Chris Wood has signed for Newcastle United in a reported £25million move from fellow relegation candidates Burnley.

With Callum Wilson expected to miss around eight weeks due to a calf tear sustained in the 1-1 draw with Manchester United in December, Newcastle have moved to bring in a Premier League-proven goalscorer as they aim to bolster their chances of survival.

Newcastle and Burnley both sit in the bottom three on 11 points apiece – two from safety.

Wood, who joined the Clarets from Leeds United in 2017, has signed a two-and-a-half-year deal at Newcastle, having travelled to the north-east on Tuesday for a medical. 

The 30-year-old has become the Magpies' second first-team signing under Eddie Howe – and the club's new Saudi Arabia-backed ownership – after England full-back Kieran Trippier, who joined for a reported £12m last week.

Trippier made his debut in the shock 1-0 FA Cup third-round defeat at home to Cambridge United on Saturday.

With three league goals to his name this season, Wood is Burnley's second-highest scorer after Maxwel Cornet, who was signed from Lyon in August.

Wood has scored at least 10 league goals in each of the four previous seasons, with his tally of 14 in 2019-20 a personal best in the competition. However, he has not found the net since November 20.

"This is a very exciting opportunity for me and I'm delighted to be a Newcastle United player," Wood told his new club's official website.

"I have played at St. James' Park a few times and it's an amazing place, so to have the chance to represent this club with those incredible supporters behind me and my team-mates is very special.

"The club and manager have been first class during this process, and I really can't wait to get onto the pitch and repay the faith they have in me, especially with a vital part of the season ahead of us."

In total, the New Zealand international played 144 Premier League matches for Burnley, helping the Clarets to 44 wins, with Sean Dyche's team suffering 63 defeats and drawing 37 times.

With Wood in the team, Burnley scored 149 times, compared to netting just 21 times across 23 fixtures in which the striker did not feature.

Burnley's win percentage without Wood in their side dropped to 26.1 per cent from 30.6 per cent with him playing, while their average goals for per game dropped by just 0.1, from one to 0.9.

His 49 strikes came from an expected goals (xG) value of 49.5, suggesting Wood's finishing was on par with the quality of chances created for him by his team-mates.

Newcastle boss Howe said: "Chris is an important signing for us at a crucial time and I'm very pleased we have been able to move quickly and bring him here.

"He is a very dangerous attacking threat, has a physicality and character that I really like, and he has vast experience in the Premier League. He will be a great fit for us."

Erling Haaland is the hottest property in football right now.

It is expected that Haaland will leave Borussia Dortmund at the end of this season although that is not confirmed.

The 21-year-old Norwegian forward is being chased by several big clubs.

TOP STORY – HAALAND SET TO DECIDE ON CLUB FUTURE

AS claims that Haaland is set to make a definitive call on his future as several top clubs circle for his signature.

Borussia Dortmund are set to meet with Haaland's representatives next week to discuss his plans according to Marca.

Haaland is being pursued by Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City.

ROUND-UP

- Roma head coach Jose Mourinho has reached out to Tottenham's Tanguy Ndombele about a potential switch to Italy, claims Telefoot. Mourinho worked with Ndombele during his time at Spurs.

- Football Insider reports PSG midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum has no interest in a move to cashed-up Newcastle United having been linked with his former club.

- The Telegraph reports that Burnley's New Zealand international forward Chris Wood will undergo a medical with Newcastle on Wednesday ahead of a move to the Magpies.

- Tottenham have contacted Jesse Lingard's representatives to discuss a free agency move in the off-season from Manchester United, claims Football London.

- Sevilla's interest in signing Manchester United's Anthony Martial is fading given the Red Devils' demands for the French forward, reports Marca.

- The Mail claims that Marcus Rashford and Manchester United are set to open talks before the end of the season on a new contract.

Premier League managers are already feeling the strain amid cascading numbers of COVID-19 cases and mid-season injuries. Now many top bosses stand to lose stars to the Africa Cup of Nations.

Africa's greatest football show – now commonly known as AFCON – gets under way on Sunday in Cameroon.

Although the 2019 edition was held in June and July, it has historically been a January-into-February tournament and has returned to that place on the calendar.

A host of Premier League big names are hoping to make an impact during the four-week tournament, which falls slap-bang in the middle of European club campaigns, causing a major clash of competitions.

Premier League clubs certainly cannot complain of a lack of fair warning. It was June 2020 when African football chiefs decided the 2021 edition of the tournament would have to be pushed back by 12 months to a January 2022 start, in the hope the coronavirus crisis would have eased.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at which teams from the English top flight might feel its impact the most.

Can Reds cling on in title battle?

If Liverpool lose no further ground on leaders Manchester City by the time their stars return from AFCON, then Jurgen Klopp would surely settle for that.

The 2019-20 Premier League champions have taken two points from a possible nine to leave the title as effectively City's to lose, and now Klopp is going to have to get by without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita.

Egyptian striker Salah is the Premier League's leader in goals (16) and assists (9, level with Trent Alexander Arnold) so far this season. He has taken 80 shots in 20 games (38 of these have hit the target), played 12 throughballs and created 40 chances from open play: in each of those categories he is at the top of the Premier League charts for players defined by Opta as forwards.

How do you cope without such a contribution? Having Mane on hand would help, but Mane will be turning out for Senegal, a team who, like Salah's Egypt, are firmly in the mix as serious trophy contenders. Don't expect either back at the end of the group stage.

Mane has eight Premier League goals this term, including the opener at Chelsea recently. That goal return puts Mane joint-second among African scorers in the Premier League this season, level with Watford's Emmanuel Dennis, who is not in Nigeria's squad.

Mane has played 19 throughballs and has made 23 tackles to boot, which is the seventh highest number of tackles by a forward in the league this season, a rarely mentioned attribute of his game. He does not always tackle with his elbow, either.

Keita will presumably be less of a miss, with the Guinean's Anfield contribution remaining underwhelming, but Liverpool have been so hard hit by absentees recently that to lose anybody for up to five weeks is an inconvenience.

