A COUPLE of early games have already been done and dusted with early Friday and Saturday morning kick-offs. Both the Crystal Palace v Brighton and Aston Villa v Sheffield United games ended in 1-1 draws. The latter result will be a disappointment to Villa supporters, who must have thought a home game against the league’s bottom team presented the perfect opportunity to go top.
Instead, all eyes will be on the game at Anfield, where second-placed Liverpool tops Arsenal, which is the plum tie for the weekend. FocusM looks at talking points from all the upcoming fixtures.
West Ham United v Manchester United (Sat, 8.30pm)
Both are fresh off visits to Anfield. Manchester United put in a dogged, disciplined display to emerge with a scoreless draw, spurred by the desire to avoid a 7-0 mauling as they did last season in the corresponding fixture. The Hammers were less lucky, as they put on a meek show in the League Cup quarterfinals in midweek and were humbled 5-1.
Will West Ham bounce back? Will the Red Devils find the consistency to put in a similarly robust performance as last weekend? The early kick-off will answer a number of intriguing questions, with pressure still very much on Manchester United boss Erik Ten Haag to salvage a season that is threatening to meander into mediocrity.
Fulham v Burnley (Sat, 11pm)
Fulham will be on a high after reaching the semis of the League Cup in midweek by seeing off Everton on penalties. Their forward line has also been grabbing the headlines with back-to-back 5-0 home wins. The smart money is on the Cottagers piling further misery on a Burnley team struggling to get to grips with top-flight football.
Vincent Kompany retains the backing of the Burnley board and has insisted that the team stick to its footballing principles of playing from the back. It would be a surprise if they could get anything at Craven Cottage unless Marco Silva’s side were suffering from fatigue after their midweek exertions.
Luton Town v Newcastle United (Sat, 11pm)
Luton players and supporters will be pleased to hear that skipper Tom Lockyer is out of hospital after suffering an on-field cardiac arrest last weekend. The players will want to put in a performance that will cheer up their captain as he recuperates and help them climb out of the drop zone. Magpies boss Eddie Howe faces a tricky period in his managerial stint at St James Park as he tries to revive a clearly fatigued set of players.
Injuries and a deflating early exit from Europe have cast a damper on Tyneside as the team struggles with the heavy festive fixture list. An away win would be a welcome tonic, but it is no easy feat given the raucous support at Kenilworth Road.
Nottingham Forest v Bournemouth (Sat, 11pm)
Forest finally axed the hugely popular Steve Cooper after a string of poor results left the side hovering dangerously close to the relegation zone. His replacement is former Wolves and Spurs coach Nuno Espirito Santo, who will be hoping to repair his reputation after a disastrous spell in charge of the latter. He faces a stiff test against a resurgent Bournemouth who breezed past Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford a couple of weeks ago.
If anything, Nuno will be hoping to just avoid defeat to ensure supporters don’t get on his back from the start.
Tottenham Hotspurs v Everton (Sat, 11pm)
Spurs briefly led the table but a poor run saw them relinquish that spot and slide out of the Champions League places. Ange Postecoglous is not panicking as he insists that his side is playing the correct brand of football and a couple of wins have seen them climb back up to fifth. His level-headedness is the perfect antidote to the Antonio Conte years when every loss was met with overreactions from supporters. A couple of recent wins have steadied the ship and Spurs now face the test of a resurgent Everton.
The Toffees will be smarting from exiting the League Cup in midweek and can now focus their attention on clawing back the deficit caused by the ten-point penalty imposed for financial irregularities.
Liverpool v Arsenal (Sun, 1.30am)
All eyes will be on Anfield as the top two lock horns in a test of their respective title credentials. Both Liverpool and Arsenal will be seeking to widen a gap over title favourites Manchester City who are away in Saudi Arabia for the Club World Cup, which the Citizens won last night. Jurgen Klopp has demanded more, not from his players but from the crowd at Anfield, which he deemed too quiet in the rout of West Ham in midweek.
The Gunners are purring along nicely with a settled midfield of Kai Havertz, Damien Rice and Martin Odegaard providing the forwards with the service they need to get the required results. Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli are in fine form as opposed to Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez and Luis Diaz who have been struggling of late. This game will decide who gets the morale booster of being at the top of the table at Christmas.
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Chelsea (Sun, 9pm)
The first fixture to be played on Christmas Eve since 1995 sees two sides in desperate need of points to bring some festive cheer to their respective supporters. Chelsea are languishing in midtable despite heavy expenditure and will need Nicholas Jackson to assume the mantle of a proper no9 if the Blues are to challenge for a European spot.
The Wolves will need to find some stability if they want to be in contention for, at least, a spot in next season’s UEFA Conference League. Given the topsy-turvy form of both sides, a draw would not be the greatest surprise. – Dec 23, 2023
Main photo credit: Football London