The Premier League provided its usual drama on Saturday with decisive penalties awarded in all but one of the fixtures.

Chelsea left it late against Leeds United in a game that saw referee Chris Kavanagh award three penalties, while Manchester United earned a narrow win thanks to another Cristiano Ronaldo spot-kick.

Liverpool also profited from the penalty spot as Steven Gerrard made his return to Anfield with Aston Villa, and another conversion from 12 yards aided Manchester City at home to Wolves.

Elsewhere, Arsenal cruised past Southampton, who are yet to win at Emirates Stadium in 23 Premier League attempts – the longest winless run for one club away to another in the competition's history.

With tons of action to unpack, Stats Perform takes an in-depth look at the pick of Opta facts from Saturday's clashes.

Manchester City 1-0 Wolves: Jimenez moment of madness gifts Citizens win

Raheem Sterling reached a century of Premier League goals as City scraped by 10-man Wolves, who could not hold on after Raul Jimenez's bizarre red card for two yellows in a matter of seconds.

Jimenez became the first ever Mexican player to receive a red card in the Premier League, making Mexico the 76th nation to have a player dismissed in the competition.

Sterling then scored from the penalty spot after Joao Moutinho was adjudged to have handled, becoming the 32nd player to 100 Premier League goals and the eighth-youngest at 27 years and three days.

Pep Guardiola's side held on to that slender lead and have now won 32 of their 40 league games in 2021 (D2 L6) – only Liverpool in 1982 (33) have won more matches in a single calendar year in English top-flight history.

Chelsea 3-2 Leeds United: Spot-kick drama condemns Whites to another London loss

Leeds have a miserable record in London and that was extended to just two wins in their past 33 matches in all competitions in the capital despite Raphinha finding the net when a first penalty was awarded in the visitors' favour at Stamford Bridge.

Mason Mount cancelled out that opener, before Raphinha became the 13th player – and first Leeds star – to both score and concede a penalty in the same Premier League game when he brought down Antonio Rudiger, allowing Jorginho to score.

Although Joe Gelhardt netted Leeds' first top-flight goal by a teenager since James Milner versus Everton in April 2004 to level the match again, Rudiger won a second penalty – the first Chelsea player to earn two in a Premier League game since Yuri Zhirkov against Aston Villa in March 2010 – deep into stoppage time.

Jorginho settled the result with his second from 12 yards after 93 minutes and 11 seconds, the Blues' latest winning goal in the competition since Florent Malouda's strike against Stoke City in September 2009 (93:36).

Liverpool 1-0 Aston Villa: Salah downs shot-shy Villans

Returning hero Gerrard was greeted with a standing ovation back at Anfield, but the latest king of the Kop ensured his Villa side went away empty-handed. 

Mohamed Salah again made the difference, the Egypt international converting his 15th straight Premier League penalty – the second-longest ever such run in the competition after Matt Le Tissier (23 between 1994 and 2000).

Salah is also now just one game away from Jamie Vardy's record of either scoring or assisting in 15 straight Premier League matches between August and December 2015.

This was Liverpool's 100th 1-0 win in the competition and their second in a row for the first time since December 2015, requiring just the one goal as Villa failed to register a single shot on target in a league match for the first time since December 2019 against Sheffield United.

Norwich City 0-1 Manchester United: Another Ronaldo rescue act for Red Devils

Ralf Rangnick has pinpointed United's defensive issues as a key area to fix and there were more positive signs on that front – at least on the stats sheet.

Rangnick became just the second Manchester United manager to register a clean sheet in his first two league games after Ernest Mangnall in 1903.

United were far from convincing in either defence or attack, though, again relying on David de Gea and match-winner Ronaldo, who won and scored United's 50th successful away Premier League spot-kick – only Liverpool (60) have netted more such goals in the competition's history.

Ronaldo also became only the third player to score for three different United managers in a single season after James Hanson and Joe Spence both did so in 1926-27.

Jurgen Klopp says he did not feel under pressure pitting his wits against Steven Gerrard but likened the way Liverpool made hard work of beating Aston Villa to "tooth pain".

Reds legend Gerrard suffered a 1-0 defeat on his return to Anfield as Villa manager, Mohamed Salah scoring the only goal of the game from the penalty spot after Tyrone Mings brought him down midway through the second half.

Liverpool dominated the game and Villa failed to register a shot on target, but they might have had a late penalty of their own for a challenge from Alisson on former Reds striker Danny Ings.

That is seven wins in a row in all competitions for the second-placed Merseyside club, who are a point behind Premier League leaders Manchester City.

Gerrard was given a great reception by the fans who adored him during his outstanding career, but Liverpool manager Klopp has no problem with the club legend constantly being talked up as his successor.

He told Match of the Day: "The good thing is I have no problem with this sort of thing. I will not be here forever, so I would love it to be Stevie! But no I did not feel under pressure today."

Klopp did have an issue with seeing his side have a few nervy moments with such a slender lead as Villa showed more ambition late on after spending the majority of the game camped in their own half.

