Festive period crucial for EPL chasing pack

A test of skill, fitness and attrition awaits the top teams in the English Premier League over the festive period

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With Jose Mourinho out of Chelsea and Louis van Gaal (left) facing the heat at Manchester United, will Jurgen Klopp be able to overcome mounting pressure at Liverpool? (Photo: katatonia82 / Shutterstock.com)

 

The unthinkable has happened — Leicester City is still sitting pretty at the top of the English Premier League as the Christmas weekend fixtures approach.

What does this mean for the chasing pack?

 

Liverpool VS Leicester City

Leicester is a whopping 14 points above their hosts, after just one defeat in 17 matches this season.

Meanwhile, the honeymoon is certainly over for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. The stunning 3-0 defeat at Watford last weekend highlighted some of the deficiencies in the squad. Although major January spending has been ruled out, the Reds definitely need to strengthen their squad in key areas.

Expect Klopp to start Christian Benteke or Daniel Sturridge (if fit) after going with a different look the last time.

This is a crucial game for the Mersey-siders to win if they are serious about grabbing a top-four finish, so they must use the Anfield atmosphere to intimidate the top-of-the-table Foxes.

Claudio Ranieri has done a miraculous job with Leicester so far but this could be the week when Leicester suffers
a setback.

 

Prediction: Liverpool 3-2 Leicester

 

Southampton VS Arsenal

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The Gunners’ Chilean star Alexis Sanchez celebrated his 27th birthday on Dec 19 but will their second-highest scorer play a key role against Southampton? (Photo: AGIF / Shutterstock.com)

 

The winless run of Ronald Koeman’s Southampton stretched to six games when the Saints lost to Tottenham Hotspur last weekend, with the manager ripping into his players for their non-performance. The Saints are having a surprisingly poor season after a decent showing last season.

Even so, the Saints are still for-midable on their day, which is why Arsene Wenger will be very wary of Arsenal’s trip to the South Coast.

This festive period will be crucial to Arsenal’s chances of winning its first league title in more than a decade.

The good news for the Gunners is, after the trip to St Mary’s, they will have three consecutive home games including an FA Cup tie against Sunderland.

 

Prediction: Southampton 1-2 Arsenal

 

Stoke City VS Manchester United

It is shocking that Manchester United is facing the possibility of a seventh match without victory in all competitions.

Former Manchester United striker and Stoke manager Mark Hughes would love to inflict more agony upon his old club and Louis van Gaal.

Stoke is hurting too after suffering a somewhat surprising home loss to Crystal Palace last weekend, despite 26 attempts on goal. It’s rare that defeat is tasted two games in a row at the Britannia Stadium.

For the Red Devils, if they are to win this game, Anthony Martial must start in a central position up front while Ashley Young must improve the quality of his crossing.

 

Prediction: Stoke 2-2 Manchester Utd

 

Chelsea VS Watford

With Jose Mourinho no longer in the dugout, Chelsea returned to a more typical performance and to winning ways against Sunderland last Saturday.

The likes of Branislav Ivanovic and Oscar finally looked themselves as the Blues secured just their fifth victory
of the season.

Yet another surprise is that Watford goes into this weekend’s fixture only a point outside the top five — including the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham — as well as on a high after slaying Liverpool last weekend.

If Mourinho were still there in a dysfunctional dressing room, there might be the chance of another giant-killing result but the quality of Chelsea’s squad will be enough to secure a home victory.

 

Prediction: Chelsea 2-1 Watford

 

By Jason Dasey

 

About Jason Dasey

Jason Dasey is Senior Editor for ESPN FC in Singapore, Southeast Asia’s No. 1 football website.

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