Christmas is upon us and with the festive season comes (for football fans at least) the highlight that is the Premier League festive calendar. 29 games in 9 days means that league places can change very quickly. Given this excitement, we’ve decided to recommend the 6 most important games over this period, both at the top and bottom of the table.
Manchester City versus Leicester
When? Saturday 21st December, 9.30pm (GST)
Third meets second at the Etihad next Saturday with the Champions looking to narrow the gap against Brendan Rodger’s men. At the time of writing, Man City have yet to play Arsenal so a win at the Emirates and then a victory against Leicester for Pep Guardiola could see the gap between the two become just a single point. City’s form has been inconsistent of late, whilst Leicester’s has been outstanding. Mind you, Leicester’s recent draw against Norwich came as a huge surprise and may be a sign that form could dip as the pressure of expectation mounts. For a football purist, this is definitely the game to watch. Both Guardiola and Rodgers demand their teams to play fast and free-flowing football. They have also scored a combined 84 goals in the league so far! There is no chance you will see the ball in the air for this game!
A feisty London Derby. Master Mourinho versus Apprentice
Lampard. Mourinho against his old club. Fifth versus fourth. Need we say more?
A win for Spurs would see them replace Chelsea in fourth by virtue of goal difference and given the recent form Spurs have enjoyed in the league since Jose Mourinho took charge (12 points out of 15) compared to Chelsea’s recent stuttering displays (4 losses in their last 5 games against Manchester City, West Ham, Everton and Bournemouth) it would appear that the precious last Champions League spot could change hands just before Christmas. This would be an ideal present for Spurs fans and early vindication of Daniel Levy’s decision to sack Mauricio Pochettino in November.
Second versus first at the King Power stadium. Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers against his old club. Jurgen Klopp might even be leading out his team as champions of the world too! This will be a chance for Leicester to narrow the currently mammoth gap of 10 points between the two sides and given the fact the Reds will be returning from duties in the Middle East this could be the best possible time to play Liverpool. Similar to the Manchester City game, expect a brilliant 90 minutes of fast, pacey, passing football, as well as goals! Although, maybe not too many as these two sides have the best defensive records in the league. Leicester have only conceded 11 this season, all the more impressive given they sold their best defender Harry Maguire to Manchester United for 80 million quid in the summer!
And as for at the bottom of the table…just watch Aston Villa!
This really is a fundamental period for the Birmingham club. They are currently 17th and in 3 successive games play Southampton, Norwich and Watford who are 18th, 19th and 20th! The famous football cliché of relegation ‘six pointers’ can be rightly applied to any one of these three Villa games and a dream scenario of 9 points compared to a nightmare one of 0 points could be season defining! The fact Aston Villa have been on a real bad run of form (only 1 point in the last 12) means that these matches are more crucial as ever. The fact that two of these games are at Villa Park though could prove decisive. Manager Dean Smith and local lad/Captain Jack Grealish will certainly be hoping that home advantage counts for something.
Aston Villa versus Southampton
When? Saturday 21st December, 7pm (GST)
Southampton suffered a surprising loss to West Ham at St. Mary’s over the weekend but two recent victories against Norwich and Watford mean they are level on points with Villa but in the relegation zone by virtue of having a worse goal difference (their heavy nine-nil home loss to Leicester clearly responsible for this). Southampton manager Ralph Hassenhuttl encourages a passing game from his players, and in Danny Ings they have a proven goalscorer (9 goals already this season), but it remains to be seen if this will be enough to keep them safe.
Given how convincing they were in the Championship last season playing an attacking brand of football, expectations on Norwich were relatively high for this season. The extent to which Norwich are struggling now though was not anticipated. Daniel Farke’s Norwich have been heavily criticised for playing with naivety, refusing to change their attacking style and in so doing, conceding lots of goals against better opposition in the process. Their opening day four-nil loss to Liverpool in August was a prime example of this. However, with a brilliant point against Leicester yesterday, have they turned a corner? A result against Villa is vital considering their other festive games are all very difficult. They play Wolves, Spurs and Crystal Palace.
Watford are currently rooted at the bottom of the table, 6 points adrift from safety. Their problem this season has been easy to identify: they lack goals. They only average one every two games so far in the league this season! Watford should feel rejuvenated however under newly appointed manager Nigel Pearson. Many forget that he worked wonders for Leicester City in the 2014-15 season (after taking them up as Championship league winners the season before), helping them avoid the drop by winning seven of their last eight games and finishing 14th. The Hornets (and famous fan Elton John) will be hoping for a similar impact at Vicarage Road! However, the signs do not look good. Historically, the team that lies bottom of the league at Christmas doesn’t survive relegation!