Cristiano Ronaldo says finishing outside the top three in the Premier League would be unacceptable for Manchester United as Ralf Rangnick struggles to turn around his under-performing team.
The German interim boss has steadied the ship since taking over from the sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but United are languishing in seventh place, 22 points behind leaders Manchester City.
The five-time world player of the year has called for a change of mindset within the dressing room to address United’s poor form, which resulted in a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Wolves in their most recent league outing.
“Manchester United should win the league or be second or third,” Ronaldo told Sky Sports. “I don’t see any other position for Manchester United.
“In my heart, I don’t accept that our mentality be less than being in the top three in the Premier League, in my opinion.
“I think to build up good things sometimes you have to destroy a few things. New year, new life, I hope that Manchester can be at the level people want, especially the fans. We are capable of changing things now.
“We can do it better, all of us. I don’t want to be here in the club to fight to be in sixth or seventh place. I am here to try to win, to compete. I believe if we change our mind we can achieve big things.”
Rangnick was brought in until the end of the season after Solskjaer was dismissed in November following a run of heavy defeats.
The German has won four of his seven games in charge in all competitions but the team’s style of football has still attracted criticism and there have been reports of disquiet within the squad.
United produced another disjointed display in their FA Cup third-round tie against Aston Villa on Monday but managed to scrape through 1-0.
Ronaldo backed Rangnick to turn things around but pleaded for patience ahead of Saturday’s league trip to Villa Park.
“He arrived here five weeks ago,” said the Portugese superstar. “He changed many things but he needs time to put his ideas through the players and on the pitch.
“It takes time but I believe that he is going to do a good job. We know we don’t play the best football, as we should do, but we have many games to improve. Since he arrived I think in some points we are better, but he needs time.”
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has tested positive for Covid-19 in a major outbreak at the Premier League club as Burnley also announced on Thursday that manager Sean Dyche had been sidelined by the virus.
Premier League champions City said 21 players and staff were now isolating for Covid-related reasons as the virus wreaked further havoc on English football.
“Pep Guardiola will miss tomorrow evening’s FA Cup trip to Swindon Town after testing positive for Covid-19,” the club said in a statement.
“The City manager recorded a positive test on Tuesday along with assistant Juanma Lillo. Both are now isolating, along with a number of other positive cases within the City first-team bubble.
“This brings the number of those isolating for Covid-related reasons amongst the group to 21. Of that number, 14 are backroom staff and seven are first-team players.
Despite the outbreak, the third-round FA Cup tie is still scheduled to go ahead with another of Guardiola’s assistants, Rodolfo Borrell, taking charge of the team.
The Omicron variant of coronavirus has resulted in record case numbers across Britain, forcing the postponement of many matches over the past month.
City are one of the few clubs not to have had a match called off yet and they have amassed a 10-point lead at the top of the Premier League.
The first leg of Liverpool’s League Cup semi-final against Arsenal, which had been due to take place on Thursday, was rescheduled after an outbreak forced Liverpool to close their training ground.
Former England striker Ian Wright says media coverage of the Africa Cup of Nations is “tinged with racism” as Premier League stars prepare to travel to Cameroon for the tournament.
Some of the biggest names in England’s top flight, including Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, will be playing in the 24-team event that starts on January 9, missing crucial games for their clubs.
Wright said the tournament was being treated differently from Euro 2020, which took place earlier this year, highlighting the issue of player release.
In a video posted on his official Instagram account on Wednesday, the former Arsenal forward said: “Is there ever a tournament more disrespected than the Africa Cup of Nations?
“There’s no greater honour — none — as a sportsperson than representing your country. The coverage is completely tinged with racism, completely tinged.
“We played our Euros across 10 countries in the middle of a pandemic and there’s no issue, no issue at all. But Cameroon, a single country hosting a tournament, is a problem?