They are at least assured of Joel Matip's presence this month. The centre-back last played for Cameroon in 2015 and has retired from international duty. That is bad news for the AFCON hosts but helps Liverpool, given Matip remains a sturdy presence, with a duel success of 69.47 per cent this season ranking him third among Premier League defenders with 10 or more appearances, and a passing accuracy of 88.89 per cent putting him eighth in that metric.

Liverpool only have two league games inked in between now and the end of AFCON, against Brentford and Crystal Palace, but the Reds also have two postponed fixtures to be slipped in somewhere along the line.

Wintertime Blues?

Pep Guardiola's Manchester City hold a 10-point lead over second-placed Chelsea, with Liverpool a point further back but possessing a game in hand on the top two. Reigning champions City have won 11 straight Premier League games and the Citizens have the resources to be able to cope with the short-term loss of Riyad Mahrez, who will captain Algeria.

Mahrez's six goals and four assists this season have come at a startling rate. Given the depth in City's squad, he does not always start, so to appreciate his contribution it is worth looking at his numbers per 90 minutes on the pitch.

The former Leicester City forward is averaging 0.64 goals and 0.43 assists per 90 minutes – impressively close to Salah's return of 0.81 and 0.45 in those categories – and is one of only four Premier League players with 10 or more appearances to average at least 1.00 goal involvements per 90 (Michael Olise 1.43, Salah 1.26, Roberto Firmino 1.24, Mahrez 1.07).

The Blues of Chelsea may have concerns over the absence of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, given the Senegalese's stabilising influence at the back. His save percentage of 77.14 has only been beaten this season in the league by Wolves' Jose Sa (80.82) and Arsenal's Aaron Ramsdale (77.46).

Spaniard Kepa Arrizabalaga struggled in the early stages of his Chelsea career and is now the undoubted understudy.

Yet Kepa's form when given an opportunity this season has not given such cause for concern. The former Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper has been chiefly used in cup action, and he has achieved a remarkable save percentage of 81.48, suggesting that for a short run of games, he could be a perfectly able deputy.

Can an exodus to Africa affect the race for Europe?

Will fourth-placed Arsenal miss Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? It seems unlikely now, given he was dropped and stripped of the captaincy after a disciplinary breach before heading off to join Gabon. He has not played for a month. The Gunners won five games in a row without him, including four in the league, before being unlucky to lose to Manchester City.

Cold facts tell us Arsenal have a points average of 1.9 per Premier League game when Aubameyang has started games this season, and 1.5 when he has been either a substitute or out of the team, but those figures may not be significant given the momentum Mikel Arteta's players have built in the recent absence of the 32-year-old. His continuing exile from the first team seems unlikely to cause much consternation.

For manager Arteta to lose Thomas Partey (Ghana) at this point is a blow though, with the former Atletico Madrid player having been excellent in the 2-1 defeat to City, having been slowly building up to such a performance. He had more touches, won more duels, made more tackles and played more successful passes than any other Arsenal player.

Arsenal have a big derby at Tottenham coming up on January 16, and they might feel Partey's absence that day, particularly given Spurs, who currently sit sixth, are sending no current first-teamers away to AFCON.

Splitting the north London rivals for now are West Ham, in fifth, and it will surely have hurt David Moyes to wave off Said Benrahma for a month of Algeria duty. The playmaker has five goals and four assists in the league this season, as well as making 83 ball recoveries and creating 21 chances in open play. That makes him one of only 13 players in the competition to top both 80 recoveries and 20 open-play chances created, and one of only five Premier League stars to tick both boxes and score at least five times. Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha, away with Ivory Coast, is another member of that small group.

Seventh-placed Manchester United will lose Eric Bailly to Ivory Coast too. But with Phil Jones back in the first team, will Bailly be missed? The former Villarreal centre-back has played just 217 minutes in the Premier League this season. United youth prospect Hannibal Mejbri is also away, in his case with Tunisia.

Further into mid-table, Wolves must find an alternative to the excellent Romain Saiss (tackle success rate 72.73 per cent) on the left side of their defence, after he joined up with Morocco. Brighton and Hove Albion powerhouse Yves Bissouma has the highest tackle success rate among midfielders to have made more than 40 such challenges in the Premier League this season (50 attempted, 35 won: 70 per cent hit rate) and he will line up for Mali after ending an international exile.

Leicester City sent away striker Kelechi Iheanacho (2 goals, 4 assists this season) for Nigeria service at a bad time for the Foxes, given injured Jamie Vardy faces several weeks out of action.

Palace are firmly in favour of players heading away to represent their countries, but the Eagles never particularly like to be without Zaha (5 goals, 1 assist, 86 dribbles). Since his return from Manchester United in August 2014, Palace have averaged 1.2 points and a 32.9 per cent win percentage with Zaha in their starting line-up, and 0.9 points and a 24.5 win percentage when he has not been in that matchday XI. The loss of Cheikhou Kouyate (80.56 per cent success rate from 36 tackles) to Senegal duty may also diminish the sturdiness of Patrick Vieira's Eagles spine.

Can Clarets cope without Cornet?

The relegation scrap seems more likely to be affected by transfer market activity than departures to AFCON.

Newcastle United and Norwich City, the league's bottom two, are sending nobody away, while fourth-bottom Watford have kept Dennis (8 goals, 5 assists) and it remains to be seen what happens to Ismaila Sarr (5 goals), who has been absent with injury of late but has headed for checks with Senegal doctors.

Burnley, who sit 18th, are seemingly the team to watch carefully here. Maxwel Cornet, now away with Ivory Coast, has scored six Premier League goals from just 10 shots on target, and Sean Dyche must find a way to make the Clarets impactful without the former Lyon man.

The Premier League has confirmed rearranged dates for three fixtures that were postponed over the festive period.

In total, 18 matches were postponed over Christmas as rising coronavirus cases at clubs across the league led to large-scale disruption.

