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Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers is confident his players will bounce back quickly from their Anfield penalty shoot-out heartbreak to meet the considerable challenge of facing Premier League leaders Manchester City.

The Foxes twice conceded a two-goal lead in the midweek Carabao Cup quarter-final against Liverpool – including an equaliser deep into added time – and then lost on spot-kicks.

More injuries were sustained in the process – striker Jamie Vardy played the last 20 minutes with a tight hamstring while defenders Caglar Soyuncu and Ricardo Pereira were forced off – which does not make their task any easier on Boxing Day.

Leicester have a decent recent record against City, with two wins in the last four meetings, but Pep Guardiola’s side look a different prospect this season.

“There is always disappointment but I said before the game ‘You are coming to Anfield, a great place to play, and whatever happens let’s impose our way’,” said Rodgers.

“That’s what I’ve always had from these players. They have been competitive against the best teams in the country and we saw that, we just couldn’t do enough to get over the line.

“They are such an honest bunch of players and it is always disappointing when you lose but I’ll get them going again.

“They (City) are playing well at the minute, so we will just have to see where we are at and then devise a plan with the players available and see what we can do.

“It doesn’t look like there are too many (City) players out, they’ve had a free week without a midweek game. They are a brilliant side with technical players, world-class players, and they are used to winning.

“We’ve done OK against them but it’s going to be a big challenge for us and we need to play with the spirit we played with against Liverpool.”

Their last two wins were in the Community Shield in August and a remarkable 5-2 victory at the Etihad in September 2020.

However, City are on an eight-match winning run in the league and have failed to win only one of the last 11.

“I think you see from the game at Liverpool we can score goals, we are creative, but we have to see what we have available at the weekend and we will try to come up with a plan to get a result,” Rodgers added.

“We went there last season and got a fantastic win. You know the challenge you are up against: they will dominate the ball and are good in transition and have the confidence to play so that’s the challenge at the weekend.

“They have top players, not too many injuries. They can rotate and change and they are playing their game, a high-level positioning game. They are virtually press-resistant, they can play through pressure and when you sit deep they have players of real intelligence to find spaces.

“You have to play with courage, and when you have the ball you have to exploit the spaces.”

A player who will be key to that is James Maddison, who is enjoying a run of five goals in his last seven appearances – the latest of which was a brilliant dipping strike against Liverpool.

“He is a real threat and to score at the Kop end a goal of that quality he will always remember that, a great strike,” said Rodgers.

“He is starting to get back to the levels and producing, which is what he has to do: create goals, score goals, work hard, and he is doing all of that.”

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Liverpool trio Virgil Van Dijk, Fabinho and Curtis Jones all rejoined the squad for training on Christmas Eve after their Covid-19 isolation came to an end.

All three have been out since missing the 3-1 win over Newcastle on December 16 having testing positive but were pictured back with their team-mates.

The postponement of Liverpool’s match on Sunday due to coronavirus issues within the Leeds squad gives those players additional time to get back up to speed before the trip to Leicester on December 28th.

Midfielder Thiago Alcantara is unlikely to feature at the King Power as he remains in isolation, while the knock-on effect of rescheduling the Leeds match means left-back Andy Robertson will now miss the January 2nd clash at Chelsea as he will be serving the final match of his three-game ban for a red card at Tottenham last weekend.

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Burnley’s Boxing Day clash with Everton has been postponed due to the number of coronavirus cases in the Toffees’ squad.

Everton had an initial request to postpone the game rejected on Thursday despite boss Rafael Benitez claiming he only had nine fit outfield players.

Everton confirmed in a brief statement: “Our Premier League fixture at Burnley on Boxing Day has been postponed due to the number of COVID cases and injuries in our squad.”

The Premier League said it had taken the “regrettable” decision to postpone the game following a meeting of its Board on Friday morning.

It said in a statement: “The Board reviewed the club’s request today to postpone the match following further injuries to their squad.

“They concluded that the club will not be able to fulfil their fixture this weekend as a result of an insufficient number of players available to play due to Covid-19 cases and injuries.”

Benitez said on Thursday that he was “surprised” the game had been expected to go ahead, after two Boxing Day matches – Liverpool v Leeds and Wolves v Watford – were postponed due to Covid cases.

His squad endured a Covid outbreak following the game against Chelsea on December 16, while a number of top players including Richarlison and Andros Townsend are injured.

Benitez said: “With the injuries and the positives that we have, we were expecting that the game would be postponed.

