UEFA Champions League updates: 21-27 December

What the round of 16 contenders are up to this Christmas

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21/12/2015
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Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang continues to lead the way in the ESM Golden Shoes ranks heading into the festive period – although a number of UEFA Champions League contenders are in hot pursuit.

Aubameyang has managed 18 Bundesliga goals so far in 2015/16, giving him 36 Golden Shoe points – three more than Shakhtar Donetsk's Alex Teixeira and Legia Warszawa forward Nemanja Nikolić. Bayern München's Robert Lewandowski is joint fifth with 30 points (15 goals), two ahead of his club-mate Thomas Müller. Müller has 14 league goals, the same total as Barcelona's Neymar and one more than another Barça forward, Luis Suárez.

Cristiano Ronaldo won last year's award with 96 points having amassed 48 Liga goals, and he and Lionel Messi have won the award either outright or jointly in each of the last six seasons. This time round, Ronaldo has 24 points (12 goals), while Messi's five league goals have brought him ten points.

ESM Golden Shoe rankings – 21/12/15
1 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund) 18 x 2 = 36
2 Nemanja Nikolić (Legia Warszawa) 22 x 1,5 = 33
Alex Teixeira (Shakhtar Donetsk) 22 x 1,5 = 33
4 Gonzalo Higuaín (Napoli) 16 x 2 = 32
5 Robert Lewandowski (Bayern München) 15 x 2 = 30
Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) 15 x 2 = 30
7 Thomas Müller (Bayern München) 14 x 2 = 28
Neymar (Barcelona) 14 x 2 = 28
Tomas Radzinevicius (Süduva Marijampole) 28 x 1 = 28
10 Jonas (Benfica) 13 x 2 = 26
Romelu Lukaku (Everton) 13 x 2 = 26
Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City) 13 x 2 = 26
Luis Suárez (Barcelona) 13 x 2 = 26

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Arsène Wenger has been assessing the Premier League title race, saying: "It inspires everybody. The teams behind by five or six points all think that with a good run they can be there. It is very open, but that’s what is sensational. I find it very good and very healthy."

Arsenal can close to within two points of leaders with victory against third-placed Manchester City yet Wenger is not looking too far ahead. "What I feel is great team spirit and great unity in the dressing room, and a focus to go forward, that’s for sure," the Arsenal manager said.  "After that, we have to answer on the pitch whether we are good enough."

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Fernandinho believes Manchester City have a tough task on their hands at the Arsenal Stadium this evening, saying: "They are playing very good football, are above us in the league and they are fighting to be top of the table. They have good players, a good manager and they are playing in front of their own fans where it is always tough to play and beat them. But I think we have a good chance to go there and win.

"Arsenal have technical players and can play with a high intensity so we need to be ready for every possible situation – they have fast players up front who can hit you on the counter-attack so, as I say, we need to be ready for everything and create some surprises for them."

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Nemanja Matić has collected the prize for Serbia's player of the year at a ceremony at the Football Association of Serbia (FSS) sports centre, with Veljko Paunović taking the coach's prize. Chelsea midfielder Matić wins the award for the second year in succession, emulating club and international team-mate Branislav Ivanović, Serbia's player of the year in 2012 and 2013.

"I see this award as an obligation for time in front of us," said Matić, who helped Chelsea win the Premier League and English League Cup last season. "I'll try to be better, in the club and the national team, and I believe we'll be more succesful. It is great honour for me to be the best in my country and I'm really proud."

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First-half goals from Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud set Arsenal on course for a 2-1 victory over Manchester City that lifts them two points off leaders Leicester City and four points clear of their opponents.

At a glance
Walcott 33rd-minute opener is Arsenal's 100th goal of 2015
Giroud scores seventh goal in four outings
Mesut Özil claims 14th and 15th league assists of season
Yaya Touré scores City's first goal in four away league games
City have not won in five Premier League away matches

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With my bro Gallas at Madinina Gwada #holidays #AW28 ✌👌

A photo posted by Axel Witsel (@axelwitsel28) on

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Groundhog Day for Jérôme Boateng as the Bayern defender struggles to come to terms with the lack of training ...

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It is not all rest and relaxation for Zenit, with the club finalising preparations for training ahead of their first competitive match of 2015: at Benfica on 16 February.

Zenit will take part in the Atlantic Cup in Portugal between 30 January and 7 February, and this morning announced that they will face Brøndby and Norrköping in the group stage.

There is then a place match, when Zenit will face whoever finishes in the same position in the other group, which includes AGF Aarhus, Kalmar, Jablonec and Örebro.

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Paris Saint-Germain have rewarded Christopher Nkunku for his development with the academy by handing him his first professional contract. The 18-year-old midfielder has impressed for the club's Under-19s, notably scoring twice against Real Madrid in this season's UEFA Youth League group stage (watch highlights below). Nkunku also made his UEFA Champions League debut two weeks ago, in the 2-0 win against Shakhtar Donetsk.

