Saturday, December 25, 2010

Boxing Daze

photo by faster panda kill killvia PhotoRee

So now it begins: the meaty part of the English football season. While the less-manly leagues go into winter hibernation for the next couple of weeks, the EPL kicks into overdrive with a schedule as jam-packed as Times Square on New Year's Eve. Beginning with Boxing Day tomorrow and ending on January 5th, eight of the next 11 days will feature EPL football. The next week and a half should go a long way toward answering many of the questions marks currently hanging over the teams at the top of the table, and give us a better idea of who'll be presiding at the top at season's end:
Can Arsenal Challenge for the Crown?  The Gunners host cross-town rival Chelsea on December 27th, and a loss to the Blues would throw even more cold water on the title chances of Wenger's boys.  Arsenal then travel to Wigan and Birmignham -- lying 16th and 18th in the table heading into this weekend, before hosting Manchester City at The Emirates on January 5th.  Minimum Point Haul Necessary: 9.

Can Chelsea Steady Their Wobble? After Arsenal, the Rent Boys play host to Bolton and Villa before traveling to Wolverhampton.  Chelsea looked better in the second haf of their last game before the break -- vs. Spurs --  but we'll see if their problems are now behind them, or if there's more pain in store.  Minimal Points Needed to Assuage the Doubters: 9.  
Are Sunderland Ready to Challenge for a Place in Europe?  The Black Cats travel to Old Trafford on Boxing Day, but will have to face United without Danny Welbeck in the lineup. Sunderland's home games against Blackpool and Blackburn, followed by a trip to Villa Park, will go a long way toward answering the question of whether or not they're ready for prime time.  Points Needed to Stay in Contention for Europe: 6.
Can Manchester United Seize Control of the Title Race: Going into the Christmas break, the Red Devils have a two point lead with a game in hand.  Away trips to Birmingham and West Brom await, sandwiched in-between home games against Sunderland and Stoke City -- and with United's away form this year, it's anyone's guess as to what to expect.  A strong performance in their next four games could see them widen their lead even further.  Points Necessary to Take Control: 12.

Who's Headed to the Champions League Next Season?  Spurs travel to Villa before hosting Newcastle and Fulham, and then end Game Week 22 with a trip on Merseyside to Everton.  Of those four games, Newcastle is Spurs' only top-half opponent, and that game is at White Hart Lane.  

City host Villa and Blackpool in between travels to Newcastle and Arsenal.   While City is currently five points clear of Spurs for the 4th Champions League spot, Tottenham have a game in hand.  Points Needed for Spurs: 10; Points Needed for City: 9

This is farlieonfootie for December 26th, Boxing Day.

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