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Xherdan Shaqiri has revealed how a number of his friends are blaming him for Manchester United parting with Jose Mourinho, with his double for Liverpool against the Red Devils leading to a managerial axe being wielded. The Swizterland international stepped off the bench during a Premier League fixture at Anfield on December 16 to net a match-winning double. With those efforts having helped Jurgen Klopp’s side to a first victory over their old adversaries in eight attempts, drastic action was taken by deflated opponents.

The contest proved to be the last for Mourinho as United manager , with his contract having been torn up and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appointed on an interim basis in his place . On the role he played in a high-profile departure from Old Trafford, Shaqiri told The Guardian : "I had a lot of messages from my friends when it happened.

"There were a lot of good messages about the United game at first and then, when the news came out about Mourinho, I had messages saying: 'That's your fault!' But this is football sometimes.

"I don't think it was just because we won that game that United wanted to change their manager.

"There were other reasons but it means the game goes down in history. It will always be in my history too."

Arsene Wenger has praised the Arsenal job overseen by Unai Emery, with clever recruitment considered to have returned “defensive stability” to the Gunners. A humbling slide down the Premier League table had been endured prior to a change in the dugout at Emirates Stadium over the summer. A leaky back four had contributed to that tumble, with Arsenal paying the price with two finishes outside of the Champions League spots.

The former Gunners boss is pleased to his successor turning the tide in north London, telling beIN Sports: “I think Emery is doing an excellent job. “With the recruits he has brought in, it has brought a form of defensive stability and so I think everything is going well. “The team is in good hands and I always said that. A lot of people thought when I left the club that the team would need to completely rebuild – I never thought that. “I am very happy that these people have been proven wrong.” Emery was handed no transfer warchest upon inheriting the reins, so was able to make only minor tweaks to his squad. He did, however, prioritise reinforcements at the back, with Stephan Lichtsteiner, Bernd Leno and Sokratis Papastathopoulos among those drafted in.

Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi were also acquired to add steel to the midfield, and all of the new boys have made a positive impressions when called upon. Arsenal do, however, still find themselves on the fringes of the top four, with three points separating them from London neighbours Chelsea at present. They are a further two back on arch-rivals Tottenham and will be looking to return to winning ways on Saturday after successive defeats in league and cup competition when they play host to Burnley.

Pep Guardiola will be able to call upon Kevin De Bruyne when Manchester City take on Crystal Palace on Saturday. De Bruyne came on as a substitute against Everton last weekend and started in the Carabao Cup in midweek, and Guardiola will have to decided whether to name the Belgian in the starting XI again, or keep him back for away games against Leicester and Southampton after Christmas. The Catalan will also have to decided between Sergio Aguero, who also returned in midweek, and Gabriel Jesus, who scored twice against Everton a week ago.

David Silva misses out again with a hamstring injury, while Benjamin Mendy is out following knee surgery. Vincent Kompany has missed the last two match day squads with an unspecified injury. Claudio Bravo is a long-term absentee with an Achilles injury but Danilo has returned to training this week following a number of set-backs.

Oleksandr Zinchenko could start at left-back in place of Fabian Delph, as the Ukrainian has generally started home matches against teams expected to defend. With two tricky away matches coming up, Delph could be kept back. John Stones has a good chance of partnering Aymeric Laporte at centre-back given Nicolas Otamendi has looked a little shaky of late, and both young centre-backs are especially good on the ball. Guardiola may be tempted to bring De Bruyne back slowly, and would mean a midfield partnership of Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan playing ahead of Fernandinho.

Aguero is more likely to return to the starting line-up given he has not been out of action for anywhere near as long as De Bruyne, but Jesus' two goals against Everton could provide him with the opportunity to start in the league yet again. Raheem Sterling is likely to come back into the line-up after starting the last two matches on the bench, and Leroy Sane could provide the width on the left-hand side as he has tended to do in the absence of Mendy.

Cheikhou Kouyate was withdrawn during that game and will be assessed to see whether he can return against City. Christian Benteke is a long-term absentee with a knee injury.

The Real Madrid midfielder has ended the stranglehold of two iconic figures on football's grandest prizes, with his efforts finally being recognised Luka Modric is pleased to be “finally recognised”, with the Real Madrid star having toppled Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to prove that “football is not just goals, goals, goals”. The Croatia international has enjoyed a stunning year in which he has climbed to the very top of the global game.

Modric ended the duopoly of Messi and Ronaldo to claim those honours, with his creative qualities winning out over the prolific strike rates of his rivals. The 33-year-old midfielder is delighted to see alternative skill sets being acknowledged, telling GQ: "It makes me happy that people have finally recognised everything I've achieved in my sports career.

