Jose Mourinho has turned Tottenham into genuine Premier League title contenders, according to former Spurs goalkeeper Paul Robinson. 

Mourinho's men host bitter rivals Arsenal on Sunday and sit top of the table heading into the weekend, making them clear favourites to cement their bragging rights. 

It was widely regarded as a controversial move when Spurs swapped Mauricio Pochettino for Mourinho in November 2019, but the Portuguese has proven his worth. 

With 19 victories from 36 top-flight games, he has a win percentage of 52.8, with Tottenham's lofty position a vast improvement on the 14th spot they occupied when he took charge. 

And former England international Robinson, who played for Spurs between 2004 and 2008, paid credit to chairman Daniel Levy for making the bold decision to bring Mourinho in, insisting the club could now be considered among the front-runners for the title.

"I think there were a lot of questions asked when Pochettino was sacked when he was," Robinson told Stats Perform News. 

"Eyebrows were raised when Mourinho came in, but I think Daniel Levy has to take a lot of credit. 

"He's employed a world-class manager, a winner of a manager, someone who knows how to win trophies, a certain mentality that's needed in the dressing room. 

"Jose was brought to Spurs for a reason. Pochettino took them so far but couldn't get them over the line. 

"He [Mourinho] has got that mentality, that cutting edge, he's not afraid to make big decisions and he's been heavily backed in the transfer market again by the chairman, which was fantastic to see. 

"You look at the squad they've got now, they've got a real serious chance of winning the title this year." 

Spurs' only league defeat this season came in their opening game against Everton, with their subsequent nine-match unbeaten run the longest ongoing streak in the division. 

Recent history against the Gunners weighs heavily in the hosts' favour too, as Spurs have not lost in their past six home games against their rivals. 

Mourinho's personal record against Arsenal also provides cause for optimism, with the 57-year-old having tasted defeat only once in 17 Premier League games against them. 

After overseeing a 2-1 victory in July's meeting, he is aiming to become only the second Spurs manager to win his first two north London derbies, Jimmy Anderson the first to do so in the 1955-56 campaign. 

The former Chelsea boss expects to be able call on Harry Kane, who did not feature in the midweek Europa League draw at LASK, with the Tottenham talisman having scored 10 goals against Arsenal – he needs one more to become the fixture's all-time leading scorer.

Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo insists it is too early to know when forward Raul Jimenez will be able to play again but his progress has been "positive". 

Jimenez suffered a sickening injury in the fifth minute of Wolves' 2-1 win over Arsenal in the Premier League at Emirates Stadium last Sunday. 

The Mexico international was involved in an aerial duel with Arsenal defender David Luiz and the pair clashed heads. 

Jimenez required around 10 minutes of medical attention on the field before he was eventually carried off on a stretcher and taken to hospital for checks. 

It was discovered the 29-year-old had suffered a fracture to his skull, leading to an operation. 

"We have positive news. He is recovering well with his family," Nuno told a media conference on Friday ahead of the trip to Liverpool. 

"It's positive, but no doubt that it's a serious situation. He's still in observation and soon he will be back home. 

"It’s too early and it’s not the moment to even think about [Raul returning]. He must get back to his normal life and everything else. 

"It was very serious and everybody was afraid of the situation. Everybody was worried but as the days go by, with the positive news, we’ve been able to return to a normal situation. 

"We will deal with that how we should do and give Raul time to return safely to the group again."

Nuno added his name to the list of those calling for concussion substitutes to be introduced into the Premier League. 

Trials for concussion replacements are set to begin in English football next season, allowing teams a temporary replacement for a player who suffers a head injury. 

Arsenal were criticised for allowing David Luiz to play on during the match against Wolves, though the defender was substituted at half-time. 

"There should be concussion substitutes," said the Wolves head coach. "It is obvious everyone in the game supports this and I am positive this is going to happen." 

Nuno also thanked the Wolves fans for their response to Jimenez's injury, with the club inundated with messages of support. 

The club's supporters also raised £7,500 in two hours for a giant flag for the Mexican which will be displayed at Molineux. 

"I am not surprised about the reaction. Raul means a lot to this city," he added 

"All the things you can say about Raul is not enough because he is an amazing person. Everything goes through your mind when you see someone you love and appreciate in a tough situation. 

"He means so much to us. It is like when someone in the family gets ill."

