I hope everybody had a wonderful Christmas! The festive football, as ever, is relentless, so let’s get straight into the action!
For the second time this season, all games will be streamed live on Amazon Prime.
Game of the week
Chelsea vs Aston Villa: Stamford Bridge, 18.00
It was a Boxing Day nightmare for Frank Lampard. On paper, his team looked like they would walk all over an Arsenal team that was low on confidence and ravaged with injuries. As ever, games are not won on paper. The Gunners stormed into a 3-0 lead at the Emirates and they were unfortunate not to get more. Chelsea’s late revival mattered little and they were left to question why it took them over 80 minutes to turn up.
Lampard was given a war-chest of over £200-million in the summer but such a wild window needs to come with a dose of reality. Not everybody will be able to come in and make an instant impact, especially during this season of all seasons. Kai Havertz and Timo Werner are badly in need of some confidence.
By contrast, Aston Villa continue to keep surprising people. They went down to ten-men against Crystal Palace after Tyrone Mings picked up two first-half yellow cards. However, instead of simply holding onto their narrow lead, they picked Palace off on the counter, scoring a further two goals in the second period.
Dean Smith will have been delighted. That win illustrated the new-found defensive resolve that his players have gained in recent months. But it also showcased a phenomenal attack that is capable of causing damage to absolutely anybody.
This is a very tough match for Chelsea. Villa have lots of exciting talent, a sturdy defence and an excellent goalkeeper. Lampard’s attack looks significantly weaker without Hakim Ziyech on the field, however, the Blues have only lost once at Stamford Bridge all season. Only Liverpool have scored more goals at home. That being said, Villa have won five of their six league matches away from home.
Crystal Palace vs Leicester City: Selhurst Park, 18.00
Roy Hodgson has done a good job at Crystal Palace but he is in a tough place right now. With the likes of Wilfried Zaha and Eberechi Eze, he wants to be more forward-thinking. However, players look incapable of taking advantage of that shift as they all appear to be indoctrinated into the organisational way of thinking.
Leicester City are only three points off the top. Their draw against Manchester United was also the first time that they have shared the spoils in the Premier League, this season. Jamie Vardy will be relishing a chance to test this fragile Palace defence.
Momentum is with the visitors and Leicester have a preference for playing on the road. Brendan Rodgers has accumulated six wins out of seven. Make this seven out of eight. Hodgson needs to fall back on his defensive style because the players simply don’t know what they’re doing at this moment in time. They need to get back to basics.
Everton vs Manchester City: Goodison Park, 20.00
Pragmatic Everton have found another way under Carlo Ancelotti. They started the season in swashbuckling but have since reeled in their attacking antics. Their late win against Sheffield United was their fourth consecutive Premier League victory, and their third clean sheet in four.
It has been a similar tale for Manchester City except, instead of a mid-season transition, it has been their story for the entire campaign. Defensively excellent but offensively quite ordinary. The Boxing day triumph over Newcastle United was much less extravagant than it might have been in years gone by.
As hinted, it could be a battle of organisation. However, the slightly out-of-form Kevin de Bruyne will be itching to get back on the scoresheet; the Belgian has often been the difference in a tightly contested encounter.
Brighton & Hove Albion vs Arsenal: AMEX Stadium, 18.00
For Brighton & Hove Albion, it was a Boxing Day match symptomatic of their season. They dominated possession of the ball in the first-half, before Neal Maupay gave them a deserved lead. West Ham United levelled before Brighton went back ahead. As is usually the case for Graham Potter’s men, their efforts were not fully rewarded as Tomas Soucek scored a second equaliser in the latter stages of the match.
Brighton’s struggles can be shared with Arsenal, who finally got a smidgen of good fortune. It was a wonderful late Christmas present for Mikel Arteta and he needed it! They put in a very spirited performance against Chelsea while their high-flying opponents simply forgot to turn up. A 3-1 victory was fully deserved.
This is arguably a tougher game for Arsenal because the expectation is now on them. Brighton are a much weaker team than Chelsea but one imagines they will not be as poor as Frank Lampard’s men. Although, the Seagulls have not won a match at the AMEX all season and their home frustrations could play into the hands of an Arsenal team that is hoping to build its confidence back.
Burnley vs Sheffield United: Turf Moor, 18.00
Burnley gave a good account of themselves against Leeds United in the second-half. They huffed, and they puffed, but the goal just wouldn’t come. The Clarets were also left frustrated that an excellent finish from Ashley Barnes was ruled out for an earlier foul on Illan Meslier. However, the goalkeeper was the one who clattered into Ben Mee. If it wasn’t a goal then it should have been a Burnley penalty.
