Erik ten Hag believes his Manchester United team have reached a “turning point” as they head into a crucial week of fixtures.

The Dutchman’s future at Old Trafford was under immense scrutiny at the start of the month, with United’s record of eight defeats in their first 15 matches in all competitions amounting to their worst start to a season since 1962.

United won their two Premier League fixtures prior to the international break – away to Fulham and at home to Luton – to ease the pressure and leave them with a record of four wins from their last five league matches.

They resume after the break with three away days in hostile atmospheres – first at Everton on Sunday against a team fuelled by a sense of injustice following the imposition of a 10-point penalty for breaching Premier League financial rules, followed by a visit to Istanbul to take on Galatasaray on Wednesday before a trip to St James’ Park to face Newcastle.

But Ten Hag insists morale is good among his players heading into a hectic period of matches which could define United’s season.

“We have seen a turning point,” the former Ajax boss said.

“Now we have to build on. We go into a massive month and we are really looking forward with confidence.

“There are no easy games for anyone – everyone will drop points. But the last five games we won four and that gives us confidence going into the next games.”

On the tests of character about to face his side, Ten Hag added: “We play three games in six days and as a group we have to deal with that.

“We have a plan, we have studied for it. We made the players aware that they have to take responsibility, but especially it’s about co-operation.”

United are boosted by the return of England international Luke Shaw from a thigh muscle injury which has sidelined him since August.

Goalkeeper Andre Onana has overcome a knock suffered on international duty with Cameroon, but a late call will be taken on whether Rasmus Hojlund can feature.

The Dane suffered a muscle strain in the second half of the win over Luton just before the November international break.

Hojlund’s international team-mate Christian Eriksen will not be available due to a knee injury, while central defender Jonny Evans is not ready to return yet from a thigh problem.

Ange Postecoglou has promised Giovani Lo Celso there will be opportunities for him to turn around his Tottenham career over the coming weeks.

Spurs are without at least nine first-teamers for the visit of Aston Villa in the Premier League on Sunday.

Yves Bissouma (suspended) and James Maddison (ankle) will definitely miss out and the prolonged absence of the latter has resulted in calls for Lo Celso to be given a first league start for Spurs since 2021.


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Signed four years ago towards the end of Mauricio Pochettino’s tenure, the Argentina international worked with current Villa boss Unai Emery at Villarreal last season, but could get the chance to haunt his old manager this weekend.

“I looked at Gio really well before I got here, both here at Tottenham and his spells at other clubs,” Postecoglou said.

“You can see he has certain qualities. He’s had a disruptive season for us. He’s had a few injuries, he hasn’t really had a clean run at it.

“He’s one of a number of players that has happened to, but you can see technically, he’s a very creative player, he works hard for the team.

“He’ll get an opportunity over the next few weeks to hopefully come in and make an impact.”

While Lo Celso has struggled to make his mark in England, the 27-year-old remains a key figure for his country and started Argentina’s 1-0 win in Brazil on Tuesday.

But Postecoglou admitted: “I don’t think his national-team form is a direct correlation to here. Just like anyone else’s.

“Gio will get an opportunity, particularly over the next few weeks because we are down on numbers and have a fair few games between now and the new year.

“If they’re here, they’ll get an opportunity. That’s all you can offer.”

Lo Celso was heavily linked with a move away in the summer, but Postecoglou made clear from the outset his desire to keep him at Spurs.

Barcelona remain interested in the midfielder and while Tottenham’s injury list makes departures unlikely in January, the Australian conceded now is his chance to cast an eye over the squad.

Postecoglou added: “From my perspective, this is the time when I am getting an opportunity to make all these assessments because if you lump it all into one and look at previous exposure here at the club, that’s not really relevant to me.

“It’s what I see from now on and how the players feel themselves about playing the football that I want and whether they see themselves fitting into that.

“It hasn’t happened by design but I am certainly going to get a good look at everyone.”

Meanwhile, Postecoglou heaped praise on opposite number Emery for turning Villa into top-four contenders inside 12 months.

