Being Christian Pulisic: the pressure of life as US soccer’s chosen one | Christian Pulisic

In America, the French actor Isabelle Huppert once said, Europe disappears: “They have everything. They don’t need anything. Deep down to them we are a sort of elegant Third World.” The history of American sport reads as one iteration of this blazing autonomy: from the development of baseball as a derivative of regional English games like stoolball and tut-ball to the evolution of rugby union into American football and the creation of basketball from the manipulation of a soccer ball indoors, the US has specialized in fashioning its own kind of sporting modernity out of Europe’s raw cultural materials, often consigning these older sports to the scrapheap of national memory.

But globalization – the great success story of American free-market economics – and the unstoppable rise of football have, in recent decades, forced the US to confront a discomfiting reality: in the world’s most popular sport, the global hegemon remains a middleweight at best. The country that has everything now finds that it doesn’t: emerging (almost) every four years from a middling confederation into the glare of the World Cup, the spotlight deflected for once towards other countries, the America that wants for nothing – so confident, so culturally self-reliant – now finds itself in need. It needs to prove that it has footballing muscle equal to its muscle in every other domain. It needs to show that it belongs. And it needs, perhaps more than anything, to convince the world that it can produce a player in the men’s game equal to Haaland, Neymar, Salah, or Mbappé.

For the past five years, American hopes of producing a world-class player have largely focused on one man: Christian Pulisic. To be sure, many fine footballers have emerged from these shores in recent times: Clint Dempsey is a folk hero at Fulham, Landon Donovan – though he struggled to build a club career in Europe – was never better than when appearing in national colors. And the stocks of the country’s shot stoppers – including such fixtures of recent English Premier League history as Brad Friedel and Tim Howard, a player who was once as resolute in goal as he now is impenetrably wooden as a pundit on NBC – have historically been particularly rich.

But outside the women’s game, where America is now an unfailing conveyor belt of top-class talent, the US has yet to produce a player with that insistent specialness – that fizzing mixture of skill, strength, personality, and will to win – capable of transcending national boundaries. Even players of a caliber one rung below the very top continue to elude the US, which is a genuine curiosity when you consider the country’s size and financial means and the domestic popularity of football as a participation sport. Australia, a temperamentally similar country with a far smaller population and not one but three rival football codes to siphon talent away from soccer, has arguably produced three top-class players during the Premier League era: Tim Cahill, Mark Viduka, and Harry Kewell. America is yet to produce one.

In this context, the expectations that have been placed on Pulisic are immense. A sense of all-American destiny has beckoned him seemingly from birth. Born in the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania – home of the famed Hershey Company, the biggest chocolate manufacturer in a country that runs on sugar – Pulisic grew up in a football-mad family (his parents both played college soccer and his father later became a professional indoor player) and made rapid early progress through the national ranks.

One performance against Brazil in 2013 for the US under-17 team shows just how good he was as a teenager – pulling the strings from out wide, arrowing into space, timing his runs, burying his chances. All the speed, courage and control of his mature game were already there at the age of 15, with none of the self-doubt that has encroached in more recent years. The story from there is well known: the move to Borussia Dortmund, the first-team debut at 17, the string of impressive performances and the transfer rumors, the image of him slumped on the turf, head in hands, after the loss against Trinidad & Tobago that denied the USMNT a place at the 2018 World Cup. The passion, the skill, and the commitment were all there, and soon afterwards the money on the table matched the scale of Pulisic’s ambition, now nicknamed “Captain America” (a moniker he reportedly detests) for his inspirational performances with the national team.

At Chelsea, however, the narrative of Pulisic’s career has begun to take a more complicated turn. Injuries and managerial changes have starved Pulisic of starting opportunities, and when he has been given a chance to strut his stuff he’s often appeared hesitant and unsure of himself, qualities fatal to the game of a player who relies for so much of his efficiency on directness and courage. Pulisic is now in his fourth season in England and has never succeeded in nailing down a permanent place in Chelsea’s starting XI; given the number of managers who have declined to place their unconditional faith in him it seems fair to wonder whether he’ll ever make it to the very top of the sport as he has seemed destined to for so long. Among Chelsea fans his name is now a byword for missed chances and wasted potential, a bleak departure from the arc of his early career.

On those rare and increasingly distant occasions when he has put it all together – such as during Project Restart, the peak of his Chelsea career to date – the results have been exhilarating. The hat-trick against Burnley in late 2019 – the first goal scored with his left foot, the second with his right, the third with his head – showed the very best of Pulisic: the casual two-footedness, the feathery first touch, the willingness to take his man on, that surgical turn of pace. In open space he’s a dolphin breaking through the waves; cornered he’s a spider scampering free. Above all he is one of the sport’s great lateral movers, trampolining across the pitch with the limpid grace of a piano player as they command the keyboard. The sheer versatility of Pulisic at his peak is something that only half-cooked metaphors can capture.

The beauty of Pulisic’s play on the pitch is all the more remarkable when you consider his blandness off it. Guarded, risk-averse, perhaps even slightly square: Pulisic has none of the braggadocio of Cristiano Ronaldo, none of the laddish immensity of Erling Haaland or slick eloquence of Kylian Mbappé. In speech and manner he seems less like a footballer than a wealth management professional from a mid-sized regional city with some investment opportunities in municipal bonds and tech stocks he’d like to discuss. And yet. Despite all of this – the weight of national expectation, his stop-start progress in the Premier League and Lampardesque lack of charisma – Pulisic is liberated when he steps onto the field for the USMNT. All the doubts that consume his game at club level melt away and he is reborn as America’s star, the player through which all good things flow. Gregg Berhalter’s system – built on an inexhaustible press, quick transitions, attack at all costs, and speed out wide – is designed to get the very best out of his No 10, and there’s reason for American fans to feel real excitement at the prospect of seeing Pulisic, at his first World Cup, set free in a team where he’s the unquestioned talisman.

