Liverpool host Arsenal in battle for Premier League Christmas No. 1

Liverpool host Arsenal in battle for Premier League Christmas No. 1
Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates after his team victory at the end of the English League Cup quarterfinal against West Ham United at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on Dec. 20, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 22 December 2023
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Liverpool host Arsenal in battle for Premier League Christmas No. 1

Liverpool host Arsenal in battle for Premier League Christmas No. 1
  • The festive Premier League program also features Manchester United’s trip to West Ham and in-form Everton’s visit to fifth-placed Tottenham
  • The eye-catching statistics keep mounting for Villa, who are now up to 15 consecutive Premier League home victories and counting

LONDON: Liverpool and Arsenal will battle for the Christmas No. 1 spot when they meet on Saturday, each with a golden chance to open up a significant lead over absent champions Manchester City.

If there is not a winner at Anfield, third-placed Aston Villa could be top at Christmas for the first time since 1999 should their phenomenal home form continue against bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United.

The festive Premier League program also features Manchester United’s trip to West Ham and in-form Everton’s visit to fifth-placed Tottenham.

Here are the three talking points ahead of the weekend action.

Arsenal sit top of the Premier League table with 39 points from 17 matches, one ahead of Liverpool and five clear of Manchester City, who are on Club World Cup duty in Saudi Arabia.

The defending champions’ run of one win in six games prior to heading to the Gulf has opened the door to a fascinating title race.

If the Gunners win at Anfield, Pep Guardiola’s men, currently in fourth spot, would find themselves eight points adrift by the time they return to top-flight action at Everton on Dec. 27.

Last year City put on the afterburners to chase down long-time leaders Arsenal, eventually overhauling them to win a third straight Premier League title.

But Mikel Arteta’s men look better equipped to last the course this season.

Liverpool could open up a 10-point advantage over City as they are in action twice before their title rivals play again in the Premier League.

But after a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Manchester United last weekend, Jurgen Klopp has called for an electric atmosphere to ensure Arsenal’s wait for a win at Anfield since 2012 goes on.

“We need Anfield on their toes from the first second, without me having an argument with the opposition coach,” Klopp said after a 5-1 thrashing of West Ham in the League Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday.

“If it is too much football in December, if you are not in the right shape, give your ticket to somebody else.”

Villa can move to the top of the table on Friday when Sheffield United visit Villa Park seemingly as lambs to the slaughter.

Unai Emery has had a stunning impact since taking the helm in October 2022.

The eye-catching statistics keep mounting for Villa, who are now up to 15 consecutive Premier League home victories and counting.

Only City, with 87, have tallied more points in the Premier League in 2023 than Emery’s side’s total of 81, including a club record 25 Premier League wins in a calendar year.

The omens are bleak for the visitors, who have just two Premier League wins all season and have not won in the league at Villa Park since 1966.

Chris Wilder returned to Sheffield United as manager earlier this month but he will have to work miracles to save the club, who are rock bottom of the table and already six points from safety.

Which Manchester United team will show up at West Ham?

Erik ten Hag’s men toughed out a 0-0 draw at Anfield last week, ceding control as they focused on defensive resilience to eke out a point.

West Ham do not boast Liverpool’s attacking threat but they have players who can hurt United, including the in-form trio of Jarrod Bowen, Lucas Paqueta and Mohammed Kudus.

The visitors are likely to enjoy more possession than they had at Liverpool, where they had the ball for less than a third of the time.

But even if they do manage to exert more control, will they make anything of it?

United have scored just 18 times in the Premier League this season — only five teams have fewer goals to show for their efforts.

They have failed to score in three of their four Premier League games in December and are already six points off the top four, in danger of being cut adrift in the race for Champions League football.

Fixtures

Friday: Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United (2000 GMT)

Saturday (1500 unless stated): West Ham vs. Manchester United (1230), Fulham vs. Burnley, Luton vs. Newcastle, Nottingham Forest vs. Bournemouth, Tottenham vs. Everton, Liverpool vs. Arsenal (1730)

Sunday: Wolves vs. Chelsea (1300)


Barcelona seek their first win against Lyon in Women’s Champions League final

Barcelona seek their first win against Lyon in Women’s Champions League final
Updated 14 sec ago
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Barcelona seek their first win against Lyon in Women’s Champions League final

Barcelona seek their first win against Lyon in Women’s Champions League final
  • The titleholders from Spain have a shot at a statement victory by finally overcoming the storied French club and winning their third European title
  • Lyon won five titles in a row from 2016-20, and hold nearly every Women’s Champions League club record

BILBAO, Spain: Barcelona have to find a way past the most successful club in women’s soccer if they want to build on their recent dominance.

