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

1 Comment

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.

Man United boss Solskjaer slams Liverpool’s trophy drought

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fired one across Jurgen Klopp‘s bow ahead of Manchester United’s meeting with Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday.

In particular, the former Manchester United striker took aim at Liverpool’s lack of titles over the past decade, and their lack of a Premier League title. With the knowledge that the Red Devils are not in the title race and their adversaries are, Solskjaer hopes United can get back to the top spot soon, wary of a lengthy drought.

[ PREVIEW: Manchester United v. Liverpool ]

“I have loads of Liverpool fans back home [in Norway] and every year is going to be their year,” Solskjaer said ahead of Sunday’s match at 9:05 a.m. ET. “It has got to October and it’s: ‘OK, next year.’ Now they are in the race so for them, it is going to be an exciting finish to the league. That is none of our concern. We just have to concentrate on ourselves.”

Manchester United has not won a Premier League title in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson‘s retirement. Under his care, the club won 12 Premier League titles plus five FA Cup titles and four League Cup titles. Meanwhile, Liverpool has not won a Premier League crown in its history, last winning the English top flight in 1990, two years before the formation of the Premier League as it currently stands.

“Of course they do feel that pressure,” Solskjaer said of Liverpool. “I think all the supporters do and players probably do as well. But then we have not won it for a few years and so we want to get back to that. We have to make sure that we don’t end up being happy being among the top four. If you aim too low and reach your target, then that’s more dangerous than aiming too high and missing them.”

Solskjaer is very familiar with the rivalry between these two clubs, dating back to his time as a player. Most notably, he scored a 90th minute winner in 1990 FA Cup play against the Reds after coming off the bench in the 81st minute.

Roma boss Di Francesco worried after late win

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Edin Dzeko saved Roma in the 95th minute, sealing a 3-2 win over Frosinone and moving the club back to within a point of a Champions League place. Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco wasn’t having it.

“We can’t keep getting away with this type of performance,” Di Francesco said to the media after the game.

[ MORE: Serie A recap as Roma and Torino win ]

Despite its solid league position down the stretch of the season, the club has looked shaky at times. On Saturday, the defense put forth a calamitous performance at the back filled with mistakes, bad passes, poor marking, and questionable decision-making. The game was tied 2-2 for most of the second half with Roma’s relegation-threatened opponents nearly pulling out a win if it wasn’t for goalkeeper Robin Olsen’s spectacular save.

“The positive from this evening is that we won, but I do hope he can start to play much better football from now on,” Di Francesco said. “The second goal came from our own set play and our positioning was off, Daniele De Rossi misread the situation.”

“Frosinone are scrapping for every point to secure safety and I know what that is like. We made too many mistakes and should’ve approached the game better, as we risked a draw or even a defeat. We always find a way to make life more complicated for ourselves with distractions.”

Frosinone’s first goal came from a mistake by Steven N’Zonzi, whose back-pass to no one was intercepted by Camillo Ciano who scored despite a great save attempt by Olsen. The hosts scored their second on the break as De Rossi and Aleksandr Kolarov were torn apart on the break despite a one-on-two advantage for the defenders.

“We had the game in hand and should’ve finished it off rather than just tried to control it. We’ve shown over the season that we are a team capable of scoring goals, but also of conceding them. We’ve got to improve.”

Despite the poor defensive performance, the attack played spectacular at times, with Stephan El Shaarawy the star and Dzeko a force. Dzeko was on hand to bundle in the winner five minutes into stoppage time as El Shaarawy lofted a short cross over a defender and into the chest of the Bosnian striker.

League Cup Final preview: Sarri, Pep match wits for 4th time

AP Photo/Jon Super
Leave a comment

Sunday’s League Cup Final could be a moment for one manager to right his ship, or drive the other to the start of an improbable quadruple.

Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri duels with Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola on Sunday at Wembley Stadium, just 14 days after the latter outmaneuvered the former to the tune of a 6-0 shellacking at the Etihad Stadium.

