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Hughes denies his Stoke job is at risk

ARSENAL VS. LIVERPOOL

ARSENAL: The Gunners will be without Olivier Giroud after he was forced off against West Ham with a hamstring injury -- he is likely to miss the majority of Arsenal's festive fixtures. Francis Coquelin also hobbled out of that game but could still be in contention but Aaron Ramsey (hamstring) is missing, as is long-term absentee Santi Cazorla (ankle). Wenger should be able to call on defender Shkodran Mustafi following a thigh injury.

Provisional squad: Cech, Ospina, Mertesacker, Holding, Mustafi, Koscielny, Chambers, Monreal, Debuchy, Bellerin, Nelson, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Coquelin, Wilshere, Xhaka, Elneny, Ozil, Iwobi, Sanchez, Welbeck, Walcott, Lacazette.

LIVERPOOL: Daniel Sturridge (hamstring and illness) and defender Joel Matip (adductor) remain doubtful. Alberto Moreno is still sidelined by his ankle problem, but Emre Can is available again after sitting out last weekend's 4-0 win at Bournemouth as he served a suspension. Adam Lallana is set to be involved again after coming off the bench at the Vitality Stadium for his second appearance of the season.

Provisional squad: Mignolet, Gomez, Lovren, Klavan, Robertson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Coutinho, Salah, Firmino, Karius, Alexander-Arnold, Milner, Can, Lallana, Mane, Solanke, Ings.

EVERTON VS. CHELSEA

EVERTON: Yannick Bolasie is poised to return for the first time in more than a year. Toffees boss Sam Allardyce plans to put Bolasie on the bench and hopefully give him a run-out after the winger finally recovered from his knee injury. James McCarthy and Ross Barkley are nearing comebacks and could be available in the new year.

Provisional squad: Pickford, Kenny, Williams, Holgate, Martina, Gueye, Schneiderlin, Lennon, Rooney, Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin, Robles, Jagielka, Keane, Baningime, Besic, Vlasic, Mirallas, Bolasie, Klaassen, Davies, Niasse, Sandro, Lookman.

CHELSEA: Striker Alvaro Morata is suspended but left wing-back Marcos Alonso is back from a ban. Morata's absence, for a fifth booking of the season, means Eden Hazard is likely to be deployed as a 'false nine' in the Premier League clash at Goodison Park. Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte, who is still without Charly Musonda (groin) and David Luiz (knee), is likely to revert to his first-choice line-up after making eight changes against Bournemouth on Wednesday.

Provisional squad: Courtois, Caballero, Rudiger, Alonso, Fabregas, Drinkwater, Kante, Hazard, Pedro, Bakayoko, Moses, Kenedy, Zappacosta, Willian, Batshuayi, Cahill, Christensen, Azpilicueta, Clarke-Salter, Sterling, Eduardo, Ampadu, Hudson-Odoi.

BRIGHTON VS. WATFORD

BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION: Brighton will be without key defender Shane Duffy through suspension. The Republic of Ireland international serves a one-match ban after collecting a fifth booking of the season against Burnley last weekend. Striker Sam Baldock (calf) is fit, but midfielder Steve Sidwell (back) remains sidelined.

Provisional squad: Ryan, Bong, Bruno, Hunemeier, Dunk, Brown, Propper, Knockaert, Stephens, Murray, Gross, Krul, Goldson, Schelotto, March, Izquierdo, Kayal, Hemed, Baldock.

WATFORD: Watford midfielder Will Hughes could be available. Hughes has been absent for the last four matches with a hamstring injury, but returned to training earlier this week. Troy Deeney, Marvin Zeegelaar and Abdoulaye Doucoure are all suspended, while Kiko Femenia (hamstring), Younes Kaboul, Craig Cathcart, Nathaniel Chalobah (all knee) and Miguel Britos (knock) remain sidelined through injury.

Provisional squad: Gomes, Karnezis, Bachmann, Mariappa, Kabasele, Wague, Holebas, Janmaat, Prodl, Capoue, Watson, Cleverley, Carrillo, Pereyra, Richarlison, Gray, Okaka.

MAN CITY VS. BOURNEMOUTH

MAN CITY: Team news to follow...