Barcelona will play in their fourth straight Women’s Champions League final on Saturday in Bilbao against record eight-time champion Lyon, the nemesis they have never been able to beat.

The titleholders from Spain have a shot at a statement victory by finally overcoming the storied French club and winning their third European title — all within a four-season span.

Lyon, meanwhile, will be hoping to reclaim the trophy after not getting out of the quarterfinals last season and seeing the hype grow about Barcelona and their star players Alexia Putellas and Aitana Bonmatí, who have won back-to-back world player of the year awards.

“We are a team that has won a lot in the past. But we remain really ambitious,” Lyon coach Sonia Bompastor, the first woman to win the league as a player and coach, said on Friday.

“For me we are the best team in the world and will continue to be no matter what happens tomorrow. I trust my players. I know there is all the individual and collective talent needed to achieve this goal.”

Bompastor, who can become the first woman to win two titles as a coach, said it’s natural for rivals to be extra motivated to try to bring down Lyon, which will be playing in its 11th European final in 15 seasons.

Lyon won five titles in a row from 2016-20, and hold nearly every Women’s Champions League club record. The French side has won all four of its matches against Barcelona, including 4-1 in the 2019 final in Hungary and 3-1 in the 2022 final in Italy.

“This Barça is different from the one we faced in the final two years ago,” Bompastor said. “They have made new signings and each final brings with it a different story. It will be a totally different game tomorrow.”

Bonmatí said Barcelona have “grown a lot” since the first final against Lyon.

“I would say that we didn’t have any kind of experience, and physically, we were far off the big teams,” she said. “Now, we are probably one of the teams to beat out of anyone.”

Barcelona beat Chelsea for their first European title in 2021, and Wolfsburg for their second in 2023.

“We’ve had a fantastic season, playing great football, and the recent weeks have seen us on a great dynamic,” said Barcelona coach Jonatan Giraldez, who will leave at the end of the season to join US club Washington Spirit. “It’ll be a great final because I have no doubt at all that these are the two best teams in the world right now. To have the chance to add another Champions League means we can try to show we are still the best team in Europe.”

The club had nine players in the Spain squad that broke through with the nation’s first Women’s World Cup title last year. Barcelona also sent eight players to the semifinals of the inaugural Women’s Nations League, which Spain won in February.

Barcelona are trying to become the third team to win three European titles, after the eight by Lyon and four by Eintracht Frankfurt. They reached the final by overcoming a 1-0 first-leg loss to Chelsea at home in the semifinals. Lyon eliminated French rival Paris Saint-Germain.

Lyon have lost two of their goal scorers from the 2022 final in Turin — Amandine Henry and Catarina Macario. The other, Ada Hegerberg, had been nursing a injury but was expected to be fit to play on Saturday.

“Ada has resumed normal team training,” Bompastor said. “She could be available tomorrow.”
 


Man Utd to sack Ten Hag even if they win FA Cup: reports

Man Utd to sack Ten Hag even if they win FA Cup: reports
Updated 24 May 2024
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Man Utd to sack Ten Hag even if they win FA Cup: reports

Man Utd to sack Ten Hag even if they win FA Cup: reports
  • Britain’s The Guardian newspaper said the Premier League club had decided to take the ruthless step after a dismal season
  • Van Gaal was fired just two days after United’s FA Cup final victory against Crystal Palace in 2016

