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Mesut Ozil has expressed his joy at helping Arsenal to a 3-1 win over Burnley on Saturday.The Germany international’s future has been called into question in recent weeks, with the attacking midfielder struggling for game time under Unai Emery.Ozil was on the bench against Bournemouth, and missed Premier League clashes with Tottenham, Manchester United and Huddersfield Town with a back complaint. Article continues below Editors’ Picks ‘There is no creativity’ – Can Solskjaer get Man Utd scoring freely again? ‘Everyone legged it on to the pitch!’ – How Foden went from Man City superfan to future superstar Emery out of jail – for now – as brilliant Pepe papers over Arsenal’s cracks What is Manchester United’s ownership situation and how would Kevin Glazer’s sale of shares affect the club? However, the 30-year-old was back to his brilliant best against Sean Dyche’s side.Ozil wore the captain’s armband during the game, which Arsenal won 3-1, and produced a phenomenal pass in the build-up to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s opening goal.Following the match, Ozil wrote on Twitter: “YaGunnersYa (sic). Very valuable 3 points won. Glad I could help the team today!”The Germany international has been heavily linked with a January loan move away from the Gunners, as the club looks to get his £350,000-per-week wages off of their bill.Turkish club Istanbul Basaksehir are keen on a deal, with president Goksel Gumusdag claiming the club are ready to offer Ozil the world to convince him to move to the Super Lig.”Mesut Ozil is a precious player,” Gumusdag said, as quoted by Bild .”I hope one day our paths will cross at Basaksehir.”If he wants to be with us as well, we would do anything to get him.”Ozil has scored four goals and provided three assists thus far this season, while Arsenal currently lie fifth in the Premier League table. Check out Goal’s Premier League 2019-20 fantasy football podcast for game tips, debate and rivalries.
A dreadful 0-0 Premier League draw between Newcastle United and Fulham gave Claudio Ranieri’s bottom-of-the-table side their first clean sheet of the season.Saturday’s match at St James’ Park saw neither side create a clear goalscoring opportunity, with the defensive improvement for Fulham one positive to emerge, after they failed to shut out an opponent over the first 17 games of the campaign.Newcastle continue to struggle at home and in general in front of goal, but do at least extend their advantage over the bottom three to five points after Burnley’s defeat at Arsenal. Article continues below Editors’ Picks ‘There is no creativity’ – Can Solskjaer get Man Utd scoring freely again? ‘Everyone legged it on to the pitch!’ – How Foden went from Man City superfan to future superstar Emery out of jail – for now – as brilliant Pepe papers over Arsenal’s cracks What is Manchester United’s ownership situation and how would Kevin Glazer’s sale of shares affect the club? Against his former club, Aleksandar Mitrovic had an early shot saved by Martin Dubravka, before a Jamaal Lascelles header bounced off the striker at the other end and was hacked away from the line by Denis Odoi.Dubravka gathered Jean Michael Seri’s free-kick towards the end of a drab first half where neither side looked likely to score.Mitrovic sent a poor finish straight at Dubravka just after the restart, while Salomon Rondon had a penalty claim turned down after being bundled over by Alfie Mawson.The first substitution did not come until Rafael Benitez introduced Kenedy with 18 minutes remaining, and the wing-back had another home penalty appeal denied after tussling with Joe Bryan.Fabian Schar then sent a header just over, but Fulham came closest to a late winner as Mitrovic, fed by Aboubakar Kamara, had an effort dramatically blocked by a sliding Lascelles, the visitors’ claims for handball ignored at the end of a second period that saw neither keeper troubled.FULL-TIME Newcastle 0-0 FulhamNothing to separate the sides as Fulham remain rooted to the bottom#NEWFUL pic.twitter.com/J0YxIzajVh— Premier League (@premierleague) December 22, 2018 What does it mean? A result for Fulham to build on While they offered little going forward in this game, Fulham have at least shown earlier in the season that they can be a threat in attack.It is their defensive woes that have cost them up to now, and a first clean sheet will come as a huge boost to Ranieri ahead of the busy festive schedule.Newcastle are the second-lowest scorers in the league with 14 from 18 games, and have only won two of their 10 home matches in the top flight. They are both issues Benitez must address with the help of some much-needed January additions after a game that saw them fail to register an attempt on target.Fulham back three deliversMawson, Odoi and Tim Ream combined to make 20 clearances as they adequately dealt with what was often a direct Newcastle approach, reaching an important defensive milestone in the process. Mawson particularly deserves credit, having battled on to complete the game despite being on the receiving end of an inadvertent punch to the face from his own goalkeeper Sergio Rico in the first half.Poor Perez must do moreAyoze Perez feels it is unfair that he receives criticism from the Newcastle support, but it is hard to argue his case after this game. Despite playing the full 90 minutes, he failed to register a shot on goal or create a single chance for his team-mates.Key Opta Facts- Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez has yet to lose a home Premier League game against Fulham (W4 D4), with his teams keeping a clean sheet in each of the last six meetings.- Fulham have kept their first clean sheet in the Premier League in 22 games, since winning 1-0 against Norwich City in April 2014.- Fulham have won just their second away point in their last 12 outings in the Premier League (D2 L10).What’s next?Newcastle have an attractive-looking festive fixture away to league leaders Liverpool on December 26, the same day as Fulham hope to build on this result as they host Wolves. read more
