Boxing Day Preview: Chelsea, West Ham highlight busy Prem Friday

IMAGE, CHELSEAFC.COM

The chase for the top spot in the Premiership table could be up for grabs in a festive and jam-packed Boxing Day fixture.

Chelsea host a resurgent top-four side in West Ham kicking off a slate of ten matches on the day.

None, however, will match the potential impact of the first.

The Hammers have turned heads this season, consistently churning out points near the top of the table.  Their achievements will be put to the sword over the coming days as Sam Allardyce prepares his men against Chelsea before a weekend encounter, hosting perennial power Arsenal.

Chelsea have come back from their lone loss this season with identical 2-0 wins over Stoke and Hull City.  Reigning champions Manchester City gave the Blues a bit of a scare in the Week 17 fixtures, taking a share of first place for 48 hours until Chelsea emerged victorious on Monday.  They face a middling West Brom; losers of five of their last seven matches.  While Chelsea host West Ham this weekend, the Hammers still pose a mighty threat to the Blue’s championship aspirations, particularly when comparing opponents with City.

Of course, City have their own problems to deal with. Yes, they are unbeaten in eight matches and looking for their seventh win in a row.  However, they are still contending without several of their high-powered offensive options; most notably, Sergio Aguero.

For Chelsea, wins are at a premium, particularly as they get set to participate in their second of four matches in 11 days.  Furthering the pressure, City’s slate this holiday season is tailor made for victory, with Burnley and Sunderland following their West Brom encounter.

Predictions: Chelsea 2-1 West Ham, City 3-0 West Brom

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:

Can United Remain Unbeaten?  Louis van Gaal and his Red Devils hit a bit of a snag in last week’s match against Aston Villa.  Despite a man advantage, Manchester United left Villa’s home grounds the recipient of a deflating 1-1 draw, thanks mainly to the heroics of American standout, Brad Guzan.

Regardless of the result, United remain undefeated in their last eight matches, and have historically only lost one Boxing day match in 22 years.

Newcastle are on a slide, beginning with a blowout against Arsenal, and most recently, a deflating 1-0 loss to Sunderland at home.  Pardew has done enough to save his job, but a third straight loss can see Newcastle dip from the top ten once more.

Historically, United has owned Newcastle at home, and considering current form, that should change little come Friday.

Prediction: 2-0 United

Liverpool Seek Lift vs. Burnley:  Brendan Rodgers continues to draw questions over Liverpool’s poor form this season.  The loss of Luis Suarez has become a weekly focus, with several strikers falling well short in the finishing department.

Mario Balotelli returns to action at Turf Moor, hoping to change those fortunes.

Winless in their last three, the Reds hope to rebound against Burnley.  A late Skrtel goal against Arsenal saved Liverpool a point from the mouth of defeat.  The Clarets were out of the relegation zone for a week before plunging back into the lot with a deflating 2-1 loss to Tottenham.

At this point in the season, one would almost be prepared to chalk up Burnley to the Championship.  Their scoring is woeful, and their defenders have been run to the ground thanks to that deficiency.  Once again, they will turn to Danny Ings to provide a punch up top.

Will it be enough?

Prediction: Liverpool 2-0 Burnley

Battles Brewing At The Bottom:  Leicester City, Hull and Burnley each share a piece of the three-team relegation zone.  However, recent results have made the relegation battle more than just a three team race.

Crystal Palace is currently tied on points with Burnley.  While Liverpool will be a mighty match for the Clarets, Palace take on a tough opponent at home in number five, Southampton.  QPR — two points from the zone — are on the road to face Arsenal.  West Brom, another side tied with QPR at 17 points, take on Manchester City.

An unlikely victory for Leicester against visiting Tottenham would put them even on points with Hull at 19th.  The Tigers face a stingy opponent as they travel to Sunderland this Friday. Stoke, tied with Sunderland at 19 points, take on Everton.