Ralf Rangnick has some "difficult decisions" to make when Manchester United face Newcastle United after confirming that all but one of his first-team players are back in training.

United's last two Premier League matches – a trip to Brentford and a home game against Brighton and Hove Albion – were postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the club.

The Red Devils halted first-team operations at their Carrington training ground for 24 hours last week, but players started returning on a staggered basis from Tuesday.

All remaining players were back involved on Thursday, with the exception of injured midfielder Paul Pogba, ahead of next Monday's trip to St James' Park.

And Rangnick reported at his pre-match news conference that he expects to have virtually a full-strength squad to choose from against Newcastle, meaning Raphael Varane should be in contention again after two months out with a groin injury suffered on international duty.

"We shut the training ground last Thursday for four days in order to break the chain. On that day we had eight outfield players and three goalkeepers," Rangnick said.

"As of today, we have now had three days of training this week. We started on Tuesday, then trained yesterday and today. We have 25 outfield players, all apart from Pogba.

"Every other player is on board. The development of the last week was extremely positive.

"As far as I could see today in training, they're all in good shape and all the players did their homework. They had their schedule to train at home and they stuck to that schedule.

"I can say most of them if not all of them might be available, but I might have to make some difficult decisions who will be in the squad and the starting XI."

 

Matthijs de Ligt's future at Juventus is unclear following comments from his agent Mino Raiola.

The Netherlands international has been with the Bianconeri since July 2019 but could be set to move on.

Juventus are off the pace in the Serie A title race this season and Raiola said his client was "ready for a new step".

 

TOP STORY – BARCA CONSIDER DE LIGT MOVE

Barcelona are considering making a move for Juventus defender De Ligt, reports Gerard Romero.

The Blaugrana would need to offload the salaries of Samuel Umtiti and Philippe Coutinho to enable the transfer.

De Ligt has been linked with a switch away from Juventus, with Chelsea also interested.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tottenham and Manchester United will rival Newcastle United in pursuit of Atletico Madrid's Kieran Trippier, claims 90min. Trippier is keen to return to England after two and a half years in Spain.

- Real Madrid are interested in Lille forward Jonathan David at the end of this season, claims Marca. Arsenal and West Ham are also monitoring the Canadian.

- Gerard Romero is reporting that Bayern Munich are considering a move for Barcelona's USA international full-back Sergino Dest.

- ESPN claims Arsenal are ready to listen to offers for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after he was stripped of the Gunners captaincy last week.

Manchester United will have all their available players back in training on Thursday after the club's facilities were shut due to a COVID-19 outbreak. 

A series of positive coronavirus cases forced United to halt first-team operations at their Carrington training ground last week and saw their Premier League games against Brentford and Brighton and Hove Albion postponed. 

Players returned to training on a staggered basis following Monday's announcement that the festive Premier League fixtures would be going ahead as planned, which came after six games were called off last weekend. 

Thursday will see the outstanding members of the team report for duty again, with United building up to their return to action against Newcastle United on Monday. 

"The lads have been training and today [Wednesday] we brought all the rest of the lads back to training, there are only a couple left that will be coming in tomorrow," Rashford told United Daily. 

"So, we've pretty much got the full squad back, which is a positive going into the week." 

Ralf Rangnick oversaw successive 1-0 wins after taking charge and against Newcastle could become the first United manager to keep a clean sheet in each of their first three league games. 

Recent history is on the Red Devils' side, with United having won their past four Premier League meetings with Newcastle – their best run since coming out on top in five straight encounters from 2004 until 2006. 

"Everyone is looking forward and everyone is very positive at the minute," said Rashford, who has been involved in seven goals (four scored, three assisted) in as many top-flight matches against the Magpies. 

"We were all disappointed when the last game got cancelled but, at the end of the day, there’s nothing you can really do about it. We have to just focus on the next game that will be played and hopefully that game goes ahead." 

United take on Burnley at home three days after their trip to St James' Park, with Wolves visiting Old Trafford the following Monday. 

Rashford said: "I definitely enjoy this time of year. I think the way you start the season and the way you play, and the results you get around the Christmas period, are probably the two most important points [in the season]. 

"So, if we have a good Christmas period now, then we can keep that momentum going and that will take you into the big games where the trophies are come the end of the season." 

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.

Matthijs de Ligt's agent Mina Raiola is ready to find the defender a new club.

The outspoken representative suggested he could join Barcelona, Real Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain.

He also indicated the Premier League was of interest to the Juventus centre-back.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA FRONTRUNNERS TO LAND DE LIGT

Chelsea are leading the race to sign Juventus defender De Ligt, claims The Sun.