Juventus retain a firm grip on first place in Serie A , with Roma the next side to challenge the apparently untouchable Turin giants as they visit the Allianz Stadium on Saturday.Juve boast 15 wins and one draw from their opening 16 matches of the campaign, which is the best record of any club in Europe’s top five leagues. They were pushed a week ago by Torino, but a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty gave them a 1-0 win over their neighbours. Roma, meanwhile, are in the race for a Champions League spot but are not hitting the heights expected of them and will have to raise their level substantially to challenge Italy’s top dogs. Article continues below Editors’ Picks ‘There is no creativity’ – Can Solskjaer get Man Utd scoring freely again? ‘Everyone legged it on to the pitch!’ – How Foden went from Man City superfan to future superstar Emery out of jail – for now – as brilliant Pepe papers over Arsenal’s cracks What is Manchester United’s ownership situation and how would Kevin Glazer’s sale of shares affect the club? Game Juventus vs Roma Date Saturday, December 22 Time 7:30pm BST / 2:30pm ET TV Channel, Live Stream & How To Watch In the United States (US), the game will be shown on Rai Italia America and live-streamed through ESPN+. US TV channel Online stream Rai Italia America ESPN+ In the United Kingdom (UK), the game can be streamed via Eleven Sports 1. UK TV channel Online stream N/A Eleven Sports 1 Squads & Team News Position Juventus players Goalkeepers Szczesny, Pinsoglio, Perin Defenders De Sciglio, Chiellini, Benatia, Bonucci, Cancelo, Rugani, Sandro, Barzagli Midfielders Pjanic, Matuidi, Can, Bentancur, Bernardeschi, Spinazzola, Khedira Forwards Ronaldo, Dybala, Costa, Cuadrado, Mandzukic Juventus have seen Sami Khedira return to regular training this week, but it is too early for the midfielder to see action.Joao Cancelo and Juan Cuadrado remain the key injury problems for the Turin giants.Juventus starting XI: Szczesny; De Sciglio, Bonucci, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Bentancur, Pjanic, Matuidi; Dybala; Mandzukic, Ronaldo. Position Roma players Goalkeepers Olsen, Mirant Defenders Karsdorp, Pellegrini, Juan Jesus, Kolarov, Marcano, Santon, Fazio, Manolas Midfielders Cristante, Pellegrini, De Rossi, Coric, Zaniolo, Florenzi, Pastore, N’Zonzi Forwards Perotti, Dzeko, Schick, Cengiz Under, Kluivert, Celar, El Shaarawy Daniele De Rossi has been out since October with knee trouble and is missing once again. Edin Dzeko is fit enough to play some part, but only from the bench.Roma starting XI: Olsen; Santon, Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov; Cristante, Nzonzi; Under, Zaniolo, Florenzi; Schick.Betting & Match Odds Juventus are 4/9 favourites with bet365 , while Roma can be backed at 9/1. A draw, meanwhile, is priced at 10/3.Click here to see more offers for the game, including goalscoring markets, correct score predictions and more. Match Preview It has been another thoroughly satisfactory week for Juventus, who lead Serie A by eight points over second-placed Napoli with a virtually unblemished record approaching their final match before Christmas.Star summer signing Cristiano Ronaldo proved the difference from the penalty spot as Torino were seen off 1-0 last weekend in a competitive local derby, while away from the field they have been heartened by Alex Sandro penning a new deal and Daniele Rugani closing in on one. Certainly, the Portuguese’s presence seems to have boosted spirits in the camp, with Moise Kean explaining to RMC : “I had only seen him on the PlayStation before! Playing with him has improved me a lot, I learn a lot from him as well as from the other champions with the Bianconeri.”Perhaps the only concern for Juve came in Monday’s Champions League draw, in which they were paired with Atletico Madrid, despite beating Manchester United to finish top of their pool.“We didn’t have much luck,” vice-chairman Pavel Nedved lamented.But Juve can worry about Atleti in February, particularly as they have a challenging Serie A match forthcoming against Roma.With only six wins from 16 league matches this season, Eusebio Di Francesco finds himself a man under pressure.They have conceded two goals in each of their last five outings in all competitions and had to twice come from behind to beat Genoa 3-2 at the Stadio Olimpico last weekend.“We have so much pressure on us that the wait for the next match has been really hard,” captain De Rossi explained. “We have a lot of pressure on our shoulders. We’re in a delicate period because we know we have to do better than we have been doing.“We are all under observation, including the coach, and we know it. We want to have a great match, more for ourselves than for the importance of the game. Against the strongest of them all.”A massive 22 points behind Juve, it is abundantly clear how daunting their task is.
