Premier League managers are already feeling the strain amid cascading numbers of COVID-19 cases and mid-season injuries. Now many top bosses stand to lose stars to the Africa Cup of Nations.

Africa's greatest football show – now commonly known as AFCON – gets under way on Sunday in Cameroon.

Although the 2019 edition was held in June and July, it has historically been a January-into-February tournament and has returned to that place on the calendar.

A host of Premier League big names are hoping to make an impact during the four-week tournament, which falls slap-bang in the middle of European club campaigns, causing a major clash of competitions.

Premier League clubs certainly cannot complain of a lack of fair warning. It was June 2020 when African football chiefs decided the 2021 edition of the tournament would have to be pushed back by 12 months to a January 2022 start, in the hope the coronavirus crisis would have eased.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at which teams from the English top flight might feel its impact the most.

Can Reds cling on in title battle?

If Liverpool lose no further ground on leaders Manchester City by the time their stars return from AFCON, then Jurgen Klopp would surely settle for that.

The 2019-20 Premier League champions have taken two points from a possible nine to leave the title as effectively City's to lose, and now Klopp is going to have to get by without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita.

Egyptian striker Salah is the Premier League's leader in goals (16) and assists (9, level with Trent Alexander Arnold) so far this season. He has taken 80 shots in 20 games (38 of these have hit the target), played 12 throughballs and created 40 chances from open play: in each of those categories he is at the top of the Premier League charts for players defined by Opta as forwards.

How do you cope without such a contribution? Having Mane on hand would help, but Mane will be turning out for Senegal, a team who, like Salah's Egypt, are firmly in the mix as serious trophy contenders. Don't expect either back at the end of the group stage.

Mane has eight Premier League goals this term, including the opener at Chelsea recently. That goal return puts Mane joint-second among African scorers in the Premier League this season, level with Watford's Emmanuel Dennis, who is not in Nigeria's squad.

Mane has played 19 throughballs and has made 23 tackles to boot, which is the seventh highest number of tackles by a forward in the league this season, a rarely mentioned attribute of his game. He does not always tackle with his elbow, either.

Keita will presumably be less of a miss, with the Guinean's Anfield contribution remaining underwhelming, but Liverpool have been so hard hit by absentees recently that to lose anybody for up to five weeks is an inconvenience.

They are at least assured of Joel Matip's presence this month. The centre-back last played for Cameroon in 2015 and has retired from international duty. That is bad news for the AFCON hosts but helps Liverpool, given Matip remains a sturdy presence, with a duel success of 69.47 per cent this season ranking him third among Premier League defenders with 10 or more appearances, and a passing accuracy of 88.89 per cent putting him eighth in that metric.

Liverpool only have two league games inked in between now and the end of AFCON, against Brentford and Crystal Palace, but the Reds also have two postponed fixtures to be slipped in somewhere along the line.

Wintertime Blues?

Pep Guardiola's Manchester City hold a 10-point lead over second-placed Chelsea, with Liverpool a point further back but possessing a game in hand on the top two. Reigning champions City have won 11 straight Premier League games and the Citizens have the resources to be able to cope with the short-term loss of Riyad Mahrez, who will captain Algeria.

Mahrez's six goals and four assists this season have come at a startling rate. Given the depth in City's squad, he does not always start, so to appreciate his contribution it is worth looking at his numbers per 90 minutes on the pitch.

The former Leicester City forward is averaging 0.64 goals and 0.43 assists per 90 minutes – impressively close to Salah's return of 0.81 and 0.45 in those categories – and is one of only four Premier League players with 10 or more appearances to average at least 1.00 goal involvements per 90 (Michael Olise 1.43, Salah 1.26, Roberto Firmino 1.24, Mahrez 1.07).

The Blues of Chelsea may have concerns over the absence of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, given the Senegalese's stabilising influence at the back. His save percentage of 77.14 has only been beaten this season in the league by Wolves' Jose Sa (80.82) and Arsenal's Aaron Ramsdale (77.46).

Spaniard Kepa Arrizabalaga struggled in the early stages of his Chelsea career and is now the undoubted understudy.

Yet Kepa's form when given an opportunity this season has not given such cause for concern. The former Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper has been chiefly used in cup action, and he has achieved a remarkable save percentage of 81.48, suggesting that for a short run of games, he could be a perfectly able deputy.

Can an exodus to Africa affect the race for Europe?

Will fourth-placed Arsenal miss Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? It seems unlikely now, given he was dropped and stripped of the captaincy after a disciplinary breach before heading off to join Gabon. He has not played for a month. The Gunners won five games in a row without him, including four in the league, before being unlucky to lose to Manchester City.

Cold facts tell us Arsenal have a points average of 1.9 per Premier League game when Aubameyang has started games this season, and 1.5 when he has been either a substitute or out of the team, but those figures may not be significant given the momentum Mikel Arteta's players have built in the recent absence of the 32-year-old. His continuing exile from the first team seems unlikely to cause much consternation.

For manager Arteta to lose Thomas Partey (Ghana) at this point is a blow though, with the former Atletico Madrid player having been excellent in the 2-1 defeat to City, having been slowly building up to such a performance. He had more touches, won more duels, made more tackles and played more successful passes than any other Arsenal player.

Arsenal have a big derby at Tottenham coming up on January 16, and they might feel Partey's absence that day, particularly given Spurs, who currently sit sixth, are sending no current first-teamers away to AFCON.

