchester City v. Crystal Palace, Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold)

No Man City manager has ever won on his birthday. Good luck, Pep!

Africa Cup of Nations moved, Premier League clubs impacted

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The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon has been moved and it is likely to impact several Premier League clubs.

In a statement the African Football Confederation (CAF) confirmed the switch, as they had previously agreed to hold the tournament in the summer (just like in 2019) but due to the hot weather conditions in host nation Cameroon in the summer time, the Cameroon Football Federation has switched the dates to Jan. 6 to Feb. 6, 2021.

The deputy general secretary of CAF, Tony Baffoe, revealed more details about why the dates have been switched.

“We have reviewed the period of the competition as requested by the Cameroonian party due to unfavourable climatic conditions during the period initially slated. After listening to the various arguments and viewpoints – and in particular from the Cameroonian meteorological authorities, the coaches and players – the representatives of the AFCON organising committee, which received the mandate from CAF Executive Committee to take the decision, has granted this request. A detailed reported shall be presented to the members of the Executive Committee during its next session on 6 February.”

That means the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, to name a few, would be missing for over a month of the 2020-21 Premier League season.

Liverpool would be the Premier League most impacted with Salah and Mane potentially joined by Naby Keita, while Leicester City would potentially lose Nigerian duo Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho, plus Southampton’s Moussa Djenepo and Sofiane Boufal would be unavailable.

Of course, this over a year out and teams haven’t even qualified for the tournament yet, but this will seriously impact the plans of Premier League clubs.

AFCON tournaments have previously been held in January to February but switched to a summer model for the 2019 edition in Egypt, with clubs across Europe delighted by that decision as they were losing star players at a key part of the season.

Atletico Madrid eyeing Lacazette, reportedly could swap Lemar

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Atletico Madrid is looking to buttress its bid to win La Liga with an Arsenal forward, according to multiple reports

Alexandre Lacazette is the man in question, and he had been linked with Atleti when he signed with the Gunners in 2017.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Lacazette, 28, has a contract at Arsenal through the 2021/22 season and has scored 42 goals with 20 assists in 107 appearances. Thirty-two of those goals have come in the Premier League to go with 17 assists.

Italian reporter Tancredi Palmeri says Atleti has made contact with Arsenal, while Marca says the Gunners will be tempted by a longtime rumored target of their own. The same report says that Lacazette is the club’s “Plan B” for Edinson Cavani.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer deals ]

That’s Thomas Lemar, who landed in Madrid after a celebrated career at Monaco. Now 24, the World Cup-winning left wing has yet to record a goal or an assist in 21 matches this season.

Does it make sense? That depends on Mikel Arteta‘s plans for the strike force, which is loaded with playmakers like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil, Nicolas Pepe, and a bevy of promising youngsters.

Arteta: Arsenal played well but equalizer was ‘unacceptable’

Arteta reacts to Arsenal draw
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Two big mistakes cost Arsenal a win and then a man against shorthanded Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Speaking after the 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park, Mikel Arteta said can deal with one but not the other.

The Gunners switched off for Jordan Ayew‘s equalizer, and goal scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was sent off by VAR for an ugly challenge.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

That means Arsenal took just two points from Palace this season, and remains a point behind the ninth-place Eagles.

From Football.London:

“We conceded a goal where we switched off completely and it’s unacceptable, I am upset with that, but after that we reacted very well after conceding goal and after Auba’s red card, we were the team that I expected because everyone was at it again.”

There was some luck involved in the ball finding its way over the line, but the haphazard effort in its own third is pretty familiar to Arsenal supporters.

It stings, because Arsenal should’ve been up a few goals by that point and was arguably the better team once down a man.

That happened via a reckless challenge by Aubameyang, which was a yellow card until VAR got a close look.

“I think the first 35 minutes were exactly what I want our Arsenal team to play like. We were at it, we were very dominant, we controlled the game, we were in the right positions and we were so good in transition.”

Lucas Torreira was also injured in the draw, and Arteta implied that it could be a significant one.