Boxing Day is here! Here’s a rundown of all the Premier League’s games

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Boxing Day is more than a vaguely named holiday (disappointingly, it has nothing to do with pugilism). It’s also the day where Sky, BBC, and ITV producers lose a year off their lives as they futilely try to cover every team in English soccer.

With some rare cancellations (i.e., West Ham-Arsenal), every club in English league soccer will be in action today. That’s 55 matches, 48 of which start at 3:00 p.m. local time. It’s excessive. It’s indulgent. It’s the holiday season is a huge, pie-encrusted nutshell.

But, for countries that don’t celebrate the holiday, that’s we know Boxing Day. It’s the day we wake up from our holiday sojourn to find the Premier League’s comeback with a vengeance. A whole round’s worth of action, normally spread out across two or three days, transpires in seven hours. And your family doesn’t want you to watch.

It’s pretty much why the internet was invented. Can’t watch more than one game? Go to Twitter. Want to watch more than one at once? Have credit card, can access. Throw in the fact that it’s the nadir of college bowl season, one day after the NBA’s showcase, and four days before the NFL resumes, and this year’s Boxing Day is sure to get plenty of coverage.

Here’s the start, our brief preview of the day’s nine matches:

10:00 a.m. Eastern kickoffs

Everton (5th) vs. Wigan Athletic (18th) – The Toffees will be without Marouane Fellani, given a three match break for trying to erase Ryan Shawcross. Everton will have Darron Gibson at their disposal, the former Manchester United midfielder winning the appeal of the red card he saw last weekend at West Ham. Then, Everton got a come from behind victory at the Boleyn Ground, giving them seven points from their last three matches. Wigan, as is their custom, will continue to struggle at the edge of the drop until Roberto Martínez concocts their year’s solution for survival.

Prediction: “This would have been different with Fellani” analysis beaten into the ground by full time.

Fulham (13th) vs. Southampton (17th) – This will be the most entertaining match of the day. Both Martin Jol (Fulham’s manager) and Nigel Adkins (Saints’ boss) are committed to playing progressive soccer. Unfortunately, it’s done neither any good this season, though you could argue Southampton (currently above the drop) are living out a best case scenario. Fulham clearly is not. After three losses in four, the Cottagers have scarcely looked like the European contender they were through the season’s first months.

Prediction: At least four goals, and at least five points where Dimitar Berbatov appears to be smoking a cigarette.

source:  Manchester United (1st) vs. Newcastle United (14th) – Magpies supporters got a reprieve last week thanks to Shola Ameobi’s late goal against Queens Park Rangers. Ultimately, it was just a home win against one of the league’s worst teams. Now they go to Old Trafford after the Red Devils were humbled in Wales. So … good luck with that. Alex Ferguson gave Newcastle some bulletin board material by implying without last year’s “surprise” factor (his theory), the Magpies aren’t actually that good (my inference). They’re unlikely to be famous last words.

Prediction: No attempted murders.

Norwich City (10th) vs. Chelsea (3rd) – Perhaps passing along Chelsea was part of the Paul Lambert settlement. Aston Villa, still pulling their pants up from Sunday’s spanking, send the Blues to Carrow Road with the hopes some of the goals Brad Guzan was able to stop end up behind Mark Bunn. For the Blues, it’s a chance to solidify momentum won at Stamford Bridge. They’re part of a difficult stretch of that will see Norwich (after losing last weekend at West Brom) host Manchester City and visit West Ham after Chelsea leave town.

Prediction: Critical “Oh, there [Luiz] goes, again,” followed by amazed “Oh, there he goes, again!” Potentially within the first eight minutes.Without any self-awareness.

Queens Park Rangers (19th) vs. West Bromwich Albion (7th) – This is the lump of coal in our Boxing Day tin. Queens Park Rangers have been too bad to enjoy, even after Harry Redknapp’s approachreplaced Mark Hughes’ tendency to deploy teams as scared than their coach. West Brom is back on the road less than two weeks after being party to a match debated as the worst of all-time. Unless Romalu Lukaku, last weekend’s hero, has discovered some unexpected consistency (dude’s only 19 years old), this could rival Dec. 16th’s movement at Upton Park.

