Newcastle United's trip to Southampton this weekend has become the latest Premier League fixture to be postponed due to the number of coronavirus cases and injuries in the Magpies' squad.

United were due to take on Southampton at St Mary's Stadium in their opening game of 2022 on Sunday aiming to build on their recent 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

However, having had their scheduled meeting with Everton called off on Thursday, Newcastle confirmed on Friday that their next match will also not go ahead as planned.

The postponement was put down to "several players and staff having succumbed to illness and injury over the festive period".

Newcastle only named eight substitutes instead of the permitted nine, including two goalkeepers, for Monday's draw with Ralf Rangnick's side. 

Eddie Howe's side also lost Allan Saint-Maximin, Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser to injury in that game, while Javier Manquillo is serving a suspension. 

The minimum player availability required by the league to allow a game to go ahead is 13 outfield players and one goalkeeper.

A statement from the Premier League added: "The league aims to provide as much clarity as possible but unfortunately postponements sometimes have to be made at short notice, as safety is our priority.

"Where possible, the league will endeavour to keep supporters updated if games become at risk on a matchday."

Seventeen games have now been postponed since the start of December in the English top flight, with Leicester City versus Norwich City this weekend also having to be rescheduled.

Barcelona are in the market to bolster their squad in January.

The Spanish giants have financial challenges to overcome.

But after an ordinary start to the season, they are ready to get busy to build Xavi a stronger squad.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA TO MOVE FOR LAPORTE

Barcelona could move for another Manchester City star, with The Sun reporting that the Blaugrana want to sign Spain international Aymeric Laporte.

The defender has lost his starting spot to John Stones and is said to be unsettled at City.

Barcelona announced a deal to sign Ferran Torres from City this week.

 

ROUND-UP

Juventus have no interest in a potential swap deal with Barcelona whereby Alvaro Morata would trade places with Memphis Depay, reports Football Italia.

Newcastle United are set to complete their first piece of January transfer business by signing Lille defender Sven Botman, claims the Mail.

Liverpool are interested in Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka, claims the Express. Saka is contracted to the Gunners until 2024.

Liverpool have also pitched a contract offer to Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, reports Ansa.

Ousmane Dembele could become the face of a new Barcelona but his future remains unclear.

Xavi has made it clear how much he rates the France international, but his contract expires at the end of the season.

Barca are keen to extend his stay, though it appears their chances have suffered a setback.

 

TOP STORY - DEMBELE TALKS HIT PROBLEM

Barca's latest meeting with Dembele's agents did not have the "expected end", with "tension" rising in negotiations, according to Sport.

While the Catalan daily claims Barca are still confident of reaching an agreement, with Dembele having previously given the green light over a renewal, the forward will be able to open discussions with other clubs over a free transfer from January 1.

Sky Sport Italia reports Manchester United and Newcastle United, the latter of whom are expected to have plenty to spend in January, have already registered an interest.

ROUND-UP

- River Plate's highly-rated forward Julian Alvarez seems poised to leave sooner rather than later. TyC Sports suggests Man Utd have requested a meeting with his agent to understand what it would cost to sign the 21-year-old.

- Many players are likely to be linked with Newcastle over the coming weeks but Atletico Madrid and England right-back Kieran Trippier appears one of the likeliest to join them. Fabrizio Romano claims the Magpies are "still working" on the deal, though Los Colchoneros are yet to receive a bid.

- Borussia Dortmund have not given up hope of retaining Erling Haaland. The Norway sensation has been linked with most of Europe's biggest clubs, but Bild says BVB are willing to make him their highest-paid player of all time.

- Barcelona want to solve their issues in the striker role by bringing Alvaro Morata back to LaLiga from Juventus, according to AS, though there is an acceptance the deal will be a complicated one to pull off due to the fact he is on loan from Atletico.

Ralf Rangnick is not getting carried away over the shakiness displayed by Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire in the draw with Newcastle United, adamant Manchester United are underperforming as a team not just at centre-back.

United's 1-1 stalemate at Newcastle on Monday was their first game in 16 days after a coronavirus outbreak forced the postponement of matches against Brentford and Brighton and Hove Albion.

