Saturday 12/19/15 (7:00 AM PT)
Manchester United vs. Norwich (1)
Having dropped into the relegation zone last weekend, Norwich visits Manchester United in what should, in theory, be a simple win for the Red Devils. But United have been poor of late, particularly in last week’s loss to Bournemouth. These teams each have two points in their last three games and will be hoping to improve those totals, but anything less than a win will go down as unsatisfactory for the United faithful. A draw or loss would heighten the already increasing pressure on Louis Van Gaal and could be the straw
Chelsea vs. Sunderland (3)
While a matchup between the 16th- and 19th-placed teams in the table wouldn’t normally be all that enticing (until April), this one is filled with subtext because of Chelsea’s struggles and Jose Mourinho’s departure. It’s been a miserable season for Chelsea, and they somehow sit just one point above the relegation zone nearly halfway through it. If Sunderland can pull off an upset, the Black Cats will pull even on points with their hosts. That’s asking quite a bit against the talented Blues squad, but Sunderland have won at Chelsea in two of their last five trips and have two wins in their last four games, so it’s not impossible, particularly in a season in which the Blues can’t seem to get going at all.
Southampton vs. Tottenham (4)
This should be one of the better matchups of the weekend, and it’s another one that has plenty of subplots. Mauricio Pochettino’s old side hosts his current one with both in the midst of some struggles, as neither has won a BPL game in the past three weeks. This is pretty close to a toss-up, and while Spurs have a slight edge in talent, Southampton will take some confidence in playing at home. It should be an interesting contest with plenty of talent on display from both sides.
West Brom vs. Bournemouth (2)
Many expected these to be two of the teams fighting the relegation battle, but instead this is a lower-mid-table clash between sides playing decent football. West Brom have drawn three games in a row, but they’ve earned decent points nonetheless at West Ham and Liverpool, and at home against Tottenham. Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s last two games have been amongst the most meaningful results in club history, and they’ll hope to make it three wins in a row at the Hawthorns. There could be some interesting action, but this game isn’t one of the better ones in a time-slot filled with intrigue.
Everton vs. Leicester (4)
The league leaders are hitting the toughest stretch on their fixture list, with contests against Liverpool and Manchester City up after this weekend’s trip to Goodison Park. But the Foxes will need to be careful not to overlook an Everton side that’s coming into its own somewhat and hasn’t lost since October 24. Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu are in similar form to Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, and the matchup between the two dynamic winger-striker
Stoke vs. Crystal Palace (2)
These sides have been inconsistent as of late, with neither hitting full stride and stringing together a run of results that could push them up the table. Interestingly, both have produced solid wins recently, with Palace having a field day in front of goal in a 5-1 thrashing of Newcastle while Stoke throttled favorites Manchester City 2-0. However, both have also suffered losses to lowly Sunderland, together providing the Black Cats with two of their three wins on the season. Given Palace has been better throughout the season, they are the favorites, but anything could happen at the Britannia.
(9:30 AM PT)
Newcastle vs. Aston Villa (1)
The Magpies have been in impressive form lately, having defeated Liverpool and Spurs in their last two fixtures, and they have an excellent opportunity to make it three in a row when they host Villa, who are still languishing at the very bottom. The Villans are already guaranteed to be in 20th come Christmas Day, and if they want to get their season back on track, they certainly need to take advantage of fixtures against teams in the bottom half. With only six points at the moment, the Birmingham club needs to improve, and fast, before they slip into very dangerous territory.
Sunday 12/20/15 (5:30 AM PT)
Watford vs. Liverpool (3)
At the start of the season, not many would have fancied Watford to be above the Reds for their December meeting, but three straight victories have vaulted Quique Sanchez Flores’ side up the table and into seventh place, just four points off the top four. Jurgen Klopp’s takeover at Liverpool hasn’t been a major success story yet, as the Reds seem to be just as inconsistent as they were under Brendan Rodgers. Still, the ninth-placed side is in decent shape given the turmoil that they have faced this year, but matches like these, on the road against lesser opposition, need to start turning into points consistently if Liverpool desires a place in Europe next year. For each side, the matchup should be a very good measuring stick of where they are at the moment.
(8:00 AM PT)
Swansea vs. West Ham (2)
Swansea’s flying start has turned into a bit of misery for the Welsh outfit, who have claimed just one point in their last six BPL fixtures and dropped into 17th place, only out of the relegation zone on goal difference. The loss of Dimitri Payet has quelled West Ham’s own hot start, and the Hammers have been the victims of three straight ties, which has put a temporary stall on their season. There are rumours that Payet is ahead of schedule in his recovery and could make a stunning return this weekend, which would provide a huge boost to the Londoners and could once again make them a team to fear in the BPL.
Monday 12/21/15 (12 noon PT)
Arsenal vs. Manchester City (5)
Undoubtedly the fixture of the matchday pits the two sides who would be sitting one-two if it weren’t for the sensational Foxes. The pair of Champions League Round of 16 participants are in quality form both domestically and on the continent. They sport the two best goal differentials in the BPL, meaning they have been both prolific in front of goal and stingy at the back. When titans clash, it often turns into a very defensive affair, but both of these sides
Bonus European Game of the Week: River Plate vs. Barcelona Sunday 12/20/15 2:30 AM PT
The FIFA Club World Cup takes place once a year, and more often than not, the final pits the best of Europe against the best from South America. River Plate, one of Argentina’s most famous squads, snuck into the second round of the Copa Libertadores (South America’s Champions League and qualification route to the Club World Cup) as the No. 16 seed, and they were fortunate to be awarded a victory over fellow countrymen and top seed Boca Juniors when the second leg of their tie was suspended after Boca fans attacked River players with pepper spray. The squad didn’t let that phase them, however, and defeated Cruzeiro of Brazil, Guarani of Paraguay, and UANL of Mexico in the final, allowing just two goals in the six matches. Now, they get a chance to shock the world when they matchup with world beaters Barcelona in Japan. The Catalans are undoubtedly big favorites, and upsets are pretty rare in this competition (Chelsea are the only European participant to not win the title in the last eight years) but an opportunity like this only arises once a year, making it a very compelling game to watch, despite the brutal time of day.