[ RECAP: West Ham 3-1 Fulham ]

The loss was Chelsea’s second to City this season, though the Blues did manage a 2-0 defeat in league play at Stamford Bridge on Dec. 8.

It’s also the second time the two will go head-to-head for silverware, as Man City outlasted Chelsea 2-0 for the Community Shield on Aug. 5.

That loss to City didn’t send the Chelsea faithful scurrying from “Sarriball,” but they’ve become far less supportive of the Blues’ boss.

And Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger says Friday is a chance for his side to show the supporters the better side of what Sarri has implemented at Stamford Bridge.

“That will show the truth,” Rudiger said. “That will show our way this ­season. It will be the truth in terms of  keeping up with opponents like City Liverpool and Tottenham. What if it shows we are not that close? Then that is the reality.”

“You always play for your manager but you want results. You want to win. No player likes to have the kind of run we’ve had.”

Rudiger is a quote-giving marvel. Chelsea needs to keep him just for the departure from the norm he provides the media.

As for Guardiola, he’s also supportive of Sarri and thinks the Blues faithful should take a step back. He references the heat given to Antonio Conte the year after he won a Premier League crown.

Guardiola is also not thrilled that the 6-0 result is the last time City played Chelsea. From The London Evening Standard:

“In that moment I was so happy to beat them 6-0, but now in this moment I would prefer not to have beaten them 6-0. I don’t like to play in a short period of time when you’ve beaten them by so much,” he said. “They are incredible professional players, they are proud, they will do extra.”

“When we lost there and when we won here, my opinion of Sarri and his teams is always high. When we reviewed the game against us, maybe people don’t believe me, but they did incredible things.”

They’ll have to do more incredible things Sunday at Wembley, or City will lay claim to its fourth League Cup title in six tries (and seventh overall).

The winner Sunday will have the second-most League Cup wins in history.

League Cup Final Preview: Chelsea-Man City

Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Both Chelsea and Man City have won the League Cup 5 times in club history
  • These teams have never met before in the League Cup final
  • Only 4 clubs have successfully retained the League Cup trophy

Chelsea looks to prove the 6-0 thwacking at the hands of Manchester City two weeks ago was a fluke as the two sides meet with a trophy on the line in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET at Wembley Stadium.

Blues boss Maurizio Sarri has been under fire the last few weeks for a downturn in form, with the club having lost three of its last four Premier League matches, including the heavy defeat to Man City. They have conceded 12 goals in those four matches, blown out not just by Man City but also by Bournemouth, plus a loss to an inconsistent Arsenal side to start the slide.

With a massive chance for Sarri to make a statement that he deserves his position, the Italian may be without first-choice goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga who picked up a hamstring injury of late, and could be sidelined alongside Pedro and Davide Zappacosta who both have fallen ill.

For Manchester City, Pep Guardiola will have to make decisions on who to risk amid a tight Premier League title battle with Liverpool. While the trophy obviously means something to both sides, it also presents yet another fixture that could prove costly amid a tight league race which could have implications on the final few months.

Guardiola doesn’t expect to roll over the Blues with the same ease they did two weeks ago. “I don’t like to play the same team in a short period of time when you have beaten them before,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “They [Chelsea] are incredibly professional players, they are proud and bright and will do extra. We are going to play the type of game you have to play in a final and try to win the title.”

The biggest of Guardiola’s selection questions are in net, with the decision of starting regular number one goalkeeper Ederson or third-string Arijanet Muric who has been the go-to netminder for the entire League Cup run. Backup Claudio Bravo has been sidelined for the year with a long-term injury.

“Of course it is not the most important title of the season but once we are here in an amazing stadium against a top side, we want to prepare to win,” Guardiola said.

Also in question may be striker Sergio Aguero who scored a hat-trick against Chelsea last time out. He has featured in two of the five League Cup matches, but the final could be a high-pressure situation to give Gabriel Jesus a look while also giving Aguero some time off. The 30-year-old Aguero has featured in each of the last 10 Premier League matches.