Barcelona calling? Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho put on spot by Carragher call
The Premier League's Christmas fixture period is always a pivotal time in the season, and with the division's "big six" clubs battling for just four Champions League places this year's festive period is set to be crucial.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all have seven league matches to play between this weekend and 2018's first round of games, after which the FA Cup third round will provide a brief respite.
ESPN FC's club correspondents take a look at the fixture list, provide a prediction for each match and give an overview of their team's prospects over the next month.
ARSENAL: Arsenal are entering this busy period with a well-rested and nearly fully fit squad, thanks to Arsene Wenger's rotation policy in the Europa League. December offers a great chance to take advantage of that, especially as two away games against London clubs will limit their travel. The home games against Liverpool and Chelsea could prove decisive in the battle for top four, but it's equally important to avoid any slip-ups against the "lesser" clubs. -- Mattias Karen
Dec. 10: Southampton (A) - W
Dec. 13: West Ham (A) - W
Dec. 16: Newcastle (H) - W
Dec. 22: Liverpool (H) - D
Dec. 28: Crystal Palace (A) - W
Dec. 31: West Brom (A) - W
Jan. 3: Chelsea (H) - D
Total points: 17
CHELSEA: It's not an exaggeration to say that any hopes Chelsea still harbour of defending the title depend on how they fare in December. The gap to Manchester City is already 11 points and cannot be allowed to grow any further. On the plus side, the fixture schedule that has so annoyed Antonio Conte this season looks decidedly kinder in the coming weeks.
Chelsea don't face another top-six side until a trip to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal on Jan. 3. Across their six December games, only matches on the road against London rivals West Ham and a Sam Allardyce-rejuvenated Everton carry the air of potential banana skins. Accumulated fatigue could take its toll against the Gunners, who have been strong at home and performed surprisingly well in a feisty goalless draw at Stamford Bridge in September.
Overall, Chelsea can be optimistic of taking close to maximum points from their festive run, and nothing less will do in terms of the title race. More likely, though, is a good rather than great return that keeps them on track for third place. -- Liam Twomey
Dec. 9: West Ham (A) - D
Dec. 12: Huddersfield (A) - W
Dec. 16: Southampton (H) - W
Dec. 23: Everton (A) - D
Dec. 26: Brighton (H) - W
Dec. 30: Stoke (H) - W
Jan. 3: Arsenal (A) - L
Total points: 14
LIVERPOOL: Jurgen Klopp has been quick to point out Liverpool's bloated schedule over the festive period, but the fixtures could have been worse for his side. All nine of the games over this period are more than winnable for the Reds, including Arsenal away. But there are a few tricky fixtures ahead. Allardyce always enjoys getting one over Liverpool, and Everton will be hoping he can guide them to their first victory at Anfield since 1999.
For once, Liverpool's injury list is rather short, with Nathaniel Clyne the only player with a long-term injury. In stark contrast to last season, Klopp will be able to use the squad depth he believes he has at his disposal, with rotation during this group of fixtures more a necessity rather than a possibility. It's the moment for summer signings Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andrew Robertson to shine. -- Glenn Price
Dec. 10: Everton (H) - L
Dec. 13: West Brom (H) - W
Dec. 17: Bournemouth (A) - D
Dec. 22: Arsenal (A) - W
Dec. 26: Swansea City (H) - W
Dec. 30: Leicester City (H) - W
Jan. 1: Burnley (A) - L
Total points: 13
MAN CITY: Manchester City's trip to Old Trafford is the biggest game of the season and a victory would open up an incredible 11-point lead at the top of the table. Much will depend on how Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho approaches the game because Pep Guardiola won't alter his game plan one jot from any other occasion -- he will want a win. United have the best defensive record in the Premier League and it wouldn't be a surprise to see a game of few chances and a draw.
