If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you had a good one. By now the stockings have been emptied, the presents unwrapped, and the Christmas dinner served. Hopefully you were all good boys and girls this year, so Santa brought you what you wanted (except for Ken of course, who has surely become accustomed to his annual lump of coal.)
But now it’s time to clear away the empty boxes and shredded wrapping paper, then pull some leftovers out of the fridge, because the flurry of festive-period EPL fixtures continues. Let’s dive right into what’s in store for us for the Boxing Day round of matches.
It has been a month since the Cottagers have won a game, and that victory was just their second of the season. Their defense has shipped a whopping 42 goals, and only two teams have scored fewer than they have. The only surprise is that such a performance has company at the foot of the table with a measly 10 points from a possible 54 (but Huddersfield have a better goal-difference). Claudio Ranieri will surely view the home match against fellow promoted side Wolves as an important opportunity to claw his way towards safety.
On Friday, Wolves were the latest to fall victim to the Liverpool buzzsaw. But prior to that loss, they had won three in a row, including a home win over Chelsea. Nuno Espirito Santo was pleased with his side’s performance in the loss to ‘Pool, and he’ll expect to take full points from the clash at Craven Cottage.
Note: This is the early game this week. If you are considering fantasy assets from either of these sides, log in to NMA for confirmed lineups ahead of your transfer deadlines.
Out: Zambo Anguissa (knock)
Doubts: Ryan Sessegnon (groin)
Out: Diogo Jota (hamstring)
Burnley pulled off a 1-0 triumph over Brighton two weeks ago, but apart from that you’d have to scroll all the way back to September to find another victory. They have only three wins on the season and are two points below the bubble, in 18th place. The red-headed Sean Dyche has been called “the ginger Mourinho”, and after the defeat to Arsenal on Saturday he sure sounded like Manchester United’s former manager. Dyche went off on a prolonged rant about cheating Gunners, biased referees, and indifferent league administrators. Here it is, if you’re interested (just remember, I warned you it was long).
Dyche would be best advised to refocus on the flaws in his own squad if he expects to take points from Everton tomorrow.
The 6-2 beat-down that Everton suffered at the hands of Tottenham on Sunday extended the Toffees’ winless streak to 5 games. But they’ve had a murderous schedule lately, facing each of the EPL’s top 4 sides within the last 7 games. The trip to Burnley now marks the start of a favorable upturn in their fixture list that will extend clear into February. Marco Silva will be looking to make hay while the sun shines, so it could be a good time for you to add an Everton asset or two to your fantasy team.
Out: Aaron Lennon (knee), Nick Pope (match fitness), Stephen Ward (knee)
Doubts: Robbie Brady (knock), Stephen Defour (knock), Johan Berg Gudmundsson (knock)
Doubts: André Gomes (knock), Idrissa Gueye (knock)
Andros Townsend treated us to a goal-of-the-season candidate on Saturday as he helped Palace shock Manchester City at the Etihad. Roy Hodgson was ecstatic with the win, but acknowledged how unlikely the victory was and how important it will be for Palace to keep getting results: “We need to get points from Cardiff on Boxing Day, otherwise we’ll have wasted these three bonus points.” As my Christmas present to the NMA community, here is Townsend’s 30-yard stunner:
In stark contrast to Palace’s glorious victory, Cardiff had the misfortune of hosting the reinvigorated Manchester United side that was primed to explode on them after José Mourinho’s departure. Cardiff had no answers for a dazzling United side whose football was as fluid as it was lethal, and the Bluebirds were blown out by a score of 5-1. Neil Warnock seems happy to turn the page on the loss:
“We were 2-0 down at Bolton a year ago today and everybody wrote us off. We ended up getting promoted so let’s not dwell too much on today. If you’d told me at the start of the season that we would be outside the bottom three at Christmas, I would have snapped your hand off. We’ve just got to take the positives.”
But Warnock also recognizes that if Cardiff are to stay up, they must find ways to get results from games that are more winnable: “We’ve got two tough away games next at Palace and Leicester, and we’ve got to try and get points away from home.”
Out: Christian Benteke (knee), Martin Kelly (thigh)
Doubts: Wayne Hennessey (back), Cheikhou Kouyaté (knock)
Out: Ashley Richards (match fitness), Danny Ward (knock)
Doubts: Joe Bennett (knock), Gary Madine (match fitness)
Leicester vs Manchester City
Having criticized his manager’s style of play just the day before, on Saturday Jamie Vardy may have saved Claude Puel’s job by lifting Leicester over Chelsea with the game’s only goal:
To be clear, Vardy admits that it is on the player to adapt to Puel’s philosophies. But the club have already held “crisis meetings” over the team’s recent form, and are rumored to have targeted Celtic’s Brendan Rodgers as Puel’s replacement if the Frenchman cannot stop the rot. Puel is surely relieved to have won a stay of execution by beating the Blues, but undoubtedly wishes that Boxing Day’s opponent was someone other than a wounded Manchester City.