Given the relentlessness of European club football today – its booming popularity, the money it attracts, the sheer scale of its playing calendar – there’s little doubt that in our era, truly great players need first to be great for their clubs. Though football is no stranger to late bloomers – look at the careers of Jamie Vardy, Olivier Giroud, or Didier Drogba – and playing careers are unquestionably growing longer, Pulisic has been hyped since adolescence, which carries its own kind of psychological burden, and at 24, time may be running out for him to give full expression to his talent at club level. But for the next few weeks, the question of whether Pulisic can vindicate his country’s footballing potential and become truly “world class” does not really matter. The boy from the chocolate town needs only to be very good, and America will remember Qatar sweetly.

Injury expected to rule James Maddison out of England’s opening game in Qatar | England

James Maddison is expected to miss England’s opening game at the World Cup with a slight knee problem that kept him out of training again yesterday. The Leicester midfielder, a surprise inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s squad, has been struggling since limping off during his side’s victory over West Ham last weekend. Maddison has not trained properly since Wednesday and is unlikely to be involved when England face Iran in Group B on Monday.

The 25-year-old’s potential absence is a blow for England. Maddison was never likely to start at the Khalifa International Stadium but he would be a useful option off the bench. The injury is not believed to be serious and there is confidence that he will be available when England face Wales and the USA.

Quick Guide

Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

Thank you for your feedback.

The likely absence of Maddison will enhance the prospects of Conor Gallagher featuring in some role and the midfielder is confident his energetic style will give him a chance of making a positive impact in the Qatari heat. Gallagher was not called up for England’s Nations League games in September and did not expect to be on the plane after struggling to nail down a regular starting role at Chelsea. The 22-year-old had taken the bold decision to return to his boyhood club after impressing on loan at Crystal Palace last season and it seemed his international hopes were under threat when he was sent off for two bookings during the first half of Chelsea’s win over Leicester in August.

There was a feeling that Gallagher, who has started eight games this season, would have been better served by returning to Palace. Eyebrows were raised when the Chelsea academy graduate edged Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse out of Gareth Southgate’s 26-man squad for Qatar.

“To be honest, I didn’t expect it,” Gallagher said. “I was a little bit surprised., “I’ve not played consistent football with Chelsea and as a team Chelsea have not played great this season – we’ve definitely got a lot to improve and I am sure we will.

But I am very grateful and honoured that the England manager has belief in me and saw what I can do when I’ve played for Chelsea this season and, obviously, last season as well. It’s football. The road is never just going to go up. There’s always bumps in the road. It’s just about keeping believing in myself.”

Conor Gallagher trains with England
Conor Gallagher (centre) is aiming to bring energy to England at the World Cup. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Southgate has explained that Gallagher, who has four caps, can give England something different. He offers a goalscoring threat from midfield and could be a useful option off the bench when England play Iran. The stadiums are air-conditioned but kicking off at 4pm could still be challenging for Southgate’s players.

“I feel like I can bring energy going forward and defensively as well,” Gallagher said. “In whatever position the manager players me, I will do my best to be as effective as I can on the pitch. Whether that’s to score goals or try to win the ball back then that’s what I can do.”

England ramped up their preparations by training again in scorching conditions on Friday. They took to the field at their Al-Wakrah Sports Club base at 12.30pm local time for the second consecutive day, with the temperature at 33C.

“It’s a big difference from the cold, wet weather at home but I feel that we have adapted well,” Gallagher said. “When that first game comes we will be raring to go, no matter what the temperatures are.”

Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea’s former head coach, has previously compared Gallagher to N’Golo Kanté. “When he said it, it did make me laugh and surprise me a little bit,” Gallagher said. “It’s obviously a massive compliment, even if I’m half the player Kanté is because I feel like he’s the best midfielder in the world. We are obviously different players. He probably gets around a bit more than me. He’s a bit sharper than me.”

Despite the modesty it is clear that Southgate values Gallagher. The 22-year-old has done well when given opportunities by Graham Potter, who replaced Tuchel in September. He scored his first goal for Chelsea in October and impressed Southgate by accepting a call-up to the Under-21s when not involved in England’s Nations League camp. “If I didn’t do my job properly and go and play with the 21s then I probably would not be here now,” Gallagher said.

Liverpool and Juventus tracking Mason Mount with Chelsea talks on hold | Chelsea

Liverpool and Juventus are keeping track of the growing uncertainty around Mason Mount’s future after Chelsea’s talks with the England midfielder over a new deal were put on hold until after the World Cup.

Mount’s deal expires in just over 18 months and his situation has prompted clubs to check whether he could be lured away from Stamford Bridge. The 23-year-old has been in discussions with Chelsea since the summer and, with no sign of a breakthrough, negotiations are not expected to resume until January.

Chelsea’s owners have no interest in losing Mount, who has been attached to the club for his entire career, and remain optimistic that negotiations will end on a positive note. Mount has been built up as a future Chelsea captain and the hierarchy want to reward his performances with an improved deal.

However there have been indications that an agreement is not guaranteed. Mount is one of the lowest earners in the first-team squad and wants a new deal to reflect his status as one of Graham Potter’s most important players. Chelsea’s initial proposals have fallen below his expectations.

