It’s time for the festive fixtures! Always a make-or-break time of the season, and often a prime source of the sort of confusing and unpredictable results we’ve in fact been seeing all season thanks to a campaign that is, in a way, one giant eight-month festive fixture list. Anyway, everyone’s got three Premier League games over the next week and a bit, plus an FA Cup third-round game a week later to round things off. So let’s see who’s got what, and what they might expect/hope to accrue along the way. We’ve ranked each team’s Christmas workload from easiest to hardest, because ranking things in a largely arbitrary and unthinking way drives engagement, it says here.
Dec 27: Leeds (A); Dec 29: Sheffield United (H); Jan 3: Fulham (H); Jan 9 (FA Cup): MK Dons (H)
This looks a wonderful chance for Burnley to really pull clear of the bottom three having already picked up a very tidy eight points from four games since getting a spanking off Man City. Who knows what will happen at Leeds, who are a law unto themselves, but home games against Sheffield United and Fulham are huge. Six points really has to be the target there. The FA Cup will not be anywhere near the top of the priority list for a squad as small and stretched as Burnley’s but the Dons may not be primed to capitalise on that.
Target: Six points from the home games is happy days.
Dec 27: West Ham (A); Dec 29: Arsenal (H); Jan 2: Wolves (H); Jan 10 (FA Cup): Newport (A)
The most meh of all the festive fixture lists? Hard to get excited about any of these really. West Ham and Wolves are good mid-table sides. Arsenal are…Arsenal. Cup progress probable despite a team selection that will inevitably prompt use of the phrase ‘wholesale changes’ against opponents who will inevitably prompt use of the phrase ‘flying high in League Two’.
Target: Four points looks a minimum from the league games given two home games and no opponent who should strike fear into the hearts. Cup win also mandatory.
Boxing Day: Arsenal (A); Dec 28: Aston Villa (H); Jan 3: Man City (H); Jan 10 (FA Cup): Morecambe (H)
Should be a straightforward three points on Boxing Day given Chelsea’s record of dealing with the dregs this season but you just never know with derby day; the formbook goes straight out of the window that has been left open for ventilation purposes. The two home games look tougher against fellow fringe members of the biggest Title Race That Is Really A Scrap For Second ever staged, but you’d want at least four points from them. Cup win should be a formality, you’d think.
Target: Seven points and a fourth-round spot.
Dec 27: Burnley (H); Dec 29: West Brom (A); Jan 2: Tottenham (A); Jan 10 (FA Cup): Crawley (A)
Interesting games these, which is true of literally all Leeds games because they all have Leeds in them. Should get four points at least from Burnley and West Brom, although frankly who knows, while Tottenham away is perhaps the most intriguing match of the whole festive period, pitching as it does the two most contrasting styles in the division against each other. That one either ends 0-0 or 4-4.
Target: No point predicting Leeds games, they laugh in the face of your childlike attempts to study previous results and form as a means of forecasting future results. As long as they continue to entertain and delight everyone from neutrals to journalists to opposition attackers, we’re happy.
Dec 27: West Brom (H); Dec 30: Newcastle (A); Jan 4: Southampton (A); Jan 8 (FA Cup): Aston Villa (A)
Liverpool should win all these games. The FA Cup game has added spice thanks to the 7-2 silliness; you wouldn’t entirely rule out a precise reverse of that scoreline.
Target: Nine points, although seven maintains tight control of a title race that is Liverpool’s to lose, and then sweet, delicious revenge at Villa.
6) Sheffield United
Boxing Day: Everton (H); Dec 29: Burnley (A); Jan 2: Crystal Palace (A); Jan 9 (FA Cup): Bristol Rovers (A)
Tails are up after doubling their points tally for the season last time out, making the clash with Everton an intriguing battle between two in-form sides. The two away games look more appealing, and you do feel that if the Blades are to retain any kind of hope of taking anything out of the season then they need to at the very least avoid defeat at Burnley. Could come a cropper in the cup, but playing a team struggling at the wrong end of League One has the whiff of a cup game United will win almost by accident, thus forcing them to describe the FA Cup as a ‘welcome distraction’ when in truth it is just a pain.
Target: Doubling the points total again.
