It's Going To Be A Big Boxing Day For...

Basically, Liverpool. We need to see what you're made of, Reds. But also Man City, Arsenal, Fulham, Sam Allardyce, Tim Sherwood and more. Enjoy...

Last Updated: 24/12/13 at 09:13 Post Comment

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Liverpool
It's hardly surprising that Brendan Rodgers is talking as if Liverpool are title contenders, given their position at the top of the table. What is most impressive about their lofty place in the current standings is that they have achieved much of this without their key players for assorted spells. Luis Suarez missed the start of the season, Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard are currently injured and they had to do without Phillipe Coutinho for a spell too. Their squad may look a little thin, but it has dealt with some significant absences pretty well so far.

And ahead of their Boxing Day trip to Manchester City, Brendan engaged in what would have been called 'mind games' if the words had been uttered by Jose Mourinho or Sir Alex Ferguson.

He said: "I still believe the title is Manchester City's to lose. They have the strongest squad. The resources they have are incredible. We can't ever think we have cracked it. We can't become complacent. You have to be focused and move on to the next game."

One slight concern for Rodgers might be Liverpool's defence. While City will be without Sergio Aguero, they're still the division's top scorers by quite a distance, and Liverpool's clean sheet count isn't what it could be, as Matthew Stanger explained in his heroically long assessment of everyone's season so far.

In addition, they seem unable to shake their potentially quite damaging habit of only playing for one half. Against Cardiff at the weekend they were sensational in the opening 45 minutes, and looked on the way to giving their chaotic Welsh opponents a hiding that would require brackets in the scoreline. However, after the break they seemed to slack off and defended as if abruptly woken from a particularly restful nap, conceding one goal, which could well have been more against a more potent outfit. Like, say, Manchester City.

Liverpool's season so far as exceeded all sensible expectations, but with this game against City followed up by a trip to Chelsea, the Christmas period could well be key in deciding whether they can stay in the title race for the whole season.


Manchester City
While City are obviously the favourites for this game, and probably still the title, that doesn't mean they don't have things to worry about.

The absence of Aguero will be a huge concern for one thing. They may have beaten Fulham 4-2, but so poor have the Cottagers been for most of this season that such a game cannot be a reliable barometer of how they cope without their best player. As much as anything else, it will require a change to how their forward line operates. Will Manuel Pellegrini choose Edin Dzeko, meaning that he essentially has two centre-forwards rather than a player like Aguero who can drop off and link play, or does he play Alvaro Negredo with David Silva just behind him? Silva is obviously a wonderful player, but he does not have the goalscoring instincts of Aguero.

The latter option might be better for the composition of the team. If Silva is in the middle, Samir Nasri will operate from the left and Jesus Navas could come in on the right, putting his pace and directness against John Flanagan. The youngster has played well since returning to the team, but he is inexperienced and not a natural left-back, so expect City to channel many of their attacks down the right flank.

And then there's their defence. Looping own goals aside, Vincent Kompany will of course provide his usual solidity, but imagine, if you will, Luis Suarez running at Martin Demichelis. A lot. Eesh. Pellegrini might want to keep some left-over Christmas brandy at the side of the bench.


Arsenal
Arsenal have now played six of the top eight (Newcastle to come on Sunday), and have only beaten two of them. Their draw against Chelsea on Monday was frustrating for their fans, but entirely predictable, given how Chelsea set up in this game, just as they did against Manchester United.

This might not be the end of the world for Arsene Wenger's side, as long as they continue to give the lesser lights a shoeing. And eventually win some games against the big boys of course.

But first thing's first - it's West Ham on Boxing Day, and a win there will make the draw against Chelsea seem a little less frustrating. Anything else, and it's an ugly Christmas at Arsenal.


Sam Allardyce
Mind you, West Ham have plenty on the game as well. One win and six defeats in the last ten. Tick tock Sam, tick tock.


Fulham
You know who the side with the worst form over the last eight games is? Yessir, Rene Meulensteen's mob. Just one win in that time to go with seven defeats - it's no surprise that the bottom of the table is approaching them fast, like the concrete floor is approaching someone comically pushed off a ladder fast.

As Meulensteen pointed out this week, their recent run of games has been tough. Three of their last four were against Spurs, Everton and Manchester City, and now they have a rather easier set of fixtures, starting with a trip to Norwich on Thursday.

"We knew they were difficult ones but what we are disappointed about is, on the back of the performances, we had, is that we didn't get more points out of those games," Meulensteen said this week of their run.

"Now we have another block of games with different opponents - Norwich and Hull to start and then West Ham and Sunderland. That is now where we need to look back to these previous games and those performances and turn them into results."

Quite so. Otherwise Meulensteen's second foray into management, after his brief stint at Anzhi, will not end much better than his first.


Malky Mackay
Peace and joy at Christmas, right?

Well, sort of. Mackay still has his job, but to describe the truce in Cardiff as 'uneasy' would be a bigger understatement than saying 'Vincent Tan likes to wear his trousers quite high, doesn't he?'.