Mount has established himself as one of the brightest young talents in the Premier League during the past three years and he is attracting interest from Juventus and Liverpool, who need to freshen up their midfield options.

Manchester City have previously been linked with Mount, who has been valued by his managers for his ability on the ball, versatility, pressing and tactical intelligence. Whether Mount would see moving to Italy to join Juventus, who are having a disappointing season, as a good move at this stage of his career remains to be seen.

The prospect of some of Europe’s top sides targeting Mount could lead to greater urgency from Chelsea. Their owners, Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital, will be keen to avoid a repeat of the messy situation they inherited. Chelsea lost Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen on free transfers last summer and Thiago Silva’s, N’Golo Kanté’s and Jorginho’s deals run out at the end of this season.

Mason Mount

Chelsea, who have promoted their academy director, Neil Bath, to director of football development and operations, have shown a willingness to reward their young talents. Reece James and Armando Broja signed new long-term deals recently.

Meanwhile Édouard Mendy is considering his future after losing his place as Chelsea’s No 1 to Kepa Arrizabalaga. Mendy, who will be Senegal’s first-choice goalkeeper at the World Cup, could seek assurances after a difficult start to the season.

The 30-year-old’s deal runs out in 2024 and he is also one of the squad’s lower earners. He has so far been reluctant to sign an extension.

Potter has favoured Arrizabalaga since replacing Thomas Tuchel in September. Mendy got back in the team after Arrizabalaga was injured against Brighton last month, but there is no guarantee he will be a starter after Qatar.

Premier League clubs face mixed risks of sending players to the World Cup | Premier League

Pep Guardiola was notably accepting of Manchester City’s defeat by Brentford in their last match before the World Cup. “My staff and I will have time to reflect on what we did well and what to do better,” he shrugged. Guardiola and his staff may also have to watch events in Qatar through their hands, clenching as heavy tackles fly in and muscle injuries stack up given City – with 16 players – are the Premier League club sending the most players to the finals.

Even if Erling Haaland will be spending much of the next six weeks on the Etihad Campus, key players such as Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Rodri will return bearing the physical and mental scars of the tournament. And individual success in Qatar may not necessarily be good news for a player’s club. To take the example of England’s Euro 2020 finalists, a number of Gareth Southgate’s players made indifferent starts to their 2021-22 club campaigns.

Such are the intangibles for clubs of this World Cup. Jürgen Klopp is a vocal critic of the tournament being staged in Qatar, particularly in mid‑season, but he will see only seven players jet out to pre-tournament training camps. Like Guardiola, Klopp has a star forward getting a needed rest, in Mohamed Salah, but it is Uruguay rather than Liverpool who will be the immediate beneficiaries of Darwin Núñez’s recent flowering.

Overall the Premier League is providing more World Cup players than any other division, with 134 players at the tournament – 16% – plying their trade in the English top flight. The league leaders, Arsenal, have 10 players in World Cup squads but their England contingent of three contains two players, Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White, expected to be reserves in Southgate’s squad. The same may go for Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli among a Brazil squad featuring heavy competition for forward places. Mikel Arteta appears to be getting off rather lightly, though how to motivate players disappointed at being underused is yet another consideration to add to the pile.

The response of players to disappointing tournaments is also important. How, for example, might Antonio Conte coax the best from Harry Kane at Tottenham should England’s captain flop in Qatar? Or, to name another player among Spurs’ 11 call-ups, someone carrying a yet heavier burden for his national team, Son Heung‑min? Will his disappointing season so far – and the facial injury he is nursing – cast a shadow over his World Cup and consequently his return to Tottenham? Every player is on a sliding scale. How might they react to playing in a mid‑season tournament in which their country’s expectations are sky‑high while playing for a different coach using probably very different tactics?

Player stats

For managers such as Graham Potter and Erik ten Hag, relative newcomers to their clubs trying to install a fresh playing doctrine, losing players in mid‑season is unhelpful. Manchester United, sending 14, have made significant improvements under Ten Hag, and though Cristiano Ronaldo can be discounted from the list of players whose fitness he will care about, Casemiro, Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martínez have all been crucial to United’s revival. Each is playing for a nation expected to go deep in the tournament.

Potter’s Chelsea have stalled of late. His players have appeared unresponsive to his tactics. Chelsea will have 12 players in Qatar but a mid‑season training camp planned for Abu Dhabi also gives Potter a decent core with which to work. Reece James, Wesley Fofana, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Marc Cucurella, Trevoh Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jorginho and Pierre‑Emerick Aubameyang are among those players not travelling.

Quick Guide

Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Thank you for your feedback.

Manchester United and Chelsea will return to action at Christmas looking at Newcastle in third place, and while Eddie Howe will not welcome a loss of momentum only five players are being lost from his squad to the World Cup, two of them – Callum Wilson and Nick Pope – likely to be on the England bench. And while Bruno Guimarães is a player Newcastle cannot afford to lose, other leading players from this season in Sven Botman, not picked for Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands team, and Miguel Almíron, whose Paraguay did not qualify, will return to Tyneside after taking short rests.

Further down the table, the World Cup break throws up an opportunity for Nathan Jones, freshly arrived at Southampton, who are sending only two players. Should Bournemouth appoint a new manager – or Gary O’Neil stay on – only the Wales pair of Kieffer Moore and Chris Mepham will not be around.