Frank Lampard admits Olivier Giroud has given him "a really nice problem" as the France striker pushes for a regular Premier League start. 

Four goals against Sevilla in the Champions League on Wednesday showed Giroud can have a big part to play for Chelsea this season. 

Tammy Abraham has led the line for Chelsea recently in the Premier League, and it remains to be seen who Lampard turns to for Saturday's Stamford Bridge clash with Leeds United. 

Giroud has continued to contribute consistently for France, even when sidelined at Chelsea, and Lampard knows he has a player raring to be unleashed in the domestic competition. 

With the delayed Euro 2020 finals coming up next year, Giroud naturally wants to be as match sharp as possible, but Lampard cannot assure him of regular starts. 

"I don’t think it's a case of giving any players assurance of game time," Lampard said. "With the competitive squad we have, that's very difficult to do. 

"All you want when players are out of the team is to train well and get themselves in the team and perform like Oli did the other day. And, of course, that gives me nice problems as such. 

"Oli's always done that for me here, particularly at the back end of last season when he was playing as regularly as he's played at Chelsea in my time at the club. 

"So I'm happy with him. He's given me a really nice problem. His form is good. He's training well."

There has been speculation Giroud could leave Chelsea in January, but Lampard does not appear to be thinking along those lines. 

Yet he could not say with certainty that Giroud was happy in his current role. 

"I can't answer that for Oli. All I can say is that from my point of view, in that forward area I've competition for places," Lampard added. 

"Tammy Abraham has been playing very well for us this season. He's been scoring goals and making assists and he brings attributes. Olivier, like we saw the other day, brings his attributes, so that's great competition for me. 

"I can't give assurances and you'd have to ask Oli. I never see anything negative from Oli and I've got huge respect for him. 

"Playing the way he did the other night, clearly he's going to get opportunities to play for us because that was just a top-class performance all round." 

Giroud has only scored 13 goals in 63 Premier League appearances for Chelsea, although that goals-per-game rate is mitigated by the fact he was a substitute in 38 of those games. 

Where he comes into his own is winning balls in the air, often when taking on opposition defenders. Opta data shows he has won 135 of 235 such aerial challenges, compared to Abraham's 110 of 238 for Chelsea during Giroud's time at the club. 

Giroud might help his cause if he put away a higher percentage of chances that fall his way, though. 

In terms of opportunities defined by Opta as big chances, Giroud has converted just 29.17 per cent (seven of 24 big chances) in the Premier League since joining at the end of January 2018, while Abraham has scored from 31.43 per cent of such openings during the same period. 

Neither can hold a candle to former Chelsea winger Eden Hazard. Between Giroud joining and Hazard leaving Chelsea for Real Madrid at the end of the 2018-19 season, the Belgian found the net from 11 of 21 big chances in the Premier League for an impressive 52.38 per cent record. 

It may also make Chelsea's strikers blush that Hazard remains the club's top Premier League goal scorer for the period since Giroud arrived from Arsenal, with his 20 goals putting him two ahead of Abraham.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has accused the Premier League of ignoring the mental and physical welfare of players with its refusal to sanction five substitutions.

The issue was neither raised nor discussed at a Premier League shareholders' meeting this week despite Klopp and other managers, such as Manchester United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, regularly highlighting the issue.

Clubs had previously been allowed to make five changes during the restart last season, but the Premier League twice voted against continuing it before the start of the current campaign.

The English Football League has since voted to allow managers to make five subs if needed, with the rule already in place in the Champions League and elsewhere in Europe.

Klopp again spoke at length on the subject at a media conference on Friday ahead of Liverpool's Premier League fixture with Wolves.

"I was not surprised because I knew about it. I think that information speaks for itself, nobody thought it would go through," Klopp said of the meeting.

"I told you the facts that if we would have voted in the managers' meeting, which we were not allowed to, then it would have been through, 100 per cent, with 15 or 16 votes.

"That it didn’t happen since then is obviously a sign that some shareholders see it differently to their managers.

"That's not really a good sign as it shows that these people really ignore the player welfare. The coaches don't do that but these people do it.

"If we don't have a chance to vote for it then we have to accept it for the moment, but because it's about player welfare – mental health and player welfare, it's a whole package.

"We will not stop fighting for it because it’s just the right thing to do."

Klopp claimed England will suffer from player burnout at next year's European Championship if the issue is not addressed.

