Boxing Day welcomes the second round of fixtures in the hectic holiday schedule of the Premier League. I participate in the festivities by providing my predictions for this crucial round.
Hull City vs. Manchester United
This is a good test for Manchester United as David Moyes’ men visit Steve Bruce’s impressive side at the KC Stadium. Many expect United to claim maximum points from the holiday fixtures, but I believe such a prediction does a huge disservice to Hull City. Hull have been almost flawless at home except for a shock loss to Crystal Palace. United certainly have the creative advantage, however they won’t find it easy to bypass either the strong midfield pair of Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore, or one of the stingiest defences marshalled by a reborn Curtis Davies. Hull do struggle to score, but I believe their defensive nous will enable them to fight out a tough draw against the champions.
Aston Villa vs. Crystal Palace
Something has to give in a match between one of the worst home teams in the league and one of the worst travellers in the league. Paul Lambert’s counterattacking style has worked well on the road, but Villa Park hasn’t been kind to Aston Villa. With no creative presence in either midfield, it’s certainly a game the neutrals want to stay away from. Palace will be missing the recently rejuvenated Marouane Chamakh, and have no viable replacement upfront. Libor Kozak has been chipping in with goals as Christian Benteke continues his struggles, and the Polish forward might just lead Aston Villa to a scrappy win.
Cardiff City vs. Southampton
Cardiff are extremely strong at home, and are another team that are extremely difficult to beat in their own confines despite having obvious problems in attack. Southampton will hope to finally get a win after a run that has seen the Saints play five teams above them in the table in their last six fixtures. It seems like an eternity since Mauricio Pochettino’s men were being praised from all corners for their excellent start to the season. Pochettino will want the three points in this fixture, however I think Vincent Tan might have inadvertently ensured that there will be a raucous atmosphere in Cardiff to support Malky Mackay, which might just propel the Bluebirds to another shock victory at home.
Chelsea vs. Swansea
Jose Mourinho came in for some unfair criticism after the dour draw away to Arsenal. The truth of the matter is that Mourinho deals in only one currency - results. A point at the Emirates is no disgrace, and expect Mourinho to field a more attacking line-up against the Swans who haven’t had much success at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League. I expect a comfortable win for the Blues to set them up nicely for the crucial encounter against Liverpool on the weekend.
Everton vs. Sunderland
After gaining four points from two tough away games to Manchester United and Arsenal, it was vital for Everton to sustain their form in subsequent fixtures. Roberto Martinez has ensured that his men have stayed focused, as the Toffees wracked up back-to-back wins against Fulham and Swansea, without necessarily being at their best. Everton have a lot of options to make a difference, something Sunderland patently don’t have. I predicted the Mackems to pick up points and wins in recent matches, however despite Gus Poyet’s best efforts the confidence of the players must be slowly ebbing away. With Everton in the midst of one of their best seasons, I can see their superior firepower prevailing over a Sunderland defence without the services of the suspended Wes Brown.
Newcastle United vs. Stoke City
A match between two teams in great form. Newcastle played with verve and panache in disposing Crystal Palace at Selhurt Park on the weekend, as Yohan Cabaye dictated everything from the centre of the park. Stoke City have won two games on the bounce at home, and come into the game with the confidence of being in the top half of the table for the first time this season. However, I doubt Stoke have the mentality to sustain their form away from home during a crowded fixture period. I pick Newcastle to win a surprisingly entertaining encounter.
Norwich City vs. Fulham
The Canaries are now unbeaten in four games, as the pressure begins to ease on manager Chris Hughton. Leroy Fer and Gary Hooper have been the key components in Norwich’s recent revival, and will be relied upon to perform well in front of an expectant crowd at Carrow Road. Rene Meulensteen has had a mixed bag to start his reign as manager of Fulham. A dominant win over Aston Villa has been the highlight, while on another day the Cottagers certainly could have got more from tough games against Tottenham, Everton and Manchester City. I actually believe Meulensteen has got Fulham more focused and tactically compact, and they will be good enough to get a point at Norwich.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Bromwich Albion
There are many doubts about Tim Sherwood’s suitability for the manager’s role at White Hart Lane, but Daniel Levy has given the Englishman a chance to put his stamp on the team with a good contract. Spurs approach under Sherwood will rely on a lot of luck, and were it not for some inept defending by Southampton, Tottenham could have been tactically exposed. As things turned out, Spurs head into this fixture on the back of a morale-boosting win, and there will be a feel-good factor in the squad that should see them through against a stagnant manager-less West Brom.
West Ham United vs. Arsenal
Sam Allardyce used to be a manager who was adept at riling Arsene Wenger. However, Big Sam’s current West Ham team is a far cry from his Bolton team that were so difficult to beat. The Hammers have been fantastic at keeping clean sheets, but have struggled to score goals. In addition to the continued absence of Andy Carroll, wingers Matt Jarvis and Stewart Downing have been extremely poor. Plenty have been waiting for Arsenal’s campaign to stutter, but despite gaining only one point from consecutive fixtures against Manchester City and Chelsea, the Gunners are only separated from first by virtue of goal difference. With some high pressure games out of the way, expect Arsenal to play with the handbrake off, and secure an important win at a feisty Boleyn Ground.
Manchester City vs. Liverpool
Almost every fan of the Premier League has been looking forward to this fixture since the weekend. First versus third as well as the two best attacks in the division going up against each other. Alas, it will not be Luis Suarez vs. Sergio Aguero due to the Argentine star’s injury. Visiting the Etihad is the most daunting task in the league, as City have won all eight games at home, scoring 35 goals in the process while conceding only five. Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal have been brushed aside by a cumulative score of 16-4. Throw into the mix Liverpool’s incredibly shaky defence, and we have all the ingredients for another high-scoring game. Notwithstanding the cliche of it being a team game, the Reds best hope lies with Luis Suarez, who will be coming up against a defence that is extremely shaky. With the exception of Vincent Kompany, Liverpool’s Uruguayan talisman will be confident of winning one-on-one battles against the rest of City’s back four. With the forwards firing and defences shaky, the crucial battle will be between City’s midfield pair of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho and Liverpool’s duo of Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva. If the four midfielders play well it could be a tight game, but the greater likelihood is of another very open game at the Etihad, and I believe Liverpool just might be the first team to take a point at City’s fortress due to the brilliance of Suarez.