BOURNEMOUTH: Striker Jermain Defoe will be among a number of injury absentees. England international Defoe is scheduled to see a specialist after limping out of the midweek Carabao Cup defeat to Chelsea with an ankle issue, while midfielder Harry Arter suffered a calf problem in that game and is unlikely to be available. Striker Callum Wilson (knee) should be fit to feature at the Etihad Stadium, but full-back Charlie Daniels (groin) and forward Joshua King (hamstring) are both doubts, while Brad Smith (hip), Adam Federici and Tyrone Mings (both back) are definitely out.

Provisional squad: Begovic, Boruc, Ramsdale, S Cook, Francis, Simpson, Ake, A Smith, Daniels, Surman, L Cook, Fraser, Gosling, Pugh, Hyndman, Ibe, Stanislas, King, Afobe, Wilson, Mousset.

SOUTHAMPTON VS. HUDDERSFIELD

SOUTHAMPTON: Southampton will be without full-backs Ryan Bertrand and Cedric Soares. England left-back Bertrand has a hamstring problem, while Portugal international Soares has sustained an ankle injury. Saints manager Mauricio Pellegrino has no other selection issues but has suggested he will rotate his squad during a busy festive schedule, which could mean a recall for defender Virgil van Dijk, who was left on the bench against Chelsea last weekend.

Provisional squad: Forster, McCarthy, Taylor, Hoedt, Stephens, Yoshida, Van Dijk, Gardos, Pied, McQueen, Romeu, Lemina, Hojbjerg, Ward-Prowse, Davis, Boufal, Tadic, Redmond, Austin, Long, Gabbiadini.

HUDDERSFIELD: Huddersfield will be without Elias Kachunga and Jonathan Hogg. Forward Kachunga has been ruled out for 10-12 weeks after sustaining a knee injury in last week's win at Watford, while Hogg serves a one-game ban following his dismissal at Vicarage Road. Defender Chris Lowe will be included in the squad despite sustaining a foot injury last week, but Michael Hefele has had a setback in his recovery from an Achilles injury. Philip Billing (ankle) and Jon Gorenc Stankovic (knee) are still out.

Provisional squad: Lossl, Coleman, Malone, Cranie, Schindler, Jorgensen, Hadergjonaj, Smith, Lowe, Williams, Whitehead, Mooy, Ince, Van La Parra, Palmer, Quaner, Depoitre, Mounie.

STOKE CITY VS. WEST BROM

STOKE: Stoke will be without Bruno Martins Indi (groin) once again, while fellow defenders Kurt Zouma (hamstring) and Erik Pieters are major doubts. There are also question marks over Charlie Adam, who has been nursing a hip problem. Glen Johnson (knee) has been training and could be back involved. Jese Rodriguez has returned after spending time in Gran Canaria with his ill son but it looks unlikely he will feature on Saturday, with boss Mark Hughes saying the forward will ``take a little bit of time to get back up to speed.''

Provisional squad: Butland, Cameron, Shawcross, Wimmer, Shaqiri, Fletcher, Allen, Sobhi, Crouch, Diouf, Grant, Johnson, Edwards, Tymon, Berahino, Afellay, Choupo-Moting, Ngoy.

WEST BROM: Nacer Chadli and Matt Phillips could return for West Brom. Belgium international Chadli (hip) and Phillips (hamstring) have returned to training and are expected to be included in the travelling squad on Saturday. Craig Dawson may also return after a knee injury but James Morrison (Achilles) remains out for Alan Pardew's side.

Provisional squad: Foster, Myhill, Palmer, Hegazi, McAuley, Evans, Nyom, Dawson, Gibbs, Brunt, Field, Chadli, Livermore, Phillips, Krychowiak, Barry, Burke, Yacob, McClean, Robson-Kanu, Rondon, Rodriguez.

SWANSEA VS. CRYSTAL PALACE

SWANSEA: Swansea striker Wilfried Bony will miss out due to the hamstring strain that forced him off early at Everton on Monday. Leon Britton, placed in caretaker charge following Paul Clement's sacking, has ruled himself out of being part of the squad this weekend because of a calf strain, while Ki Sung-yeung (calf) and Leroy Fer (back) are being monitored. It remains to be seen if there is any involvement for Wayne Routledge, missing for the last two games after complaining of muscle tightness, or Kyle Bartley, who has not made a first-team appearance since August because of a knee injury.

