Kieran Davies looks ahead to a weekend of hard asks, kamikaze challenges, and worried turkeys.
December to most men across the country means only one thing: they will be up and down the attic more times than Anne Frank. What it also means is a hectic Christmas fixture list for our football calendar to enjoy.
As we go into this weekend’s fixtures, managers bemoan the schedule and talk of winter breaks helping the national team, trying to pull on the heart strings of the powers that be. The reality is, there are less English players in the Premier League starting elevens more than ever and this busy period, a football bonanza is a joy to fans as it is every year. Imagine having to spend all that time with the family without hearing the dulcet tones of Alan Smith stating the blatantly obvious.
Chelsea have started to form a gap, in terms of points advantage, between themselves and the chasing pack currently. Fear not though, as only a few months ago had bookies and pundits alike, already declaring Pepe’s Man City deserving champions. Things can change quite rapidly in this lovely game of ours. Conte’s side are in a real purple patch at the moment but as Arsenal showed at Everton this week, things can change quite easily. As they travel to struggling Palace this weekend, they will still need to be on their guard against any potential slip up.
Liverpool managed to put right points dropped behind them this week as they had a comprehensive win at Middlesbrough. They don’t play until Monday this weekend as they face Arsenals victors, Everton, in a Merseyside derby. This will be a big game for Klopp’s side as they try to stay on the winning trail after disappointing results against Bournemouth and West Ham. Not an easy ask when your back line seems as solid as Bill Cosby’s defence against the allegations made against him. Koeman’s side have been short of wins pre-Arsenal result and it all seemed coincide with his David Icke-esque statement about coming to Goodison to challenge for titles. In reality unless the Dutchman has a glittering boxing career nobody knows of just yet, that seems unlikely.
As the bottom three find themselves falling dangerously adrift of those ahead of them, the Christmas schedule offers the dangling carrot of many points in a short space of time as much it does finding yourself in a complete mire by New Year’s Eve. They all have games this weekend which their managers would describe as winnable but then I’m sure David Cameron felt the same about the EU referendum he so blatantly based his re-election on. While current champions Leicester find themselves in the heady heights of 14th place, they are only one point from Boro who finds themselves wobbling with a real imbalance above the relegation zone.
The late kick off Saturday sees West Brom face a resurgent Man Utd side. While Mourinho’s introduction as manager has seen more ups and downs than the world Snakes and Ladders champion, fans will be hoping they can gain another three points on a ground where they have had a lot of success over the years. What The Baggies do have in Tony Pullis is someone who has managed to pull the rug from under Jose’s sides in the past. As it is the season of goodwill we will no doubt only be able to guarantee Marcos Rojos kamikaze two footed challenges will still go unpunished until he actually maims someone. His manager defended him by stating he’s fair, he’s Argentinian, they are feisty and aggressive it’s what they do! Let’s hope based on that rationale United don’t sign a Rwandan player as Mourinho would evidently defend mass genocide in the same way.
A South Coast derby kicks off Super Sunday this weekend with Eddie Howe’s inconsistent Bournemouth taking on the equally inconsistent Southampton. After their amazing comeback against Liverpool, Howe will be hoping home advantage is enough to see his side to another three points here. With The Saints without an in form, fit striker currently goals seem hard to come by. As with most derbies the form book tends to go out the window. It’s hard to say which way this one will go.
Tottenham face a Burnley side fresh off the back of having beaten Southampton but away wins are as rare as the Royal Mail working right through Christmas without strike action. The pick of the weekend’s fixtures, arguably, is Man City facing Arsenal. After the poorest run of Pepe’s managerial career, considering the jobs he’s filled previously are equivalent to playing Football Manager in sugar daddy mode, he is probably wishing he could restart his City tenure back to the last time he saved the game. This fixture hasn’t been a lucrative one for Arsenal in Manchester but you’ve kind of got the feeling City are there for the taking at the moment. With a few injuries, suspensions and Guardiola seemingly not knowing what his best side is Wenger could really capitalise on this. Hoping to bounce back after midweek defeat, three points in this one would be a big statement from a man who struggles with zips most of the time. As was shown at Everton, Arsenal can ill afford Ozil and Sanchez to have an off day again. Lose this one and Pepe will no doubt have the look on his face of a turkey who’s just seen Bernard Matthews grinning at him but he should have realised things would be a lot different in such a competitive league as this one. At times this season City’s backline have made Liverpools’ look like the great Milan back four of Cafu, Nesta, Stam and Maldini but the reality is they are equally as poor. The only difference being City have spent more than Russia has on bombs for the Middle East in their quest for perfection. So while this weekend will no doubt see more Christmas jumpers than a Scope bag from Noel Edmunds house, the league will continue to be a bookies dream as results go any which way but with the form guide.