It’s time to talk Boxing Day. On Saturday, December 26, each Premier League club will be in action. 16 of the 20 will then play again just two days later. Crazy, right? Well, 16 of the 20 will play again on January 2a��meaning the majority of English clubs will have played three matches in eight days.
Now we can debate all day whether or not this is necessary or foolish, but it’s irrelevant. Scheduling of this sort, particularly in England, might never change. With that in mind, let’s focus on what really matters: where this league sits as we draw closer to the midway point, with what to watch for during Saturday’s matches.
Stoke City vs. Manchester United (7:45 a.m. ET)
Living in the Midwest, I’ll have to attempt to be alert by 6-6:30 for this one. Shout out to the Highbury Pub in Milwaukee, WI for being the place to be for football.
This is an interesting matchup, particularly for Louis van Gaal’s United, who’s last EPL victory came all the way back on November 21 against Watford. They’ve struggled since, drawing and losing two apiece while scoring just three goals.
United has fallen to fifth in the table, and while their 14 goals conceded is still joint-best in the league, their 22 scored is just third-fewest among the top 10 clubs. How much longer will LvG be allowed to go on?
Aston Villa vs. West Ham (9:00 a.m. ET)
West Ham have had the most interesting of seasons, defeating the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool. That’s currently got them eighth on 25 points, but their last three matchesa��against United, Stoke and Swanseaa��all finished as scoreless draws. In fact, they’ve drawn their previous four and haven’t won since October 24 against the Blues.
Yet they remain right in the thick of things. Can they start beating the lesser sides consistently?
AFC Bournemouth vs. Crystal Palace (9:00 a.m. ET)
Believe it or not, this has a a�?big fight feela�? to it, with both sides in great form. The hosts, despite their myriad of injuries, have won three straighta��drawing the two before thata��which has gotten them four points clear of the relegation zone.
Palace have won their previous twoa��three of four overalla��while drawing the other, and they find themselves on 29 points, tied with United and Tottenham but in sixth on goal differential.
The EPL continues to be very open this season, as we’ll see with our next matchup, and there’s a chance Palace sneaks into the top four this weeka��if only for a couple days.
Chelsea vs. Watford (9:00 a.m. ET)
In wake of JosA� Mourinho’s sacking, Chelsea came out and finally beat a side they were supposed to beat, thrashing Sunderland 3-1. That moved them all the way up to 15th in the table, just three points outside of relegation.
With those numbers after 17 matches, I bet you assumed we’d be talking about their opponents: Watford.
On the contrary, one of the three newly-promoted sides is off to a roaring start, separating themselves from both Bournemouth and Norwich City. They’re in seventh, one point of spots four through six with 28 points, and have won four in a rowa��with a 3-0 destruction of Liverpool on December 20 being their most recent accomplishment.
Will Chelsea finally turn the corner? Or will Watford’s defense, which is joint-second-best with 16 goals conceded, continue to suffocate the opposition?
Liverpool vs. Leicester City (9:00 a.m. ET)
It’s tough to get a read on JA?rgen Klopp’s Liverpool, but there’s no doubt they’re struggling at the moment. They are only five points off the top four, but they’ve lost two of threea��arguably against clubs they should have beaten in Newcastle and Watford.
But the beat goes on, and Klopp’s mena��who’s had to overcome numerous injuries in their own righta��will be going up against the Premier League’s best.
That would be Leicester City, who has earned our respect. We keep thinking this will be the week their free-fall starts, but it just hasn’t happened. Barring the biggest implosion of all time, they’ll fly by their point total from last season (41), as they’re at 38 already.
I recently covered how well Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have been playing, not to mention Leicester’s injury lucka��they’ve avoided just about anything seriousa��and eventually that almost has to change change. But don’t expect a severe dip in form.
Manchester City vs. Sunderland (9:00 a.m. ET)
Is Pep Guardiola coming to town? That’s uncertain, so let’s talk about what we do know: City just lost to Arsenal on Monday, which put them six points out of first and even four off seconda��not to mention, just three ahead of fourth. That said, they get a home match against a much weaker side that should allow them to get back on track.
Swansea City vs. West Brom (9:00 a.m. ET)
What a disappointing 2015-16 it’s been for the Swans. Less than a year after manager Garry Monk was lauded for his approach and the club’s executiona��in a campaign that took Swansea to eighth, no lessa��he’s out of a job and the Swans are in a relegation battle.
Their last EPL win came on October 24 against Aston Villa, and they’ve taken just two points from their last seven matches.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Norwich City (9:00 a.m. ET)
Fans in North Londona��the lily-white side, at leasta��are likely getting their hopes up. And in all seriousness, aside from arguably too many draws, there’s not much to dislike. Tottenham have taken over fourth place for the time being in a year when the league is relatively open, but their 0-2 win at St. Mary’s this past weekend will mean nothing if they can’t win at home against Norwich.
The visitors come in having just beaten United and drawn Everton. They also took a point from Arsenal at the end of November. They’re not currently the relegation fodder many assumed they’d be at the start of the season, but they are closea��just two points off the drop.
Newcastle United vs. Everton (12:30 p.m. ET)
Newcastle, who just recently pulled themselves out of the relegation zone, are in pretty solid form as of late. They beat Liverpool and Tottenham in consecutive matches, only to draw lowly Villa last time out.
Meanwhile, Everton is coming off their own loss to Leicester, and their most recent win was way back on November 21a��against Villa, as it turns outa��which was followed by three draws. The Toffees are smack-dab in the middle of the table but just six points off the top four. Again, it’s there for the taking for so many, and Everton has the quality to compete.
Southampton vs. Arsenal (2:45 p.m. ET)
Our latest match of the day pits Ronald Koeman’s struggling Saints against ArsA?ne Wenger’s Arsenal, who could go top of the table depending on how Leicester’s match plays out.
Southampton are currently 12th in the table, have lost four out of five, and haven’t won since November 7 against Sunderland. Last season, they finished seventh on 60 points while only conceding 33 goals. This time around, they’ve collected 21 points and have also conceded 21 goals. Additionally, they’ve scored just 21 as well, which ranks them in the bottom half.
The Gunners have won three in a row and seven of their last 10, with their only loss in that stretch coming on November 21. What’s more, midfielder Mesut A�zil and striker Olivier Giroud are in blistering form. The question for Arsenal will be, as it often is: will they stay healthy?