He said: "The first 75 minutes was incredible football. It's difficult. The opponent defended compact. It looked really good, we played in the spaces we wanted to play, but we did not finish the situations, which is tricky.

"We came out in the second half and knew we had to keep going – and improve in moments. We were not calm enough in the last pass. We kept going.

"We scored with the penalty, then the relief was obviously too big and it was an unnecessary open game. Like tooth pain, nobody needs that. There are areas to improve even when we win football games, which is good."

Salah has either scored or assisted a goal in 14 consecutive Premier League appearances, just one off Jamie Vardy's record of 15 between August and December 2015.

The Egypt forward's goal was his 21st of the season, and he has converted his past 15 penalties in the Premier League, with only Matt Le Tissier (23) scoring more in a row in the competition between January 1994 and April 2000.

Mohamed Salah scored his 21st goal of the season as Liverpool beat Aston Villa 1-0 on the day Steven Gerrard returned to Anfield.

Villa boss Gerrard was given a great reception by fans who worshipped him during an outstanding playing career that saw the former captain establish himself as a Liverpool legend.

Gerrard was unable to prevent Liverpool from extending their winning run to seven matches, Salah tucking home a 67th-minute penalty after he was brought down by Tyrone Mings.

Jurgen Klopp's in-form side dominated Villa, although Danny Ings may have been unfortunate not to be awarded a late penalty, and second-placed Liverpool remain a point behind Premier League leaders Manchester City.

Sadio Mane thought he had been pulled back by Matty Cash in the penalty area early on, and Emiliano Martinez showed sharp reactions to keep out Andy Robertson's header as the Reds applied pressure from the start.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's dipping long-range drive was just over the crossbar before the dangerous Robertson went down under a challenge from Marvelous Nakamba, but both referee Stuart Attwell and the VAR again saw nothing untoward.

The agile Martinez stuck out his left hand to superbly deny Salah at his near post after the prolific forward had cut in from the right, with Villa standing firm to weather the storm in the rain.

Martinez palmed the unmarked Virgil van Dijk's powerful header into the Kop and Diogo Jota replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain 12 minutes into the second half.

There was huge relief for the majority of a packed crowd when Salah made the breakthrough midway through the second half, firing into the bottom-right corner after Mings upended the Egypt international with a clumsy challenge.

Alisson might have been lucky not to concede a penalty when Ings went down late on after a mix-up between the Liverpool goalkeeper and Joel Matip, as Villa were unable to force a late equaliser.


What does it mean? Relentless Reds march on

Salah was Liverpool's match-winner yet again as he earned and converted the decisive penalty to end battling Villa's resistance.

The Merseyside club have only conceded twice in seven matches and stay just behind City, who beat Wolves 1-0 earlier in the day, while third-placed Chelsea needed a last-gasp Jorginho penalty to see off Leeds United 3-2.

This was a second defeat of his Villa tenure for Gerrard, who made 710 appearances for Liverpool, and they did not pose a threat until late in the game.

Spot-on Salah

Salah has now found the back of the net with his last 15 penalties in the Premier League. Only Southampton great Matthew Le Tissier (23 in a row between January 1994 and April 2000) has scored many consecutive spot-kicks in the competition.

Former Chelsea and Roma man Salah had six goal attempts here, hitting the target with two.

Marauding Robertson a massive threat

Robertson was a standout performer for the Reds and gave a Cash a tough afternoon. The Scotland left-back provided three key passes and made the most passes by a Liverpool player in the Villa half with 50. He also came close to an opening goal in the first half.

What's next?

Liverpool face struggling Newcastle United at Anfield on Thursday, two days after Villa are reunited with their former boss Dean Smith when they travel to tackle Norwich City.

Barcelona are in disarray – out of Champions League and out of money.

Funds are limited at Camp Nou and it is forcing the embattled LaLiga giants to make some tough decisions.

Frenkie de Jong and Marc-Andre ter Stegen could be sold.

 

TOP STORY – DE JONG AND TER STEGEN TO LEAVE CAMP NOU?

Barcelona are willing to sell Frenkie de Jong and Marc-Andre ter Stegen due to the club's finances, according to Diario AS.

Eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage, Barca are in the midst of a financial crisis, having been forced to part with superstar captain Lionel Messi at the start of the season.

Barca head coach Xavi faces a rebuilding job but needs to raise funds, and star midfielder De Jong and goalkeeper Ter Stegen could be sacrificed.

De Jong has been linked with Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Bayern Munich, who have also eyed Ter Stegen.

 

ROUND-UP

- Football Insider says Real Madrid are weighing up a move for former superstar Cristiano Ronaldo if he does not fit into the system of United interim manager Ralf Rangnick.

- ESPN claims Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham, RB Leipzig midfielder Amadou Haidara and Kalvin Phillips of Leeds United are key targets for Manchester United. Erling Haaland is also a long-term target of United.

