EPL

Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: De Bruyne strike sends City 13 points clear

By Sports Desk January 15, 2022

Kevin De Bruyne hit a scorching winner as Manchester City extended their Premier League lead to 13 points with a 1-0 victory against second-placed Chelsea.

A tightly contested game at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday came to life 20 minutes from time as De Bruyne intervened decisively.

Chelsea did not see much of the ball but had their chances to get on the scoresheet too, with Romelu Lukaku and Hakim Ziyech particularly wasteful on the counter-attack.

Pep Guardiola's City have now won 12 league games on the bounce, and it is difficult to see how they can be denied making it back-to-back titles in May.

City dominated much of the first half but were grateful for poor decision-making and execution from Lukaku and Ziyech on two occasions as Chelsea looked to counter early on.

The best chance for the hosts in the opening 45 minutes came when an effective high press set Jack Grealish through on goal, but Kepa Arrizabalaga deflected the £100million man's shot behind with his left leg.

The visitors should have taken the lead two minutes into the second half when Lukaku was sent clear by Mateo Kovacic, but Ederson palmed his shot away before Ziyech lifted the rebound over the bar.

The league leaders finally broke the deadlock in the 70th minute when former Chelsea man De Bruyne cut in from the left side before expertly firing past the despairing dive of Arrizabalaga from 22 yards.

The Blues tried to find an equaliser, but City showed their solid side to clinch the three points, moving a significant step closer to lifting the Premier League trophy once more.

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  • AFCON matchday preview: Nigeria bid to extend winning run as knockouts begin AFCON matchday preview: Nigeria bid to extend winning run as knockouts begin

    By Sunday evening in Cameroon, the first two quarter-finalists at the Africa Cup of Nations will be known.

    Burkina Faso should start as slight favourites against Gabon, chiefly due to their win when the teams met ahead of the tournament.

    Nigeria will then be expected to overcome a Tunisia side who qualified for the last-16 stage via the back door.

    Burkina Faso v Gabon (16:00 GMT)

    Burkina Faso rather scrambled through the group stage, losing their opener to the hosts before winning 1-0 against Cape Verde and drawing 1-1 with Ethiopia.

    They were runners-up in 2013 and finished third in 2017, so this is far from uncharted territory and a 3-0 win over Gabon in a warm-up game for this tournament at the start of January may be a guide of what to expect from this tussle in Limbe.

    Midfielder Adama Guira is urging caution though, telling the Sidwaya newspaper: "A lot of things have changed on the Gabonese side after this friendly match. Their last outing against Morocco attests to this. They are a very good team."

    Gabon were unbeaten in the group stage, despite the disruption of losing captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and midfielder Mario Lemina after brushes with COVID-19. A win over the Comoros was consolidated by draws with Ghana and Morocco.

    That pre-tournament loss to the Stallions might be a factor, but Gabon are unbeaten in their previous two AFCON meetings with Sunday's opponents – both having taken place in the group stages (2-0 in 2015 and 1-1 in 2017).

    One to watch: Guelor Kanga (Gabon)

    Red Star Belgrade attacking midfielder Kanga has been a livewire for Gabon so far in the tournament, with a team-high eight shots and five chances created (one assist). It earned him a place among the substitutes in the tournament's official best team of the group stage.

    Nigeria v Tunisia (19:00 GMT)

    Nigeria have two players in the group stage's best XI, with centre-back William Troost-Ekong and forward Moses Simon both earning plaudits for their early performances.

    Augustine Eguavoen's team were the only side with a 100 per cent winning record in the groups, and now they tackle a Tunisia outfit who only edged through as one of the best third-placed teams, having lost twice already.

    These sides are meeting for the sixth time at the Africa Cup of Nations and Tunisia's only successful AFCON meeting with Nigeria came in 2004, when they progressed via penalties in the semi-finals, going on to win the competition.

    Nigeria have won 12 of their last 14 AFCON games (L2), and they start this game as hot favourites.

    Nigeria have had more different scorers (6) than any other team so far at this year's tournament, with Kelechi Iheanacho, Simon, Simon Chukwueze, Taiwo Awoniyi, Troost-Ekong and Umar Sadiq each scoring once.

    One to watch: Kelechi Iheanacho

    The Leicester City striker has one goal and one assist so far, creating a team-high six chances. Such evidence points to him being a likely menace to the Tunisian defence.

  • Xavi tells Dembele to make up his mind as Barcelona plot Fati recovery Xavi tells Dembele to make up his mind as Barcelona plot Fati recovery

    Xavi has told Ousmane Dembele to stop prevaricating and either sign a new Barcelona deal or find another club by the end of January.

    According to Xavi, there is "no alternative" for the French forward, who has entered the final six months of his contract at Camp Nou.

    Dembele has struggled since joining from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 for an initial €105million, and this month's transfer window could be a final chance for the club to recoup some of that outlay.

    Barcelona director of football Mateu Alemany told Dembele this week he must leave "immediately", which prompted the 24-year-old to issue an angry riposte on social media.

    "I am not a man who cheats and even less a man who has a habit of giving in to blackmail," Dembele wrote.

    Barcelona are fed up and want a resolution one way or the other, with Xavi seemingly willing to keep Dembele and let this storm pass if he agrees to extend his contract before the end of the month.

    "Ousmane's situation hasn't changed," said Xavi on Saturday. "He has to decide. He is training well, but he knows his situation perfectly. There is no more debate, I think I was clear. It depends on him now. There are still days left and there is no alternative."

    The situation is one that Barcelona could do without as they reel from a Copa del Rey exit at Athletic Bilbao's hands, and the crushing blow of losing teenage forward Ansu Fati yet again to a hamstring injury.