Rafael Benitez was disappointed with aspects of Newcastle United’s performance in the 0-0 home Premier League draw with Fulham, but questioned whether his side should have been rated as big favourites.Newcastle failed to register a shot on target for a game they were widely tipped to win against Claudio Ranieri’s bottom-of-the-table visitors, who kept their first clean sheet of the season.Benitez felt it was a “tense” atmosphere with his players expected to triumph, but was keen to point out Fulham’s quality as well as the fact his team are collecting consistent points, 15 having been earned from their last nine matches. Article continues below Editors’ Picks ‘There is no creativity’ – Can Solskjaer get Man Utd scoring freely again? ‘Everyone legged it on to the pitch!’ – How Foden went from Man City superfan to future superstar Emery out of jail – for now – as brilliant Pepe papers over Arsenal’s cracks What is Manchester United’s ownership situation and how would Kevin Glazer’s sale of shares affect the club? “Sometimes it can be tense at home, when they say you have to win the game, but Fulham spent a lot of money in the summer,” he said to BBC Sport.”They are bottom but have a good team. They are organised, they had five at the back and were dangerous on the counter-attack.”It’s disappointing because we were expected to get the three points, but now we’ve taken four points from two games. It’s not ideal but we are getting points.”Newcastle extended their advantage over the bottom three to five points despite the poor display, Aleksandar Mitrovic coming closest to scoring by forcing a dramatic last-ditch block from Jamaal Lascelles with two minutes left.Benitez added: “During the game I was not happy with some situations and decisions. The worst thing is that, in a game we could win, where we were pushing and had control, we could have lost it in the last counter-attack.”It’s good that we didn’t lose but the negative is that we gave Fulham those situations to score and were a bit lucky in the end.”FULL-TIME: Newcastle United 0 Fulham 0It finishes goalless at St. James’ Park on a frustrating afternoon for the Magpies. Reaction to follow at https://t.co/6wuhjKS0XX. #NUFC pic.twitter.com/bwifnaSW6u— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) December 22, 2018Ranieri, meanwhile, hailed a key step as Fulham finally kept one of their opponents out after switching to a back five.”It is very important for us,” he said. “First half maybe we created more play and had possession well, but they had a very big chance.”Second half we lost control and they were dangerous, but we had four or five chances on the counter-attack, so at the end I’m happy because every point we achieve is good.”It’s the first time I’ve tried to play with three centre-backs and the players responded well. They were very solid against a physical team.”Alfie Mawson, one of the three centre-backs, was glad to get a clean sheet in the bag.”It’s a relief,” he said. “We were very resilient, especially in the second half. “We’ve been working hard defensively all week and now we can build on that. Hopefully it’s the start of something good. We haven’t been good enough but since the gaffer’s come on we’ve been improving.” Check out Goal’s Premier League 2019-20 fantasy football podcast for game tips, debate and rivalries.