Provisional squad: Fabianski, Naughton, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Fer, Mesa, Carroll, Narsingh, Dyer, Nordfeldt, Van der Hoorn, Rangel, Bartley, Ki, Clucas, Sanches, Fulton, Routledge, Ayew, Abraham, McBurnie.

CRYSTAL PALACE: Crystal Palace striker Christian Benteke is suspended. Boss Roy Hodgson has confirmed that Jason Puncheon is available for selection despite being charged with possession of an offensive weapon and assault. Midfielder Luka Milivojevic returns from suspension but Joel Ward is still unavailable due to his groin problem.

Provisional squad: Speroni, Hennessey, Kelly, Dann, Tomkins, Riedewald, Schlupp, Van Aanholt, Souare, Townsend, Loftus-Cheek, Puncheon, Cabaye, Milivojevic, McArthur, Mutch, Ladapo, Sako, Kaikai, Zaha.

WEST HAM VS. NEWCASTLE

WEST HAM: West Ham will be without Mark Noble and Michail Antonio. Skipper Noble has a slight hamstring problem and winger Antonio is sidelined by a calf injury. Manuel Lanzini is still suspended but fellow midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate returns to the squad after recovering from his hamstring injury.

Provisional squad: Adrian, Hart, Masuaku, Zabaleta, Collins, Ogbonna, Reid, Cresswell, Kouyate, Rice, Obiang, Quina, Ayew, Arnautovic, Carroll, Sakho, Hernandez, Haksabanovic, Makasi.

NEWCASTLE: Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic is out as he continues to battle a back injury. The Serbia international is likely to be sidelined for another 10 days with the problem, and he has been joined on the sidelines by full-back Jesus Gamez, who has undergone surgery on an ankle. Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey completes a two-match ban, while manager Rafael Benitez will assess a series of knocks before he names his team.

Provisional squad: Darlow, Elliot, Yedlin, Manquillo, Mbemba, Dummett, Haidara, Lascelles, Clark, Lejeune, Merino, Hayden, Saivet, Ritchie, Atsu, Murphy, Aarons, Diame, Perez, Joselu, Gayle.

BURNLEY VS. TOTTENHAM

BURNLEY: Burnley are without James Tarkowski after the defender was banned for three games for violent conduct. Kevin Long will step back in to deputise for Tarkowski, while both Dean Marney and Jonathan Walters are close to returning to the squad after knee injuries. Goalkeeper Tom Heaton continues to make good progress from his shoulder injury but is not expected to feature over the festive period.

Provisional squad: Pope, Lindegaard, Long, Mee, Taylor, Ward, Bardsley, Defour, Ulvestad, Hendrick, Cork, Westwood, Arfield, Gudmundsson, Vokes, Barnes, Wood, Wells.

TOTTENHAM: Tottenham will have defender Davinson Sanchez back from suspension. Colombia centre-back Sanchez has completed a three-game ban following his red card at Watford at the start of the month and could go straight back into Mauricio Pochettino's starting XI due to the continued absence of fellow defender Toby Alderweireld (hamstring). Defensive midfielder Victor Wanyama (knee), who has been sidelined for more than four months, has returned to training but will not be available at Turf Moor.

Provisional squad: Lloris, Vorm, Gazzaniga, Rose, Davies, Walker-Peters, Vertonghen, Sanchez, Dier, Foyth, Trippier, Aurier, Winks, Amos, Sissoko, Dembele, Alli, Eriksen, Son, Lamela, Llorente, Sterling, Kane.

LEICESTER VS. MAN UNITED

LEICESTER: Team news to follow...

MAN UNITED: Antonio Valencia, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick remain out. Jose Mourinho confirmed Valencia is sidelined with a hamstring injury, while appearing to rule midfielders Carrick and Fellaini out of the festive period. Centre-back Eric Bailly is undergoing surgery on an ankle issue, but Paul Pogba is available for the Premier League once again having returned from his three-match domestic suspension in the Carabao Cup loss at Bristol City.

