Nothing can quite compete with that feeling of childish glee upon waking on Christmas morning; except, perhaps, the feeling of waking up knowing that there are ten Premier League games taking place on the same day. The footballing world, nay, the whole of mankind is treated to this rare event on two occasions over the forthcoming weeks. The games pop up thicker and faster than a new reality TV star, and it is truly a Christmas miracle that Sky Sports does not implode from all the excitement. Christmastime in the footballing world can offer the opportunity to turn one’s season around. But on the other side of that chocolate coin is, of course, the possibility for a season to collapse under the weight of the relentless fixture schedule.
Twas the last Saturday before Christmas and all through the Etihad, not a fit striker was stirring; not even a Jovetic. Manchester City, hamstrung by persistent injury problems, approach their lunchtime clash against an inconsistent Crystal Palace side. What City would give for even a Marouane Chamakh right now; instead the attacking burden will most likely fall once again on Pozo’s slight and inexperienced shoulders. The answer to the question ‘Who needs Alvaro Negredo?’ has firmly been answered, for Manchester City could surely use him now. Alas, Negredo enjoys the sunnier climes of Valencia this festive period. There is a possibility that City will be able to select a recognised senior striker IF Stevan Jovetic can regain full fitness in time. Yes, that is a very big if.
Sunday serves up two mouth-watering helpings of delicious football. The Tyne-Wear derby commences the festivities, with Newcastle embroiled in a goalkeeping crisis. And Liverpool thought they had problems when they resorted to Brad Jones; no, Newcastle’s possible dependence on 17 year-old Freddie Woodman was another level of strife, especially at the advent of perhaps the biggest game of their season thus far. As it stands, third-choice Jak Alnwick looks primed to pass a fitness test and resume between the posts. Nonetheless, he is only third choice. Sunderland will look to capitalise on this weakness, although the ten outfield players of Newcastle will still be resurgent on the back of impressive league form. Passions will rage in an encounter that will be as fiery as the hair of Jack Colback, a brave man who dared to swap a Sunderland shirt for Newcastle colours. However, as a boyhood Newcastle fan, the answer was always going to be black-and-white.
In a Sunday that should for once live up to the title ‘Super’, Arsenal’s visit to Liverpool follows. Both sides will consider this game crucial, although arguably it is a must-not-lose rather than a must-win for either team. Brendan Rodgers needs to cajole his side into displaying similar attacking verve to that which permeated their League Cup outing at Bournemouth, whilst moulding his defence into something that can actually defend. Raheem Sterling has been boosted by a new streamline haircut, and Lazar Markovic has evidently remembered that he does in fact know how to play football. Together they will endeavour to combine to the striking worth of one Daniel Sturridge. For Arsenal, a win here would temporarily silence Arsene Wenger’s most ardent critics. Olivier Giroud has returned with performances as impressive as his hair; this lessens the weight on Alexis Sanchez’s shoulders, with Arsenal currently carrying a particularly penetrative attacking thrust that will relish facing whatever constitutes Liverpool’s defence.
Boxing Day yields the Holy Grail of ten Premier League fixtures on the same day as the perfect remedy for food comas throughout the nation. The standout match is the earliest one, with Sam Allardyce aiming to further stake his credentials as a Real Madrid manager in the making by taking his impressive West Ham side to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea are no longer invincible, but are instead merely whatever adjective is slightly less than invincible. Jose Mourinho has constructed a side that boasts strength in every position, but a buoyant West Ham will be a stern test. Integral to the Hammers’ chances will be Allardyce’s ability to manoeuvre his striking options into combinations that are both cohesive and fully-fit in a demanding festive period. Carroll, Sakho, Valencia and Zarate at his disposal means that Big Sam will feel truly blessed at this time, although Diego Costa could well outshine them all on the day.
Two days later witnesses another nine games, with Hull versus Leicester an encounter that could dictate the future of both the club and their managers. Steve Bruce and Nigel Pearson are the two most beleaguered incumbents, with their clubs currently languishing in the bottom two of the league. A win here for either side could mark an outbreak of momentum to propel the club upwards in the table. A defeat could elicit a victor in the race that nobody wants to win, the Sack Race.
New Year’s Day ensures that 2015 start with a bang. Forget the celebrations of the night before, for the fireworks occur the following day when every Premier League team takes to the field. For Southampton, Arsenal are coming to town. The Saints will be looking to arrest the slide that has seen their season shift from nice to naughty. West Bromwich Albion travel to West Ham in the illustrious battle of the ‘West’s’. Tottenham Hotspur take on Chelsea in a London derby, where Mauricio Pochettino will still presumably be trying to work out whether or not he has a good team on his hands.
And then just two days later it is the Third Round of the FA Cup, an event more magical than the most fantastical Christmas film. Even if Santa does not deliver your desired gifts, the footballing world will provide plenty to compensate even the biggest lump of coal. Unless your team chooses this period to go on a terrible run of form, of course. But that is the thing about Christmas; it is a time of hope. Not every club will get what they want this Christmas, but the football fan will be treated to a smorgasbord of goals, talking points, and if they are lucky, euphoria to emulate even that of unwrapping a new pair of socks on Christmas morn. Merry Christmas.