Mackay's problem is that while Cardiff's start to the season has been solid enough, they still sit three places and four points above the relegation zone, and have only won once in the last seven. Admittedly, those seven games have featured some tough encounters, including that admirable draw against Manchester United, but form like that will only send a team one direction in the table. This is probably where a reasonable person might expect Cardiff to be right now, but Mr Tan doesn't exactly have the best track record in that area.

Of course Mackay was well within his rights to hold steady after Tan demanded his head on a platter, having done a good job at Cardiff so far. The problem is that it relies on him continuing to do a good job and keeping his team in the Premier League, or at least well clear of trouble until Tan's blood sugar spikes again and he pulls the lever on his trapdoor.

If Cardiff go on a bad run that sends them towards the bottom three, then Tan will start to have a legitimate reason to sack his manager, rather than one conjured from his own curious brain. Indeed, while Mackay's reputation is good at the moment, it might be damaged if he is dismissed due to bad results, rather than at the whim of a megalomaniac, although the 'impossible job' caveats will of course be added.

Oddly, unless Cardiff start winning games again, beginning against Southampton, it might turn out to have been the best thing for Mackay's career if he'd just resigned last week.


Southampton
Admittedly, Southampton's last six games have been horrible. They have faced five of the top seven, beating none of them, but perhaps the troubling aspect is that they lost the 'easy' one of those six matches too, against Aston Villa.

"We actually dressed up as Santa Claus today and gifted them so many goals and so many chances," quipped Mauricio Pochettino after the Spurs game. Speaking of which...


Jos Hooiveld
Now, Jos. Mauricio made quite a statement by choosing you over Jose Fonte (who, to be fair, has been carrying an injury, but still...), breaking up a defensive partnership that had done pretty well over the opening weeks of the season. Sure, he may very well have had his reasons, but by defending in a manner that would only have been more slapstick if you'd been riding a rickety bike and carrying a long ladder across your shoulders, towards a pane of glass, you've made both of you look a tad silly.

So take off the beret, leave Betty alone and stop playing like such an arse, yes?


Tim Sherwood
He certainly speaks with some confidence for a man with no managerial experience, doesn't he? And it seems to have worked, with Daniel Levy giving Sherwood a contract just long enough for him to consider it worthy of his time.

This might not actually be the dumbest move from Levy, if we are to assume that the man he really wants isn't available until the summer. Having sacked Andre Villas-Boas, there aren't very many viable and free candidates available, so the only realistic option was perhaps to give the gig to someone who at least knows where all the pens are. An 18-month contract is just long enough to stroke Sherwood's ego to the extent that he'll take the job and think he's being taken seriously, but not so long as to make Levy think twice when someone better comes along.

Now Sherwood actually has to back up his chutzpah by winning some games, starting against West Brom on Thursday.

Of course, the big issue is whether Spurs fans feel comfortable having a manager who, when asked what his favourite cheese was, with all the very many variants available to him, said mild cheddar. Mild cheddar. I ask you...


Manchester United
"There are always miracles at Christmas. Let's hope there could be one for Carrick."

Good lord, Davie Moyes. If you're going to wish for divine intervention at this most holy time of year, at least ask for something a bit more exciting than Michael Carrick's Achilles. There are kids starving in Africa, you know, and worse, there will be literally thousands of pouting little treasures moaning that Christmas is ruined because their parents got them the wrong colour iPhone.

Think of the children, Davie.


Sunderland
Only a few more days until the transfer window opens, and Gus Poyet can set about overhauling the Sunderland squad.

Just as Paolo Di Canio did in the summer. Repeat to fade...


Crystal Palace
Two wins under Tony Pulis, now two defeats. Palace could really do with beating Aston Villa this Boxing Day, for after that comes a trip to Manchester City.

The trouble is, they'll have to do without a whole stack of players, as Tony Pulis explains:

"We have a problem at the club in that we have quite a few injuries and obviously Chamakh is suspended on Boxing Day - so that's 10 players injured and Chamakh out.

"It's near on 11 players that we can't call. It's a big miss for us but saying that, the players that have performed and played in the games have done exceptionally well. We'll go there and make sure that we prepare properly and hopefully get a result."

Fingers crossed, Tone.

Nick Miller - wish him a Merry Xmas on Twitter

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Readers' Comments

I

may well get slated by other United fans for this, but out of the three contenders, I'd far prefer Liverpool to win the title. Yes some elements of their fanbase can be a bit OTT, yes they're our biggest rivals and yes it will make our poor season feel even more like the end of an era (Fergie's gone, Liverpool are back on top). However I just have to applaud Brendan Rodgers and the way he's turned Liverpool around in just a couple of seasons. It...

Mike_Christie
Please Stop Telling Us What To Think

H

ooray! We are all excited now, we beat a very mediocre team! With all due respect to WHU supporters, not winning that game shouldn't even be a consideration. This is the problem, there is no winning mentality at the Emirates - we're all congratulating ourselves beating a team that we have a winning record against.

TheWhiz
Wenger hails important win

I

s this meant to be an aspiration for United supporters? Moyes mediocrity strikes again. I see the Bayern boys don't want to sign for him, and his reputation amongst the senior European coaches make other key signings unlikely.

redbornandbred
De Gea's Europa League target

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