As such, perhaps it was not a surprise to see United look rusty at St James' Park, but for much of the game they were second best against a side with just one Premier League win all season and the joint-worst defence (42 conceded) in the division.

While United did ultimately come out on top in terms of expected goals (xG), their 1.52 slightly better than Newcastle's 1.25, Rangnick's side were let off the hook by a bad miss from Allan Saint-Maximin at the start of the second half that would have put the Magpies 2-0 up.

Similarly, eight of Newcastle's 13 shots were on target, meaning David de Gea had to make seven saves – five more than his counterpart, Martin Dubravka – to keep United in the game.

That has been something of a common theme this season, with United especially poor at the back – only six teams have a worse xG against (25.9) record than them, while De Gea has prevented 3.9 goals, which is the third-best in the Premier League, according to Opta.

Maguire – underwhelming for much of this season – and Varane – at fault in the build-up to Newcastle's goal – bore much criticism on Monday, but Rangnick is looking beyond just them.

Asked about concerns over the two defenders' partnership, Rangnick told reporters: "Rapha hasn't played for the last five, six weeks, and even before the Tottenham game, he was injured.

"So, in total in the last three months, he hasn't played that many games. Yes, he made a mistake before the first goal that we conceded, but apart from that, I think he was okay.

"I wouldn't say that he was outstanding, and the same with Harry, but they did okay. Our problem was, again, that we allowed too many transitional moments.

"And this is not only a problem at the centre of the defence, it's a problem of the whole team and it starts up front, and we can speak also about the role of the number 10s in that kind of formation.

"So, I don't think it makes sense to speak about the individual performance of players, we need to get better as a team."

Although United have been defensively poor in recent months, keeping just one clean sheet in their past 13 home league games and conceding 22 goals, that last solitary shutout did come in their last outing at Old Trafford.

That was Rangnick's first game in charge, the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, while United's visitors on Thursday – Burnley – have not scored in three.

Since that defeat of Palace, Rangnick freely admits he has not been happy with the team's progress, though he feels the lack of training caused by the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly had an impact.

Quizzed on whether he was happy with United's performances, Rangnick continued: "Of course not.

"Every coach, every ambitious coach, and there's no difference between other coaches and myself in that area, wants to take faster steps and larger steps forward.

"But in order to do that, you need to be able to train and, as you know, we had to close Carrington for four days. Before that we had eight or nine field players in training, so directly after the Norwich City game, and they only came back in small bits and pieces.

"So, the last three days [before Newcastle], we were almost back to full strength with regards to the size of the squad, but we couldn't do that much in training.

"On the other hand, in those two-three training sessions, the team looked good, and therefore it was really a bit of a negative surprise [in the Newcastle game] the way that we played with regard to game speed and game tempo and physicality."

Newcastle United's Premier League game at Everton on Thursday has been called off due to the Magpies' shortage of available first-team players.

Cases of COVID-19 and injuries have hit Newcastle hard, which left head coach Eddie Howe with a thin squad for Monday's game against Manchester United.

He lost forwards Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin to injury in the 1-1 draw with the Red Devils, and Howe spoke afterwards of concerns he would struggle to raise a team.

Newcastle asked the Premier League to postpone their game at Goodison Park, and the request was accepted on Tuesday.

The Premier League said in a statement: "Everton's match against Newcastle United at Goodison Park, due to be played at 19:30 GMT on Thursday December 30, has regrettably been postponed.

"The board accepted Newcastle’s postponement application as the club does not have the required number of players available for the match [13 outfield players and one goalkeeper], due to COVID-19 cases and injuries.

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

Newcastle explained their position by saying a number of players and staff had tested positive for coronavirus during routine PCR tests "in recent days".

The club added: "Newcastle United would like to place on record its thanks to Everton FC and the Premier League for their cooperation and understanding."

Harry Maguire conceded Manchester United's 16-day break from Premier League action was a factor in their performance in a 1-1 draw with Newcastle United.

The Red Devils were second best for long periods at St James' Park and needed a second-half equaliser from Edinson Cavani to cancel out Allan Saint-Maximin's fine opener and claim a point.

