Happy Boxing Day!
There’s additional joy today, as the EPL returns following the World Cup break. I thoroughly enjoyed the Cup, but I’ve been awaiting the EPL restart like a kid waiting to open presents on Christmas morning!
Like most, I have little idea what this return will be like for teams.
Monday, December 26
Brentford vs Tottenham
Spurs have lost three of their last five, all to top-table clubs (Man United, Newcastle, and Liverpool). The results have left them clinging to fourth place just behind and in front of those three teams. It’s going to be tight, and they need every point, so is Conte really sitting out all his World Cup stars, or was that talk just Mourinho-like misdirection?
Crystal Palace vs Fulham
Both teams sit solidly mid-table (11th and 9th, respectively), which you’d think both managers would be happy about at this time of the season.
Palace is much better at home, with four of five wins coming in front of the local fans. Of course, the Cottagers live just a couple miles away, so will have a few fans of their own on hand...
Back to back losses against the teams from Manchester means the break came at good time for Palace. But Fulham is simply better if Mitrovic starts, and he’s a major doubt. The Cottagers have scored in all but one of their road games, even if they haven’t gotten the results they have wanted.
Everton vs Wolves
Everton sits just above the relegation zone, a precarious place to be in the Toffees’ current form. Back to back losses with zero goals in three games means they need a jump start on Boxing Day.
Wolverhampton is the only EPL team yet to score double digit total league goals this season. The league has five individual players with more goals than all Wolves combined, which explains why they sit bottom of the table. Injuries haven’t helped their cause. They’ve picked up just two points on the road.
Leicester vs Newcastle
The Foxes won four of their last five, all from lower-half teams (their loss in that stretch to Man City). Each of those wins was a shutout, and they held City to a single goal. That’s one goal conceded in five games, scoring two or more goals in each win. They had built some momentum before the Cup, but they come against a team with even more momentum.
Newcastle are (were?) on a run! The Magpies secured five consecutive wins and eight wins of their last nine. They haven’t lost since August 31. They come into the game tied for fewest goals conceded and third best goal differential. They’ve earned their 3rd place standing.
Southampton vs Brighton
The Saints “earned” just one point in the four games before the Cup break, resting after three straight losses. They’re not playing well at either end of the pitch — They aren’t scoring much, and they’re conceding too many. If you’re looking for some good news, at least they are home, where they aren’t quite as bad.
Brighton sits 7th, which seems about right. The Seagulls have lacked the consistency to move up the table. They do have players who can score and come up big, and they’ll have a World Cup champion returning (but not yet, probably). They have three wins on their travels.
Aston Villa vs Liverpool
Aston Villa is much better at home, winning four in seven. They will return confident after two big wins against Brighton and Man United. They will miss Emiliano Martinez, who deserves and needs a break from his performance (in goal and his antics!).
It was hoped that Liverpool’s injury list would have shrunk some during the time off. Sadly the Reds return without Santa giving that gift. Maybe Klopp was on the naughty list. They will not be happy with their 6th place standing heading into Boxing Day. They need three points from games like these, but it won’t be easy.
Arsenal vs West Ham
The Gunners deserve to be top of the table, so it’s a little much to say it’s a Christmas miracle. They’ve won seven of their last eight, with the unlikely draw at Southampton in the middle. Five of those wins were clean sheets. They’re tied for tightest defense in the league, and they’ve scored second most. They are brimming with confidence. They will be tested and must adjust to Gabriel Jesus’s injury and absence. They have been scoring in different ways, but he’s been crucial to their success.
West Ham, however, needs to right the ship. The Hammers lost their final three games before the World Cup, winning just once in their previous six games. They’re only a point above the relegation zone and are struggling to score consistently. Current injuries aren’t helping.
Tuesday, December 27
Chelsea vs Bournemouth
Chelsea welcomed the start of the World Cup, having three losses in a row. The Blues had not won since October 16 (struggling against mostly tough competition), which put them in a disappointing 8th place. They scored just twice over those five games. Injuries continue to be an issue, even with the return of Reece James. They need to turn form around now.
Bournemouth’s points have come against teams nearer the bottom of the table, so this is a tough ask. The Cherries have taken just five points on the road this season too. Added to this, they have conceded more goals than anyone else (32) — even more than N Forest! This is a team with some work to do.
Man United vs Nottingham Forest
United has been a bit inconsistent, looking great for stretches, then losing to the likes of Aston Villa (no offense Villans). United is without two key central (and maybe other) defenders so will have to adjust. The Red Devils haven’t lost at home since week 1.
Forest goes to Old Trafford without the ineligible Dean Henderson, with no wins on away travels, and with pressure for points. In the previous five games, Forest has eight points. That’s a lot of points (of only 13 total) for a team trying to claw its way out of the bottom of the league.
Wednesday, December 28
Leeds vs Manchester City
Leeds is happy to be more healthy. The defense has been conceding goals at an unhealthy rate though, including seven in the final two matches before the Cup. Leeds has gone toe to toe with top clubs.
City is not happy to be five points behind the Gunners. The Citizens are less potent on the road, but still stingy at the back and tough to play. They stayed away from key injuries in the Cup and have other key players rested. Perhaps worst for Leeds, City warmed up with a 3-2 Carabao Cup victory over Liverpool last Thursday, Haaland & Co showing no signs of rust.
What did Santa bring you for Christmas!? How did your team fair with World Cup injuries and returns? You did remember to set your lineups, right?! Let’s get to chatting!