Premier League Christmas fixtures: Festive predictions for 'big six'
The Premier League's Christmas fixture period is always a pivotal time in the season, and with the division's "big six" clubs battling for just four Champions League places this year's festive period is set to be crucial.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all have seven league matches to play between this weekend and 2018's first round of games, after which the FA Cup third round will provide a brief respite.
ESPN FC's club correspondents take a look at the fixture list, provide a prediction for each match and give an overview of their team's prospects over the next month.
ARSENAL: Arsenal are entering this busy period with a well-rested and nearly fully fit squad, thanks to Arsene Wenger's rotation policy in the Europa League. December offers a great chance to take advantage of that, especially as two away games against London clubs will limit their travel. The home games against Liverpool and Chelsea could prove decisive in the battle for top four, but it's equally important to avoid any slip-ups against the "lesser" clubs. -- Mattias Karen
Dec. 10: Southampton (A) - W
Dec. 13: West Ham (A) - W
Dec. 16: Newcastle (H) - W
Dec. 22: Liverpool (H) - D
Dec. 28: Crystal Palace (A) - W
Dec. 31: West Brom (A) - W
Jan. 3: Chelsea (H) - D
Total points: 17
CHELSEA: It's not an exaggeration to say that any hopes Chelsea still harbour of defending the title depend on how they fare in December. The gap to Manchester City is already 11 points and cannot be allowed to grow any further. On the plus side, the fixture schedule that has so annoyed Antonio Conte this season looks decidedly kinder in the coming weeks.
Chelsea don't face another top-six side until a trip to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal on Jan. 3. Across their six December games, only matches on the road against London rivals West Ham and a Sam Allardyce-rejuvenated Everton carry the air of potential banana skins. Accumulated fatigue could take its toll against the Gunners, who have been strong at home and performed surprisingly well in a feisty goalless draw at Stamford Bridge in September.
Overall, Chelsea can be optimistic of taking close to maximum points from their festive run, and nothing less will do in terms of the title race. More likely, though, is a good rather than great return that keeps them on track for third place. -- Liam Twomey
Dec. 9: West Ham (A) - D
Dec. 12: Huddersfield (A) - W
Dec. 16: Southampton (H) - W
Dec. 23: Everton (A) - D
Dec. 26: Brighton (H) - W
Dec. 30: Stoke (H) - W
Jan. 3: Arsenal (A) - L
Total points: 14
LIVERPOOL: Jurgen Klopp has been quick to point out Liverpool's bloated schedule over the festive period, but the fixtures could have been worse for his side. All nine of the games over this period are more than winnable for the Reds, including Arsenal away. But there are a few tricky fixtures ahead. Allardyce always enjoys getting one over Liverpool, and Everton will be hoping he can guide them to their first victory at Anfield since 1999.
For once, Liverpool's injury list is rather short, with Nathaniel Clyne the only player with a long-term injury. In stark contrast to last season, Klopp will be able to use the squad depth he believes he has at his disposal, with rotation during this group of fixtures more a necessity rather than a possibility. It's the moment for summer signings Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andrew Robertson to shine. -- Glenn Price
Dec. 10: Everton (H) - L
Dec. 13: West Brom (H) - W
Dec. 17: Bournemouth (A) - D
Dec. 22: Arsenal (A) - W
Dec. 26: Swansea City (H) - W
Dec. 30: Leicester City (H) - W
Jan. 1: Burnley (A) - L
Total points: 13
MAN CITY: Manchester City's trip to Old Trafford is the biggest game of the season and a victory would open up an incredible 11-point lead at the top of the table. Much will depend on how Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho approaches the game because Pep Guardiola won't alter his game plan one jot from any other occasion -- he will want a win. United have the best defensive record in the Premier League and it wouldn't be a surprise to see a game of few chances and a draw.
Five of City's other games would appear to be fairly straightforward -- apart from the Watford clash, all of them against teams in the bottom seven and struggling for form. The other game is against Tottenham, who have won just one of their last six games, and City will hope to deliver a potentially fatal blow to Spurs' slim hopes of catching them. -- Jonathan Smith
Dec. 10: Manchester United (A) - D
Dec. 13: Swansea (A) - W
Dec. 16: Tottenham (H) - W
Dec. 23: Bournemouth (H) - W
Dec. 27: Newcastle (A) - W
Dec. 31 Crystal Palace (A) - W
Jan. 2: Watford (H) - W
Total points: 19
MAN UNITED: After the derby with Manchester City on Sunday, Manchester United have got a run of games over Christmas and New Year that they will expect to win. Mourinho has got a squad that should be big enough to cope with the extra workload. he knows how to manage his players and the same period last season coincided with United's best run of form -- nine straight wins in all competitions. They will need something similar this time if they hope to be in touch with Manchester City at the top of the table in the new year.
Having Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo back before the festive fixtures is a big boost. Ibrahimovic's early return should allow Romelu Lukaku to get a break earlier than expected. It is a crucial period for United and Mourinho will hope the gap to City is significantly fewer than eight points by the time the Champions League restarts in February. -- Rob Dawson
Dec. 10: Manchester City (H) - D
Dec. 13: Bournemouth (H) - W
Dec. 17: West Brom (A) - W
Dec. 23: Leicester (A) - W
Dec. 26: Burnley (H) - W
Dec. 30: Southampton (H) - W
Jan. 1: Everton (A) - W
Total points: 19
TOTTENHAM: Super-fit Tottenham have been the best team over Christmas in each of the last two seasons, winning seven straight matches between Dec. 14 and Jan. 14 last year. But Mauricio Pochettino, their manager, has already warned that it could be different this season because Spurs are running further than ever before on Wembley's big pitch. Their four home games look favourable on paper but Stoke, Brighton, Southampton and West Ham will surely copy the successful blueprint set by other lesser teams at the national stadium by dropping deep, flooding the centre and trying to frustrate Spurs. Even so, the Champions League win over Apoel Nicosia has changed the mood and their momentum and they should have enough to win at least three of them.
On the road, Man City could earn the resounding win they deserved against Spurs at the Etihad last season and a trip to Burnley is never easy. Injured Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez, who is suspended for the next three games, will be sorely missed but Erik Lamela's return will lesser the burden on Spurs' other creative types. -- Dan Kilpatrick
Dec. 9: Stoke (H) - W
Dec. 13: Brighton (H) - W
Dec. 16: Manchester City (A) - L
Dec. 23: Burnley (A) - D
Dec. 26: Southampton (H) - D
Jan. 2: Swansea (A) - W
Jan. 4: West Ham (H) - W
Total points: 14
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