The issues have continued into the new year, with the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Arsenal having to be pushed back, while the Reds' FA Cup clash with Shrewsbury Town this weekend is also in doubt.

Three top-flight games were rearranged last week, with Southampton versus Brentford, Everton versus Leicester City and West Ham versus Norwich City to be played on January 11 and 12.

Now, three more games have been confirmed to be taking place the following week, including fixtures for Manchester United and Tottenham.

Brentford host United on January 19, while Leicester and Spurs face each other in the day's other fixture.

January 18 sees Burnley host Watford and Chelsea visit Brighton and Hove Albion.

The latter game was set to take place in February, but has had to be moved forward due to the Blues' participation in the FIFA Club World Cup. The teams drew 1-1 at Stamford Bridge on December 29.

Arsenal's match with Burnley that was planned for Saturday, January 22 has now been pushed back to January 23, with the Gunners set to play Liverpool in the rearranged EFL Cup fixture on January 20.

Aaron Ramsey has not had the best of times since moving to Juventus.

The Wales midfielder joined Juve from Arsenal in 2019 on a four-year deal.

Ramsey has only managed 70 appearances in an injury hit two and a half years with Juventus.

 

TOP STORY – RAMSEY TO LEAVE JUVENTUS IN JANUARY

Aaron Ramsey is set to exit Juventus in the January transfer window, reports Sky Sports.

Italian transfer supremo Gianluca Di Marzio claimed that Ramsey is likely to return to the Premier League, having already turned down an offer from Burnley .

Newcastle United have been linked with Ramsey, along with Everton.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bayern Munich will consider swapping Kingsley Coman with Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele in the off-season, reports L'Equipe. Coman's contract expires in 2023 and negotiations on a new deal have stalled.

- Sky Sports have reported that Newcastle are contemplating a bid for Lucas Digne. The full-back is set to leave Everton this month after a falling out with Rafael Benitez, though supposedly prefers a move to London, with Chelsea and West Ham also said to be interested.

- Everton, meanwhile, hold an interest in Newcastle midfielder Sean Longstaff and have already made a bid, according to the Daily Mail and Sky Sports.

- Paris Saint-Germain may look to sign Lyon's Lucas Paqueta next off-season, so say L'Equipe.

- Manchester United are determined to secure Wolves' Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves in January, according to The Sun.

- Lazio have opened talks with Liverpool on a deal for Belgium international forward Divock Origi, claims LazioNews24.

- According to Sky Sports, five Premier League clubs have held talks with Barcelona's Philippe Coutinho.

The first heavyweight tussle of the new year in the Premier League did not disappoint as Chelsea and Liverpool played out an entertaining 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.

The Blues were held at home for the fifth time in six league games, a run that includes three straight draws in the top flight for the first time since February 2016.

But Thomas Tuchel's side can be happy with a point after recovering from two goals down as they extended their unbeaten run against the Reds in the league to four matches.

While there was nothing to separate the sides sitting second and third, Brentford, Brighton and Hove Albion and Leeds United were all victorious on Sunday.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of the Opta data from another eventful day in the Premier League.

Chelsea 2-2 Liverpool: Blues hit back after Salah strikes again

Sadio Mane opened the scoring in a Premier League game for the 37th time since joining Liverpool in 2016-17 – only Tottenham's Harry Kane (40) has done so on more occasions.

However, some will argue that Mane was fortunate to be on the field at that point after catching Cesar Azpilicueta with his elbow after just six seconds.

Mane was instead issued a yellow card with 15 seconds on the clock, making it the earliest booking in a Premier League game since Opta started recording such data in 2006-07, nine seconds faster than the previous quickest caution for Scott McTominay against Newcastle United in December 2019.

Mohamed Salah went on to double Liverpool's lead with his fourth league goal against Chelsea, which is the joint-most any player has scored against the Blues after playing for them, along with Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne.

Chelsea responded brilliantly with two goals in the space of 245 seconds through a Mateo Kovacic stunner and Christian Pulisic's well-taken strike, ensuring they remain a point above their opponents having played a game more.

This was the fourth occasion in this season's Premier League that a side has failed to win a game in which they have led by two goals, with Liverpool accounting for two of those occasions, having also drawn 2-2 with Brighton in October.


Leeds United 3-1 Burnley: More Maxwell magic not enough

Leeds scored three times in a Premier League game for the first time this season on their way to ending a four-game run without a victory, putting distance between themselves and Burnley in the final relegation spot.

Previously with just one win to their name in the competition since the end of October, Jack Harrison squeezed home for Leeds to open the scoring at Elland Road before Maxwell Cornet equalised through Burnley's first direct free-kick goal since Boxing Day 2017.

That was Cornet's sixth Premier League goal in 10 appearances, the most by an African player in their first 10 games since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Arsenal in April 2018 (also six).

Stuart Dallas restored Leeds' advantage on his 250th appearance for the club in all competitions, becoming the first United player to reach that tally since Lucas Radebe in November 2003.

The much-needed victory was sealed by Daniel James in added time, meaning Leeds are unbeaten in 10 Premier League games against sides starting the day in the relegation zone (W8, D2) since returning to the top flight last season.

As for Burnley, they have now won just one of their last 20 Premier League matches and are winless in 11 on their travels, their worst such run on the road since 17 without a victory between August 2016 and April 2017.


Everton 2-3 Brighton and Hove Albion: Mac Allister inspires soaring Seagulls

The highest-scoring game of the day in the Premier League took place at Goodison Park, where Everton suffered defeat in their opening league game of a calendar year for the fifth year running, their worst such streak since a run of seven between 1957 and 1963.

Brighton's opening goal via Alexis Mac Allister after two minutes and 43 seconds was the Seagulls' fastest-ever away from home in the competition, and their third-fastest overall.

Dan Burn doubled the visitors' lead on Merseyside, shortly before the returning Dominic Calvert-Lewin became the 22nd different player to miss a Premier League penalty for the Toffees – only Arsenal (23) have more.