Chelsea are eyeing Leicester City's Wesley Fofana as a replacement for soon-to-be free agent Antonio Rudiger, per Goal. Rudiger has been linked with Real Madrid and Bayern on a free transfer. Preparing for life after Rudiger, Chelsea have also been linked to Sevilla centre-back Jules Kounde.

Paris Saint-Germain are looking to move on Mauro Icardi, Rafinha and Abdou Diallo, says L'Equipe. Icardi has been linked with Juventus, Milan, Newcastle United and Tottenham.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is expecting Steven Gerrard to "fight with all he has" when Liverpool host Aston Villa in the Premier League on Saturday.

Reds legend Gerrard was appointed manager of Villa last month following the dismissal of Dean Smith and has won three of his first four games in charge of the Midlands club.

The former England midfielder won a multitude of trophies during his playing days at Liverpool, including the Champions League in 2005 along with three EFL Cups, two FA Cups, the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup.

He started his coaching career leading Liverpool's Under-18s side before joining Rangers in 2018, and last season led the Gers to their first Scottish Premiership title in a decade, ending Celtic's dominance.

Speaking ahead of their meeting at Anfield, Klopp was glowing in his praise of Gerrard as a person, saying: "To have this kind of relationship with people says a lot about Stevie.

"Honestly, since I've been here, I haven't heard one [bad] word... 'Stevie is a great player, great player, but…' there was not one 'but'. Everybody's only positive. 

"Then you meet him and you realise what a great guy he is actually. The talent he had could have led to a lot of strange characteristics, but obviously he's a really good guy. Which is nice.

"So everybody's happy for him that he's doing well. Now he's coming back to his club, it is his club. Not for 95 minutes I know, all fine. It will be strange for him, but he will fight with all he has."

Klopp was also asked about the future of Nat Phillips. The centre back started the 2-1 Champions League win against Milan at San Siro on Tuesday, but suffered a facial injury that his manager said is likely to keep him out of action for "four to five weeks". 

Phillips played 20 games for Liverpool last season, with 18 starts, after injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, but his start in Milan was his first in any competition this season, and the 24-year-old has been linked with a move away in the January transfer window.

"I'm very happy that Nat is here, to be honest," Klopp told reporters. "But we will not block anything – I think, at least, it's not the plan anymore. But who knows what happens until January, then we would talk completely new.

"It's of course not the luckiest moment for this, but by the end of January he will be completely fine, definitely – or probably in the middle of January, I don't know exactly.

"So we will see that it will be completely fine. It's not complicated, it's just not cool. We will see what that means exactly, but in the long-term, it's no problem. Everything will be fine for Nat, definitely."

Steven Gerrard insists he is focused on delivering "a positive result for Aston Villa" ahead of his return to Anfield, claiming the "noise" surrounding the game does not affect him.

Gerrard played 710 times for boyhood club Liverpool, winning the Champions League, two FA Cups, three EFL Cups, the UEFA Cup and a UEFA Super Cup in the process.

The Liverpool legend will face his former club for the first time on Saturday as Aston Villa boss, having won three of his first four games since leaving Rangers to replace Dean Smith.

"The noise is for other people to get excited about," Gerrard said ahead of Saturday's game. "For me, it's about preparing the team in the best way I can to try to get a positive result for Aston Villa.

"For everyone else, it's a massive occasion. For me, it's three points, it's a big game of football, and it's 90 minutes that we need to focus on.

"If I'm on the bus, heading back down the M6 towards Birmingham, and I’m not the most popular at Anfield, so be it."

Gerrard did, however, say that he understood why his return had generated excitement and acknowledged he is looking forward to the reunion.

"I really respect and understand all the noise around the game for obvious reasons, because I'm going back to a club [where] I spent many years," Gerrard said. 

"It brings a smile to my face for a couple of reasons. One, because, obviously, I've got a good relationship with a lot of people at the club.

"I had a fantastic time there, a really good journey, I'm a local boy, [they're] the team I supported growing up, and I always will support that team – of course I will.

"But at the same time, it brings a smile to my face because I have the opportunity to go there and compete against a good team, a good manager with the opportunity to try to win the game, and that's my main focus."

Gerrard has overseen defensive improvement in his short Villa tenure, conceding four goals in four games versus 20 in 11 before that, but he is keen to see his side on the front foot.

"We're a good team, we've got top players, we're a threat, and we want to make it as difficult as we can for Liverpool," Gerrard added.

"We're at our best when we play with controlled aggression and we're on the front foot. At this level, if you're passive in any area of the pitch, you can be punished quickly."

Jurgen Klopp is certain that Steven Gerrard will go on to become a Liverpool manager.

Gerrard takes his Aston Villa side to Anfield on Saturday, returning to his former club for the first time as a manager or a player.

The former England midfielder, who is a club great at Liverpool, won the Champions League in 2005 along with three EFL Cups, the FA Cup and UEFA Cup with the Reds during a glittering career.

He started his coaching career within Liverpool's youth set up before joining Rangers in 2018. Last season, he led them to their first Scottish Premiership title in a decade, ending Celtic's dominance.

