Boxing Day always brings with it some interesting Premier League fixtures. We may never again be treated to a day as dramatic as the 26thDecember 1963 – when 66 goals were shared between the 20 teams in Division One – but that does not mean there should no cause for excitement.
All of the top six are in action on Boxing Day, and there may be some potential banana skins. There are key games, too, at the bottom of the Premier League, where are clearer picture may soon begin to emerge as to which teams are set for a relegation dogfight.
We take a look at some of the most eye-catching fixtures on Boxing Day.
Leicester vs Manchester City
A repeat of last week’s EFL Cup quarter-final, in which Leicester took Manchester City all the way to penalties.
That result – albeit against a much-changed City outfit – will have given Claude Puel’s side confidence ahead of their league meeting at the King Power.
City, though they are unquestionably one of the strongest teams in Premier League history, are not infallible away from home. They were beaten 2-0 by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge earlier this month and held to draws at Liverpool and Wolves earlier in the season.
Pep Guardiola’s side will, of course, be strong favourites. And they will be determined to keep the pressure on Liverpool, who host Newcastle on Boxing Day – a game they will be expected to win comfortably.
The hope for Leicester will be that they can replicate the performance that saw them deservedly level the scores in the second half of their EFL Cup quarter-final. They will hope, too, that they can hold their nerve better than in the disastrous penalty shootout.
The Foxes’ form of late has been patchy, but they are capable, on their day, of causing problems for the division’s best. City will need to be on their game.
Manchester United vs Huddersfield
Jose Mourinho has gone and the autopsy has begun in earnest. Manchester United went into the Christmas period in poor form, 11 points off the top four and with a new manager in Ole Gunnar Solskjær. It is hardly ideal.
On Boxing Day, though, they will be expected to win, and to win comfortably. United host Huddersfield, who have failed to build on their mini-resurgence last month and find themselves desperate for points. David Wagner’s side have won only once away from home this season.
This, then, is as much of a home banker as United could ask for. If all goes well, it is in an opportunity to restore some confidence, some belief at Old Trafford. The shackles, tightened so restrictively by Mourinho, will be off; the talented players in the team may be able to express themselves.
That is the ideal scenario. There could well be a post-Mourinho hangover. Huddersfield could prove more stubborn than anticipated. And the negativity surrounding the club could be exacerbated by another underwhelming performance.
For Huddersfield, the hope will be to capitalise on any uncertainty. This is a big game for both sides, for different reasons. Whatever the outcome, it should make for an intriguing contest.
Brighton vs Arsenal
There is still, even after the changes made by Unai Emery, a vulnerability about Arsenal when they leave the Emirates. Their record away from home this season is much improved, but the 3-2 defeat at Southampton in their last outing was concerning.
The Gunners have conceded 15 goals in eight Premier League games on the road. They have yet to keep a clean sheet away from home. Put simply, they have been alarmingly poor from a defensive perspective.
If that does not improve, they will drop more points. They travel to Brighton on Boxing Day, a side with a reasonably strong home record. It will be another test of their resilience.
Brighton will see this as another opportunity to test themselves against a top side at home. They were narrowly beaten by Chelsea in their last game at the AMEX, only their second defeat at the stadium this season.
This is a difficult game for Arsenal, who will certainly need to improve on their display against Southampton.
Watford vs Chelsea
Chelsea have responded well to their first defeats of the season, against Tottenham and Wolves, and go into their Boxing Day fixture looking to firmly establish their place in the top four.
Maurizio Sarri’s side will need to be on their game at Vicarage Road. Watford have proven themselves tough opposition on their own patch, running Manchester United and Manchester City close and beating Tottenham earlier in the season.
The Hornets are inconsistent, certainly, but are more than capable of pulling off a shock result. They have won five of their nine games at home this season, a total only bettered by Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea themselves.
Chelsea’s recent defeats came on the road, too, and they have not always been entirely convincing. Boxing Day will be another test of their credentials.
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