If you’re a football fan, there’s a good change you’re already looking forward to wealth of Premier League festive fixtures coming up in the countdown to Christmas – even if the managers aren’t! Despite the controversial planned Christmas Eve games being moved, there are plenty of gripping matches packed in.
We’ve chosen four key matches to preview, along with our analysis on the performance of each team throughout the season to date.
Sunday 10 December
Liverpool vs. Everton
After last season’s strong sixth-placed finish, many were tipping Everton to push on and finally gate-crash the top four this year, particularly after several expensive player purchases in the summer. Yet fast-forward to December and Everton sit in 13th place – just two points above the drop zone. Dropping like a stone after Ronald Koeman and caretaker David Unsworth’s unsuccessful attempts to right the ship has seen the owners press the panic button and bring in ex-England manager Sam Allardyce.
Dubbed ‘Fireman Sam’ thanks to his firefighting ability at struggling clubs, can the new manager stop the freefall? On paper, the Christmas fixture list looks kind to the Toffees with most of their games falling against clubs around them, until we reach a one-mile trip to Anfield. There, any improvements under Allardyce will be sorely tested in an always hot-headed derby atmosphere – particularly against a Liverpool team desperate to push on and cement a top-4 place ahead of the transfer window.
This intense rivalry has seen many red cards brandished in this fixture, so we predict at least one dismissal and a comfortable day at the office for the home side, with their potent attack far more compelling than Everton’s slow, passive manner in recent months – despite Big Sam’s defensive reinforcements.
Sunday 10 December
Manchester United vs. Manchester City
The first Manchester derby of the season could quell United’s title dreams if they fail to beat City at Old Trafford. The Red Devils are already eight points behind their “noisy neighbours” and need to get one over on Pep Guardiola’s side here to put the brakes on the Blues’ charge for the trophy.
November’s last-minute 2-1 win over Southampton was City’s 13th victory in 14 top-flight encounters and stretched their unbeaten run to a club record of 27 matches.
Meanwhile, the big-game approach of United boss Jose Mourinho has received sustained criticism. His conservative nature and defensive emphasis is a far cry from the breathtaking football sweeping around the Etihad Stadium. United simply cannot afford to lose any further ground in the title race, so it is imperative that the self-proclaimed “Special One” instils the right attacking mindset in his players ahead of this crucial clash.
Many are tipping City to match Arsenal’s invincible heroics of 2003/04 and go through the entire campaign unbeaten. While that currently seems a way off, there is no doubt that the blue half of Manchester are currently operating on a different playing field to the rest of the pack. As such, it’s difficult to look past anything other than three points for the away side here. Their attacking prowess and creative expression will shine through the highly-charged atmosphere – and leave the Red Devils trailing in their wake.
Friday 22 December
Arsenal vs. Liverpool
A classic Premier League fixture which always guarantees a gluttony of goals. The last four top-flight encounters between these two sides has netted 21 goals in total, with Liverpool winning this season’s reverse fixture three months ago in empathic fashion by four goals to nil.
Despite many Arsenal fans still having reservations about Arsene Wenger, the Gunners have recently registered impressive back-to-back league wins against Tottenham and Burnley, leapfrogging their local rivals into their habitual top-four spot.
As for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp’s men will be desperate to secure Champions League football for a second successive year, but clearly need to address their defensive frailties if they are to triumph against Arsenal, let alone stay in the Top 4 for another season.
Up front is where the Reds shine, though. In Mohamed Salah, Liverpool have arguably made the signing of the summer, with the Egyptian’s goal against his former employers (Chelsea) moving him to the summit of the leading scorers chart.
Expect an open game and a frenetic tempo from the kick-off. Liverpool’s lightening counter-attacks will cause problems for Arsenal, but Klopp’s men are equally as likely to be breached at the other end. A score draw looks the likely outcome at Anfield.
Saturday 23 December
Burnley v Tottenham
Sean Dyche’s managerial reputation continues to grow with every game. The Clarets are currently 6th in the table, just above Tottenham and just three points off a Champions League place. We think it’s safe to say Burnley fans won’t have predicted this at the start of the season, but their team are there on merit, with disciplined, organised and resilient performances. This was no more evident than in their stunning opening day victory at Stamford Bridge against reigning champions Chelsea.
An equally big test will be to stop a hungry Tottenham team this time out. Back in August, Chris Wood scored a stoppage-time equaliser against Spurs to deny them victory at Wembley and Mauricio Pochettino’s side will find the going even tougher at Turf Moor. Burnley picked up 33 of their 40 points last season in front of their own fans and November’s controversial loss to Arsenal was only their second defeat at home this season.
Spurs striker Harry Kane continues to be a sensation in front of goal for last year’s title runners-up, but Burnley will likely be dogged and able to mix up their style of play dependent on how the game is panning out. There could be a hard-fought draw in this one, but don’t be at all surprised if Spurs leave Lancashire with nothing.