Similarly, Sheffield United gave a good showing in their 1-0 loss to Everton. It was a performance that showcased a lot of grit and desire but, unfortunately, a defensive switch-off cost them dearly. Every game seems to be a tremendous effort for the Blades and their inability to build on the point against Brighton will have frustrated Chris Wilder.
Wilder will have bookmarked this game at Turf Moor as an opportunity to claw back some ground. The visitors will be buoyed by the fact that Burnley could be without a recognised winger for the second successive match. That lack of craft could make life difficult for the home team but United will not get many opportunities against a strong Burnley defence.
Southampton vs West Ham United: St Mary’s, 18.00
Southampton thought they had won the match against Fulham with a late Theo Walcott goal, only to be denied by VAR. No win in three now for the southerners. Nonetheless, their efforts this season have been outstanding. James Ward-Prowse has been a revelation in their double-pivot and the absence of Danny Ings hasn’t been overly damaging.
Equally, their opponents, West Ham, have been among the high flyers. They made hard work out of Brighton and, in the end, they were grateful for a point. A little bit of a reality check for the Hammers, perhaps? That result was preceded by a 3-0 defeat to Chelsea and a 1-1 draw with struggling Crystal Palace.
David Moyes will be hoping to get back to winning ways at St Mary’s but it won’t be easy. This is one of those games where both teams can play with the shackles off a little bit. Neither of them are in any relegation danger and both will have ambitious aspirations of European football. Whichever way it goes, the match should be a good watch.
West Bromwich Albion vs Leeds United: The Hawthorns, 18.00
Game three of the Sam Allardyce era at West Bromwich Albion. The Baggies knew what they were getting when Big Sam came to the helm. They have signed up for getting the necessary points by whatever means necessary. Their football at Anfield was dreadful to watch but the tactics worked; they frustrated Liverpool, took their chance, and stole a point. A remarkable result!
Leeds were fortunate against Burnley. They dominated the opening 45 minutes but they were also benefactors of some questionable refereeing. In the second period, they had to dig in and Meslier was forced into some smart saves.
Albion, like Burnley, will try to use set-pieces as a method of finding goals. Leeds struggled against that physicality and two clean sheets out of two could be a tough ask for the leaky Yorkshiremen.
Manchester United vs Wolverhampton Wanderers: Old Trafford, 20.00
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was left disappointed after his Manchester United team let a late lead slip at the King Power. The Norwegian deserves a lot of credit for steering the ship forward, despite receiving limited backing in this summer’s transfer market. Every time he gets knocked down, he gets back up again. Perhaps he is a fan of the song by Chumbawamba!
Still, United’s frustrations can be shared with their opponents. Wolverhampton Wanderers can cause problems on the break, with the pace of Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto. But, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, their attack looks a little bit toothless without Raul Jimenez. Defensively, too, the organisation hasn’t been quite there. A dose of reality after three fantastic seasons under Nuno Espirito Santo.
United could be a little tired, especially with the amount of games that they have been playing. That will benefit the travellers but whether they have enough bite in attack to make that count remains to be seen. Solskjaer can rotate in Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani and Alex Telles; that’s some squad depth!
Tottenham Hotspur vs Fulham: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, 18.00
Tottenham Hotspur have gone from title contenders to Champions League hopefuls in little over a week. A defeat at Anfield was followed by a slump against Leicester and, suddenly, the fragility of being at the top was laid bare. Only Liverpool seem to have the ability to drop a couple of points without much consequence.
Fulham have racked up four successive draws. A platform to build on for Scott Parker. However, he will be mindful that his team needs to start converting some of these draws into wins.
This will be a tough game for Spurs. They have the attacking quality to break down their resilient London neighbours but early season form has slowed down a little for Jose Mourinho’s men. It could be a tough night for the Champions League chasers.
Newcastle United vs Liverpool: St James’ Park, 20.00
The abuse towards Steve Bruce doesn’t look like disappearing. The Newcastle faithful are resentful towards Bruce for numerous reasons. The under-fire manager will have taken some comfort from the fact that his team only lost 2-0 against Man City. But he will not be too excited by this upcoming challenge!
It looked like Liverpool were powering clear for their second consecutive Premier League title. An elite club with an elite mentality. There was little more to say. And then they slipped up at home to struggling West Brom. Who saw that coming? Still, this kind of result will probably awaken the beat from its brief slumber.
This game would be my banker of this gameweek. Newcastle have looked pretty sub-par for quite a while but they had initially been picking up results. Those points have started to dry up. Quite simply, they sit back and try to be organised but the tactics don’t work particularly well because many opponents still get in far too easily. Bruce is a good pragmatist but he isn't Allardyce!