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The Premier League fixtures that matter this Christmas

With games coming thick and fast, certain assignments will take on greater significance.

Saturday, 20th December

Manchester City v Crystal Palace, 12.45pm

Despite their injury worries, the reigning champions are the second best team in the league currently. They’re undefeated in their last six league games, winning five of them.

But on Saturday, there’s an added motivation. Should they beat Palace, they’ll temporarily go joint-top – a position they haven’t held since the opening weekend. If they rack up a cricket score, they’ll take first place on goal difference.

A win will also serve as the perfect start to what seems a relatively straight-forward festive period. After this clash, they’ll take on West Brom, Burnley and Sunderland and could very well be ahead of Chelsea come the start of 2015.

Sunday, 21st December

Liverpool v Arsenal, 4pm

Liverpool are currently in 11th place. Their record against the teams above them reads something like this: played 8, won 2, lost 5, drawn 1.

They’ve faced all of the current top-5 and won just once – against Southampton on the opening day of the campaign. So, facing the side currently in 6th is important for a variety of reasons.

Last term, David Moyes’ Manchester United tamely surrendered in a litany of high-profile fixtures. This season, Brendan Rodgers’ side appear to be doing likewise. Sure, they created a multitude of chances against United last weekend but the 3-0 result was damning.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Arsenal v Southampton - Emirates Stadium Source: Adam Davy/EMPICS Sport

Arsenal have similar concerns. They’ve lost to Southampton, Chelsea and United this season but unlike their Sunday opponents, they head into the fixture in good form – just one defeat from their last six in all competitions.

Two managers who are struggling for different reasons. Both desperately need an impressive victory.

Friday, 26 December

Manchester United v Newcastle, 3pm

United like playing the Magpies. And traditionally, when the teams meet around Christmas, there are plenty of goals served up too. Two years ago, the sides shared seven goals – Javier Hernandez popping up with an 89th-minute winner. In early January 2012, Newcastle thumped three past United without reply.

Should United get past Aston Villa on Saturday, it will be seven wins in a row. The real carrot would be to stretch into double figures but tricky away fixtures follow this game at Old Trafford – there’s a visit to White Hart Lane and then a trip to the Brittania.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Southampton v Manchester United - St Marys Source: Adam Davy/EMPICS Sport

Still, it’s quite remarkable how a team that’s played so poorly in so many of their games could realistically mount a title challenge. There are two ways of looking at this. It could be ominous for the rest considering United’s injuries have left them fielding different lineups and different formations on a weekly basis and that with some consistency they’ll only get better. Or, on the other hand, their good fortune will run out and the team’s limitations, regardless of the new manager and the heavy spending, will be largely indefensible.

As long as the run goes on though, the longer they remain a genuine contender. However ridiculous that may seem.

Sunday, 28 December

Tottenham v Manchester United, 12.00pm

If the delicate house of cards Louis van Gaal has built is to spectacularly collapse, the foundations may initially get shook here.

Over the last few seasons, Spurs have United’s number. Last season, they picked up four points from the two league encounters and did likewise in the 2012/2013 campaign. At Old Trafford, history hints this game will be one of two things – a comfortable United win or a tight Spurs’ one.

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur The last time there was a scoreless Premier League clash at Old Trafford between United and Tottenham was January 2005. Source: Matthew Ashton/EMPICS Sport

Very rarely has a scoreless draw been played out between these teams at the Theatre of Dreams. You have to go back to January 2005 to find the last one (and it really shouldn’t have been a draw!). United’s side featured Roy Carroll in goal (who dropped Pedro Mendes’ lob over the line but the goal wasn’t awarded), Alan Smith in attack and Jonathan Spector on the bench. For Spurs, Michael Carrick was in midfield alongside Rohan Ricketts while Noureddine Naybet anchored the defence. It was quite a while ago.

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Mauricio Pochettino’s team have been patchy and have put successive league wins together just twice this season. Perhaps most worryingly of all for them heading into this game is how poor their home form has been. At the time of writing, they’ve lost more games at the Lane than they’ve won and to have any hopes of European qualification, that needs to be rectified.

Southampton v Chelsea, 2:05pm

You’d expect Jose Mourinho’s side to be too clever for Stoke (22nd December) and West Ham (26th December) and so they should still be in control of the Premier League table ahead of their trip to St. Mary’s.

But the competitiveness of this clash may be decided by what happens Ronald Koeman’s side between now and then. With one win from their last six games, it’s been a steady slide for Southampton after an incredible first few months. The big difference seems to be in front of goal.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Southampton v Manchester United - St Marys Graziano Pelle's goal against Manchester United was his first in five games. Source: Adam Davy/EMPICS Sport

In recent weeks, they’ve only really struggled to create chances away to Arsenal. Even against Man City (0-3), they managed four shots on target but they’ve not been able to convert like they were doing in the early part of the campaign.

Graziano Pelle has scored once in his last eight league games while Shane Long, signed for  £12m, has managed three. The tail-off was always likely but a decent result against the Londoners only seems likely if they can get back on track against Everton and Crystal Palace.

Hull v Leicester, 3pm

For the teams struggling at the foot of the table, Christmas brings with it added stress and anxiety. Every point is precious and for managers, they’re consistently looking over their shoulders.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Hull City v West Bromwich Albion - KC Stadium It's been that kind of season for Steve Bruce and Hull. Source: Richard Sellers/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Hull are in a lull. They haven’t won since the first weekend of October but frustratingly for them, they’ve remained competitive against the top teams and narrowly lost to lower-level sides. They didn’t offer much against Chelsea last weekend but remained in the game for long periods and, had Gary Cahill been sent-off and Tom Huddlestone remained on the pitch for the full 90 minutes, things may have been different. They’ve held Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton to draws while lost by the narrowest of margins to Burnley and Southampton. On paper, they look too good to go down. But they desperately need to start winning matches.

Over at Leicester, it seems a slight miracle that they haven’t been completely cut adrift already. They’re five points from safety but they remain rank outsiders to stay afloat in the division. They travel to West Ham on Saturday in an attempt to stem the bleeding before hosting Tottenham.

Their home form could prove their saving grace. From their 10-point tally, seven have come on home soil. But this is a relegation six-pointer and would be the perfect time to offer up a surprise. Isn’t that what everyone wants at Christmas?

Thursday, 1 January

Liverpool v Leicester, 3pm

Brendan Rodgers will be hoping his 2015 is a lot better than his 2014. But, he could be out of a job midway through next year. For that not to happen, Liverpool need to get back to the top-six and fast.

In the five seasons prior to 2013/2014, Liverpool’s average league position was sixth. They overachieved last term and Rodgers needs to push the side back to the mean to save his job. At season’s end, it will give him leverage when speaking to the board.

Yes, they spent heavily on players that have under-performed but they lost their best player during a World Cup summer (where there is less time to act on quick sales, etc), their best striker spent months in the treatment room, there was the extra burden of European competition and the club still managed to finish in a familiar league position. Fenway Sports Group like the economical approach and may be understanding, especially considering Rodgers is still a very young and inexperienced manager.

But, finish the season in mid-table obscurity and Rodgers has much less to work with.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Crystal Palace v Leicester City - Selhurst Park Source: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Pearson is in an unusual position. He was backed by the club’s foreign owners, despite that 2013 play-off semi-final heartache against Watford. He’s an uncompromising figure and tough as nails. But should the club’s slide continue, there’s a decision to be made. Are Leicester better off replacing Pearson and hope a new man reignites their hopes of survival? Or, will they stay faithful to the man responsible for getting them back to the top-flight?

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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