EPL set for bumper Boxing Day
While professional footballers in the rest of Europe sleep off their Christmas hangovers, the Premier League ploughs on regardless on Friday with a bumper schedule of traditional Boxing Day fixtures.
For the first time in the 2014-15 season, all 20 English top-flight clubs will be in action on the same day, with leaders Chelsea’s home game against high-flying London rivals West Ham United the stand-out match.
Chelsea’s professional 2-0 victory at Stoke City on Monday allowed Jose Mourinho’s side to re-establish a three-point lead over champions Manchester City, who visit West Bromwich Albion on Friday. The visit of fourth-place West Ham marks the start of a run of five games in less than two weeks, which includes an FA Cup third-round tie at home to second-tier Watford on January 4.
Mourinho’s side also remain in contention in the League Cup and the Champions League, and midfielder Nemanja Matic believes they can go all the way in all four competitions.
“I think it’s possible. We have a chance. I don’t want to say that we’re going to, but we’re going to try. We have quality. We will see if we can do. But I am confident, I believe in my team, my teammates, so everything is possible,” the Serbian told several British newspapers.
Belgian winger Eden Hazard is a doubt for Chelsea after hobbling off against Stoke, with Brazilian playmaker Oscar a potential candidate to replace him.
West Ham, meanwhile, will be boosted by the return to fitness of midfielder Mark Noble, who has missed the last four games with an Achilles problem. Injuries are a major concern for second-place City, who will be without all their senior strikers, Edin Dzeko, Stevan Jovetic and top scorer Sergio Aguero, for the trip to West Brom.
But they can equal a club record of nine successive wins if they prevail at The Hawthorns and manager Manuel Pellegrini believes that after a mid-autumn wobble, his side have rediscovered the form that swept them to the title in May. “We are playing now with the intensity and style of play we always do. Again we have players in high level of performance and good moments. We are trusting in what we do so, in the same way maybe we played in a poor way two months ago, we are doing very well,” said the Chilean.
Manchester United, currently placed third in points table, will host Newcastle United at the Old Trafford.
Chelsea v West Ham United (6.15 pm IST); Burnley v Liverpool; Crystal Palace v Southampton; Everton v Stoke City; Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur; Manchester United v Newcastle United; Sunderland v Hull City; Swansea City v Aston Villa; West Bromwich v Manchester City (all 10.30 pm IST); Arsenal v QPR (11 pm IST)