“Like in a lot of other games (to be postponed) to try and keep the integrity of the league, because you are losing so many players.”

Meanwhile Tottenham boss Antonio Conte has described Thursday’s meeting between the Premier League and all 20 top-flight bosses as a waste of time and likened the league’s governing body to a brick wall.

Rising Covid-19 cases in England’s top-flight saw all managers and head coaches come together for a virtual meeting with the division to discuss the ongoing situation in addition to the congested fixture list and other key issues.

Numerous matches have already been postponed due to coronavirus outbreaks and managers have repeatedly highlighted a lack of player welfare, including Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola suggesting a players’ strike may be the only way to draw attention to it.

But the online chat proved pointless for Conte, who said: “If I have to be honest, it was a meeting that we tried to speak and some coaches tried to speak, to ask about solutions but I think everything was decided.

“I think yesterday it was a wall and for this reason I also prefer to not go into it.”

Asked if it was a waste of time, the Italian added: “I think so. Because when you have a wall in front of you, you can speak and ask what you want but every decision was (already) taken.”

Spurs, who have just returned from an enforced two-week break due to a Covid-19 outbreak at the club, are set to host Crystal Palace on Sunday before they visit Southampton on Tuesday.

Conte admits rotation will be key, adding: “It is not easy for us, it is not easy for all the teams to play after only one day is not simple.

“You have to manage the situation very well because the risk to lose players for injuries, so we have to pay great attention, especially my team.

“Don’t forget we had half our squad with Covid and in previous press conferences I said that when you take Covid, then you have to live with this situation for two to three weeks after you finished with Covid.

“We have to try to manage the situation very well because for sure physically the players with Covid (previously) are not 100 per cent fit.”

Norwich head coach Dean Smith feels it is “lunacy” to expect teams to play two games in 48 hours.

The Canaries’ Premier League match at West Ham was called off last weekend because of the ongoing Covid-19 issues, with just four of the scheduled 10 top-flight games able to be played as scheduled.

Norwich are set to host Arsenal on Sunday, and then play Crystal Palace on December 28.

Smith, though, believes that is an unreasonable expectation.

“We have some fresh cases, but we have got others coming back. We are not sure how many will miss Boxing Day,” he said.

“We are having to push rehab forward and people are breaking down in rehab because of that, it is asking massive questions of everybody’s squads at the moment.

“It is lunacy that we are having to play two games in 48 hours and there has got to be a question about the integrity of the competition when teams are playing weakened teams against other teams and it is affecting league positions.”

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Ralf Rangnick has given his Manchester United squad a clean bill of health after the club’s Covid-19 outbreak and called on the Premier League to aid player welfare by again allowing five substitutes per game.

United are set to return to action at Newcastle on Monday following a 16-day break which saw their Premier League games against Brentford and Brighton postponed.

Only the injured Paul Pogba is unavailable at St James’ Park, with interim manager Rangnick admitting he has major selection decisions to make after 25 outfield players trained on Wednesday.

Rangnick said: “The last training session we had eight outfield players and three goalkeepers and then we closed down the training ground for four days in order to break the chain.

“Today was the third day of training this week and we had 25 outfield players.

“The development of the last week was extremely positive. As far as I could see in training they are all in good shape.

“They did their homework. They all have their schedule to train at home.

“They stick to that schedule and programme and from what I saw in training most of them – if not all of them – might be available.”

Players and staff have made a staggered return to the club’s Carrington training base this week as United seek to regain momentum from Rangnick’s first two league games.

United recorded 1-0 wins over Crystal Palace and Norwich, but the 63-year-old German says the English game would benefit from again permitting managers to make five substitutions during games.

The temporary rule was first introduced in May 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing teams two extra substitutes, instead of the standard three, to support player welfare amid a congested fixture schedule.

Despite widespread concerns over player-fatigue within the game, the Premier League was the only top league in Europe to revert to a maximum of three substitutes in a condensed 2020-21 campaign.

Rangnick said: “As far as I remember it was decided that every team could substitute five players when Covid started one-and-a-half years ago.

“I think it was the right decision to have more options to change players to save energy for players, especially if they have just recovered from Covid.

“The same is true right now. We have a similar situation to one-and-a-half years ago, so I see no reason why it shouldn’t be the same now.

“As far as I know in Europe, England is the only country that only allows three subs. In the other four big leagues in Europe you can substitute five players.

“If you have eight outfield players on the team sheet you should always be able to replace five.