Splitting the north London rivals for now are West Ham, in fifth, and it will surely have hurt David Moyes to wave off Said Benrahma for a month of Algeria duty. The playmaker has five goals and four assists in the league this season, as well as making 83 ball recoveries and creating 21 chances in open play. That makes him one of only 13 players in the competition to top both 80 recoveries and 20 open-play chances created, and one of only five Premier League stars to tick both boxes and score at least five times. Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha, away with Ivory Coast, is another member of that small group.

Seventh-placed Manchester United will lose Eric Bailly to Ivory Coast too. But with Phil Jones back in the first team, will Bailly be missed? The former Villarreal centre-back has played just 217 minutes in the Premier League this season. United youth prospect Hannibal Mejbri is also away, in his case with Tunisia.

Further into mid-table, Wolves must find an alternative to the excellent Romain Saiss (tackle success rate 72.73 per cent) on the left side of their defence, after he joined up with Morocco. Brighton and Hove Albion powerhouse Yves Bissouma has the highest tackle success rate among midfielders to have made more than 40 such challenges in the Premier League this season (50 attempted, 35 won: 70 per cent hit rate) and he will line up for Mali after ending an international exile.

Leicester City sent away striker Kelechi Iheanacho (2 goals, 4 assists this season) for Nigeria service at a bad time for the Foxes, given injured Jamie Vardy faces several weeks out of action.

Palace are firmly in favour of players heading away to represent their countries, but the Eagles never particularly like to be without Zaha (5 goals, 1 assist, 86 dribbles). Since his return from Manchester United in August 2014, Palace have averaged 1.2 points and a 32.9 per cent win percentage with Zaha in their starting line-up, and 0.9 points and a 24.5 win percentage when he has not been in that matchday XI. The loss of Cheikhou Kouyate (80.56 per cent success rate from 36 tackles) to Senegal duty may also diminish the sturdiness of Patrick Vieira's Eagles spine.

Can Clarets cope without Cornet?

The relegation scrap seems more likely to be affected by transfer market activity than departures to AFCON.

Newcastle United and Norwich City, the league's bottom two, are sending nobody away, while fourth-bottom Watford have kept Dennis (8 goals, 5 assists) and it remains to be seen what happens to Ismaila Sarr (5 goals), who has been absent with injury of late but has headed for checks with Senegal doctors.

Burnley, who sit 18th, are seemingly the team to watch carefully here. Maxwel Cornet, now away with Ivory Coast, has scored six Premier League goals from just 10 shots on target, and Sean Dyche must find a way to make the Clarets impactful without the former Lyon man.

The Premier League has confirmed rearranged dates for three fixtures that were postponed over the festive period.

In total, 18 matches were postponed over Christmas as rising coronavirus cases at clubs across the league led to large-scale disruption.

The issues have continued into the new year, with the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Arsenal having to be pushed back, while the Reds' FA Cup clash with Shrewsbury Town this weekend is also in doubt.

Three top-flight games were rearranged last week, with Southampton versus Brentford, Everton versus Leicester City and West Ham versus Norwich City to be played on January 11 and 12.

Now, three more games have been confirmed to be taking place the following week, including fixtures for Manchester United and Tottenham.

Brentford host United on January 19, while Leicester and Spurs face each other in the day's other fixture.

January 18 sees Burnley host Watford and Chelsea visit Brighton and Hove Albion.

The latter game was set to take place in February, but has had to be moved forward due to the Blues' participation in the FIFA Club World Cup. The teams drew 1-1 at Stamford Bridge on December 29.

Arsenal's match with Burnley that was planned for Saturday, January 22 has now been pushed back to January 23, with the Gunners set to play Liverpool in the rearranged EFL Cup fixture on January 20.

Senegal have accused Watford of blocking Ismaila Sarr from linking up with the national team ahead of the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations.

Sarr has not played for Watford since November 20 due to a knee ligament injury and is not expected to return to fitness until the end of this month at the earliest.

Despite still being out injured, Senegal named the 23-year-old in their squad for the tournament, which runs from January 9 until February 6.

However, Watford informed Senegal earlier this week that Sarr will not be allowed to travel.

It is the second Africa Cup of Nations row Watford have been embroiled in after Nigeria accused the Premier League side of "baring fangs" after objecting to Emmanuel Dennis being named in the squad.

The Senegalese Football Federation's general secretary Victor Seh Cisse believes the reasons given by Watford for objecting to Sarr's call-up are not justified.

"By mail on Friday, December 31, Watford notified on the basis of arguments equally specious as fallacious its decision to block the player Ismaila Sarr, who has expressed his desire to join the Senegalese selection for the next Cup of Nations in Cameroon," a statement read.

"The Senegal Football Federation wishes to express with this communication its deep condemnation of the disrespectful, pernicious and discriminatory behaviour of Watford's hierarchy who look by all means to prevent a player from playing with his national team."

Clubs have until Monday to release players called up by their national teams for the delayed competition, which has been pushed back by a year due to coronavirus.

Senegal, who finished runners-up to Algeria in 2019, added they will take the matter up with FIFA should it not be resolved. 

Responding to the allegations, Watford released a statement on their official website on Sunday that read: "Ismaila Sarr suffered a knee ligament injury on November 20 in the match against Manchester United and has not been fit to play for Watford FC since that date.

"In early December, the club wrote to the Senegal Football Federation outlining the clinical diagnosis of Ismaila's injury and immediately followed that up by supplying the MRI scans detailing the extent of the injury. 

"After further consultation with medical experts, we informed the federation of Ismaila's rehabilitation process and likely timeframe of recovery.

"Within the past 10 days, the club has reiterated to the Senegal Football Federation the player's current medical status and recovery schedule.

