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EPL Sunday cracker: Liverpool, Man U face selection dilemma

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The fitness of Joel Matip and Naby Keita could have a key impact on Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool line-up, while Victor Lindelof and Paul Pogba may give Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a conundrum for Man Utd as the two sides clash today for the battle of the EPL table topper, Sunday January 17 at 4.30pm.

Which players are set to start on Sunday, when Liverpool host Manchester United in their huge Premier League clash at Anfield?

Sky Sports News reporters Vinny O’Connor and James Cooper joined Peter Smith on the Pitch to Post Preview Podcast to bring the latest team news and injury concerns ahead of the crunch clash between the league’s current top two.

They also shared their views on which selections the respective managers may lean towards for the big showdown.

Liverpool – Matip fitness holds the key

Sky Sports News reporter, Vinny O’Connor, says, “Liverpool have taken advantage of a nine-day break before this game. Jurgen Klopp made it clear ahead of the Aston Villa FA Cup game the lads were going to get a few days off and that’s how it has panned out. They were back in on Wednesday for training and their preparations for the game are building up.

“But on top of that, they’ve been doing everything they can to get Joel Matip fit. Before the Aston Villa game, Klopp said he wasn’t sure he would be recovered from his groin injury in time for Man Utd or whether it would be a few days after that.

“Centre-back is the key area and it affects the whole team because when you look at the XI Klopp put out against Southampton, Jordan Henderson dropped back to centre half alongside Fabinho, and with them playing at centre half you’re missing two massively influential figures in that engine room.

“If Matip is fit then it’s relatively straightforward: he would partner Fabinho at the centre of defence, you’d have Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back and Andy Robertson at left-back, which would enable Henderson to fill the holding role in midfield and then you’ve got the selection of probably Gini Wijnaldum and Thiago Alcantara.

“If Matip isn’t fit – does he drop Henderson back again or does he leave one of the youngsters to fill that role?

“Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams have done OK when they’ve been asked to in the Premier League – but against Man Utd, and their attacking threat, maybe it’s another step up and another challenge they’d have to rise to.

“Obviously the front three picks itself, with Diogo Jota still injured, and we’ll wait and see whether Naby Keita can offer another option in midfield.

“But the key issue is Joel Matip – because it affects the balance elsewhere of the entire team.”

Man Utd – Decision at centre-back and Pogba’s position

Sky Sports News reporter, James Cooper, says, “When Anthony Martial was taken off against Burnley, it looked precautionary to me. It looked as though he’d got a little pull and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer thought, ‘this one might be in the bag and we need him at the weekend against Liverpool’.

“The other issue and problem for him is at centre back and whether Victor Lindelof is fit enough with that back injury.

“Eric Bailly’s form has been good, although Man Utd fans will tell you, in the big games – and you remember PSG last season – he has a ricket in him. It’s something he’s eliminated from his game so far this season, but most Man Utd fans are just maybe a little worried, going into a big game like this, that Bailly and Maguire are the two centre-backs.

“Although, Bailly does give you a bit more pace than perhaps Lindelof does.

“I think he’ll go with legs in midfield with Fred and Scott McTominay in midfield. They seem to be his go-to for the big games.

“Then, if you’re going to play that formation with the three attackers and then the one striker, Martial, if he’s fit, becomes the one down the middle, with Marcus Rashford probably on the right – although he doesn’t like being on the right – Bruno Fernandes in the middle and Paul Pogba on the left.

“I don’t think he will [try to play Edinson Cavani, Rashford and Martial] because he’ll want to accommodate Pogba. Most United fans would say they’ve seen the best from Pogba playing on the left at the moment.

“That’s probably what he’s weighing up – whether Pogba plays, or whether it is Cavani through the middle and Martial on the left, or perhaps even Mason Greenwood.

“But Ole has rotated and rested really, really well so they’re fresh for a game like this.”

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FG redeems 28-year pledge to Westerhof

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The Federal Government has redeemed its pledge to one of the 1994 Super Eagles Team members 28 years after by handing over the keys of a 3-bedroom bungalow to Mr Clemence Westerhof, former Coach of the team.

The Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola handed over the keys to Westerhof at the prototype housing estate along Gwagwalada-Kuje road, on Wednesday in Abuja.

He was represented by Mr Solomon Labafilo, Director, Department of Public Buildings and Housing.

Fashola said that the government came up with the scheme called prototype housing scheme in Lagos, Abuja, Port-harcourt and other parts of the country.

“The programme was started in 2014 and we have phases I and II while the total houses completed and occupied are 206.

“The phase II is where the allocations for the two coaches were made, Jo Bonfrere has house 1A and Clemens Westehof has unit 1B,” Fashola said.

Fashola said government was committed to rewardiing citizens who made sacrifices to project the good image of the country.

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“It will interest you to know that government’s pledge to the 1994 Super Eagles was not fulfilled until when President Muhammadu Buhari approved that all the members be handed over their houses.

“Westehof was allocated his in the prototype housing scheme here in Gwagwalada and other beneficiaries were allocated their homes in the respective states of their choice in the National Housing Programme estates across the country.

“We handed over keys and Certificate of Occupancy today to former coach of the Nigeria Super Eagles who led the 1994 Team, Clemens Westehof.

“This is to show government’s resolve to ensure that Nigerians, irrespective of time, who made sacrifices to project the good image of the country are recognised and encouraged to keep working for the corporate benefit of all.