Three managers ended the season’s first tranche of fixtures under pressure. At West Ham David Moyes will have mixed feelings if England progress deep in the tournament, with Declan Rice a key midfielder. Lucas Paquetá, the summer’s big signing, is yet to shine in east London but is favoured by the Brazil coach, Tite. Perhaps a good showing in Qatar can energise Paquetá’s club season. Jesse Marsch will be roaring on Team USA, though in Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams he will fear fatigue in two players who have become important to Leeds.

Which leaves Frank Lampard, with Everton losing four players to the tournament. Until his mistakes at Bournemouth at the weekend, Jordan Pickford had been exemplary in goal. An injury or the loss of form that can follow for players scapegoated for English failure could mortally wound Everton. Such are the myriad equations the World Cup must turn over in the minds of Premier League managers.

Joe Willock applies finishing touch as Newcastle add to Chelsea woes | Premier League

Graham Potter may have benefited from a recent “Glow Up” but his players seem to be experiencing a bit of a messy makeover. Given Chelsea have failed to win any of their last five Premier League games, it has proved somewhat less successful than their manager’s new hair style, as, thanks to Joe Willock’s sumptuously curling winner, Eddie Howe’s renascent Newcastle registered a sixth straight victory.

“I rate Joe very, very highly,” said “an immensely proud” Howe at the end of an evening in which the midfielder thoroughly upstaged England’s Mason Mount and Conor Gallagher. “Joe’s continuing to improve but he’s very important to us.”

Willock and co go into the World Cup break third in the top tier with the domestic season’s impending six-week hiatus apparently the only thing that can apply a brake to the extraordinary momentum which promises to sweep them into next season’s Champions League.

Chelsea’s growing fears of missing out on Europe was reflected by their body language at the final whistle when Kai Havertz briefly found himself at the centre of a finger pointing melee. Although it began with Havertz squaring up to Newcastle’s Dan Burn the conclusion seemed to be more about his Chelsea teammates losing their cool and arguing with each other. Tellingly such recriminations continued as they headed down the tunnel and Howe’s players began a mini lap of honour.

“It doesn’t get any easier, we’re in a bad place; we need to go away and regroup,” said Potter whose side suffered a third straight defeat for the first time since José Mourinho’s troubled tenure in 2015 and now sit eighth, eight points behind fourth-placed Tottenham.

“It’s not nice to get bad results. But sometimes you have to accept your struggles. There’s been a lot of learning in the last eight weeks. The first half was relatively even but Newcastle are a very good side. Defensively they’re one of the best teams in the Premier League; they don’t make it easy for you. But we made too many unforced errors.”

He blamed tiredness. “You could see the difference in the schedules; we looked fatigued but our schedule’s demanding,” Potter continued. “Newcastle have one game a week. It showed. We’re just hoping the guys going to the World Cup come back in a good place and we can re-focus.”

Joe Willock celebrates his goal with teammates.
Joe Willock celebrates his goal with teammates. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

Chelsea had flown north without Raheem Sterling. The forward has been suffering from migraines but is still expected to join up with Gareth Southgate’s Qatar-bound World Cup squad. Newcastle’s key striker, Callum Wilson, is also Doha bound but he spent most of the evening on the bench after recovering from a virus and watched Chelsea almost imperceptibly lose control of a first half in which they barely created a single chance and Willock won his central midfield duel with England’s Gallagher.

Unlike certain other colleagues the latter was at least industry personified. It was not Gallagher’s fault he struggled at right wing-back in the second period after being relocated to an unfamiliar role following Potter’s attempt to recalibrate his formation.

Gallagher created Chelsea’s sole real moment of menace when he cut inside and stretched Nick Pope to the limit with a curling shot the England goalkeeper proved brilliantly equal to. Howe identified it as a key turning point, stressing that Pope has contributed a great deal to Newcastle’s four clean sheets in the past six League games.

With Bruno Guimarães’s style slightly cramped by Potter’s decision to man mark Howe’s Brazil midfielder, Newcastle’s high possession quotient did not translate into multiple chances.

Even so, Édouard Mendy denied Chris Wood at point-blank range after Joelinton flicked Kieran Trippier’s cross on, while Miguel Almirón conjured an excellent chance Sean Longstaff could only lift over the bar.

Undeterred Almirón controlled a bouncing ball before dribbling across the area and, just when he seemed set to shoot himself, overran it and laid off to Willock instead. As the midfielder sent a first-time shot curving beyond Mendy, any remaining radiance drained from Potter’s face.

Premier League team news: predicted lineups for the weekend action | Manchester City

Bournemouth v Everton

Saturday 3pm Venue Vitality Stadium Last season n/a

Referee Craig Pawson This season G7 Y31 R0 4.43 cards/game

Odds H 19-10 A 7-4 D 9-4

Bournemouth v Everton


Subs from Dennis,Christie, Marcondes, Rothwell, Stacey, Lowe, Stanislas, Zemura, Dembélé, Pearson, Hill, Anthony

Doubtful Zemura (knock)

Injured Brooks (thigh, 26 Dec), Kelly (ankle, 26 Dec), Neto (thigh, 26 Dec)

Suspended Mepham (one match)

Discipline Y22 R0


Leading scorer Billing 4


Subs from Begovic, Jakupovic, Lonergan, Patterson, Mina, Keane, Holgate, Vinagre, Doucouré, Garner, Davies, Rondón, McNeil, Welch, Mills, John, Cannon

Doubtful Holgate (knee)

Injured Calvert-Lewin (hamstring/knee, 26 Dec), Godfrey (broken leg, 26 Dec), Townsend (knee, 26 Dec)