"The Hornets have also invited the Senegal Football Federation to instruct their own independent surgeon to confirm the diagnosis and rehabilitation period."

Manchester City picked up from where they left off in 2021 by battling to a late 2-1 win over Arsenal, extending their lead at the Premier League summit.

A Riyad Mahrez penalty and a last-gasp strike from Rodri cancelled out Bukayo Saka's first-half opener after Gabriel Magalhaes received a needless red card for the Gunners in an action-packed game – the first top-flight match of 2022.

City's 11th league win in a row means they end New Year's Day with an 11-point advantage at the top, a tally bettered by only two clubs in the competition's history on January 1 – Manchester United in 1993-94 and City themselves in 2017-18 (both 12 points).

There were also victories for Tottenham and West Ham, the London pair seeing off Watford and Crystal Palace respectively to remain in firm contention for a top-four finish.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of Opta data from Saturday's action. 

Arsenal 1-2 Manchester City: Leaders recover to stretch winning run against Gunners

Saka's opening goal against City was only the second the Citizens have conceded in the first half of a Premier League game this season, and the first such goal they have shipped on their travels since May.

That was the England international's sixth league goal of the season and was the 36th goal scored by a player aged 21 or under for Arsenal in the English top flight since Mikel Arteta's first game on Boxing Day 2019 – eight more than any other team.

Mahrez converted a contentiously awarded penalty shortly before the hour mark at Emirates Stadium, the Algeria international scoring for a fifth game running in all competitions, and Gabriel's second yellow card – 78 seconds after his first – swung the game in City's favour.

That was Arsenal's 100th red card in the Premier League era, making them the first side to reach that milestone, with Everton (99), Newcastle United (90) and Chelsea (82) next on the list.

Rodri completed the turnaround with City's latest winning goal in a league game since May 2018 (92:28) as the Citizens made it 10 successive top-flight victories over the Gunners, an opponent Pep Guardiola has yet to lose against in the league in 12 encounters.

Watford 0-1 Tottenham: Sanchez stings Hornets in late Spurs win

Tottenham also left it late to overcome Watford and make it eight Premier League games without defeat under Antonio Conte, extending the longest unbeaten start by a Spurs boss in league competition.

Davinson Sanchez made the breakthrough with 95 minutes and 45 seconds played, with that the latest winning goal Spurs have scored in the top flight since Opta started recording such data from 2006-07.

Watford dug deep but could not quite hold on for a valuable point, meaning they have now lost more Premier League matches (nine) since Claudio Ranieri took charge in October than any other side in the division.

Sanchez's goal was his second in five Premier League matches for Spurs, which is more than he had netted in his first 108 in the competition (one), with the defender heading in from a Son Heung-min free-kick.

Watford boss Ranieri has now lost each of his last five Premier League games against Italian managers, whereas compatriot Conte has never lost against a fellow Italian in the competition in six meetings, winning all but one of those.

Crystal Palace 2-3 West Ham: Hammers survive Olise-inspired scare

Palace fell just short of pulling off a remarkable comeback as they lost a home league match on New Year's Day for the first time in their history, with this their 14th such match.

Michail Antonio's close-range finish and a Manuel Lanzini double gave West Ham a commanding three-goal lead, the latter having now scored 52 per cent of his 25 Premier League goals in London derbies (13) – the highest percentage of any player to have scored at least 20 times in the competition.

Michael Olise made a huge difference from the bench by setting up Odsonne Edouard and then scoring a second for Palace late on, making him the first Eagles player to score and assist as a substitute in the Premier League.

But the visitors held on to ensure boss David Moyes made it six straight away league wins against Palace as a manager, defeating a different coach on each occasion during that perfect run (Alan Smith, Iain Dowie, Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce, Roy Hodgson and now Patrick Vieira).

Antonio Conte insisted Tottenham have room for improvement if they are to enjoy future success after his side edged past Watford.

Spurs have yet to lose in eight Premier League games under Conte, extending the longest unbeaten start by a Tottenham manager in league competition.

It seemed for large parts on Saturday that Spurs would have to settle for consecutive draws as Daniel Bachmann repeatedly thwarted the likes of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min at Vicarage Road.

However, Davinson Sanchez headed home Spurs' latest ever winning Premier League goal since Opta began recording data (95:45) as he rose the highest to seal all three points for the visitors in a 1-0 win.

Victory over Claudio Ranieri's struggling side moves Spurs within two points of fourth-placed Arsenal, who have played two games more, but Conte still wants more from his side.

He told Sky Sports: "It is important to get three points. We know we have to suffer to get points. We are building a team to try to be competitive in the future but we know we have to be competitive in this season too.

"It is important to be humble, to fight and to suffer. I think everything can improve.

"It was difficult because we didn't score but created chances and when you find an opponent who is well organised it is not simple.

"But when you score the game changes and you find spaces to attack. I am happy with the commitment and effort from the players. We were a bit tired but I wish the world to my friend Claudio Ranieri the best because [Watford] deserve something."

Conte has never lost a Premier League match against an Italian manager (W5 D1), with three wins to his name against Ranieri.

The former Inter head coach expressed his satisfaction with the performance of his side as he commented on how difficult the busy festive period has been.

He added to BBC's Match of the Day: "To play so many games in a few days is not easy. This was the fifth game in 13 days and if you think we played almost with the same players, this period is busy but at the same time we try to get a result because it is very important, three points is very important.

"We have to improve the last pass, in the first half it was 29 crosses and no goals, it is important for us to improve the quality in the last pass because that gives you the possibility to score."