"I'm really happy with this show of trust by the club where I learned my trade," said Nkunku. "It's a great honour to become a professional player at this very ambitious club. Working with world-class players will give me the best chance of continuing to improve."

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Bayern München forward Thomas Müller appears to be looking forward to Friday ...

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Barcelona star Neymar is also enjoying some well-deserved rest having already struck 16 goals for the UEFA Champions League holders this season.

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Manchester City, beaten by Premier League title rivals Arsenal on Monday, have received a boost ...

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Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio may be on holiday in the Maldives, but he doesn't look likely to be slacking too much having posted about his morning run earlier today.

 

Buongiorno! Allora quasi pronti per il Natale? Un abbraccione a tutti!! #morningrun #beach #holiday #family #me #sun

A photo posted by Claudio Marchisio (@marchisiocla8) on

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Jealous? Check out the view from Zenit midfielder Axel Witsel's hotel room.

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Juventus pair Juan Cuadrado and Álvaro Morata get into the spirit of things ...

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While the Paris Saint-Germain players enjoy a well-earned break, the club is finalizing preparations for next week's tour of Qatar. Laurent Blanc's men will be in Qatar between Sunday and Wednesday, with a friendly against Internazionale Milano the highlight.

The winter getaway is becoming a bit of a tradition for the club, and skipper Thiago Silva says the benefits are obvious. "Last year we came back stronger to finish the season in the best possible way," he said. Indeed, Paris won all three domestic titles. "They are ideal conditions to charge our batteries."

Paris in MarrakeshParis in Marrakesh
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Over the Atlantic, Antoine Griezmann has been sightseeing ...

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Saúl Ñíguez and friends ensure the stage is set for an older, more portly Rojiblanco ...

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While the vast majority of stars seem to have found sunnier climes, Wolfsburg's André Schürrle has kept it traditional ...

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Ezequiel Lavezzi, one of several Paris Saint-Germain players back in South America for a few days, gets all arty ...

 

A photo posted by Ezequiel Lavezzi (@pocho22lavezzi) on

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It's a Christmas Day challenge from a certain Bayern and Austria star ...

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Of course in England, it's merely Boxing Day Eve, with Arsenal off to Southampton.

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While there are matches in England and Spain this week, Serie A players are on proper holiday ...

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The Russian Orthodox Christmas is on 7 January, but Zenit aren't forgetting their Roman Catholic/Protestant/generally 25 December-celebrating followers ...

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You probably don't need the caption to know which Chelsea player this is from ...

 

Merry Christmas!!! Feliz Natal!!! 🎅🏻🌲☃ #merrychristmas #feliznatal #pazesaude #jesus

A photo posted by Willian Borges Da Silva (@willianborges88) on

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Willian update: he's had his Christmas dinner ...

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It's slightly warmer where Ezequiel Lavezzi is.

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PSV's Adam Maher has a message of his own from Abu Dhabi.

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Dynamo Kyiv's Júnior Moraes is busy back home in Brazil ...

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For Spanish speakers, a Christmas message from Atlético's Antoine Griezmann.

 

🎅🎄🎁

A video posted by Antoine Griezmann (@antogriezmann) on

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The only club we haven't visited so far today is Benfica, and only because we're bitter that Santa beat us to it ...

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Dynamo Kyiv fans, meet the Gonzalezes ...

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Four of the 16 UEFA Champions League contenders have matches on Saturday:
English Premier League - Manchester City v Sunderland (16.00CET), Chelsea v Watford (16.00), Southampton v Arsenal (20.45).

Belgian Pro League - Mechelen v Gent (20.00)

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The celebrations go on in the Ramsey household ... He has a night out in Southampton to look forward to.

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There's something fishy going on with Juventus's Leonardo Bonucci ...

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Dani Alves - the coollest man on the slopes. You want to wrap up properly, son.

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Guus Hiddink's timing is a bit out, but the new Chelsea has just posted his Christmas wish list ...


The target is, because mathematically it's possible, to get in fourth position. To do that we have to be exclusively good. If the target is impossible, don't set it, but I did put that to them.

Then the Champions League; and then the FA Cup. There are three targets still to go for. On top of that, or as a foundation of that, the players must show now what they're capable of.
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Coming soon: Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal will be available for Barcelona in a week's time ...

 

I am ready 🔴🔵 :) #ardaturan #barcelona #forçabarça #qatarairways @ardaturan @fcbarcelona @barcastation @ardatturan

A photo posted by Ardaturan10line (@ardaturan10line) on

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Bayern keep tabs on their players, but the club spy and their camera may have been rumbled ...

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Zlatan Ibrahimović on his New Year's resolutions with Paris Saint-Germain ...


I still have the opportunity to win [the Champions League for the first time]. We have a great team and we all share that dream. Of course, it is one of my goals.

I have had a great career and won a lot of trophies. I have played alongside great players. We shall wait and see, but even if we don't win the Champions League, I am happy with what I have achieved.

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Gerard Piqué has a quiet moment ...