Provisional squad: De Gea, Romero, Pereira, Tuanzebe, Darmian, Jones, Smalling, Lindelof, Young, Rojo, Shaw, Blind, McTominay, Pogba, Herrera, Matic, Lingard, Martial, Rashford, Mata, Mkhitaryan, Lukaku, Ibrahimovic.

Injury Table

MANCHESTER -- Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has called for referees to be more protective of players as teenager Phil Foden was ruled out for at least a month.

The City midfielder damaged his ankle ligaments in the EFL Cup penalty shootout victory over Leicester on Tuesday night.

The 17-year-old picked up his problem in an innocuous challenge at the King Power Stadium but Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling were fortunate to escape injuries after dangerous tackles during Saturday's 4-1 win over Tottenham.

Harry Kane and Dele Alli were given yellow cards for a studs-up challenge on Sterling and an over-the-ball tackle on De Bruyne respectively.

Guardiola suggested that, while a clampdown on diving is important, officials need to be strong on dangerous challenges.

"[Foden] is injured. It's not good," Guardiola told a news conference ahead of City's game against Bournemouth on Saturday. "The next fixtures he will not be available.

"We were lucky with Raz [Sterling] and Kevin De Bruyne in the last game against Tottenham -- really lucky. We were unlucky with Phil against Leicester.

"It's ligaments, he could be out for a time. I accept the referees have to be careful about the diving players, but be careful to protect the players. The most important thing is to protect the players -- that is the first target for the referees.

"We were scared, we thought it was the bone, but it's just the ligaments. It will be one month or maybe more that he will be injured."

Guardiola could have better news on the injury front with defenders Vincent Kompany and John Stones close to returning to first-team action.

Kompany has played just one of City's last six games after suffering from a calf strain while Stones has been missing for more than a month with a hamstring injury. David Silva has also missed the last two games for personal reasons.

"[Kompany] is much better," Guardiola said. "He's much, much better. I think in the next days he will be ready. I don't know whether tomorrow -- I have to speak to him after the training session, we will see. John Stones is coming back soon as well."

Sterling, who scored a 97th-minute winner when City beat Bournemouth earlier this season, will also be available.

The forward scored twice against Tottenham on Saturday, despite being racially assaulted on the morning of the game with a man subsequently jailed for the incident. 

"My wish is that it doesn't happen again," Guardiola said on the incident. "That's all it is. The authorities took a decision, so well done. So hopefully it won't happen again."

Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.

MANCHESTER -- Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has ruled out Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick for the entire Christmas fixture list.

Fellaini has missed the last seven games with a knee injury while Carrick has only made one appearance this season and underwent a procedure to correct an irregular heart rhythm in October.

United face five games in 14 days over Christmas and New Year, starting with a trip to Leicester on Saturday.

But Mourinho will be without Fellaini and Carrick, as well as Eric Bailly, who has had surgery on an ankle injury, and Antonio Valencia, who picked up a hamstring problem during the 2-1 win over West Brom last weekend.

The United manager told a news conference on Friday: "Fellaini is not available. Michael Carrick, no. Not for the Christmas period.

"Valencia is out as you know, Eric Bailly is having surgery right now, or is just finishing or is still there, who else? Nobody else, everything is OK."

Mourinho was critical of a number of his players following the 2-1 defeat to Bristol City on Wednesday, accusing them of "not turning up to the office."

He will need his fringe players during the festive schedule -- United have been given just six rest days -- and the coach insisted no one would be shown the exit in January based solely on what happened at Ashton Gate.

He said: "I don't make decisions based on only one game or one feeling or one night, not at all.

"First of all you always like to speak about the loser, probably you should speak more about the winner, what I told after the match.

"They were lucky but they fought a lot to try to be lucky and is one of the beautiful things that can happen in football when a team from a lower division kills the giant.

"I could be critical with my players but they did enough to win. They lost when they were the only team people believed could win, so we move on and we move on quickly because we have another match."

United head into Christmas 11 points behind leaders Manchester City, who play Bournemouth at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Mourinho insists United are still in the race for the title, but the 54-year-old is refusing to look beyond Saturday night's game at the King Power Stadium.

