Big Boxing Day: Newcastle v Man Utd, Kane, Tuchel, West Ham
There are some huge Boxing Day clashes for Thomas Tuchel, West Ham and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Assuming Covid doesn’t wreak further havoc…
Game to watch – Newcastle v Manchester United
After the postponement of ‘rona-riddled Leeds United’s trip to Liverpool, Boxing Day’s best game isn’t even taking place on sodding Boxing Day.
United don’t go to Newcastle until Monday evening, which means it will be 16 days since the Red Devils last played. Which could work one of two ways: United could be fresh and ready to ratchet up the gegenpressing to dizzying new levels; or their own mini winter break may have allowed rust to set in.
Newcastle can only hope it is the latter. While United have had their feet up, the Magpies have lost three games by an aggregate of 11-1. In fairness, United also conceded 11 goals in their meetings with Liverpool, Leicester and City, but this appears to be a different side being steered by Ralf Rangnick compared to when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was at the wheel.
Rangnick has tightened up the Red Devils, who have kept consecutive clean sheets in the Premier League in their last two outings. That hadn’t happened since March.
But Rangnick acknowledged that with his remedial work having firmed up his defence, his attention had to shift to his forward line, which still appeared to comprise of strangers in the wins over Palace and Norwich, which were earned by one of Fred’s pot-shots finally finding its intended target, and a penalty-kick.
Even if United aren’t firing on all cylinders, they should have enough to break down what is the league’s worst defence. The stats only confirm what our eyes have been telling us about the Toon’s ropey rearguard. Four of the back five featured in the Premier League’s worst team of last weekend, with Eddie Howe apparently unable to stop Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark treading on rakes for 90 minutes and instead choosing to focus on the flaws of officials.
Given United’s firepower and Newcastle’s catastrophic defence, this should be an away banker. But the Red Devils almost certainly retain their own capacity for calamity. Would anyone – at least anyone who doesn’t watch the hosts every week – be shocked to see Newcastle edge a Christmas cracker?
Manager to watch – Thomas Tuchel
The Premier League were more accommodating to the requests of Leeds and Watford to call off their next matches than they were to Chelsea’s plea for a postponement at Wolves last week. The Blues – with 10 full internationals in the XI and another four on the bench – were forced to play, which left Tuchel seething.
The sight of Manchester City disappearing further from view in the title race didn’t help his mood but Tuchel needs to park what resentment still lingers before Chelsea’s two buses make their way back to the Midlands to face Steven Gerrard’s resurgent Aston Villa.
“I don’t care so much about the next games,” said Tuchel after the goalless draw at Molineux, and while his concern for the wellbeing of his players is genuine, you can be certain that it is matched by a desire to cling on to City’s coattails, especially while the champions are purring after eight successive Premier League wins.
In Chelsea’s last eight overall, they have drawn four and lost one amid a flurry of individual errors and structural lapses. The Blues’ slide pre-dates Covid’s resurgence and with his squad’s isolation and injury worries seemingly easing before going to Villa, Tuchel has to refocus on the title race and staying in touch before facing Liverpool next week.
Player to watch – Harry Kane
It was due to be a big Boxing Day for Dominic Calvert-Lewin but with Everton’s game against Burnley postponed (remember when Burnley used to play football?), we’ll take a look at the fella DLC wants to usurp from the England frontline…
Kane scored last week. That was once a given but not this season. The draw with Liverpool, though, offered some encouragement that he might be edging towards something resembling form.
Antonio Conte doesn’t seem too concerned with Kane’s struggles this term. But the England captain thrives on goals and will always be judged on them. He grafted against West Ham in midweek but was outshone by Steven Bergwijn. Let’s see at Palace whether last week was a one-off or the start of Kane’s revival.
Team to watch – West Ham
The Hammers are four without a win and have only one victory from their last seven games. Moyes out.
Of course, context is important, and West Ham have hardly disgraced themselves of late. Their one win was against Chelsea; they gave Manchester City a fright; they were on the wrong end of decisions at Arsenal; and they could easily be looking forward to a Carabao Cup semi-final with more incision in the final third and fewer defensive absences at Spurs on Wednesday night.
But this is a slump by the standards of the new West Ham and Moyes needs to find a way to arrest it. The return of Michail Antonio will help, with the striker set to return from Covid in time to face his former side Southampton at the London Stadium.
Moyes saw an improvement at Spurs – “we’ve been waiting for something to click and I thought we were closer to it. That’s the kind of performance I expect.” – and the result needs to follow against Saints to avoid the Hammers being sucked away from the periphery of the top four to the more familiar surroundings of seventh.
EFL game to watch – Hull v Blackburn
Rovers’ trip to the Tigers is one of three games being shown at 3pm on Sunday, Huddersfield v Blackpool and Luton v Bristol City also available to those of you looking for a first Boxing Day footie fix on the box after both 12:30pm Premier League games were postponed.
The Champo pervs among us don’t need alerting to Ben Brereton-Diaz’s form and all-round awesomeness but for the many who might not watch much of the second tier and need an excuse to ignore the in-laws for 90 more minutes, you could do worse than check out Chile’s finest export as Rovers look to close a three-point gap on leaders Fulham.
Benjamin Bloom has you covered with a comprehensive preview of the MKM Stadium clash.
European game to watch…
The main European leagues are currently enjoying a winter break and the company of their families. The daft b*stards.