So this is where the fun begins. This is where we separate the men from the boys, the prima donnas from the Maradonna’s and find out who are the prizes and the jokes in these Christmas Crackers! A busy schedule is to be had by all! With at least four games by every club until the break of the New Year with a capstone of an FA cup tie after that, only one thing is for sure – the league will be a different place on January 10th when things go back to normal.
Last year was an amazing Christmas fixture list that saw Liverpool, the leaders at the time, lose a couple on the bounce before they pulled up their socks and went on a memorable run in the New Year, while the rest of the big dogs went head to head and shuffled the pack over the ten days. It’s not often the leader of the league on Christmas day are dethroned by the end of the season, let alone by the New Year. It was unspeakable we saw three changes to the top placed team between the 23rd and New Year. What a time to be alive. A rotation of three points saw Arsenal, City and Chelsea go back and forth in the in the top five with cheeky little Everton hanging on in the pack. These five teams went blow for blow in that period like it was a heavy-weight-bout in the early 1990’s, two weeks we all were breathless, raw and bereft of imagination only wanting more. It will never happen again – at least not to that magnitude this year.
This Christmas what we all must ask for to be left under the tree is a good game of catch up. Chelsea, who Paddy Power bookmakers have already paid out on bets being Champions since late November, have dropped a lot of points and look somewhat uneasy through it all. Mourinho’s men do not look like such a sure thing right now. Man City probably couldn’t have asked for more with their Christmas fixtures, it’s hard to see them drop more than two points throughout. Manchester United, the most in-form team at the moment have a decent run although they are more likely to drop a few points against Spurs while Van Gaal throws on a few subs in the tenth minute just because he isn’t happy with someone’s hair, confidence or color of their boots. West Ham are very unlikely to gain any ground on Chelsea over the yule tide period with a tough amount of fixtures to an exasperated squad, although they will gladly take 3 points off them early in the set as a last goodbye to the top four keeping them there for at least one more week. Things could get worse for Southampton before they get better with Schneiderlin out until Boxing Day leaving Koeman bereft of the usual dynamic. If he can return and put some life in against Palace – Chelsea could be there for the taking in their next game. The last team of this bunch that can be in top four over the New Year are Arsenal, last year their fixtures would have the statistics of classics, this year they should take three easy points from Liverpool and go toward a draw at Southampton, Dropping only two points and fingers crossed no injuries would be a great Christmas gift to Arsene’s boys. So what that being said, we predict come the games on the tenth of January, City to lead, Chelsea second, Manchester United barely third and Arsenal moving up to fourth. Expect that to change again by the end of January!
Although there is not many traditionally ‘Classic’ fixtures over the holiday season we do have one this weekend, amongst a couple of make or break fixtures that will give us some tell-tale signs of who will cause trouble over the Christmas period. First up is City versus Palace, this should be a formality, with City still reeling with a few injuries and the unsurety of a pack shuffle this is another opportunity to build confidence of what could possibly be called a weakened squad for the Sky Blues, Crystal Palace have won one in six but they do enjoy a good giant slaying. Entertaining but formulaic in the end.
A few games of mid-table shuffle going on during Saturday afternoon, one might pay attention to Aston Villa and Manchester United. Cleverly and the Keane-less Villa may want to show the Old Trafford squad just how things go a little further south in Birmingham. This could be an eye opener of a game full of passion. Villa will probably take this and probably not many more after it, similar to a cup game for them. United will look to prevail on the upswing as a few players hit form but it is hard not to sense they are one gimmick away from tripping over their shoelaces. This game could be the one Roy Keane masterminded for Villa the whole time.
The bottom three don’t have a lot of hope over the next few weeks and Hull look the brightest to win this week against Swansea who haven’t really caught the imagination of the neutral like Michu and Laudrup did last year. QPR could salvage a few points against West Brom but if they do they are delaying the inevitable. West Bromich Albion players are fighting for one or two more years of contract and career where as QPR just look tired of trying to live up to the Harry hype.