David de Gea produced a close-range stop to deny Saint-Maximin in the second half, with the Spain international also called on to thwart Miguel Almiron after Jacob Murphy had hit the post.

The below-par showing came after United had seen games with Brentford and Brighton and Hove Albion postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the club.

And Maguire told the club's official website: "No 16-day break in the middle of a football season is going to help you.

"The training ground has been shut, and half the lads playing are recovering from the virus so of course it's not going to help us. 

"We've had people with symptoms, people without symptoms, it's been a real mixed bag for everyone at the football club and it's been a tough time.

"But you can't make excuses for sloppy passes and the opportunities that we had, especially in the first half.

"We've got to stay on the ball, we've got to stay active and we've got to play the ball in their half and we didn't manage to do that.

"You can look at that and ask whether the last 16 days had a big impact on that because it looked like we ran out of steam out there.

"A point in the end is a fair result, but it's a result that we're disappointed with."

Praising De Gea, Maguire added: "David's on great form at the minute. In big moments, it always seems to be, late on in games, that he's always there to produce for us."

Newcastle United are set to flex their financial muscles during the January transfer window.

The Magpies are struggling in the Premier League drop zone even after claiming a 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

But following a change of ownership they have funds available to bolster their squad.
 

TOP STORY - MAGPIES KEEN ON BARCELONA'S UMTITI

Cashed-up Newcastle are considering a move for Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti according to The Sun.

The 2018 World Cup winner has fallen out of favour at Barcelona, who are looking to offload players due to their financial issues.

Eddie Howe's side have conceded a league-high 42 goals and want to shore up their backline to aid their case to avoid relegation.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bayern Munich have ramped up their bid to sign Leeds United's Raphinha, claims The Sun. Leeds remain hopeful of keeping the Brazil international.

- Chelsea have also entered the race to sign Raphinha according to the Express, who also claim they will allow Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech to depart.

- Tottenham are leading the way to secure the signature of Milan midfielder Franck Kessie with the two parties in advanced talks, reports the Express.

- Ex-Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho's preferred new home is Arsenal,  with Barcelona keen to offload the Brazil international according to Sport.

- Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina are all on high alert with Torino's Italy international striker Andrea Belotti set to exit the club when his contract expires at season's end, reports Calciomercato.

Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick brushed off criticism of his players' body language instead insisting their problem was physicality in Monday's 1-1 draw with Newcastle United.

United needed substitute Edinson Cavani's 71st-minute strike to earn a point away to the struggling Magpies who went ahead early from Allan Saint-Maximin.

Former United defender and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville was scathing of the side's performance but also the "whinging" body language of Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes' specifically.

But the German boss brushed off that criticism, calling it a "side effect" from other issues.

"I don’t think today it was a problem of body language," Rangnick said during the post-game news conference. "It was a question of physicality, meeting the demands with regard to speed, tempo and physicality.

"The side effect is the body language afterwards. I don’t think that was the major problem for us today.

"The major problem was the way we played in those moments when it was about physicality."

Neville was forthright in his criticism of the Portuguese pair in particular, insisting more is needed from the side's senior and better players.

"Yeah, it's annoyed me for about two months," Neville said on Sky Sports. "Your best players in your team, it's devastating when those players are giving that look and body language towards the other ones. They have to help them and be the father and the grandparent in the team.

"I made massive mistakes as a young player at Manchester United but had good senior players who would have a go at me, but they would also put their arm around me and help me and I don't get the feeling that's happening.

"I think there's something wrong in there. Bruno's whingeing all the time. You've got to be there when your team-mates need you in the most difficult moments."

Rangnick also refused to use United's recent COVID-19 outbreak as an excuse, which saw two games postponed and the side not play since the 1-0 win over Norwich City on December 11.

 "It’s also a question of rhythm, but we shouldn't look for excuses - we need to get better and get more physical and more precise when we’re in possession of the ball," Rangnick said.

"I was not happy with our performance with the ball or when we had to press and counter-press. It’s about sprinting, about energy and what kind of energy mode do we play with the ball and against the ball.

"In three days, we have the next game at home against Burnley and then another, four days later, when we play Wolves at home, so both games are in our own stadium.