Villa came calling at the start of November in the wake of Dean Smith's dismissal and Gerrard has overseen three victories from his opening four Premier League games in charge, only losing to Liverpool's title rivals Manchester City.

Gerrard has long been tipped to take over at Liverpool, possibly even from Klopp, whose current deal runs until the end of the 2023-24 season.

And Klopp – who began Friday's news conference by joking he would not take any questions over Gerrard – has no doubt the 41-year-old will manage Liverpool, though believes the right timing is crucial.

"Yes, I think, absolutely - the only problem is when is the right moment for that?" Klopp said about the prospect of Gerrard managing the Reds.

"Not only with Stevie but look at Frank [Lampard] at Chelsea, a similar story. Stevie's doing really well, he's very young from a manager's point of view.

"So it's about when he takes the job, not that he's not able to do it, but when does he want to do it?

"Is it the last job, the second or third job or whatever? Those are questions I can't answer but yes, I think it will definitely happen and it will be good for everybody."

Asked if Gerrard must first prove his credentials with Villa, Klopp added: "I'm not the right person to answer that.

"It's not up to me to make those kind of decisions, I don't know what you have to do before you become Liverpool manager.

"I know people say you have to win things but I think it's more important to win things while you are here. You can win things in the past but never win something again.

"Everything Stevie has done so far looks good and is going in the right direction. I cannot see a scenario where I am involved in that decision, but who knows what the future will bring!"

It is set to be a highly emotional return for Gerrard, who made 710 appearances across all competitions for Liverpool, though the German insisted there is no room for sentiment during the contest.

"It's a wonderful story," Klopp said. "Stevie is already an experienced coach, he's doing the job for a while, knows exactly how to approach games. He probably has no idea how it will feel when he steps into the dug-out.

"I had a similar feeling the first time I went back to Mainz, and the times I went back with Liverpool to Dortmund. It's strange. But I could handle it, Stevie can handle it. 

"Before I will shake hands, after I will shake hands, but in between I will go full throttle and he will go full throttle.

"I remember when we scored with Dortmund at Mainz, I forgot everything about my history, I was celebrating like a crazy devil. He has every right to do that as well, I just hope he has no reason for it."

Klopp also suggested Liverpool need to use the emotion of the occasion to create a vibrant Anfield atmosphere as they look to either keep pace with or leapfrog current leaders City, while third-place Chelsea are also in action on Saturday.

"Stevie might say there is no sentiment but from our point of view there is sentiment, we love Stevie, but we are all professionals," he said.

"Stevie can get the best reception in the world because he deserves it but in the 95 minutes we need everybody behind us. We have to throw everything in, use Anfield, and then it's difficult for each opponent."

History is not on Gerrard's side. Former players managing against the Reds at Anfield in the Premier League have lost 14 of their last 16 visits (W1 D1), with Kevin Keegan the last ex-Liverpool player to win there in 2003.

Trent Alexander-Arnold has been named November's Premier League Player of the Month, while Pep Guardiola was recognised as the Manager of the Month.

Liverpool right-back Alexander-Arnold played in each of the Reds' three league games in November, a 3-2 defeat at West Ham followed by 4-0 wins over Arsenal and Southampton.

The England man had a hand in five of the 10 goals Jurgen Klopp's men scored last month, scoring one and assisting four.

Besides Alexander-Arnold, who has seven assists in 2021-22, only five Premier League players have laid on more goals across the entire season than the four the defender created in three matches alone.

No player in November created more chances (10, tied with Callum Hudson-Odoi and James Ward-Prowse) or forged opportunities with a higher expected assists value (1.32) than Alexander-Arnold.

Heading into the latest round of fixtures, Liverpool still trail City, whose manager Guardiola oversaw three wins from three in November.

City were the sole side to win every match they played last month, while only Liverpool scored more than their seven goals and no team conceded fewer than their one (tied with Tottenham, who played just twice).

Trent Alexander-Arnold is looking forward to welcoming back his childhood hero Steven Gerrard but insisted feelings will be put to one side until after the game.

Liverpool great Gerrard, who left Rangers for Aston Villa in November, returns to Anfield to manage against his former side on Saturday.

Villa, who parted ways with Dean Smith following a run of five straight Premier League defeats, have won three of their opening four games under Gerrard, with the only blemish on their record coming in a credible 2-1 loss against Manchester City.

The Villans' form over the last four games would have them third in the league, with only City and Liverpool (both four) recording more victories, but returning Reds have lost 14 of their last 16 top-flight visits to Anfield as managers.

Alexander-Arnold is relishing meeting up with former Liverpool captain Gerrard, though he insisted he will save the pleasantries until after the final whistle.

"It will be strange," the right-back said to Liverpool's official website of Gerrard's homecoming. "The fans, it will obviously bring back a lot of memories for them. It will be good for him to return to where it all happened for him personally. 

"As players and people who are so close to it, we can't really let our feelings get involved. 

"[He was] someone who made a lot happen. Someone I massively looked up to. The heart and soul of the club for many years, someone who embodied everything about the club. 

"Someone it was really hard not to look up to; I think even opposition fans and people who wanted to hate him, you had to respect what he was doing on the pitch. 

"He showed a level of consistency not many players can, over a long period of time. There was a lot for me, growing up, that I admired about him.

"For me, growing up him being such an influential person for me – watching him and admiring him so much – I need to try to put that to one side and focus on the game and it's about winning that game, that’s all that matters. 

"And then after the game we can focus on those feelings. Going into it, we want to win the game. We know we have the chance to, so it's about coming away with the three points."

Gerrard is looking to become the first Villa manager to win his opening two Premier League away games since John Gregory (five in 1998), but Alexander-Arnold remembers being there when the former England international started his coaching career.

"He was coming down now and then to do his coaching badges," he continued. 

"It was good to get an insight into his way of life and obviously the way he saw the game. It was important for me to try to learn and study, and good to pick his brain from time to time and learn from him really. 

"At a young age, not many people get the chance to meet their heroes and effectively be trained and taught by them. It was massive for me, I was grateful for that."

Liverpool, who are a point behind leaders City, will be without Nat Phillips for Villa's visit after the centre-back sustained a cheekbone fracture in the 2-1 Champions League victory over Milan on Tuesday.

Phillips, though, does not require surgery after further diagnosis confirmed the extent of the injury and he is likely to return to action in the new year.

When Steven Gerrard was appointed Aston Villa boss at the start of November, there was one fixture fans, pundits and, possibly even Gerrard himself, will have immediately looked for.

Villa visit Liverpool on Saturday, as Gerrard makes his first managerial return to the club where he became a legend.

Gerrard won the Champions League, two FA Cups, three EFL Cups, the UEFA Cup and a European Super Cup across his Liverpool career. The Premier League title, of course, evaded him. His tally of 710 games in all competitions is the third-most in the club's history.

A first league title of his career did arrive last season, as manager of Rangers, who ended Celtic's quest for a 10th successive Scottish Premiership title.

Now, Gerrard heads back to his former stomping ground on the back of an impressive start with Villa. He has won three of his four matches in charge, losing only to Liverpool's title rivals Manchester City.

But history is not on Gerrard's side when it comes to former Liverpool greats going up against their former side at Anfield.

Ex-players managing against the Reds at Anfield in the Premier League have lost 14 of their last 16 visits (W1 D1), with the last win coming in 2003. Will Gerrard be able to buck that trend?

 

Return of the king(s)

Stats Perform has dived into Opta's archival data to assess how three great Liverpool players coped in their respective returns to Anfield as managers of opposition teams – Graeme Souness, Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish. 

Those three club legends visited Anfield on 18 occasions in the Premier League, across a span of 16 years from 1992 to 2008. Between them, the trio managed just three wins.

Souness did not claim any victories from six trips back, across spells with Southampton, Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers. Indeed, five defeats and one draw (one point from a possible 18) makes his record the poorest of the three. His worst result was a 4-0 defeat with Blackburn in 2004.

Keegan also lost on five occasions at Anfield in the Premier League, but did claim two wins as well, guiding Newcastle to a 2-0 success in 1993-94 and earning a 2-1 triumph with Manchester City in May 2003.

However, Keegan's most memorable return to his former club was a defeat. In April 1996, with Newcastle fighting Alex Ferguson's Manchester United for the title, they went down 4-3 in a Premier League classic.

Stan Collymore scored a famous stoppage-time winner to deal an ultimately fatal blow to Newcastle's title challenge – the Magpies having squandered the 10-point lead they held at Christmas.

 

Just under a year before, in May 1995, 'King' Kenny Dalglish took his Blackburn side to Anfield needing a win to guarantee the Premier League crown. They were also going up against United in the title tussle.

Liverpool had little to play for. They were already sure of a European place and a victory would mean United could win the title by beating West Ham.

"The only thing in our minds that afternoon, though, was winning the game," ex-Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp told the Reds' website. "We're professionals and we want to win every game we play."

Liverpool did indeed inflict a 2-1 defeat on their former player-manager, who won three First Division titles in his first spell at the club, with Redknapp scoring a stunning winner. 

"It was one of the strangest moments of my life on a football field," Redknapp said. Fortunately for Dalglish, Blackburn and Liverpool's fans, the Reds' win did not hand United the title, with Ferguson's team only able to draw with the Hammers.

That loss was one of four Dalglish suffered at Anfield as an opposition manager. He claimed one win, in 1993.

Remarkably, Dalglish took Newcastle to Anfield in the 1996-97 season and, just under a year on from Keegan's famous defeat on Merseyside, the Magpies again lost 4-3. Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler and Patrik Berger got the goals for Liverpool.

The new kid on the block

Gerrard will have to ignore the history books heading into this one, but he should not head to Anfield with in fear.