Softly spoken and self-effacing almost to a fault, not even being crowned the world’s best player could inflate Luka Modric’s ego.The 2018 Ballon d’Or winner ended a decade of tyrannical domination of the award by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who had shared out equally – if not always uncontroversially – the last 10 awards. Modric, however, saw his triumph as a win for the ‘little guy’.“Nobody has the right to compare themselves to [Messi and Ronaldo] the Real Madrid star told France Football upon receiving his new prize. “They are the best in the history of this sport. Article continues below Editors’ Picks ‘There is no creativity’ – Can Solskjaer get Man Utd scoring freely again? ‘Everyone legged it on to the pitch!’ – How Foden went from Man City superfan to future superstar Emery out of jail – for now – as brilliant Pepe papers over Arsenal’s cracks What is Manchester United’s ownership situation and how would Kevin Glazer’s sale of shares affect the club? “I am happy that someone normal is able to win the Ballon d’Or.”Do not be fooled by Modric’s diffidence, however. Beneath that unassuming exterior is a truly magnificent playmaker who fully deserves to have finished ahead of two footballing behemoths – a fact he underlined with a match-winning performance to crown Madrid world champions on Saturday.Santiago Solari’s men could have been forgiven for taking the Club World Cup final rather lightly. On the opposite side of the pitch were unheralded Al Ain, the local heroes in Abu Dhabi who had ejected Wellington, Esperance de Tunis and River Plate on the road to the decider but who were surely outmatched against the winners of the last three Champions League titles.Part of River’s downfall was underestimating that rival, though, and Madrid almost paid for the same mistake early on. A dreadful error from Marcelo just 12 minutes into the final sent Hussein El Shahat bursting through on goal and only Sergio Ramos’ miraculous stop on the line stopped the favourites going behind after Al Ain’s dangerman had danced past a flailing Thibaut Courtois.That near-miss was a show of the absent-mindedness and apparent lack of focus that has hurt Madrid time and again in this desperately disappointing start to the season. Luckily for the Liga side, they had an ace up their sleeve in the shape of their Croatian genius.Minutes after Ramos’ intervention Modric was given an inch of space on the edge of the Al Ain box. He does not need much more. The midfielder whipped the ball past goalkeeper Eisa with an unstoppable effort, a near-mirror image of the strike that finished off Argentina in this summer’s World Cup as this time round he opted to use his left boot.From that point onwards, and despite another scare when the brilliant Caio scooped over Courtois’ head only to be called back for a marginal offside, the game was Madrid’s to lose.In the second half Marcos Llorente stepped up to take a leaf out of Modric’s and fire home a cracking volley, his first-ever Madrid goal effectively ending the final as a contest. Modric stepped up once again with a perfect corner to allow Ramos to extend the scoreline, before Al Ain grabbed a late consolation. An even later own goal meant that Madrid ran out 4-1 winners.After all the strife of the last few months, the Merengue received some welcome breathing space in the shape of silverware as Solari takes his first trophy in the hotseat. What is clear is that this team, dishevelled as it has been recently, still depend heavily on their No. 10, who once more has responded when it most counts.Perhaps Modric does not have the scintillating natural talent of Messi (but then who does?) or Ronaldo’s irrepressible eye for goal. But the facts speak for themselves. At 33 he continues to pull the strings in the team that have been crowned European and world champions for the last three years. He shows no sign of slowing down.When his heroics in leading unfancied Croatia to the World Cup final are taken into consideration there can be no doubt that he was the right man for the Ballon d’Or, a feat only made more exceptional by the fact he overthrew those two monsters to take the prize. Those who gripe and moan about the decision, often on social media with avatars depicting one of the pair above, miss the point about what these awards are supposed to signify.To put it simply, Modric was the outstanding star of the past 12 months, bringing his game to new heights to lead Madrid to further silverware and Croatia to the brink of glory. Like Andres Iniesta before him, he cannot be judged solely on goals, assists and other dry statistics; watching him glide across the pitch and making his side tick is a work of art that needs no numerical support.Perhaps one can only fault his own perceptions of himself, particularly when it comes to speaking to reporters. Normal? There is absolutely nothing normal about Modric and his marvellous 2018.