"We can do better, I know the players can play better than we did today, but we have to do it and sustainably do it on the pitch in those two home games if we want to get the points."

Gary Neville described the attitude of Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes as "devastating" to the Manchester United cause as he attacked the "whingebags" in the Red Devils' ranks.

Former United captain Neville was smarting about the performance from Ralf Rangnick's team in the 1-1 draw at Newcastle United, where it took a second-half equaliser from Edinson Cavani to salvage a point.

Analysing the game for Sky Sports, Neville first took aim at half-time and saw little evidence of significant improvement after the break, describing the central defensive partnership of Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane as "absolutely atrocious".

"They're whingeing at each other. They're a bunch of whingebags," said Neville as he assessed United at the break. "I'm not going to go into the names, but honestly, they're whingeing at each other, their arms are up in the air, they're complaining about everything.

"They got the last manager the sack and Ralf Rangnick's not going to get the sack – he's only had two or three weeks with them – but they'll get a lot of managers the sack, that lot, if they carry on like that, because that is a really, really poor performance."

Neville stepped up his criticism after the full-time whistle. When asked if he was particularly concerned by whingeing from Ronaldo and Fernandes, Neville said: "Yeah, it's annoyed me for about two months.

"Your best players in your team, it's devastating when those players are giving that look and body language towards the other ones. They have to help them and be the father and the grandparent in the team.

"I made massive mistakes as a young player at Manchester United but had good senior players who would have a go at me, but they would also put their arm around me and help me and I don't get the feeling that's happening.

"I think there's something wrong in there. Bruno's whingeing all the time.You've got to be there when your team-mates need you in the most difficult moments."

Neville turned his focus to Ronaldo, who had a poor game at Newcastle and was witnessed dashing down the tunnel at full-time, without going over to thank travelling United supporters.

The Portuguese could easily have been sent off for a wild challenge on Ryan Fraser in the second half, as his frustration began to show.

Ronaldo and Neville are former United team-mates, and Neville said: "I love that lad, he's the best player I've ever seen in my life almost, but don't run off at the end of the game. I'm not having that."

Neville added: "They're all at each other. They're not helping each other. The spirit of a dressing room is really important. I don't think they're all with each other at this moment in time. I think there's a bit of a leadership struggle going on."

For Newcastle's seventh-minute opening goal, Varane was dispossessed by Sean Longstaff before Maguire was skilfully sidestepped by scorer Allan Saint-Maximin.

"The two centre-backs for Manchester United tonight were absolutely atrocious, from the very first minute to the last. They were nervous, they looked like they weren't sure," Neville said. "Maguire's having a nightmare season."

It was chiefly Cavani who gave Neville any encouragement, with the veteran Uruguayan striker making his presence felt in Newcastle's penalty area, unlike so many team-mates.

"I always feel better when he's in the team," said Neville. "He looks like the badge doesn't sit too heavily on him.

"I don't think he wilts in the presence of Ronaldo or Fernandes. I think he stands up to them. I think he helps the other younger players on the pitch and I think he needs to be on the pitch because they need to get rid of that whingeing attitude."

Ralf Rangnick told his Manchester United players their effort in the 1-1 draw at Newcastle United was not up to scratch.

The interim manager was rattled by a sloppy performance from the visitors to St James' Park, who fell behind to an early Allan Saint-Maximin strike and needed Edinson Cavani to come off the bench to salvage a point.

United have swiftly fallen back into their bad old ways since the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, sneaking a fortunate win in their last outing at Norwich City and being arguably fortunate to leave Tyneside with a point.

Former RB Leipzig boss Rangnick expected more from his players, and said of their performance: "I didn't like it at all.

"We were trying to get better in controlling games. Today we didn't control the game, apart from very few moments, at all."

Speaking on Sky Sports, he said: "In the end we got a point, that's the good thing, but the performance overall needs to get better."

Rangnick began his reign with a 1-0 home win over Crystal Palace that gave him cause for encouragement, but the performances against lowly Norwich and Newcastle have raised cause for concern.

"It's about physicality, it's about energy. We have to be ready and able to win those direct duels and this was not that often the case," he said.

"Even when we were in possession we had too many giveaways, including the goal that we conceded."