“If you can only replace three of them you will always have five players on the bench who can not play.

“I think it would be a great help to have five subs, it would increase the emotional situation in the squad.

“It’s about game time. I haven’t spoken with the players about that, but I don’t need to as I know most would be in favour.”

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Inter Milan consolidated their position at the top of Serie A courtesy of a scrappy 1-0 home win over Torino in their final match of 2021.

It has been a year to remember for the Nerazzurri, ending an 11-year wait for the title under Antonio Conte, but Simone Inzaghi’s team could be on the way to repeating the feat.

Denzel Dumfries scored for the third time in four league matches and it was enough to secure another three points – a seventh straight Serie A success.

City rivals AC Milan are up to second and four points behind after winning 4-2 at Empoli.

Franck Kessie netted twice either side of Nedim Bajrami’s equaliser for the hosts, before second-half strikes from Alessandro Florenzi and Theo Hernandez sealed the win, despite Andrea Pinamonti’s late penalty.

Napoli continue to stutter after losing 1-0 at home to struggling Spezia. Juan Jesus’ 37th-minute own goal settled the game and inflicted a third loss in four league games on Luciano Spalletti’s side.

Napoli will begin the new year third in the table and seven points behind Inter.

Dusan Vlahovic ended tied with Cristiano Ronaldo’s record for the most league goals in a single calendar year as he failed to add to his 33 strikes in Fiorentina’s 1-1 draw at Verona.

Gaetano Castrovilli’s strike in the final 10 minutes earned the Viola a point, cancelling out Kevin Lasagna’s early opener.

Roma had to settle for a 1-1 draw at Stadio Olimpico after Eldor Shomurodov’s opening goal was cancelled out by Manolo Gabbiadini late on to earn Sampdoria a point.

Goals from Pedro, Francesco Acerbi and Luis Alberto saw Lazio win 3-1 at Venezia, who went into half-time level after Francesco Forte’s equaliser. The hosts finished the match with 10 men after Tanner Tessmann was sent off in stoppage time.

Sassuolo suffered a first defeat in seven league games as they lost 3-0 at home to neighbours Bologna. Riccardo Orsolini, Aaron Hickey and Federico Santander were on the scoresheet for the visitors.

It was the first time Sassuolo had failed to score in 15 games since mid-September.

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Manchester City have agreed a £46.7million (€55 million) fee with Barcelona for the sale of Ferran Torres, the PA news agency understands.

The 21-year-old Spain forward is now set to move to the Nou Camp when the transfer window formally opens in January.

The deal, which is subject to the agreement of personal terms, could also be worth a further £8.5million to City in add-ons.

With £5.9million of that contained in clauses likely to be activated, the Premier League champions feel the transfer represents good business for a player they signed for £20.9million last year.

City were not looking to sell, and nor is Torres thought to be unhappy at the Etihad Stadium, but he became keen on the move after learning of the Catalan giants’ interest.

Torres has scored 16 goals – including a hat-trick at Newcastle last season – in 43 appearances in all competitions for City since joining from Valencia in the summer of 2020.

He was signed primarily as a winger but has also impressed as a makeshift centre-forward in Pep Guardiola’s side.

He was part of the side that won the Premier League last season but has played just seven times this season after breaking a metatarsal while on international duty in October. He is expected to be sidelined until the new year.

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Reds battle back from the brink

Liverpool are through to the Carabao Cup semi-finals after edging Leicester 5-4 in a penalty shootout having overturned a two-goal deficit in a gripping 3-3 draw.

Caoimhin Kelleher saved two Leicester penalties before Diogo Jota – a key figure off the bench – converted the crucial kick to send Jurgen Klopp’s much-changed Reds through.

A Vardy brace had initially put the visitors 2-0 up early on at Anfield, and although Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got Liverpool on the scoreboard, a spectacular Maddison strike had Leicester cruising at the break.

But half-time substitute Jota reduced the deficit again after the hour and Takumi Minamino equalised deep into stoppage time to force a shootout.

Minamino was the sole Red to miss his kick, but it mattered not as Kelleher denied Luke Thomas and Ryan Bertrand to allow Jota to wrap things up.

It had all looked so promising for Leicester when Vardy had them two up in the 13th minute, finishing off incisive passes from Maddison and then Patson Daka.

The Reds quickly pulled one back, Oxlade-Chamberlain slamming home from 18 yards after being teed up by Roberto Firmino.