Villa have made an impressive start under their new manager. Across their four league games under Gerrard, they have scored 7 goals, with only four teams (Liverpool, Manchester City, Watford and Chelsea) netting more in that time.

They may have only created 34 chances, ranking them 12th in the league, but their nine opportunities crafted from set-pieces during Gerrard's first few weeks puts them second in the competition behind Watford (12).

 

That average of 2.25 chances from set-pieces per game under Gerrard is an improvement on the 1.6 each match across Dean Smith's his 10 Premier League games in charge this term, while the new-look Villa have also managed seven shots from set-piece situations already, the joint-most in the league.

Villa's defending has also improved. Whereas the Villans' defence was the third-poorest in the competition throughout the opening 10 top-flight matches (19 conceded), Gerrard's side have only let in four goals.

While Liverpool are in excellent form – even if they did only snatch a 1-0 win in the dying embers against Wolves – Gerrard can return with confidence.

And given he is often cited as a Liverpool manager in the making, this could be the first of several auditions for the Anfield hot seat.

Barcelona's financial issues mean they need to get crafty in January transfer window.

The Catalans lost Lionel Messi during the off-season and have struggled this term.

Barca were bundled out of the Champions League this week but will be keen to rescue their season.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA PLOT RASHFORD SWOOP

Barcelona are planning to swoop for Manchester United's Marcus Rashford, according to El Nacional.

The stumbling block may be United's asking price for Rashford, but the Blaugrana believe they can prise him away based on opportunity.

Rashford has been in and out of United's starting line-up and Barca plan to offer him the chance to lead their attack.

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato claims Georginio Wijnaldum could leave Paris Saint-Germain for Inter in January as part of a swap deal involving Marcelo Brozovic. The Croatia midfielder is out of contract at the end of this season.

Joao Felix could join Manchester City from Atletico Madrid, with his agent Jorge Mendes trying to engineer the switch, Calciomercato says.

Liverpool have an eye on Leeds United's Raphinha and West Ham's Jarrod Bowen ahead of the January transfer window, according to the Liverpool Echo.

Chelsea are considering a move for Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro, reports El Nacional.

- Brazilian giants Palmeiras want to sign Real Madrid full-back Marcelo, reports Mundo Deportivo. The former Brazil international's contract with Los Blancos expires at the end of this season.

Ajax and Juventus have their eyes on Bayern Munich teenager Kenan Yildiz, according to Fanatik.

Steven Gerrard could not wait any longer for a chance like the Aston Villa job, according to former Liverpool left-back Stephen Warnock.

Liverpool great Gerrard took his first job in management at Rangers in 2018, guiding the club to their first Scottish Premiership title in a decade last term after finishing second in consecutive seasons.

Gerrard decided to swap Ibrox for Villa Park in November after now Norwich City head coach Dean Smith parted ways with Villa following five straight Premier League defeats.

The former midfielder has started well with his new team, registering three wins from his opening four matches, with the only blemish on his record so far a credible 2-1 home loss against league leaders Manchester City.

Indeed, since Gerrard's appointment, Villa sit third in the English top flight over the last four games, with only City and Liverpool (both four) winning more games.

Former team-mate Warnock, who played for Liverpool between 2002 and 2007, believes Gerrard made the right move by taking up an unmissable opportunity with the Villans.

"To get an offer like Aston Villa, I think it was just an opportunity that he couldn't turn down," Warnock told Stats Perform.

"When you think of those types of jobs, how often do they come up? It was one of those situations. If he had waited until the end of the season, would that job have come up at the end of the season? I don't think it would. 

"Then it's two or three years waiting for another huge club. So, I think it was the perfect time for him to make the move.

"What he wants to do now is, he wants to test himself against the best managers in world football. In the Premier League, I'd say we've probably got the best four, arguably, when you look at [Pep] Guardiola, [Jurgen] Klopp, [Thomas] Tuchel and then [Antonio] Conte coming into that category as well.

"So you're putting yourself against some incredible managers; then he's going into somewhere where the club is ambitious and they've got finances, and they're going to back you in the transfer market. 

"There's an opportunity to draw players into the Premier League. Aston Villa itself is steeped in history, he feels that he can push them up the league, he can start putting them into European places. 

"Then it's a very healthy club to be at. I'm fortunate, I played for Aston Villa, I understand the magnitude of the club, how big it is, the pressure that comes with it, that will suit Steven Gerrard down to the ground."

Gerrard heads back to Anfield on Saturday to take on Klopp's side, though only three ex-Reds have managed victory on their return in 18 attempts in the Premier League. Kevin Keegan overcame his old side twice with Newcastle United and Manchester City, while Kenny Dalglish triumphed with his Blackburn Rovers outfit in 1993.

Nevertheless, Warnock expects Gerrard to want to prove a point in his Merseyside homecoming in what could seemingly serve as an early managerial interview, should Klopp ever decide to vacate his role at Liverpool.

"It's going to be a special moment for him in many different ways," Warnock said of Gerrard taking on his former side.