Boxing Day: Chelsea (H); Dec 29: Brighton (A); Jan 2: West Brom (A); Jan 9 (FA Cup): Newcastle (H)
When you’re in a relegation scrap, games like Chelsea are just a free roll really. Nice to get something off the big boys, but it’s beating the teams around you that really counts. The Gunners may be best served trying to conserve energy for the crucial six-pointers that follow against Brighton and West Brom. Arsenal do have a proud history in the FA Cup, but might need to sacrifice it this year, sadly.
Target: Six points (from the important games) represents a right result that would, at the very, very least, take the edge off the gnawing sense of growing dread currently occupying a permanent spot in the pit of every Arsenal fan’s stomach.
Boxing Day: Sheffield United (A); Dec 28: Man City (H); Jan 1: West Ham (H); Jan 9 (FA Cup): Rotherham (H)
The City game stands out here, assuming Everton have done what they ought to do and made it four wins on the trot by beating Sheffield United. If the resurgent Toffees can do a job on City, then this really could be a special season. They’ve had their blip now, and if we know anything of blips it is that once they are out of the way they are gone forever. So that’s encouraging. West Ham are West Ham and therefore predicting the outcome of that game is a folly. Home draw against lower-league opposition is all you can ever really ask for in the Cup, and Everton should have few troubles there even if they do make changes.
Target: Nine points and we all start believing again. Seven points seems a reasonable stretch target. Six points is acceptable. Cup win non-negotiable.
9) Manchester United
Boxing Day: Leicester (A); Dec 29: Wolves (H); Jan 1: Aston Villa (H); Jan 9 (FA Cup): Watford (H)
Ordinarily, you’d look at that and be thinking ‘might lose the away game, should win the home games’. Manchester United, though, are not ordinary. They will obviously win at Leicester having fallen behind inside the first 10 minutes. They will then make a giant daft bollocks of at least one of those two home games. Should have few problems against Watford, who will probably get through at least two more managers by the time January 9 rolls around.
Target: Seven points would be very good. Will probably get nine or none. Or something in between.
Dec 27: Wolves (A); Dec 30: Fulham (H); Jan 2: Leeds (H); Jan 10 (FA Cup): Marine (A)
An intriguing little run of league games before we all get to enjoy Jose Mourinho setting up his low-block-and-counter against a team from the eighth tier of English football in a game that may well break mathematics as both sides somehow manage to have a minority of possession. Spurs can’t afford to lose any more ground after a pair of shoddy performances and results against Palace and Leicester either side of the 2-1 loss at Liverpool, which means they’re going to need something from that Wolves game.
Target: Seven points and a brave, battling 1-0 win in the cup.
Boxing Day: Man United (H); Dec 28: Crystal Palace (A); Jan 3: Newcastle (A); Jan 9 (FA Cup): Stoke (A)
The corking Boxing Day cracker against Manchester United could give us huge clues about who is currently best placed to finish second behind Liverpool. The two away games that follow are textbook ‘four points is fine’ territory for a sort-of-title-but-definitely-top-four challenger. Stoke away is not ideal third-round material, but you would hope even a shuffled pack of Foxes would have enough there.
Target: Seven points, especially if it includes a win over United, would be absolutely tremendous. Haven’t been beyond the quarter-finals of the FA Cup since 1982, which seems a bit much for a club that were League Cup doyens for a while and have been at the very least a competent Premier League side for much of the last 20-plus years. A proper FA Cup run would be nice, and as any scholar of the World’s Oldest Cup Competition will tell you, a proper FA Cup run requires getting through your first tie.
12) West Ham
Dec 27: Brighton (H); Dec 29: Southampton (A); Jan 1: Everton (A); Jan 11 (FA Cup): Stockport (A)
West Ham have had a good win, a battling draw and a ragged defeat in their last three games. This feels like both an excellent microcosm of their season to date and a fair guide to what might happen in these next three games. A fixtures quirk that places them right at the start of the final round of Premier League games and right at the end of the FA Cup weekend then gives the Hammers a rogue 10-day break in the middle of the most congested period of the most congested season ever devised, so that’s nice. Shame they’re in Tier 4 and can’t do anything with it, mind.
Target: Four points minimum, no embarrassing silliness at non-league FA Cup opponents.
13) Crystal Palace
Boxing Day: Aston Villa (A); Dec 28: Leicester (H); Jan 2: Sheffield United (H); Jan 8 (FA Cup): Wolves (A)
Villa away is a sub-optimal fixture for attempting to recover from that Liverpool unpleasantness. Leicester at home is a sub-optimal fixture for attempting to recover from that Liverpool and potential Villa unpleasantness. Sheffield United at home is an optimal fixture for attempting to recover from that Liverpool and potential Villa and Leicester unpleasantness. FA Cup draw has not been kind.
