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.

Jose Mourinho feels ready for a big celebration and wants Roma to give him an excuse – but he is still not sure what will qualify as success this season.

The former Chelsea, Real Madrid, Inter and Manchester United boss has taken on a tough assignment in the Italian capital, as he bids to turn Roma into a team that can compete for trophies.

They are some way off being competitive in terms of the Serie A title race, just like Tottenham in his previous job were unable to mount a sustained Premier League challenge.

Mourinho was reminded on Friday of how he and his Tottenham coaching staff showed euphoria when qualification was secured for the second-tier Europa League in July 2020, prompting the question of whether he would celebrate in the same manner should Roma reach their objectives.

"There are teams that celebrate when they avoid relegation. That's the target they have," Mourinho said. "When people talk about coaches with lots of trophies, what about those who have not won many?

"It's about the targets they have. If Thiago Motta keeps Spezia up, or Andriy Shevchenko keeps Genoa up, or Salernitana stay up… then those coaches can and should celebrate the achievement. As for your question, if you are asking me if I am ready to celebrate if we win then obviously my answer is yes.

"This season we don't have a specific target in mind, beyond what the league table says because that is a more 'measurable' yardstick of progress."

Mourinho is 17 Serie A games into his Roma reign, and true to form it has been an up-and-down journey to this point. On Saturday, Roma will tackle an Atalanta side who are much further down the road with their project.

Although Mourinho is adamant his team can win in Bergamo and continue to progress, he makes no bones about his belief that expectations of Roma this season should be put into some perspective.

He also does not hide a certain envy that his touchline rival this weekend, Gian Piero Gasperini, has had almost six years to create his squad just as he wants it, with Atalanta third in Serie A and genuine title contenders.

"There's a fundamental difference between us and Atalanta," Mourinho said in a news conference on Friday. "I've been here six months, whereas Gian Piero has been there six years. Six months, six years. And that difference is not just in the number of training sessions they've had together, but in the sharing of ideas and the identification of processes. They've had 12 transfer windows together whereas we've just had one.

"Atalanta are an amazing club, a very stable one, with a great level of collaboration between the club and Gasperini. When I was first here in Italy, they didn't have the same ambitions. But 10 years on they are now a Champions League side who are competing to win the title."

Atalanta are unbeaten in their past seven Serie A games against Roma (W4 D3), their longest streak without defeat against the capital club in league competition. 

Roma will have to overcome another aspect of their recent history if they are to come away with three points, having not won any of their previous 12 Serie A games against sides that started the matchday inside the top five (D6 L6).

They are under-performing on the expected goals (xG) front this season, with only Salernitana and Juventus having a worse differential between goals scored and xG than Roma.

Yet Mourinho's men have returned to winning ways since a stinging 3-0 defeat at Inter's hands left the Portuguese coach bitterly frustrated and facing criticism, with victories over CSKA Sofia and Spezia helping to lift the gloom.

They sit sixth heading into the weekend, with the halfway point in Mourinho's first season back in Italy almost reached.

If Roma are to succeed under his guidance, it is likely to be a slow process, and for Mourinho, previously regarded as a quick-fix boss, that may take some getting used to.

The 58-year-old has expressed frustration at the depth within his current squad, but he admires how Atalanta have built from humble foundations, and that may be a model to which Roma closely adhere.

"Theirs is definitely one that I admire, that I really like," Mourinho said, quoted on Roma's website.

"You know that I have spent many years at very different clubs. Clubs that are aggressive in the transfer market and spend a lot, because they are trying to compete right now and not just in the future.

"So, I have a lot of admiration for projects like that. That's their approach. And it has been six years. They have been smart in the market and built a really strong side while remaining economically stable. As I have already said, it's not just respect but admiration that I have for their project."

Roma have lost 12 away Serie A games in 2021 (W5 D3), including five losses out of eight under Mourinho. Only in two calendar years have they registered more defeats on the road in the top flight (16 in both 1949 and 1950).

By contrast, Atalanta have won 28 matches in 2021, at least seven more than they have managed in any other calendar year in Serie A.