The German also maintained that Liverpool were not seeking an advantage on the pitch, despite the club's injury problems this season, but simply looking after the best interests of all players.

"Next summer it will become a problem for Gareth Southgate," he added.

"Because all the players Gareth wants to pick, most of them play three times a week and will do that from February on again, so Gareth will get what we can give him.

"If they stick with three subs, it becomes an FA problem. [Fulham manager] Scott Parker mentioned in the managers' meeting that for Fulham three subs is better because five would be an advantage for bigger squads.

"But he doesn't think we should vote on it. He thought the Premier League or FA should decide on it."

Klopp continued: "It is not about Liverpool. It's about all the players and load-management, and nothing else. Not to get an advantage, but to deal with the problem of the COVID-19 situation in the best possible way.

"We cannot just ignore it because some people say it would be an advantage for others. It would not be an advantage; I cannot say it often enough. It's not about Liverpool.

"It's just the right thing to do. I'm pretty sure all the teams have to play now every three days from now on. It will be massive for all teams, everybody will feel the difference to other seasons."

Edinson Cavani is showing Manchester United's younger players how to successfully prolong their careers, according to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. 

The 33-year-old joined United on a free transfer on deadline day in October, having left Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the 2019-20 campaign.

Cavani has scored three Premier League goals for United after coming off the bench, claiming two in last weekend's dramatic 3-2 win at Southampton. 

The striker, who also set up Bruno Fernandes to score at St Mary's Stadium, is averaging a goal involvement every 32 minutes in the top flight and his cameo last week helped United to a club-record eighth away league win in a row.

He was also the oldest player to make his debut for United (at 33 years, 253 days) since Zlatan Ibrahimovic (34 years, 316 days) in 2016.

Alongside other recent acquisitions like Fernandes, Donny van de Beek and Alex Telles, Solskjaer believes Cavani can be the perfect role model for the United players near the start of their careers.

"Last season we were the youngest team in the Premier League and have been looking at ways to improve the squad," he said ahead of United's Premier League clash with West Ham on Saturday.

"With the signings of Bruno, Donny, Alex and Edinson, the balance of the squad has been improved.

"[Cavani] is a different type of centre-forward. He can play a different way and with his experience in world football, he's come in and shown the young lads how to live your life and make your career last."

Since Fernandes' Premier League debut for United on February 1, the Red Devils have earned more Premier League points per game than any other side (2.09). 

The 48 points they have amassed in their 23 league games since his arrival is 17 more than they earned in the same number of games before his debut (31).

Despite this, Solskajer's side are often accused of being inconsistent, with a recent four-game winning streak bookended by defeats to Arsenal in the league, and Istanbul Basaksehir and Paris Saint-Germain in Europe.

The Norwegian rejects those claims, though, believing his team do not always get the results their positive displays deserve. 

"It depends on how many games you want to go back," he responded when asked if United were too inconsistent.

"We've played some fantastic games and if you go 40 games back we're one of the most consistent teams in the Premier League.

"You're disappointed when you lose and it's fine margins at times that decide if you win or lose. The PSG game was miles better than West Brom [United won 1-0], but you don't get three points against PSG.

"We're getting less bad performances and getting more consistent. You can never control the result in the end; that's decided by fine margins."

Marcus Rashford was substituted after 74 minutes of United's 3-1 Champions League defeat to PSG in midweek with a shoulder injury, but Solskjaer remains hopeful he will be in the squad for the trip to London. 

"Marcus has been training this morning, not fully but he joined in with the group," he said. 

"His shoulder stopped him finishing the game so he's been getting treatment and hopefully he'll be part of the squad that travels. We'll see after training."

Pep Guardiola will take charge of his 700th game when Manchester City host Fulham on Saturday and he hopes to double that tally before he retires.

The Spaniard's glittering career in management has seen him ply his trade in three countries, winning top-flight titles in Spain, Germany and England.

His pursuit of a third Premier League crown continues with the visit of Fulham, which will also mark his 250th match at the City helm.

The hosts will be without Sergio Aguero (knee) against a team they have beaten nine times in a row by an aggregate score of 27-3.

Guardiola has enjoyed that kind of dominance over many opponents in a coaching career that began with Barcelona B in 2007, and he hopes there is still a long way to go yet.

"Seven hundred games," said the 49-year-old when asked about the milestone. "I will do 700 more then retire. I never expected it.