“I haven’t come across him, but I have been a great admirer of his coaching,” Postecoglou revealed.

“He came over here and the experience (with Arsenal) didn’t deter him in any way. He didn’t lose any belief in who he is as a manager.

“He has turned Villa around very, very quickly and you have got to remember what position they were in.

“I have looked at his teams and they have always been very well organised and structured, with a clear identity.

“And he has transferred that across three different countries. He is a quality manager.”

Mikel Arteta revealed that many Premier League managers had been in contact with him after the Arsenal boss was charged by the Football Association for comments after the Gunners’ 1-0 defeat at Newcastle earlier this month.

Arteta branded the officials’ decision not to overturn Anthony Gordon’s goal “an absolute disgrace” and waits to see the extent of his punishment.

And Arteta highlighted that he and his manager colleagues were “all in this together” when it came to making improvements regarding officiating in the Premier League.

“I have been in contact with many of them, I know most of them for many years and we are all in this together,” Arteta said.

“We compete with each other but we understand our roles and understand our responsibility and we want to fulfil that to our best.

“So everything we do has to be properly thought with good process in place and make sure we contribute to make it better.

“We do meetings (with the officials) but sometimes individually. A lot of things happen.”

Arsenal faced criticism after a public statement supporting Arteta’s comments was released earlier this month.

But the Gunners manager defended his views, putting his reaction down to emotions after it was suggested his comments would set the wrong example as to how to treat referees.

“I have given hundreds of opinions but you want to isolate one moment when I talked about something I believed and used it in a different way, I don’t think that’s fair”, Arteta said to a reporter.

“We live the game with emotion. I react when a player scores a goal. I react when a player gives the ball away. We are constantly reacting – this is the game.

“We live a game which is passionate and you play to win and so this has to happen and we have to react.

“Let’s sit down here like a theatre and be on mute and see if this league and game will be interesting, it won’t. And that’s what makes it special.”

Aaron Ramsdale will start in goal for Arsenal’s Saturday evening clash with Brentford as David Raya is not eligible to play against his parent club.

Ramsdale’s father recently said the goalkeeper does not smile since summer signing Raya replaced him as the Arsenal number one.

And Arteta responded by highlighting the attitude he demands of players who have fallen out of favour.

He said: “Aaron is one of many players who is playing less than he wants. There are many unfortunately in a dressing room of 24 players.

“The behaviour we demand is to challenge and to make each other better.

“This is the purpose and to overcome the ability and to play and show with facts that you have to play more and show how wrong I am (for not picking him).”

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has called Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp the biggest managerial adversary of his career.

The Reds visit the Etihad Stadium on Saturday lunchtime for the latest instalment of a classic rivalry that has so often gone a long way to deciding the destination of the Premier League title.

City go into the game one point ahead of Klopp’s side, who look their most realistic title challengers, even if Guardiola says Arsenal and Tottenham are also in the race.

Guardiola has had some battles over the years, notably with Jose Mourinho, but says Klopp has made him a better manager.

Asked if the German was his biggest rival, he said: “Yes, by far. Because we have faced each other a thousand million times.

“Absolutely, he made me better, he helped me reflect on a lot of things with the problems they have created for us, it’s part of when you are many years in this business, him and his teams, here and Dortmund have always been big rivals, good games for both, both teams have a positive approach to the games and always attractive.

“I’m pretty sure he made me a better manager through his teams, and of course, the way we play for them is good with the transitions, they have a lot of space in behind, they are fantastic with the runs, they are a fantastic team, fantastic legs, a top side, no doubt.”

After a poor season last year, where they missed out on Champions League qualification, Klopp’s side look back to their best and are clear challengers for the title.

“Absolutely,” Guardiola said. “Arsenal will be too, I see them as so, so solid. Spurs even, the two defeats they had lately, the feeling when I see the way they are playing and with one game a week, I think they will be there.

“Chelsea start to recover and have one game a week. I think the four or five contenders are there. I don’t know if Newcastle will join, maybe United will join us but many things can happen.”

