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Guardiola praises Liverpool; injury update

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With the Premier League games coming thick and fast as midweek action now takes center stage, Premier League managers have been giving us injury updates on Monday and Pep Guardiola has praised Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola has doffed his cap to Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool once again, as the Reds have now moved 16 points clear of second-place Man City and have a game in hand on the reigning Premier League champions.

“We can’t deny Liverpool are extraordinary,” Guardiola said. “But everyday I live thinking about what we can do better. Some games are good, we concede few. We have scored more than Liverpool. I don’t have stats here but we concede more chances and drop points.”

In short from Pep: Damn, we should have signed more, and better, defenders this summer. Oh, and the injury to Aymeric Laporte was unlucky.

Guardiola has confirmed that Laporte is close to a return to fitness after the silky French center back missed the last four months with a knee injury. He also confirmed that both John Stones and Benjamin Mendy are doubtful for the trip to Sheffield United on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

That starts our quick round up of injury news around the Premier League ahead of the midweek games…

  • Chelsea boss Frank Lampard said that Reece James has avoided a serious knee injury after coming off against Newcastle. He could play against Arsenal (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) and Marcos Alonso is also back in the squad. 
  • Mikel Arteta said that Sokratis will not play at Chelsea due to illness, while Sead Kolasinac and Reiss Nelson will both be out until early February.
  • Carlo Ancelotti confirmed that star Brazilian attacker Richarlison will miss their clash against Newcastle United on Tuesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) as he continues to recover from a knee injury. 
  • Newcastle’s injury woes continue as both Jetro Willems and Paul Dummett have been ruled out for the rest of the season. Willems has ruptured his ACL after falling awkwardly in the 1-0 win against Chelsea. The Magpies will have to do some business in January to patch up their squad.
  • Southampton look set to be without Jan Bednarek for their trip to Crystal Palace on Tuesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com). The Polish center back, who has started every single PL game this season, has an Achilles injury. Palace welcome back Max Meyer as he’s recovered from an ankle injury caused by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s lunging tackle.
  • Bournemouth could have Lloyd Kelly back after his lengthy injury, as the Cherries take on South Coast rivals Brighton in a massive game at the bottom of the table.

Sokratis calls it ‘easier’ to defend Liverpool than Burnley

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Arsenal has not fared well at Anfield the last few years, not at all. In fact, the Gunners haven’t shown up against the Reds at all the past two seasons, shipping 13 goals in their last four meetings with Liverpool, and 15 goals in their last four trips to Anfield.

Which made the words out of the mouth of Arsenal defender Sokratis about defending Liverpool even more surprising.

Following 2-1 win over Burnley this past weekend, Sokratis compared playing the Clarets to playing defending Champions League winners Liverpool, whom Arsenal visits this coming weekend. “It is a different game,” Sokratis said. “Maybe it is more easy, because you don’t have to fight a lot, but they also play football.”

Play football they certainly do. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino have all scored each of the last two times the Gunners visited Anfield, resulting in 5-1 and 4-0 drubbings. So…how does that figure to “more easy?”

“If they are on good day and you are having a bad day, it is hard,” Sokratis admitted. “In the end, we know that it is difficult and we respect Liverpool a lot. But I think the best [way] is to go and play our style of game. We will see what happens.”

When asked specifically about last season’s lopsided result, Sokratis believes that was a rare occurance. “The 5-1 last season…it was not the game to take five goals – [there was] the penalty kicks, we made mistakes,” he said. “I think this year will be different, but we have to improve of course from the work we do with the coach and his staff.”

Arsenal will have to avoid the mistakes this time around if they want to find an important three points. Even a draw would be helpful in the Gunners’ quest to attain Champions League qualification for the first time in four years. Sokratis would be wise not to take the Reds lightly.

Arsenal fears broken jaw for Koscielny

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Things are getting worse for Arsenal on the injury front as their defensive line continues to take hits from all angles.

Arsenal manager Unai Emery said they fear Laurent Koscielny has suffered a broken jaw after a clash with Romelu Lukaku in the 3-1 FA Cup loss to Manchester United.

Koscielny departed in the 64th minute after falling hard in a tangle with Lukaku. He received treatment on the field that resulted in a lengthy delay, and it was clear he was struggling with a facial injury.