Anthony Gordon scored his first senior goal to give Everton a bit of hope, only for Mac Allister to register for a second time as Brighton moved to 27 points after 19 games – their joint-best return at this stage of a top-flight campaign alongside 1981-82.

It was another afternoon to forget for Rafael Benitez, however, with Everton having now picked up only 19 points from 18 games, which is their worst return at this stage since accruing 17 from 18 matches in 2005-06.

Brentford 2-1 Aston Villa: Bees bounce back again

Comeback experts Brentford hit back to beat Villa late on thanks to goals from Yoane Wissa and Mads Roerslev after Danny Ings had opened the scoring in west London.

Only West Ham (12) and Everton (11) have won more points from losing positions in the Premier League this term than Brentford, who have now recovered nine points in total.

That is in complete contrast to a Villa side that have lost more games in the competition since the start of last season after scoring first than any other side (eight).

Ings has now opened the scoring in more different English top-flight games since the start of 2019-20 than any player (18), but that early strike was not enough for Steven Gerrard's men.

Wissa's equaliser was Brentford's first Premier League goal from outside the box and full-back Roerslev, who set up that strike, completed the turnaround to become the second Bees player to score and assist in the same game in the competition for the club after Ivan Toney.

Ralf Rangnick said he is focusing on his current squad rather than potential signings in the January transfer window after his Manchester United side beat Burnley 3-1 at Old Trafford in the final Premier League game of 2021.

Goals from Scott McTominay, a Ben Mee own goal and Cristiano Ronaldo were enough to seal victory on Thursday evening, despite an Aaron Lennon strike pulling one back for the visitors.

After the game, the United interim manager was asked whether he will consider making additions in January. 

"My focus is on the current players. We have enough players in the squad, so there is no lack of number of players," Rangnick told Amazon Prime Sport.

"Transfers in the winter only make sense if they really help you, if they increase the quality, and so far we haven't spoken about that. My focus in the last couple of weeks was on the current squad."

The Red Devils scored all three of their goals in the first 35 minutes against the Clarets, having not scored more than once in any of Rangnick's first four games in charge.

The former RB Leipzig boss was pleased with his team's efforts, feeling that the collective performance was better than it had been previously.

"As expected it was a very tough physical game against a team who play very physical," he added. "We also showed the qualities we have in our team. It was important today to raise the energy level.

"The whole team performance was a lot better, I was pleased with the performances of our wingers. Jadon [Sancho] did well and Mason [Greenwood]. Eddie [Cavani] and Cristiano, the work effort was amazing."

Rangnick was asked about targets for the rest of the season, with United now in sixth place in the Premier League, level on points with West Ham in fifth, and four behind fourth-placed Arsenal, with a game in hand on both.

"I wouldn't say fourth is the minimum," he said. "It is about taking next development steps. Now eight games in a row without a defeat. It is about taking next steps."

Manchester United ended 2021 with a comfortable 3-1 win against Burnley at Old Trafford in the final Premier League game before the new year.

Ralf Rangnick's side were looking to bounce back from a disappointing performance in the 1-1 draw at Newcastle United last time out, and first-half goals from Scott McTominay and Cristiano Ronaldo either side of a Ben Mee own goal ensured that they did just that, despite Aaron Lennon reducing the deficit before half-time.

It was Burnley's first game since December 12, having seen their last two fixtures against Watford and Everton postponed due to COVID-19, and the visitors lack sharpness at times at Old Trafford, particularly at the back.

The Red Devils move up to sixth in the Premier League table, while Sean Dyche's men remain 18th.

Both teams had early chances as Chris Wood headed wide for the visitors before Ronaldo surprisingly fired over after being put through on goal.

United were ahead shortly after as McTominay placed a shot past Wayne Hennessey from the edge of the box as Ronaldo looked to set himself up for a left-footed effort.

The lead was doubled on 27 minutes when Luke Shaw linked up with Jadon Sancho, before the former Borussia Dortmund man cut inside to shoot, with his effort being deflected just inside the far post off the boot of Mee.

It was three just eight minutes later after a McTominay strike was tipped onto the post by Hennessey, only for the ball to fall kindly for Ronaldo for a simple tap-in, but the Clarets pulled one back shortly after as Lennon went on a mazy run before placing the ball low into the far bottom corner.

A less eventful second half saw Eric Bailly hobble off with an injury, while Hennessey made a fantastic save with his face from Edinson Cavani after a Ronaldo knockdown to prevent further damage to the scoresheet, but United saw out a confidence-boosting victory.

What does it mean? United finally express themselves under Rangnick

While it was always too early to judge the Rangnick era at Old Trafford, questions were being asked as to why United looked so uninspired in attack at Newcastle considering the wealth of ability in their ranks.

Ronaldo had no reason to storm off in a huff here, though, as the Red Devils created plenty against an uncharacteristically disorganised Burnley, having 12 shots in the first half.

Bruno Fernandes was missing through suspension this time and, after a more promising showing from the team, there are no guarantees that he will walk back into the side for the next encounter.

Shaw, he (sometimes) won't let you down

When the England left-back is at the top of his game, he can influence things as much as anyone, and that was the case here as he caused Burnley all sorts of problems down his side.

He made three key passes, more than anyone else, including a terrific throughball for Ronaldo early on and playing in Sancho in the build-up to the second goal, while also boasting the highest passing accuracy in the opposition half (90 per cent), and put in the most crosses (11).

If this was a response to the threat to his place from Alex Telles since Rangnick arrived, then it appears to be a tactic that has worked for the German coach.

Burnley need wins quickly

It won't quite be panic stations yet for Dyche. His team is in the relegation zone but have games in hand after several recent postponements, although they must convert that ostensible advantage into points.

After 16 games, the Clarets have won just once in the league this season (D8 L7), and despite those games in hand, will be concerned to see only two teams above them who they could catch if they won those games.