City are still feeling the sting of the loss to Palace, which comes just two weeks after their only other league defeat. The embarrassing loss in front of City’s home crowd left the Sky Blues four points adrift of league-leaders Liverpool, but Pep Guardiola is not panicking: “I have few regrets. Just improve so in the future these kinds of things don’t happen.” Pep will feel it critical to quickly restore his team to its winning ways, which means Leicester will have their hands full tomorrow.
Out: Matty James (match fitness), Daniel Amartey (broken ankle)
Out: Vincent Kompany (unknown), Eliaquim Mangala (knee), Benjamin Mendy (knee), David Silva (muscle)
Doubts: Fernandinho (unknown)
Liverpool vs Newcastle
Liverpool’s win at the Molineux kept their unbeaten record intact, stretching their lead over second place when City dropped points against Palace. Jurgen Klopp’s men have collected 48 points from 18 games so far, a pace that puts them on track to better the 100-point season that the Sky Blues registered in last year’s campaign. The Reds have been forced to deal with a chronic injury crisis among their stable of defenders, however, so Klopp will feel relieved that Boxing Day’s opponent will be goal-shy Newcastle.
Saturday’s goalless draw with 20th-place Fulham heaped further gloom upon an already-demoralized Toon side, who were unable to muster even a single shot on goal against the league’s worst defense. Just how low have spirits dipped at St. James Park? Rafa Benitez after the match:
‘We have to be realistic and understand we will be in the bottom half for the whole season, and if we can be better than three teams, it will be another miracle. It would be a miracle to stay up, yes. A game like that is confirmation of what I know. Even if we strengthen in January it will be a miracle if we stay up.”
It will surely take a miracle for them to take points at Anfield tomorrow, as well.
Out: Joe Gomez (fracture), Joel Matip (shoulder), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee)
Doubts: Trent Alexander-Arnold (foot), Naby Keita (knock), Dominic Solanke (groin)
Out: Cieran Clark (ankle), Karl Darlow (arm), Ki Sung-Yeung (international duty), Jonjo Shelvey (thigh)
Doubts: Florian Lejeune (match fitness)
Manchester United vs Huddersfield
What a difference a manager makes! United finally tired of José Mourinho’s sour attitude and negative football, replacing him with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the gleeful former player and coach who is a direct link to the club’s glory days. Results were immediate, with MU destroying Cardiff with champagne football that was silky and incisive: The last time MU scored 5 goals in a single game, there was a certain Knight of the British Empire in charge. Here are the match highlights for our United fans who just can’t get enough:
Is this nothing more than a new manager bump? I don’t think so, and neither do the players. Take Luke Shaw, for example, who said “Under any manager or any circumstances that’s how Man United are expected to play.” Solskjaer deflected the praise heaped on him for the victory, saying “Football is easy if you’ve got good players.” His newly-unshackled side will now make its Old Trafford debut against 19th-place Huddersfield, and it’s hard to envision anything but a free-flowing win in front of a supercharged home crowd.
On Saturday, Huddersfield were the latest victim of a resurgent Southampton. The loss was their 5th in a row, leaving them four points short of the safe zone. David Wagner remains unshaken: “We are exactly where everybody predicted, so this makes no sense to think about it and get affected by it.” And Jonas Lossl remains determined: “We will work our asses off in every training session, and every day. Most of all, we have to keep believing. We know we have the quality, so we’ll just work even harder.” However, with United now reanimated with OGS at the reins, all signs point to a 6th consecutive loss for the Terriers.
Out: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring), Lukaku (personal leave)
Doubts: Scott McTominay (knock), Marcos Rojo (knock), Chris Smalling (knock)
Out: Aaron Mooy (knee), Abdelhamid Sabiri (shoulder), Tommy Smith (hamstring), Danny Williams (knee)
Doubts: Rajiv van La Parra (back)
Mauricio Pochettino thought that his side’s 2-6 scoreline with Everton was an “unbelievable coincidence”, coming as it did on the gaffer’s 26th wedding anniversary. But the win was certainly no coincidence, as Spurs outclassed Everton by every measure. The swashbuckling victory has sparked talk of a title run, and although a league championship seems a bit unlikely, third-place Spurs are at least in with a chance. For those of you who enjoy goals, here are all eight of them (the most in one league match this season):
Bournemouth failed to sustain their solid start to this campaign. After losing just one of their first five games, the Cherries skidded into decline. The victory over Brighton over the weekend was only their second in their last eight games. The win lifted them back into the top ten, but with five teams trailing them by a game or less, a defeat to Spurs could drop them right back into the lower half of the table.
