Premier League Boxing Day Preview
As you recover from your Christmas festivities, there is a bumper line up of Premier League fixtures to look out. We look at five fixtures to watch out for on Boxing Day as the league nears the halfway stage.
With two matches to be played before the New Year and then one soon after, these fixtures historically play a crucial role in defining many teams' campaigns.
STOKE (11) - WWLWDL VS MAN UNITED (5) - WWDDLL
Man United manager Louis Van Gaal has been under serious scrutiny as his team has not won a league match in four. With the recent unemployment of Jose Mourinho and the announcement that Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season has only intensified the speculation surrounding the Dutchman's position at the club.
Media reports suggest that anything other than a win will not be good enough for Van Gaal to keep his job. Stoke will be a tough side to beat as well as play the desired attacking football fans desire which has been the biggest gripe about Van Gaal's reign.
Stoke manager and former United player Mark Hughes will not be giving Van Gaal any sympathy. His side will look to get back to winning ways after defeat to Crystal Palace.
The Potters have shown they have the ability to dismantle any team at The Brittania as their 2-0 win against Man City indicates, especially when their starlets Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautovic and Bojan Krkic combine.
Stoke have only beaten United once in 14 meetings going into this fixture but they will see this as an opportune time to play against them.
Prediction: Stoke 1 - Man United 1
CHELSEA (16) LWDLLW VS WATFORD (7) LLWWWW
Guus Hiddink will take charge of his first match in his second spell at Chelsea on Boxing Day, after the sacking of Mourinho, Chelsea hammered Sunderland 3-1 in one of their most convincing displays this season.
Something to watch out for will be the mood of the crowd at Stamford Bridge, it was clear from their last match that Mourinho is still very much in the hearts of Chelsea supporters, however Hiddink is an astute appointment as he is still held in high regard at Chelsea after his first stint at the club but it is still impossible to predict which Chelsea will turn up on match day.
Watford go into this match with real belief and confidence as they look to make it five wins on the trot at Stamford Bridge, it is worth remembering that Chelsea have already lost four at home. So a Watford win is beyond the realms of possibility especially as Watford have a potent front two.
Manager Quique Sanchez Flores has been rewarded for playing two strikers in a league where one is the norm. Odion Ighalo has already scored 12 goals as he feeds off his resourceful partner and captain Troy Deeney.
The Hornets are much more than the two strikers and their hunger and willingness to chase down every ball as a unit stunned Liverpool in their last fixture.
I personally believe this Watford side has more than enough to finish in the top 10.
Prediction: Chelsea 2- Watford 1
LIVERPOOL LWWLDL (9) VS LEICESTER (1) WWDWWW
This is a mouth-watering clash as Liverpool look to bounce back from a 3-0 demolition courtesy of Watford. After a great start and a resurgence in fortunes at Anfield since the appointment of Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool are now winless in three league matches.
They take on log leaders Leicester City which will be a massive test for the home side especially since they are being stretched defensively with Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren out because of injury.A makeshift partnership of Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure looks likely to play against Premier League's leading scorers which could spell trouble for Klopp's men.
Leicester continue to defy conventional wisdom and they deservedly top the log. Manager Claudio Ranieri has continually stated his goal is 40 points but it is certainly time to take this Leicester teams seriously.
Statistics show that the team that tops the log at Christmas usually wins the league but almost always finishes in the top four. Ranieri himself deserves credit for turning this team around as they were bottom of the log last Christmas.
Liverpool will be weary of Leicester's counterattack where the combination of Jamie Vardy and Riyadh Mahrez have been rampant.
However, their defensive solidity should also be commended as well as their unsung hero Ngolo Kante in the heart of their midfield. His energy on both attack and defence is epitosmises everything that Leicester are about.
Prediction: Liverpool 2 - Leicester 2
MAN CITY (3) DLWLWL VS SUNDERLAND (19) LWWLLL
Man City have been in patchy form of late and missed a massive opportunity to close the gap on leaders Leicester on Monday night, however because some haphazard defending at the back they lost to their title rivals Arsenal. It is quite clear City miss the presence of inspirational skipper Vincent Kompany, it is no surprise his absences has coincided with their poor run of late.
City looked a shoe in for the title after a barnstorming start to the season but they do have a great chance to get three points against relegation strugglers Sunderland next. History suggests that it will be three points for Manuel Pellegrini's side as they have won 14 out of their last 16 matches at home whilst Sunderland have lost six of their last seven.
Sunderland will find it hard to fight their way out of the relegation zone let alone get something out of the match against City. Sam Allardyce looked to able to grind results out when they beat Crtysal Palace and Stoke consecutively but thereafter they have lost three in a row exposing their lack of quality.
Allardyce has persisted with a five man defence with Jermaine Defoe and exciting talent Duncan Watmore expected to grab a goal on the counter but this system will not bring success as long as they continue to leak goals.
It is hard to argue against Sunderland getting beat by City, history and form suggests it will be another loss for the hapless Black Cats.
Prediction: Man City 3 - Sunderland 0
SOUTHAMPTON WLLDLL (12) VS ARSENAL (2) DLDWWW
The Saints have not won a league match in five and the mood around St. Mary's is severely sombre. It will not get any easier for Southampton as they square off against the upbeat Arsenal.
Ronald Koeman himself is usually as cool as a cucumber but had a fiery outburst lambasting his players post-match against Tottenham where they lost 2-0. This clearly is a sign that all is not well, however The Saints do have quality players that can drag them out of this rut with the likes of Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle and Virgil Van Dijk desperately needed to step up.
Is this another false dawn for The Gunners?
Arsenal look like the best side besides Leicester to win their first league title after a 12 year barren run. The Gunners performance against City in their Monday night clash should encourage many fans about their title credentials.
However, most people will say we have seen this type of hype before about Arsene Wenger's team only for them to fail and settle for a Champions League spot. They will see the Southampton fixture as an opportunity to maintain the pressure on leaders Leicester.
The form of the often maligned German Mezut Ozil has been key to their upturn in fortunes this season, the languid looking wizard has an incredible 15 assists already this season.
Prediction: Southampton 0 - Arsenal 2
Carl Lewis is a reporter for EWN Sport based in Cape Town.