Monday 12/28/15 (7:00 AM PT)
Watford vs. Tottenham (4)
Coming off another good result on Boxing Day, a draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Watford has a chance to pull level with Spurs when Tottenham visits Vicarage Road. This is an intriguing matchup for a number of reasons, with Watford’s strike pairing in flying form and two Hornets — Heurelho Gomes and Etienne Capoue — facing their old team. For Spurs, this game provides a good chance to pick up points
Crystal Palace vs. Swansea (2)
Although Swansea is coming off a big win against West Brom and Palace disappointingly tied Bournemouth, the Eagles are major favorites here as they still posses a five-game BPL unbeaten streak. Of all the teams at the bottom of the table, Swansea have the squad to claw its way out of the cellar, but it's time for the Swans to put up or face a potentially tumultuous second half. While they’ve only conceded 24 times, far better than many of the teams around them, the Swans’ offense has come to a standstill, scoring just 16 goals in their first 18 games, tied for second-worst in the league. To make matters worse for the Welsh outfit, Palace’s defense has been seriously stingy, conceding 16 times, second-best in the league.
West Brom vs. Newcastle (1)
This is an important game in the battle at the bottom of the table, but there isn’t all that much appeal involved. West Brom are in a rut, having gone five games without a win, while Newcastle are playing much better of late, Saturday’s last-second loss to Everton notwithstanding. The Baggies will be the favorites anyway, but don’t underestimate a Newcastle side that has won two of its last three road games and knows a win would bring them equal with West Brom. Additionally, the Baggies are the league’s second-worst home team, so a surprise could be on the cards, although this game still isn’t enticing enough to recommend watching.
Everton vs. Stoke (4)
It might not seem like a terribly high-quality matchup on first sight, but both sides are in good form and coming off a pair of big wins we documented in matchday 18’s three points (see below). Furthermore, the clubs sit tied on 26 points, just four points outside of a European position, and both have had stretches this year that will make them believe they can seriously challenge for one. Stoke have been one of the most curious sides all season, and having scored and conceded 16 times each, they favor a low
Norwich vs. Aston Villa (2)
It's games like these that go a long way towards deciding who ends up in next year's Championship and who narrowly avoids relegation. Villa have been better as of late, earning two points in as many fixtures, albeit against Newcastle and a depleted West Ham side, but points are points, and Villa, who even if they doubled their total at this very moment would still be in the drop zone, are desperate. Norwich are in trouble as well, sitting out of the relegation zone only on goal differential, and coming off a 3-0 stomping by Spurs on Boxing Day. If they want to avoid serious danger come May, it’s fixtures against the bottom third they really need to capitalize on, and this is a golden opportunity to score points against a side that has only won once all year. It’s an important fixture for both sides, but given the season is just at the halfway mark, it's a tough one to actually focus on.
(9:30 AM PT)
Manchester United vs. Chelsea (5)
Any other year, this game is a no doubt stunner, and normally one which can either decide titles or break a team's heart. This year, it's still a much-watch, but for a host of different reasons. Both teams have been derailed on their campaigns so far — albeit Chelsea much worse than United — and, frankly, for the rest of the league, it’s been hilarious given the domination these teams have had in the BPL for the last decade. Still, the game carries importance because rather than these teams being desperate to get points to stay in the title race, United need points to stay on the periphery for the European battle while Chelsea need to avoid the relegation zone (who would have thought). Even more drama is added when the possibility of Jose Mourinho switching sides in this rivalry could come to fruition sooner rather than later. It's always a battle when they meet, and it won’t be different this year. The game just has a completely different set of circumstances.
Arsenal vs. Bournemouth (3)
In what is no doubt a stunning fact, it’s Bournemouth who enters this contest with the momentum. The Cherries haven’t lost in six games, while Arsenal are licking their wounds after taking a 4-0 shellacking at the hands of Southampton on Boxing Day. Regardless, the Gunners will be favorites, especially at home, where they haven’t lost a BPL game since the opening day of the season. They should be wary, however, of a Bournemouth team that seemingly has adjusted to life in the Premier League and will carry a ton of confidence with them to North London.
West Ham vs. Southampton (3)
Both of these clubs have been all over the map this year, with the Hammers notching wins against Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City but recently struggling veresus Stoke, Swansea and Villa with a banged-up side. Saints have spent the majority of the year poaching points off the bottom half until they broke out on Saturday and thrashed Arsenal 4-0. The teams seem to be in completely different stages of their seasons, and despite having almost identical goal scoring and conceding records (West Ham have one more in each column), it seems that Saints are coming into their own and look to be favorites against a fading Hammers side. There’s no doubt until the Hammers get playmaker Dimitri Payet back, they won’t be the same side we saw early in the season.
Tuesday 12/29/15 (11:45 AM PT)
Leicester vs. Manchester City (5)
After their first league loss in three months, the spotlight will shine on Leicester as they host Manchester City in a huge clash that will say a lot about whether the Foxes can continue to challenge for a Champions League berth. For both teams, this is a huge game. Leicester’s only win over a big side came against struggling Chelsea, and the Foxes need
Wednesday 12/30/15 (11:45 AM PT)
Sunderland vs. Liverpool (2)
Despite both teams’ inconsistency, this is a big game at both ends of the table. After their impressive win over Leicester, the Reds are looking up the table, and they’ll be confident of getting another victory over the relegation-threatened Black Cats. Sunderland need to pull out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves, and four consecutive losses will make that all the more difficult. Neither team is easy to predict at the moment, however, so who knows what might happen when they’re on the pitch together.
Bonus European Game of the Week: Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao, Wednesday 12/30/15, 11:30 AM PT
The pickings are slim this week, with only England’s Championship and Spain’s La Liga playing full schedules, so we’ll go with an interesting game between Spanish teams battling for European places. Celta Vigo currently cling to La Liga’s final UCL spot in fourth place, while Bilbao are five seven points behind in seventh. If Athletic wants to nab Spain’s fourth UCL berth, they need to start closing the gap immediately, and beating the team currently in that position would go a long way towards doing just that. In a week without a premier matchup on the continent, this one will at least be important.