Five of City's other games would appear to be fairly straightforward -- apart from the Watford clash, all of them against teams in the bottom seven and struggling for form. The other game is against Tottenham, who have won just one of their last six games, and City will hope to deliver a potentially fatal blow to Spurs' slim hopes of catching them. -- Jonathan Smith
Dec. 10: Manchester United (A) - D
Dec. 13: Swansea (A) - W
Dec. 16: Tottenham (H) - W
Dec. 23: Bournemouth (H) - W
Dec. 27: Newcastle (A) - W
Dec. 31 Crystal Palace (A) - W
Jan. 2: Watford (H) - W
Total points: 19
MAN UNITED: After the derby with Manchester City on Sunday, Manchester United have got a run of games over Christmas and New Year that they will expect to win. Mourinho has got a squad that should be big enough to cope with the extra workload. he knows how to manage his players and the same period last season coincided with United's best run of form -- nine straight wins in all competitions. They will need something similar this time if they hope to be in touch with Manchester City at the top of the table in the new year.
Having Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo back before the festive fixtures is a big boost. Ibrahimovic's early return should allow Romelu Lukaku to get a break earlier than expected. It is a crucial period for United and Mourinho will hope the gap to City is significantly fewer than eight points by the time the Champions League restarts in February. -- Rob Dawson
Dec. 10: Manchester City (H) - D
Dec. 13: Bournemouth (H) - W
Dec. 17: West Brom (A) - W
Dec. 23: Leicester (A) - W
Dec. 26: Burnley (H) - W
Dec. 30: Southampton (H) - W
Jan. 1: Everton (A) - W
Total points: 19
TOTTENHAM: Super-fit Tottenham have been the best team over Christmas in each of the last two seasons, winning seven straight matches between Dec. 14 and Jan. 14 last year. But Mauricio Pochettino, their manager, has already warned that it could be different this season because Spurs are running further than ever before on Wembley's big pitch. Their four home games look favourable on paper but Stoke, Brighton, Southampton and West Ham will surely copy the successful blueprint set by other lesser teams at the national stadium by dropping deep, flooding the centre and trying to frustrate Spurs. Even so, the Champions League win over Apoel Nicosia has changed the mood and their momentum and they should have enough to win at least three of them.
On the road, Man City could earn the resounding win they deserved against Spurs at the Etihad last season and a trip to Burnley is never easy. Injured Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez, who is suspended for the next three games, will be sorely missed but Erik Lamela's return will lesser the burden on Spurs' other creative types. -- Dan Kilpatrick
Dec. 9: Stoke (H) - W
Dec. 13: Brighton (H) - W
Dec. 16: Manchester City (A) - L
Dec. 23: Burnley (A) - D
Dec. 26: Southampton (H) - D
Jan. 2: Swansea (A) - W
Jan. 4: West Ham (H) - W
Total points: 14
Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.
Manchester City have been refused access to film in the away dressing room at Old Trafford during this weekend's Manchester derby, BBC Sport reports.
The fixture will see Premier League leaders City visit their closest rivals in a crucial match, but they have seen a request to film footage for their Amazon Prime documentary turned down.
City recently signed up to produce a behind-the-scenes series which will be aired next year. It will launch on the on-demand video service next year in more than 200 countries and territories after City agreed what is reported to be a lucrative deal with Amazon.
It is reported the decision was made in light of the number of requests already in place, including 23 TV rights holders.
Meanwhile, Bernardo Silva claims City will redouble efforts to beat United after losing their unbeaten record. City were beaten for the first time since April as they went down 2-1 to Shakhtar Donetsk in freezing Kharkiv in the Champions League on Wednesday.
It was City's first loss in 29 games stretching back to last season's FA Cup semifinals and ended their club record 20-game winning streak in all competitions. Silva, who was brought into the side as manager Pep Guardiola made seven changes, said: "When you lose a game, [in] the next game you have to give even more than you usually give to come back from that situation.
"We know Man United have a very good team as well but we will play our game and try to control the match, to be better than them and bring the three points back home.
"We hoped we wouldn't lose any game this season. Unfortunately, in football, it is very complicated to win all the games. It is true we were already qualified but we came here to win. Unfortunately we didn't."
Guardiola left out Kyle Walker, Vincent Kompany, Fabian Delph, Nicolas Otamendi and Raheem Sterling, while Kevin De Bruyne was suspended. All could return at the weekend while City will also hope David Silva, who did not travel, will overcome a knock as City look to extend their eight-point advantage at the top of the table.
