Friday 12/30/16 (12 noon PT)
Hull City vs. Everton (2)
Hull haven’t won a Premier League game since the beginning of November, and while it’s not inconceivable to see them doing so in front of a raucous crowd on Friday night, it’s also going to be difficult for them to top Everton. The Toffees haven’t been all that consistent of late, but they certainly have a major edge on the Tigers in talent level. They’re also a solid road side, with the seventh-most points away from home in the first half, while Hull are 19th in home points
(which, perhaps not coincidentally, is about where the sides sit in the table). An upset wouldn’t exactly be earth-shattering, but it would definitely be surprising.
Saturday 12/31/16 (7 AM PT)
Burnley vs. Sunderland (3)
As the calendar ticks into 2017, games like this one become infinitely more interesting. Burnley
Manchester United vs. Middlesbrough (2)
Suddenly, Manchester United are looking very dangerous. The Red Devils have won four straight PL contests and haven’t lost a league game since getting shellacked by Chelsea on October 23. They’ll expect to continue that run against Boro, but it bears mentioning that Aitor Karanka’s side have been adept at finding ways to grind out results away from home, with five draws in nine away games so far, including ones against Arsenal and Manchester City. The impetus will be on Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba to unlock what will undoubtedly be a compact Boro defense, and while they’re the favorites, this won’t be a straightforward task for Jose Mourinho’s men.
Swansea vs. Bournemouth (2)
With Bob Bradley gone, Swansea are clearly in a desperate situation at the moment, and they’re in desperate need of a good performance and result after three straight losses in which they’ve conceded 10 goals. Bournemouth have lost two games in a row, but the Cherries have played well through most of this season and are deservedly nowhere near danger. That could change if they start giving away points to the bottom-tier sides, but Eddie Howe knows the importance of good results in games like this. Swansea should make it interesting and could well steal a result, but until they get a permanent manager and some stability, it’s hard to see the Swans doing much damage.
Chelsea vs. Stoke (3)
Stoke are in a bit of a rut with just two points in their last four games, but they’re capable of giving Chelsea problems. They took four points from the Blues last year (in what was of course a bad year for Chelsea), and they give teams trouble with their height. Chelsea aren’t particularly tall, so that could be an area where the Potters can take advantage of their hosts. Of course, that being said, Chelsea have won 12 games in a row for a reason, and until that streak ends, they deserve to be considered favorites every time they set foot on the pitch.
Along with Everton, these two sides look most capable of sneaking their way past a giant and into the top six, so this is about as good as a matchup gets for not having an elite squad. Both are coming off tough losses to top opposition, with West Brom falling 1-0 to Arsenal late and Saints losing to Tottenham 4-1 in a weird affair, to say the least. Saints will have to do without Nathan Redmond after his red card against Spurs on Wednesday, so that will make Claude Puel’s balancing act a little more difficult for the side with the fewest number of rest days during this busy period. Even with some other big-name teams going in the time frame, this one might actually be the most entertaining matchup.
Leicester vs. West Ham (2)
A year ago, this would have been a cracker of a fixture. Now, however, with both teams languishing in the bottom half (and the Foxes sitting just three points above the relegation zone), there isn’t too much hype surrounding this meeting at the King Power Stadium. For what it’s worth, the Hammers have been much better of late, with three straight wins by a combined 6-1 scoreline, so Slaven Bilic might have finally put their defensive woes behind them. Better yet, a win could actually boost West Ham to eighth place, so not all is lost yet for a side that’s had a highly disappointing start to the season.
(9:30 AM PT)
Liverpool vs. Manchester City (5)
On the other hand to the game above, this prime-time affair is a fantastic way to head into the new year with second place, and a chance to stay on Chelsea’s heels, on the line. Both sides are starting to really find their stride, with each having won its last three games while allowing a combined two goals. The fixture is also a reunion of two of the best minds in the game for the first time since Jurgen Klopp left his post at Borussia Dortmund at the end of 2015. Pep Guardiola holds the slightest advantage in the all-time records, with four wins compared to Klopp's three and a shootout victory, but in England, this is a whole new ball game. Given the talent on the pitch and sidelines and the chance to start 2017 in second place, this one certainly a must watch.
Sunday 1/1/17 (5:30 AM PT)
Watford vs. Tottenham (3)
(8 AM PT)
Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace (2)
Arsenal haven’t been their tip-top selves recently, but they should still have more than enough firepower to beat Palace at the Emirates this weekend. Sam Allardyce did well in the aforementioned draw with Watford, his first game as Eagles boss, but the Gunners present a much tougher challenge. Arsenal will also have their tails up knowing they will be able to gain points on either Liverpool or Manchester City, so they have plenty of incentive to finish the first half strong. Big Sam’s pragmatic tactics might just stall Arsenal for a while, but in the end, there is probably only going to be one winner.
Bonus European game of the week: Rangers vs. Celtic, Saturday 12/31/16 (4:15 AM PT)
The Old Firm, as it is aptly named, is one of the oldest rivalries in Europe, and the latest installment might be Rangers’ last gasp at keeping Celtic from a sixth straight Scottish Premiership title. The visitors hold a 16-point lead atop the table, haven’t lost in the league this year (while only drawing once), and have a game in hand over Rangers. Even if they win, Rangers would still need a herculean effort (and a lot of help) to reel the Hoops back in, but that will matter little with the immense bragging rights on the line. Celtic smashed their rivals 5-1 in the pair’s first league meeting since Rangers were relegated, so expect the ‘Gers to play with a big chip on their shoulder, especially at Ibrox. It might not be a top European league, but the Old Firm is definitely one of the most passionate games the continent has to offer, and this weekend should be no exception.