"It's good to have 700 games with few defeats in these games, for all the players and staff we had in Barca B, first team, Bayern [Munich] and here.

"It's a great number, with all the people we made incredible things together and hopefully we can do more in the future."

In his 699 matches to date, Guardiola has tasted victory 506 times and lost just 82 of those, leaving him with a stunning win percentage of 72.4.

When City last met Fulham in the league in March 2019 it ended 2-0 to Guardiola's men, which is the most common scoreline in his career, occurring 82 times.

Incredibly, his CV boasts four seasons in which his team has scored 100 goals or more, having managed it twice apiece with Barcelona and City.

Guardiola's list of honours includes three titles in LaLiga and the Bundesliga, and two in the Premier League. He won two Champions Leagues at Camp Nou, but has not lifted that trophy since.

Another man looking to enjoy a landmark outing this weekend is Phil Foden, who is primed to make his 50th Premier League appearance.

Guardiola expects to see the 20-year-old go from strength to strength at the Etihad Stadium, describing the England star as "a dream come true for managers".

"We are more than delighted to have him for the academy, the message he can give," he said.

"If you have the skills and especially passion. I love his passion, the only thing in his mind is to be a better player for himself, his club, his national country.

"He is a dream come true for managers. Normally when you become older he loses it, but the first thing he is looking for in training is the ball to play with his mates.

"The first achievement is 50 games, he will play much much more in the future. Hopefully he can have the passion to improve but knowing him it will happen."

Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold and midfielder Naby Keita could be available for their Premier League fixture with Wolves, according to manager Jurgen Klopp.

Alexander-Arnold has been absent since he picked up a hamstring injury in Liverpool's 1-1 draw with Manchester City last month while Keita was forced off during their 3-0 win over Leicester City with a similar problem.

However, Klopp revealed the pair may be in contention to play some part against Wolves at Anfield on Sunday.

"Trent and Naby will do the first steps in training today," Klopp told a media conference on Friday.

"There's a chance that Naby and Trent could be in the squad, but if they can play 90 minutes, I don't know.

"We had some niggles in the game against Ajax, so we have to see how that develops. Apart from Naby and Trent, nobody else is coming back.

"Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looks really promising, he's doing a lot of stuff with the team, but we will develop that now over the next few days and weeks and see from which moment on it makes sense to throw him in."

Goalkeeper Alisson Becker is still out with a hamstring injury so Klopp looks set to persist with 22-year-old Caoimhin Kelleher in goal.

Kelleher was selected ahead of usual back-up keeper Adrian for Liverpool's 1-0 win over Ajax in the Champions League and made a number of fine saves.

Klopp said: "He [Kelleher] looked good, but he is a really calm person so he will not be flying the whole week.

"He is a hard worker. There is no doubt he will deal with all the fuss around him really well.

"It was a big call to throw him in that game. Thank God it worked out, that's not always the case. For him it was right, that's good, and we'll see how he carries on."

Liverpool will play a game at Anfield in front of supporters for the first time since March, with 2,000 fans allowed into the ground after coronavirus restrictions were eased.

The Reds have lost just one of their 12 Premier League meetings with Wolves (won nine and drawn two), winning each of the previous seven in a row by an aggregate score of 15-2.

Klopp encouraged his players to produce a performance worthy of their fans' return to the ground.

"I hope it will be a great experience for all of us," added the German.

"As a player, I played often in front of 2,000 people – they were not always in the best mood, to be honest, so 2,000 people can create a bad mood – but after a long break, our fans will be in the best shape.

"At Anfield, it is not important how many they are, it's about how big your influence will be. First and foremost, they have to enjoy the game.

"Now we have a few fans back, especially nice for the people. Very important for the clubs because it gives us the chance to show that we can deal with it and maybe soon we can bring in more people.

"Our job is to deliver results and performances."

Jose Mourinho has warned Tottenham their lofty Premier League position will count for nothing when they tackle Arsenal in Sunday's north London derby.

Spurs sit top of the table, although they could be usurped by Chelsea before taking on Mikel Arteta's men at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

With the Gunners languishing in 14th, the hosts – who are unbeaten in six home league games against their bitter rivals – are clear favourites.

But Mourinho claimed form goes out of the window when it comes to such fixtures.

"It's always a good moment to play Arsenal and it's always a bad moment," he said, having never lost a home game against the Gunners in 10 previous such meetings in all competitions.