For so long, Paulo Dybala has been tipped to extend his Juventus contract.

However, Dybala is yet to put pen to paper as his current deal winds down.

Liverpool are reportedly monitoring the situation and are ready to pounce.

 

TOP STORY – DYBALA EMERGES AS LIVERPOOL TARGET

Liverpool are interested in signing soon-to-be Juventus free agent Paulo Dybala, according to Calciomercato.

Dybala is out of contract at the end of the season and while there have been negotiations, the Juve star is yet to re-sign in Turin.

The situation has reportedly alerted Premier League giants Liverpool.

 

ROUND-UP

- El Nacional claims Real Madrid are eyeing Rennes sensation Lovro Majer as the successor to fellow Croatian Luka Modric at the Santiago Bernabeu. Modric is out of contract at season's end and has been linked with Premier League champions Manchester City.

Ousmane Dembele wants to rebuild his career away from Barcelona, reports Mundo Deportivo. The Frenchman has been linked with Manchester United, Newcastle United, Tottenham and Chelsea.

- United forward Edinson Cavani is an option for Barca as they look to bolster their attack, says Mundo Deportivo. Basel's Arthur Cabral has emerged as a possible January option.

Jose Mourinho's job at Roma is not in danger, according to Fabrizio Romano. Roma have only won three of their past nine Serie A fixtures.

- Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana is still set to join Serie A champions Inter despite interest from Barca, per Romano.

- Former RB Leipzig head coach Jesse Marsch is an option to join Ralf Rangnick's coaching staff at United. Marsch was sacked by Bundesliga side Leipzig earlier this week.

Francesco Totti leapt to the defence of under-fire Roma head coach Jose Mourinho by saying the Giallorossi do not have any world-class players, while calling for time for the Portuguese to overhaul the Serie A side.

Mourinho – who arrived in the Italian capital at the start of the season – has cut a frustrated figure amid Roma's run of just three wins in nine Serie A matches.

After a 3-0 loss to Inter on Saturday condemned Roma to back-to-back losses, Mourinho snapped at a journalist and refused to answer his question in a media conference, having cancelled his pre-match news conference.

Mourinho has also been critical of recruitment, the former Tottenham, Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Inter boss determined to bolster his Roma squad in January.

As pressure mounts with Roma sitting seventh in the standings and nine points adrift of the Champions League places, club great Totti showed his support for Mourinho.

"To win you need the [right] players," said Totti, who is Roma's all-time leading appearance maker and scorer. "To win it takes an important manager. It takes a club that makes you feel at home at every level of your employment here.

"They have to be always available for everyone here but the most important thing, as we all know, if you want to win you need the players. It is a necessity, the foundation [of victory].

"I don't want to disrespect our current squad now, because it is an important squad with important players. But there are no 'champions' [world class players], and this is plain to see. Only good players who can do well in a certain context."

Roma have not won the Scudetto since 2001, while not since 2008 have they claimed silverware.

Mourinho's Roma have lost seven of their first 16 Serie A games for the first time since 2008-09.

Totti – who spent the entirety of his professional career at Roma, making 786 appearances in all competitions, scoring 307 goals and winning one Serie A title – added: "When we talk about Roma, I feel huge emotions.

"As a fan, I can say we are not in a great period but 'if you are not Roma, you don't suffer', this is our motto as we say and I guess we are used to it, to these topsy-turvy seasons.

"But I am sure the board and the gaffer [Mourinho] want to put back a smile on us fans' faces. A city like Rome deserves respect and most luminous stages than what we are watching now.

"Give them time... but not too long and hope we can see Roma back to shine at international level."

Ralf Rangnick has been tasked with restoring the fortunes of struggling Premier League giants Manchester United.

His previous work at RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga has sparked speculation regarding possible transfers.

That has led to talk regarding Amadou Haidara.

 

TOP STORY – HAIDARA WANTED AT OLD TRAFFORD

Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick wants to make RB Leipzig midfielder Amadou Haidara his first signing, according to The Sun.

Rangnick has been appointed until the end of the season and talk of January incomings have already emerged.