Suspended None

Discipline Y33 R0


Leading scorer Gordon 3

Liverpool v Southampton

Saturday 3pm Venue Anfield Last season Liverpool 4 Southampton 0

Referee Simon Hooper This season G9 Y26 R0 2.88 cards/game

Odds H 3-11 A 11-1 D 6-1

Liverpool v Southampton


Subs from Adrián, Kelleher, Davies, Ramsay, Matip, Tsimikas, Phillips, Milner, Jones, Elliott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Bajcetic, Carvalho, Gomez

Doubtful Matip (calf), Milner (concussion)

Injured Keïta (thigh, 26 Dec), Díaz (knee, 26 Dec), Jota (calf, Jan), Arthur (thigh, unknown)

Suspended None

Discipline Y12 R1


Leading scorers Firmino, Salah 6


Subs from Caballero, McCarthy, Caleta-Car, A Armstrong, Mara, Djenepo, Edozie, Diallo, Walcott

Doubtful xnamex (xreasonx), xnamex (xreasonx)

Injured Walker-Peters (thigh, 26 Dec), Livramento (knee, Jan), Larios (groin, unknown)

Suspended None

Discipline Y22 R0


Leading scorer Adams 3

Nottingham Forest v Crystal Palace

Saturday 3pm Venue City Ground Last season n/a

Referee John Brooks This season G6 Y24 R0 4 cards/game

Odds H 11-5 A 16-11 D 2-1

Nottingham Forest v Crystal Palace

Nottingham Forest

Subs from Hennessey, Smith, Soh, Williams, Colback, Awoniyi, Surridge, Cafú, Kouyaté, Dennis, McKenna, Badé, Boly, Taylor

Doubtful Kouyaté (knock), McKenna (knock)

Injured Richards (calf, 26 Dec), Toffolo (thigh, 26 Dec), Biancone (knee, unknown), Niakhaté (thigh, unknown)

Suspended Mangala (one match)

Discipline Y34 R0


Leading scorer Awoniyi 3

Crystal Palace

Subs from Butland, Johnstone, Whitworth, Milivojevic, Tomkins, Mateta, Clyne, Hughes, Édouard, Ebiowei, Ferguson, Balmer, Riedewald, Gordon, Wells-Morrison, Phillips, Goodman, Rodney

Doubtful Édouard (thigh)

Injured McArthur (groin, unknown), Richards (thigh, unknown)

Suspended None

Discipline Y29 R0


Leading scorer Zaha 6

Tottenham v Leeds

Saturday 3pm Venue Tottenham Hotspur Stadium Last season Tottenham 2 Leeds 1

Referee Michael Salisbury This season G6 Y31 R0 5.16 cards/game

Odds H 11-17 A 43-10 D 17-5

Tottenham v Leeds


Subs from Forster, Austin, Doherty, Spence, Sánchez, Tanganga, Bissouma, Skipp, Sarr, Lucas Moura, Gil

Doubtful Lucas Moura (tendon)

Injured Romero (calf, 14 Nov), Sessegnon (knock, 14 Nov), Son (eye, unknown)

Suspended None

Discipline Y25 R1


Leading scorer Kane 11


Subs from Klaesson, Robles, Ayling, Llorente, Firpo, Hjelde, Gelhardt, Greenwood, Harrison, Gyabi, Drameh

Doubtful Gelhardt (knock), Harrison (knock)

Injured Bamford (hip, 26 Dec), Forshaw (knee, 26 Dec), Gray (ankle, 26 Dec), Klich (knee, 26 Dec), Sinisterra (ankle, 26 Dec), Dallas (broken leg, Jan)

Suspended None

Discipline Y25 R1


Leading scorer Rodrigo 7

West Ham v Leicester

Saturday 3pm Venue London Stadium Last season West Ham 4 Leicester 1

Referee Jarred Gillett This season G6 Y24 R0 4 cards/game

Odds H Evs A 11-4 D 5-2

West Ham v Leicester

West Ham

Subs from Areola, Randolph, Johnson, Coufal, Fornals, Antonio, Lanzini, Downes, Ogbonna, Aguerd, Coventry, Ashby

Doubtful None

Injured Cornet (calf, unknown), Palmieri (knock, unknown)

Suspended None

Discipline Y16 R0


Leading scorers Antonio, Benrahma, Bowen, Scamacca 2


Subs from Iversen, Smithies, Ward, Vardy, Albrighton, Iheanacho, Pérez, Amartey, Vestergaard, Mendy, Soumaré

Doubtful None

Injured Pereira (calf, Jan), Justin (achilles, May), Bertrand (knee, unknown), Soyuncu (hamstring, unknown)

Suspended None

Discipline Y17 R0


Leading scorer Maddison 6

Newcastle v Chelsea

Saturday 5.30pm Sky Sports Premier League Venue St James’ Park Last season Newcastle 0 Chelsea 3

Referee Robert Jones This season G8 Y28 R1 3.63 cards/game

Odds H 7-5 A 2-1 D 28-11

Newcastle v Chelsea


Subs from Darlow, Gillespie, Karius, Lascelles, Targett, Manquillo, Lewis, Shelvey, Anderson, S Longstaff, Wood, Fraser, Murphy

Doubtful Darlow (ankle), Fraser (calf), Wilson (illness)

Injured Isak (thigh, 26 Dec), Ritchie (calf, 26 Dec), Krafth (knee, Aug), Dummett (calf, unknown)