They are now without a win in their last 10 Premier League away games (D4 L6), since winning 2-0 at Fulham in May. They last had a longer run without a win on the road between August 2016 and April 2017 (17 games).

What's next?

Manchester United are at home to Wolves on Monday, while Burnley travel to Leeds United on Sunday.

Everton's Premier League trip to Burnley has become the third game to be pulled from Sunday's programme as the COVID-19 crisis continues to hit the competition.

Injuries and coronavirus cases had left Rafael Benitez down to nine outfield first-team players, the Everton manager said on Thursday.

The English Boxing Day line-up has been trimmed from nine to six fixtures, with Liverpool's home game against Leeds United and Wolves' clash with Watford having already been called off.

Benitez said that five Everton players had tested positive since the 1-1 draw at Chelsea last week, with a long injury list meaning he had few options available and was considering pushing Dominic Calvert-Lewin back into action ahead of schedule, following his long lay-off.

Everton had pushed for the game at Turf Moor to be postponed, Benitez saying he was "surprised" it was still on when he spoke on Thursday, and the club were granted their wish on Friday.

The Premier League said its board had "regrettably approved Everton's request".

"The board reviewed the club's request today to postpone the match following further injuries to their squad," the Premier League said in a statement.

"They concluded that the club will not be able to fulfil their fixture this weekend as a result of an insufficient number of players available to play due to COVID-19 cases and injuries.

"The board this morning was able to make its decision in advance of Boxing Day to give clarity to clubs and their fans. We apologise for the inconvenience and disruption caused to those supporters' festive plans.

"The league is aware that the decisions this week to postpone three matches on Boxing Day will disappoint supporters, and understands their frustrations at a special time of year when fans look forward to attending and watching football games."

The Premier League and its clubs elected to play on after a Monday meeting, even as the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads rapidly in England.

The league added on Friday: "While recognising a number of clubs are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, it is the clubs' and the league's collective intention to continue the current fixture schedule where safely possible."

Rafael Benitez has suggested the Premier League need to "take responsibility" after they rejected Everton's request for Sunday's game with Burnley to be postponed.

Everton visit the Clarets at Turf Moor on Boxing Day but Benitez revealed on Thursday that he only has nine senior outfielders to pick from.

The Toffees have three goalkeepers fit and a selection of players from the academy, though Benitez warned that situation may change over the coming days.

Six Premier League games, including Everton's meeting with Leicester City, were called off last weekend amid COVID-19 outbreaks within several squads.

On Thursday, the Premier League confirmed Leeds United's trip to Liverpool and Watford's game at Wolves, set to be played on Sunday too, had also been postponed.

Premier League clubs met on Monday, deciding to carry on without a "circuit-breaker" shutdown, though each game would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Benitez, however, could not hide his frustration that Everton were being told the Burnley encounter must go ahead.

He told a news conference: "I'm really surprised that the game is going on because of all the cases we have and the injuries.

"We have followed all of the rules, we do the lateral flows, PCRs, have the masks, three dressing rooms to spread the players. But we cannot control when we have to play matches and a player is positive but does not have any symptoms and can pass it to the others.

"That is what happened the other day against Chelsea. We had to play some young players and after the game we found that we had five positives. With the injuries and the positives we had, we thought that the game would be postponed.

"The rules are 13 players plus one goalkeeper. We have nine outfield players available plus three goalkeepers and after that we have five young players, but they say they have enough experience to play in the Premier League."

Benitez confirmed that Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has been out injured since August, is in contention, but is concerned the striker will have to be rushed into playing a full match.

He continued: "The reality is some of these players, like Dominic, have been out for months, so we have players who have knocks, we have to push them, play players who are not fit.

"Who will take responsibility if something happens? We are exposing them. My main job now is to find 11 players and play in the right positions to be competitive.

"I think they are considering just the numbers. But who is taking responsibility if something is wrong with injured players? We have six injuries, five players with COVID."

Lucas Digne has missed Everton's last three games after a reported falling out with Benitez, but the left-back is, as it stood on Thursday, available.

"At the moment [Digne] is available, yes. Lucas is our player," said Benitez, with Everton reported to have secured the signing of Ukraine left-back Vitaliy Mykolenko for January.

"My main concern is to concentrate on the players I have, Lucas is one of these players. Lucas has been a key player for us, he's an important player, working really hard in every training session and during the games."

Jurgen Klopp might consider the Christmas and New Year programme an "impossible" task for his stricken Liverpool team, but the Premier League has challenged its clubs to get games on over the coming fortnight.

These games can throw up season-shaping drama, with the packed calendar meaning the stakes are high and stress levels higher, and any manager that chooses to rotate his squad does so at his own risk.

Nobody wants to offer up gifts, despite Santa delivering three goals for Blackburn Rovers in 2007 – Roque Santa Cruz scoring twice in a 2-2 draw with Manchester City on December 27, and adding another in a 2-1 win over Derby County three days later.

Manchester City lead the way in the English top flight this season, ahead of Liverpool and Chelsea.

The 12 days of Christmas are traditionally considered to run from December 25 to January 5, and Stats Perform has looked at that period, assessing prospects for some of this year's games, along with a lesson or two from history.

You're top of the tree, but what makes you think you'll stay there?

In the first 10 seasons of the Premier League, from its launch in 1992-93, the eventual champions were only top at Christmas on three occasions – Manchester United in 1993-94, Blackburn Rovers in 1994-95 and United again in 2000-01.

Norwich City were the leaders on Christmas Day in that inaugural campaign, but Mike Walker's classy Canaries finished in third place in May as champions Manchester United and Aston Villa swept past the Canaries. Norwich had lost to United and derby rivals Ipswich Town in their two games leading up to the Christmas run, and back-to-back goalless draws with Tottenham on December 26 and Leeds United two days later further stifled their progress. The winless run ultimately extended to six matches, with the high-flying Canaries having their wings clipped just as the title began to look possible.

Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United famously led by 10 points on Christmas Day in 1995 and looked for all the world like runaway champions-in-waiting. Yet a 2-0 defeat at Manchester United on December 27 was an omen of what was to come as the Magpies were barged off top spot by the Red Devils come the end of the season.

Aston Villa were top at Christmas in 1998 but fell away to finish sixth, the lowest final position by any team to have sat top of the Premier League tree on December 25. They lost 2-1 at Blackburn on Boxing Day in that year, Tim Sherwood scoring a late winner, and although Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu netted to earn a 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday two days later, Villa's form was far from championship-winning from that point on.

As the Premier League has evolved and an elite crop of teams has developed, it has been a safer bet that the pace-setters by December 25 will go on to capture the trophy. In fact, over the past 10 seasons, the future champions have held top spot on that date on seven occasions, with Liverpool the only team to fall away from the summit in that time, dropping to second place in 2013-14 and 2018-19, and to third in 2020-21.

They climbed the mountain as snowflakes fell

Manchester United were fifth at Christmas in 1996-97, seven points behind leaders Liverpool, but Fergie's fledglings went on to win the league, and their results in late December were a big factor. They had beaten Sunderland 5-0 on December 21 and followed that with a 4-0 win at Nottingham Forest on December 26 (goals from David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Andy Cole), before sinking Leeds United two days later at Old Trafford thanks to an Eric Cantona penalty. A New Year's Day goalless home draw with Aston Villa followed, but United had a verve about them again and swept past Liverpool's 'Spice Boys' in the closing weeks.

Arsenal were sixth at Christmas in 1997-98 and 13 points behind United, but it was the Gunners who pulled off a startling comeback in this season. They launched an 18-game unbeaten run as they beat Leicester City 2-1 on December 26 and followed that by coming from behind for a 1-1 draw at Tottenham two days later. Arsene Wenger's team did not lose again in the league until their final two games of the campaign in May, to Liverpool and Villa, by which time the title had been secured. That remains the biggest Christmas Day deficit to be overhauled by a team that went on to be champions.

Manchester City were eighth on December 25 last year and still won the league, but Pep Guardiola's team were only eight points behind leaders Liverpool with a game in hand at that stage, with no team having played more than 14 games due to a delayed start to the season. City were 2-0 winners at home to Newcastle on December 26 and followed up with a 3-1 victory at Chelsea on January 3, their charge to glory gathering pace.

Merry Christmas? It's no guarantee of a happy new year

This year, there are three rounds of Premier League games spread across the 12 days of Christmas. In the past there have been as many as four, and there have been 13 occasions when teams have snaffled 10 points or more during this period.

Liverpool were the first to win all four of their games in this hectic spell, as they saw off Leicester, Manchester City, Leeds and Norwich by a combined 10-1 aggregate in 1994, only to trail home fourth in May. Jose Mourinho's Chelsea then achieved 12 days of Christmas clean sweeps in their title-winning 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.

All the other teams to rake in double-figure points hauls from their four festive period games managed 10 points from three wins and a draw.

Only one of those 10 sides went on to capture the title: Manchester United in the 2010-11 season. United also had a 10-point tally from 2004-05, and two other sides have hit that mark twice: Arsenal (1993-94 and 2004-05) and Sheffield Wednesday (1993-94 and 1994-95). Tottenham, Wimbledon, Liverpool and Manchester City are the other teams to have done so.

They delivered the goods

Manchester United have the best per-game record at this time of year, pulling in 2.19 points on average in the Premier League era. Of teams to have spent more than one season in the top flight, Arsenal are next (1.99), followed by Liverpool (1.96) and, surprisingly, Blackburn (1.88). United's legendary former manager Alex Ferguson reeled in a league-leading 135 points from 61 games during the 12-day run, with a hearty plus-74 goal difference, while his great rival at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger, earned 132 points from 62 matches.

Ferguson and Jose Mourinho lead the way with an average of 2.21 points per game over the 12 days, among managers with more than 20 such games behind them.

Befitting his status as the Premier League's all-time top scorer, Alan Shearer is ahead of all the rest in the goals stakes, having hit 23 during this period, five clear of next in line Robbie Fowler.

A bad Christmas? It doesn't mean your goose is cooked

A diabolical 12 days of Christmas can be a retrievable mid-season mishap.

There have been 49 instances of teams losing all of their games over this period in a season. Among those, Everton in 1993-94 and West Brom in 2010-11 have played the most games in the 12 days – four games each for a zero-point return. The snowballing run of defeats almost proved hideously costly for Everton, who needed a famous 3-2 win over Wimbledon on the final weekend of the season to survive, but West Brom finished in the relative comfort of 11th place after their bleak midwinter, albeit following a February change of boss as Roy Hodgson replaced Roberto Di Matteo.

The bottom three from Christmas Days past have gone on to be relegated three times, with Derby County, Leicester City and Ipswich Town suffering that fate in 2001-02, Wigan Athletic, QPR and Reading sliding into the Championship after the 2012-13 campaign, and last season’s turkeys – Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United – also sinking into the second tier.

The good news for Norwich, Newcastle and Burnley – the current top three – is that clearly this rarely happens. Bottom side Norwich have history to wrestle with, given only three of 26 last-placed teams on December 25 in the 20-team era (since 1995-96) have avoided the drop.

There have been 37 instances of teams being in the Premier League relegation zone on Christmas Day but finding a way to survive.

Newcastle face Manchester United, Everton and Southampton in their festive games this year, and it may be a concern that manager Eddie Howe has a career points average of just 0.87 in games played from December 25 to January 5 (W2, D7, L6).

Burnley boss Sean Dyche can better that, taking an average of 1.12 points per game (W5, D4, L8) into assignments against Everton, Manchester United and Leeds.

Norwich will hope Dean Smith can summon his Aston Villa festive form, having achieved 1.67 per game at this time of year while in his former job (W3, D1, L2). Arsenal, Crystal Palace and Leicester await Smith's men this year.