The German brought Haidara to Leipzig during his time at the Bundesliga club and he is believed to be interested in reuniting with the 23-year-old star.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Old Trafford and El Nacional reports United want Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong, having rebuffed a proposal for Philippe Coutinho.

- Portuguese journalist Pedro Almeida claims Jose Mourinho's job as Roma head coach is in danger following another defeat, this time 3-0 to former club Inter in Serie A on Saturday. Mourinho has cut a frustrated figure amid just three wins in nine league games. Mourinho has also been linked with Everton as pressure mounts on Rafael Benitez.

Chelsea and Arsenal are both interested in Paris Saint-Germain forward Mauro Icardi, says Ekrem Konur. The Argentina international has been linked with Barca, Newcastle United, Tottenham and Juventus.

- According to The Sun, Ligue 1 giants PSG are lining up a bid for Wolves' left-back star Rayan Ait-Nouri.

- Widespread reports claim Leipzig are seriously considering the sacking of head coach Jesse Marsch, who only replaced Julian Nagelsmann at the start of the season. Leipzig have lost three consecutive Bundesliga games for the first time in their history.

Jose Mourinho snapped at a journalist after refusing to answer his question in a media conference following Roma's 3-0 loss to Inter on Saturday. 

First-half goals from Hakan Calhanoglu, former Roma striker Edin Dzeko and Denzel Dumfries consigned an injury-hit Roma to a second straight defeat after they finally appeared to have hit some form. 

Mourinho had cancelled his pre-match news conference on Friday and was unwilling to field questions from broadcaster DAZN or the assembled media after the defeat. 

When a journalist attempted to ask Mourinho a question, the former Inter boss went on the attack. 

"I do not want to answer the question," Mourinho began. "It's easy to ask questions like this, and obviously your job is easier and that's why we get a lot more money than you." 

Mourinho then simply offered up his own thoughts on the game before leaving the media room. 

"They are stronger than us in normal conditions. In abnormal conditions they are much stronger," said Mourinho. 

"We made mistakes, the third goal is ridiculous, but as a coach I have had many defeats, many negative feelings with my players.

"Whoever gives everything he has is not obliged to do more. The boys, with all their difficulties, did the best they could. I am with them. 

"In my opinion the referee was fine. He clearly did not impact the result. 

"The only thing he missed was a yellow card for Bryan Cristante, because we must be far and away the dirtiest team in Serie A – it's incredible how many yellow cards we pick up. 

"Nevertheless, [the referee] had a good game. Well done to Inter, and good luck to them on Tuesday [in the Champions League]." 

Jose Mourinho congratulated Inter and accepted Roma were deservedly beaten by a "much stronger" side as he suffered a humbling 3-0 defeat against his former team.

Roma were three goals down inside 39 minutes at Stadio Olimpico and failed to muster any sort of response as they slipped to their seventh defeat in 16 Serie A games – their most at this stage since 2008-09.

The defeat was Mourinho's second in eight home league matches as Roma boss, having previously gone 38 without losing at home in Serie A as Inter head coach.

Saturday's contest was the Portuguese's first league meeting with Inter since guiding them to a famous treble in 2009-10 in the second of two successful campaigns at the club.

 

Roma were without a number of players due to suspension, coronavirus and injuries, with key attacking pair Lorenzo Pellegrini and Tammy Abraham among those absent.

Mourinho had no complaints about the scoreline, with his side registering just one shot on target despite Inter backing off in the second half.

"Inter are stronger than us in normal conditions. In non-normal conditions, they are much stronger than us," he told DAZN.

"Last season, they were 29 points ahead of Roma. Today, with COVID, injuries and suspended players, it was very, very difficult.

"Our attacking potential was practically nil. It was very important to score a goal, because we would only have two or three chances. We had three and didn't score.

"When you play with a defence that has Ibanez and various others in positions that are not their usual ones, you still cannot concede the first and third goals. You just can't.

"Congratulations to Inter. I wish them good luck for their next match."