He added: "Expectation is to go to every match and try to win, which is what we do and the matches we lost we fought until the last second.

"The matches we lost, if I'm not wrong, 2-1, 2-1, 1-0, so we really manage to fight in every match to try the best result.

"There is nothing more than that we can do, we can promise, we go to every match and do our best."

Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.

There can be no sugar-coating of Tottenham's defeat by Manchester City last Saturday; Spurs weren't just beaten they were thoroughly out-classed.

For much of the game Tottenham's players were chasing shadows, always seemingly at least five yards behind the ball. By the end they were physical and mental wrecks with many normally reliable footballers reduced to making embarrassing schoolboy errors.

It is tempting to treat the City game as a one-off and not read too much into it. Pep Guardiola's side are in a league of their own at the moment -- they might even now be the best side in Europe -- and Tottenham weren't the first and certainly won't be the last team to be played off the pitch at the Etihad.

Logic, therefore, might suggest the best way for Spurs to recover from the hammering they took would be to ring-fence it, to compartmentalise it and try and start afresh against Burnley on Saturday as if nothing untoward had happened.

That though would be to miss a trick. The defeat to City highlighted many of Spurs' shortcomings that other teams don't always manage to exploit so ruthlessly. The simple truth is that -- the games against Liverpool, Real Madrid, Huddersfield and Stoke apart -- Tottenham have been a long way off their best all season. They have struggled to beat teams they were swatting aside last season and dropping far too many points in the process.

Blaming the move to Wembley is not good enough. Curiously, while in the early half of the season Mauricio Pochettino got angry at suggestions that Spurs were finding life difficult away from White Hart Lane, the manager now seldom misses an opportunity at his weekly news conferences to talk up the problems of the Wembley pitch.

Nor is it good enough to blame injuries to key players for the dip in form. Yes, Toby Alderweireld and Victor Wanyama are key players who have been much missed, but Spurs have aspirations of being a big, top four club. And all top four clubs accumulate their fair share of injuries over the course of a season. Spurs haven't been especially unlucky in this area, they just haven't done the necessary strategic planning to make sure their squad has the strength in depth to minimise the absence of key players.

The simple truth is that Spurs are always going to find it hard to compete with Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea because they don't have the same financial resources. To put it simply, Spurs have probably over-performed in the past two seasons and this year's performances must be seen as some kind of corrective -- a return to the level a club of Tottenham's financial size can reasonably expect.

Which isn't to say that the team can't aim for better. It must be as frustrating for the players as it is for the fans to know that the side is capable of so much more. The difference between last season and this is all too stark.

It's easy to point the finger at the wing-backs for the current struggles, with Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies not offering nearly the same threat as Kyle Walker and Danny Rose at their best. But that again doesn't really tell the whole story.

Where Spurs are really struggling is in midfield. Last year they undid the opposition time and again with the speed with which they moved the ball from defence to attack. This year their build up play has been consistently ponderous and laboured; passes that used to go forward like quicksilver now go sideways. Visiting teams may not have made things easy for Tottenham by putting 10 men behind the ball at Wembley, but Spurs have played into their hands with their lack of movement off the ball.

It's time for Pochettino to have a long, hard think about the make-up of his midfield. Only Son Heung-Min has consistently played with the high tempo energy which the manager demands. Dele Alli has been out of sorts all season -- he was lucky not to be sent off for a horrible, petulant stamp on Kevin De Bruyne against Manchester City -- and it might be time for him to spend some time on the bench. There's only so long you can persevere with an obviously talented player who is horribly out of form. Much of the time, Alli appears a moody, negative presence these days.

Christian Eriksen blows hot and cold far too often. While at times, he looks like one of the most gifted playmakers in the Premier League, he frequently drifts out of the game for long periods and Pochettino needs to increase the intensity of his performances.

Mousa Dembele has also been a massive disappointment. His ability to retain the ball, ghost past defenders and drive upfield was an integral -- if often unheralded -- feature of Spurs' attacking game last year. He now looks to have lost a yard or two of pace and is nowhere near as influential.