“You’re getting players being asked if they will be honouring the call-ups for their national teams if they will be ‘honouring’. Imagine if that was an English player representing the Three Lions?”
Wright said many of the best players in the European leagues were African.
“If we love them at club level, why can’t we love them at international level like their counterparts from across the globe?” he asked. “Why can’t we?
“Why is this tournament constantly getting so much flak?”
Wright received the backing of former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o, the president of the Cameroonian Football Federation.
Eto’o tweeted: “Respect @IanWright0. There’s no greater honour for a sportsperson than representing your country. The Africa Cup of Nations is a celebration of African pride, and next week’s AFCON will once more prove the undeniable greatness of African players.”
Crystal Palace boss Patrick Vieira had earlier issued a similar call for respect for the tournament, a message reiterated by Ajax’s Ivory Coast striker Sebastien Haller.
Premier League clubs on Monday decided against a temporary halt to the season despite a surge in coronavirus cases that has forced mass postponements and threatened to derail the season.
Just four of the weekend’s scheduled 10 games went ahead as Britain battles record numbers of positive Covid cases due to the new Omicron strain.
The Premier League board has been considering applications for postponements on a case-by-case basis but there has been criticism over the decision-making process, with fears it jeopardises the sporting integrity of the competition.
There had been talk of a potential “firebreaker”, with suggestions that the middle round of the festive fixtures from December 28-30 could be postponed.
But on Monday the English top flight, following a shareholders’ meeting involving representatives from the 20 clubs, said games would continue through the busy festive season.
“It was confirmed at a Premier League club meeting today that while recognising a number of clubs are experiencing Covid-19 outbreaks and challenges, it is the league’s collective intention to continue the current fixture schedule where safely possible,” the Premier League said in a statement.
“The health and wellbeing of all concerned remains our priority and the League will continue to monitor and reflect public health guidance, always proceeding with caution.”
The statement also said 84 percent of players had had at least one dose of vaccination.
“The league continues to work with clubs to encourage vaccination among players and club staff, as well as promoting the Government’s public-health vaccination messaging to clubs and the wider public,” it added.
The English Football League also confirmed on Monday that its competitions, including this week’s League Cup quarter-finals, would proceed as planned.
“Throughout the pandemic our two priorities have been ensuring the welfare of those involved in EFL competitions and ensuring the fixture schedule can continue where it is safe to do so,” said EFL chief executive Trevor Birch.
The Football Association said FA Cup replays for the third and fourth round have been scrapped to free up space in the calendar.
Chelsea, who have fallen six points behind leaders Manchester City at the top of the table, asked to have Sunday’s match at Wolves called off but their plea was rejected despite seven positive Covid cases.
Title-chasing Liverpool also stumbled in a 2-2 draw at Tottenham, with a number of key players absent with coronavirus.
“We were put in a huge risk of health and safety to the players, not just because of Covid but also physically,” Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel said on Sunday.
“From a medical point of view, I’m very worried because we have had four consecutive days of positive tests in the squad.
“How will this stop if we carry on and pretend it’s not happening? This is my opinion and it’s the medical opinion but it’s not the opinion of the Premier League, so we have to play.”
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has called for more transparency over the decision-making process.
The Gunners were forced to play at Brentford on the opening weekend of the season despite four players testing positive and lost the game 2-0.
“We want to play all under the same rules,” said Arteta after Arsenal thrashed a depleted Leeds 4-1 on Saturday. “That’s where I think they have to come forward. Whatever they decide is best for the competition has to be explained.”
According to the Daily Mail, clubs were told that no postponements would be permitted if 13 outfield players and one goalkeeper from their 25-man squad list were available.
“We were really lucky to play today with everything that’s happening,” said Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta. “I told the players to enjoy the game and give everything because I don’t know how this will develop.”
Arteta’s own positive case back in March 2020 accelerated the Premier League’s shutdown for three months at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Six of the 10 matches in the English top-flight scheduled for this weekend have been called off due to a surge in cases due to the new Omicron variant of the virus.