Before the Watford clash, Conte called for patience as he warned Champions League football will not be sealed with a couple of months of work and one transfer window.

But Conte feels the best way for Spurs to succeed in January is to keep playing the way they are doing, as opposed to focusing on various needs in the transfer market.

"Honestly, when Tottenham put me in charge, I asked for time to make my evaluation about the squad, now I did and for sure we will have a meeting with the club," he continued.

"It is important always to be honest, to understand where we are at in this moment, which is our point of start and then I will see. January is not simple, but maybe we will see what happens.

"We have to continue to work in this way and these players are giving me everything, great commitment and trust – the best buy in January is to continue this way. Then we will see what are our intentions are."

Davinson Sanchez scored a stoppage-time header as Tottenham edged out Premier League strugglers Watford 1-0 on New Year's Day.

Watford headed into Saturday's meeting at Vicarage Road on a five-game losing streak but seemed to have halted that poor run thanks in large part to the efforts of goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann.

But Bachmann's heroics were ultimately in vain when Sanchez popped up in the 96th minute to secure all three points for the visitors after a medical emergency in the crowd had stopped play temporarily.

Tottenham are yet to lose since Antonio Conte's arrival and move within two points of fourth-placed Arsenal following their defeat to Manchester City.

Conte's side boasted over 70 per cent of the first-half possession but were unable to make their dominance pay.

Sergio Reguilon came close to getting Spurs ahead before the interval, with the wing-back drawing a fine diving stop out of Bachmann prior to Harry Kane curling narrowly wide following Imran Louza's lapse in concentration.

The same Spurs duo almost broke the deadlock after the break. Reguilon saw a strike deflect just off target, while Bachmann tipped over from Kane.

Joshua King then forced a magnificent save from Hugo Lloris in a rare Watford attack, with Son Heung-min nudging wide with an audacious flick at the other end.

Bachmann was then on hand once more to deny Son, though Spurs' efforts finally proved fruitful in stoppage time.

Son turned provider with a wonderful delivery from a free-kick, with Sanchez on hand to head in from point-blank range.

Antonio Conte warned Tottenham cannot expect Champions League football to be sealed with just a couple of months of work and one transfer window.

Spurs have been revitalised since Conte's arrival as the former Inter head coach became the first manager in the club's history to remain unbeaten through his first seven league games in charge.

That unbeaten streak leaves Spurs in seventh, just five points behind fourth-placed north London rivals Arsenal, though Conte's side boast two games in hand over the Gunners.

However, Conte attempted to quash the expectations on his team as he warned that Spurs' recent form, or possible transfer activity in January, does not guarantee Champions League qualification.

"Honestly, and I have been in football for many years, you get into the Champions League after years, not two or three months and one transfer window," Conte told reporters on Friday. 

"There are other teams that are doing important things and this will be very difficult. It means that someone else must fail for there to be a place. [There are] four big teams that are favourites as well as other teams. 

"[It does not take] only one transfer market and it's a switch, football is complicated and it's not just about money. 

"I am here to build something, but I know it will be difficult. Everyone asks about the Champions League, but I want to be honest with everybody, we must build something.

"But we need time and patience. I am sure after my first two months."

Conte reiterated that patience was needed ahead of the transfer window as he referenced numerous planning meetings with the Spurs board as they look to develop their squad in January.

Spurs face Watford next on Saturday as they aim to extend their seven-game unbeaten streak and make up further ground in their chase of the top four.

Conte will go up against his veteran compatriot Claudio Ranieri, whom he expressed admiration for, though he urged Spurs to respond to their poor performance in the 1-1 draw with Southampton.

"Claudio is an important manager who has shown that in his career, many experiences in many countries, which shows he is an important manager with great experience," he added.

"I have great respect for him and our families are friends, he did something wonderful with Leicester [City].

"We missed a chance in the last game to get three points, we were a bit unlucky but at the same time we can do much better when we had superiority. We need to ask more of ourselves, only in this way we can improve our level and increase the level of the team."

Claudio Ranieri dismissed claims that Watford have disrespected the African Cup of Nations after Emmanuel Dennis was omitted from the Nigeria squad.

Dennis was added to Nigeria's squad in December after initially being left off a 37-man list submitted by former coach Gernot Rohr for the tournament.

That list, though, changed again on Friday as the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) released a statement confirming Dennis had been excused from participating as his club side Watford are "baring fangs".

Ranieri previously stated on Wednesday that Dennis' late call-up was in the Premier League's hands, but has responded to Nigeria's claims by insisting his side have done no wrong.

Asked whether Watford had disrespected AFCON, Ranieri said: "No. They have a lot of players and they changed the manager.

"We were ready. We know we were ready to give them players, but they didn't do this.

"The two boards spoke and then for me it is okay. I am only the manager, only the coach, and I accept everything. Now I speak with [Dennis], but of course he wanted to go and play. But also he wants to help Watford.

"I accept the decision of the board and the Nigeria team. We respect everybody. I knew they were speaking, the [Watford] board and the Nigeria board. I accept every decision they find. For me, it is finished."

The news of Dennis' omission will please Watford supporters, given the forward has either scored or assisted 59 per cent of Watford's 22 league goals this campaign.

In fact, only Mohamed Salah (24) has been directly involved in more Premier League goals this season than Dennis (13 – eight goals, five assists).

Nigeria will also be without Napoli forward Victor Osimhen who was not named in Augustine Eguavoen's squad.