Prediction: West London praying for Atreyu’s help.

source: Getty ImagesSunderland (15th) vs. Manchester City (2nd) – Temper your shock, but the Citizens again failed to inspire last week. The holders needed some Gareth Barry heroics (and some ‘look the other way’ officiating) to take full points at home against the league’s worst team. If they play the same way at the Stadium of Light, Manchester City loses. Yes, even to Sunderland, whose uninspired play continues to be an argument for an artistic integrity element in each final score. Who would have thought figure skating would have the competitive high ground on soccer? Thank you, Martin O’Neill.

Prediction: A disproportionate coverage-to-entertainment ratio.

Reading (20th) vs. Swansea City (11th) – The good news for Reading after last weekend’s heartbreak is an entirely possible rumor linking Arsenal’s Andrei Arshavin to the club (though that’s more likely to be a loan than an outright sale). Unfortunately, with only nine points from 18 games, the Royals need more than a Russian international to save them from regressing to the Championship. And while hosting Swansea City may seem like an opportunity to pick up points, Swans have been a relatively strong road team this season. Bringing the league’s leading scorer (Michu) to the Madejski Stadium, the worst defense in the league will have to transcend their regular performance to give Brian McDermott a chance at full points.

Prediction: Michu continues to justify his impending Spanish national team callup.

12:30 p.m. Eastern kickoff

Aston Villa (16th) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (6th) – There’s an ominous air to this one for Villa. Spurs, one week after being frustrated by the inherently frustrating Stoke, have the feeling of a break out about them, with Clint Dempsey’s availability and Gareth Bale’s return (starting last week) giving André Villas-Boas a full attack at his disposal (an attack that’s now linked to Wesley Sneijder). Though Villa’s only allowed eight goals in as many games at home, they have the worst attack in the league and, at some point, their poor road defending (16 goals allowed in nine non-Chelsea games) is bound to bleed home. Against a team that may play two deep midfielders in front of an athletic defense, success on the counter won’t be as easy won as it was at Anfield.

Prediction: The first real questions about the Paul Lambert era in Birmingham.

2:45 p.m. Eastern kickoff

Stoke City (9th) vs. Liverpool (8th) – Say what you want about Liverpool, but they’ve consistently produced compelling, entertaining (though not necessarily effective) play. And say what you want about Stoke, but they haven’t, but since Sunderland hasn’t been successful in showing why figure skating judges need to be deployed at soccer grounds, Tony Pulis’s methods may continue to prosper. Serving as the soccer world’s answer to Big 10 basketball, Stoke has the league’s best prevention rate while tying for its worst scoring rate. Facing a team that only recently discovered how to score goals, the Potters should improve on their three home goals allowed through eight games.

Prediction: Shawcross versus Suárez more explosive than Potters versus Reds.

Report: Earnie Stewart in negotiations for U.S. Soccer GM job

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Philadelphia Union sporting director and USMNT centurion Earnie Stewart is reportedly in negotiations to become the United States men’s national team general manager.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The report, from Metro NY reporter Kristian Dyer, says the Netherlands-born executive has the proverbial ball in his court.

Stewart, 49, racked up 103 caps and 18 goals for the Yanks and had a glittering playing career spent between Willem II, NAC Breda, and DC United.

He later had high-ranking positions with NAC Breda and AZ Alkmaar.

Here’s Dyer, quoting a source:

The source, speaking to Metro on the condition of anonymity, said that Stewart is believed to be the frontrunner and is in negotiations for the position following an impressive showing during the interview process.

The club, when asked for a comment, told Metro that “Since Earnie’s first interview with U.S. Soccer, we have respected their process, and as such, we will decline further comment until a final decision has been made.”

Stewart scored against Colombia in the 1994 World Cup and added markers in qualifying for the 1998 and 2002 tournaments.

His familiarity with both MLS and European leagues would be a boon for the U.S., and Stewart’s Union has brought along a number of promising young players including Auston Trusty and Keegan Rosenberry (the latter drafted out of Georgetown).

Carrick: Haven’t entertained possibility of Pogba leaving Man Utd

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Michael Carrick is hammering the idea of a Paul Pogba exit from Manchester United.

Pogba’s had his problems with manager Jose Mourinho, but recently praised the boss for the season’s education.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

But is an exit is just not going to happen, says Carrick as he heads toward a coaching role at Old Trafford.