"I've had to win many things to make it happen and only then others have realised that football is not just goals, goals and goals." It has not been an easy journey for Modric to this point, with the talented playmaker having had to scrap for all that he has achieved.

He added: "I've been surrounded by doubts since my childhood. "Because of my physique, because of my height... "Some thought those elements were important to succeed in life and in football, but I never doubted myself."

Modric is now receiving the acclaim he undoubtedly deserves, with an important role at Real Madrid allowing him to pursue more major honours and cement a standing among the greats. "Thanks to that trust and that faith in myself, I came to the best club in the world," he added.

"At the beginning many people didn't believe in me either, it's part of my life, always surrounded by doubts, always hearing that no I won't reach the top. "All the recognition, such as the FIFA World Player or the Ballon d'Or, are worth much more when you are aware that nobody has given you anything.

"Nothing has been given to me by anyone, I've had to work for it." That hard work has been richly rewarded, and there is the promise of even more to come from a man currently chasing down a third successive Club World Cup crown to sit alongside his enviable haul of other awards.

A muscle injury is likely to keep the Spain international out of the Blancos' showdown with Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday Marco Asensio is set to miss the Club World Cup final after sustaining a thigh injury.

The 22-year-old has suffered a grade two injury in his right rectus femoris, Real Madrid confirmed in a statement. The Blancos announced on their official website: "Following tests carried out on Marco Asensio by the Real Madrid Medical Services, he has been diagnosed with a grade II muscle injury in the right rectus femoris.

"His recovery will continue to be assessed." It means the Spain international will potentially not return to action until at least January 3, when Madrid face Villarreal in La Liga. Santiago Solari's side take on Al Ain in the Club World Cup final in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, having beaten Kashima Antlers 3-1 in their semi-final.

The European champions are seeking to win their third global title in a row. While it appears unlikely that they will be able to call upon Asensio in their next outing, the Blancos do have an in-form Gareth Bale at their disposal following his hat-trick in a last-four success. Solari said of the Welshman after that showing:"I'm happy for the three goals scored by Bale and for the solidity and consistency of the team.

"Bale has taken everything, the spotlight, the stage, the goal. He had a sensational match, he has shown what he is and what he is capable of. "In the end, the last person responsible for a performance is always the footballer. "Gareth has given great joy to Madrid and has been decisive in very important moments, which is the most important part of football. What dominates football is goals and Bale scores them."

Reports are again claiming the Blues will make a move for the Argentina international in January as Maurizio Sarri looks to bolster his forward line Gennaro Gattuso has dismissed talk of Gonzalo Higuain moving to Chelsea, while insisting AC Milan's problems are not the sole responsibility of the struggling forward.

Higuain joined Milan in a high-profile initial loan switch from Juventus in June but has so far failed to hit the levels of previous seasons, netting just five times in Serie A this term. With Chelsea, coached by Higuain's former Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri, said to be on the lookout for a new front man in January, reports have emerged that the Blues might trade their own misfiring forward Alvaro Morata for the Argentina international.

But Gattuso knows nothing of such a deal and instead plans to build around Higuain, claiming the ex-Real Madrid man is suffering due to a lack of service. "I do not know [about any potential swap]," he told a news conference ahead of facing Fiorentina. "We're keeping hold of Higuain and, in recent years, Chelsea have not bought players aged 30 or 31.

"Higuain is going through a difficult moment, like the whole team, but I treasure him a lot. I have no doubts about him. We have to put our players in a position to play well and express their full potential. "Right now, we are struggling with our midfielders, who cover the pitch but are unable to supply quality balls forward. Our problem is not Higuain."

The coach added: "It is normal that, on a mental level, Higuain is not in a positive moment and is missing scoring goals. We have only discussed football, no contract talk, and our focus is to help him return to scoring form." Milan are winless in three games in all competitions, going out of the Europa League to Olympiacos in that time, but they remain fourth in Serie A and Gattuso is positive ahead of the rest of the season.

"The first day of the season, the club asked me to get to the Champions League," he said. "We are fourth, but it is as if we are eighth or ninth. We have to wake up. "The Olympiacos game was a blow, but we have to continue to work seriously. If [the media] think we are stronger than what we are showing, it is talk that does not concern me. "We started the season slowly, not winning games that we had to win, but we also benefited from the results of our rivals."

The Manchester City man is yet to earn a senior international cap for Les Bleus and recently claimed this has nothing to with his footballing ability Didier Deschamps has denied Aymeric Laporte’s claims that he has been omitted from the France squad due to personal reasons.

Despite emerging as one of Europe’s top centre-backs in the last 12 months, the 24-year-old is continually overlooked by Deschamps, who has even selected the likes of Mamadou Sakho and Kurt Zouma above Laporte. However, the France head coach, who led his country to World Cup glory in the summer, insisted that his decision is purely based on decisions to do with football, stating that he prefers not to have two left-footers in the centre.