A meeting of the 20 Premier League clubs will take place on Monday to decide whether to go ahead with the Boxing Day fixtures next weekend or to halt the season temporarily.
Arteta has called for more consistency in the decision making over when matches are called off after the Gunners were forced to play their season-opening game against Brentford in August despite an outbreak.
“Now it’s play as you can and we’ll play as we can,” said Arteta. “The Premier League will make the best decision for everybody, but we want to play all under the same rules.
“That’s where I think they have to come forward. Whatever they decide is best for the competition has to be explained.”
Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa described his side’s performance at the Etihad in midweek as the worst in his four years in charge and there was no sign of any improvement from his injury-hit squad.
However, the Elland Road crowd remained behind the Argentine as they chanted his name in the closing stages.
Bielsa was without England internationals Kalvin Phillips and Patrick Bamford, captain Liam Cooper and Spain forward Rodrigo amid an injury crisis that saw 15-year-old Archie Gray earn a spot on the bench.
“The first half we could have lost it by more goals,” admitted Bielsa.
Arsenal moved into the top four for the first time in more than a year with victory over West Ham on Wednesday and opened up a four-point gap on the chasing pack for a place in next season’s Champions League.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was absent once more for the Gunners after being stripped of the captaincy by Arteta for a disciplinary breach.
His absence has given Martinelli the chance of a consistent run of Premier League starts for the first time since the bright start to his Arsenal career was interrupted by a series knee injury in June 2020.
The Brazilian has scored four times in his last six games as Arsenal.
Illan Meslier was helpless for the opener when Alexandre Lacazette robbed Adam Foreshaw inside the Leeds box and Martinelli slotted the loose ball into the top corner.
The 20-year-old showed his pace and poise in front of goal to double Arsenal’s lead with a dink over Meslier from Granit Xhaka’s pinpoint pass on 28 minutes.
Leeds had a three-goal deficit to overcome at half-time after Saka’s deflected shot left Meslier wrong-footed three minutes before the break.
The hosts at least showed some spirit in the second period and pulled a goal back when Raphinha fired a penalty into the top corner after Joe Gelhardt had been brought down by Ben White 15 minutes from time.
Arsenal have blown the lead in their last two away league games at Manchester United and Everton, but there was no collapse this time.
Substitute Smith Rowe rounded off the scoring as he blasted home Martin Odegaard’s precise pass.
The Premier League on Thursday postponed two more matches due to the worsening coronavirus pandemic but said it intended to “continue its current fixture schedule where safely possible” as calls for a circuit break intensified.
Manchester United’s weekend game against Brighton was called off shortly after Leicester’s scheduled match against Tottenham on Thursday was postponed — bringing the total to five top-flight fixtures scrapped in the past week.
Britain is battling record numbers of Covid-19 cases as the Omicron variant runs riot, with fears growing that the crisis could derail the football season.
“Regarding Manchester United’s game on Saturday, the club continues to have an ongoing Covid-19 outbreak within their squad, which has left them unable to field a team for the match at Old Trafford,” the Premier League said in a statement.
“A significant number of Covid-19 cases led to their game against Brentford FC being called off earlier this week, and today additional positive tests have been confirmed.”
United are believed to have had only seven senior players available because of Covid and other injuries for the Brighton game.
Leicester and the Premier League earlier confirmed the cancellation of Thursday’s game between the Foxes and Spurs, who have been badly hit by virus postponements.
“The club has an insufficient number of first-team players available to fulfil the match,” Leicester said in a statement.
– Covid break? –
Brentford manager Thomas Frank said he would like to see a break to help manage the situation across the Premier League.
His team’s fixture against United, scheduled to take place on Tuesday, was postponed and the club now have their own Covid infections to tackle.
“We think we should postpone the full round of Premier League games this weekend,” he said.
“Covid cases are going through the roof at all Premier League clubs. Everyone is dealing with it and having problems.
“To postpone this round and also the Carabao (League) Cup round would give everyone a week at least, or four or five days to clean and do everything at the training ground so everything is clean and you break the chain.”
But the Premier League said it planned to press ahead with its schedule as the busy festive season approaches.
“While recognising a number of clubs are experiencing Covid-19 outbreaks, it is the league’s intention to continue its current fixture schedule where safely possible,” it said in a statement.
“The health and wellbeing of all concerned remains our priority.”
It added: “The (Premier League) board assesses applications to postpone matches on a case-by-case basis, based on existing rules and Covid-19 postponement guidance issued to all clubs.
“It will assess a number of factors, including the ability of a club to field a team, the status, severity and potential impact of the Covid-19 outbreak at the club, and the ability of the players to safely prepare for and play the match.”
Thursday’s game between Chelsea and Everton and Liverpool’s match against Newcastle are both still scheduled to go ahead.
However, there were reports on Thursday that Chelsea had three more players test positive after Mateo Kovacic caught the virus last week.
The number of postponed weekend matches across England’s top four divisions reached double figures on Thursday, with the English Football League announcing stricter Covid protocols including increased testing.
The EFL, which runs the second, third and fourth tiers, said it was encouraging all eligible players and staff to get fully vaccinated and also book a booster jab to “help protect colleagues and minimise the risk of fixtures being postponed”.
November’s figures showed 75 percent of players across the EFL had been either fully vaccinated, had a single jab or intended to be vaccinated.
The total of double-vaccinated players was just 59 percent.
Premier League fans will be subject to vaccine passport checks to enter stadiums from Wednesday, but fears are rising over how long the English top flight can continue in front of capacity crowds as the Omicron variant sweeps across Britain.
Tottenham’s trip to Brighton and Manchester United’s visit to Brentford have been postponed due to outbreaks in the Spurs and United camps in recent days.
Aston Villa, Leicester and Norwich have also reported positives as part of a record 42 cases of Covid-19 among Premier League players and staff in the past week.
That figure is the highest since testing began in May 2020 when top-flight football in England returned after a three-month delay caused by the pandemic.
For over a year the action continued on the field in front of empty stands until a loosening of restrictions allowed the Premier League to return to capacity crowds in August.
There were no restrictions for supporters at most stadiums, although Brighton, Chelsea and Tottenham did introduce the mandatory checks for vaccination or proof of a negative test that will now be deployed across England for crowds of over 10,000.
The specter of Covid loomed in the background even as tens of thousands of unmasked fans mixed in close quarters to watch Steven Gerrard’s return to Liverpool as Aston Villa manager on Saturday.
A pop-up testing centre offered free lateral flow tests to the passing crowds.
Newly deployed “Covid stewards” were positioned around Anfield to offer advice on how to download vaccination status onto a smartphone in preparation for Thursday’s first match under the new rules against Newcastle.
Liverpool fans have already been affected by problems with the club’s new e-ticketing system that saw long queues to get into the stadium in the early weeks of the season.
Premier League clubs are scrambling to get extra staff for checks, but delays are expected.
“It is going to be another shambles,” said Richard Walker, a 55-year-old Liverpool fan. “A lot of older people don’t have the latest phone or know how to work it.
“It’s the middle of winter and now we’ll be standing in queues for ages waiting to get in.”
Many other fans were more supportive of the measure as long as it keeps the doors open during a busy festive calendar of games.
“It’s a small sacrifice compared to being shut out,” said Lucas Brownley, 33, who regularly travels from London to Liverpool for home games.
“Older people might struggle with the technology, but they are the ones that need most protecting. It is for their sake.”
The Football Supporters Association (FSA) has backed the vaccine passport in a bid to avoid the return to sport behind closed doors as has already happened for major matches in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands.
“From the earliest days of the pandemic we have always said that supporters should follow the expert advice of medical professionals and scientists,” FSA chair Malcolm Clarke told AFP.
“If those experts feel that public health is best served by the introduction of vaccine passports or lateral flow tests for all large outdoor events, then we accept that requirement.”
In announcing the strengthening of measures against the virus last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the vaccine passport would “keep these events and venues open at full capacity”.
It would also give those who attend confidence they have minimised the risk to others and themselves, he added.
But Johnson is facing anger from his own MPs — and a significant rebellion — about their introduction, with many seeing them as an unnecessary curb on public freedoms.
For now, the show goes on with nine of the 10 Premier League matches scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday still going ahead in front of full crowds.
Manchester United announced on Monday they had appointed Ralf Rangnick as interim manager until the end of the season following the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The 63-year-old German joins from Lokomotiv Moscow, where he was manager of sports and development.
At the end of the season Rangnick, whose appointment is subject to work visa requirements, will take on a consultancy role at Old Trafford for a further two years.
He takes over from first-team coach Michael Carrick, who has been in caretaker charge for two games since Solskjaer was sacked just over a week ago following a terrible run of results for the 20-time English champions.
“He was our number one candidate for interim manager, reflecting the invaluable leadership and technical skills he will bring from almost four decades of experience in management and coaching,” said United football director John Murtough.
The former RB Leipzig boss said he was excited to be joining United and focused on making it a successful season for the struggling club.
“The squad is full of talent and has a great balance of youth and experience,” he said. “All my efforts for the next six months will be on helping these players fulfil their potential, both individually and, most importantly, as a team.
“Beyond that, I look forward to supporting the club’s longer-term goals on a consultancy basis.”
United are eighth in the Premier League table after a 1-1 draw with leaders Chelsea on Sunday, five points off the top four.
First-team coach Carrick — who has overseen a Champions League win over Villarreal and the draw at Stamford Bridge, where he dropped Cristiano Ronaldo — will remain in caretaker charge until Rangnick’s work visa is finalised.
Club bosses sacked Solskjaer last week after a 4-1 humbling at lowly Watford despite keeping faith with the Norwegian after humiliating home losses to rivals Liverpool and Manchester City.
Solskjaer, who scoring the winning goal for United in the 1999 Champions League final to complete a historic treble, was in charge for nearly three years.
Under his leadership United finished in the Premier League top four in back-to-back seasons for the first time since Alex Ferguson retired as boss in 2013 but they failed to win their first silverware since 2017.
United can boast abundant riches in attack, with Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford, Sancho, Marcus Greenwood and Anthony Martial all vying for starting spots.
But their leaky defence has already conceded 22 goals in 13 games, more than four times Chelsea’s total of five.
Rangnick could take charge of United for the first time against Arsenal on Thursday if his work permit issues are sorted out quickly.
Former United defender Gary Neville tweeted: “Welcome to the Greatest Football Club in the World Ralf Rangnick.
“A contract for 6 months to coach the team. A contract for 2 years to coach the club.”
Eddie Howe says it would be “foolish” for him to promise that bottom side Newcastle will buy their way out of Premier League relegation trouble in the January transfer window.
The new boss celebrated his 44th birthday on Monday by preparing his team for Tuesday’s clash with Norwich, with the club still seeking their first win of the season after 13 matches.
Newcastle, who lost 2-0 at Arsenal on Saturday, are six points adrift of safety at the foot of the table but they have vital home matches against the Canaries and Burnley — the two clubs directly above them — over the coming week.
The Magpies’ new Saudi-backed owners have indicated they will invest significantly in the squad but Howe knows he cannot rely on spending power alone to preserve their top-flight status.
Asked if he had been assured of backing in the transfer window, he replied: “I can’t make any promises on that, but I can promise that the people above me, the owners, will support the team and support me in trying to achieve what we need. That’s all I can say at this time.
“It would be foolish of me to make rash promises or statements. My priority at the moment is to get the best out of the players we have.”
Howe has seen signs of improvement in his team in the two games since he replaced Steve Bruce but knows defensive frailties need to be eradicated if they are to drag themselves out of trouble.
“I don’t think there are any limitations on what we can achieve with the group of players we have here,” he said. “We have to improve performances, improve results and once confidence returns to the team, I think you will see a different team.
“But attacking and defending is always a delicate balance for any team and we just need to get that right.”
Howe, who will be without suspended defenders Jamaal Lascelles, his captain, and Matt Ritchie, will be in the dugout at St James’ Park for the first time after missing the last home game following a positive coronavirus test.
Premier League leaders Chelsea were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Manchester United on Sunday as Manchester City moved to within a point of top spot following a 2-1 win over West Ham in swirling snow.
Blues midfielder Jorginho rescued a point as the Italian’s penalty atoned for the error that allowed Jadon Sancho to put the visitors in front at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea fell behind when poor control from Jorginho allowed Sancho to score early in the second half.
But Jorginho made amends when he scored from the penalty spot after Aaron Wan-Bissaka fouled Thiago Silva.
It was an impressive result for United under former midfielder Michael Carrick, standing in following the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. United are set to hire former RB Leipzig boss Ralf Rangnick as their interim manager until the end of the season in the coming days.
– ‘Disappointed’ –
Not that Carrick, who took the bold decision to leave Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench, was delighted with the performance.
“Disappointed actually,” Carrick told Sky Sports. “When you are in front in a game like this to have it taken away is disappointing.
He added: “I don’t think it was a penalty at all…I am not getting carried away but I thought we defended well. I cannot fault the boys one bit.”
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel said: “I am happy, absolutely happy. I saw a huge effort. We put the pressure up high, we were brave and courageous.”
Free-scoring Liverpool hammered Southampton 4-0 on Saturday to move to within one point of Chelsea.
But reigning champions City stayed in touch with victory at home to the high-flying Hammers.
City took the lead shortly after the half-hour mark when a Riyad Mahrez ball into the box was deflected into the path of Ilkay Gundogan, before substitute Fernandinho made it 2-0 late on.
Manuel Lanzini pulled one back deep into stoppage time but it was not enough for David Moyes’s team to avoid a second successive defeat.
“We have an incredible groundskeeper — thanks to them we could play,” City manager Pep Guardiola told the BBC, referring to the wintry conditions in Manchester.
“The chances we created… it could have been three or four. The players we have out… those that came here were brilliant. All of them. We cannot forget which opponent we played. They have everything.”
– Vardy double –
Leicester’s Jamie Vardy reminded Claudio Ranieri of his enduring quality even in his mid-30s, scoring twice at a snowy King Power Stadium in a 4-2 win against Watford.
Ranieri, who won the Premier League title with unfancied Leicester in 2016, received a rapturous reception on his first return to the stadium as an opposition manager since leaving the club early the following year.
Midfielder James Maddison gave Leicester an early lead only for Josh King to level from the penalty spot in the 30th minute after Wilfred Ndidi brought down Emmanuel Dennis in the area.
Leicester regained the lead through Vardy four minutes later and the former England striker grabbed his second three minutes before the break when he glanced in Maddison’s corner.
Dennis pulled a goal back just after the hour but Ademola Lookman scored from close range to restore Leicester’s two-goal lead.
Brentford heaped the pressure on Rafael Benitez by beating Everton 1-0 to secure their first Premier League win since early October, courtesy of a first-half penalty from Ivan Toney.
Everton, who have taken just two points from their past seven league matches, face Liverpool in a daunting test in midweek.
“Every game is important for us,” said ex-Liverpool boss Benitez. “Obviously the next one is more important because it is the derby. We must learn from the mistakes we are making.”
The game between Burnley and Tottenham was called off a little under an hour before kick-off because of heavy snow at Turf Moor in northwest England.