Premier League: Festive fixtures may decide who finally bags the title

The Christmas and 'Boxing Day' fixture crush is a long tradition of English top-tier football. John Roycroft looks how this will affect the title contenders in this most competitive of Premier League seasons. 
Premier League: Festive fixtures may decide who finally bags the title

Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez (centre) celebrates scoring the side's fourth goal against Leed during the Premier League match at the Eithad Stadium, Manchester. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

THE tree is up, the turkey is ordered, so there is no doubt the festive period is well and truly here. And with it, so too comes the traditional hectic Christmas schedule in the Premier League.

So with a few days still to go before the fat man in the red suit calls, let's look at the three title contenders' (Man City, Liverpool, and Chelsea) festive schedule, title run-in and their managers' ability to steer the club to the championship win in this most exciting of title run-ins.

Man City 

City began the festive period in ominous form, smashing seven goals past hapless Leeds on Tuesday night. A Leeds side that just three days earlier took City's title rivals Chelsea right to the wire in a 3-2 defeat at Stamford Bridge.

City next, face relegation-threatened Newcastle at the weekend, before the more significant test of Brendan Rodgers' Leicester on St Stephen's Day. After that, there is a dangerous evening clash against Brentford on December 29. The Bees have already shown their title ruining abilities against other contenders.

City round-off the festive period with a potential testing tie against Mikel Arteta's Arsenal on New Year's Day. They have just had a morale-boosting win over fourth-place rivals West Ham. But maintaining form has been the Gunners big weakness this season.

Looking to the title run-in, City will look at their last six matches and favour their chance to round off the season on a high. They play Wolves, Watford, Leeds, Newcastle, West Ham, and Aston Villa, and will fancy their odds of winning the lot.

City will also not be as affected as their title rivals by the Africa Cup of Nations between January 9 and February 6, They will be without Algerian captain Riyad Mahrez. He could miss up to nine City fixtures depending on how well Algeria do.

Pep Guardiola may have found it difficult to win a Champions League crown since moving to Eastlands, but no one can question his record when it comes to winning league titles. Once again it will be interesting to see how Guardiola will juggle fulfilling his Champions League hunger with a league title run-in. If there is a criticism of Guardiola as a manager it is how he tends to overthink second-guess his own strategies.

If City are battling it out on both fronts, will he favour the Champions League over another domestic title?

Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates scoring their side's third goal of the game with team-mate Roberto Firmino (left) during the match against  Newcastle at Anfield, Liverpool. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates scoring their side's third goal of the game with team-mate Roberto Firmino (left) during the match against  Newcastle at Anfield, Liverpool. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

LIVERPOOL

Liverpool's five matches in 13 days started on Thursday at home with a 3-1 win against lowly Newcastle before possibly meeting Antonio Conte's Tottenham side on Sunday, Covid pending.

The Merseysiders have a League Cup quarter-final tie against former boss Brendan Rodgers Leicester at Anfield, sandwiched between the Spurs game and the St Stephen's Day match against Leeds. Two days later they face Leicester again, at the King Power and then have a real six-pointer against title-rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on January 2.

This gruelling run of games is made worse by the question mark over when Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita depart for the Africa Cup of Nations for Egypt, Senegal and Guniea respectively.

The tournament is currently set to start on January 9 but Egyptian side Al Ahly are pushing for the tournament to start a week earlier as they are due to compete in the Club World Cup. Such a late change is unlikely but if it happened it would mean Liverpool would be without key stars for the Chelsea game. Not ideal by any measure.

It does offer a chance for in form Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino along with Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota to establish themselves in the absence of Mané and Salah. But one imagines that Klopp would wish to have his two top strikers available at the busiest time of the season.

In the run-in, Liverpool's last six games look a bit trickier than City's.

It starts with a trip to Villa Park and another match against Steven Gerrard before the Merseyside derby at Anfield on April 23.

Newcastle and Tottenham follow, one side potentially battling for survival, another eyeing a top-four spot. The Reds round off the season away to Southampton and home against Wolves.

Liverpool will have utter faith in Jurgen Klopp after bringing them success in 2019. But this title run-in is shaping up to be tighter than any we've seen before, but Klopp will be hungry again after being denied in the Covid-hit season of 2020.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel (right) gestures on the touchline during the Premier League match against Everton at Stamford Bridge, London.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel (right) gestures on the touchline during the Premier League match against Everton at Stamford Bridge, London.

CHELSEA 

Thomas Tuchel's Christmas fun began with a match against out-of-form Everton. But it was former Chelsea and Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez that left the Bridge smiling. As it was his scratch side of rookie youngsters that bagged an unlikely 1-1 draw.

Chelsea now travel to the midlands to face Wolves and Aston Villa, with a League Cup tie against Brentford in the middle. They then host Brighton on December 29 before that blockbuster clash with Liverpool on January 2 at the Bridge.

While they are not hit as hard by the Africa Cup of Nations as Liverpool, it shouldn't be underestimated what a blow goalie Edouard Mendy's departure for Senegal's might be. The goalkeeper has been the difference in a number of games for Chelsea, winning games that were heading for draws. Having a £72m goalkeeper in the shape of Kepa Arrizabalaga as backup is not bad though.

Chelsea's final six games look like they could have a few tricky ones in there. It starts away to Leeds at Elland Road before a London derby against a renewed West Ham side. Everton and Wolves follow before a trip to Old Trafford against Manchester United for the penultimate game of the season. Tuchel's side then round-off their campaign at home to Watford.

Despite their wobble in recent weeks, Thomas Tuchel has been supremely confident in the job since taking over from Frank Lampard. 

The surprise Champions League title proved he has the ability, but unlike his immediate rival managers, he still has to bring home a league title run.

At PSG, Tuchel won the French league twice but the standard of competition in Ligue 1 doesn't compare to that of the Premier League.

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