Santiago Solari shared the credit for Real Madrid’s record-breaking Club World Cup triumph with former head coach Zinedine Zidane.Solari, the replacement for Zidane’s short-lived successor Julen Lopetegui, led Madrid to their first title under his stewardship with a 4-1 win over Al Ain in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.Victory means Madrid have won the tournament three years in a row and their fourth triumph in the competition moves them clear of rivals Barcelona as the Club World Cup’s most successful team. Article continues below Editors’ Picks ‘There is no creativity’ – Can Solskjaer get Man Utd scoring freely again? ‘Everyone legged it on to the pitch!’ – How Foden went from Man City superfan to future superstar Emery out of jail – for now – as brilliant Pepe papers over Arsenal’s cracks What is Manchester United’s ownership situation and how would Kevin Glazer’s sale of shares affect the club? Solari, though, was quick to pile praise on Zidane, who surprisingly stood down in the wake of winning Madrid’s third consecutive Champions League crown at the end of the 2017-18 season.”We are happy, these players deserve it, they have come here after a lot of work and a lot of wins,” Solari told TVE.”We put a finishing touch to that third consecutive Champions League, it is a feat of the club, this group and other coaches.”We are also here thanks to Zidane. It will be difficult to match in the future.”Listen to what goalscorer @lukamodric10 said after helping us become WORLD CHAMPIONS! #RMCWC pic.twitter.com/oO6FTjYLCI— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) December 22, 2018Marcos Llorente was among Madrid’s goalscorers in the final, the 23-year-old midfielder scoring his first goal as a professional with a half-volley from the edge of the penalty area.Llorente was overlooked throughout Zidane’s reign but has grown into a key role since Solari took charge, following Lopetegui’s sacking after just four months in charge.”They are all Madrid players and they all work to be able to do what they do in the field,” Solari said. “Marcos has always worked a lot, and he deserves the credit.”A first trophy for Santiago Solari as @realmadriden manager #ClubWC pic.twitter.com/cogKjGUgyy— #ClubWC (@FIFAcom) December 22, 2018Solari’s opposite number Zoran Mamic felt a gruelling Club World Cup campaign caught up with his tired Al Ain side in the final.”The first thing is to congratulate Real Madrid because they deservedly won it, with good football,” he said.”We have not been able to compete, it’s the fourth game in days and that has weighed on us. We had a great tournament, nobody thought we were going to get here.”We had opportunities in the first half, but we missed them and at this level we pay when Real Madrid are in front.”We would have liked to have more days of rest, but everything is set up and we cannot say anything, I sincerely believe that we have done a good job.”
Kylian Mbappe made the difference in the absence of Neymar, scoring the only goal of the game as Paris Saint-Germain beat Nantes 1-0 to end 2018 in victorious fashion.Brazil star Neymar had been allowed to travel back to his home country to rest following recent struggles with a groin injury, and while PSG missed his craft, they scraped the win nonetheless.Angel Di Maria looked PSG’s biggest threat in the first half, though his two best strikes did not quite hit the target as the hosts failed to make the most of their superiority. Article continues below Editors’ Picks ‘There is no creativity’ – Can Solskjaer get Man Utd scoring freely again? ‘Everyone legged it on to the pitch!’ – How Foden went from Man City superfan to future superstar Emery out of jail – for now – as brilliant Pepe papers over Arsenal’s cracks What is Manchester United’s ownership situation and how would Kevin Glazer’s sale of shares affect the club? PSG remained the controlling force after the interval and finally broke the deadlock through Mbappe in the 68th minute, and that proved to be enough as the hosts’ first Ligue 1 game since December 5 – due to the ‘gilet jaunes’ demonstrations – ended with a triumph.FULL TIME: PSG end the year on a winning note, beating Nantes 1-0 on @KMbappe’s lone goal! #AllesParis #PSGFCN pic.twitter.com/kn6DKKRaUR— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_English) December 22, 2018It took less than a minute for PSG to threaten, as Di Maria saw a controlled volley go agonisingly over Ciprian Tatarusanu’s crossbar.But that failed to usher in a period of PSG bombardment, with their next opportunity not presenting itself until the 25th minute, when Julian Draxler shot over from 20 yards after Mbappe’s cut-back.Di Maria went close again a few moments later, his 25-yard strike flying past the right-hand post with Tatarusanu looking beaten.PSG continued to threaten from distance after the break, with Di Maria – again – and Mbappe shooting just off target in the first 12 minutes.Draxler thought he opened the scoring after an hour, but VAR proved the ball went out of play in the build-up, despite Marco Verratti’s best efforts.There was