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5 Questions Every Premier League Fan Needs To Ask This Holiday Season

While the fair-weather softies on the Continent take two weeks off to stuff their cake holes with Gluhwein, stollen and panettone, the clean-living, bread and water puritans of the Barclays Premier League are bracing themselves for a week of utter madness. 

Starting on December 26 (or what we call Boxing Day in Britain), professional footballers up and down the land will embark on a three-games-in-seven-days slog-fest, where fancy football and tactical subtlety makes way for sheer survival. It’s a period that’s about as predictable as Charlie Sheen at a free bar, where bottom beats top and hard-earned league positions unravel faster than that Christmas jumper your Auntie Petunia knitted you.

With nine points up for grabs between now and New Years Day, and with just seven points separating 3rd through 8th and 12th through 18th, a lot could change in the next seven days. Here’s five questions to consider between now and 2015.

1. Will This Be Brendan Rodgers’ Big Moment?

Coming off the back of an “outstanding performance” (Brendan Rodgers’ words, not ours) against Arsenal which, if nothing else, proved Liverpool are at least still playing for their manager, could the next week be the making of The Reds’ 2014-15 season?

Despite showing the defensive sensibilities of a depressed Lemming and the shooting accuracy of Stevie Wonder after several double espressos, Liverpool are still only a half-decent run away from the Champions League places. It’s a long shot, but we think there’s two good reasons why the next week could see Liverpool fly up the table:

A. Liverpool have a pretty comfortable festive fixture list: away to Burnley (18th), home against Swansea (their toughest fixture) and home again to Leicester (bottom of the table and just one point in their last 30). Liverpool should pick up at least six points of nine potential.

B. All the teams within Liverpool’s reach either have fixtures against each other or top three sides (or both). Southampton, for example, have games against Chelsea and Arsenal, while Tottenham Hotspur face both Chelsea and Manchester United. Points will definitely be dropped by those sides currently above them. 

It’s time for Liverpool to live up to Rodgers’ rhetoric.

2. Will Jose Stick Or Twist?

With so many games packed so tightly together, the depth of every side’s squad will be sorely tested over the next week. Last year, Liverpool entered the Christmas period top of the table and, with a relatively small squad, made just three changes to their starting XI during the festive period. The Reds slipped from first to to fourth inside a week after losing two of their three festive fixtures (admittedly to Chelsea and Manchester City). 

The18 has already highlighted earlier in the year that Jose Mourinho seems reluctant this season to test the depth of his squad. Four Chelsea players have started every Premier League game, while another three have missed just one fixture. With testing games at home to West Ham and away to Ronald Koeman’s Southampton (coming off the back of a morale-boosting 3-0 win against Everton), we’d be surprised if the likes of Terry, Cahill, Fabregas, Hazard and Costa play all three games in a row.

3. Will A Strikerless Manchester City Pick Up Another Maximum?

Last season, Manchester City took maximum points from their Christmas fixtures, but can they do the same again without the firepower of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic (who may or may not be back for the New Year)?

Based on the fact that they have the most expensively assembled squad in the league, won’t face a team currently higher than 14th in the table, and scored three exquisitely crafted goals at the weekend with James “hasn’t scored a goal in over a year” Milner playing as a false nine, we’d say they probably can.

But then, this is Christmas…

4. Who Will Be This Christmas’s Big Losers?

In short: West Ham.

No team has improved more this season than West Ham: going into Christmas sitting fourth in the table, Sam Allardyce’s men are 13 places and 17 points better off than they were this time last year. But…..

The Hammers face a torrid festive period, with games against London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal in the space of two days. While there’s been much to encourage the Upton Park faithful – the discovery of Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho, the return of Andy Carroll to fitness and Alex Song to the Premier League, and the renaissance of Stewart Downing – West Ham have a poor record against both Chelsea and Arsenal: they haven’t won at Stamford Bridge since 2002 and have failed to beat The Gunners in their last 12 attempts.

With Southampton only two points adrift, and Arsenal just another two points back, we’ll be very impressed if they manage to hang onto their Champions League place come 2015.

5. Will Steve Bruce Sink Or Swim?

Hull have won none of their last ten games, picking up just four points in that time and losing key ties against likely relegation rivals Burnley and Sunderland. To round things out, there are also rumours of dissent within the team, with Hatem Ben Arfa AWOL (eating cake in Parisian cafes) and defender Paul McShane banned from training with the first team for reasons yet to be disclosed. 

All of which is likely to sour Steve Bruce’s port this Christmas as his team prepares for two critical fixtures two days apart against fellow strugglers Sunderland and Leicester City. Expect the former tie to be a feisty affair: no team has racked up more bookings than Sunderland, while only Swansea have earned more red cards than Hull. Indeed, the last six games between The Tigers and The Black Cats (the feline derby?) have produced six red cards.

If Hull don’t collect at least one win from these two fixtures, we suspect Steve Bruce will be the first managerial sacking of the season.

If you liked this, you might like:

Arsene Wenger Gambled On The Fitness Of His Defenders This Summer. And It Backfired.

Martin Skrtel Knows No Fear

Should He Stay Or Should He Go? The Case For And Against Brendan Rodgers.

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