Southampton host Everton at a tricky time as the Saints try to find form with their missing link still an arm’s length away and the toffees starting to click with Ross Barkley finding the net and looking extremely threatening again. As stated earlier things will get worse before they get better for Ronald Koeman. This has, as they would say a Bishop Desmond (2-2) written all over it but a cheeky winner could sneak in here for either side.
On Sunday we start the day with the Tyneside derby as Newcastle host Sunderland. Normally a brutal, punishing affair, so much so that the authorities demand it be the earliest of every match schedule so the pubs aren’t open long! Newcastle currently are accepting your resume for Goal keeper as they move into what could be the 5th string goalie. I give it two weeks before rumours of Petr Cech being masterminded a move to Newcastle by Mourinho. Until then watch a Newcastle side wither in theier lack of confidence, just as their seventeen year old keeper will in front of international strikers.
The next game is the big one of the weekend and what should be billed as the game of the fortnight but with such shifting fortunes for both sides it is hard to get as enthralled by this fixture as one might have been in March of this year. Arsene Wenger has perennially had his own loaves and fishes story, pulling together some amazing wins with so little newcomers brought to the table, yet still painfully aware of what could have been with an extra helping. Liverpool, recently, have wandered for almost forty days and nights in search of salvation, did it come mid-week with an improved performance against a weakened Bournmouth side? I would be a fool and doubtful of a magnificent turn around in fortune for this fixture. Ballotelli is out suspended and Borini was given only three minutes of play in over a month, it looks like Rodgers will fancy the false nine approach playing what looks to be a 3-7-0 formation with Sterling the star on that Christmas tree. The midfield is generously packed with a good selection of talent that love to move forward and lay it off or shoot around the twenty yard line, expect a lot of that – wayward shots and passes to find nobody in the final third, lock up Sterling and lock in three Points has been the key so far for Liverpools opposition. In the back It’s only a matter of time before Kolo gets shaky and Brendan wants Dejan Lovren to prove everybody wrong so he will play him over Sakho every time. Any combination of these four center backs has flaws, flaws that will be pulled apart by Alexi Sanchez and his quick feet. The Pace Alexi brings with a quick one two will open up these three like a kid and his Christmas….well, you get the picture.
With Wenger toying with the idea of Walcott making a come-back he too has many options, although Theo may be better getting a late run out in this one and letting Giroud and Wellbeck stretch the three stooges wide to create space for the rushing middle men to pick them apart. Rodgers would be smart to have Moreno and Manquillo in the starting line up to limit the threat and options Arsenal come with although it is more likely that he will be pressured to attack more at home and have a high line.
Some will call this a game of chess between two tinkering managers –some will call it over thinking. Expect three important points for Arsenal on the road and a good couple of goals from both sides as Liverpool attempt to find their way as a team with no bite.
Monday rounds off the week as Stoke host Chelsea. Fresh off a home victory against Arsenal, Stoke may give Chelsea a good scare with their dogged approach and hard hitting back line. No Bojan will make it more likely that Peter Crouch will play upfront by his lonesome, his height no advantage to a younger, fitter, stronger Ivanovic this is one giant stretch even Crouch can’t poke over the line in 90 mins. A dull victory for Chelsea as they fall back to the ways of old. Fabregas’ electricity with Costa and Hazard at the start of the season has seemed to have fizzled away recently as the blues struggle to fight teams who themselves park the bus. The bus they face this week and they will victor if they can muster some patience and wait until the dying minutes.
Enjoy the Games
|20 Dec 12:45||Man City||v||Crystal Palace|
|20 Dec 15:00||Aston Villa||v||Man Utd|
|20 Dec 15:00||Hull||v||Swansea|
|20 Dec 15:00||QPR||v||West Brom|
|20 Dec 15:00||Southampton||v||Everton|
|20 Dec 15:00||Spurs||v||Burnley|
|20 Dec 15:00||West Ham||v||Leicester|
|21 Dec 13:30||Newcastle||v||Sunderland|
|21 Dec 16:00||Liverpool||v||Arsenal|
|22 Dec 20:00||Stoke||v||Chelsea|