 

Hakan Calhanoglu scored directly from a corner to give Inter the lead – the sixth player to do so in Serie A since 2011-12 – before teeing up ex-Roma striker Edin Dzeko.

Denzel Dumfries added a third for Inter before half-time with his first league goal for the club and that is how it remained in a one-sided affair in the Italian capital.

Inter have scored in each of their last 18 away league matches to equal a club record set in 1951 and have won four games in a row in the league, keeping three clean sheets. 

The victory would have been particularly sweet for Inter boss Simone Inzaghi, who spent more than two decades playing and coaching Roma's city rivals Lazio.

"Naturally, returning to the Olimpico is not normal for me, as it was my home for 22 years," he told DAZN. 

"But I was fully focused on the game as we needed this result. Despite their problems, Roma still had a very competitive first XI.

"I don't know if it was our best performance, but we faced a Roma side that had lost at home only once, so to come here and win like this really boosts our self-esteem.

"It's a great signal and I think the many fans who came to Rome for the game will go home happy."

Edin Dzeko was on target against his former side as Inter inflicted a 3-0 defeat on Jose Mourinho's Roma in Saturday's one-sided Serie A contest.

Mourinho was facing off against Inter in the league for the first time since guiding the club to a magical treble in 2009-10 – the second of two successful seasons at San Siro – but he suffered a painful reunion at the Stadio Olimpico.

Hakan Calhanoglu opened the scoring directly from a corner and then teed up Dzeko, who spent six seasons with Roma prior to swapping clubs in August, before Denzel Dumfries added a third in the first half.

Inter lost Joaquin Correa to a hamstring injury but eased to victory as they moved to within a point of leaders Milan. Napoli have a chance to return to the summit when they face Atalanta later on Saturday.

 

Roma have kept the most home clean sheets of any Serie A side in 2021 with 10, including four in their past five games, but they conceded after 15 minutes as Calhanoglu's corner caught Rui Patricio out at his near post.

The champions doubled their lead nine minutes later through Dzeko, who ended a six-game scoring drought in the league by turning home first time after being picked out by Calhanoglu.

Shortly after Dzeko had been denied by a good Patricio save, right wing-back Dumfries converted Alessandro Bastoni's cross with a diving header to put Inter out of sight by the 39-minute mark.

Roma were without a number of key players, including Lorenzo Pellegrini and Tammy Abraham, and that told as they struggled to find a way back into the match in a straightforward victory for Inter.

Roma head coach Jose Mourinho suggested for Nicolo Zaniolo to start thinking about a move away from Serie A as he vented his frustration with refereeing in Italy's top flight.

Mourinho watched on as fifth-placed Roma suffered a 1-0 defeat at Bologna in Serie A action on Wednesday.

Roma boss Mourinho was agitated post-match after star forward Tammy Abraham and full-back Rick Karsdorp were both ruled out of Saturday's clash against reigning champions Inter due to an accumulation of yellow cards.

Zaniolo – who is yet to score in Serie A this term, though he has managed two goals in the Europa Conference League – was also booked for diving

"I'll have to invent the line-up on Saturday," Mourinho told DAZN following the fixture as he turned his attention to 22-year-old Italian forward Zaniolo, who sat out the entire 2020-21 campaign due to another anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.

"Luckily, I replaced [Gianluca] Mancini. Otherwise, he may have been booked too.

"I will finish with one observation. I want to say something that probably goes against my interests: if I were Nicolo Zaniolo, I would start thinking that perhaps playing in Serie A means things will be stacked against me."

This was former Inter coach Mourinho's first defeat against Emilian teams in Serie A – the Portuguese before Wednesday's match had a record of four wins in as many games against Bologna.

Roma have gained 25 points in their first 15 league matches. In the last 10 Serie A seasons, including the current campaign, only in 2018-19 have they claimed fewer points after 15 matches (21).

"Credit to Sinisa [Mihajlovic] and Bologna, they played a great game. But credit to my players too. They gave it their all against everything and everyone," said Mourinho.

"Injuries before the game, injuries during the game, 'hidden' injuries to players who played the full 90 minutes. Then there were a few incidents but my players kept fighting.