Pundit and United great Gary Neville questioned the communication between United's players, but Rangnick said: "Today it was not a question of body language, it was question of body physicality.

"If you want to be competitive here in this ground against Newcastle you have to play physical, and this was not the case in many parts of the game, and therefore we were struggling."

There may be attitude issues that need to be looked at, yet Rangnick said: "I don't think this was our biggest problem today. Our biggest problem was the mistakes we made, the unforced errors."

He spoke of "wrong decisions" and said it was necessary to bring on Cavani for the start of the second half as United "had to take more risks".

"We shouldn't look for excuses," said Rangnick, whose side had two games postponed recently due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

"We need to get more physical and more precise when we're in possession. Today I was not happy with our performance, no matter if we were in possession of the ball or when we had to press and counter press.

"It's about sprinting, it's about energy. The good thing today is we came back and got the equaliser."

Newcastle United set a record no club would want when they conceded an 80th Premier League goal of the year in Monday night's clash with Manchester United.

The Magpies came into the game having leaked 79 goals in 41 games, matching the highest total shipped by a team in a calendar year during the Premier League era, which began with the 1992-93 season.

Newcastle were unlocked for a record-breaking 80th time when Edinson Cavani hit a 71st-minute equaliser for Ralf Rangnick's Red Devils at St James' Park.

Ipswich were the only previous side to concede 79 in a year, doing so in 1994. They went on to finish bottom of the 1994-95 top-flight table, famously losing 9-0 at Manchester United in March 1995, having failed to solve their defensive problems.

The last top-flight team in England to concede more over the course of a year were West Brom in 1985, with the Baggies leaking 87 goals in the old First Division.

Allan Saint-Maximin gave Newcastle a strong start to Monday's game when he drove into the visitors' penalty area and smashed a shot inside the right post to give Newcastle a seventh-minute lead.

But substitute Cavani denied relegation-threatened Newcastle three precious points, converting Diogo Dalot's cross at the second attempt.

Heading into the clash with the Red Devils, Newcastle had won just eight times this year, drawing 12 and losing 21, conceding four goals in a game on five occasions, including twice against Manchester City and once against United, losing 4-1 at Old Trafford in September.

They have been unable to make St James' Park anything close to a fortress, conceding 41 in 20 home fixtures and winning just four times before the arrival of Rangnick's team.

The goals conceded total was not the only Premier League record to be toppled when Cavani struck.

It was United's 113th Premier League goal against Newcastle, and that is the most that any team has scored against another in the competition, beating the record the Red Devils shared with Arsenal, who have scored 112 against Everton.

Edinson Cavani rescued Manchester United as his second-half strike secured a 1-1 Premier League draw at relegation-threatened Newcastle United and spared Ralf Rangnick a first defeat.

The Red Devils were labelled "a bunch of whingebags" by Sky pundit Gary Neville at half-time, and after beginning the Rangnick era with 1-0 wins over Crystal Palace and Norwich City, this was a sharp reality check.

Saint-Maximin's seventh-minute strike was a gem and the French forward missed a sitter at the start of the second half.

Visitors United, who lost their discipline at times and could easily have had Cristiano Ronaldo sent off, were thankful they had Cavani in the right place in the 71st minute, tucking home at the second attempt to earn a point.

The lively Saint-Maximin gave Newcastle a great start, sidestepping Harry Maguire before planting a powerful shot into the right corner. The fit-again Raphael Varane had been too easily dispossessed by a hungry Sean Longstaff in the build-up.

An air-shot volley from Ronaldo was met with derisive jeers from home supporters, before Newcastle thought they had another goal when Callum Wilson tucked in after more good work from Saint-Maximin, but the striker was clearly offside. Newcastle then lost Wilson to a calf injury moments before half-time.

Fred and Mason Greenwood were replaced by Jadon Sancho and Cavani for the second half, but Newcastle should have been 2-0 ahead almost instantly, with Saint-Maximin thwarted by David de Gea from close range after Emil Krafth's cross from the right found him just four yards out.