"It's always a good moment because it motivates – when you play against a big club, you are motivated.

"I did it with Chelsea and Manchester United, I did it also of course with Tottenham, and it's always a good moment because of the rivalry between the two clubs. It becomes even more beautiful to play. 

"And it's always a bad moment because they are a good team and in these matches the table doesn't say anything, the previous results don't say anything.

"So, it's good, it's bad; it is what it is."

Spurs laboured to a 3-3 Europa League draw at LASK on Thursday, with Harry Kane missing in one of eight changes from the goalless draw with Chelsea.

Mourinho hopes to have his talisman available, with Kane having netted 10 goals against Arsenal, needing one more to become the highest goalscorer in this fixture.

But even with the England star in the team, Mourinho knows his side – whose nine-match unbeaten streak is the longest ongoing run in the top flight – must guard against complacency.

"I think everybody knows what Arsenal did recently," he said. "The way they beat Chelsea and Manchester City to win the FA cup, the way they played in Liverpool in spite of defeat, the way they beat United at Old Trafford, the way they normally play against the top teams, the number of players they use in a defensive process, the way they go in fast counter-attacks and fast transitions.

"I don't think I need to [warn my players about complacency] but probably I will. We all know that a derby is a big match and is nothing to do with form, with momentum with injuries, with suspensions – it's nothing to do with that, it's just Tottenham versus Arsenal."

Arsenal have only lost back-to-back Premier League games against Tottenham twice (in May 1993 and November 2010) and this is the lowest they have sat in the table heading into a north London derby since August 1993, when they were 21st before claiming a 1-0 victory at White Hart Lane.

Spurs' new stadium will welcome 2,000 fans after national lockdown measures were lifted in England, although the regional tier restrictions mean not all clubs can host supporters.

That has led some to complain about an unfair advantage for those clubs that can have the backing of their fans, but Mourinho believes everyone should see the positives after a long spell of football being played exclusively behind closed doors.

"I can understand their position but at the same time the situation is so difficult and so frustrating for everybody," he said.

"I believe we have to accept all these kinds of things for the good of football, for the good of the people, happiness, for the perspective of this is going to change for the better. We have to adapt."

Having won his first derby match at the helm – a 2-1 home victory in July – Mourinho is aiming to become only the second Spurs boss to win both of his opening two games against Arsenal, with Jimmy Anderson having done so in the 1955-56 campaign.

The 57-year-old's record against Arsenal in the Premier League across his career is exceptional, having suffered just one defeat in 17 matches, although eight of those games have ended in draws.

Harry Maguire claimed Manchester United's belief that they can fight back from behind to win away games shows confidence is high at the club.

United have found themselves trailing in all four of their games on the road in the Premier League this season, against Brighton and Hove Albion, Newcastle, Everton and Southampton.

However, the Red Devils have battled back to win take three points from each match and the 12 collected from those games is more from losing positions in this campaign than any other Premier League team have accrued.

It has been in stark contrast to their home league form – one win, a draw and three defeats – which has seen increased scrutiny on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United head to West Ham on Saturday on the back of another Old Trafford loss – against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League – but captain Maguire revealed morale is good in the squad despite the setback.

"Our home form hasn't been good enough, but our away form has been really good. We've shown great spirit," Maguire told United's official website.

"It's an amazing away run we've been on. We've been losing in all four away matches [we have won this season], which is an incredible stat.

"It shows the spirit and the character in the group. We never give in and always fight to the end and we’ve scored some late winners."

West Ham have won their last two Premier League home games against United, but they have not won three in a row at home against the Red Devils in the top-flight since a run of four between January 1974 and December 1977.

After a run of 11 wins and one draw in 12 Premier League games against the Hammers between 2008 and 2014, United have won just three of their last 11 against the Hammers in the competition (drawn five, lost three).

United centre-back Maguire added: "Our confidence is high, even after a defeat to PSG, where we felt like the performance was there but the game was decided on fine margins.

"We know it's going to be a tough game but we go there trying to get the three points. Every game we play, we have a great incentive to go and win. We're confident.

"The home form hasn't been great and we need to improve on that but now it's another game where we try and get three points and that's what we'll look at it as."

Edinson Cavani can be the catalyst for Manchester United's revival, according to former Everton star Tim Cahill.

