Friday, December 24, 2021

Premier League Preview Boxing Day: More Postponements; Red Devils Return; Chelsea Visits Villa; Manchester City Seeks Ninth Straight Win; Spurs Face Palace in London Derby; Gunners Take Aim at Canaries

Three of ten Boxing Day matches were to be postponed as of Friday due to COVID concerns. Liverpool v. Leeds, Wolves v. Watford and Burnley v. Everton will need be played another day. Watford’s fixture list becomes tricky as the Covid stricken Hornets will be three matches behind most of their competitors after the Boxing Day matches with another at risk match planned two days later for the Hornets. Burnley will be a full four matches behind schedule when they return to the field against Manchester United next Thursday. Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp, meanwhile, had already voiced concern at playing on Sunday and Tuesday so the postponement of the Leeds match, if not its circumstances, is welcome news for the German manager.

Manchester United returns to action on Boxing Day for the first time in more than two weeks when the Red Devils visit struggling Newcastle. Newcastle has been fortunate with respect to Covid but unfortunate in having to play matches where the Magpies are thoroughly outclassed. Newcastle has won but a single match all season and has lost more matches than all clubs but Watford and Norwich.

Tottenham Hotspur is beginning to find success under Manager Antonio Conte, winning three consecutive matches before grabbing a point versus Liverpool last week. Seventh place Spurs host a London derby versus Crystal Palace on the day after Christmas hoping to get back in contention for the European places. Palace defeated Spurs 3-0 when the two clubs met earlier this year and the Eagles, led by dynamic midfielder Conor Gallagher, pose a more attacking threat this season under new manager Patrick Vieira.

West Ham has failed to score in three consecutive league matches as the Hammers prepare to host Southampton. A dry spell from striker Michail Antonio has exposed a dearth of other attacking options for manager David Moyes’ side who may try to address the problem in the January transfer window. Southampton is six points from the relegation places as the Saints have failed to post a win since the first week of November.

Leicester has won just two of its last seven league matches as it approaches Sunday’s match with league leading Manchester City. City, meanwhile, will look to increase its lead on idle Liverpool with a ninth consecutive league victory.

Chelsea trails the league leaders by six points and will face a difficult test at Aston Villa. Thomas Tuchel’s side have struggled of late with a roster ravaged by Covid absences. Aston Villa has impressed in moving into the top half of the table under new manager Steven Gerrard despite dropping December decisions to top clubs Manchester City and Liverpool.

Fourth place Arsenal will try to win a fourth consecutive league match when the Gunners visit cellar dwelling Norwich. The Canaries, having earned valuable points during a brief November flurry, have faltered again in losing all three of their December matches.

Brighton has the longest winless run on Boxing Day of any team in the top four divisions of English football. The Seagulls will try to shed that unfortunate distinction by beating Brentford Sunday when the Bees visit American Express Community Stadium. Brentford will be playing in the topflight on Boxing Day for the first time since 1946. 

Carabao Cup

Liverpool staged a dramatic comeback to take Leicester to penalties and the Reds emerged triumphant to advance to the Carabao Cup semifinals. After the Reds were down 2-0 early in the match, Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino struck five minutes into stoppage time to knot the clubs at two goals apiece and send things to penalties. Leicester missed two of its penalty tries versus one for Liverpool and the Reds are on to the next round.

Chelsea and Brentford were scoreless until the 80th minute when a Brentford own goal put the Blues ahead. Five minutes later, Jorginho sealed Chelsea’s advancement with a successful penalty kick for a 2-0 victory. Tottenham Hotspur was a 2-1 winner over West Ham in the other London derby played Wednesday. The match was a bitter disappointment for a Hammers squad which had defeated both Manchester City and Manchester United to advance in previous rounds. Spurs will get to continue their hunt for a first trophy since winning the League Cup in 2007/2008. A third London club in the semifinal round will be Arsenal which was an easy 4-1 victor over League One side Sunderland in their quarterfinal match. The Gunners’ win was notable for three individual performances by players not habitually in Arsenal’s first team Premier League line-up. Eddie Nketiah struck for a hat trick. Nicolas Pepe had a goal and two assists. 18-year-old Charlie Patino, a much-ballyhooed youngster who has drawn comparison to a young Phil Foden, made his senior debut for Arsenal and scored 12 minutes after entering the fray in the second half. Arsenal will play Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur will play Chelsea in the home and away semifinal fixtures in January. 

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