Which leaves Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko, neither of whom are going to strike terror in top class teams. Winks is still learning the game while Sissoko gives the impression he has forgotten his. With so much of the midfield out of sorts, it's no surprise that Harry Kane was reduced to firing off speculative long-range shots in his last two outings against Brighton and City. He was getting so little of the ball in dangerous areas, he had to make his own chances.

That said, the Burnley game comes at a good time. The Clarets are flying high at the moment and will look to attack what they believe is a suspect Spurs defence. Tottenham are at their best on the counter and they will be hoping to catch Burnley on the break. But it won't be easy.

Burnley are full of confidence; Spurs are riddled with self-doubt. Pochettino has said he wouldn't take a fourth place finish if it was offered to him now, but many of those around him might see it differently.

John Crace is one of ESPN FC's Tottenham bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @JohnJCrace.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his first start in eight months on Wednesday in Manchester United's EFL Cup defeat against Bristol City, after his remarkable recovery from a cruciate ligament injury, but he was largely awful for the first hour of the game and looked a mile off the pace.

To come back from such a serious injury at the age of 36 was a big ask, and he hadn't made much of an impact in the cameo appearances he'd been given before the visit to Aston Gate.

But watching him misplace passes, slice shots and struggle to keep up with the game was painful. He calls himself a lion and struts around with an incredible amount of arrogance, yet here he was looking unable to compete in a game against championship-level opposition.

Up to the hour mark, social media was full of United fans questioning whether he was finished or not -- how getting more playing time only seemed to highlight how far his form has fallen since last season.

However, with United a goal behind, Ibrahimovic stepped up to take a free kick on the edge of the area. Wearing the captain's armband, he pulled rank and sent the likes of Paul Pogba and Daley Blind packing.

The Swede hasn't been famed for his free-kick-taking ability since joining United -- although he did score one in the EFL Cup final last season -- but his powerful low drive was perfect, smashing the ball through the wall and past Luke Steele to level the score for United.

Ibrahimovic didn't last much longer before being substituted, but while his general contribution had been poor, he did more for the team than anyone else, as United went on to concede an embarrassing late winner and drop out of the competition they won last season.

While United supporters who back Ibrahimovic could feel smug after his goal, the game did little to prove that he is capable of making a full recovery, though it didn't conclusively show he's finished either.

Ibrahimovic isn't match fit and has barely played for the best part of the year. One could look at this period as his preseason, where he is trying to find his feet, and when his fitness is better, perhaps we will see the level of performances he was capable of before his injury.

But that will require plenty of playing time, and Jose Mourinho will have to consider whether he can give minutes to a 36-year-old on his way out at the expense of other players and possibly results.

Even if Ibrahimovic can improve his fitness and contribute goals, how much time do United have to spare to help his recovery? If he was at his peak, there'd be no question that the club would have to do all they could to help him get back to his best, but with his one-year contract coming to an end, United can't even guarantee he will be at the club next season.

Romelu Lukaku can't play in the No. 9 role for every game, but Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are champing at the bit to be given more playing time in the position.

Mourinho feels a strong loyalty toward Ibrahimovic, but his priority should be to bring through the next generation of United's attack rather than the rehabilitation of a player whose career is almost over.

Rashford and Martial have done well this season in the wide positions, with a total of 30 goals and assists between them, but both see their future playing in a central role. It's understandable that £75m summer signing Lukaku is ahead of them in the pecking order, but it's harder to justify Ibrahimovic being afforded the same treatment.

It's too early to tell definitively either way, but his comeback hasn't been as simple as supporters might have hoped. To be back on the pitch eight months after suffering from an injury that could have ended his career was remarkable -- if anyone could do it, Zlatan could. But getting back to his best might be a task that's too big even for him.

Ibrahimovic gave United a lot last season, so he deserves a chance. But for the sake of United's future, Mourinho can't wait indefinitely for something that might never happen.

Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.

Manchester City are 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League, have set a new record for consecutive wins and are being talked about as a contender to go unbeaten domestically all season and challenge for the Champions League.

Pep Guardiola has turned them into a force that look capable of lining up alongside football's elite and they have been rightly feted in the English media. But what has been the reaction from the TV and written press across Europe's major cities?