"I am proud of these guys, I don't have negative feelings towards them."

Jose Mourinho made good on a promise to buy Felix Afena-Gyan an €800 pair of trainers after his match-winning exploits for Roma at the weekend. 

The Ghanaian 18-year-old scored a double off the bench to lead Roma to a 2-0 Serie A victory over Genoa on Sunday, ending their three-game winless streak in all competitions. 

He became the first player born since January 1, 2003 to score in the Italian top flight and the third-youngest foreigner to score at least twice in a single Serie A game. 

Afena-Gyan celebrated his first goal, which came when he slotted home Henrikh Mkhitaryan's throughball in the 82nd minute, by running over to Mourinho. 

"I promised him a very expensive pair of shoes, for 800 euros, and he came to me to make sure I didn't forget," Mourinho told broadcaster DAZN. 

"I really like his coldness, his physicality, but above all his humility." 

Afena-Gyan on Monday shared a video on Instagram of himself unboxing the new shoes in the presence of Mourinho. He included the caption: "Forever grateful Sir. I'll make you proud."

Speaking to Roma's official website after the game, Afena-Gyan said of Mourinho: "He is teaching me a lot and I am learning a lot from him. He is someone who has achieved a lot during his career and he is a great person. I am glad to be working with him. 

"He encourages me day in and day out to do everything that will help me improve in future. So I am happy to be working with Jose Mourinho. I thank him very, very much. I thank him a lot. He's a great person." 

Felix Afena-Gyan thanked Jose Mourinho after the teenage sensation opened his Roma account with a stunning brace off the bench to sink Genoa 2-0 in Serie A on Sunday.

Afena-Gyan enjoyed a fairytale outing, the 18-year-old substitute scoring twice to ruin Andrey Shevchenko's debut as Genoa head coach.

With the score deadlocked at 0-0, Afena-Gyan was introduced by Mourinho in the 75th minute and turned the match on its head, breaking the deadlock seven minutes later.

After sprinting to celebrate with Mourinho, the Ghanaian forward then sealed the victory with a sublime strike in the fourth minute of stoppage time at Stadio Luigi Ferraris.

"I thank God for this opportunity he gave me, the team, the coach, the fans, players for their amazing support," Afena-Gyan told DAZN.

"I also want to say thank you Mom, she is in Ghana, I love you."

 

It was a memorable night for Afena-Gyan, who became the first player born after January 2003 to score at least one goal in Serie A.

Afena-Gyan ticked off a number of feats – the youngest player to score more than one goal in a match in this season's top-five European League (18 years, 10 months and two days), youngest foreign player in Serie A's three-point era (since 1994-95) to score for Roma, youngest foreign player to net more than once for the Giallorossi in Serie A since 1994-95, while he is the first Ghanian to score for the capital club.

Afena-Gyan added: "Mourinho is a great person, a great manager and a great coach. He gives you the motivation to learn every day. I am very happy he is here.

"Tonight is a dream come true. It was my first goal, I was hoping for a very long time. I want to continue my performance, prove myself and do more in future."

Afena-Gyan was making only his third appearance for Roma, having been introduced to the senior side by veteran boss Mourinho in Rome.

 

"I had promised to buy Felix the boots he really likes, which are really expensive, they cost €800, so he ran over and told me not to forget! Tomorrow morning, the first thing I do is buy him the boots," Mourinho told DAZN.

"I am sorry for Mister [Daniele] De Rossi and the Primavera squad, but Felix will stay with us. The Primavera work close to us, so Felix and another four or five players have come across to the senior squad.

"What impressed me the most was his cool head in front of goal. If he is not in terms of technique fantastic, he does have a strong mentality.

"You get these kids now who think they know everything, but he is humble and you can sense he just absorbs all this information from everyone around him. That's fantastic."

Jose Mourinho believes Andriy Shevchenko has already shown that he can be a success as a head coach in Serie A ahead of his first game in charge of Genoa on Sunday.

The Ukraine legend replaced Davide Ballardini as head coach of the Grifoni two weeks ago after a 2-2 draw at Empoli made it nine games without a win.