Raiola has indicated the 22-year-old is ready to leave Juve, who are off the Serie A title pace this term.

Chelsea are expected to lose a host of defenders and eager to make a move for De Ligt.

 

ROUND-UP

- Cashed-up Newcastle United have an eye on Inter forward Edin Dzeko as well as a loan deal for Manchester United's Anthony Martial, reports The Sun.

Manchester United have been in touch with River Plate about 21-year-old Argentinean forward Julian Alvarez, claims Ole.

United are also set to win the race to sign Olympique Marseille midfielder Boubacar Kamara according to FourFourTwo.

- Gerard Romero claims that Tottenham will make another move for Barcelona defender Clement Lenglet after missing out on him last transfer window.

- Fabrizio Romano reports that Jonathan Ikone's move from Lille to Fiorentina is agreed with only the paperwork left to be signed on a five-year deal with a €15m fee.

Jack Grealish and Phil Foden have been warned about their off-field behaviour by Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola after being pictured on a night out.

Grealish and Foden dropped out of City's starting line-up for Sunday's 4-0 win at Newcastle with Guardiola hinting post-game that the decision was not rotation.

On Monday, The Telegraph published a photo of the pair believed to be at a nightclub following last Tuesday's 7-0 rout of Leeds United.

According to the report, City staff were unimpressed with the condition of Grealish and Foden when they arrived at a recovery session the next day, with Guardiola absent to attend Sergio Aguero's retirement conference in Barcelona but kept informed on the situation.

"I pay a lot of attention to behaviour on and off the pitch," Guardiola said after Sunday's game.

Guardiola added on BBC Radio 5 Live: "And when off the pitch is not proper they are not going to play.

"So they have to be focused all the time because the distractions in the Christmastime and everything that happens - you have to still be focused."

Grealish and Foden along with John Stones were the only changes from the starting XI that beat Leeds, with the latter used as a 70th-minute substitute against the Magpies.

The City manager had labelled Grealish as "outstanding" after he scored in the win over Leeds last week.

Manchester City made history by putting Newcastle United to the sword and Arsenal also set a Premier League record in their thrashing of fragile Leeds United.

Rampant City ran riot at St James' Park on Sunday, hammering the relegation-threatened Magpies 4-0 to ensure they will be top of the table at Christmas.

Pep Guardiola's side took their tally of top-flight victories in 2021 to 34, bettering a record they had shared with Liverpool.

Depleted Leeds handed out far too many gifts in the season of goodwill, dishing out a 4-1 drubbing as Marcelo Bielsa's side were blown away in the first half at Elland Road on Saturday.

Second-placed Liverpool had to settle for a 2-2 draw at Tottenham in an eventful game for Andy Robertson on Sunday.

The fixture list was hard hit due to COVID-19 outbreaks, but there was no shortage of quirky Opta facts from the matches that went ahead.

 

No presents from Pep for struggling Howe

City can celebrate Christmas at the top of the tree for the first time since 2018, with Liverpool having been at the summit in the last three seasons.

It has been another memorable year for the champions, who not only set a record for number of top-flight wins but have also scored the most goals in a year by a Premier League team.

Not forgetting that football was indeed played before 1992, City's total of 106 goals in the top flight in 2021 sees them match a figure last set by Liverpool back in 1982. Aston Villa, however, hold the all-time top-flight record with a staggering 120 in 1930.

It has been a very different story for Newcastle, who conceded 79 times in the league this year, matching an unwanted record Ipswich Town set in 1994.

Eddie Howe will be glad to see the back of City, as the Newcastle head coach has lost all 11 matches against them – the worst 100 per cent losing record by any boss against one club in the history of the competition.

Ruthless Arsenal make Leeds suffer 

Leeds were thumped 7-0 by City in midweek and they gift-wrapped Arsenal three points with a naive display, even if injuries must be taken into account (all nine of Bielsa's substitutes were aged 21 or under, with 15-year-old Archie Gray among them).

The Gunners extended their winning run to three matches after dominating the first half, Gabriel Martinelli scoring twice and Bukayo Saka putting them 3-0 up at the break.

It could have been worse for the Whites, as Arsenal had 11 shots on target in the first half – the most on record (since 2003-04) by any side in the opening 45 minutes in a Premier League match.

With Emile Smith Rowe also on target, it was the first time Arsenal have had three players aged 21 or younger on the scoresheet in a Premier League game (excluding own goals).

Kalvin Phillips was once again sorely missed by Leeds. The Yorkshire club have lost 12 of their 15 Premier League games when the England midfielder has been absent.

Robertson turns from hero to villain

Liverpool are three points behind City after they were held by Spurs, having come from behind to lead 2-1 in the capital.