no denying Mbappe 22 minutes from time, though, as he turned in – via the crossbar – from close range after Marquinhos flicked on Di Maria’s corner.Di Maria saw another effort thud against the crossbar but it mattered little as PSG secured victory to open up a 13-point lead over Lille – beaten 2-1 by Toulouse – at the top of the table.He’s not a teenager anymore #AllezParis #PSGFCN pic.twitter.com/r5zSMzNEjH— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_English) December 22, 2018What does it mean? PSG lacking sharpnessIt is fair to say PSG looked a little off the pace on Saturday, and it is easy to understand why, given the only teams they have faced since December 5 were Red Star Belgrade and Orleans. Considering the circumstances and the absence of Neymar, they will surely be happy to get this one out of the way.Di Maria provides PSG’s sparkWith Neymar not featuring, Di Maria took on the mantle of PSG’s creative hub and he was certainly lively, seeing several shots go close. He was unable to get a deserved goal, but there is no doubt about the quality he showed.Cavani blends into the backgroundPerhaps the service to him was lacking, but Edinson Cavani did little to make any openings for himself and rarely featured in build-up play before being hooked towards the end.Key Opta Facts- PSG have won their last 14 games against Nantes in Ligue 1, and become the first ever top-flight team to win 14 consecutive games against the same opponent.- Nantes have failed to score in eight of their last 10 away games against PSG in Ligue 1 (2 goals).- Thomas Tuchel’s side have picked up 47 points after 17 games in Ligue 1, the highest tally in the history of the top-flight at this stage.- PSG are the only team to have scored in all of their Ligue 1 games this season (17/17).- Mbappé’s goal in the 68th minute was PSG’s first shot on target.- The 20-year-old has scored 13 goals in Ligue 1 this season, only Lionel Messi (15) has scored more in the top 5 leagues.What’s next?After the winter break, PSG have games against Pontivy and Guingamp in the Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue, respectively, before then returning to Ligue 1 action on January 11 at Amiens. Nantes will host Chateauroux in the Coupe de France, then Montpellier in the league four days later on January 8. read more
Rangers will look to respond to Celtic’s 3-0 win over Dundee when they travel to face St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park on Sunday. Steven Gerrard’s men fell to third in the league on Saturday as Aberdeen leapfrogged them, while there is now a four-point gap to bridge between themselves and Celtic before the Old Firm game on Saturday.Although that encounter is the main focus of the week, the Gers cannot allow their concentration to waver in Perth or for an awkward midweek meeting with Hibs at Ibrox. Article continues below Editors’ Picks ‘There is no creativity’ – Can Solskjaer get Man Utd scoring freely again? ‘Everyone legged it on to the pitch!’ – How Foden went from Man City superfan to future superstar Emery out of jail – for now – as brilliant Pepe papers over Arsenal’s cracks What is Manchester United’s ownership situation and how would Kevin Glazer’s sale of shares affect the club? Game St Johnstone vs Rangers Date Sunday, December 23 Time 12:15pm GMT / 7:15am ET TV Channel, Live Stream & How To Watch In the United States (US), the game can be streamed via B/R Live. US TV channel Online stream N/A B/R Live In the UK, the game will be shown on BT Sport 1 and can be streamed through the BT Sport Live app. UK TV channel Online stream BT Sport 1 BT Sport Live Squads & Team News Position St Johnstone squad Goalkeepers Clark, Hurst Defenders Shaughnessy, Anderson, Kerr, Gordon, Easton, Tansfer, Foster, Comrie Midfielders Nydam, Davidson, Callachan, McClean, McCann, Wotherspoon, Alston, Craig, Swanson, Scougall Forwards Kennedy, Watt, Kane, McMillan St Johnstone go into this encounter without goalkeeper Conor Mitchell, defender Brian Easton and midfielder Drey Wright, all of whom would have expected to start the game.Danny Swanson and Blair Alston are set to come into the midfield, while Jason Kerr returned to full training late in the week and should start.Possible St Johnstone starting XI: Clark; Foster, Kerr, Shaughnessy, Tanser; Swanson, Alston, Davidson, Wotherspoon; Watt, Kennedy Position Rangers squad Goalkeepers McGregor, Foderingham, Robbie McCrorie Defenders Tavernier, Goldson, Flanagan, Ross McCrorie, Katic, Bradley, Barisic, Worrall, McAuley Midfielders Jack, Ejaria, Halliday, Coulibaly, Arfield, Kelly, Grezda Forwards Candeias, Morelos, Lafferty, Middleton Steven Gerrard has the familiar trio of long-term absentees – Lee Wallace, Jamie Murphy and Graeme Dorrans – to contend with. Additionally, Ryan Kent will miss the match and Scott Arfield is something of a worry, leaving the midfield somewhat depleted.In defence, meanwhile, centre-backs Gareth McAuley and Connor Goldson are both worries, which could open the door to a return for Nikola Katic.Ryan Jack will start after signing a fresh contract with the club