Suspended None

Discipline Y20 R0


Leading scorer Almirón 8


Subs from Bettinelli, Jorginho, Pulisic, Broja, Zakaria, Ziyech, Gallagher, Koulibaly, Soonsup-Bell, Hall

Doubtful Jorginho (ankle)

Injured Arrizabalaga (ankle, 26 Dec), Kanté (thigh, Feb), Chilwell (thigh, unknown), Chukwuemeka (thigh, unknown), Fofana (knee, unknown), James (knee, unknown)

Suspended None

Discipline Y31 R2


Leading scorers Havertz, Sterling 3

Brighton v Aston Villa

Sunday 2pm Sky Sports Premier League Venue Amex Stadium Last season Brighton 0 Aston Villa 2

Referee Chris Kavanagh This season G4 Y16 R0 4 cards/game

Odds H 9-10 A 10-3 D 3-1

Brighton v Aston Villa


Subs from McGill, Steele, Lamptey, Colwill, Welbeck, Sarmiento, Enciso, Undav, Gilmour, Van Hecke, Veltman

Doubtful None

Injured Moder (knee, Feb)

Suspended None

Discipline Y17 R0


Leading scorer Trossard 7

Aston Villa

Subs from Olsen, Steer, McGinn, Sanson, Ings, Chambers, Augustinsson, Young, Nakamba, Bednarek, Guilbert, Archer, Kamara

Doubtful None

Injured Coutinho (thigh, unknown), Diego Carlos (calf, unknown)

Suspended None

Discipline Y30 R1


Leading scorers Bailey, Ings 3

Fulham v Manchester United

Sunday 4.30pm Sky Sports Premier League Venue Craven Cottage Last season n/a

Referee Paul Tierney This season G11 Y43 R2 4.09 cards/game

Odds H 3-1 A Evs D 3-1

Fulham v Manchester United


Subs from Rodak, Kurzawa, Adarabioyo, Duffy, Chalobah, James, Mbabu, Harris

Doubtful None

Injured Solomon (knee, Jan), Kebano (calf, unknown), Mitrovic (ankle, unknown)

Suspended Reed (one match), Tete (one match)

Discipline Y35 R1


Leading scorer Mitrovic 9

Manchester United

Subs from Dubravka, Heaton, Jones, Maguire, Ronaldo, Fred, Sancho, Pellistri, Van de Beek, Elanga, McTominay, Mengi, Shoretire, Garnacho

Doubtful Antony (match fitness), Ronaldo (illness), Sancho (illness)

Injured Varane (hamstring, 22 Nov), Tuanzebe (match fitness, unknown), Wan-Bissaka (match fitness, unknown), Williams (match fitness, unknown)

Suspended Dalot (one match)

Discipline Y36 R0


Leading scorer Rashford 4

Champions League last-16 draw: tie-by-tie analysis | Champions League

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Last month, Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Pérez, advocating for a Super League, lamented that his club have faced Liverpool in just nine competitive games. His wish for more has been granted sooner than he expected and perhaps would have liked. Real beat Liverpool reasonably comfortably in last season’s final and had few issues topping a relatively straightforward group, while Liverpool have suffered a miserable start to the season. With Mohamed Salah returning to form, though, Jürgen Klopp’s side may have improved by February and, out of the title race, can afford to focus on Europe. Aurélien Tchouaméni has joined Real and Eduardo Camavinga was beginning to make an impact last season, but the sense remains that the post-Casemiro midfield is yet to be really tested.

Winners Liverpool.

RB Leipzig's André Silva is congratulated after scoring against Manchester City last season
RB Leipzig’s André Silva is congratulated after scoring against Manchester City last season. Photograph: Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images

RB Leipzig v Manchester City

These teams met in last season’s group stage, City winning 6-3 at the Etihad before a 2-1 defeat in Germany, with qualification long since secured. In the first of those games, Leipzig were managed by Jesse Marsch; in the second by the caretaker Achim Beierlorzer. Since then Domenico Tedesco has come and gone and now, under Marco Rose, there has been a significant upturn. Saturday’s 3-0 win at Hoffenheim extended Leipzig’s unbeaten run to 11 games and they have been prolific in that time. The front four of André Silva, Dominik Szoboszlai, Christian Nkunku and Timo Werner, who should be back from his ankle injury by February, will test City on the counter.

Winners Manchester City.

Club Brugge v Benfica

Club Brugge were the great surprise of the group stage, winning their first three games without conceding a goal. They secured progress with a 0-0 draw at Atlético Madrid, but the heavy home defeat to Porto that ultimately cost them top spot perhaps gave a truer impression of their abilities: no pushovers, well-organised, but essentially limited. Benfica, meanwhile, ended the group stage in joyous form, with Rafa Silva and João Mario playing probably the best football of their careers. There may be defensive concerns but, even more than the 6-1 win at Maccabi Haifa that meant they topped the group, the 4-3 win over Juventus, when they should have won far more convincingly, demonstrated just how dangerous Roger Schmidt’s side can be.

Winners Benfica.

Milan v Tottenham

Tottenham have not lost to Milan in their four previous meetings, a Peter Crouch goal giving them a 1-0 win at San Siro in their last tie in 2010-11, but how good they are at the moment is anyone’s guess. Hampered by injuries to forwards, with a weird inability to play in the first half (particularly when Dejan Kulusevski is absent) and a dislocation between the midfield and the forward line, their results have been rather better than performances so far this season. The Italian champions have suffered only two defeats in Serie A and have in Rafael Leão one of the more exciting forwards in Europe, but they were desperately poor in losing twice to Chelsea during the group stages, with injuries offer only some excuse.