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Robert Lewandowski:
a. shares his boredom
b. cheats, blatantly
c. gets to grips with his ego ...

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It is all going well for Manchester City as their new (well, kind of old) official badge is unveiled against Sunderland ...

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The first goal of Guus Hiddink's Chelsea reign has gone to ...

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They have both mislaid their t-shirts, but that's where the similarities end for Barcelona's Rafinha and brother Thiago Alcántara of Bayern ...

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Zlatan Ibrahimović tests Paris Saint-Germain fans' nerves with a day of high-octane activities. After a successful base jump, he stops off on his way to a bear wrestle ...

 

In search of #adrenaline.

A photo posted by IAmZlatan (@iamzlatanibrahimovic) on

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Manchester City 4-1 Sunderland
City closed within three points of top spot as they thrashed relegation-threatened Sunderland, but the victory was marred by the sight of substitute Vincent Kompany limping off on his return from injury.

Goals from Raheem Sterling, Wilfried Bony and Yaya Touré put the home side 3-0 up inside 22 minutes, and the excellent Kevin De Bruyne added to the lead just after half-time. Fabio Borini pulled one back before the hour.

Bony skied a penalty later on, but of bigger concern was the departure of Kompany, just minutes after coming on, having missed the previous eight matches with a calf injury.

©AFP/Getty Images
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Chelsea 2-2 Watford
Oscar missed a late penalty as Guus Hiddink's second spell as Chelsea boss began with a point. Diego Costa was rejuvenated for the hosts, breaking the deadlock and later equalising after the visitors had made it 2-1.

Costa scored four goals in 24 previous appearances this season.

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Arturo Vidal is back in his native Chile, helping out with a charity that is close to his heart. It looks like he came bearing gifts ...

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You know that feeling of contentment when you give people a present you know they will love? Nor me. But Kevin De Bruyne evidently does ...

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Marc-André ter Stegen lands in Barcelona ahead of Wednesday's Liga meeting with Betis ...

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Southampton 4-0 Arsenal
Arsenal passed up the chance of going top in England as they were stunned at St Mary's. Full-back Cuco Martina marked his first top-flight start with a stunning goal, and after Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott squandered free headers, Shane Long and José Fonte made it 3-0. Long hit the post before adding a fourth in added time.


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Paris midfielder Marco Verratti says he feels "more French than Italian from a football point of view" after three and a half years on the other side of the Alps. The midfielder joined the Ligue 1 side in 2012 and is relishing the experience, having won a trio of league titles as well as the Coupe de France and French League Cup.

"In 2012, Paris could have got the best players in the world but they decided to put their faith in me," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "It's something I won't forget. I understood that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Verratti is likewise looking forward to Italy's meeting with Sweden at UEFA EURO 2016, when he is set to come up against a certain Zlatan Ibrahimović in Toulouse on 17 June. "He called to tell me they will 'destroy us'. I just told him to stay calm and reminded him that they came through play-offs."

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A couple of decent players in this pic – Andrea Pirlo running into fellow magician Lionel Messi in Dubai.

 

A great meeting with the best ... @leomessi ⚽️✌🏼⚽️

A photo posted by Andrea Pirlo Official (@andreapirlo21) on

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Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany is due for a scan today after lasting just nine minutes during his injury comeback in City's 4-1 win against Sunderland on Saturday. The Belgium centre-back entered the fray on 62 minutes only to hobble off again after seemingly suffering a recurrence of the calf problem that kept him out of the previous eight games.

"Today was a bad day for me," he explained on Facebook. "My body feels invincible – the best it's ever been – but I'm challenged by a number of small and local injuries. It leaves me more frustrated than with any of the 'big' injuries I've had but it's a challenge that I will overcome.

"Injuries have and still are preventing me to play my role the way I'd want to but it's not stopping me to progress. I will get on with it and when I do come back, I will be stronger again. My mindset stays unchanged, I will fight to get what I deserve, my best years in football."

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Real Madrid forward and UEFA.com users' Team of the Year nominee Gareth Bale is back at the coalface, though this is nothing compared to the hectic Christmas periods he spent with Tottenham and Southampton.

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From one Welsh wizard to another, Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey turned 25 yesterday as the Gunners lost 4-0 at Southampton. He and his team-mates can't afford to feel sorry for themselves, though – they host promoted Bournemouth on Monday.

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Speaking of birthdays, today brings up another milestone for Juventus legend Roberto Bettega – who rattled in 129 goals in 326 Serie A outings for La Vecchia Signora between 1970 and 1983.

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Bit of a change of sport for Sergio Ramos, if not a change of club …

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Gent have their own take on our goal of the year in UEFA competition poll ...

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When you're eight points clear in the Bundesliga and through to the UEFA Champions League round of 16, you can help yourself to a well-earned breather …

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Not quite the same scenes for Paris as for Bayern. The French champions face Internazionale in a friendly in Doha on Wednesday.

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We're closing this blog for the night, but our ongoing coverage of the UEFA Champions League teams and players over the festive period will pick up again on Monday. Until then ...

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