Manchester City Sitting Pretty During Festive Fixtures

Manchester City will have enjoyed the festive fixtures, with slip-ups from their Premier League title rivals leaving them within touching distance of the top. The newly crowned Club World Cup winners came out on top against a battling Everton and witnessed defeats for Arsenal, Aston Villa and Tottenham in the latest round of games, with only leaders Liverpool bucking the trend. AFP Sport looks at three talking points ahead of this weekend’s action.

Man City train focus on Premier League

Manchester City are fourth in the Premier League table but every other side at the top know they are still the team to beat.

Pep Guardiola’s men qualified for the Champions League knockout rounds with ease and earlier this month won the Club World Cup to collect their fifth trophy of 2023.

The bad news for the rest is that the champions are just five points off the top with a game in hand and they often find top gear in the new year.

City’s 3-1 win at Everton was just their second victory in seven Premier League matches but they looked devastating in the second half.

Guardiola hailed the “mentality we have in our bones” after his side’s comeback sent an ominous warning to City’s rivals and they look near certainties to beat bottom club Sheffield United at the weekend.

Newcastle’s Howe under pressure

Eddie Howe has transformed Newcastle during his two years in charge — from a club in danger of relegation to a Champions League side — but he is coming under growing pressure.

Given the circumstances, the Magpies’ boss would not choose a daunting trip to the home of Liverpool, who are looking increasingly credible as title contenders.

Newcastle will travel to Anfield on New Year’s Day with just one win in their past seven games in all competitions — they have crashed out of the Champions League, the League Cup, and slipped to ninth in the Premier League.

Howe, 46, has the excuse of a punishing injury list and he is without Italy midfielder Sandro Tonali, serving a suspension for breaching betting rules.

But he will know the club’s Saudi owners desire to see signs of sustained progress.

“No amount of credit in the bank is big enough, you have to earn everything you get from the game,” Howe said after their home defeat by Nottingham Forest this week.

Luton shake up relegation picture

Until recently Luton appeared destined for a quick return to the Championship but wins against Newcastle and Sheffield United have lifted them to within touching distance of a clutch of clubs above them.

Everton, Nottingham Forest, Crystal Palace and Brentford are all now nervously glancing over their shoulders.

Luton manager Rob Edwards hailed his men after their 3-2 win against Sheffield United this week during a “tough period” for his side following a cardiac arrest on the pitch for his captain Tom Lockyer earlier this month.

Edwards believes Luton are “changing the narrative a little bit around ourselves” but says they need to continue backing it up.

Luton lost 3-0 to Chelsea in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge in August — a bright spot in an inconsistent season for Mauricio Pochettino’s men.

But they will fancy their chances at their Kenilworth Road ground on Saturday.

Fixtures

Saturday (1500 GMT unless stated)

Luton v Chelsea (1230), Aston Villa v Burnley, Crystal Palace v Brentford, Manchester City v Sheffield United, Wolves v Everton, Nottingham Forest v Manchester United (1730)

Sunday (1400)

Fulham v Arsenal, Tottenham v Bournemouth

Monday

Liverpool v Newcastle (2000)

Tuesday

West Ham v Brighton (1930)

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