Canaries knocked off their perch

A morsel from Norwich's Premier League past might serve as a salutary tale for mid-table clubs that feel secure about their Premier League status by now.

Norwich were seventh on Christmas Day in 1994, far from trouble, but their season imploded and they finished 20th, suffering relegation from the then 22-team league.

They had a crummy 12 days of Christmas, losing 2-0 at home to Tottenham and 1-0 at Nottingham Forest on successive days – December 26 and 27 – before undoing some of that damage with a 2-1 home win over Newcastle on New Year's Eve, only to be thumped 4-0 at Liverpool on January 2. They would not win another Premier League game until they beat Ipswich 3-0 on March 20.

Nightmares can occur after Christmas, as well as before.

Aston Villa's match against Burnley was the latest Premier League clash to be postponed on Saturday following more positive coronavirus cases in Steven Gerrard's squad.

Villa announced that the game would not go ahead just over two hours before it was due to kick off.

The late postponement of the fixture at Villa Park left Leeds United's home encounter with Arsenal as the only top-flight fixture in England on Saturday.

Villa said in a statement: "The results of PCR tests, which were taken yesterday prior to training as well as lateral flow tests, were received this morning and confirmed further depletion of our playing squad which was already impacted upon for our trip to Norwich in midweek.

"All individuals who tested positive are now isolating in line with Premier League and government guidance and protocols.

"The club is extremely sorry for the inconvenience caused to Burnley Football Club, both our own supporters and the Burnley fans due to attend the fixture but have acted as swiftly as possible this morning to minimise disruption."

Everton's game against Leicester City on Sunday was also called off, while a whole host of midweek matches were postponed due to soaring numbers of positive COVID-19 cases.

As it stands, three matches are set to go ahead on Sunday, with leaders Manchester City travelling to relegation-threatened Newcastle United, Liverpool at Tottenham and Chelsea on the road at Wolves.

The carnage of the Premier League festive schedule is well and truly upon us.

Arsenal, who stripped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of his captaincy on Tuesday, snatched West Ham's Champions League spot with a comfortable victory in Wednesday's headline clash.

Just 11 miles away in London, Crystal Palace hosted Southampton following a 3-1 defeat of Everton but they could only muster a draw against Ralph Hasenhuttl's side.

Brighton and Hove Albion succumbed to yet another defeat against Wolves in the other clash of the day, after Watford's visit to Burnley was postponed due to COVID-19 cases within the Hornets' squad.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of Opta data from the top-flight action.

Arsenal 2-0 West Ham: Youth shines again for Arteta's top-four chasers

West Ham have a woeful record at Emirates Stadium and extended that poor run as they lost their 11th league match in 12 games at Arsenal's ground, trading fourth spot with Mikel Arteta's side, who were inspired by two of their young stars.

Gabriel Martinelli broke the deadlock in the second half with his seventh Premier League strike, Gabriel Jesus (16) the only Brazilian with more goals in the competition before their 21st birthday.

Vladimir Coufal then became the 15th Czech Republic player to receive his marching orders in the Premier League when he received a contentious second caution for bringing down Alexandre Lacazette, who saw his penalty saved by Lukasz Fabianski.

Lacazette's miss may have been Arsenal's third consecutive failed penalty in the league – doing so for the first time since 1992 – but substitute Emile Smith Rowe sealed the victory with the Gunners' 10th goal scored by an under-21 in the competition this season, which is more than any other side.

David Moyes, who became the fourth manager to 600 games in the Premier League, has never won at Arsenal in 18 top-flight attempts, extending the record for the most times a manager has played away against a side in the competition without winning.

Brighton and Hove Albion 0-1 Wolves: Saiss scores as Seagulls grounded once more 

Wolves headed to the South Coast without a win or a goal in four top-flight games, facing five consecutive blanks for the first time since 2003, but held on in a marathon slog against Graham Potter's timid Brighton.

Roman Saiss nodded in what proved to be the winner for Bruno Lage's side on the stroke of half-time, as Wolves scored their first top-flight goal before the interval in seven matches – dating back to when they netted twice in the first half against Everton in early November.

The Morocco international now has five league goals to his name since the start of last season – only Raul Jimenez (nine) and Ruben Neves (six) have managed more for Wolves in that period.

Wolves, though, had to wait for their win as they battled for 106 minutes and 29 seconds of action in total in the longest English top-flight game since Manchester City and Liverpool in September 2017 (108 minutes and 35 seconds).

In contrasting fortunes, struggling Brighton are still without a win in all competitions since beating Swansea in the EFL Cup in September, while the Seagulls have not tasted top-flight victory in a club record 11 games.

Crystal Palace 2-2 Southampton: Broja form continues as Ayew breaks duck

The Premier League's most fragile away defence in 2021 travelled to Selhurst Park having conceded 50 times on the road, but were unlucky to not walk away with all three points against Patrick Vieira's side.

Wilfried Zaha struck first after just 119 seconds as he fired another away goal past Ralph Hasenhuttl's team, with what was Palace's fastest Premier League goal since May, which also came against Southampton.

However, James Ward-Prowse restored parity with his 11th direct free-kick goal in the league – only David Beckham (18), Thierry Henry and Gianfranco Zola (both 12) have scored more in the competition.

Armando Broja deservedly nudged the visitors ahead with his fourth finish in six league starts, with Mason Greenwood (also four) the only played aged 20 or younger to have scored as many times in the competition this season.

Jordan Ayew then ensured the sides shared the spoils with his first goal in 43 Premier League games, his last coming against Leeds United in November 2020, while the Saints claimed an unwanted record as the first top-flight side to ship more than 50 away goals in a single year since West Brom in 1985 (52).

Watford's Premier League game at Burnley has been postponed following a COVID-19 outbreak within the Hornets' squad.

Claudio Ranieri's side were due to face Burnley at Turf Moor on Wednesday, but the meeting was postponed just hours before kick-off following the outbreak, which left Watford with an "insufficient number of first-team players available".