“We have entered a season of completion and handover of keys to beneficiaries in 35 states and the FCT to Nigerians who have successfully subscribed for houses built under the National Housing Programme (NHP) through the ministry’s website: Https:nhp.worksand housing.gov.ng.

Fashola said the web-portal was launched on Nov. 12, 2021, adding that over 13,000 applications had been received from Nigerians who have created personal account profiles on the website.

The minister, therefore, called on all Nigerians to avail themselves with the opportunity of owning a house in the 35 states and FCT that have been completed except for Lagos State.

Also speaking, the Permanent Secretary, Mr Bashir Alkali, represented by Mrs Lucy Uzodimma, said the ministry was able to fulfill the pledge by the government with the completion of the National Housing Programme estates in 35 states and the FCT.

Alkali said: “Nigerians should be aware that other members who had collected their houses did so in the National Housing Programme sites across the country.

“The philosophy behind the NHP is the provision of pilot scheme that is affordable, accessible and acceptable as contained in the National Housing Policy.

“The approach to the design and use of materials take cognisance of the cultural and climatic peculiarities of the region’s while responding also to the tenets of Building Energy and Efficiency Code (BEEC).”

Westehof, represented by Mrs Charity Biwet commended the Federal Government for fulfilling its promise after so many years, adding, ”it was something noteworthy.

“I stand in here with great joy to receive these keys to this beautiful edifice, I love the building and am sure the owner will love it.

“It is a promise kept and it is really encouraging to see that efforts are being recognised and rewarded. We appreciate this and I will convey the goodwill of the president and the minister to Mr Westehof.”

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the other beneficiaries who had since collected their keys and title documents to their homes were: Alloy Agu, Uche Okafor, Emmanuel Amunike and Thompson Oliha.

Others were: Peter Rufai, Efan Ekoku, Isaac Semitojo and Austin Eguavoen, among others.

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Ronaldo denies Saudi Arabia transfer deal, rejects new offer from Australia

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Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo has denied reports linking him with a potential move to Saudi Arabian outfit Al-Nassr on a lucrative offer worth £173million-a-year.

The Portuguese star, who came off the bench in Portugal’s 6-1 thumping of Switzerland, said after the match that the report is untrue.

Ronaldo is a free agent after reaching a mutual agreement with Manchester United to terminate his contract following his explosive interview with journalist, Piers Morgan.

This has intensified interest from clubs with reports rife in the media recently of a deal reached with Al-Nassr that would see the 37-year-old forward ply his trade in the Middle East.

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“No, that is not true – not true,” Ronaldo said.

The five-time Ballon d’Or has also rejected a move to join a club in Australia (A-League).

A-League chief Danny Townsend disclosed the plans to lure Ronaldo to Australia shortly after the 37-year-old’s Manchester United exit but has now confirmed that the Portugal captain has knocked back their offer.

“We had interesting discussions, and there was genuine interest, but it’s clear he has other priorities at this stage,” Townsend told the Sydney Morning Herald.

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Ramos bags hat-trick as Portugal reach W’Cup quarter-finals

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Goncalo Ramos justified the shock decision to drop Cristiano Ronaldo by scoring a hat-trick on his full debut as Portugal demolished Switzerland 6-1 on Tuesday to power into the World Cup quarter-finals.

The 21-year-old Ramos, who started instead of Ronaldo, became the youngest player to strike three times in a World Cup knockout match since Pele in 1958.

Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro and Rafael Leao were also on target for a rampant Portugal, who booked a showdown with Morocco on Saturday for a place in the last four in Qatar.

Ronaldo, 37 and now without a club after his departure from Manchester United, has hogged the headlines during the tournament while looking a shadow of his former self.

The only man to score at five World Cups, Ronaldo was left out by coach Fernando Santos against the Swiss following his angry response to being substituted in the last group game.

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It was a bold call to omit a player with a record 118 international goals in favour of giving a full debut to Ramos, the Benfica striker who had played just 33 minutes across three previous appearances.

But it took just 17 minutes for Ramos to reward Santos’ faith, and to achieve something Ronaldo has never done — score in a World Cup knockout game.

Joao Felix clipped delicately into the feet of Ramos, who quickly swivelled past Fabian Schaer and rifled into the roof of the net past a stunned Yann Sommer.

Otavio, who returned to the Portugal midfield after injury in their opening match, shot straight at Sommer before Ramos did likewise moments later.

Xherdan Shaqiri drew a fingertip stop from Diogo Costa with a dipping free-kick from distance, but Portugal soon had their second.

Bruno Fernandes whipped in a corner and the 39-year-old Pepe towered above the Swiss defence to powerfully head home.

Diogo Dalot hacked Remo Freuler’s header off the line after Diogo Costa failed to properly deal with a cross, but the Swiss simply had no answers against an irresistible Portugal.

Ramos turned in his second from close range six minutes into the second half from Dalot’s cross down the right.

He then turned provider by playing in Guerreiro to lash in another just four minutes later as the Swiss defence was ruthlessly ripped apart.

It was also Ramos who inadvertently glanced a corner towards Manuel Akanji at the far post as the Manchester City centre-back pulled one back for Switzerland.

Ramos completed his treble after more outstanding work from Felix, nonchalantly dinking over Sommer with one of his final touches before making way for Ronaldo.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s introduction elicited the biggest roar of the night. Ronaldo did have the ball in the back of the net but it was ruled out for a clear offside.

Leao capped off a sensational Portugal performance with a terrific curling strike in stoppage time.

AFP

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