ESPN FC asked correspondents in Barcelona, Munich, Italy, Madrid and Paris whether City's form was making people sit up and take notice.

BARCELONA: City are becoming the reference point in Catalonia. Speaking on Catalan radio this week, Xavi Hernandez was asked which players in the current game are most like him; Ilkay Gundogan, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne were the first three names he gave. Lionel Messi recently named City, along with Paris Saint-Germain, as the team to fear in the Champions League.

Both of the region's papers, Diario Sport and Mundo Deportivo, now have correspondents based in Manchester, primarily to cover City and Guardiola's every move. "Not even the cold or the snow can stop Guardiola's City," Pol Ballus wrote in Sport recently. Mundo Deportivo's Dani Gil, meanwhile, wrote that "no opponent seems good enough for untouchable City at the moment" after they thumped Tottenham.

"Historic" City are now considered among the two favourites to conquer Europe, too, by the local press and the local bookmakers. Only PSG are currently more fancied. -- Sam Marsden

MUNICH: Inevitably Jupp Heynckes' return has hogged the limelight in Bavaria, but City's remarkable winning run is a timely reminder of the standards Guardiola set during his three years at Bayern, where he won a record 19 straight Bundesliga games in his debut season and led the team to the league title at the earliest juncture in history.

City's impressive form under Guardiola may have gone under the radar a little in Germany, where live Premier League games are not shown on TV. Nevertheless, print coverage ramped up when Pep beat Jose Mourinho in the Manchester derby, with Welt reporting, "Guardiola the conqueror drives his rivals to despair."

As Carlo Ancelotti struggled in autumn, there was a lot of comment on what might have been for Bayern, who missed out on Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane when Guardiola was at the helm, not to mention Ilkay Gundogan or Gabriel Jesus.

Expect increased interest from the Munich media when German football enters its traditional Winterpause, and that will crank up a notch when the Champions League knockout stages get underway in the new year. The Munich media and the bookmakers have Guardiola's City as one of the favourites -- alongside Bayern -- for the top prize. -- Mark Lovell

ITALY: Guardiola is "more attractive to the Italian media than Jose Mourinho," according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, who dedicated a page of their midweek "Extra Time" supplement to Manchester City's 16-game Premier League winning streak.

"Every point Mou loses is a point gained by Pep; Mou's the evil, Pep's the good," the article added, saying how Guardiola has become the new darling of the English game -- and wherever the former Brescia midfielder is involved, he has a cult following in Italy too.

Interest in City's record-breaking progress is certainly high in Italy, with the Sky Sports-Fox Sports network screening all but two of their Premier League fixtures this season live.

City are given as much coverage as Antonio Conte's Chelsea, although La Gazzetta has sounded a warning. Almost all of Guardiola's games in charge of Bayern Munich were also screened live in Italy and one trend was noted -- performances dipped in spring. "But especially in these freezing days of winter, it seems like spring is really a long way off," concluded La Gazzetta. -- Ben Gladwell

MADRID: Guardiola's every move as City manager is covered in the Spanish media, with the view of the former Barcelona boss generally depending on the perspective of the outlet doing the reporting.

Some in the Spanish capital remain very much "anti-Pep," with El Chiringuito host Josep Pedrerol's overheated outrage at Guardiola wearing a yellow ribbon in support of jailed Catalan nationalist politicians leaving little room for tactical analysis of his team.

Most voices in Madrid are impressed, though, however grudgingly. Marca headlined last weekend's match report "Bulldozer City Steamroll Tottenham" with their Manchester-based correspondent writing that the "the run goes on, as do the performances, and it shows no sign of stopping soon."

Following the recent Manchester derby, El Pais painted defeated United boss and former Madrid coach Jose Mourinho as an increasingly embittered "Salieri" figure, recalling a Milos Forman film, leaving Guardiola as the unparalleled Mozart of the piece. -- Dermot Corrigan

PARIS: Although City's exceptional start to this season is regularly acknowledged in Paris, the French press are generally preoccupied with their own super club -- Paris Saint-Germain -- to spend too much time praising Guardiola's men.