LONDON: Manchester United will sack embattled manager Erik ten Hag after the FA Cup final against Manchester City regardless of the result at Wembley, it was reported on Friday.
Britain’s The Guardian newspaper said the Premier League club had decided to take the ruthless step after a dismal season.
If Ten Hag’s two-year reign does end following the City clash, his exit would provoke memories of fellow Dutchman Louis van Gaal’s Old Trafford departure.
Van Gaal was fired just two days after United’s FA Cup final victory against Crystal Palace in 2016.
United finished an embarrassing eighth in the Premier League this season — their lowest final position since 1990 — and crashed out of the Champions League in the group stage.
Ten Hag has been the subject of intense speculation over his future, months after British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe took a minority stake in the club and assumed control of football operations.
United insist no decision has been made on the Dutchman’s future and say a full review will take place after Saturday’s showpiece against the Premier League champions, who are chasing their second straight league and FA Cup double.
The club have been linked with a list of names including Thomas Tuchel, Mauricio Pochettino, England’s Gareth Southgate and Ipswich boss Kieran McKenna, who has previously coached at Old Trafford.
Speaking before the latest report emerged, United goalkeeper Andre Onana said the final was “extra motivation” after an injury-hit season in which many of their star players flopped.
“We lost twice against City already (in the Premier League),” he said. “We know how good they are. Best team at the moment — all of our respect — but we go there to win. A final.”
Onana, who also played under Ten Hag at Ajax, stood up for his manager, describing him as a “good guy, a good coach.”
“Tactically he’s very good and he showed it last season,” said the Cameroon international. “I was not here last season and they got top four.
“This season a lot of things happened. I’m not here to back him. He is big enough to back himself. But he is a really good guy, he is a positive coach and tactically he’s good.
“If he had all his squad it would probably be different. This season is difficult for him, for us, for the club, for the fans.”
Saturday’s match offers United a shot at silverware against their bitter rivals and a route to Europa League qualification.
“It would make things look better,” said Onana, who has had an inconsistent first season at Old Trafford.
“It’s important to end well and winning this game would mean we’re in the Europa League.”


Barcelona say Xavi will not return as coach next season

Barcelona say Xavi will not return as coach next season
Updated 24 May 2024
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Barcelona say Xavi will not return as coach next season

Barcelona say Xavi will not return as coach next season
  • The club said Laporta “has informed Xavi Hernández that he will not be continuing as first team coach in the 2024-25 season”
  • His departure comes a month after Xavi had reversed a previous decision made in January to leave the club this summer

BARCELONA: Barcelona say coach Xavi Hernandez is leaving the club at the end of the season.
The Spanish club made the announcement Friday after a meeting between club president Joan Laporta, Xavi and several other senior figures at the team’s training ground.
The club said Laporta “has informed Xavi Hernández that he will not be continuing as first team coach in the 2024-25 season.”
Xavi’s last game in charge will be Sunday’s away game against Sevilla on the final day of the league season.
His departure comes a month after Xavi had reversed a previous decision made in January to leave the club this summer. In April, the 44-year-old Xavi said that he had changed his mind after his players showed him that they believed in the team’s potential and had improved their performances.
But Laporta had reportedly been displeased by Xavi’s recent comments in a news conference that Barcelona’s poor financial situation would make it nearly impossible to compete against Real Madrid and Europe’s other top clubs.
The former midfielder led Barcelona to the Spanish league title last year, but the team are eight points behind already crowned champion Madrid going into the last round.
As a player, Xavi left Barcelona in 2015 after helping the club win 25 titles, including four Champions Leagues and eight Spanish leagues in 17 seasons while forming a formidable trio with Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta. He was also key to Spain’s streak of titles when they won the 2010 World Cup and European Championships in 2008 and 2012.
Laporta brought Xavi back from his only prior coaching job in Qatar in November 2021 to lead his rebuilding project of a club that had just lost Messi amid a financial crisis.
The following summer the club sold off future television revenues and other club assets, which Laporta dubbed financial “levers,” to sign Robert Lewandowski and other players. Xavi was able to win the club’s first titles since Messi’s departure and the future looked bright.
This season, however, Barcelona lost all three ‘clasico’ matches against Madrid and were thumped twice by upstart Catalan rival Girona, losing both of their league matchups 4-2. They also lost in the quarterfinals of both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.


Tickets for Pakistan-Saudi Arabia football World Cup qualifier go up for sale

Tickets for Pakistan-Saudi Arabia football World Cup qualifier go up for sale
Updated 24 May 2024
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Tickets for Pakistan-Saudi Arabia football World Cup qualifier go up for sale

Tickets for Pakistan-Saudi Arabia football World Cup qualifier go up for sale
  • Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will play against each other in Islamabad on June 6 for round two of World Cup qualifier
  • Saudi Arabia beat Pakistan 4-0 in November 2023 when the two sides met each other for first round of qualifiers

ISLAMABAD: Tickets for Pakistan’s upcoming FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifier Round 2 home-leg match against Saudi Arabia are officially on sale, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) announced on Thursday. 

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will lock horns at the Jinnah Football Stadium in Islamabad on June 6, with the match scheduled to kick off at 8:30 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time. 

Pakistan is in Group G of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tajikistan. The South Asian country will face Tajikistan on June 11 in an away fixture. 