Mauricio Pochettino believes Premier League managers should be invited to play a more active role in helping shape refereeing guidelines.

Chelsea have been involved in a number of controversial fixtures this season, most notably the frenetic 4-1 win away at Tottenham earlier in November in which Spurs had two players sent off, five goals were disallowed and VAR made nine interventions across a match that lasted over 110 minutes.

Pochettino has previously complained that the league’s request to meet with coaches in the week before the beginning of the season to discuss changes allowed little room for constructive input from managers and their clubs.

The current campaign has seen a barrage of complaints directed at on-field and VAR officials, with referees coming under almost unprecedented scrutiny following a string of errors, particularly relating to the influence of the video referee on the decision-making process.

“We all have full respect for the referees, we understand perfectly that their job is really tough,” said Pochettino, whose team face Newcastle at St James’s Park on Saturday.

“But the problem is you get frustrated sometimes during the game because of the VAR. The referee is not responsible sometimes. You cannot complain to the VAR. That is a problem.

“I’m going to try and control more my emotions. I think all the coaches respect the referees because they’re in a really difficult situation.

“I think sometimes we are frustrated. I think coaches need to be more involved in the decisions, and to work together during the season.

“It is not (ideal) to arrive the week before the start of the Premier League season and say, ‘OK, the new rules are this. What do you think?’. Nothing, because you have already made the decision. Like the rule that there can only be one coach (in the technical area). Why?

“England was always different about the relationship with the referee. You can talk, you can (previously) have four people in the dugout. Which way do we want to evolve in the Premier League?

“England is different. Not only because you drive on the right (of the car), but because of the relationship in football. It is the gentleman’s game.”

Despite those frustrations, and the ongoing confusion surrounding the proper implementation of VAR and its interpretation of the game’s rules, Pochettino acknowledged that the emotional side of football is ultimately what props up the business side of the sport.

“I think people look at football and understand that it is a big business,” he said. “The sport is very honest, with rules. But around that it is a business that we cannot stop.

“If the sport doesn’t produce that emotion it is producing, it is difficult to talk about it in this way, to have the chance to have good salaries, to give also to society.

“Football provides people with happiness and that is the most important thing. We are all part of this business.”

Ange Postecoglou insists he has too much on his plate to worry about an investigation by the Football Association into a potential breach of agent rules during a 2008 transfer which involves Tottenham.

The Times reported this week that an unlicensed agent may have been used during the negotiations of Jermain Defoe’s transfer from Spurs to Portsmouth in the winter transfer window of 2008.

The FA has confirmed to the PA news agency that they are looking at the case, which did go to an arbitration hearing at the time of Defoe’s move to Fratton Park in the 2007-08 campaign. PA has contacted Tottenham for comment.

No action was taken against any party involved in the transfer, but with Spurs dealing with a growing injury list ahead of Sunday’s visit of Aston Villa in the Premier League, any potential punishment is far from Postecoglou’s mind.

“In 2008? I think I was maybe coaching Brisbane Roar mate, so fair to say I wasn’t around then,” he said.

“And really, if you think that’s coming across my desk? People are keeping a fair bit away from me at the moment because of what’s really important and that is we’ve got a big game on Sunday.

“With the issues we’ve got around the team, that’s where my focus is.

“It’s not across my desk, mate. For me to give you an answer would mean me sitting down with whoever is doing the investigation, whoever has all the information here, you know how many hours?

“I don’t know if you’ve spent any hours doing that but I don’t have that time in my day to be assessing those kinds of issues.

“With those kinds of things, any of those issues, there are those responsible, maybe I’m the spokesman, but I’m the spokesman for the football club in terms of the football.

“I would hate it absolutely if you got a lawyer out here and he started talking about what sort of formation we should play at the weekend.

“I’ll keep my mouth shut with those things, not for any other reason, but I respect the space that other people are in and that I’m in.

“If you’ve got real questions about that, there are probably better people to ask than me.”

Meanwhile, an FA spokesperson told PA: “We are looking at the case, and as part of that we will be reviewing the arbitration panel award.”