Target: Anything before the Sheffield United game and then three points in that please. Defeat in the cup would be a setback, but not an overwhelming one given a tough draw.
14) West Brom
Dec 27: Liverpool (A); Dec 29: Leeds (H); Jan 2: Arsenal (H); Jan 9 (FA Cup): Blackpool (A)
Nice mix of games for the Baggies. A title challenger, a mid-table entertainer, a relegation straggler. Call it four points, given the latter two are at the Hawthorns. Blackpool v West Brom is a pleasingly old-school-sounding FA Cup tie. We approve.
Target: Get the Liverpool defeat out of the way, then take four points off the other two.
Boxing Day: Fulham (A); Dec 29: West Ham (H); Jan 4: Liverpool (H); Jan 9 (FA Cup): Shrewsbury (H)
These are bad fixtures. Fulham away is not quite the freebie it looked like in the early part of the season and the two home games are far from ideal for a team already beaten three times on their own patch this season. If they are to maintain their top-six push, probably need two wins to make defeat in the Liverpool game palatable. Should be fine in the cup.
Target: Six points.
16) Manchester City
Boxing Day: Newcastle (H); Dec 28: Everton (A); Jan 3: Chelsea (A); Jan 10 (FA Cup): Birmingham (H)
Tricky, especially as City have given themselves very little margin for error in a slipshod start to the season. In happier times, you could live with draws at Everton and Chelsea quite happily. If City have any designs on regaining their title, though, they’re really going to have to win at least one of those. And beating Newcastle is obviously a must.
Target: Seven points, harsh as that is, and avoiding a big FA Cup mess.
Dec 27: Tottenham (H); Dec 29: Man United (A); Jan 2: Brighton (A); Jan 8 (FA Cup): Crystal Palace (H)
Trappy. That is a trappy set of fixtures. Despite beating Chelsea last week now find themselves having lost three of their last four games and it’s the sort of run that could all too quickly be five defeats in six to make what looks on paper a promising trip to Brighton suddenly altogether less appealing. Need something against Spurs, you’d think, just to avoid slipping fully into the mid-table ennui that currently threatens to engulf them. Cup game looks a classic example of coming down to which reasonably secure mid-table side fancies a tilt at getting to Wembley the most. Or alternatively fancies concentrating on the league the least.
Target: Four points would be okay, six would represent a high passing grade.
Boxing Day: Southampton (H); Dec 30: Tottenham (A); Burnley (A); Jan 9 (FA Cup): QPR (A)
A smelly festive fixture list for Scott Parker’s intrepid relegation battlers, with an FA Cup clash at the end of it that absolutely screams upset-that-isn’t-really-an-upset.
Target: Burnley obviously the big one here with its undoubted six-pointer status. A win there would be worth more than anything against the Saints or Spurs, which is also probably just as well. That said, neither Southampton nor Spurs are quite at their best just now and at least one point from those two games would seem a reasonable ask. We expect them to lose in the Cup, and we expect that they expect to lose in the Cup.
19) Aston Villa
Boxing Day: Crystal Palace (H); Dec 28: Chelsea (A); Jan 1: Man United (A); Jan 8 (FA Cup): Liverpool (H)
Yeah, that’s nasty. Villa should be confident of beating Palace at home, but by crikey they’ll need to. A repeat of the league game against Liverpool in the FA Cup would be acceptable.
Target: Three points and an FA Cup exit in no way a disaster here. Anything more than that would be very good indeed. Win any two of those league games, and we’ve got our next entrant through the Title Challenge revolving door.
Boxing Day: Manchester City (A); Dec 30: Liverpool (H); Jan 3: Leicester (H); Jan 9 (FA Cup): Arsenal (A)
Ouch. Tough times for Newcastle after a flat and dispiriting Carabao quarter-final defeat at Brentford. The current top two plus Manchester City is a truly horrendous run of league fixtures at the very best of times, never mind in the space of eight days on the back of scraping a home draw against Fulham and defeat to lower-league opposition. At least an FA Cup tie against an Arsenal team who’ll surely be more focused on their battle against relegation offers some potential respite.
Target: Not curling up in a ball and crying? Feels like any points at all would be a bonus here, as would progress in the cup, given what happened on Tuesday night. Does Steve Bruce even make it to the Arsenal game? Hmm.