The Big One
Stoke v Manchester United, Britannia Stadium, Boxing Day, 12:45
It’s the first part of absolutely huge double header of fixtures for United boss Louis van Gaal as he bids to retain his job at Old Trafford – and it certainly isn’t an easy one.
The hosts are a formidable outfit, especially on their own turf, and will smell the blood of the Red Devils here. Aside from a 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace, Stoke have been in good form with a point against West Ham and all three against Manchester City. Their victories have been a large part down to a relatively solid defence, much more formidable when leaded by Shawcross, but more so down to the heroics of Butland – the best goalkeeper in the Premier League this season. One thing that is lacking however is that lack of a 10-15 goal striker that would surely push Mark Hughes’ men to the next level. Marko Arnautovic has been amongst the goals of late but lacks the consistency required to start powering up the goal-scoring charts.
In many ways Stoke are a smaller metaphor for Manchester United. Van Gaal’s men have been regularly grinding out wins with David De Gea –perhaps the league’s only world class keeper – behind a resilient defence and midfield. For the most part, it’s not been defending that has been the issue for United, but the lack of goals that have been scored at the other end, which many have blamed on the overly negative and ponderous philosophy of their Dutch manager.
One thing seems certain in that you can’t see many goals in this one. It really is an intriguing game and could play out like a game of chess. Stoke really did dismantle the other Manchester club a few weeks ago but defensively they were abysmal. United won’t give the Potters too many opportunities and one can see United not getting too many either for obvious reasons. Van Gaal is under serious pressure while a stalemate at Stoke would be a good result, it might not be enough anymore.
Boxing Day Round-Up
Aston Villa v West Ham, Villa Park, 15:00
It’s the clash of the two clubs that sport claret and blue but it’s the former that really need to seize the initiative and take the points here. Villa really are in a dire state though will be encouraged by their point at Newcastle last week. West Ham meanwhile haven’t won in six, drawing five of those and not scoring in four. Villa need a win here and I think they’ll edge out the Hammers – they must!
Bournemouth v Crystal Palace, 15:00
This is a tasty looking clash between two very exciting teams. The Cherries have really turned around their fortunes with three wins on the spin while Palace are going great-guns, currently sitting prettily in sixth. The Eagles are well aware they flourish more on their travels but Bournemouth are certainly no mugs and are in scintillating form. The points could be shared in a high scoring tie here.
Watford’s season has been incredible thus far. Their rise from the Championship to seventh in the Premier League – one point shy of fourth – has been remarkable. Chelsea contrastingly have been shocking but Guus Hiddink will be hoping his arrival will help turn the sinking ship. Indeed it should help in unifying the talents, which should have enough to edge out a strong Watford team at home.
Liverpool v Leicester, Anfield, 15:00
People expect Leicester to slip up at some point but they have been wrong for the past number of weeks. The form of Riyad Mahrez in particular has been pivotal in keeping the Foxes form going, as Jamie Vardy’s goal-scoring antics have recently evaded him. Liverpool have been woeful this December but will be determined to bounce back here. A point a piece seems probable.
Manchester City v Sunderland, Etihad, 15:00
City are a wounded animal following their 2-1 loss to Arsenal on Monday night. They will be determined to respond and with their superb attacking ranks, you can see them hitting Sunderland for a number of goals. That being said, you can see Sunderland scoring also due to the Citizen’s inability to defend properly. But the blues should comfortably outscore the visitors to victory.
Swansea v West Brom, Liberty Stadium, 15:00
Swansea have to win eventually don’t they? No victory in eight league games and only one in thirtneen makes for grim reading and highlighted the club’s need to axe Garry Monk when they did. With the likes of Jonjo Shelvey, Ashley Williams, Bafetimbi Gomis and Gylfi Sigurdsson, Swansea should be challenging for a top half place. Surely they can nudge aside a struggling West Brom.
Tottenham v Norwich, White Hart Lane, 15:00
The Canaries will be buzzing after their famous win at Old Trafford but will surely be aware how bad their opponents played that day. Tottenham will pose a much tougher test you’d assume with a much more coherent attacking style. Spurs weren’t amazing against Southampton but did the job after losing to Newcastle and they should have enough talent to do the job on Boxing Day as well.
Newcastle v Everton, St James’ Park, 17:30
It’s typically Newcastle to beat both Liverpool and high-flying Tottenham before having their wings clipped with a disappointing home draw to the basement-boys Aston Villa. Steve McClaren’s men needed those aforementioned two successive victories however to boost their chances of beating the drop. Everton’s form has dwindled of late but they should fancy themselves to win here.
Southampton v Arsenal, St Mary’s, 19:45
Southampton looked to be continuing their superb 2014-15 season antics with only two defeats in their first eleven league matches. However, one point out of a possible eighteen has swiftly brought their aspirations down to earth. This looks like an away win banker in all honesty. Ozil is the player of the season so far and Olivier Giroud has been very much amongst the goals of late.