He told RMC Sport : “I do not understand [why Laporte made those statements]. I do not know. "I do not have a problem with anyone. When I choose someone it is not for me. I repeat. I only have one thing to say to him and that is that he continues to perform well. "If you tell me he must be in [Marseille centre-back Adil] Rami's place then I stop you right away. Sorry but two left-footed defenders at centre-back at international level... We have a lot of left-footers and few right-footers."

Laporte had previously claimed : "Of course I don't think it's because of a sporting issue, you'd have to ask him personally, I don't have anything personal against him, but if someone has a problem it's him and not me. "I could be a world champion... but these are the decisions of the coach, who is not calling me for, I think, personal reasons, and I have to respect him." With relations appearing to be frayed and Deschamps questioning Laporte’s ability, it looks unlikely that the former Athletic Bilbao man will return to the French squad soon.

After a somewhat disappointing Nations League campaign - that saw them finish second behind group winners the Netherlands - the current world champions were drawn alongside Iceland, Turkey, Albania, Moldova and Andorra in their qualification group for Euro 2020.

As for Laporte, the defender has played 37 games since moving to City last January and has asserted himself as one of Pep Guardiola’s first-choice centre-backs. This season, he has played every Premier League game of the season and has not missed a single minute of City’s Champions League campaign.

The World Cup winner has reached the end of his tether with the misfiring Nice striker, whose future at the club looks bleak Sacked Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is not the only boss to have failed to harness a high-profile player for the benefit of his club this season.

While Paul Pogba appears to have come out on top in the clash of personalities at Old Trafford, around 1,500 kilometres to the south east, former Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira has tried and failed to get a handle on the mercurial Mario Balotelli in Nice. It has been a campaign in which nothing has gone right for the Italian, who got off on entirely on the wrong foot with his new coach in the summer when he appeared late and out-of-shape for pre-season training.

Vieira, a former team-mate of the striker at Manchester City and Inter, was quick to pounce on the 28-year-old, who under erstwhile boss Lucien Favre had shown genuine signs of growing maturity in the two previous campaigns in which he had scored 15 and 18 Ligue 1 goals respectively, elevating him back to the level of Italy international. But the last time he found the net was for the Azzurri against Saudi Arabia in May, and Vieira has simply had enough.

Officially injured for last weekend’s 1-1 draw against Saint-Etienne, he was left out of the goalless Coupe de la Ligue clash against Guingamp in midweek, which Nice lost on penalties, while the coach will not include him in the team to travel to Strasbourg on Saturday. A World Cup winner in 1998, Vieira had envisaged a leadership role for Balotelli in his Nice side, but that proved too much of a burden for a player who has performed at his best when he has only had to worry about himself.

Speaking last year, Balotelli revealed what is required to get the best from players like himself: “I would try to limit my compliments. Instead, try to break his balls, because I know when all seems calm, it’s a problem. “When someone treads on my toes, then I get angry and I do more. It’s important to learnfrom your mistakes.”

While there have been elements of a hard-line approach in Vieira’s management of the player, he has tried to be understanding, too. Canal +’s ‘Mister Vieira’ programme captured an intimate conversation between the two men that helped reveal their relationship following a training session. “We didn’t put two passes together. It’s hard to play like that,” the Italian complained. “There were four metres between us and I only had four good passes in 20 minutes work.”

“And what did you say?” asked the coach softly. “Nothing,” the striker replied. “That’s not good.” “Today, for example,” the Italian added, “I missed a shot. I sent the ball well over the bar. I get angry because I want to score. They miss and tell you: ‘It’ll be fine next time.’ No, f**k you! You miss, you get angry!” “You’re like that – that’s why you played for these big clubs,” Vieira said. “I want to go back and play with these teams,” the striker interjected.

His coach replied: “I know, and it’s still possible. But you need the help of your team-mates. And to have that help, you must be an example, you must be the one who is an example to others that to do well you have to get involved.”

Balotelli, though, has not provided the example that his coach wanted. In fact, the opposite is true, with reports of the Italian squaring up to the coach during a friendly against Frejus in November, throwing the tactics board to the ground after his substitution in Nimes, and visiting the toilet during a team talk against Guingamp.

Just as in Manchester, where Mourinho and Pogba exchanged blows in public, the same scenario has played out on the Cote d’Azur. Vieira has branded his star player’s performances as “average”, while Balotelli has responded with persistent shows of petulance that have undermined the coach, who is undertaking his first major role in Europe after cutting his teeth with New York City in MLS.