"He used to walk out from that tunnel as a player, not as a manager and especially not on the opposition bench. I mean, the occasion is going to be big, because Steven Gerrard returning to Anfield is a huge thing. 

"The fans will want to see the style of football that Aston Villa play, I think they'll be very interested to see how his team is set up. They'll applaud him win, lose or draw, he'll get a magnificent reception. 

"But Steven will go there wanting to get a result, he'll want to prove the type of manager he is, he'll want to upset Liverpool, because that puts him down on the radar. 

"It puts in people's minds that he's doing a good job at Aston Villa. Now, that is something that his team... he's got to instil that into his team as well. 

"He's got to get across that they're capable of going to Anfield and winning. And that's what winners do. That's what the best do, the elite players do. And the elite managers do as well. And that's what he's going to try and achieve."

Is a Leeds United midfielder ready to reject a switch to Old Trafford?

Typically, Manchester United are too big to turn down but Kalvin Phillips is believed to be willing to withstand their interest due to the rivalry between the two clubs.

The beneficiaries of such a decision? Liverpool apparently.

 

TOP STORY – PHILLIPS TO TURN DOWN MAN UTD

Leeds United star Kalvin Phillips will snub a move to Manchester United in favour of Premier League rivals Liverpool, according to The Sun.

Phillips has emerged as a target for Leeds' bitter rivals United, while Liverpool are also admirers of the England international.

Wary of the backlash a move to Old Trafford would cause among Leeds fans, Phillips is ready to reject United and join Liverpool.

 

ROUND-UP

Arsenal are plotting a move for Everton star Richarlison, claims Fichajes. The Brazil international scored against Arsenal on Monday, while he has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain.

- Fabrizio Romano reports Borussia Dortmund have made direct contact with Salzburg star Karim Adeyemi. The Germany international is Dortmund's main target as clubs queue up to sign Erling Haaland, who is wanted by Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Chelsea, PSG, Juventus and Bayern Munich.

- Tuttomercato says Franck Kessie could leave Milan on a free transfer. The soon-to-be free agent has been linked with Tottenham, Inter, PSG and United.

Fiorentina are poised to sign Lille star Jonathan Ikone, per Gianluca Di Marzio. The deal is reportedly not related to the future of wantaway forward Dusan Vlahovic – the Serbia international has been linked with City, United, Bayern, Inter, Juve, Tottenham and Arsenal.

Barcelona tackle Bayern Munich on Wednesday in a crucial Champions League game, knowing they probably have to win in the Allianz Arena to qualify for the knockout stages.

The Germans are already safely through as winners of Group E, but Barca will crash out at the group stage if they fail to win and Benfica beat Dynamo Kiev in Portugal.

One player who made a notable cameo when Barca and Bayern played one another in the quarter-finals of the Champions League two seasons ago was Philippe Coutinho, whose star has fallen so far since a record move to the Camp Nou in 2018 that he may not even feature in the vital clash.

Stats Perform has taken a look at what happened to the £142million man.


Get back... injuries

It was the day before the start of the 2017-18 season, and Liverpool's campaign already felt like it had been thrown into chaos.

Jurgen Klopp was getting ready for a trip to Watford when news broke that his star man Philippe Coutinho had handed in a transfer request, supposedly after the Reds had rejected a £90million bid from Barcelona.

Liverpool ended up drawing 3-3 at Vicarage Road with new man Mohamed Salah scoring his first goal for the club in a game in which Coutinho did not feature, insisting that he had a sore back.

The Brazilian was ultimately forced to stay until the January transfer window when he eventually sealed his dream move to the Camp Nou for a deal that, with add-ons, would amount to around £142million, a record for the Catalan club.

To his credit, Coutinho got his head down after the disappointment of being denied a move in the summer of 2017, playing 20 more games for Liverpool in the first half of the campaign, scoring 12 goals and registering eight assists.

His numbers were up there with the rest of what remains to this day Liverpool's main front three of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, but back then he was part of what was briefly known as 'The Fab Four'. His minutes-per-goal record (one every 125.67 minutes) was second only to Salah (94.68) among those with one than one appearance, while he created more chances than anyone else (56).

He did miss a few more games closer to the January transfer window through more apparent back issues, but scored one final screamer at Anfield against Swansea City in his last game for the club, coincidentally the same team he had scored his first Reds goal against in February 2013 after arriving from Inter Milan for just £8.5million.

In his five years on Merseyside, Coutinho won the hearts of the Kop with his skill, his effort and increasingly, his end product, bagging 54 goals and 43 assists in 201 games for the club.

However, it seemed his heart lay elsewhere, finally securing a move to Barcelona in January 2018.

Philippe Cout-Iniesta?

There was pressure on his shoulders immediately, arriving just a few months after the departure of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain, with much of the money Barca received being spent on prising Coutinho from Anfield.

There was also talk that he was ultimately being tasked with replacing Andres Iniesta, who was to leave Barca at the end of the 2017-18 season, with taking over from such a club legend a formidable task for anyone.