The 33-year-old joined United on a free transfer on deadline day in October, having left Paris Saint-Germain as the Ligue 1 champions' all-time leading goalscorer with 200.

Cavani has scored three Premier League goals for United after coming off the bench and netting twice against Southampton last Sunday, including the 92nd-minute winner.

The striker, who also set up Bruno Fernandes to score at St. Mary's Stadium, is averaging a goal involvement every 32 minutes in the league and his cameo last week helped United to a club-record eighth away league win in a row.

However, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side followed up that comeback victory with a loss to Cavani's former club Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday to leave Champions League Group H finely poised with one game to go.

United's struggles in the Premier League have been more marked and they sit ninth ahead of Saturday's trip to West Ham, but Cahill thinks the Red Devils can thrive if they give Cavani the service he needs.

"He's a striker who can finish, but, at the same time, to come on [against Southampton], assist, score two goals and have the prowess Manchester United need – he pretty much turned that game on its head," Cahill told Sky Sports.

"He's a big, influential player. He has instincts, but it's not always just [to get onto] the first ball, it's the second ball. Even when you see him score off a shot that was going off target, he was there to head it in.

"He's always proactive, not reactive, and onto things. I love seeing that glancing header because it's awkward, the timing of the run and the way he's glanced at it – he doesn't need to look at the goal because he knows where it is.

"But even earlier on, when he's had a few glimpses this season, you can see the danger [he poses] – now he just needs the service.

"The influence he has so quickly when he comes on, and you see defenders give him a little bit of room – even though he's older. I think it says a lot about his presence from what he's done before. He's a big, big influence on that team."

Cavani became the first United player since Solskjaer in 1999 to have at least three goal involvements as a substitute in a single Premier League game in the 3-2 win over Saints.

He was also the oldest player to make his debut for United (at 33 years, 253 days) since Zlatan Ibrahimovic (34 years, 316 days) in 2016.

Spectators will be allowed back into some grounds for this weekend's round of Premier League fixtures, which means Tottenham will have the backing of 2,000 fans when they take on Arsenal in Sunday's north London derby.

December promises to be a hectic month for every team, and Premier League leaders Spurs will be aiming to keep themselves in pole position.

Using Opta data, we've come up with our latest weekly selection of fantasy picks, which might give some aspiring managers an edge heading into the festive period...

 

LUKASZ FABIANSKI

West Ham have shot up the table after a run of three straight wins, and sit in fifth place.

Goalkeeper Fabianski, who has conceded 11 times in total, has been crucial, with David Moyes' side conceding just once over the course of their winning run.

The former Arsenal keeper has prevented more goals (2.21) than any other Premier League goalkeeper this season, and seems set for another busy game when Manchester United visit London Stadium.

 

BENJAMIN MENDY

Given he is such an attack-minded full-back, it is hard to believe it took Mendy until last Saturday to score his first goal in English football, as he side-footed Manchester City into a three-goal lead during their 5-0 rout of Burnley.

Mendy may have only just broken his goalscoring duck, but the former Monaco left-back is a regular provider for his City team-mates.

He has registered eight assists in his 40 Premier League appearances – among top-flight defenders to play more than 10 games since his debut in the competition in August 2017, only Liverpool pair Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold have more assists per game – and will be relishing going up against a leaky Fulham defence on Saturday.

LUKE AYLING

Leeds United's versatile defender Ayling looked set to go off injured early on against Everton, yet battled on to help Marcelo Bielsa's side clinch a 1-0 win at Goodison Park last time out.

Ayling has made more tackles than any other defender in the Premier League this season, registering 30 in total ahead of this weekend's clash with high-flying Chelsea.

The full-back has also proved his worth going the other way, with only two defenders – Joao Cancelo and Liverpool's Robertson – having created more chances from open play this term than Ayling's tally of 11.

 

KEVIN DE BRUYNE

A no-brainer of a fantasy pick, De Bruyne was in rampant form against Burnley, creating two of City's five goals and almost getting himself on the scoresheet with a wicked effort which rattled the woodwork.

Since his Premier League debut for Chelsea in August 2013, De Bruyne has provided 71 assists in the Premier League, at least eight more than any other player – this despite the Belgian playing just three games across the first two seasons in that run.

De Bruyne is joined in the top 10 list for assists in the last seven years by City stars Raheem Sterling (43) and Riyad Mahrez (41), while former team-mate David Silva is in second, with 63 to his name. 