It was an eventful match for Robertson, who was unable to complete the 90 minutes after being shown a red card for a tackle on Emerson Royal.

The Scotland captain was given his marching orders eight minutes after putting the Reds in front and he also set up Diogo Jota's equaliser. Since Jota's Liverpool debut in 2020, only Christian Benteke (a former Red) has scored more headed Premier League goals than the Portugal forward (six).

Robertson became the first player to score, provide an assist and be sent off in a Premier League game since Aleksandar Mitrovic for Newcastle in May 2016, also against Spurs.

Harry Kane got the opener in an enthralling encounter, netting just his second league goal of the season and his first one at home since May.

That means Kane's last three home league goals for Spurs have all come under different managers – Jose Mourinho, Ryan Mason and Antonio Conte.

Kieran Trippier has long been linked with a move back to England.

The 31-year-old full back has plied his trade in Spain for the past two-and-a-half years.

Trippier spent time with Manchester City, Burnley and Tottenham before joining Atletico Madrid, but seems set for a Premier League return next month.

 

TOP STORY – ATLETICO TO PERMIT TRIPPIER MOVE

Atleti are set to allow England international Trippier to join Newcastle United in January according to the Daily Mail.

The report claims that Atleti are hoping for £15million (€18m) from cashed-up Newcastle, who need reinforcements in their bid to avoid relegation.

Atleti will let the deal progress if they can find a suitable replacement for the defender during January.

ROUND-UP

- Tuttosport claims Juventus will switch their attention to signing an attacking player in January to boost their Champions League qualification hopes, with Manchester United pair Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial, Paris Saint-Germain's Mauro Icardi and Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in their sights.

- AS reports that Eden Hazard does not want to leave Real Madrid in the January transfer window, despite struggling for impact with Los Blancos.

Chelsea are set to make a move for Wolverhampton's Ruben Neves according to TodoFichajes. Thomas Tuchel wants to reinforce the midfield with Saul Niguez having underwhelmed since joining in August.

Real Madrid are plotting a move to sign Internazionale's Netherlands international Denzel Dumfries reports Defensa Central.

- Veteran Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho is set to extend his stay with Manchester City, scuppering interest from Atletico Mineiro, reports Sport Witness.

Pep Guardiola labelled Manchester City's first-half performance in their record-breaking 4-0 win over Newcastle United on Sunday as "one of the worst we have played this season".

City scored twice before the break as Ruben Dias headed in after a defensive mistake from Newcastle, before Joao Cancelo smashed into the top corner.

Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling netted in the second half to give the scoreline a comfortable look.

The victory saw City record their 34th league victory of 2021, establishing a new record for the most top-flight wins by a team in a calendar year, but Guardiola was not pleased with the display before half-time.

"A good result, not a good performance," Guardiola said to the BBC. "We were lucky, but Newcastle did not defend well for the first goal and a brilliant action from Joao Cancelo for the second goal.

"The first half was one of the worst we have played this season and [the] second half was much better.

"We played better with the ball, gave players more touches but were losing balls in the first half. We were calm at half-time and spoke about what we should do."

The four goals scored also took City to 106 for the year, two more than their previous best, and Guardiola hailed his side's consistency.

"Records show the consistency we have as a team, it is not winning titles or finals but it is winning and winning," Guardiola continued. "Records are there to be broken and happy to have them.

"I didn't rotate today, I decide the best team, we need a different base for the players and now we have seven days until the next game.

"Hopefully, Leicester are getting better with a lot of COVID cases so I will take a decision on the team."

City's 44 points ensure they will sit top of the tree on Christmas Day – they have gone on to win the title in the two previous campaigns in which they have done so (2011-12 and 2017-18).

Joao Cancelo scored and set up another as Manchester City dispatched Newcastle United 4-0 at St James' Park to extend their Premier League winning run to eight games.

Cancelo plundered his first league goal of the season in fantastic style, dribbling towards the box with purpose before smashing into the left side of the net from the edge of the area.

His compatriot Ruben Dias had previously put City ahead early on, with Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling adding further gloss to the scoreline after the interval.

The victory ensured City will be top at Christmas, with the side topping the tree at this stage of the season having gone on to win the title in nine of the last 12 seasons.

Cancelo played a key role in City’s fifth-minute opener, stretching to connect with a ball over the top and cushion a volleyed cross onto Dias, who capitalised on a mix-up between Ciaran Clark and Martin Dubravka to head in unmarked.

The full-back doubled City’s advantage in stunning fashion 12 minutes later, jinking past two players before lashing a ferocious shot into the top-left corner that left Dubravka with no chance.