The Premier League board announced the postponement of the game with a statement, which explained the decision was made "following guidance from medical advisers".

"The Premier League understands this decision will disappoint and frustrate fans who were due to attend this evening’s game and apologises for the inconvenience and disruption caused at such short notice," the statement said.

"In considering any application to postpone, the board considers a range of sporting and medical factors. Each decision is taken on a case-by-case basis with everyone’s health of utmost importance."

The fixture between the two relegation-threatened sides becomes the third Premier League match to be called off, after Manchester United's trip to Brentford and Tottenham's meeting with Brighton and Hove Albion were both postponed.

On Monday, the Premier League announced it has reverted to "emergency measures" following a record number of players and staff testing positive for coronavirus in the past week.

The league recorded its highest figures for a seven-day period after 42 positive tests were returned, surpassing the 40 from January, with the results coming from a total of 3,805 tests carried out in the week of December 6-12.

"In light of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, the Premier League has reintroduced emergency measures," the statement continued.

"These include protocols such as more frequent testing, wearing face coverings while indoors, observing social distancing and limiting treatment time."

Leicester City's home clash with Tottenham on Thursday remains set to go ahead, despite Foxes' manager Brendan Rodgers revealing the hosts will be without nine players due to a combination of coronavirus cases and injuries.

Rodgers and Antonio Conte both explained their respective sides had requested the game be postponed, but the Premier League have not granted that request.

After a grand total of one day without Premier League football, the action returned on Saturday and there was a change at the top of the Premier League.

That's right, Chelsea slipped up again and handed the initiative to Manchester City and Liverpool, both of whom were victorious later in the day.

There was also a change at the bottom as Newcastle United left the foot of the table – at least until Sunday – meaning there are three sides all on 10 points in the relegation places.

Without any further ado, let's look at the best of the day's action with a pick of Opta's post-match facts…

West Ham 3-2 Chelsea: Blues dealt Hammer blow

Chelsea are off the Premier League summit as a result of their defeat at London rivals West Ham, who continue to confound doubters under David Moyes.

They found themselves behind at the break but came on stronger in the second half, becoming the first team to beat Chelsea after the Blues had been leading at half-time since Wolves in December 2018 – that was a run of 48 games unbeaten when ahead at the halfway mark of a game.

Further to that, it was only the third time in Thomas Tuchel's 53 games in charge that Chelsea have conceded more than one goal in a game.

One of West Ham's goalscorers surely felt confident – after all, Manuel Lanzini's goal was his 11th in London derbies, or 48 per cent of his Premier League total (23), the highest ratio of any player in the competition's history with at least 20 goals scored.

There was also a first to celebrate. Arthur Masuaku opened his West Ham account in his 96th match, with the left-back's momentous goal also proving to be the winner.

The win moved West Ham to within six points of their visitors, with the Hammers fourth.

Watford 1-3 Manchester City: Hornets are cannon fodder

Even if Pep Guardiola's City did not arrive in fine form, few would have given Watford a chance here – and the match went just as most were expecting.

Watford's record against City was woeful at best already – now they've conceded 41 goals in 13 meetings with them in the Premier League, the most they have let in against any single side in the competition.

Similarly, the 3.2 goals per game they concede on average in this fixture is the most by one side against another among all Premier League fixtures played at least 10 times.

That one-sided nature also reflects on Guardiola, who has won all 10 of his managerial games against Watford in all competitions by an aggregate score of 42-4, his best 100 per cent winning record over any side.

City are now unbeaten across their past 19 meetings with Watford (W17 D2, all competitions), netting 62 goals in this run – they've only ever had a longer unbeaten run once before against a specific team (22 games against Norwich from 1965-1981).

Wolves 0-1 Liverpool: Origi comes up trumps as Reds steal it at the death… again

It wasn't a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but Liverpool got the job done to move above Chelsea and stay just a point behind new leaders City.

Only just, though.

Divock Origi spared Jurgen Klopp's blushes with a stoppage-time winner, the Belgian continuing his habit of being a decisive and useful option off the bench.

That was his 10th goal as a substitute in the Premier League for the Reds, a club record.

Liverpool have now scored the winning goal after the 90th minute on 39 occasions in the Premier League, at least 13 more than any other team.

There was also good news for Mohamed Salah – he didn't score, but his assist for Origi's winner ensured he's been involved in a goal in each of his last 13 top-flight appearances, a record only Jamie Vardy (15) has ever surpassed.

Newcastle United 1-0 Burnley: Howe's about that?

At long last, every team in this season's Premier League now has at least a one in the wins column – Newcastle defeated Burnley at St James' Park to finally get off the mark.

Newcastle had not won any of their previous 15 matches in all competitions, losing seven and drawing the other eight.

Additionally, it was only their second clean sheet of the season, the other also coincidentally coming against Burnley in the EFL Cup back in August.

Of course it was also Eddie Howe's first win since being appointed by the club, with Callum Wilson – who also played under the manager at Bournemouth – delivering the goods.

It was Wilson's 43rd Premier League goal for Howe, a record only Joshua King (48) has bettered for him.

While it remains to be see if Howe is able to keep Newcastle up, there's no doubt he's got them playing on the front foot more, as they are averaging 15 shots (five on target) each game compared to 11 (three) prior to his arrival in 2021-22.

Southampton 1-1 Brighton and Hove Albion: Saints give it up

Just when Southampton thought they had the points in the bag, Brighton pulled it back.

Brighton were down to 10 men, having had Leandro Trossard taken off injured after using all their substitutes, but Neal Maupay struck deep into stoppage time to seal a draw.

That was Brighton's fourth (of eight) away Premier League goal to have been scored in the 89th minute or later this term, and the third netted by Maupay.

Brighton remain winless in 10 league games, their longest top-flight run since 1983, but they celebrated it like a win – for Southampton, it felt like a defeat.

Saints have now dropped 71 points from winning positions in the league under Ralph Hasenhuttl, 15 more than any other team since his December 2018 appointment.

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