Photo by Matt West/ISIphotos.com
By JUSTIN FERGUSON
With the rest of the world’s top leagues in a winter break, the English Premier League will have the sport’s stage all to itself again this weekend after an entertaining Boxing Day of matches.
As the first half of the EPL season comes to a close, only five points separate first place and fifth place in what is shaping up to be a dramatic title and Champions League qualification race. Two of those teams near the top of the table, third-place Chelsea and fourth-place Liverpool, will square off in Sunday’s spotlight match at Stamford Bridge — the first match between the two clubs since Liverpool striker Luis Suarez infamously bit Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic.
Arsenal maintained control of first place after a comeback victory at West Ham United, and the Gunners will return home to Emirates Stadium on Sunday for a match against red-hot Newcastle United. On Saturday, Manchester City looks to continue their incredible home form against Crystal Palace, coming off a dramatic victory at Aston Villa themselves.
Here’s a closer look at this weekend’s action in the English Premier League:
WEST HAM UNITED vs. WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Two clubs looking to end disappointing runs in EPL play will kick off the weekend’s action as 15th-place West Brom travels to 19th-place West Ham.
The bottom of the EPL might be as tight as the top as West Brom, on a eight-match winless skid down the league table, sits just one point ahead of the drop zone heading into the first-half’s final match. The Baggies will visit West Ham, which watched its one-goal lead to league-leading Arsenal turn into a 3-1 loss that extended their winless league run to five matches.
ASTON VILLA VS. SWANSEA CITY
Both of the clubs in action at Villa Park on Saturday will look to end their respective four-match winless runs in league play.
A banged-up Aston Villa, still without star forward Christian Benteke, will try to avoid a fifth-straight league defeat after allowing a stoppage-time winner from Crystal Palace on Boxing Day. Swansea will play their third match in seven days, hoping for a different result than the 2-1 loss to Everton on Monday and 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Thursday.
HULL CITY VS. FULHAM
Fulham’s push to escape the relegation zone was boosted with a 2-1 Boxing Day win at Norwich, and the Cottagers will try to keep the momentum going in their trip to 12th-place Hull City.
Hull has to bounce back from a 3-2 home loss to Manchester United, a defeat that started with a surprise 2-0 Hull lead and ended with an own-goal winner for the visiting Red Devils. Even with Man United’s three-goal day, Hull is tied for the best home defensive record in the league as they have allowed only six goals at The Kingston Communications Stadium.
MANCHESTER CITY VS. CRYSTAL PALACE
Manchester City’s dominating run at the Ethiad Stadium continued Thursday in a 2-1 victory against Liverpool, and the Citizens will try to earn their 10th win in 10 home matches this Saturday.
Man City, now in second place after their win against Liverpool, has outscored opponents 37-6 at the Ethiad this season. While 17th-place Crystal Palace has only allowed six goals in their last five trips away from home, their defense will be put to the ultimate test against a side that has scored a dozen goals in their last three matches.
NORWICH CITY VS. MANCHESTER UNITED
After a comeback road victory against Hull City, seventh-place Manchester United travels to Norwich to take on a side that has been up-and-down in recent weeks.
The Red Devils sit just five points back from the Champions League qualification zone, and a fourth straight league win would be a solid boost before facing Tottenham on New Year’s Day. Norwich has played in some close matches since allowing four goals to Luis Suarez in a loss to Liverpool, but the Canaries have only been able to secure a victory just once this month.
CARDIFF CITY VS. SUNDERLAND
While Cardiff City’s woes on and off the field continued with a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Southampton on Boxing Day, last-place Sunderland enters South Wales this weekend on the heels of an upset win at Everton.
American national team forward Jozy Alditore’s Black Cats are on a four-match unbeaten run across all competitions after their 1-0 win at Goodison Park, and they have not allowed a goal away from home in more than a month. Seventeenth-place Cardiff City, on the other hand, has only won once in their last eight matches and sit dangerously close to the relegation zone.
EVERTON VS. SOUTHAMPTON
Tim Howard’s first EPL red card led to a shocking loss to Sunderland on Boxing Day, and Everton will be without the American goalkeeper when facing a Southampton squad trying to get back into the race for a European place.
Ninth-place Southampton, which ended a six-match winless skid Thursday with an easy 3-0 victory against Cardiff City, will try to hand Everton their second home loss of the season when they visit Goodison Park on Sunday. Everton is looking to start another long unbeaten run and catch up with Merseyside rival Liverpool in the Top 4.
NEWCASTLE UNITED VS. ARSENAL
After winning three out of their last four matches, sixth-place Newcastle United puts an impressive streak at St. James Park on the line when league-leading Arsenal visit.
With Manchester City and Chelsea close behind in the race for the top spot, Arsenal will most likely face a tough road test in Newcastle without their early-season MVP. The Gunners’ victory against West Ham United on Thursday came with a price, as in-form midfielder and leading scorer Aaron Ramsey was forced to leave early with a thigh injury.
CHELSEA VS. LIVERPOOL
Liverpool dropped to fourth place in the league after losing 2-1 to Manchester City, and now the Reds will face their second straight road fixture against a fellow title contender.
Chelsea has not looked very impressive in recent weeks, but Jose Mourinho has the Blues in third place and still two points behind first-place Arsenal. After Golden Boot leader Luis Suarez’s goal-scoring streak came to an end against Man City, Liverpool will face a Chelsea club that has allowed the second-fewest goals in the league and has dropped points at Stamford Bridge only once this season.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR VS. STOKE CITY
New full-time manager Tim Sherwood’s Spurs were not able to grab all three points against struggling West Bromwich Albion, but they will have a chance to redeem themselves Sunday against a Stoke City squad that has struggled mightily away from the Britannia in recent weeks.
Stoke City had two players sent off in a 5-1 road loss at Newcastle United, extending their road winless streak to seven matches. While Tottenham has had a hard time scoring so far this season, Stoke has allowed 20 goals in road matches and will be without a pair of starters after a humiliating loss at Newcastle.
Which EPL matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Who do you think will win the battle between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge? Think Arsenal can get all three points at Newcastle? See any potential upsets?
Share your thoughts below.