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EPL Approaching ‘Boxing Day’ Fixtures

Wesley of Aston Villa in action during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Southampton FC at Villa Park on December 21, 2019 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – We’re halfway through and are now in the thick of the EPL season. It’s the festive season which can mean only one thing. Most of European soccer is shutting down for the Holidays, but EPL clubs will have two games in 48 hours. Managers and players dread it, but as fans, we sit back, eat leftovers and drink too much, while being entertained.

Boxing day (12/26/19) fixtures have always been a tradition in the U.K.

Nowadays teams are much more professional. Not eating like the rest of us! Training on Christmas day as well. Our first opportunity to see the Arsenal and Everton new managers in action. Both watched their teams 0-0 draw from the stands. Both Everton’s Carlo Ancelloti and Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta have a huge task ahead of them.

Racism once again reared its ugly head. Spurs fans directing abuse towards Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger. We’ve already seen reactions and I’m sure we’ll see more fall out over the coming days. It’s another opportunity for education of the culprits and strong action from clubs. Racism is unacceptable in any walk of life, not just sport.

Round 19 kicks off on Thursday and finishes on Friday.

Aston Villa vs. Norwich City

The festivities will kick off with two of the three promoted teams for this season, currently occupying 18th and 19th positions. Both lost at home last weekend and leaving both teams desperate for all three points. This game is a six pointer plus Watford have that new manager bump with Nigel Pearson. The Hornets showed immediate signs against Liverpool the week before, and then managed the game superbly in a 2-0 victory over Manchester United thus putting pressure on both Norwich and Villa.

Villa were disappointing at the weekend in a 3-1 loss to Southampton. If Jack Grealish gets injured or goes through a loss of form, we are left with fearing for Villa’s survival. Grealish is captain fantastic and in the thick of everything good that happens on the pitch for the team. Five goals and four assists so far on the season. Villa really need to get their Brazilian #9, Wesley firing. Wesley came over from Club Brugge in Belgium with a lot of anticipation. We’ve seen flashes from him, but it’s been inconsistent as he continues to adapt to the EPL. And not all his fault, he hasn’t always been utilized effectively.

One huge blow for Villa is the absence of brave-heart midfielder, John McGinn who had been playing through a minor groin tear in recent weeks. At the weekend, he went over heavily on his ankle and was substituted after just eight minutes. Outside of Jack Grealish he’s been the standout performer and his three goals, and two assists will be a massive blow for the Villan’s engine room.

Norwich are in a similar position when it comes to player performance. Finnish forward Teemu Pukki, sitting on nine goals, then academy product Todd Cantwell on five, then it drops off completely with a couple of players on one. Argentine, Emiliano Buendia has five assists. But like Villa, they just can’t keep the ball out of the back of the net. Norwich have conceded 37 goals. As the old quote “defense wins championships”, the same can be said to stave off relegation straight back down to the Championship. January 1st the transfer window opens, and both teams need to seriously think about recruiting, more so the Canaries.

That said, I do think we’ll see goals in their game. Both teams going for it as the pressure ramps up to try and open the smallest of gaps. Can someone other than the usual suspects step up? Villa thumped Norwich earlier in the season 5-1. So, I do make them the favorites.

Prediction: Aston Villa 3 – Norwich City 2

Leicester City vs. Liverpool

Without doubt the fixture of the Boxing day round. Liverpool fresh off claiming the World Club Cup in Qatar last weekend, come home to a Leicester City that haven’t won in two games, clinging on to second place by one point, after their 3-1 loss to Manchester City. Liverpool come in to the King Power stadium still unbeaten in the EPL. But this is a massive test for the Reds.

Despite the last two results, Leicester are still in good form, I expect this to be just a blip. But it’s their first proper test of squad strength. As the fixtures pile up rotation is vital to keep the squad fresh and injury free. Despite the loss, Jamie Vardy scored again taking his EPL season total to 17. His best return is 24, and we’re only half way through the season. He’s been fun to watch.

He also has a knack of scoring against Liverpool. He will once again be the danger man James Maddison (five goals and three assists) will also be the man providing the ammunition for the attacking players around him. The Foxes adopt a 4-1-4-1 formation that provides great protection for the back four, but also allows the midfield to support Vardy, without losing their shape if they turn the ball over.

A hugely impressive spine, and as we’ve seen that has resulted in entertaining soccer. The papers have linked Brendan Rodgers players with moves away from the Foxes, but right now I think the young players are in the perfect environment to continue learning their trade at a high level.

Liverpool, what else is there to write about this team? 2019 has been amazing for the red half of Liverpool. But their quest isn’t over. despite the 18 league titles, they haven’t won it since the name change. This is the one they crave. Sadio Mane will again be the danger man. He has become the most important part of the Liverpool attack and will again drift in off the left-hand side, the impressive nine goals and five assists have made him a transfer target for Real Madrid.

This one is a tough call, Leicester will be desperate to close the gap and get back to winning ways. Liverpool on the other hand will look to stretch the gap at the top, and effectively end Leicester’s title challenge.

Prediction: Leicester City 1 – Liverpool 2

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Manchester City

To finish out round 19 will be Friday’s matchup between Wolves and Man City. Wolves got the better of City earlier in the season, running out 2-0 winners. Nuno Espirito Santo is a much-coveted coach, and was linked with the Arsenal coaching position, and rightly so. Another coach (much like Brendan Rodgers) whose stock is incredibly high, favoring a mix between a 3-5-2 and a 3-4-3 formation, using wing backs to provide width.

One of the better counter-attacking teams in the EPL, it’s exactly how they overcame City, much to the blistering effectiveness of Adama Traore. Once again, the man who will make the headlines for Wolves will be the much sought after Mexican international forward, Raul Jimenez, seven goals and five assists. Currently sixth in the EPL, and just a point behind fifth place Sheffield United, they’ll be there, or thereabouts, come season end for another Europa League place.

Man City have been ruthless the last couple of weeks. Losing the Manchester derby, a couple of weeks ago has woken up Pep Guardiola’s lads. They peppered Leicester’s goal. Gabriel Jesus scored again, taking his total to six goals in the EPL. Kevin De Bruyne added to his assists, getting him into double figures.

Man City are in the position to chase down Liverpool like they did last season to claim another title, the gap is bigger this time, but the way they’re playing you can’t rule them out to go on another phenomenal run. We’re almost to January, and you expect City to strengthen the back line as it’s been a weakness of this great side the whole time under Guardiola’s tenure.

This has all the making of a great match. Two teams that are really entertaining on their day. But this is City’s for the taking as the look to keep the pressure on.

Prediction: Wolves 0 – Man City 2