Premier League Preview, Dec. 26-27
It’s Christmas Eve, so I would be remiss if this week’s preview didn’t have a Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus/Ashura theme.
I’m more of a Christmas kind of guy myself, so that’s the direction I’ll be heading in first.
It may not have come upon a midnight clear, but this is the TV schedule for the week so dear.
Man, I hope the holiday puns get better than that as we run through this week’s games:
Birmingham vs. Chelsea
Surprising City play host to a suddenly wobbly Chelsea side on Boxing Day.
Table watch: Birmingham is in seventh place on 28 points while the Blues are still in first with 41.
On the naughty list?: Chelsea skipper John Terry is rumored to have accepted a cash payment for a private tour of Chelsea’s training facilities. Even with this potential distraction and some key injuries to Nicolas Anelka, Michael Essien and Deco, Chelsea will look to make it four our of five Premier League wins over Birmingham City.
A good turn: If Birmingham were a dradle, it would be spinning. City hasn’t tasted defeat since a 3-1 loss to Arsenal back in October – a space of nine league games without a loss.
Fulham vs. Tottenham Hotspur
If Fulham wants to repeat last season’s Europa League-level finish, three points at the expense of Spurs would be a good way to start.
Table watch: Fulham is in ninth place on 26 points while Spurs are in fifth place on 33 points.
Last Christmas: The two teams met on Boxing Day last year, with a goalless draw as the result.
Airing of Grievances: A few Spurs players have drawn the ire of manager Harry Redknapp for a secret Christmas party in Dublin recently. A charitable contribution seems to have smoothed things over between the boss and his players.
West Ham United vs. Portsmouth
If all West Ham and Portsmouth want for Christmas is to stay up, winning this relegation six-pointer would be a big help.
Table watch: West Ham is in 19th place on 15 points while Pompey is one point behind in 20th.
Jingle Bells: Oh come on, you knew that one was coming, didn’t you? Portsmouth rocked Liverpool last week to climb within shouting distance of safety. The Hammers also helped themselves with a point against Chelsea.
Feat of strength: England international David James may make his return from a calf injury, according to the Daily Mail.
Burnley vs. Bolton Wanderers
The Clarets won’t have holiday cheer in mind when bottom-dwelling Bolton comes calling.
Table watch: Burnley is in 14th place on 19 points while Bolton is in 18th spot on 16 points.
Visions of centerbacks: You could forgive Burnley manager Owen Coyle for dreaming of healthy defenders as first-choice center backs Steven Caldwell and Clarke Carlisle are both doubtful with groin injuries, according to the Daily Mail.
A tie? Again?: Some of you will be receiving a tie as a gift. These two teams might produce one as well, since three of the last four meetings have ended in a deadlock.
Manchester City vs. Stoke City
City will be hoping for the new manager bounce when it hosts the Potters on Boxing Day.
Table watch: City is in sixth place on 29 points while Stoke City resides in 11th on 21 points.
They said it: “I am very excited. I hope for the supporters it will be a good day and I hope to win for them. Stoke are a good, physical team – typically English. It is a hard match.” – new manager Roberto Mancini, to the BBC.
One way or the other: While they may be getting a draw at Turf Moor, it doesn’t seem likely at Eastlands. None of the last 14 meetings between these two sides have ended level.
Sunderland vs. Everton
The Black Cats will be looking to pick up three points at the expense of the Toffees.
Table watch: Sunderland is in 10th place on 21 points while Everton is in 15th place on 18 points.
Looking up the chimney: Sunderland has one win in its last nine games while Everton has just one in its last 11.
A good run: Everton has nine wins and one draw with Sunderland in the last 10 meetings in all competitions.
Wigan Athletic vs. Blackburn Rovers
Two teams drifting south in the table will try to point the sleigh in a new direction this weekend.
Table watch: Wigan is in 16th place on 18 points while Blackburn is in 13th place on 19 points.
Goals, goals: Blackburn needs goals, where are the goals, one goal in six, just doesn’t mix.
Liverpool vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
The Reds, fresh off a loss on the south coast, will hope to change their luck when Wolves visit Anfield.
Table watch: Liverpool is in eighth place on 27 points while Wolves are all the way up in 12th after last week’s win over Burnley.
In and out: Javier Mascherano starts a four-game ban, so Alberto Aquilani might make his first Premier League start this week.
Team sheet: After fielding a reserve side at Old Trafford, a rested Wlves squad made Mick McCarthy look smart with a derby win. I wonder how the team sheet might look for this one? Think Mick might give it a go?
Arsenal vs. Aston Villa
A top-four battle serves as a highlight to a busy weekend as the Gunners host party crashing Aston Villa.
Table watch: Arsenal is in third place on 35 points while Villa is one spot back on goal difference.
A late gift?: Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas is a game-time decision with a minor hamstring injury.
A lump of coal: Aston Villa will have to do without striker Emile Heskey, who will miss out with a groin strain. John Carew is in line to take his place in the side.
Hull City vs. Manchester United
The last game of the weekend features the Tigers hosting a wounded and angry United.
Table watch: Hull City is in 17th place with as many points while United is in second on 37 points.
Ghost of Christmas Past: It’s been eight years since United had five losses before Christmas. Hull was playing in League Two that season. … United has five straight wins over Hull in all competitions, dating back 35 years. … If he’s picked, Michael Owen would make his 400th appearance for an English side.
They said it: “The target is to win every game we can from now on. We always do well in this period and now, more than ever, we need victories.” United defender Patrice Evra, to the BBC.