Everton fans have staged a protest outside the Premier League’s headquarters in London in response to the club’s 10-point punishment for breaching financial regulations.

The Toffees were handed the sanction by an independent commission last week after they exceeded losses permitted under the league’s profitability and sustainability rules by £19.5million in the three seasons ending in 2021-22.

Manager Sean Dyche expressed shock at the “disproportionate” penalty on Friday, a sentiment shared by the fans who gathered outside the Premier League’s offices in Paddington, west London.

Paul, 36, who lives in East Dulwich but is originally from St Helens, is a season-ticket holder who will be at Sunday’s game against Manchester United.

He told the PA news agency that the points deduction “felt draconian”, adding: “It just feels like the rules were deliberately vague to give flexibility for this kind of situation.

“I think Everton have been deliberately targeted because of the threat of an independent regulator, and that feels wrong.”

Alan Newton, 46, who lives in London but is originally from Maghull, held a season ticket for 10 years.

He told PA: “Nobody’s saying that we’re not guilty as a club of anything, but the points that have been taken off is far too harsh a penalty.

“Do I think that some of the other bigger clubs are going to get penalties like this or it’s going to play out the same? Probably not.

“I think the likelihood is we’ll get a reduced penalty, it’ll set a precedent for other clubs and we’ll see what happens next.”

The points deduction has left Everton 19th in the table and above bottom side Burnley only on goal difference.

However, Amy Panayi, 28, who lives in Gravesend but is originally from Liverpool, does not believe the club will be relegated.

“If we just get consistency with your teams like Manchester City and Chelsea, I will take a 10-point deduction,” she told PA. “I will say I don’t think we will go down, because there’s too much fight (and) heart there.”

Mauricio Pochettino has confirmed that Christopher Nkunku will not be fit to be involved in Chelsea’s visit to Newcastle on Saturday.

There had been hopes that the £52million summer signing from RB Leipzig would have sufficiently recovered from the knee injury he sustained on the pre-season tout of the United States to play a part at St James’ Park.

But, despite being fit enough to have taken part in training with the first team, the 26-year-old has not worked tactically with the squad and will not travel.

Chelsea struggled without the France international in Pochettino’s first Premier League games in charge, with the goalscoring problems that he had been acquired to help solve carrying over from a tumultuous campaign last season during which the team scored fewer league goals than they had in almost a century.

Those issues have become less urgent in recent weeks, with four goals scored on three separate occasions against Burnley, Tottenham and Manchester City.

By contrast, the team had not previously scored four times in a game since April 2022.

“(Nkunku) was doing things with the group last week,” said Pochettino. “But he’s not fully recovered to be part of the squad.

“He’s a fantastic player, top scorer in the Bundesliga last season. He can play different positions, his quality is amazing. It’s really bad luck to lose him from the beginning of the season.

“We’re going to find the best way for him to fit in the team. He’s going to find massive competition. His team-mates are ahead of him, they’ve had four months of competition. He needs to build his form and be at his best level.

“We need to understand he’s coming back from injury, he will need time. We will be patient with him.

“It’s not a competition (the Premier League) that he’s normally used to. He came from Europe, he needs to recover from injury but also to know the league. It’ll take time to perform at his best.”

Pochettino confirmed that Romeo Lavia, signed in the last week of the transfer window from Southampton for £53m, is also nearing fitness but is slightly behind the progress made by Nkunku.

Wesley Fofana has trained on grass at Cobham as he continues his rehabilitation from an ACL injury, though is unlikely to be available before the new year.

Chelsea had come into form prior to the international break with five wins from eight in all competitions, a run which saw them score 19 times having previously netted only seven in their first seven under Pochettino.

The manager is hopeful that the pause will not have disrupted his side’s rhythm ahead of their visit to face Eddie Howe’s side.

“The break came at a bad time,” he said. “It came in a moment we were building a way to play, results were on our side. But I believe we can keep momentum even after two weeks with no competition.”

Pochettino added that the squad has held group discussions about why performances and results have been better this season against the stronger teams – draws with Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City and victory over Spurs – while there have been home losses to Brentford, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa.

