Monday 12/26/2016 (4:30 AM PT)
Watford vs. Crystal Palace (2)
This wasn’t a particularly spicy fixture until the sacking of Alan Pardew led Palace into the Sam Allerdyce era, which begins Boxing Day at Vicarage Road. Big Sam is well-known for his ability to keep teams afloat, and Palace are currently a point above the relegation zone, so this isn’t an overwhelming task for the new manager. Facing the Hornets on the road is by no means an easy fixture, but it’s one in which a result is more than reasonable. Watford need to rebound themselves after a tough 1-0 loss to Sunderland a week ago, and they could be ripe for the taking at the moment. It’s always tough to know how players will respond to a new manager in the dugout, so putting a prediction on this fixture would be naive.
(7:00 AM PT)
West Brom have been a breath of fresh air so far this season, but their achilles’ heel has been their failure to get anything going against the top six. Against those teams, the Baggies have just a single point, from a draw with Tottenham. That makes this upcoming stretch of fixtures, which sees them play Southampton after the Gunners, an important measuring stick for just how high they might be able to climb. If West Brom was ever to get a point against the European-placed teams, it might just be this week, as Arsenal have lost their last two. At the Emirates, however, it’s difficult to see the Gunners not walking away with three points.
Burnley vs. Middlesbrough (2)
With just two games to go until the halfway mark, this fixture is semi-critical for both teams, who are trying to put some distance between themselves and the relegation scrap. Both have done enough so far this year to stay clear, but Burnley are on a dangerous road currently, having lost five of their last six fixtures while slowly slipping down the ranks. Boro have certainly been better than that as of late, but they only sit four points above 18th (and a single point above the Clarets), so expect a gritty battle between these promoted squads. These teams definitely know the importance of getting points against their fellow bottom-third sides.
Chelsea vs. Bournemouth (3)
It really doesn’t seem like the Cherries are the team to stop Chelsea’s 11-game Premier League winning streak. The Blues have been on an absolute tear to say the least, and they certainly smell blood again in welcoming the minnows into Stamford Bridge. The Cherries can certainly hack it, though, and they have had a couple of impressive wins this season, including a recent wild one over Liverpool. However, that most likely won’t be enough to see them get a result against the big title favorites.
It’s too early to say the champions are in trouble, but Leicester sit only three points above the relegation zone, and if their domestic play doesn’t improve soon, they could well get caught up in that mess once again. They have a good chance to get points against an Everton side that has lacked consistency all season. The Toffees followed their biggest win of the year (a 2-1 comeback victory over Arsenal) with a last-minute heartbreaking loss in the Merseyside derby. Those results have shown that Everton can hack it with the league’s top sides, but their lack of consistency week in and week out is concerning. Worse, the Toffees have been miserable on the road this year with just two wins and a draw (while getting just one point on their last six away days), and Leicester have been considerably better at home, so even though they are much further down the table, the Foxes might be in good shape to nab the point.
Manchester United vs. Sunderland (3)
David Moyes returns to Old Trafford with his Sunderland team for the first time since his tumultuous 10-month spell as United manager. He’ll be desperate to get a result from this game any way he can, which more than likely would involved the Black Cats sitting back and defending in numbers. The Red Devils have certainly had their problems this season against teams that do so, but they’ve won three games in a row and are looking up the table now that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is hitting form. They’ll expect to win against a team in the relegation zone, but Sunderland have shown in recent weeks that they’re capable of pulling together to earn a significant result and shouldn’t be counted out.
Swansea vs. West Ham (2)
In a game that features two of the league’s leakiest defenses, Swansea will be desperate to get a win against West Ham. The Swans currently sit in 19th place on goal differential, and their horrendous back line has conceded 37 goals, most in the Premier League. West Ham are better off thanks to back-to-back 1-0 home wins, and they’ll look to continue that momentum in Wales. Bob Bradley needs this win badly of he wants to extend the tightening leash on him at the Liberty Stadium, so expect a determined Swansea side to show up.
Hull vs. Manchester City (2)
Hull have dug deep to earn some decent results at times this season, but it’s almost impossible to see that happening Monday against Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s side have won two in a row after a slight blip in form, and the Citizens are back to looking almost as dangerous as they did a month ago. Sergio Aguero remains out as he serves the final game of his suspension, but there remains a significant gulf in talent between these teams. Hull have lost by three or more goals to Arsenal, Liverpool, Bournemouth, Spurs, and even Sunderland this season; it wouldn’t be surprising to add City to that list.
Tuesday 12/27/2016 (9:15 AM PT)
Liverpool vs. Stoke (3)
Like City, Liverpool have recovered from a wobble that saw them lose to Bournemouth late and draw West Ham, as the Reds have won back-to-back games against Middlesbrough and Everton. Now, they’re looking for a third win in a row at home against Stoke. The Potters have drawn their last two, and while they often put up a fight against Liverpool, they haven’t actually won a league game at Anfield since March of 1959, when Stoke beat the Reds 4-3 in a second-division clash. Against a free-flowing Jurgen Klopp Liverpool side, Mark Hughes will have an awfully big task to turn that run around.
Wednesday 12/28/2016 (11:45 AM PT)
Southampton vs. Tottenham (4)
Mauricio Pochettino returns to his old stomping grounds with a Spurs team that starts the matchday just a point out of fourth place. Tottenham still haven’t fully hit their form this season, but the fact that they remain barely off the pace is a scary proposition for some of the other powerhouses looking to avoid a bump from the Champions League places. Spurs will have their hands full this week, however. Southampton are a dangerous outfit, and with two wins and a draw in their last three games, the Saints will like their chances on their home turf. Spurs haven’t lost at St. Mary’s in their last four trips, but they’ll by no means have an easy task Wednesday.