The Frenchman’s injury is an even bigger blow to Arsenal considering fellow central defender Sokratis was forced off in the first half with an ankle injury from landing awkwardly following an aerial challenge. That, coupled with Hector Bellerin‘s lengthy absence from a torn ACL suffered just a few weeks ago, has left the Arsenal defense in tatters.

It’s not the first time this season that the Gunners have struggled with injuries to their back line. Rob Holding, like Bellerin, is out for the year with an ACL tear. Koscielny himself missed nearly the entire first half of the season after recovering from his own ACL tear, while Sead Kolasinac dealt with a knee injury that left him sidelined for the first three months. Nacho Monreal missed nearly two full months with a hamstring injury, and 21-year-old Konstantinos Mavropanos has struggled with a groin problem for most of the season. Shkodran Mustafi missed three matches in December with a hamstring problem, while Sokratis has been one of the more consistent presences for Arsenal this season, but has had ankle problems crop up this season before his injury on Friday.

Arsenal has even suffered injury problems to its defensive line before this season, with Arsene Wenger facing the same situation in his final few years in charge. Monreal, a left-back naturally, was forced deputized in central defense for a significant portion of Wenger’s final season in charge of Arsenal.

The shrewd business of Borussia Dortmund, a welcome reprieve to transfer market procrastination

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During this age of rampant speculation and loafing among clubs looking to sign players in the transfer market, one has to admire the way Borussia Dortmund shrewdly goes about the business of replenishing its ranks.

Stripped of star midfielder Mario Gotze by Bayern Munich and losing defender Felipe Santana to Schalke (in a bid for more playing time), Dortmund entered the summer like most clubs, looking to rebuild.

Santana, who failed to lock down a center-back spot over Mats Hummels and Nevan Subotic, was replaced by Werder Bremen stud Sokratis Papastathopoulos. The Greek international, known as ‘Sokratis’ or ‘Papa’, had been expected to join Bayer Leverkusen but snubbed the North Rhine club because of his desire to work under BVB manager, Jurgen Klopp.

“I absolutely wanted to join Klopp,” Sokratis told German newspaper, Bild

Dortmund and Bremen agreed to a £8.4 million ($12.5m) for the hulking center-back, good value for a young player (24 years old) who many consider to be one of the up-and-coming stars at his position. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Sokratis acquisition is that Dortmund took care of it quietly and three days before they sold Santana to Schalke.

No rumors. No prolonged negotiations. Just pure execution.

The same no-nonsense approach to business took place this past week when Dortmund signed St-Etienne striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (pictured) for a fee of £11.4 million ($17m). The Gabon international, who scored 19 goals and notched 9 assists in Ligue 1 this past season, was a coup that no one saw coming.

Aubameyang had been strongly linked to a move to Newcastle. The Magpies made the 24 year old their top attacking prospect of the summer and looked prepared to shell out £15 million ($22.4m) for his services. When asked about a transfer to Tyne-side, Aubameyang seemed up for it, claiming that he saw Newcastle as “a good club” with a “monumental stadium.”

But, like most clubs, Newcastle delayed, and delayed and delayed. In fact, it was not weeks or months that they had been monitoring Aubameyang, but the entire past year. And while Mike Ashley & Co. knew that Anzhi Makhachkala, Paris St-Germain, Atlético Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur were all keeping tabs on the striker, no one had a clue about Dortmund.

Until they swooped in and not only got the deal done in a matter of hours but did so at a savings of £3.6 million. That’s great business.

Like Sokratis, Aubameyang is an anticipatory purchase, one that lessens the sting when Robert Lewandowski inevitably moves to Bayern Munich at the end of next season.

The same situation played itself out last week when BVB and Shakhtar Donetsk agreed on a £21.5million ($32m) fee for midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Up until that point, Liverpool had been rumored for weeks to be contemplating a bid for the goal-scoring midfielder.

But while the Reds dawdled around, Dortmund struck quietly and quickly. Once again, it was over before it began.

So will these moves be enough to propel Dortmund back to the Champions League finals?

Only time will tell.

But the muted, exepeditious business practices of Dortmund are a welcome reprieve to the speculation and procrastination that so often plague transfers in world football.