Shevchenko's first game in club management sees him hosting Roma and Mourinho, who was at the helm at Chelsea when 'Sheva' arrived at Stamford Bridge as a player in 2006.

The 45-year-old recently left his role in charge of the Ukrainian national team after a quarter-final defeat to England at Euro 2020.

Shevchenko enjoyed a very successful time as a player in Italy, scoring 127 goals in 226 Serie A games for Milan, and Mourinho expressed his hope that he can have success as a manager as well.

"He was an incredible player," Mourinho said at a media conference on Saturday. "This is his first job in club management, but he did really well with Ukraine.

"I think he showed he has ideas, he has leadership... but I hope he loses the first of his club management career, like I did!"

Mourinho will also be looking to improve the fortunes of his own team, with Roma having won just one of their last seven games, and he will be missing several players through injury and COVID-19.

The Giallorossi announced on Saturday that Bryan Cristante and Gonzalo Villar have tested positive for COVID-19, and join injured quartet Matias Vina, Chris Smalling, Riccardo Calafiori and Leonardo Spinazzola on the sidelines.

"We didn't do any training this morning. It will be fun for you to think about how we will play tomorrow," Mourinho said. "The work we've done in the week has to go in the bin a bit.

"It's clear we need to find new solutions and perhaps some players will have to 'sacrifice' themselves in different roles."

The former Real Madrid and Manchester United manager knows the risks that come with playing a team under a new head coach, and believes that factor will make the clash all the more interesting.

"At the very least, it's going to be an entertaining, intriguing game," he added. "The Genoa fans will be up for the game, the players will want to impress the new coach. It's a beautiful stadium and I'm sure it will be a great atmosphere."

Jose Mourinho remains on course to become "one of the most important coaches in the history of Roma", general manager Tiago Pinto has declared.

Defeats to Milan and Venezia before the international break, either side of a draw with Bodo/Glimt in the Europa Conference League, came as a jolt to the Giallorossi.

They had previously won six of their first 10 Serie A matches of the campaign, with Mourinho making a strong start to his second club job in Italy, after a triumphant spell as Inter boss over a decade ago.

Now Roma face the challenge of building momentum afresh, starting on Sunday when they travel Genoa.

Pinto was pivotal in bringing Mourinho to Roma and is confident the former Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester United boss will lead the club to great success.

It has been a feature of their collaboration that Pinto and Mourinho have stressed there is a Roma "project", and it is one that could take years to come to fruition.

Although Mourinho has previously had a reputation for quickly building a winning team, from day one it has been a different concept with Roma.

"He has built this image over time, because fortunately he has coached the biggest clubs in the world and maybe these teams do not have the time, the project and the strategy of Roma," Pinto told Sky Sport Italia.

"But it would not have been possible to have a coach like Mourinho without this strategy. All the time he spends with the Roma youth team confirms that he is totally aligned with us.

"We cannot create an instant team like other teams do and this is not a criticism, but a truth. Mourinho is not only aware of this, but he is also aligned and the work he is doing proves this more than my word."

Mourinho has given chances to young players, but he has also pointed to the weakness of his squad beyond the core of the first team, particularly in the wake of a 6-1 away loss to Bodo/Glimt.

Roma sit sixth in Serie A after 12 games but are already 13 points behind Napoli and Milan, and Mourinho said after the shock loss to Venezia that he felt his squad was no stronger than last season's pool of players, despite a major transfer window overhaul.

He also said this season could prove "a painful one for body and soul".

Pinto said that Roma's studied effort to gradually build up the team "doesn't mean we don't want to win", as he explained the signing of England striker Tammy Abraham from Chelsea.

"Maybe we confused people because we took Abraham, who is young but a great player," Pinto said. "But we don't want to make an instant team, we want to work in all areas and improve every day and in every transfer window."

That final comment may indicate Roma will move again in the market in January, backing Mourinho by listening to his comments about where the squad is still falling short.