Marcus Rashford's strike from 25 yards was pushed over by Martin Dubravka, and Cavani scuffed a shot wide, before Ronaldo was perhaps fortunate to be only booked for a rash swipe at Ryan Fraser.

Fraser and Saint-Maximin were denied by De Gea as Newcastle got a second wind, but they gave Cavani another sniff of goal and paid for it. Diogo Dalot's cross from the right found Cavani by the penalty spot, and after his first shot was blocked, the Uruguayan jabbed a second attempt into the bottom-right corner.

Saint-Maximin limped off late on, but there was almost a late moment to savour for Newcastle as Jacob Murphy smashed a fine strike against the right post from a tight angle on the left late on, before Miguel Almiron was denied by a spectacular De Gea save.

Victor Lindelof has become the latest Manchester United player to be sidelined by a case of COVID-19, forcing him out of Monday's game at Newcastle United.

The Swedish centre-back did not make the trip to St James' Park after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Interim manager Ralf Rangnick revealed the news shortly before kick-off when he named Raphael Varane to take over from Lindelof alongside captain Harry Maguire.

The situation affecting Lindelof is the latest COVID-19 blow to hit United, whose games against Brentford and Brighton and Hove Albion had to be postponed due to an outbreak in Rangnick's squad.

After closing their Carrington training base briefly, it has reopened and United were able to prepare for the trip to Newcastle in near-normal conditions.

Rangnick told Sky Sports: "We resumed for training last Tuesday and, on Thursday, we had almost the whole team apart from Paul Pogba.

"Unfortunately, Victor Lindelof tested positive yesterday so he cannot play, but the good thing is we have Raphael Varane available again and that's why he's in the starting line-up.

"I would say since last Tuesday, and even more so since last Thursday, we had two or three training sessions on a very high, good level before we had to close down Carrington, as you know, for four days because, before that, we had only eight outfield players. In the last three or four days, we had some good training sessions."

Lindelof experienced breathing difficulties in United's 1-0 win at Norwich City on December 11 and was substituted in the second half as a consequence.

Former Real Madrid defender Varane came in for his first appearance since starting the Champions League game against Atalanta on November 2, a game in which he sustained a hamstring injury.

Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea says "every moment" working under Ralf Rangnick has been intense since the German's arrival at Old Trafford.

Rangnick was appointed as interim manager last month following the departure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the wake of United's 4-1 Premier League defeat to Watford.

The impact of coronavirus on the Red Devils' schedule means they have played just three games under the former Schalke and RB Leipzig boss: consecutive 1-0 league wins over Crystal Palace and Norwich City, and a 1-1 Champions League draw with Young Boys.

United have recovered the majority of the first-team group following a spike in COVID-19 cases that forced the club to close the training ground last week, with all but the injured Paul Pogba now likely to be available for Monday's trip to Newcastle United.

De Gea is delighted to have United largely at full strength once more and hopes the demanding nature of their training sessions will start to have a greater impact in matches.

"It's great. It's good to have the whole team back to train properly altogether and then, of course, see they are all safe," he told United media.

"They are back, they are all training, they are fine, so it's great to be together again.

"We've been training hard, of course. It's very intense, every training session, every moment with him [Rangnick] is intense.

"You have to give 100 per cent every time in training and in the games. Let's see. It's just the beginning, it's been a couple of weeks, so let's see in the future.

"The team is training with energy, with pace, and now we have to show that in big games."

United are on a four-match winning run against Newcastle in the top flight, their best such streak since a run of five between 2004 and 2006, but they have lost on two of their four most recent visits to St James' Park.

The struggling Magpies were beaten 4-1 in the reverse fixture in September, when Cristiano Ronaldo marked his return to the club with two goals at Old Trafford.

Should Rangnick's men score on Monday, it will mean Newcastle will set a new record for goals conceded by a team in a calendar year in the Premier League: they have let in 79 goals in 2021, the same figure as Ipswich Town back in 1994. 

Christmas Day is a chance to ungracefully stuff our faces with turkey and all the trimmings, but top-flight footballers in England have to show some restraint. 

That's because Boxing Day football is a festive tradition, one where supporters can watch games with tighter-than-normal belt buckles. 