From Sky Sports:

“Of course he’s got a future, he’s a big player for us, he’s a great age, he’s got his peak years ahead of him. It’s not even something I’d give a second thought to, to be honest.”

The retired midfielder also said he’s looking forward to working under Jose Mourinho, whom he calls “the best man to learn from.”

He also said United’s trophy-less season wasn’t ideal, but it’s more about them their competition.

“We’re not looking at City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, anyone. We’re looking at ourselves to improve, we believe we’re capable of improving a lot and we’ll see where that takes us.”

Three key battles for Champions League Final

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Saturday brings Real Madrid’s journey toward a third-straight UEFA Champions League title to a close, with just Liverpool standing in the way.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The Reds attack promises danger and entertainment, while Zinedine Zidane’s personnel choice may be just as important as his tactical decisions in Kiev.

Van Dijk, Lovren against… Ronaldo and whoever Zidane decides

It’s difficult to highlight the match-up problems for Liverpool’s center backs because Zinedine Zidane has used three different set-ups atop his line-up.

At times, it’s been Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Sometimes, Gareth Bale takes Benzema’s spot, and occasionally Ronaldo has been played up top as a center forward.

Believe it or not, that may be the best case scenario for Liverpool, though Ronaldo will undoubtedly roam across the top of the formation. While many think of Ronaldo and visualize his laser shots from distance, he’s quite dangerous in 1v1 aerial battles as well as tight spaces inside the box.

Quite frankly, matches like this highlight why the Reds signed Virgil Van Dijk. And, opinion alert, human bowling ball Benzema and his Juggernaut-esque approach to attacking may be a unique challenge Liverpool has not seen outside of Romelu Lukaku.

Marcelo vs. Mohamed Salah

Marcelo is an unbelievably silky, savvy left back who uses an elite attacking skill set to keep the opposition’s entire right side off kilter.

In some ways he can be partially neutralized by the danger presented by Reds right wing Mo Salah, but Zidane isn’t going to tell Marcelo to camp out in his own end when left center back Sergio Ramos is the next man up to defend, one of the finest players of his generation.

So it’s on Salah to assert himself on the game, something that shouldn’t be a problem after a couple weeks away from match action.

Can Real defend Liverpool on the counter?

We’ve seen Liverpool expose a number of teams on the counter attack, and Real certainly has a handle on how to do the same.

But building on our second key, there’s danger for both sides when Marcelo or Dani Carvajal get up the pitch. When Liverpool regains the ball and attacks at pace, there are big choices to be made.

Say Marcelo is up the pitch. Now Ramos may have to take Salah and leave Roberto Firmino to Raphael Varane. Now Carvajal may be alone with Sadio Mane. It’s not that Carvajal or Marcelo cannot defend, but these are not situations anyone wants in a one-off.

And that’s the key for Liverpool, really. This is a one-off. Over two legs, it’s hard to imagine the Reds as constructed pulling off another heavily-outchanced two-leg win like it did against Manchester City. The answer to this counter question may be what tells the story in Kiev.

Ancelotti hired to end Napoli’s scudetto drought

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Is Carlo Ancelotti the right man to end Juventus’ seemingly ages-old hold on the scudetto?

Napoli hopes so, and has inked the former Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich boss to a three-year deal.

Ancelotti’s resume speaks for itself, and the hiring promises more Serie A drama after the Neapolitan club nearly got the job done this season under Maurizio Sarri.

[ MORE: Top takeaways from Emery’s Arsenal unveiling ] 

Ancelotti won scudetti as a player with Roma (1) and AC Milan (2), once more as a manager for the latter. He also led Milan to two Champions League crowns, winning the tournament with Real Madrid as well, while bringing league titles to Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich.

Napoli has finished Top 3 in six of eight seasons, finishing four points behind Juve this season. Juventus has won the last seven scudetti, and Napoli’s only title came in 1987.

The club announced the move after owner Aurelio De Laurentiis let go of Sarri, thanking the previous manager for three seasons of work which included a Serie A Coach of the Year Award and wins in 97 of 147 matches.

“I’d like to thank Maurizio Sarri for his valuable contribution to the Napoli cause. He brought joy and prestige to Naples and Napoli fans all over the world with an entertaining brand of football that drew praise from all quarters. Well done, Maurizio.”