Winners Tottenham.

André-Frank Zambo Anguissa celebrates scoring Napoli’s second goal in their 4-1 win against Liverpool in September
André-Frank Zambo Anguissa celebrates scoring Napoli’s second goal in their 4-1 win against Liverpool in September. Photograph: Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Eintracht Frankfurt v Napoli

Top of Serie A, unbeaten domestically and hugely impressive in the group stage, Napoli may be the most serious Italian challengers since Juventus decided five league titles in five seasons just wasn’t good enough and got rid of Max Allegri. They are playing fast, dynamic football under Luciano Spalletti and, after the failure of Italy, Nigeria and Georgia to qualify for the World Cup, have an unusual number of players who should be refreshed by a winter break. But unfancied as they may be under Oliver Glasner, Eintracht Frankfurt have become masters of the European away leg. Their Europa League success last season featured victories at Real Betis, Barcelona and West Ham, and this season they won on the road against Marseille and, when they absolutely needed it, Sporting.

Winners Napoli.

Borussia Dortmund v Chelsea

After a shaky start, progress from the group ended up being straightforward for Chelsea, but this is a club still undergoing transition as the recent league defeats to Brighton and Arsenal have shown. There were problems to be addressed in the squad even before the complications of sanctions, and recent injuries have exposed the imbalances that Graham Potter will need to resolve. With Sevilla in miserable form, Borussia Dortmund qualified for the last 16 easily enough, thanks in no small part to a 4-1 win in Spain, a game that highlighted just how important Jude Bellingham has become to Alen Terzic’s side. He may be only 19 but only he, Julian Brandt and Nico Schlotterback have played all 13 league games this season.

Winners Chelsea.

Internazionale v Porto

Porto trail Benfica by eight points domestically but they showed admirable resolve to bounce back from successive defeats at the start of the group stage to qualify with four wins in a row. After suffering a knee injury a month ago, Pepe is a doubt for the World Cup but Porto should have his experience back at the heart of the defence for the last 16. This has not been an easy season domestically for Internazionale and they were twice well-beaten by Bayern Munich, but two fine counterattacking performances against Barcelona ensured progress to the knockout phase for only the second time in the past decade. If Romelu Lukaku can rediscover his form and fitness, his partnership with Lautaro Martínez represents a major threat.

Winners Porto.

PSG’s Keylor Navas concedes the only goal of the 2020 Champions League final to Bayern Munich's Kingsley Coman
PSG’s Keylor Navas concedes the only goal of the 2020 Champions League final to Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman (second right). Photograph: Miguel A Lopes/AP

Paris Saint-Germain v Bayern Munich

For most of the group stage Paris Saint-Germain seemed to be cruising to top spot, but they were undone at the last by Benfica’s flurry away to Maccabi Haifa and are punished with a repeat of the 2020 final. In a sense they fell into a trap they had dug themselves by drawing at home against Benfica the day after stories broke of Kylian Mbappé’s supposed unhappiness at the club. The competing egos will always be the biggest challenge for a PSG coach. Bayern are top of the Bundesliga again, but four draws and a defeat at Augsburg have led to a certain amount of chuntering about Julian Nagelsmann, despite six wins out of six in the Champions League. His record in big European games is not brilliant.

Winners Bayern Munich.

Liverpool to face Real Madrid in last 16 of the Champions League | Champions League

Liverpool and Real Madrid have been drawn to face each other in the last-16 of the Champions League, bringing together the teams who met in last season’s final in Paris.

The first leg will take place at Anfield in February and for Jürgen Klopp’s side the tie represents an opportunity to avenge May’s 1-0 defeat to Real in the French capital , an encounter that was marred by organisational chaos which led to the kick-off being delayed and hundreds of Liverpool supporters fearing for their safety.

Manchester City, meanwhile, have again been handed a favourable tie, this time against the German side RB Leipzig, while Tottenham face Milan, the Serie A champions, and Chelsea take on Borussia Dortmund.

Elsewhere there is an eye-catching meeting between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich, the French and German champions respectively.

The other last-16 ties see Eintracht Frankfurt face Napoli, Club Brugge face Benfica and Internazionale take on Porto.

The first legs are scheduled for 14/15/21/22 February, with the second legs on 7/8/14/15 March.

Mikel Arteta accepts Arsenal are title contenders ‘today’ after win at Chelsea | Mikel Arteta

Mikel Arteta believes that Arsenal are in Premier League title contention – for the moment, at least – after watching them produce a dominant performance in the 1-0 win at Chelsea on Sunday which took them back to the top of the table.

Arteta said that Manchester City, who are two points back in second place, remain the favourites but he did concede that his club are in the mix. “We are today,” Arteta said. “But in football, today and tomorrow is very different. So let’s enjoy the time.

“Do something: just look at the last six years, what Manchester City have done. With the best manager in the world, the best team in the world. They have shown it consistently in every single competition. We have to be very, very respectful of that.

“We are getting much better as a team and competing much better. We are getting really good results right now, but this is a long, long [season].”

Arteta and his players celebrated wildly in front of the travelling enclosure, with the manager revealing that his family were in there. “It’s a big win for us, another step,” he said. “To come here against a top opponent, world-class players all over the pitch, dominate the game and actually win it is very meaningful. Hopefully, it will give the boys even more belief.

“We are a young team but we showed a lot of maturity, a lot of composure, a lot of courage to play on this stage. The boys were absolutely phenomenal. We lacked discipline when we lost at Manchester United [on 4 September]. But we learned that lesson really well. We played really well at Old Trafford and it wasn’t enough. That is the difference to what top teams do.”