“It’s part of the process,” he said. “We’re a young team, we started to work four months ago. We need to be more mature, more patient. We cannot get frustrated so soon when things don’t work.

“Expectation creates nervousness when you play a team with less quality than you. You take rushed decisions, get frustrated. You want to do the job of your team-mate.”

The Premier League returns on Saturday lunchtime as league leaders Manchester City host second-placed Liverpool.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp joked that he loves playing at 12:30 in Friday’s press conference, but he has been a long-time critic of the slot and expressed his frustration again before the international break.

Here, the PA news agency looks at Liverpool’s record in early kick-offs under Klopp.

Early birds

The clash against Manchester City will be Liverpool’s 42nd Saturday lunchtime kick-off since the German arrived on Merseyside in October 2015, which is the most of any Premier League club in that time.

City and Tottenham will have both played 38, ahead of Manchester United (33) and Chelsea (31).

Klopp has overseen a total of 20 wins, 13 draws and eight defeats in the early Saturday slot, which equates to 1.78 points per game.

That represents the second-best record among ‘big six’ clubs, behind City (2.24), but is well below his average return across all other kick-off times (2.16).

Liverpool’s performances in Saturday lunchtime games have been indicative of their title prospects in recent years, with the Reds having won all 12 of such matches in 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2021-22 – seasons in which they lifted the title or finished within a point of Pep Guardiola’s City.

In contrast, Klopp’s men won just one of five 12:30 kick-offs in 2020-21 – when they barely made it into the top four – and none of six on the way to finishing fifth last season.

Jet lag

Fourteen of Liverpool’s 42 Saturday lunchtime kick-offs under Klopp have come immediately after an international break, including three in three already this season.

That is more than twice as many as any other club, with Tottenham and Chelsea having done so six times since October 2015, ahead of the Manchester clubs on five apiece.

The Reds’ squad contains four South American internationals who all featured in continental qualifiers in midweek before making the return trip to the north-west.

Alexis Mac Allister and Alisson Becker faced each other in Argentina’s 1-0 win over Brazil, while Darwin Nunez scored twice for Uruguay against Bolivia and Luis Diaz played for Colombia against Paraguay.

Despite his unhappiness with the schedule, Klopp has a good record in lunchtime fixtures following an international hiatus.

Fittingly, his reign began with a post-international 12:45 kick-off against Spurs, which ended in a 0-0 stalemate.

He has since recorded eight wins – including victories over Wolves and Everton this term – two draws and two defeats in 12 subsequent games.

However, both losses came at the hands of Saturday’s opponents City, with Guardiola’s side recording 5-0 and 4-1 thrashings in 2017-18 and 2022-23 respectively.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes his side can reap additional benefit from having Alexis Mac Allister as a makeshift holding midfielder.

The Reds boss was dismissive of the suggestion the Argentina international, who usually plays further forward, faces the biggest test of his adaptation into a new role at Manchester City on Saturday.

Mac Allister, who joined for £35million from Brighton, has coped well so far filling a hole in a newly-formed midfield with fellow summer signing Wataru Endo, a genuine number six, only entrusted with two Premier League starts, but the prospect of facing Pep Guardiola’s side on their own turf is an entirely different prospect.

The 24-year-old’s poorest performances in the role have come away from home – at Wolves, where he was replaced at half-time after returning from international duty in South America, Newcastle and his former club – but that is not a concern for Klopp at this moment in time.

When asked whether this will Mac Allister’s biggest test, Klopp replied “No.

“I understand that from the outside world it is always about how is a player in this position. but in the end it is all about how the whole team is set up.

“Is Macca a natural-born six? No. Did football develop in the last years in directions we couldn’t imagine before? Yes. Does that mean that a player like Macca can play the six. Definitely.

“It depends on how the whole team defends. Easy as that. If we do that properly then we have an incredible player in a central position who can find passes, a forward-thinking player.

“Do you want a player there who is just knocking players down and when we are in possession he thinks ‘not my job, give me a break’?