That said, City are of interest to many in France because of Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and, to a lesser extent, Yaya Toure and Eliaquim Mangala, while Premier League football in general remains a massive draw on TV.

Following their demolition of Tottenham, France Football asked "who can stop Guardiola's machine?" while their English correspondent Philippe Auclair said City already have the Premier League title sewn up, such is their dominance.

And after the Manchester derby win over United, City were voted "champions" of the weekend by L'Equipe readers. Quite an achievement considering that this was a poll across all readers and not just football fans.

The French press regularly cite City as one of PSG's main rivals for the Champions League title and, if holders Real Madrid can be overcome, many expect the sides to cross paths at some point. -- Jonathan Johnson

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If they win two of their three remaining games in 2017, Everton will have gained more points in December than the rest of the season combined.

They have gone from a team seemingly unsure where their next goal is coming from, to one that has picked up 13 points from their last five league games -- one point more than they managed in the previous 13 games this season.

The most recent of these five league games saw Everton recover to beat Swansea 3-1 on Monday night. Manager Sam Allardyce is sure to have reservations about his team conceding first for the second time in three games -- the opposition has opened the scoring in 19 of the last 25 Everton games in all competitions -- but comfort can be found in the response of his players.

Allardyce praised the character of his men afterwards and the comeback victory means Everton have gained a league-high 12 points from losing positions this term. As Wayne Rooney noted after the match, Swansea was a match Everton would have lost a few weeks ago. Instead, the home side responded and recorded their fourth successive home league win.

The result, and the manner of it, should stand Allardyce and his players in good stead as the real work starts. If the past six matches and subsequent unbeaten streak were about finding a way to win and banishing talk of relegation, then the next six can set the tone for the remainder of the season as Everton face four of the top seven teams in the next few weeks.

This six-game run starts with arguably the toughest test to date for Allardyce, against a Chelsea side that have already beaten Everton three times in 2017. Then, in between trips to West Brom and Bournemouth to close out 2017, January opens with games against Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham. Supporters will learn far more about Allardyce and these players during this taxing set of fixtures.

Allardyce has previously shown his standard blueprint in these matches, putting on an obdurate display to escape from Anfield with a point in the recent Merseyside derby, but such an approach against Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool (again) and Tottenham in the space of two weeks seems unsustainable.

For all their stout defence, Everton had just 21 percent possession at Anfield and recorded a dismal 49 percent passing accuracy alongside it. Similar figures in forthcoming games would put immense pressure on the defence, especially with such a quick turnaround between matches. The Swansea win was the first time under Allardyce that Everton have had more possession than the opposition.

There is also the matter of expectation from supporters. Mere containment is unlikely to sit well with home fans. Supporters will be realistic about the quality of the opposition but remain aware that Goodison Park can be a formidable place for opponents; the setup has to be about more than just survival as, even accounting for a handful of defeats earlier in the season, home form has carried Everton through this past year.

Only Manchester City (52) have scored more home league goals in 2017. With one match still to play, this is already the most productive year at Goodison since the Premier League started. The number of home wins (15) and home goals scored (47) are club record Premier League figures for Everton in a calendar year.

Along with this consideration for home advantage and the anticipation among supporters that Everton will be more proactive on their own ground, Allardyce also has to learn from recent history and the dismal approach his predecessor Ronald Koeman offered up against Chelsea during his brief tenure.

Koeman departed Everton having lost all three matches against Chelsea, failing to score a single goal and conceding 10 in the process. Under Koeman, Everton registered just three shots on target in 270 minutes of football against the current league champions; Everton ended up well beaten each time and posed little attacking threat as an overly cautious approach instantly conceded the initiative and turned the matches into nothing more than exercises in damage limitation.

Each of the four league wins in this six-game unbeaten run has arrived against a team below Everton in the table, but the confidence gained along the way should put this team in better health for this challenging set of fixtures. The incentive should be clear for Allardyce, with Everton winless against the eight teams above them to this point, drawing twice and losing the other six.

Allardyce has shown his ability to organise a defence and find a level of consistency against the teams around them in the standings, but starting with Chelsea and moving forward into the New Year, this is an early opportunity to make a genuine statement against the teams above them.

Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.

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