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic meant it was all a bit different last year, with the majority of supporters viewing the action from home – for a while, it looked like this year's action might be under threat as well.

Rightly or wrongly, Premier League clubs opted against shutting the competition down over Christmas despite a recent spate of postponements, meaning we get to look forward to gorging ourselves silly on Sunday – and then watch the football.

Consistently one of the more exciting dates on the Premier League calendar, Boxing Day is sure to entertain.

So, ahead of the 2021 games, take look at some of the best Boxing Day Opta facts from previous years.

NO FOWL PLAY FROM ROBBIE

Fowl – whether turkey, duck, pheasant or possibly even partridge – is a fixture for most dinner tables up and down the United Kingdom on Christmas Day, so perhaps it's rather apt that Robbie Fowl-er (we couldn't resist...) has the best record in terms of Premier League goals on December 26. 

The Liverpool legend has netted nine times on Boxing Day, one more than Newcastle United great Alan Shearer, ex-Tottenham striker Robbie Keane and current Spurs star Harry Kane – who is the highest scorer among active Premier League players on this day. 

Thierry Henry (seven) and Jermain Defoe (six) have also produced plenty of festive cheers in the past.


PUT ON YOUR CHRISTMAS HAT…TRICKS

Some players just love producing crackers at Christmas. 

The aforementioned Fowler is among those to have scored a hat-trick on Boxing Day, doing so for Leeds United against Bolton Wanderers back in 2001. 

Henry (2000 for Arsenal), Kevin Phillips (2000 for Sunderland), Dimitar Berbatov (2011 for Manchester United), Gareth Bale (2012 for Spurs) and Kane (2017 for Spurs) have also taken home belated presents in the form of a match ball.


A DEVIL ON TOP OF THE TREE?!

It is custom to place an angel, or perhaps a star, at the top of the Christmas tree. However, in terms of the Premier League Boxing Day table, there is a team of devils – Red Devils no less – in Manchester United (yes, a tenuous joke, but by this stage is there any point in apologising?) who sit firmly on top. 

When looking at teams to have played at least 10 Boxing Day fixtures in the Premier League, United have 67 points – 17 more than anyone else. They also boast the highest win rate, a rather impressive 77.8 per cent.

Liverpool (62.5 per cent), Arsenal (60.9 per cent), Tottenham (58.3 per cent), Manchester City (55 per cent) and Chelsea (44.4 per cent) all unsurprisingly feature highly.  

West Brom, at 8.3 per cent, have won just once in 12 Boxing Day fixtures in the Premier League, while Leicester City (13.3 per cent) and Fulham (14.3 per cent) have also struggled on the date.

BARRY A FESTIVE FIXTURE

For almost two full decades, Gareth Barry just loved getting his 'Claus' into a festive fixture (Claus, as in 'Santa Claus', not claws... get it?) 

The former Aston Villa, Manchester City, Everton and West Brom midfielder has played on Boxing Day in the Premier League on a whopping 18 occasions. 

Chelsea legend Frank Lampard is not far behind on 17, with Ryan Giggs, Steven Gerrard, Aaron Hughes, Sol Campbell, Michael Carrick and James Milner all on 14 – the latter of course still going strong with title-hopefuls Liverpool.


FIVE GOAL-D RINGS

The pun to headline this section is punishment enough, so we'll spare you a gag straight out of a Christmas cracker this time around. 

There have been seven occasions when a team has won by five goals on Boxing Day, which is the biggest margin of victory on the date in the Premier League era. 

Liverpool have done so twice (5-0 versus West Brom in 2004, then again when facing Swansea City in 2017), while Everton, West Ham, Manchester United and Spurs have also triumphed by the same scoreline. 

In 2000, Arsenal actually went one better than scoring five, though they also conceded during a 6-1 rout of Leicester.


NOT THE CARDS YOU WANT TO RECEIVE…

Sending Christmas cards, complete with the sort of witty wisecracks we have provided throughout this Christmas treat, is a long-running staple of the festive period. 

But receiving a card on Boxing Day is not always what you want for your team, right? 

Chelsea, Newcastle United, Stoke City and Wimbledon have all had three players dismissed in games staged on December 26, but Aston Villa are top of the pile with four.

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