Arsenal midfielder Bukayo Saka falls under pressure from Marc Cucurella. Saka was accused of a dive by the Chelsea manager.
Arsenal midfielder Bukayo Saka falls under pressure from Marc Cucurella. Saka was accused of a dive by the Chelsea manager. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

It was feisty at Stamford Bridge, with Graham Potter, the Chelsea manager, accusing the Arsenal winger, Bukayo Saka, of diving after a first-half challenge from Marc Cucurella. Potter yelled out that Saka had dived.

Arteta, by contrast, was furious that Saka did not get a free-kick. “You saw me on that touchline – I was really calm and happy with the decisions,” Arteta said, with no little sarcasm.

Potter was less inflammatory after the match. “I think there was one action that was a little bit contentious, shall we say, but I don’t think he is that type of player,” he said.

Potter is struggling to cope with injury problems – he was without Kepa Arrizabalaga, Reece James, Ben Chilwell, Wesley Fofana and N’Golo Kanté – and he watched his team labour. Aaron Ramsdale did not have a serious save to make in the Arsenal goal.

“You could see the difference in the two teams in terms of confidence, in terms of points they’ve got, in terms of structure and working together,” Potter said. “We are not in a fantastic moment as we speak. As much as it is not nice to say, Arsenal deserved to win the game and were the better team overall so we have to take that and use it as motivation to improve.”

Graham Potter is still Chelsea’s solution to their systemic problems | Chelsea

Thiago Silva paused with the ball on the halfway line. Alongside him, his teammates were pointing and shouting at him to do something with it. Up in the stands, the various strands of encouraging advice being proffered by Chelsea fans had essentially congealed into a single unintelligible noise – something like “faacckkinggettrrrrid”, if we were going to try and transcribe it. And so it was that in the final minute of injury time, with Chelsea rousing themselves in search of a late equaliser, their chosen tactic was to pump a high ball up to the 5ft 7in Raheem Sterling.

As it happened, Sterling was offside, and soon after that Michael Oliver brought proceedings to a merciful close. And strictly speaking Chelsea lost this game not in the fumblings of stoppage time but in the inept and inchoate hour and a half that preceded it. Still, as an emblem of their deficiencies and inefficiencies here, it was as good as any. The good news is that Chelsea look like a team with plenty of ideas. The problem is that nobody seems to be sharing their ideas with anyone else.

The result is akin to one of those Christmas parlour games where one person starts a drawing, folds the paper over and then passes it to someone else, who adds a bit and passes it on, and at the end everyone laughs and has a sherry. A spirited attack would develop, various wet men would run in various directions, and once the move unfolded everyone would look up to discover that Chelsea had somehow ended up with four left-wingers, nobody in the centre, Raheem Sterling on his backside and the ball hurtling back towards their own goal at an alarming speed.

Throw in the menacing undercurrent of a London derby, the driving rain and a noon kick-off, and perhaps it is no surprise that Chelsea left the field looking not just drenched but utterly perplexed. Even the singing betrayed a lack of cohesion: while the Matthew Harding Stand began the game with their customary “champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that”, the East Stand plumped inexplicably for the variant: “where’s your European Cup?” A mess.

For now Graham Potter is still the solution rather than the problem here: a systems coach brought in to manage a squad of impulse purchases, the long-term strategist thrown into the biggest job of his life mid-season.

Graham Potter
Graham Potter failed to gain control over his chaotic Chelsea side against Arsenal. Photograph: Vince Mignott/EPA

But if there has been a weakness in these early weeks it has been the failure to project a sense of control, the sense that amid the rolling chaos there is at least a clear and identifiable direction of travel.

Formations shift from game to game, sometimes from half to half. The press is furious at times and non-existent at others. Sterling is a wing-back one game, a winger the next and a sort of roaming nine-and-three-quarters the one after that. Everyone knows that he is learning on the job. But there are times when you wish he would make it a little less obvious.

But then Potter is fighting deep-seated, systemic issues here. Perhaps this is what happens when you build the entire culture of a football club around the idea of permanent disruption. Where success is merely a case of throwing the best guys together and hoping it all clicks for a season (never two). Just consider how many different roles and tactics – say – Ruben Loftus-Cheek has had to learn over the years under his seven different managers. Time and again we saw Sterling or Kai Havertz or Armando Broja getting the ball and simply stopping to have a bit of a think. Hang on, I know this one. It was in the playbook … Mason comes short and Auba makes the run into the left channel and … oh cripes, there’s Granit Xhaka.

In a way, this is a good sign. It shows that there is at least an element of learning and rewiring taking place here, that the parts are slowly in the process of being moulded into a functional whole. And there were fleeting glimpses of how it might eventually all work: the quick kicks from Edouard Mendy to Sterling, the little darts into the channel from Havertz.

But right now Arsenal are simply too big and complex a problem for this Chelsea to solve. And until Potter’s ideas begin to take root they will continue to look vulnerable: too easy to pass through, too easy to hassle off the ball. Manchester United, Brighton, Dinamo Zagreb and now Arsenal have all discovered that in recent weeks.

The interesting part will be to see whether the right lessons are taken here. Just think how long it took Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal to look remotely competent, let alone capable of challenging Manchester City for the title.

This was Mikel Arteta’s 150th game in all competitions; the last guy to survive that long at Chelsea was 14 managers ago. Potter knows that what he needs above all is a little time, a little patience, a little faith, a little breathing space. He must surely also know that he will get none of these.