A total of 36 football squads have been split into nine groups with four teams each in the second round of qualifiers. The winners and runners-up from each group would progress through to the third round.

“In a bid to make the event accessible to all football enthusiasts, ticket prices have been thoughtfully set at budget-friendly rates,” the PFF said in a media release, adding that tickets were available at Bookme.pk website. 

It said tickets for the Premium Plus enclosures were set at Rs4,000 [$14.37] while the Premium enclosure tickets were priced at Rs1,500 [$5.39]. The General enclosure tickets are being sold for Rs750 [$2.69]. 

Saudi Arabia thrashed Pakistan 4-0 when the two sides met in November 2023 for their first clash of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Al Ahsa. 

Preliminary Pakistan squad

Goalkeepers: Hassan Ali and Tanveer

Defenders: Haseeb Khan, Mamoon Moosa Khan, Huzaifa, Waqar Ihtisham, Abdul Rehman, Umar Hayat, Muhammad Adeel, Muhammad Saddam and Zain ul Abideen

Midfielders: Yasir Arafat, Alamgir Ghazi, Ali Uzair, Rajab Ali, Moin Ali, Junaid Ahmed and Fahim

Forwards: Adeel Younas, Shayak Dost, Ali Zafar and Fareedullah

The PFF said the names of diaspora players joining the national training camp later would be included in the final squad.


Yokohama take a 2-1 lead into the 2nd leg of the Asian Champions League final against Al-Ain

Yokohama take a 2-1 lead into the 2nd leg of the Asian Champions League final against Al-Ain
Updated 24 May 2024
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Yokohama take a 2-1 lead into the 2nd leg of the Asian Champions League final against Al-Ain

Yokohama take a 2-1 lead into the 2nd leg of the Asian Champions League final against Al-Ain
  • If the Japanese team win they will participate in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup where they could face their English stablemate as the English team qualified for the tournament
  • Despite the first-leg lead from the opener in Japan, getting past Al-Ain won’t be easy. The 2003 Asian champions also reached the final in 2005 and 2016

DUBAI: There will be celebrations in the UAE on Saturday regardless of whether Yokohama F. Marinos can protect their 2-1 lead in the second leg of the Asian Champions League final or Al-Ain come back to take the title.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayad is not only president of UAE but has been club president of Al-Ain, based near the country’s border with Oman, since 1979.

His vice president Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed is the owner of Manchester City, the founding member of the City Football Group, a worldwide stable of 13 clubs which became a minority shareholder in Yokohama in 2014.

If the Japanese team win they will participate in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup where they could face their English stablemate as the English team qualified for the tournament, which will be expanded from seven to 32 teams, after becoming European champions in 2023.

Despite the first-leg lead from the opener in Japan, getting past Al-Ain won’t be easy. The 2003 Asian champions also reached the final in 2005 and 2016. The second loss is still fresh in the memory and serves as motivation.

“That’s why everybody wants this trophy so bad,” Al-Ain defender Khalid Al Hashemi said on the Asian Football Confederation’s official website. “I hope from the bottom of my heart that we can give happiness to everybody in our country.”

Al-Ain, coached by former Argentina striker Hernan Crespo, took an early lead through Mohammed Al-Baloushi at the Nissan Stadium on May 11 only for two late goals from Asahi Uenaka and Kota Watanabe to give Yokohama a slender advantage.

“We lost against great opponents who played very well but we did have chances which we didn’t put away,” Crespo said. “We have another opportunity at home and I hope it will be different,” said the ex-Milan, Inter and Chelsea forward.

“What we need is a little bit more quality in front to be dangerous. We had some chances, but it wasn’t enough and that is credit to Yokohama as they didn’t give us much space.”

Neither finalist has been able to transfer strong Asian form into domestic results. Al-Ain are in third in the league, 16 points behind leader Al-Wasl. Yokohama have won the J-League five times but currently sit 13th in the standings. The Japanese team have never been in the Champions League final.

Harry Kewell has been in charge since December and the former Leeds and Liverpool winger is close to achieving something that neither of his Australian predecessors Ange Postecoglou and Kevin Muscat managed at Yokohama.

“I’ve never been afraid of a challenge and I’m going to make sure my team’s not afraid of this challenge,” Kewell said. “It’s going to be tough . . . nothing’s given for free, you have to pay for it, you have to work for it. We have to suffer if we want to pick up this title.”