that will run until 2021.Possible Rangers starting XI: McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Worrall, Barisic; Coulibaly, Jack, McCrorie; Candeias, Morelos, GrezdaBetting & Match Odds Rangers are priced as 11/20 favourites to win this game by bet365. St Johnstone are considered a 5/1 bet to win, while a draw is 3/1.Click here to see more offers for the game, including goalscoring markets, correct score predictions and more.Match Preview Rangers might have fallen four points behind Celtic in the Scottish Premiership standings, but they still have designs on overtaking their great rivals before New Year.Victory over St Johnstone on Sunday would open the door to the potential of regaining top spot in the final matches of 2018, in which they face Hibs on Boxing Day before tackling Celtic at Ibrox on Saturday.No slips, however, can be afforded against the Perth outfit, with assistant manager Gary McAllister acutely aware of the danger such a fixture can pose.“Barring their little blip against Motherwell, St Johnstone have been on good form,” he said. “They’re keeping clean sheets. It never ceases to amaze me what Tommy Wright does through at St Johnstone, very rarely he gets money to go and build his squad or add to his squad.“It’s the same players and they’ve done extremely well so it’s a tough opponent. We go up to Perth and it’s going to be difficult, I think it always is when we go through there. So it’s game on, and then obviously it’s Hibs coming back to Ibrox.”St Johnstone had been on an eight-match undefeated run before losing 2-1 to Motherwell at home last weekend, with their defence especially impressive as they had kept seven cleansheets in those games.However, they lost 5-1 at Ibrox when the sides previously met this season.“I know the idea of revenge is used a lot in football but if we need revenge as motivation then we need to take a look at ourselves,” Wright said.“Our focus is all on getting three points and to do that we’re going to have to learn from the game back in September.“We created chances which was obviously positive but we were too open and we were punished for it.“We’re keen to finish this year strongly before the break so we want to pick up another three points on Sunday and that’s our main focus.”Eighth in the table, Saints find themselves in a battle for the top six, but an upset victory would draw them to within four points of Rangers with a game in hand.
“It was a unique game. I always liked to come to the stadium, I always liked the environment, which is exciting. The first game was a dream. When I entered the field I almost had a blackout.”He may have suffered a few nerves when making his Benfica debut, but Gedson Fernandes’ performances for the transitioning Portuguese giants haven’t been that of a player overawed by his fast-tracked inclusion into the first-team.The 19-year-old made his Primeira Liga, UEFA Champions League and full international debuts all within a matter of months, quickly leading to apparent interest from European heavyweights such as Juventus. Editors’ Picks ‘There is no creativity’ – Can Solskjaer get Man Utd scoring freely again? ‘Everyone legged it on to the pitch!’ – How Foden went from Man City superfan to future superstar Emery out of jail – for now – as brilliant Pepe papers over Arsenal’s cracks What is Manchester United’s ownership situation and how would Kevin Glazer’s sale of shares affect the club? His recent seventh-placed finish in the Golden Boy ranking proved testament to how well he has settled into the senior set-up with Benfica, while his impactful performances in the Champions League qualifiers were worth their weight in gold for the Eagles, who along with their new prodigy have been taken aback by his ability to have such an effect on their season so far.”I did not expect it to happen so quickly. I appreciate the confidence [shown by the coach and everyone at Benfica],” Fernandes said. “My colleagues really help me. The team has grown immensely. We have worked a lot, we have several goals to reach. I am very happy here.””I was speechless, I was not expecting it, but I’m happy. It’s a sign that the work is being done well. It’s a unique feeling, something inexplicable, I’m in one of the best clubs in the world, it’s my home, that’s where I graduated.” Technically proficient with an athletic build and an eye for goal, Fernandes has completed over half of his attempted dribbles and won more than 50% of his aerial duels this season, as well as boasting a passing accuracy of over 82% in the Portuguese top-flight and the UEFA Champions League.His ability to distribute the balls is mirrored by his skills to win it back; Fernandes completes on average two tackles a game and wins 3.5 fouls per game in the Primeira Liga; the fifth-highest in the league.Such well-rounded statistics promise a bright future for Fernandes, who is being monitored by the likes of Juventus and Manchester United. If his progress in 2019 rivals the strides he made in 2018, it won’t be long before the precocious young Portuguese starlet is propelled among the footballing elite.