“I like him there a lot to be honest and we as a team can benefit a lot from it if we make sure we have a really compact formation and that’s what we especially need tomorrow.”

The top-of-the-table clash is being billed as the biggest game of the season as Klopp’s side have emerged from a summer midfield rebuild to become City’s main challengers, sitting just a point behind the leaders despite their fifth-place finish in May.

But the Liverpool manager insists it should not be used to gauge comparisons with the Premier League champions.

“It is not a test how close can we get to City, it is just a super-exciting football game,” he added.

“But for us it is not about being excited, we have to prepare it properly and we know we have to be at our best to get a chance. We have that then it is about us to take it.

“A lot of things can happen: can we play bad, lose? Possible. Can we play bad and win? I would say it is unlikely, it’s pretty much not possible against City. We can play very good and don’t win, it’s possible. We play very good and win.

“This team doesn’t have to pass a test now, the direction we are going – up – is really the right one, that is obvious.

“Toulouse (a 4-3 Europa League defeat) we were not good there. I made a lot of changes so it goes on my responsibility, but still no good. Against Luton (a 1-1 draw), we were not good and if we had won the game, we were not good that night.

“But in a lot of games this season we were good and deserved what we we got.”

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola insists he would stay at the club even if they were relegated to League One should they be found guilty of breaking Premier League financial rules.

City’s fate has been brought back into focus following Everton’s 10-point deduction last week, but Guardiola insists the two cases are completely separate.

The Toffees were docked 10 points for breaching rules over a three-year period, while City are awaiting a ruling after being charged in February with more than 100 alleged breaches of the competition’s financial fair play regulations between 2009 and 2018. The club denies all the charges.

Asked whether there could be any severity of punishment which would make him consider his position, Guardiola replied: “It’s a good question. I will answer when I have the sentence.

“You are questioning like we have been punished. And in the moment we are innocent until guilt is proven. I know the people want it. I know, I feel it. I will wait.

“Wait and see it and after the sentence has been done we will come here and explain it. But absolutely I will not consider my future (if) it depends (on) being here or being in League One. Absolutely.

“There is more chance to stay if we are in League One than if we were in the Champions League.”

Guardiola claims people have already decided that City are guilty and are already clamouring for them to be relegated, especially after the severity of Everton’s punishment.

“I know when people are saying, ‘OK, City, why don’t they go to the Conference?’ Wait. Wait,” he said.

“And after what’s going to happen is going to happen.

“When you read [what is said] then we should be relegated, relegated, relegated, yeah, of course, but nobody knows exactly. All the people who say that didn’t read the statements, don’t know exactly what happened. Not even myself, I didn’t read all the breaches, I didn’t read our defence.

“But wait. What I said a month ago – OK, if we’ve done something wrong we’ll be punished. But wait – we can defend ourselves can’t we?

“What people accuse us of we do not agree with what they say, we are going to defend [ourselves] and after the resolution is done, I will be here, like a spokesman for my club.

“I want to say the case for Everton, and I don’t know what happened, but only I know from the lawyers and people at my club and the lawyers is that they are completely different cases. That’s why you cannot compare because every case is completely different.

“The other one is longer because it is more complicated because it’s 115 breaches. So wait. Then after with the lawyers from both sides present their cases in front of the judge and the verdict and after I will say in front of you and you can ask me the question.”

The topic overshadowed the build-up to one of the blockbusting Premier League fixtures as City welcome rivals Liverpool on Saturday lunchtime.

Guardiola hopes that Erling Haaland is fit after he withdrew from international duty with Norway with an injury, but there are several other injury concerns.

“He trained yesterday with some niggles, today we train and hope he can be part of it,” Guardiola said.

“We have a few problems like many clubs, we’ll see after our last training sessions, we’ll see.

“I will know at 6pm who we have available, it’s always plan A.”

Everton boss Sean Dyche has expressed shock at the “disproportionate” 10-point penalty imposed on the club but insisted he and his players are ready to take on the latest challenge put in front of them.