Coutinho did not start too badly in his first five months, scoring 10, assisting six and creating 33 chances in 22 appearances as Barca lifted the Spanish title and Copa del Rey.

However, his first full season did not quite go according to plan, with Coutinho managing 11 goals and five assists in 54 appearances, actually scoring fewer than he had done in his final half-season at Liverpool. He created 59 chances, compared (admittedly cruelly) to the great Lionel Messi's 141 in fewer games across that 2018-19 campaign.

Barca boss Ernesto Valverde did not seem to know what he wanted from Coutinho, sometimes playing him in Iniesta's old position in midfield, sometimes playing him in Neymar's old position out wide on the left. Coutinho was criticised by some for appearing to not be suited to either, despite the fact he fulfilled both well enough in the Premier League.

To rub salt in the wounds, Coutinho would return to Anfield that season as part of a Barca side that capitulated in the Champions League semi-final, throwing away their 3-0 advantage from the first leg to crash out of the competition, with the Brazilian's old Liverpool team-mates going on to lift the trophy in Madrid a few weeks later.

Bavarian adventure

Despite progress not running smoothly for Coutinho, it was still a surprise for many to see Barca agree to loan him to Bayern Munich the following season. Antoine Griezmann had been signed from Atletico Madrid, which would have limited Coutinho's Camp Nou game time, so the hope was either that he would rediscover peak form in Germany, or at least do well enough that Barca could make some of their money back with a future transfer.

He showed marginally more of his former self, scoring 11 and assisting nine in 38 appearances, albeit only 22 games from the start, while creating 50 chances, and 11 big chances. But it was difficult to stand out much in a team that included Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski.

Never one to miss out on ironic Champions League moments, Coutinho came off the bench to score the final two goals of an 8-2 thrashing of his parent club in the quarter-finals.

He ended that season with a Champions League winner's medal, as well as winning the Bundesliga title and DFB-Pokal in an impressive treble, but Bayern decided against signing Coutinho permanently.

One last shot

Under Ronald Koeman, Coutinho was determined to finally make a success of his career back at Barcelona, and showed glimpses in the 14 games he managed in the 2020-21 season before injury struck as he suffered a torn meniscus, ending his campaign before the new year.

It seemed one of the transfer market's worst kept secrets that Barca were open to selling Coutinho at the end of that season, among several other players, as financial woes mounted at the club, but there were understandably no takers given his form and injury issues.

Both parties were left with no choice but to try again this season, and while he has been given chances, they have been sporadic, with just five starts and nine substitute appearances so far, registering two goals. Coutinho has yet to provide an assist, and he has only created two chances.

Xavi is now in the hot seat at the Camp Nou, pledging to return a struggling team to the "Barca way", and he opened the door for Coutinho to perhaps have one last shot of establishing himself.

"Coutinho is someone who can play in various positions, and he can be important for the team," Xavi told reporters ahead of his first match in charge against Espanyol.

"He needs to re-find himself and recover his confidence. If he does, he will help us a lot. He has an innate talent. It depends on him. He will get chances because he's a player I like personally. It's more psychological than anything because he has talent."

Anyone who watched Coutinho regularly at Liverpool will know there is a world-class player in there somewhere. Klopp was able to get a tremendous tune out of him despite not necessarily playing in a style that suits him, and with the player not even wanting to be there in the last few months.

Xavi is right, though. When Coutinho is given opportunities, it will depend on him.

He will just be hoping those opportunities don't come in the Europa League.

Erling Haaland is the name on everyone's lips.

His exploits for Bundesliga outfit Borussia Dortmund have sparked a frenzy among Europe's elite.

With Haaland attracting interest, Dortmund are making moves to replace the Norway international.

 

TOP STORY – ADEYEMI TO SUCCEED HAALAND?

Borussia Dortmund are working on a deal to sign Salzburg's Karim Adeyemi as a replacement for in-demand star Erling Haaland, according to Fabrizio Romano's Here We Go podcast.

Haaland is wanted all over Europe amid links with Manchester United, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and Juventus.

As speculation mounts over Haaland, Dortmund are reportedly preparing for his departure with a move for Salzburg sensation and Germany international Adeyemi.

Barca, Bayern and Liverpool are reportedly interested in Adeyemi.

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool lead the chase to sign Dortmund star Jude Bellingham, says The Mirror. As Europe's elite eye Haaland, Liverpool are looking to pounce on Bellingham who has been linked with Chelsea and United.

- Todofichajes reports head coach Mauricio Pochettino has lost the faith of the Paris Saint-Germain dressing room. Pochettino has emerged as United's rumoured top target to lead the Red Devils long term, with Zinedine Zidane tipped to replace him in Paris.

Bayern have joined the race to sign Borussia Monchengladbach's Denis Zakaria, per Romano. Zakaria has been linked with Roma, Liverpool, City, Juve and Barca.

Milan and Barca are eyeing Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen, per Romano. The Denmark international has been in contract talks at Stamford Bridge.

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