 

JAMES WARD-PROWSE

A clever, cheaper fantasy alternative to De Bruyne could well be Ward-Prowse, who has been in sensational form for Southampton this term.

Ward-Prowse has scored four goals and set up a further two, taking his total tally to 26 goals and 24 assists in the Premier League for the Saints – one of just four players to register 50 or more goal involvements for Southampton in the division.

Southampton head to Brighton and Hove Albion for a south-coast derby on Monday, and their captain will be eager to deliver a match-winning display.

 

DANNY WELBECK

Going up against Southampton and Ward-Prowse will be Welbeck, who has made a bright start to his Brighton career.

After netting his first goal for the club in a 2-1 win over Aston Villa, former Arsenal and Manchester United forward Welbeck won a point-saving penalty against Liverpool.

Welbeck has an impressive record against Southampton, having been involved in six goals in his last three starts against the Saints in all competitions (four goals, two assists). 

 

HARRY KANE

It has been more about creating than scoring so far for Spurs talisman Kane this season, with the England captain having provided nine assists in 10 league appearances; crafting 21 chances in total.

Goals have of course come too, with Kane on seven for the campaign, and should he score against Tottenham's rivals Arsenal, he will be the outright highest goalscorer in competitive north London derbies.

Kane is tied on 10 goals with Tottenham great Bobby Smith and Emmanuel Adebayor, who of course played for both clubs. He has been struggling with an injury, but Jose Mourinho expects him to feature.

Neymar has sparked speculation over Lionel Messi's future.

Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar enjoyed a successful period alongside Messi at Barcelona before leaving in a world-record deal in 2017.

Now, Neymar wants to team up with Messi again.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE OUT, MESSI IN?

Paris Saint-Germain will have to sell Kylian Mbappe if they sign Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, according to Diario AS.

Messi has been linked with a move to Ligue 1 champions PSG after former Barca forward Neymar expressed his desire to reunite with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

If Manchester City target Messi arrives in the French capital, it could send Mbappe closer to LaLiga champions Real Madrid.

 

ROUND-UP

- Madrid captain Sergio Ramos has not ruled leaving the Spanish giants, reports El Transistor. Ramos is out of contract at the end of the season and he has been linked with PSG, Juventus, Milan and Manchester United.

Mauricio Pochettino has been contacted by Madrid to replace under-fire head coach Zinedine Zidane, claims Sport. Pochettino, who has been out of work since he was sacked as Tottenham boss last year, has also been linked to United.

- Diario AS says Atletico Madrid are lining up a January bid for Napoli's Arkadiusz Milik. The Poland international has been frozen out since making it clear he will not re-sign with the Serie A side. Tottenham, Everton and Roma have also emerged as possible destinations.

Romelu Lukaku is on Pep Guardiola's shortlist of forwards at City but Inter insist the Belgian star is non-transferable, according to Calciomercato.

- The Telegraph reports Chelsea's plan to sign West Ham midfielder Declan Rice rests on the success of off-season recruit Ben Chilwell.

Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has once again given his full backing to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and said the club's long-term plans are with the Norwegian in mind.

Solskjaer is approaching the two-year anniversary of his appointment as United boss, initially on a caretaker basis, but his position has regularly been called into question during that time.

He came under particular scrutiny following defeats to Arsenal and Istanbul Basaksehir in quick succession last month, but Woodward stated at the time United remain "absolutely committed" to the former striker.

Woodward remains pleased with the Red Devils' progress under Solskjaer but acknowledged there is room for improvement, with United ninth in the Premier League and not yet assured of a spot in the Champions League last 16 heading into the final matchday in Group H.

Speaking at a virtual fans' forum at the end of November, the minutes for which were published on Thursday, Woodward said: "What happens on the field is clearly our top priority.

"While it's not the same without fans in the stadium, we've seen lots of highs since our last meeting in April.

"We had a 14-game unbeaten run to finish third in last season's Premier League run and great wins against PSG and RB Leipzig on our return to the Champions League this season.

"Of course, we recognise there's more hard work ahead to achieve the consistency needed to win trophies.

"But we see positive signs on the pitch and the training ground that reinforce our belief in the progress being made by Ole, his coaching team and the players."

United missed out on rumoured top target and Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho during the close season but still strengthened their squad with the signings of Donny van de Beek, Alex Telles and free agent Edinson Cavani.