"Mourinho is important to us. We took him because his experience, his intelligence and his leadership were perfect to develop this three-year project of a change of mentality, reconstruction of the squad and development and improvement of all players," Pinto added. "And I must say, after four months, that the choice was right and that he will be one of the most important coaches in the history of Roma."

There are already signs of substantial improvement at Roma, when balancing this term's performances against those of last season.

When it comes to committing errors leading to shots by the opposition, in 2020-21 Roma were allowing 0.71 per Serie A game, but that has come down to 0.42 this season.

Roma are having 18.5 shots per game, compared to 14.34 under Paulo Fonseca last term. They are creating 14.5 chances per game, a step up from 10.76 in 2020-21.

If their big-chance conversion rate had not fallen away, from 41.35 per cent in 2020-21 to 32.14 per cent, the season might have begun in even brighter fashion.

Passes played into the box have shot up (28.24 to 33.33 per game), while the aerial challenges won/loss ratio is a healthier 175:141 so far under Mourinho after last season's 461:443 split, a sign his slowly-slowly revolution in Rome is taking effect.

Jose Mourinho is not the problem at Roma and the club and fans must stick with him, according to Giallorossi legend Francesco Totti. 

Roma appointed Mourinho last May and invested around €130million on new players – the biggest close-season outlay of any Serie A team. 

Things started positively with Roma winning their first six competitive games of a season for just the third time in their history, but they have been victorious in just four of their subsequent 12 outings. 

Mourinho became the first Giallorossi boss since Luis Enrique in 2011 to lose their maiden top-flight Derby della Capitale in September, while the following month he suffered the heaviest loss of his managerial career when Roma were hit for six by Bodo/Glimt in the Europa Conference League. 

The next week his 43-game home unbeaten run in Serie A came to an end at the hands of Milan, while November started with a disappointing draw at home to Bodo/Glimt and a shock 3-2 loss at Venezia. 

However, Totti does not believe Mourinho is at fault for Roma's slide in form and believes his pedigree is more than sufficient for a show of faith. 

"If we think Roma's problem is Mourinho, it means we have everything wrong," Totti told Sky. 

"Mourinho has won more than all the other Serie A coaches combined – hats off to him. 

"You have to focus on him. He is a great coach and a great motivator. He knows how to manage the group, he knows what to say and what to do. 

"The club and the fans must stick with him." 

Despite their poor form, Roma sit sixth in Serie A and are just three points adrift of the top four. 

After their lucrative takeover, Newcastle United are set to make a transfer splash in January.

The Magpies are winless and second last in the Premier League table this season.

Newcastle remain without a manager, following Steve Bruce's dismissal a fortnight ago.

 

TOP STORY – MAGPIES IN FOR COUTINHO LOAN DEAL

Newcastle United look set to make a move for Barcelona's Philippe Coutinho in January, according to Spanish newspaper Sport.

Financially embattled LaLiga giants Barca are said to be keen to offload the former Liverpool forward, who arrived at Camp Nou from the Reds in 2018.

Barcelona are reportedly ready to accept a loan deal that includes a mandatory option to buy with Newcastle.

ROUND-UP

Barcelona are bullish about signing up Ousmane Dembele to a fresh three-year deal with the option for a further season, claims Mundo Deportivo. Dembele has been linked with LiverpoolManchester United and Juventus.

- Barca are also considering a move to sign Tottenham midfielder Tanguy Ndombele on loan, reports Sport. Ndombele has made nine appearances this season.

- Brazilian club Palmeiras have entered the race to sign Manchester United's Edinson Cavani, claims the Daily Express. The Uruguayan signed a one-year contract extension in May.

- Former Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho wants to bring Spurs midfielder Harry Winks and Chelsea's Ruben Loftus-Cheek to Roma, reports Corriere dello Sport.

- Sky Sports reports ex-Roma head coach Paulo Fonseca is still interested in the vacant Newcastle managerial role. Fonseca nearly took over at Tottenham in the off-season. Magpies candidate Unai Emery announced he was staying with Villarreal on Wednesday.

- La Nazione says Tottenham are firmly in the race to sign Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic, who has also been linked with Manchester City, Inter, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid and Juve.

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