Friday 20 December 2013
While elsewhere in Europe the major football leagues are preparing to take their winter break, for fans of the Barclays Premier League 'tis the season to be jolly, as they are about to be treated to a festive feast of 40 football fixtures over the coming 12 days.
"We have the pleasure of playing a period that's only for the braves"
Far from winding down for Christmas the Barclays Premier League goes into overdrive over the yuletide period, with English tradition dictating that fixtures be played when supporters have more opportunity to get along to the matches.
Indeed this year will boast one of the busiest Christmas periods in Barclays Premier League history with 40 matches taking place from 21 December to 1 January. Among the eye-catching encounters in the period are Chelsea going to Arsenal on 23 December, Manchester City hosting Liverpool on Boxing Day, Jose Mourinho’s charges welcoming the Merseysiders to Stamford Bridge on 29 December, while Manchester United see in the New Year at home against Tottenham Hotspur.
With only five points separating the top five in the Barclays Premier League and 12 points up for offer there remains scope for much movement among these clubs as well as the chasing pack over the course of the four matchweeks.
At the other end of the table, Sunderland v Norwich City, West Ham United v West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City v Sunderland are sure to be closely fought encounters.
The volume and frequency of matches makes for great viewing - both for the hundreds of thousands of fans who attend and the millions who watch on TV; last season stadiums in the Barclays Premier League were 95.8% full for the three matches at Christmas.
It is not just the supporters who are looking forward to overindulging this Christmas either. As far as Chelsea's Mourinho is concerned this is his favourite time of year. For the former coach of Inter Milan and Real Madrid it is when the going gets tough that the tough get going.
"We have the pleasure of playing a period that's only for the braves," said Mourinho this month in reference to the festive matches. "I like that very, very much.
"I enjoyed it when I was in England and I missed it when I was in Spain and Italy. Now I'm back I want to enjoy it, I want the players to enjoy it, and we need a special mentality to cope with that situation."
Former Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers defender Michael Gray is another for whom the cornucopia of fixtures was a time to savour at this time of year.
"It's a fiery and frantic time but I wouldn't change it for the world," he told premierleague.com "I absolutely love it. As a footballer, playing matches is what you thrive for.
"Players are raring to go at this time of year"
"The Christmas period is the best time for the fans as well as the players.The atmosphere is the grounds seems to be raised a few notches. It's just a great feeling round the stadium.
"When you look around just before the start of the match and you see all the fans in their Santa suits and Smurf outfits, you know they have come for a great out and as a player, you hope to entertain them as well as coming away with the win."
Gray, who played in six Barclays Premier League Christmas and New Year campaigns while at Sunderland and Blackburn, says clubs are geared up to keeping players fresh despite matches coming thick and fast.
"Body recovery is probably the biggest challenge over this period," he said. "The clubs now are helped by the technology they have, they know what fluids and food the players need to help them recover as quickly as possible.
"If you are in the first team you will not be doing a lot of training in between matches. It may be a walk around the training ground then massages and a session in the swimming pool as well as a tactical meeting looking ahead to the next fixture.
"This is why players do such a big pre-season in the summer. At this time of year, they are raring to go. No matter what training they do now, they are not going to get any fitter. As a player, you just want to play matches and this time of year is so important as if you can get a few good results and a bit if momentum, it really helps you going into the new year."
That we are witnessing what is likely to be the most competitive Barclays Premier League campaign in years makes the next 12 days all the more fascinating, with Everton’s set of fixtures and that they are only five points off the top in fifth position offering them an opportunity to throw down the title gauntlet. At the other end of the table the appointment of new managers at Crystal Palace, Fulham and Sunderland suggests an equally absorbing survival struggle is in the offing.
Supporters of Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion, meanwhile, are eagerly awaiting the appointments of respective successors to Andre Villas-Boas and Steve Clarke to see if their clubs can find their second wind.
Once the dust has settled after the 40 fixtures, many minds will then turn to the potential arrival of new players in the January transfer window. So whatever the outcome of the next four set of matchweeks in the Barclays Premier League, the next 12 "Days of BPL Christmas" will offer an exciting bumper programme of uniquely competitive football.
Saturday 21 December
12.45pm Liverpool v Cardiff City
3pm Crystal Palace v Newcastle United
3pm Fulham v Manchester City
3pm Manchester United v West Ham United
3pm Stoke City v Aston Villa
3pm Sunderland v Norwich City
3pm West Bromwich Albion v Hull City
Sunday 22 December
1.30pm Southampton v Tottenham Hotspur
4pm Swansea v Everton
Monday 23 December 2013
8pm Arsenal v Chelsea
Thursday 26 December
12.45pm Hull City v Manchester United
3pm Aston Villa v Crystal Palace
3pm Cardiff City v Southampton
3pm Chelsea v Swansea City
3pm Everton v Sunderland
3pm Newcastle United v Stoke City
3pm Norwich City v Fulham
3pm Tottenham Hotspur v West Bromwich Albion
3pm West Ham United v Arsenal
5.30pm Manchester City v Liverpool
Saturday 28 December
12.45pm West Ham United v West Bromwich Albion
3pm Aston Villa v Swansea City
3pm Hull City v Fulham
3pm Manchester City v Crystal Palace
3pm Norwich City v Manchester united
5.30pm Cardiff City v Sunderland
Sunday 29 December
1.30pm Everton v Southampton
1.30pm Newcastle United v Arsenal
4pm Chelsea v Liverpool
4pm Tottenham Hotspur v Stoke City
Wednesday 1 January
12.45pm Swansea City v Manchester City
3pm Arsenal v Cardiff City
3pm Crystal Palace v Norwich City
3pm Fulham v West Ham United
3pm Liverpool v Hull City
3pm Southampton v Chelsea
3pm Stoke City v Everton
3pm Sunderland v Aston Villa
3pm West Bromwich Albion v Newcastle United
5.30pm Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur