The Premier League soldiers on into the New Year with 10 huge clashes across the first three days of 2022.
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Premier League decides against break
Premier League clubs have decided to carry on with the fixture list and not take a break despite seeing a number games called off due to Covid cases.
A statement from the Premier League read: “While recognising COVID-19 challenges, League’s collective intention is to continue current fixture schedule where safely possible.
“It was confirmed at a Premier League club meeting that while recognising a number of clubs are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and challenges, it is the League’s collective intention to continue the current fixture schedule where safely possible.
“The health and wellbeing of all concerned remains our priority and the League will continue to monitor and reflect public health guidance, always proceeding with caution.”
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Saturday 1 January
The apprentice meets the master, well… almost. Mikel Arteta will miss the clash with his former employers Manchester City and Pep Guardiola on New Year’s Day after testing positive (for a second time) for Covid-19.
And he won’t be the only one missing. The Telegraph reported that a number of other members of Arteta’s coaching staff have tested positive, meaning it should be a threadbare bench at the Emirates for the Premier League’s first match of 2022.
But just as they’ve thrived without their captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal will hope to continue their good form without their manager Arteta.
The good feeling is flowing in north London after a run of five straight wins in all competitions featuring 19 goals scored and just two conceded.
The dismantling of Norwich at Carrow Road on Boxing Day featured a sensational double from Bukayo Saka and third consecutive goal off the substitutes’ bench for Emile Smith Rowe.
The only shame is Arsenal’s match on Tuesday was called off after opponents Wolves suffered a Covid-19 outbreak among the squad.
The bad news is they face the in-form side in the Premier League as table-toppers Manchester City travel to north London on the back of 10 straight wins in the top flight.
A 1-0 victory at Brentford on Wednesday night, which could and probably should have been more comfortable, sees Man City sit eight points clear at the summit.
And with title rivals Chelsea and Liverpool playing one another on Sunday, a win over the Gunners and a draw at Stamford Bridge between the Blues and the Reds could spell the beginning of a procession towards a second successive title for Guardiola’s men.
Mikel Arteta will not be on the touchline after testing positive for Covid-19.
Leicester’s clash with Norwich on New Year’s Day has been postponed due to Covid-19 cases in Dean Smith’s squad.
It’s the second match that the Canaries have had postponed after their game against West Ham, which was due to be played on December 18.
It will be the third match Leicester will have postponed and the Foxes have a backlog of fixtures to make up after Covid cases in the camp led to the Tottenham and Everton games being called off on December 16 and 19 respectively.
“It was an opportunity, but we missed it,” was Antonio Conte’s verdict after Tottenham’s 1-1 draw against 10-man Southampton.
“When you have that situation, you have to try to exploit it to get three points. We knew very well.
“The situation at one point of the game was positive for us, but I think the second half we felt the fatigue and our mind wasn’t clear to make the best decisions.”
Tottenham, in fairness, were unfortunate. Two goals were disallowed for offside including an extremely marginal call that saw Harry Kane’s would-be second chalked off after a VAR check.
But in the race for top four, it could be a crucial two points dropped and Conte will demand his side get back on track when they make the short trip to Hertfordshire to face strugglers Watford.
The Hornets are looking in serious trouble this term and the 4-1 loss to West Ham on Tuesday was a fourth straight defeat that leaves them two points ahead of 18th-placed Burnley, who have a game in hand on Claudio Ranieri’s side.
Given Watford owner Gino Pozzo’s penchant for firing managers – they’ve already sacked Xisco this term – Ranieri’s job could well be in peril if the newly promoted side drop into the relegation zone.
The Italian is currently sweating on the availability of star striker Emmanuel Dennis, who has been one of the signings of the season so far.
Ranieri claims Dennis’ country Nigeria missed the deadline to call the forward up for January’s Africa Cup of Nations.
“The email didn’t arrive at the right time,” Ranieri said. “They have a time when they need to send a pre-call; if they don’t send it, we can choose.” That decision could be the difference between Watford staying up or going down.
It’s a London derby on Saturday evening at Selhurst Park in a huge match for both Crystal Palace and West Ham.
The Hammers have let fourth spot slip through their fingers after a dodgy run of form, but recovered to thrash a poor Watford side 4-1 on Tuesday
It means the Irons are four points off Arsenal, the current occupants of the final Champions League qualification place heading into the 21st round of fixtures.
David Moyes could be taking on Crystal Palace assistant manager Osian Roberts on Saturday with Patrick Viera touch-and-go to return, with the Frenchman missing the last two Eagles matches after testing positive for Covid-19, and while Roberts led the Eagles to a 3-0 win over Norwich last time out, the assistant said he “can’t wait” to have Vieira back in the dugout.
Palace and West Ham played out a thrilling 2-2 draw when they met in east London way back in August as Conor Gallagher’s double earned a point for the visitors.
The on-loan Chelsea midfielder was missing for the win over Norwich with an illness – Palace are awaiting Covid test results – as was Wilfried Zaha, who was suspended after his red card against Tottenham.
But Palace didn’t need them, scoring through Odsonne Edouard, Jean-Philippe Mateta and Jeffrey Schlupp to down the abject Canaries.
Now with Zaha back in the fold, Vieira’s side will hope for more of the same as they seek a win that’ll take them into the top half of the table.
West Ham thrashed Watford 4-1 at Vicarage Road last time out.
Sunday 2 January
Sunday’s action sees four Premier League games with 2pm kick-off times, including Brentford’s clash with Aston Villa.
The Bees lost 1-0 at home to Manchester City on Wednesday night in a scoreline which flattered the hosts given the dominance enjoyed by the league leaders.
The loss means Thomas Frank’s side have won just one in five matches, the come-from-behind victory over lowly Watford, yet the Brentford manager chose to stay upbeat after Tuesday’s loss.
“It was incredible, unbelievable, fantastic performance, especially in the first half,” Frank said. “I said to them they should be very proud and pleased.”
But performances don’t mean points and Frank knows, while his side sit nine points clear of the relegation, that buffer could soon evaporate.
They host a Villa side who continue to be revitalised under Steven Gerrard with four wins from seven, their only losses coming against the Premier League’s top three sides.
Gerrard’s men will have the benefit of an extra couple of days’ rest on their side after their proposed clash on Tuesday with Leeds was postponed.
And they’ll hope to go one better than the 1-1 draw they managed at Villa Park when Emi Buendia’s strike cancelled out an effort from Ivan Toney with both goals coming in the opening quarter of an hour.
Will Brentford sting Gerrard’s side in west London? Or will Villa march on and secure a win which could send them into the top half?
A combination of Covid cases and injuries in Newcastle’s squad means their trip to the South Coast has been called off, with a date for the rearrangement due to be announced soon.
The postponement is the second in a matter of days for the Magpies, who were unable to face Everton at Goodison Park on Thursday for the reasons listed above. A new date for this match has also not yet been confirmed.
A statement on Newcastle’s website reads: “Newcastle United thanks the respective clubs and the Premier League for their cooperation and understanding.
“The club also extends its sincere apologies to supporters affected by both postponements and asks them to retain their tickets.
“The club will not be naming individuals who have contracted Covid-19 or their vaccination status. We ask that their privacy is respected and we wish them a full and speedy recovery.”
Newcastle drew 1-1 with Manchester United in their last game of 2021.
It’s a huge clash in the Premier League relegation battle at Elland Road as Burnley bid to claw Leeds back into trouble with a win in West Yorkshire.
The Clarets are two points adrift of safety and five points off Leeds heading into the Premier League weekend but crucially, they have played one, two or sometimes three games fewer than the sides around them.
With just one win all season though, Sean Dyche knows his men must pick up points and fast if they are to clamber out of the relegation zone.
Dyche hit the headlines this week for his opposition to the five substitutes’ rule, claiming the welfare of his players is already “fantastic” having previously said the increased number of subs favours the bigger clubs.
His comments drew the ire of Jurgen Klopp, who named Dyche as he fumed at the Premier League blocking the return to the five substitutes’ rule.
Now the Premier League’s longest-serving manager will do battle with another side who are wafer thin on the ground in Leeds.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side are struggling to put a team out at the moment and an undermanned Leeds were soundly beaten by Arsenal last time out. Their game scheduled for Tuesday against Aston Villa was postponed due to an outbreak of Covid cases in Bielsa’s squad, along with injuries and illness.
Burnley come into the contest off the back of a 3-1 defeat at Manchester United, but with Leeds in such bad shape, Dyche will know this is a huge chance to secure a second win of the campaign and hopefully lift themselves out of the bottom three.
It feels like a long time since Everton last played – the 1-1 draw at Chelsea on December 16 – and it might be just the break the supporters and Rafa Benitez needed from one another.
Things had started to get toxic between the two after a miserable run of seven defeats in 10 matches and the pressure had begun to build on beleaguered Benitez. The Spaniard’s Liverpool connections don’t make things any easier.
Yet Benitez will be hoping a new year will bring new possibilities and a clean slate for his side, who welcome a Brighton side to Goodison Park who’ve just clinched their own unlikely draw at Chelsea.
Just as Jarrad Branthwaite levelled for Everton, Danny Welbeck rose highest to head home at Stamford Bridge and secure a 1-1 draw to send the visiting fans into raptures.
The result continues a mini-revival for Graham Potter’s Seagulls, who hadn’t won in 11 matches prior to a win over Brentford before the Chelsea clash.
Yet it’s a sign of just how bad Everton have been this campaign that despite the winless run, Brighton still sit fully five points ahead of the Toffees in the Premier League table.
If they are hoping to open up a larger gap between themselves and the Merseysiders, the omens don’t look good however.
Brighton have never won away at Everton in eight previous meetings at Goodison Park and have lost all four of their Premier League visits to the famous old ground. Over to Potter’s men to try and make history and ensure it’s the perfect start to 2022 for the travelling support.
Danny Welbeck scored a late equaliser to earn Brighton a point at Chelsea on Wednesday.
Two title challengers meet at Stamford Bridge late on Sunday afternoon, reigniting a modern football rivalry that has simmered since the turn of the century.
In their pursuit of the Premier League crown, Chelsea and Liverpool have faltered in recent weeks, allowing Manchester City to first assume and then run away with top spot in the division.
Chelsea and Liverpool now head into matchday 21 eight and nine points off Pep Guardiola’s defending champions respectively.
It means that should there be a victor in west London come Sunday evening, the loser may well be ruled out of the title race.
As so often seems to be the case at Chelsea, the atmosphere is fractious. Thomas Tuchel became tetchy over the Premier League’s failure to call off the fixture at Wolves due to a lack of players available.
And Romelu Lukaku’s comments published on Thursday, in which the Belgian said he had been unhappy with Tuchel’s use of him in the Chelsea system and revealed he’d like to return to Inter Milan while he’s still in his prime, will hardly have improved the coach’s mood.
“I’m not happy with the situation, this is normal,” Lukaku said in an interview that took place a few weeks ago but was published after the draw with Brighton. “But I am a worker and I must not give up.” He added: “I want to say a big apology to the Inter fans because I think the way I left should have been different.”
Tuchel must now motivate his star forward for the visit of a Liverpool side, who will be with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Joel Matip for the final time before they leave for the Africa Cup of Nations.
Jurgen Klopp has hardly been in the best mood himself and, like his compatriot Tuchel, has complained over the Premier League’s rules on player welfare in recent weeks.
So it’s a battle of the discontented on Sunday in a game that could have huge ramifications for whether we will have a title race or not this term.
Monday 3 January
The Premier League weekend rounds off on Monday evening as Wolves visit Old Trafford looking to inflict the first defeat of the Ralf Rangnick era on Manchester United.
The Red Devils responded to the disappointing 1-1 draw with Newcastle by defeating Burnley 3-1 on Thursday night on the eve of Sir Alex Ferguson’s 80th birthday.
It was a better performance from the hosts, secured with goals from Scott McTominay, Cristiano Ronaldo and an own goal, yet they are still clearly adapting to life under Rangnick.
The 4-2-2-2 system is a work in progress and, particularly against Newcastle, Man United’s forwards looked lost and the midfield was overrun.
They face a Wolves team who’ve not played since a goalless draw with Chelsea on December 19 after seeing a couple of matches postponed due to Covid cases.
So it remains to be seen what shape Bruno Lage’s side are in by the time they head to Lancashire as they look to start hitting the back of the net more frequently.
Only bottom side Norwich, with eight, have scored fewer than Wolves’ paltry total of 13 this league campaign, yet despite the goal drought, Lage’s men sit eighth thanks to an extremely stingy defence.
So it’s down to Rangnick to pick a team which can break down the stubborn Wolves defence as United bid to close the gap on the top four.