Out: Moussa Dembéle (ankle), Eric Dier (appendix), Vincent Janssen (foot), Jan Vertonghen (thigh), Victor Wanyama (knee)
Doubts: Dele Alli (hamstring), Serge Aurier (muscle), Moussa Sissoko (knock)
Out: Adam Smith (knee), Lewis Cook (knee), Dan Gosling (knee)
Brighton vs Arsenal
Chris Hughton’s squad has lost its last three after falling to the Cherries on Saturday. And his delight at welcoming back Shane Duffy from a three-game suspension will be tempered by the loss of Lewis Dunk to a red card (for 2nd yellow) at Bournemouth. The Seagulls remain three games clear of the relegation zone despite the recent skid, and Hughton will not want that gap to shrink despite the quality of the opposition he’ll face tomorrow: “We’re going through a number of games in a short period of time, and we’ll have to play at a level to get something from the matches.”
Arsenal returned to its winning ways against Burnley after suffering back-to-back losses in the league and in the Carabao Cup. The victory came at a price though: Henrikh Mkhitaryan broke a metatarsal, and Nacho Monreal pulled a hamstring. They join a host of injured whom Unai Emery is sweating over, including many of his key defenders. Brighton will hope to capitalize on that vulnerability.
Out: Lewis Dunk (1-match suspension), José Izquierdo (knee), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (hamstring)
Out: Hector Bellerín (calf), Rob Holding (knee), Konstantinos Mavropanos (groin), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (fracture), Emile Smith-Rowe (hip), Danny Welbeck (broken ankle)
Doubts: Nacho Monreal (muscle), Shkodran Mustafi (hamstring)
Watford vs Chelsea
Javi Gracia’s first home win as Watford’s manager was a 4-1 victory over Chelsea last year. He’ll hope he can repeat that outcome again this year, but he knows it won’t be easy: “That was a good game. It was my first home game, and it was special. But it’s the past. Now is another game. It’s different.” Should Gracia pull it off, a victory over the Blues could see Watford leapfrog Manchester United into 6th place.
Chelsea are still feeling the sting of Saturday’s loss to Leicester, and Mauricio Sarri expects his men to redeem themselves: “Now we have to think about the reaction after the [Leicester] match, just in order to prepare in the right way for the next match.” The Blues could be ousted from 4th place if they fail to take full points at Vicarage Road, so even Christmas won’t be enough to distract Sarri from the task at hand: “I am interested in the 26th, not the 25th.”
Out: Andre Gray (leg), Will Hughes (hip), Adelberto Peñaranda (foot), Sebastian Prödl (knee)
Out: Andreas Christensen (hamstring)
Doubts: Álvaro Morata (knee), Victor Moses (knock)
Southampton vs West Ham
Southampton’s revival under Ralph Hassenhüttl is well underway — the Saints have won back-to-back league games for the first time in nearly two years. The victory over drop-zone dwellers Huddersfield was particularly important for the Saints’ survival hopes. Eighteen year-old Michael Obafemi impressed off the bench, and this goal made him the youngest Saint ever to score in the EPL:
In addition to making astute tactical substitutions in both wins, Hassenhüttle has been able to instill belief in a side who had grown accustomed to defeat. According to Stuart Armstrong, “We just feel more organized, more together as a team — We’re all working in the same direction. We all know what each other’s doing, and where we’re running and why we’re running.” Amazingly, a win on Thursday would — in a span of just three games — double the points total that So’ton had previously collected all season.
West Ham’s defeat from Watford over the weekend brought an end to a four-game win streak. Manuel Pellegrini will not want to drop points at St. Mary’s and risk descending into the relegation scrum boiling just below them in the table. His efforts will not be helped by the addition of Fabian Balbuena and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to West Ham’s list of injury doubts, but Pellegrini will at least be boosted by star striker Marko Arnautovic’s improving fitness: “I hope we can recover some players, especially Marko Arnautovic. Maybe he’ll be ready next week...”
Out: Ryan Bertrand (back), Sam Gallagher (hamstring), Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (1-match suspension)
Doubts: Cedric (calf)
Out: Marko Arnautovic (hamstring), Ryan Fredericks (shin), Manuel Lanzini (knee), Winston Reid (knee), Carlos Sánchez (knee), Jack Wilshere (ankle), Andriy Yarmolenko (Achilles)
Doubts: Fabián Balbuena (knock), Javier Hernández (knock), Lucas Pérez (foot)
HOW TO WATCH EPL GAMES (in U.S.)
Dates: December 26-27
Available Broadcast TV:
Available Cable TV:
NBCSN: Fulham vs Wolves, Liverpool vs Newcastle, Brighton vs Arsenal, Watford vs Chelsea, Southampton vs West Ham
Universo: Liverpool vs Newcastle
NBC Sports Gold: Manchester United vs Huddersfield, Burnley vs Everton, Tottenham vs Bournemouth, Crystal Palace vs Cardiff, Leicester vs Manchester City,
What trade do you want to make before the deadline? Whom are you watching to buy or sell on the barn door? Heard any more news, good or bad? Please share with us in the comments!