But Maddison soon restored Leicester’s two-goal cushion, blasting past Kelleher from distance as the ball sat up kindly.

Vardy then hit the post in a one-on-one situation.

A seemingly perturbed Klopp made three changes at the break, and one of them paid dividends as Jota fired beyond Kasper Schmeichel, setting up a tense final 20 minutes.

Minamino struck a dramatic equaliser right at the end and would have sealed the win had he not hit the crossbar with his effort in the following shootout, but Kelleher and then Jota spared his blushes to send Liverpool through.

Liverpool’s record in this competition has not been great in recent years, but they overcame that with a real show of character here.

Their semi-final tussle with Arsenal early next year will be their first appearance in the last four of the EFL Cup since 2016-17 and boosts their hopes of winning silverware before the end of the season.

Granted, Liverpool will have their sights on loftier prizes, but it is always good to be in the conversation for trophies.

Vardy was on fire in the first half, but Jota’s introduction at the break for Liverpool proved inspirational. 

Not only did he get the goal that provided a spark of hope, but he went close with another effort and then held his nerve for the crucial penalty. 

Klopp gave him a huge embrace at full-time, highlighting just how important the Portugal forward was.

Young centre-back Billy Koumetio was making his first start for the senior side but he endured a difficult 45 minutes before being withdrawn. 

The Reds’ backline was not helped by a lack of midfield protection, but Koumetio routinely struggled to get close enough to Daka and Vardy, who ran riot before half-time.

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Chelsea scrape into semi-finals with late double

Chelsea scraped past Brentford 2-0 in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals after Pontus Jansson scored an own goal and Jorginho converted a penalty in the final 10 minutes. 

Just as they did in the Premier League meeting between these sides back in October, Chelsea dominated possession but struggled to create any decent openings. 

Kepa Arrizabalaga did well to keep out Yoane Wissa and Mathias Jensen in the first half, with Thomas Tuchel forced to call upon senior players as he chased the game in the second period. 

The contest looked destined for penalties until Jansson put through his own net in the 80th minute and Jorginho put the result beyond doubt when he slotted home a spot-kick. 

Kepa produced a fantastic save to stop Wissa finding the back of the net with a free header from six yards out inside 12 minutes, though he may well have been deemed offside had VAR got involved. 

Jensen warmed the gloves of Kepa and Xavier Simons – one of three debutants for the Blues alongside Harvey Vale and Jude Soonsup-Bell – had Chelsea’s first shot on target in the 39th minute, but he allowed Rico Henry to surge in behind him seconds later and needed his keeper to bail him out. 

Vale failed to make the most of a glorious delivery from Cesar Azpilicueta before the break and Tuchel introduced Christian Pulisic and Jorginho for the second half. 

Henry almost scoring an own goal in the 53rd minute was as close as Chelsea went to breaking the deadlock, so Mason Mount and Reece James were sent on after the hour mark. 

It proved key as N’Golo Kante – who made his return from a knee injury as the final sub – released James, whose low delivery to the near post was sent into the top-right corner by Jansson. 

The game was put to bed after Alvaro Fernandez felled Pulisic in the box and Jorginho confidently dispatched the 85th-minute spot-kick to put Chelsea in the semi-final draw. 

The Blues had required a shoot-out to advance in their previous two Carabao Cup matches this season – and six of their past seven in total – and looked set to be heading for penalties once more. 

However, their late double saw them edge another fortunate result against Brentford, who missed out on making the final four for the second season running having failed to do so once in their first 60 campaigns in the competition. 

He may not have been able to replicate left wing-back Ben Chilwell’s winner at this ground back in October, but Marcos Alonso was a real bright spark for Chelsea. 

His driving runs were a consistent source of danger as he drew three fouls and supplied two key passes. 

As the only senior player in the three-man attack named by Tuchel, the onus was on Barkley to lead by example. 

However, he struggled to really make a mark on the game and none of his five attempts on goal were very convincing. 

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A first senior hat-trick for Eddie Nketiah guided Arsenal to a comfortable victory over Sunderland and into the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.

The back-up striker has reportedly turned down a new deal at the Emirates Stadium and is out of contract in the summer but shone in a 5-1 win which also saw Charlie Patino score on his first-team debut.

Nketiah opened the scoring before Nicolas Pepe doubled the lead, while the in-form Nathan Broadhead scored his sixth goal in six games to pull one back for the Black Cats before the break.

