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The Premier League’s Christmas fixture period is always a pivotal time in the season, and with the division’s “big six” clubs battling for just four Champions League places, this year’s festive period is set to be crucial.Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham all have a packed schedule and ESPN FC’s club correspondents take a look, provide a prediction for each match and give an overview of their team’s prospects.
ARSENAL: Arsenal have stumbled out of the blocks in December, with the 3-1 loss to Manchester United followed by two disappointing away draws. Now they face two top four rivals at the Emirates, with two tricky away matches in-between.
It’s a bad time to be struggling for form and confidence, and the Gunners will need a massive improvement to make sure their season doesn’t derail completely. But unless Alexis Sanchez steps up and starts playing like a star again, it’s hard to see that improvement coming. — Mattias Karen
CHELSEA: Chelsea’s limp defeat against West Ham — coupled with Manchester City’s wins over Manchester United and Tottenham — has confirmed the most Antonio Conte can hope to achieve with a relatively favourable festive run is to solidify his team’s top four place.
Taking on Everton at Goodison Park is a far less appealing proposition with Sam Allardyce in charge, but home matches against Brighton and Stoke should yield nothing less than maximum points. Only against Arsenal, who boast a strong home record and have fared peculiarly well against Antonio Conte, could accumulated fatigue from the festive period take its toll on the Blues.
Losing to West Ham has already shattered Chelsea’s hopes of a flawless December run and any notion of catching City seems absurd, but they are still well positioned for a points haul that will keep them battling for second place with United. — Liam Twomey
LIVERPOOL: The biggest test for Liverpool once again this festive period is overcoming the little recovery time in-between games. In a similar scenario to last season, there are just 48 hours between Liverpool’s home match with Leicester City before they travel to high-flying Burnley, much to Jurgen Klopp’s frustration.
Klopp has prepared in advance for this period with his acquisitions in the transfer market and rotation policy. Liverpool are in a much better position this time around to handle the demands of this period. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see the Liverpool manager make 11 changes for the Burnley game — something that wouldn’t have been feasible last season due to the drop-off in quality.
Liverpool’s injury situation is somewhat positive, with Nathaniel Clyne the only long-term absentee. There is hope at Anfield that Joel Matip will return for these Christmas fixtures. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has found his opportunities somewhat limited since moving from Arsenal, but this block of games could be where the midfielder really shines and justifies his decision to move to Liverpool for career progression. — Glenn Price
MAN CITY: Manchester City’s winning run has been extended to 16 after difficult games against top six rivals Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur and they have a set of fixtures over Christmas that suggest it could go on a little while longer yet. They start at home to Bournemouth, who are without a win in six matches and if they play as open as they did against Liverpool on Sunday, City will register at least a third successive four-goal victory over the Cherries at the Etihad.
Newcastle are in even worse form with just one point in nine games and it looks like a straightforward three points at St James’ Park while Watford are also on a terrible run and were emphatically beaten 6-0 at home by Pep Guardiola’s side earlier in the season. The biggest test will come at Crystal Palace, who have not been beaten at Selhurst Park since September and City can expect a hostile welcome on New Year’s Eve against a side reborn with spirit and energy. — Jonathan Smith
MAN UNITED: Manchester United have got a run of games over Christmas and New Year that they will expect to win. Jose Mourinho has got a squad that should be big enough to cope with the extra workload. He knows how to manage his players, when to rotate and when to stick with what he’s got, and the same period last season coincided with United’s best run of form — nine straight wins in all competitions.
They will need something similar this time if they hope to be in touch with Manchester City at the top of the table in the New Year. It is a crucial period for United and Mourinho will hope the gap to City is significantly fewer than 11 points by the time the Champions League restarts in February. Mourinho can only hope that City struggle to maintain their high-energy football with four games in a week and slip-up somewhere, although they haven’t shown much sign of weakness yet. — Rob Dawson
TOTTENHAM: Tottenham have been the best team over Christmas in each of the last two seasons, winning seven straight matches between Dec. 14 and Jan. 14 last year, but the 4-1 defeat to Manchester City exposed many of their flaws.
Spurs do not look likely to embark on another winning run, particularly as Mauricio Pochettino, their manager, has already warned they are running further than ever before on Wembley’s big pitch. Their next two home games at the national stadium look favourable on paper but Southampton and West Ham will surely copy the successful blueprint set by other lesser teams by dropping deep, flooding the centre and trying to frustrate Spurs.
A trip to Burnley is never easy and it now has the added the importance of being a six-pointer for a place in the top four. Injured Toby Alderweireld will continue to be sorely missed but Erik Lamela’s return has given Pochettino an alternative to the out-of-form Dele Alli, while the manager will hope to have Victor Wanyama back soon. — Dan Kilpatrick