    Fati could be out of action for months after the substitute was substituted during the Bilbao game, seemingly in tears as he left the pitch.

    Xavi said the plan, agreed with club doctor Ricard Pruna, was for Fati to play for half an hour, so when the cup game went to extra time it conflicted with Barca's intentions.

    Fati, who entered the game just after the hour mark, came off injured in the 96th minute, an apparent recurrence of the problem that had recently kept him out for two months.

    "Ansu is very affected," said Xavi.

    On Monday, a meeting will take place to decide on the next course of action, with Barca reportedly keen for Fati to go down the route of surgery.

    "It is a relapse," Xavi said. "Pruna told me that he was to play for half an hour and extra time disrupted our plans. We are going to make a specific plan for him. On Monday we will have a meeting to decide what to do. 

    "I'm not a doctor, but we have to mentally allow him to recover. [We need to] let him forget about the injuries and make a specific plan. We have lost an impressive footballer and it affects us all, but he is the main victim. We must do an exhaustive follow-up so that he does not injure himself more.

    "It's a shame. We are sad because we have tried to take good care of him and he has been injured again. This is part of football. We are suffering major setbacks and this is very serious."

    Fati previously spent 10 months on the sidelines due to a serious knee injury, resuming his Barcelona career in September this season.

    Despite his limited action, Fati is Barcelona's second-highest scorer in 2021-22 with five goals. They have come in just 456 minutes of on-pitch action, with Fati out-performing his expected goals (xG) score of 1.92.

    On Sunday, Barca travel to face Deportivo Alaves in LaLiga, with Fati definitively ruled out and Dembele also expected to be sidelined by the club.

    Alaves have not won any of their last 10 LaLiga games against Barcelona (D2 L8), conceding 3.1 goals on average in these matches.

    Barcelona have avoided defeat in their last seven away LaLiga games against Alaves (W4 D3), keeping a clean sheet in six of them. This is their longest unbeaten run at Mendizorrotza in the top flight, but this season's Barcelona are a different proposition, with the loss of Lionel Messi and to a lesser extent Antoine Griezmann meaning they lack presence on the road.

    Indeed, Barcelona have won only two of their last 10 away games in LaLiga (D6 L2), beating Villarreal in November and Mallorca earlier this month. That follows a run of 12 wins from their previous 14 away games in the competition (D1 L1).

    The likes of Sergio Busquets have come in for flak from supporters of the club, and Xavi says the veteran members of the team must justify their selection.

    "The shots go towards the sacred cows, and they have to understand it," Xavi said. "The commitment of the veterans is spectacular, unquestionable, but now it depends on the performance. Until recently we didn't have many alternatives."

    The former Al Sadd coach said he remains "optimistic" about Barcelona's prospects, and said there could be additions to his squad before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.

    "We are working on it, in several areas," he said.

  • Allegri shuts down Scudetto talk as improving Juventus prepare for Milan clash Allegri shuts down Scudetto talk as improving Juventus prepare for Milan clash

    Massimiliano Allegri shut down talk of a Scudetto challenge as his improving Juventus prepare to face Milan at San Siro on Sunday.

    The Bianconeri are on an eight-match unbeaten run in Serie A, their longest such streak since December 2020.

    Having lost three times in six matches in a tough spell in October and November, Juve have won six and drawn two to close back to within a point of the top four, with Milan seven points ahead in second and champions Inter a further two clear at the top of the table.

    Allegri, though, is not prepared to look beyond the challenge of facing the Rossoneri, who have lost only once in the past four league meetings with Juve, having been beaten in 14 of the previous 17.

    "We're experiencing a good moment, but the path is still long because there are so many games left, and we're behind in the table," he told reporters on Saturday.

    "Tomorrow is a great game to play. I'm sorry there are only 5,000 spectators; it would be nice to play these great events with full stadiums. It's an important match for the standings and we need to do well.

    "We can't get too far ahead with things. We face Milan now, who have done a great job in the past year and a half. Congratulations to Stefano [Pioli], who has done an excellent job.

    "We have to play an important game to keep close, to get to the end of February in the best condition in the table. We can't think too far ahead at this moment, or talk about the Scudetto."

    Allegri delivered Milan their most recent league title back in 2011, after which they could only watch on as Juve embarked on a run of nine consecutive Scudetti before their run was halted by Inter last season.

    Pioli's arrival has signalled a shift in the balance of power, though. Milan were second in 2020-21, a point above Juve in fourth, and are the obvious challengers to Simone Inzaghi's Inter this term.

    Indeed, since the start of 2020-21, the Nerazzurri are the only side to have won more games (43) and earned more points (141) than Milan (39 wins and 127 points). In a league table of that time frame, Juve would be fifth.

    Allegri suggested Juve are taking some inspiration from Milan's modern model as they look to move into a new era.

    "Milan worked well, they did things in an orderly way and they chose good players. They're fighting for the title," Allegri said.

    "Juve had nine wonderful years and won two trophies last season. This year, without [Cristiano] Ronaldo, there is more space for other players. We've played games with six players between the ages of 20 and 23.

    "Young players give you strength, but they lack experience. You can only improve by playing matches."

    The future of Paulo Dybala remains unclear but the Argentina star has history against Milan, with seven goals and five assists in 12 league games against them.

    While he did not comment on contract talks with Dybala, Allegri certainly believes the forward is improving.

    "Paulo is better physically. He's growing, he is very calm and this helps him because he can play more freely," he said.

    "I would say he has less responsibility on his shoulders and I'm happy with what he's doing. He will give us a lot between now and the end of the season."

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