Osimhen suffered a series of facial injuries following a clash of heads with Inter defender Milan Skriniar before the striker tested positive for COVID-19, which subsequently rules him out of the tournament due to travel complications.

The competition gets underway on January 9, with Nigeria opening their campaign against Salah's Egypt two days later.

Liverpool suffered a major blow to their title hopes when they stumbled to a 1-0 defeat at Leicester City.

Ademola Lookman scored, netting in consecutive Premier League appearances for the first time in his career, having grabbed a goal in the 6-3 Boxing Day defeat at Manchester City.

The former Everton player's contribution, after a rare penalty miss from Mohamed Salah, means City's lead in the title race stands at six points at the halfway stage in the season.

West Ham and Crystal Palace also won on Tuesday, while Southampton battled for a point against Tottenham.

After a big result in the context of the title race, Stats Perform takes a look at the pick of Tuesday's Opta data.

Leicester City 1-0 Liverpool: Salah miss hurts as ex-Everton man Lookman sinks Reds

After converting 15 consecutive Premier League penalties, Salah missed at Leicester, and it was that kind of frustrating game for Liverpool.

It was just Salah's second ever miss from the spot in the English top flight and his first since October 2017 against Huddersfield Town. From then on, he had been immaculate, so when Kasper Schmeichel pulled off a save at the King Power Stadium it was a major surprise. Having said that, since the start of 2020, Schmeichel has saved more penalties in the Premier League than any other goalkeeper, with the latest stop his third in this period.

The result was also a major turn up, Leicester winning consecutive league matches against Liverpool for the first time since April 1999, thanks to Lookman's second-half strike.

Liverpool failed to score for the first time in 29 Premier League games and for the first time in 28 away fixtures across all competitions, as Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers celebrated a big win against one of his former clubs.

The Reds had been unbeaten in 35 December games since a 4-3 loss to Bournemouth in 2016, but their year ends on a negative note.

Southampton 1-1 Tottenham: Kane scores again but Spurs denied a winner

Tottenham's Harry Kane has made a habit of getting the better of Southampton's defence during his stellar career, but this time he had to settle for a penalty equaliser at St Mary's Stadium. By firing past Fraser Forster to level up after James Ward-Prowse's opener, Kane ensured Antonio Conte became the first Tottenham manager to go unbeaten in the first seven league games of a Spurs career.

Kane has now been directly involved in 17 goals in 12 Premier League starts against Southampton (11 goals, six assists), and he was only denied a winner by a controversial VAR offside call.

A fine early strike from Ward-Prowse gave the Saints midfielder a goal for a third successive game. The last time he scored in three straight matches was back in March 2019, and the third goal in that run also came against Spurs.

Perhaps Southampton fans were not expecting their team to hold on. After all, the last time they won their final game of a calendar year was all the way back in 2010, when they beat Huddersfield Town 4-1 in a League One fixture.

The dismissal of Mohammed Salisu, who fouled Son Heung-min to give away the penalty that Kane tucked away, certainly hurt Southampton. Indeed, since Ralph Hasenhuttl’s first Premier League game in charge of Southampton in December 2018, only Arsenal (13) have been shown more red cards in the competition than Saints (11).

Crystal Palace 3-0 Norwich: No Zaha, no Gallagher, no problem for Eagles

Wilfried Zaha was suspended and Conor Gallagher was also absent, but Palace were three goals to the good by half-time against bottom side Norwich.

It was Odsonne Edouard who stepped up to shine, scoring the home side's opening goal from the penalty spot before claiming assists as Jean-Philippe Mateta and Jeffrey Schlupp boosted the lead.

His three goal involvements followed the former Celtic striker having just four (three goals, one assist) across his previous 15 games in the Premier League.

Palace finished the day in 10th place and have impressed many under the leadership of manager Patrick Vieira, losing just once and scoring 18 goals in their 10 Premier League home games since the Frenchman came in, taking 17 points from those fixtures.

This was just Palace's fourth win in their last 25 games without star man Zaha (D3, L18), but they have not lost in their last five when he has been absent.

Norwich have conceded a league-high six penalties this season and have only scored eight goals in 19 games – the joint-lowest tally in a top-flight season after as many matches, alongside Leicester in 1977-78.

Watford 1-4 West Ham: Worrying times for Ranieri

Despite impressive wins over Everton and Manchester United early in Claudio Ranieri's reign, the Italian's Watford team are in trouble now after a fifth consecutive defeat.

An early opener here from Emmanuel Dennis was a red herring. Watford were mauled as Tomas Soucek, Said Benrahma, Mark Noble and Nikola Vlasic scored for the Hammers.

The result means West Ham won 22 Premier League games in 2021, and only in 1959 (23) have they enjoyed more top-flight league wins in a calendar year.

West Ham have also clawed back 12 points from losing positions this season, more than any other side.

Captain Noble netted the Hammers' third from the penalty spot, his first Premier League goal for 706 days since he scored in January 2020 against Leicester.

It was Noble's fifth successful penalty against Watford in the competition, with only the Premier League's record scorer Alan Shearer having put away more spot-kicks against a team in the competition, netting seven against Everton.

Liverpool's home clash with Leeds United and Watford's trip to Wolves on Boxing Day have both been postponed due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Injury-hit Leeds managed to field a weakened team in a 4-1 defeat against Arsenal last Saturday, but five positive coronavirus cases within the first-team squad and staff have left Marcelo Biela's side unable to fulfil Sunday's game.

Leeds have subsequently closed their Thorp Arch training ground, with the positive cases all asymptomatic currently, while Watford continue to have insufficient numbers to visit Wolves on the same day.