City got lucky as Ederson brought down Ryan Fraser in the box, but no penalty was awarded even after a VAR check.

Dubravka kept his side from going 3-0 down with a tremendous reflex save from Gabriel Jesus' close-range header.

The Newcastle goalkeeper could do nothing to prevent Mahrez firing in on the volley, however, after the winger timed his run to perfection to meet Oleksandr Zinchenko's cross, with his 50th goal for City awarded after the VAR overturned the linesman's initial offside call.

Jesus turned provider for Sterling to tuck in late on, with City providing Pep Guardiola with an ideal early Christmas gift.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's future at Arsenal is murky.

Aubameyang lost the captaincy and was suspended for disciplinary reasons last week.

The 32-year-old has been with Arsenal since moving from Borussia Dortmund in 2018.

 

TOP STORY – JUVE INTERESTED IN AUBA MOVE

Tuttosport claims that Juventus are interested in signing Aubameyang with his future at Arsenal uncertain.

The Gabon international was stripped of the Gunners captaincy last week for disciplinary reasons, creating doubts about his future under Mikel Arteta at Arsenal.

The Bianconeri would be interested in signing the 32-year-old on a six-month loan deal.

ROUND-UP

- Cashed-up Newcastle United are looking to sign Anthony Martial on loan from Manchester United in January, reports the Sun.

- Barcelona have made Manchester United's veteran Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani their top January target according to Sport.

- Barcelona are also interested in forgotten Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata, claims the Star.

- The Sun claims Leeds United are considering a move for Juventus' US international Weston McKennie who is valued at £20 million.

- AS reports that Manchester United are set to enter into the race for Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Chelsea are also keen on the French defender.

- Manchester City are set to reward Bernardo Silva for his good form, with a lucrative new contract where his salary will be doubled, claims the Sun.

Pep Guardiola has heaped praise on "outstanding" Jack Grealish ahead of Manchester City's trip to Newcastle United.

City are a point clear of Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table following a run of seven successive victories. Another would see them set a new top-flight record for the most wins in a single calendar year with 34.

The latest of these saw them inflict a 7-0 rout on a helpless Leeds United in midweek, with record signing Grealish on target during an impressive display that also saw him complete 41 of his 43 attempted passes and draw a game-high three fouls.

It was only the former Aston Villa skipper's second Premier League goal since that big-money move to the Etihad Stadium, while he also has two assists to his name. It was also the first headed goal of his Premier League career.

But Guardiola, whose initially inconclusive COVID-19 test result was later revealed as negative, insists he has been delighted with the all-round contribution of the England international.

Indeed, only Trent Alexander-Arnold (47), Bruno Fernandes (45) and Mohamed Salah (34) have created more chances than Grealish (30) in the English top flight this season.

"Jack is an outstanding player. He has so much quality and has played so well for us," Guardiola said. "It is important for every player to feel like they are contributing with goals, but he has been playing well all season, and we know what to expect from him.

"It takes time to get used to a new team, a new way of playing, but Jack knows what he has to do, and we will continue to see this."

The omens heading into the match appear to lean strongly in City's favour.

Indeed, they have suffered just one defeat in their 13 most recent league games at St James' Park, winning nine of those, whereas 19th-place Newcastle are targeting only a second win of the season.

City have scored in each of the last 25 meetings between the two sides. In the Premier League's history, only Arsenal have had a longer scoring streak against a specific opponent, netting in 26 successive games against West Brom, so City can match that record on Sunday.

Newcastle boss Eddie Howe has lost all 10 of his Premier League encounters with City, going back to his time as Bournemouth boss. That is the worst 100 per cent losing record any manager has against a specific opponent in the competition's history.

Nevertheless, Guardiola knows his side must be at their best to avoid any potential slip-ups against the Magpies.

"It is not easy to go to Newcastle and get a result, so we will need the whole team, and hopefully we will be strong enough to get the points," Guardiola added.

"People will talk about our place in the table or their place in the table, but when you go to Newcastle, you know what sort of game to expect.

"Everyone wants to win every match and at this level, you have to be prepared for this. Newcastle in their stadium with their fans behind them, they will be ready, and they have the quality to hurt us if we don’t play at our best. We are playing well and getting results we want, but we have to continue this."

Pep Guardiola will not address the media as scheduled on Friday after he returned an "inconclusive" COVID-19 test.

The Manchester City boss was due to speak to reporters at 13:30 GMT to preview Sunday's trip to Newcastle United.

However, due to the uncertainty surrounding his test result, City have been forced to cancel the briefing.

It is unclear whether this has impacted any other members of the City staff or playing squad, though there will likely now be even greater attention on City as they await a conclusive test from Guardiola.