The Red Devils also brought in Bruno Fernandes last January, the Portugal playmaker proving to be a massive hit since arriving for a rumoured upfront fee of £47million.

However, the January window is notorious for being difficult to negotiate with other clubs and Woodward suggested United are not in the market for any new players next month.

"I told this forum back in April that we remained committed to strengthening the squad, while being disciplined in our spending during the pandemic," he said.

"I believe we've delivered on that, with the additions we made during the summer taking our total net spending to over €200m since the summer of 2019 - more than any other major European club over that period. 

"We will continue to support Ole with a planned, long-term approach to recruitment, focused on the summer windows."

Woodward, a board member of the European Club Association, also distanced United from rumours they are interested in joining a breakaway league consisting of Europe's biggest clubs.

"Most of my time in this regard is focused, through the ECA and the UCCSA [a joint-venture between the ECA and UEFA], on the strengthening of existing UEFA club competitions," he said.

"The dialogue focuses on them continuing to be predominantly mid-week games having little or no impact on the Premier League.

"We believe that any changes to European competition post-2024 must be complementary to thriving domestic leagues. Other domestic leagues feel the same way, reflected in conversation with our counterparts in other clubs and countries.

"What I can assure you of is that we will keep match-going fans firmly in the centre of thoughts, whether with the Premier League, ECA or UEFA, and across our decision-making processes overall.

"The past eight months has reminded us all of just how crucial you are to the fabric of the game. This game without fans is nothing."

Arsenal star Thomas Partey will return to training alongside his team-mates ahead of the north London derby with Premier League leaders Tottenham, according to Mikel Arteta.

Partey has been sidelined with a thigh injury sustained in Arsenal's defeat to Aston Villa at the beginning of November.

The 27-year-old Ghana international had been training on his own as part of his recovery, but will now join up with the rest of the Arsenal squad.

Speaking after the Gunners' 4-1 win over Rapid Vienna in the Europa League on Thursday, Arsenal manager Arteta suggested Partey could play a part in Sunday's showdown against Spurs.

"Well, he's putting a lot of pressure on us," Arteta told a media conference.

"He's training tomorrow [Friday] with us and let's see how it goes in the next couple of days."

Arsenal made it five wins from as many Group B matches against Rapid as they were afforded some respite from inconsistent displays in the Premier League.

It was only the second time the Gunners have achieved the feat in Europe, having done so during the 2005-06 Champions League in which they reached the final.

Arteta also urged his players to show the same fight as they did in the win over Rapid in the clash with Jose Mourinho's high-flying Tottenham.

"We've been really consistent in this competition I think the boys showed great energy, character and aggression," he explained.

"Right from the beginning you could feel that they were touched from the last defeat and everybody individually played a really good game.

"Again, we were in the final third really aggressive with the ball. We created many chances for goals and probably should have scored more.

"Now, let's take that into Sunday a very special game, we're all looking forward to it and let's do it again."

Arteta made 11 changes for the match against Rapid from the side which lost 2-1 to Wolves in the Premier League last week, but hinted a number of players have put themselves in the frame to face Spurs.

He added: "I try to use different competitions to put two different teams. It's because as well we are using them with the amount of injuries, suspensions and things that we had.

"You've seen that in the last few games we've used some players on Thursday and they played on the weekend.

"The performance level that they can give is very good and you can see tonight that some of them might deserve to start the game on Sunday."

Gareth Bale scored his 200th career goal on Thursday after he netted for Tottenham in their Europa League clash with LASK.

Wales international Bale had been stuck on 199 goals for club and country since he scored for Spurs in their 2-1 Premier League win over Brighton at the start of November.

He went close to reaching the milestone during Tottenham's 4-0 win over Ludogorets in the Europa League on November 26, but hit his 200th goal in Spurs' next European outing.

Bale's landmark strike – his first away goal for Spurs in Europe since he scored a hat-trick at the San Siro against Inter in 2010 – came from the penalty spot, Bale restoring parity after Peter Michorl had put LASK ahead.

The 31-year-old scored the first of 167 club goals for Southampton against Derby County in August 2006, while his maiden strike for Wales came in October of the same year against Slovakia.

Bale rejoined Spurs on a season-long loan deal from LaLiga side Real Madrid in September having played for the club between 2007 and 2013.

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