Everything you need to know about this weekend’s Premier League action, all in one place.
Jump to: How will Liverpool perform post-Qatar? | Mourinho slipping already? | Man to watch | Game not to miss | Stats of the weekend | Team that needs some luck| One thing that will definitely happen | Predictions
The weekend’s big questions
How much impact can Mikel Arteta make at Arsenal?
This is not the best time of year to take over as manager of a football club, particularly one that needs as much care and attention as Arsenal. After Chelsea beat Spurs on Sunday, Frank Lampard emphasised how desperate he had been to get a clear week on the training ground with his players, which is obviously something a new manager needs even more, but no such luck for Mikel Arteta. He won’t have that clear week until the middle of January, and in the interim he has to create a good impression on a fan base that seem to broadly welcome his arrival, but would be forgiven for being sceptical given his lack of experience.
There are so many problems for Arteta to fix it’s difficult to know where to start, but they include: how to effectively incorporate all of Arsenal’s attacking talents; the Mesut Ozil problem; patching up a defence whose clean sheet against Everton was their first since October; figuring out the best combination from a selection of “not ideal” options in midfield; lifting a general malaise which saw Freddie Ljungberg drop half the team for his final game because he basically didn’t think they were trying.
He has to make a start on all of that, while playing three games in six days over the festive period. All the best, Mikel.
Will the trip from Qatar hinder Liverpool?
At times it’s tempting to think of Liverpool as a dead-eyed, robotic winning machine, a relentless force that cannot be stopped by conventional weapons. But at a time of the season with a fixture list already bursting at the seams, the last thing a team needs in terms of fitness and recovery is a couple of seven-hour flights and two high-profile, relatively high-stress games on a different continent, one of which went to extra-time.
They return to England arguably in an even better position than when they left, with Manchester City’s win over Leicester putting them 10 points clear with a game in hand, which is against West Ham. But that lead only has any particular meaning if they keep up this insanely high standard. The question is whether they can do just that after their Doha jaunt, particularly as they will be welcomed home by arguably the toughest game they could face: Leicester away. If they come through these next few weeks unscathed, it should be relatively plain sailing until May.
Has the Mourinho mask slipped?
We were told that Jose Mourinho had changed, that the manager who left scorched earth at all of his previous jobs had spent the past year surrounded by aromatic candles and listening to whale song — that he was a different, more gentle character now. We were also told by some that he is also still the manager he has always been, that the dumpster fire of his last days at Manchester United were not reflective of his abilities.
Then the game against Chelsea happened. Sure, it was only one game, but there were enough signs that this was not exactly Jose anew, from the alarming ease with which he was out-thought by Lampard, to the postmatch dig that his old apprentice had simply cribbed his tactics from Antonio Conte.
So which is the real Jose Mourinho? Spurs have a relatively gentle pair of festive fixtures, at home to Brighton and away at Norwich, but we will see in the coming weeks exactly what sort of manager Mourinho is now.
Man to watch
It still feels weird that Carlo Ancelotti, winner of three Champions Leagues and titles in five countries, is now Everton’s manager. Inevitably that sounds patronising at best to Everton, but surely even they can’t quite believe it. The concern is that Everton have become too impressed by star power, bewitched and bedazzled by the idea that one of the most successful managers in the world is interested in managing them, without considering whether he’s the right fit. Is he really the sort of manager they need? Can he do the job they need him to?
Comparisons have been made to his early days at Milan, when he turned around a floundering team, converted Andrea Pirlo into a full-time deep playmaker and ended up twice European champions.
But firstly, that was nearly two decades ago, and that Milan squad included Paolo Maldini, Rui Costa, Clarence Seedorf and Andriy Shevchenko. Ancelotti doesn’t quite have the same basic materials here. The fear is that Ancelotti is a fading force asked to do a job to which he’s unaccustomed; the hope is he can be revitalised by a fresh challenge.
The game you aren’t planning to watch, but should
Sheffield United vs. Watford
Watford’s two games under Nigel Pearson thus far have been impressive, a decent performance against Liverpool followed up by victory over Manchester United. But arguably as significant a test will come on Boxing Day against Sheffield United, one of the toughest nuts to crack in the Premier League this season. Plus, by the time the game comes around, the “new manager bounce” will have faded a little, so we’ll know more about what Pearson’s Watford will actually look like in the mid/longer term. This should be a belter.
Stats of the weekend
– Leicester and Liverpool have both scored in each of their last seven Premier League meetings.
– Jamie Vardy has scored seven Premier League goals against Liverpool, more than any other active player. The striker has also scored in each of his last three league games against Liverpool at the King Power Stadium.
– Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola can break Jose Mourinho’s record as the quickest to reach 100 Premier League wins. Mourinho achieved the feat in his 142nd game, while Guardiola has reached 99 victories in only 132 matches in the competition so far.
– Chelsea have won nine and drawn five of their last 14 fixtures on Dec. 26, the longest unbeaten run on Boxing Day in the Premier League’s history.
– No Premier League team has conceded as many goals in all competitions as Tottenham have since Mourinho took over (14 conceded, level with Arsenal).
– Manchester United have won only one of their last 17 games in the Premier League in which they have had more possession than their opponents.
– Arsenal are starting a Boxing Day league game in the bottom half of the table (11th) for the first time since 1983, when they won 4-2 at Tottenham having been 12th at kick-off.
– Ahead of his first game as Everton manager, Carlo Ancelotti has the fifth-best win percentage of any manager in Premier League history (63.2%, minimum 30 matches).
The team that needs a bit of luck
Perhaps the team that currently sit sixth in the table and have only lost once since September don’t need luck, and fortune should be wished upon someone less blessed than them at this charitable time of year. But Nuno Espirito Santo’s side’s next two fixtures see them host Manchester City and then take a trip to Liverpool. Even considering they beat City earlier in the season, this is not a happy holiday for them. Success will be coming away with anything more than zero points.
One thing that will definitely happen
McGoldrick will score a goal
It’s Christmas time everyone — let’s all think positive. Let’s think “miracles.” Let’s think that even the most unlikely things can occur. David McGoldrick has been superb up front for Sheffield United this season; his movement, passing, hold-up play and game intelligence have been significant contributory factors to the success of Chris Wilder’s side. But he has yet to score a goal, and you could see the anguish on his face when he put a shot into the side-netting against Brighton last time out. It will happen at some point, so let’s join hands and pray that it does in these festive fixtures.
Dec. 26-27 matches
Tottenham 2-2 Brighton
Sheffield United 2-0 Watford
Aston Villa 1-0 Norwich City
Bournemouth 1-1 Arsenal
Chelsea 3-1 Southampton
Crystal Palace 2-1 West Ham
Everton 3-1 Burnley
Manchester United 1-1 Newcastle United
Leicester 1-3 Liverpool
Wolves 0-2 Manchester City
Dec. 28-29 matches
Brighton 1-1 Bournemouth
Southampton 0-1 Crystal Palace
Watford 1-0 Aston Villa
Newcastle United 1-0 Everton
Norwich 0-3 Tottenham
West Ham 0-2 Leicester
Burnley 0-1 Manchester United
Arsenal 0-2 Chelsea
Liverpool 3-1 Wolves
Manchester City 3-2 Sheffield United