“When it comes to Mario, I want to answer back, or just slam him up against the wall or leave him hanging by his collar on the coat rack, but I can’t, as I’m no longer a player,” Vieira told L’Equipe . “I have to think twice before I say anything, because it can have an impact and I risk losing a great player. I don’t want to say something I’ll regret. “I am trying to be constructive in my comments to him.”

Nice excelled in recent seasons under Lucien Favre, who departed in the summer and has since taken Dortmund storming to the top of the Bundesliga, precisely because they were able to get the best from the striker, who at a reported €500,000 per month is comfortably the club’s highest earner.

Yet to score this season, Balotelli is not providing anything close to value for money, and while a departure in the summer is inevitable, recent developments mean that Nice would be open to offloading the misfiring attacker sooner. “Officially he’s under contract with us,” Vieira said on Thursday, “but anything is still possible.” If Pogba won his battle of wills at Old Trafford with Mourinho, there have been no winners on France’s south coast: Nice, Vieira and Balotelli have all suffered in this frustrating stalemate, regardless of the outcome.

A report had claimed that the Chilean boasted about the Portuguese being dismissed but he insists he has nothing but respect for his former boss Alexis Sanchez has issued a denial over a story that had claimed he won a £20,000 bet with team-mate Marcos Rojo over Jose Mourinho losing his job. The Portuguese was sacked by the club on Tuesday, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer having been brought in on a temporary basis until the end of the 2018-19 season.

And in a report published by the Sun, claims were made that the former Arsenal winger boasted about Mourinho's sacking in a WhatsApp message to his team-mates.

The newspaper alleges he stated: ‘I told you so!! Patience is all it takes. Rojo you owe me £20k!' Alexis has taken to social media to dismiss the story, however, insisting it is not true and that he respects Mourinho for bringing him to Old Trafford. He wrote on Twitter: This is FALSE!!!. Jose gave me the chance to play for the best team in the world and I only have gratitude for him.

"We are a truly United team. We are MANCHESTER UNITED. Respect. I can't wait to help the team! Good luck tomorrow family!" Mourinho was given the boot by United after overseeing a dismal start to the season, with the Red Devils a massive 19 points behind Premier League leaders Liverpool.

Solskjaer will also have his work cut out in delivering a top-four finish as his side find themselves 11 points behind Chelsea, who currently occupy the final Champions League spot. Alexis, meanwhile, is unable to assist his team-mates at the moment having been sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Indeed, Solskjaer revealed on Friday that he is yet to meet the Chilean, along with Romelu Lukaku, who is also ruled out of the Norwegian's first game in charge against Cardiff. It's unclear when Sanchez will be available to return to action, however, with Mourinho having stated at the end of November that he did not expect the forward to feature again in 2018. United face Cardiff, whom Solskjaer suffered relegation with back in 2014, looking to end a run of two games without a win, with the Red Devils having lost to Valencia and Liverpool in their two most recent matches.

Eric Bailly says he remains ‘thankful’ to erstwhile Manchester United coach Jose Mourinho for giving him a ‘chance’ at the club. On Tuesday, the Old Trafford outfit announced the sacking of the Portuguese tactician following a run of poor results, which saw only two wins from eight games across all competition. Bailly was Mourinho's first signing after becoming the Red Devils’ boss in 2016. The former Villarreal defender saw frequent action at the heart of United's defence in his debut campaign but a series of injuries and the overall struggles of the club saw him drop in the pecking order.

The Blancos striker says he is now all about hitting the back of the net, as he leads the current goalscoring charts at Santiago Bernabeu Karim Benzema insists he is all about goals now as he looks to repay the faith shown in him by Real Madrid supporters. The France international is approaching a decade at Santiago Bernabeu, and has scored over 200 goals in 437 games for the club. Last season, however, he netted just 12 times in all competitions, though he also provided 11 assists.

Benzema has also been embroiled in a number of scandals over the years, and has subsequently been exiled from the France squad. However, he maintains that he has the attitude to keep hitting the back of the net in the Spanish capital. "It's true that there is a new Karim, one who is about football and one who is about goals," he told Marca ahead of Saturday's Club World Cup final against Al Ain.

Benzema has already scored 11 goals this season, and is Real's top scorer in all competitions after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus. "My commitment to this team is absolute," he said. "I feel like the group trusts in me."

"The ovation that the Bernabeu gave me the other day against Rayo Vallecano made me feel like they respect me," he stated. Real are currently five points behind Barcelona in La Liga, and are also behind Sevilla and Atletico Madrid in the standings. Santiago Solari's side face Al Ain in the Club World Cup final, but do not return to La Liga action until January 3, when they take on Villarreal.

The former Red Devils manager offered his thoughts following his exit from the Theatre of Dreams after a tumultuous campaign Former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has told reporters that he and