Information from the Press Association was used in this report.
Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.
At what point does a balance of power truly swing? What is the real gauge of a pendulum moving from one side to the other, from black to white, or, in the case of football in Manchester: red to blue?
As United and City prepare to lock horns in the 175th Manchester derby on Sunday, it is a question that applies, both in the here and now, but also longer term.
City, eight points clear at the top of the Premier League, will nail the pendulum firmly to the blue side in terms of the immediate battle for the title if they win at Old Trafford and move 11 points clear of Jose Mourinho's United.
But City's recent record in Premier League derbies against United -- they have lost just two of nine since Robin van Persie's last minute free kick sealed a 3-2 United win at the Etihad in December 2012 -- suggests they also hold the upper hand when it comes to local pride.
Historically, and this is where United win every element in the Mancunian Tale of the Tape, United are the top dogs, with 72 victories in all competitions compared to City's 50 wins. The same applies to trophies, attendances, appearances in finals -- you name it, the long-term balance of power is held by United.
But it is now approaching 10 years since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan arrived at City, in September 2008, to transform the club from perennial also-rans into one with aspirations of winning the Champions League. That moment was when a line in the sand was drawn.
City took time to build, but they were champions less than four years after the Abu Dhabi money began being pumped into every aspect of the club.
So if we take this decade to assess who holds the balance of power in Manchester now, Sunday's game becomes a key milestone. United certainly need to strike a blow against City, both in terms of the title race and their own derby pedigree, by winning at the weekend.
Mourinho's men cannot afford to fall 11 points behind, but a draw is also of little value with Pep Guardiola's team already eight points ahead of the pack and unbeaten domestically.
Slowly but surely, City have begun to eclipse United in the Premier League and it is not just on derby day that they have started to assert themselves. Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired as United manager at the end of the 2012-13 season, with the club having just secured a 20th league title, City have not finished below their neighbours in the Premier League table.
If City win this season's title, it will be five years in succession -- and six times out of seven -- that they have ended a campaign as top dogs in the city. A sustained period of dominance.
Yet despite all of the progress at the Etihad Stadium, they have been outscored by United when it comes to trophies since 2010. And this in a decade that has seen United battle to overcome the trauma of Ferguson's departure and the turmoil which followed, particularly under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
United have endured a turbulent time since 2010, with the divisive green-and-gold campaign against the club's owners, the Glazer family, followed by two attempts by Wayne Rooney to leave at the peak of his powers; Ferguson's retirement, the Moyes disaster, Van Gaal's dismal football and the difficulties of Mourinho's first season last year.
Yet throughout all of the above, United have won six major honours during this decade (not counting Community Shields) and City have won five.
If a club's status is measured by its success, then United remain ahead of City, both historically and in the short-term of this decade. But if they are to keep their noses ahead of City in the silverware stakes, they simply have to win on Sunday. Otherwise, City will be on course for the title and another year finishing ahead of United.
Avoiding defeat on Sunday will see City extend their impressive run of form against United and they could even end their rival's 40-game unbeaten home run, which dates back to their derby defeat against City back in September 2016.
If United win, they will chip away at City's lead, perhaps even eat into the confidence of Guardiola's players, and retain hopes of overhauling the Blues to win the title for the first time in the post-Ferguson era.
Will Sunday signal a resurgent United gearing up for a charge to the top? Or will it see City consolidate their current position as Manchester's No. 1 team?
It is well-poised and there is much more at stake than just three points.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_
One of the unwritten rules in journalism is to always turn your phone off during an interview, but that obviously doesn't apply former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher.
In a postmatch chat with Philippe Coutinho for Norwegian channel Viasport, Carragher receives a phone call midway through.
To make the light of the interruption, the main interviewer, former Premier League striker Jan Aage Fjortoft, jokes that Barcelona are checking in on Coutinho after his hat trick against Spartak Moscow on Wednesday night.
.@Carra23, is that Barcelona calling?(@JanAageFjortoft) pic.twitter.com/UqzE70cCIA
Skip to 1:00 of the video to see Coutinho awkwardly laugh off the joke, and Carragher insist: "He's staying."
Glenn is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.