Claudio Ranieri's side have already had to postpone games against Burnley and Crystal Palace due to an outbreak of the virus at the club, but Watford are expected to fulfil their fixture against West Ham on Tuesday with numerous players out of isolation.

"The board today was able to make its decisions in advance of Boxing Day to give clarity to clubs and their supporters," the Premier League's statement said on Thursday. "We apologise for the inconvenience and disruption caused to those fans' festive plans.

"The league is aware that the decision to postpone these two matches will disappoint supporters and understands their frustrations at a special time of year when fans look forward to attending and watching football games.

"The league aims to provide as much clarity as possible, but unfortunately postponements sometimes have to be made at short notice, as safety is the priority. The league will endeavour to keep supporters updated if matches become at risk on a matchday."

The postponement of the two early kick-offs on Boxing Day follows the calling off of six of the 10 scheduled Premier League games last weekend, though Wolves, Liverpool and Leeds were all in action.

An emergency meeting between top-flight clubs followed on Monday to discuss the challenges brought on by COVID-19, but the league confirmed scheduled fixtures would continue across the festive period.

The league said applications for postponements are being considered on a case-by-case basis with emergency measures reintroduced in light of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in England.

"The board will assess a number of factors, including the ability of a club to field a team; the status, severity and potential impact of the COVID-19 outbreak at the club; and the ability of the players to safely prepare for and play the match," the statement continued.

"The board must also consider the wider risks to the opposition and other people the club representatives may come into contact with.

"The health and wellbeing of all concerned remains our priority and the League will continue to monitor and reflect public health guidance, always proceeding with caution."

In the United Kingdom, 106,122 people tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, taking the seven-day rolling figure to 643,219.

Only five Premier League fixtures are scheduled to be played this weekend after four more were postponed due to coronavirus outbreaks.

The league had already confirmed Manchester United would not play Brighton and Hove Albion as the Red Devils do not have enough players to name a team.

A further four postponements have now been confirmed: Southampton v Brentford, Watford v Crystal Palace, West Ham v Norwich City, Everton v Leicester City.

Despite calls for the season to be put on hold, the Premier League said: "All other fixtures due to be played this weekend are currently scheduled to proceed as planned."

Brentford and Watford have both had to close their training grounds, with the Hornets also short of players to fulfil their match against Palace.

Norwich cannot put out a team either, with injuries and illnesses contributing to their absences alongside COVID-19.

Leicester have also now closed their training ground as they attempt to manage an outbreak that has ravaged their squad.

In the midweek round of matches, only seven games went ahead. United and Brentford had been set to meet, while Watford and Leicester were involved in the other postponed matches.

The carnage of the Premier League festive schedule is well and truly upon us.

Arsenal, who stripped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of his captaincy on Tuesday, snatched West Ham's Champions League spot with a comfortable victory in Wednesday's headline clash.

Just 11 miles away in London, Crystal Palace hosted Southampton following a 3-1 defeat of Everton but they could only muster a draw against Ralph Hasenhuttl's side.

Brighton and Hove Albion succumbed to yet another defeat against Wolves in the other clash of the day, after Watford's visit to Burnley was postponed due to COVID-19 cases within the Hornets' squad.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of Opta data from the top-flight action.

Arsenal 2-0 West Ham: Youth shines again for Arteta's top-four chasers

West Ham have a woeful record at Emirates Stadium and extended that poor run as they lost their 11th league match in 12 games at Arsenal's ground, trading fourth spot with Mikel Arteta's side, who were inspired by two of their young stars.

Gabriel Martinelli broke the deadlock in the second half with his seventh Premier League strike, Gabriel Jesus (16) the only Brazilian with more goals in the competition before their 21st birthday.

Vladimir Coufal then became the 15th Czech Republic player to receive his marching orders in the Premier League when he received a contentious second caution for bringing down Alexandre Lacazette, who saw his penalty saved by Lukasz Fabianski.

Lacazette's miss may have been Arsenal's third consecutive failed penalty in the league – doing so for the first time since 1992 – but substitute Emile Smith Rowe sealed the victory with the Gunners' 10th goal scored by an under-21 in the competition this season, which is more than any other side.

David Moyes, who became the fourth manager to 600 games in the Premier League, has never won at Arsenal in 18 top-flight attempts, extending the record for the most times a manager has played away against a side in the competition without winning.

Brighton and Hove Albion 0-1 Wolves: Saiss scores as Seagulls grounded once more 

Wolves headed to the South Coast without a win or a goal in four top-flight games, facing five consecutive blanks for the first time since 2003, but held on in a marathon slog against Graham Potter's timid Brighton.

Roman Saiss nodded in what proved to be the winner for Bruno Lage's side on the stroke of half-time, as Wolves scored their first top-flight goal before the interval in seven matches – dating back to when they netted twice in the first half against Everton in early November.

The Morocco international now has five league goals to his name since the start of last season – only Raul Jimenez (nine) and Ruben Neves (six) have managed more for Wolves in that period.

Wolves, though, had to wait for their win as they battled for 106 minutes and 29 seconds of action in total in the longest English top-flight game since Manchester City and Liverpool in September 2017 (108 minutes and 35 seconds).

In contrasting fortunes, struggling Brighton are still without a win in all competitions since beating Swansea in the EFL Cup in September, while the Seagulls have not tasted top-flight victory in a club record 11 games.

Crystal Palace 2-2 Southampton: Broja form continues as Ayew breaks duck

The Premier League's most fragile away defence in 2021 travelled to Selhurst Park having conceded 50 times on the road, but were unlucky to not walk away with all three points against Patrick Vieira's side.

Wilfried Zaha struck first after just 119 seconds as he fired another away goal past Ralph Hasenhuttl's team, with what was Palace's fastest Premier League goal since May, which also came against Southampton.

However, James Ward-Prowse restored parity with his 11th direct free-kick goal in the league – only David Beckham (18), Thierry Henry and Gianfranco Zola (both 12) have scored more in the competition.

Armando Broja deservedly nudged the visitors ahead with his fourth finish in six league starts, with Mason Greenwood (also four) the only played aged 20 or younger to have scored as many times in the competition this season.

Jordan Ayew then ensured the sides shared the spoils with his first goal in 43 Premier League games, his last coming against Leeds United in November 2020, while the Saints claimed an unwanted record as the first top-flight side to ship more than 50 away goals in a single year since West Brom in 1985 (52).

Watford's Premier League game at Burnley has been postponed following a COVID-19 outbreak within the Hornets' squad.

Claudio Ranieri's side were due to face Burnley at Turf Moor on Wednesday, but the meeting was postponed just hours before kick-off following the outbreak, which left Watford with an "insufficient number of first-team players available".

The Premier League board announced the postponement of the game with a statement, which explained the decision was made "following guidance from medical advisers".

"The Premier League understands this decision will disappoint and frustrate fans who were due to attend this evening’s game and apologises for the inconvenience and disruption caused at such short notice," the statement said.

"In considering any application to postpone, the board considers a range of sporting and medical factors. Each decision is taken on a case-by-case basis with everyone’s health of utmost importance."

The fixture between the two relegation-threatened sides becomes the third Premier League match to be called off, after Manchester United's trip to Brentford and Tottenham's meeting with Brighton and Hove Albion were both postponed.

On Monday, the Premier League announced it has reverted to "emergency measures" following a record number of players and staff testing positive for coronavirus in the past week.

The league recorded its highest figures for a seven-day period after 42 positive tests were returned, surpassing the 40 from January, with the results coming from a total of 3,805 tests carried out in the week of December 6-12.

"In light of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, the Premier League has reintroduced emergency measures," the statement continued.

"These include protocols such as more frequent testing, wearing face coverings while indoors, observing social distancing and limiting treatment time."

Leicester City's home clash with Tottenham on Thursday remains set to go ahead, despite Foxes' manager Brendan Rodgers revealing the hosts will be without nine players due to a combination of coronavirus cases and injuries.

Rodgers and Antonio Conte both explained their respective sides had requested the game be postponed, but the Premier League have not granted that request.

Premier League games are coming thick and fast, with European competition now on hiatus until the New Year.

The next few weeks provide fantasy football managers with a great opportunity to quickly rack up the points, but smart selections will be more important than at any other point of the season as rotation takes place amid the congested schedule.

In our latest batch of picks, Manchester City and Chelsea are particularly well represented, while a Manchester United talent will be hoping to kick-start his campaign.

Squeezing all of these into your team might be a little costly, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest they will reward you handsomely.

EDERSON (Manchester City v Wolves)

Brazil international Ederson is usually a pretty safe bet between the posts in fantasy football – you could argue this weekend makes him an even more interesting option.

For starters, no one has more than his 26 Premier League clean sheets since the start of last season, and then there's the form of visitors Wolves.

Bruno Lage's men have scored just once in their past five league games, the fewest in the division. Is that clean sheet number 27 incoming?

JOAO CANCELO (Manchester City v Wolves)

For the reasons mentioned above and also the fact Wolves' 12 Premier League goals this term are the second-fewest after Norwich City, you might be inclined to get as many City defenders in your team as possible.

If that is your tactic, Joao Cancelo should be your first pick given he also offers a threat going forward. Granted, he's not scored yet this season, but the statistics would suggest it's only a matter of time.

Based on the quality of chances that have gone his way, Cancelo's 1.88 expected goals (xG) is the third-highest among players not to score in 2021-22 – he's also had the most shots (33) of all the goalless players. Surely his luck will turn soon?

REECE JAMES (Chelsea v Leeds United)

If we're honest, you should probably have Reece James in your team already given how good he's been this season – but if you've not got him, consider this your final warning.

The England international is thriving in Thomas Tuchel's wing-back-friendly system, boasting comfortably the most goal involvements per 90 minutes (0.98) among Premier League defenders. Ben Chilwell is second with 0.67.

He's creating 2.47 chances per 90 minutes, a figure only bettered by Kostas Tsimikas and Trent Alexander-Arnold, while he's level with Chilwell for the most touches in the opposition's penalty area (4.33).

MARCUS RASHFORD (Norwich City v Manchester United)

It's been a slow start to the season for Marcus Rashford, who missed the first few weeks due to injury and has subsequently struggled to build up sharpness.

But if there's any opposition he'd back himself to impress against, Norwich would be the one.

In 149 minutes played against the Canaries, Rashford has four goal involvements (three scored, one assisted) – that works out at one every 37 minutes.

Only against Sunderland, whom he's played only 26 minutes against, does Rashford have a better record.

MASON MOUNT (Chelsea v Leeds United)

A curious quirk of Tuchel's time at Chelsea has been the lack of goals scored by recognised strikers, but that's translated into a healthy spread across the squad.

Mason Mount is Chelsea's top scorer in the league since Tuchel took charge, his nine efforts three more than anyone else. Similarly, his six assists also represent a club-high.

Mount's recent purple patch has undoubtedly played a role in that, with the England international both scoring and assisting in three of his past four top-flight starts.