Dyche was trying to enjoy a short break during the international window when he got word of the unprecedented sanction handed down by an independent commission for breaches of the Premier League’s financial rules – a penalty that Everton will appeal against.

Speaking publicly for the first time on the matter, Dyche said: “I think like everyone, certainly in these parts, I was shocked and seemingly from the wave of noise after that, most people in football are shocked by the enormity of it.

“Disproportionate is a word used by the club. Obviously we feel a bit aggrieved by that, but on the other hand it doesn’t change the focus. The focus since I got there is sorting things out on the pitch, getting the team to win.

“I think we were on the right lines, delivering strong performances. This has just given us a push backwards to come forwards again. The job hasn’t changed. It’s just made it more difficult under the current circumstances until the appeal…

“I don’t know every inch of the past, I don’t know why the commission have come out with what they have but I certainly believe in what the club put forward. It feels disproportionate, it feels unjust and plenty of voices out there feel the same.

“What is done is done for now, appeal pending, and we have to get on with it.”

Everton fans have hit out at the penalty, and have raised more than £40,000 to fund protests against the Premier League. A demonstration was due to take in London on Friday outside the league offices, while a plane carrying a banner will fly over Manchester City’s match against Liverpool on Saturday.

On Sunday, when Everton’s game against United will be televised, home fans will be asked to hold up red cards which call the Premier League “corrupt”.

Everton had been showing encouraging signs before the penalty, winning six out of nine in all competitions to climb up the table, but have now dropped to second bottom – level on four points with basement boys Burnley ahead of Sunday’s match against Manchester United.

“I spoke to the group and said, ‘Look, the league table is one thing but I don’t change my story very often and I believe the final league table is the truth of the season, and I’m not going to change now’,” Dyche added.

“For sure, it changes the viewpoint but it doesn’t change what we’re doing. In fact it enhances what we’re doing. We need to go harder, stronger. This is what it is. It’s been about refocus as much as anything.”

The penalty has raised all manner of questions at Everton, with suggestions that rival clubs may now pursue compensation claims potentially impacting the proposed takeover by 777 Partners.

On the pitch, there was a sense of optimism that after two seasons fighting relegation things were looking up but – for now at least – they are back in the bottom three.

Dyche said that did not concern him in the immediate term, but there was clear frustration from the boss that off-pitch dramas are once again dominating the agenda at Goodison Park.

“You have to take away the noise,” he said. “I’ve had to do it endlessly since I’ve been here, keep pushing away the noise around this football club.

“Bizarrely, we were talking about it before – the last press conference before (Crystal) Palace was one of the first ones that was just about football. And lo and behold while I was away we get a 10-point deficit. So what do you do? You just keep taking it on.”

Ange Postecoglou is excited to see Tottenham midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur close to his best again amid a growing injury crisis at the club.

Spurs host Aston Villa on Sunday with at least nine first-team players ruled out and Pape Sarr a doubt after he returned with a knock from international duty with Senegal.

A much-needed positive for the Australian is the return to fitness of Bentancur, who made his first competitive start in nine months in Uruguay’s 3-0 win over Bolivia on Tuesday after a serious knee injury.

With first-choice midfielders James Maddison (ankle) and Yves Bissouma (suspended) definitely absent for the visit of Villa, Bentancur could be thrust into action.

“The back four is probably the major issue for us at the moment. We’re really low on depth there, but midfield as well. That’s just the period we’re going through,” Postecoglou reflected.

“The fact Rodrigo got an opportunity to start (for Uruguay) is good for us. It gives him that confidence that he’s able to get through a game.

“The beauty of him is he can play a couple of different areas. I think he can play as a six, he can play further forward as an eight and he’s even creative. I think he can score goals as well.

“We were kind of hoping with him, Madders, Pape, Biss and people like Pierre(-Emile Hojbjerg) we were well stocked in that midfield area for different kinds of combinations, but obviously that has been disrupted a bit.

“The key for Rodrigo is to get him back to that level physically and mentally where he feels really comfortable about playing at this level.