Any threat of a shock was extinguished within 13 minutes of the second half as Nketiah provided two smart finishes and Patino came off the bench to add the gloss with a late fifth.

Mikel Arteta’s side sit fourth in the Premier League and showed nine changes from Saturday’s win at Leeds as only Ben White and Martin Odegaard kept their places

Sunderland wanted a early penalty as Ross Stewart went down in the box under close attention from Mohamed Elneny – but there appeared to be no contact and the claims were waved away.

A stroke of luck almost put the hosts ahead as a Nuno Tavares cross was turned against his own crossbar by Eddie Embleton with Arsenal starting to knock at the door.

The deadlock would be broken soon after, Rob Holding’s header well-saved by Lee Burge, only for Nketiah to knee home the rebound from close range.

Pepe, the club-record signing given a rare start by Arteta, doubled the lead as he exchanged passes with Cedric Soares before seeing his strike deflected past the helpless Burge.

But if Arsenal thought they were coasting into the semi-finals, they were wrong.

Sunderland would hit them on the break, Broadhead coolly finishing a quick-fire counter from the visitors to half the arrears.

Bernd Leno was then forced into a low save to keep Arsenal ahead as the Sky Bet League One side ended the half on top – although they did lose Broadhead to injury before the interval.

Sunderland boss Lee Johnson had joked about wanting to face Arsenal in the quarter-final after seeing off QPR in the previous round – saying facing the Gunners or their north London rivals Tottenham would let them face “the really big guns” in a two-legged semi-final.

He dismissed the comment as “dad banter” on the eve of the tie but Arsenal showed – in the minutes following half-time – that even their much-changed side were more than enough to see off Johnson’s spirited visitors.

Two flicked finishes from Nketiah would settle the contest, the first from a Tavares cross and the second after some superb work from Pepe – who impressed on his return.

Embleton had hit the post in between but Sunderland were out of the tie as their vociferous following sang throughout.

Arteta was able to hand a first-team debut to highly-rated midfielder Patino for the final 10 minutes, the England Under-19 international replacing fellow academy graduate Emile Smith Rowe and sliding in to convert another Pepe assist to put the cherry on top of the cake for Arsenal.

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Ancelotti not too disheartened despite freak draw with lowly Cadiz

Carlo Ancelotti insisted nobody should be blamed after Real Madrid’s disappointing 0-0 draw at home to struggling Cadiz, applauding the performance even if the outcome was not as expected.

Madrid had been hoping to extend their winning run to eight league matches but failed to convert their superiority into goals at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

Los Blancos’ 36 shots amounted to 10 more than any other team have had in a single LaLiga match this season and the most since Madrid themselves had 37 attempts against Levante in April 2013.

Those shots equated to 2.8 expected goals (xG), meaning it was only the fourth time in the past decade that Madrid have failed to score in a LaLiga game despite registering at least 2.8 xG.

Cadiz defended valiantly, their 14 blocks being the most any team has recorded in a game since Opta began collecting this data (2005-06), somehow managing to leave the Santiago Bernabeu with at least a point for the second season in a row.

Yet, as frustrating as it would have been for his team to fail to beat 19th-placed Cadiz, Ancelotti looked on the bright side.

Speaking to Movistar, Ancelotti said: “I think we’ve tried in every way, but it has not turned out well.

“It didn’t work, but we tried, and therefore I don’t have to blame [anyone]. There are many positive things, the only thing that wasn’t positive was not having won the three points, but this is football.

“There are times you don’t deserve it and you win, and others you deserve it and you don’t win. They have played us with a set-up that always challenges us, but that’s the way it is.

“In the first half what we didn’t do well was breaking their back line, the intensity wasn’t very high. The second half was different, we created a lot of opportunities.

“The ball didn’t go in, but, personally, I’m happy. We tried, I don’t know what more we could do. We could have had more quality in the final metres, but I am not going to ask my team for more.”

Numerous Madrid players caught the eye but one of the most notable – even if he was not necessarily the standout star – was Eden Hazard.

The Belgian has been a massive disappointment since joining Madrid from Chelsea, with injuries playing a major role in disrupting him, but he looked bright at times on what was his first LaLiga start since September.

Hazard had three shots, his match-high 0.77 xG showing he was a threat, while he also played five key passes, the second most he has tallied in a league game for Madrid.

Ancelotti added: “It was difficult for him to get into the game, but in the second half he did very well with better combinations with the forwards.

“It is clear that Hazard can be one more weapon for us in the second half of the season.”