GABRIEL JESUS (Manchester City v Wolves)

He may not have been expecting to play such a regular role for City this term, but Gabriel Jesus has been quietly effective out on the right flank.

Jesus will be keen to build on his fine record in clashes with Wolves, too, having scored in all of his three previous league starts against the Molineux club.

That equates to a total of five goals – only against Everton (eight) has Jesus scored more, although he's played 256 more minutes in meetings with the Toffees.

JOSHUA KING (Brentford v Watford)

If Watford are going to avoid the drop, Joshua King will have to play an important role. He's certainly shown signs of his quality this season, such as his hat-trick at former club Everton back in October.

That's contributed to him registering nine goal involvements in his past nine away starts in the Premier League.

Granted, that run does stretch back to 2020 and his time with Bournemouth, so it only counts for so much, but at the very least it suggests he can be an effective option when Watford's backs are against the wall.

After a grand total of one day without Premier League football, the action returned on Saturday and there was a change at the top of the Premier League.

That's right, Chelsea slipped up again and handed the initiative to Manchester City and Liverpool, both of whom were victorious later in the day.

There was also a change at the bottom as Newcastle United left the foot of the table – at least until Sunday – meaning there are three sides all on 10 points in the relegation places.

Without any further ado, let's look at the best of the day's action with a pick of Opta's post-match facts…

West Ham 3-2 Chelsea: Blues dealt Hammer blow

Chelsea are off the Premier League summit as a result of their defeat at London rivals West Ham, who continue to confound doubters under David Moyes.

They found themselves behind at the break but came on stronger in the second half, becoming the first team to beat Chelsea after the Blues had been leading at half-time since Wolves in December 2018 – that was a run of 48 games unbeaten when ahead at the halfway mark of a game.

Further to that, it was only the third time in Thomas Tuchel's 53 games in charge that Chelsea have conceded more than one goal in a game.

One of West Ham's goalscorers surely felt confident – after all, Manuel Lanzini's goal was his 11th in London derbies, or 48 per cent of his Premier League total (23), the highest ratio of any player in the competition's history with at least 20 goals scored.

There was also a first to celebrate. Arthur Masuaku opened his West Ham account in his 96th match, with the left-back's momentous goal also proving to be the winner.

The win moved West Ham to within six points of their visitors, with the Hammers fourth.

Watford 1-3 Manchester City: Hornets are cannon fodder

Even if Pep Guardiola's City did not arrive in fine form, few would have given Watford a chance here – and the match went just as most were expecting.

Watford's record against City was woeful at best already – now they've conceded 41 goals in 13 meetings with them in the Premier League, the most they have let in against any single side in the competition.

Similarly, the 3.2 goals per game they concede on average in this fixture is the most by one side against another among all Premier League fixtures played at least 10 times.

That one-sided nature also reflects on Guardiola, who has won all 10 of his managerial games against Watford in all competitions by an aggregate score of 42-4, his best 100 per cent winning record over any side.

City are now unbeaten across their past 19 meetings with Watford (W17 D2, all competitions), netting 62 goals in this run – they've only ever had a longer unbeaten run once before against a specific team (22 games against Norwich from 1965-1981).

Wolves 0-1 Liverpool: Origi comes up trumps as Reds steal it at the death… again

It wasn't a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but Liverpool got the job done to move above Chelsea and stay just a point behind new leaders City.

Only just, though.

Divock Origi spared Jurgen Klopp's blushes with a stoppage-time winner, the Belgian continuing his habit of being a decisive and useful option off the bench.

That was his 10th goal as a substitute in the Premier League for the Reds, a club record.

Liverpool have now scored the winning goal after the 90th minute on 39 occasions in the Premier League, at least 13 more than any other team.

There was also good news for Mohamed Salah – he didn't score, but his assist for Origi's winner ensured he's been involved in a goal in each of his last 13 top-flight appearances, a record only Jamie Vardy (15) has ever surpassed.

Newcastle United 1-0 Burnley: Howe's about that?

At long last, every team in this season's Premier League now has at least a one in the wins column – Newcastle defeated Burnley at St James' Park to finally get off the mark.

Newcastle had not won any of their previous 15 matches in all competitions, losing seven and drawing the other eight.

Additionally, it was only their second clean sheet of the season, the other also coincidentally coming against Burnley in the EFL Cup back in August.

Of course it was also Eddie Howe's first win since being appointed by the club, with Callum Wilson – who also played under the manager at Bournemouth – delivering the goods.

It was Wilson's 43rd Premier League goal for Howe, a record only Joshua King (48) has bettered for him.

While it remains to be see if Howe is able to keep Newcastle up, there's no doubt he's got them playing on the front foot more, as they are averaging 15 shots (five on target) each game compared to 11 (three) prior to his arrival in 2021-22.

Southampton 1-1 Brighton and Hove Albion: Saints give it up

Just when Southampton thought they had the points in the bag, Brighton pulled it back.

Brighton were down to 10 men, having had Leandro Trossard taken off injured after using all their substitutes, but Neal Maupay struck deep into stoppage time to seal a draw.

That was Brighton's fourth (of eight) away Premier League goal to have been scored in the 89th minute or later this term, and the third netted by Maupay.

Brighton remain winless in 10 league games, their longest top-flight run since 1983, but they celebrated it like a win – for Southampton, it felt like a defeat.

Saints have now dropped 71 points from winning positions in the league under Ralph Hasenhuttl, 15 more than any other team since his December 2018 appointment.

Page 1 of 5
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.