Coronavirus outbreaks have been hugely prevalent in the Premier League over the past two weeks.

The Premier League has already had to postpone five matches initially scheduled for this weekend, while three games from the latest midweek slate had to be called off.

English football authorities have been urged to bring in a 'circuit-breaker', with Brentford manager Thomas Frank among those suggesting a break until at least Boxing Day could "break the chain" of infections.

Edinson Cavani re-signed with Manchester United at the start of the season but Cristiano Ronaldo's return to Old Trafford has hampered the Uruguayan.

And following Sergio Aguero's shock retirement, the door has opened for Cavani at Camp Nou.

Cavani is believed to be on the verge of swapping Manchester for Barcelona.

 

TOP STORY – CAVANI TO CAMP NOU

Edinson Cavani will join embattled LaLiga giants Barcelona in January to replace Sergio Aguero, according to TyC Sports.

Aguero announced his retirement from football this week due to a heart problem and Barca are on the lookout for a replacement.

Manchester United forward Cavani has emerged as a target, with the Uruguay international reportedly rejecting an offer from Boca Juniors to move to Camp Nou.

 

ROUND-UP

- The front page of Friday's Gazzetta dello Sport claims Antony Martial is eager to leave United for Serie A giants Juventus. He has also been linked with Atletico MadridCavani, Paris Saint-Germain's Mauro Icardi and former Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are believed to be among Juve's targets.

- Barca have held talks regarding a move for Juve winger Federico Bernardeschi, claims Sport. The Italy international is out of contract at the end of the season.

- Neither United nor PSG have opened talks with Barca midfielder Frenkie de Jong, reports Fabrizio Romano. Bayern Munich and Liverpool are also believed to be interested.

Newcastle United have offered £88million (€100m) for Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic, according to Calciomercato. Vlahovic is wanted by Manchester United, Manchester City, Bayern, Tottenham, Arsenal, Inter, Juve and Atletico.

Jurgen Klopp praised Newcastle United for making "life hard" for Liverpool in a 3-1 win for the Reds, while explaining his decision to remove Mohamed Salah in the second half.

Jonjo Shelvey silenced the Anfield crowd on Thursday with his opener, but Diogo Jota equalised soon after – Liverpool finding the net for a club-record 32nd game across all competitions.

Salah then put Klopp's side into the ascendancy, matching Jamie Vardy's Premier League record of scoring or assisting in 15 consecutive games, before Trent Alexander-Arnold confirmed victory with a ferocious strike.

With the win, the Reds became the first side to 2,000 victories in the English top flight, while they moved within a point of leaders Manchester City and three points clear of third-placed Chelsea.

It could have been very different after Shelvey's opener, though, even if Klopp expected a tough task.

"We used in preparations more Bournemouth than Newcastle for analysis," Klopp told BT Sport. "We won 2-1 last time Eddie Howe was here with Bournemouth after they scored another goal. We expected similar things. They made life hard for us.

"Being 1-0 down changed the mood a bit. We were rushing in moments. We scored really good goals. I'm really pleased in this period of the year when you just have to get through games."

On Salah's recent form and the decision to remove the Egypt international with 16 minutes of normal time remaining, he added: "That's quite amazing. His assists are as important [as the goals]. 

"Today was right to take him off a bit earlier. We play in three days again."

Klopp also revealed he had not anticipated rivals Everton's welcome draw at Chelsea, while he praised Liverpool's fighting spirit to come from behind and win.

"I didn't expect Chelsea would drop points, it is pretty rare. I don't know five or six players of the Everton line up, so to get a point at Chelsea is massive," Klopp told BBC's Match of the Day.

"You have to react [to the goal]. I am really pleased, but I expect it as well; it is not that we celebrate we came back. We worked hard, not only brilliant football – of course, some good football – we were very dominant, it is not so easy to play against such a deep block.

"We have already a few games in our legs, I love how the boys dug in really deep and got a very deserved result."

Liverpool travel to face Tottenham on Sunday having been without Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Curtis Jones against Newcastle after the trio returned suspected positive coronavirus tests.

COVID-19 has prompted the postponement of several other fixtures, meaning Klopp is uncertain of what the future holds.

"It's a really tricky situation," he said. "Nobody knows exactly how we'll be tomorrow.

"We will go to the training centre until people tell us otherwise. I've never had three players on matchday [have to pull out]. 

"The most important thing is because the boys are vaccinated they will not feel it really. That's good. We have to wait for them.

"If we should stop the league, I have no real answer for it. If you stop it for two weeks and we come back, I really don't know what to do. I saw the Everton line-up today, I don't know half of the players."

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