“I don’t think he is far off it from what I’ve seen and again certainly over the next few weeks he will get that opportunity.”

Bentancur was one of Tottenham’s best players last season and impressed in a box-to-box role before he sustained anterior cruciate ligament damage in February.

Uruguay boss Marcelo Bielsa used him at the base of a midfield three on Tuesday, which is where Bissouma has played for Spurs so far this season.

With Bissouma suspended for the Villa match after he picked up his fifth yellow card of the campaign at Wolves, Postecoglou hinted Bentancur could fill that void.

He said: “Yeah, potentially. Watching the (Bolivia) game and how he played, he did it really well so you know he can play there.

“I don’t think he is that far off from a physical perspective of being able to play his normal game, whether that is box-to-box, and part of it is getting belief in himself and his own body that he is capable of doing it.”

Spurs’ hopes of returning to winning ways have been hit by their lengthy injury list, but Postecoglou insisted: “Aston Villa will be a great test for us, but we’re at home.

“Apart from the Chelsea game, our home form has been really strong and we need to make sure we get back to that.”

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag knows Everton’s players and fans will be “mad” about the 10-point penalty imposed on the club and has challenged his team to meet fire with fire on Sunday.

United make the short trip to Goodison Park this weekend to face a Toffees team fuelled by a sense of injustice after an independent commission imposed the sanction on the club a week ago for a breach of Premier League profitability and sustainability rules.

For the Red Devils, it is the first of three challenging away games in the space of six days.

On Wednesday they travel to Turkey to face Galatasaray knowing a defeat will end their hopes of reaching the Champions League last 16, before a trip to take on Newcastle a week on Saturday.

Ten Hag is expecting Goodison Park to be a bearpit on Sunday but is determined his players will not be outmuscled.

“It’s always about us, I can see the opposition and I can see they are mad, but then finally it’s about us,” he said at a press conference on Friday afternoon.

“If they are mad and that’s their fuel, we have to match those standards. When we match the standards we have a very good chance to win the game.”

United head into the game in good Premier League form, having won four out of their last five matches.

They are boosted by the return of England international Luke Shaw from a thigh strain which has sidelined him since August.

Goalkeeper Andre Onana has overcome a knock suffered on international duty with Cameroon, but a decision will be taken on Saturday about whether Rasmus Hojlund can feature.

The Dane suffered a muscle strain in the second half of the win over Luton just before the November international break.

Former Liverpool midfielder Jan Molby believes the performance of Alexis Mac Allister could be crucial in the top-of-the-table clash with Manchester City.

While the two teams are generally well-matched in most positions, the hosts boast Rodri, who is regarded as the world’s best in the holding role, while Jurgen Klopp has had to field Mac Allister as a makeshift number six.

It is an unfamiliar position for the Argentina World Cup winner, who is more effective in a slightly more advanced role, but he has been asked to do a job as Liverpool’s all-new midfield still takes shape after a summer overhaul.

Japan international Wataru Endo was one of four midfield arrivals in the summer and while he is accustomed to the defensive job, the 30-year-old has been entrusted with only two Premier League starts and is unlikely to be in consideration against the defending champions.

“When you look at the midfield three, I still think we need to find the right balance and combination,” Molby told the PA news agency at the launch of the club’s Ultimate LFC Experience, a package which includes giving fans the opportunity to train at Melwood – the former home of the men’s team and current training base of the women’s side.

“We’ve managed to get away with that midfield from game to game, but there is every chance Bernardo Silva and Julian Alvarez will be playing in there and he (Mac Allister) will have to look after those and that’s a big job in itself.

“You only have to look at City and what happened when Rodri was out through suspension and they lost games (against Wolves and Arsenal) – that’s how important a world-class number six is.

“When you look at the teams who are doing well, they all have a world-class number six so that’s an area where we might need to look at.

“The majority of games we will get away with it because of the general quality we have, but there might be one or two games where we go ‘we need someone better in that position’.

“That is not a criticism of Alexis as he is not a number six, he is more of a number eight, so the quicker we can get in there the quicker we will improve.”

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