In August 2015, everyone predicted Chelsea to win the English Premier League (EPL) 2015-16 comfortably. Pundits and fans do not win games. Ultimately Chelsea players and managers couldn’t get on to winning ways like they did in EPL 2014-15 season. No one predicted or guessed Leicester City to be on equal points with leaders Arsenal in the EPL table half way through the season. Now, in the end of 2015, the table doesn’t reflect how it used to be in the last decade. Neither of the teams from Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea are in the top 5 positions. Will the January fixtures be suitable to change the scenario for the big clubs?
Arsenal – rejuvenated (Reds), in-form (Potters) and historically tough (Pensioners) opponents
As usual, title seems within the sight for Gunners. Barring the Southampton game, they were literally cruising through with confidence after securing group stage progression in UEFA Champions League, skill as usual as Gunners and robustness at back with Petr Čech’s signature signing. But the 4-0 battering is a reminder for Arsenal to remain consistent till the end of the season to stop avoiding yet another they-could-have-been-EPL-champions story. In January they face tough tests from rejuvenated Liverpool at Anfield and in-form Stoke City at Britannia Stadium. Stoke City has defeated both the Manchester heavyweights just in December.
They also face Chelsea in what is usually a tough London Derby fixture for Arsenal given their record against Blues. Their games against Newcastle United and Sunderland are must wins though Newcastle United had defeated both Liverpool and Tottenham just in December. With just 5 fixtures and having a minimum of 3 and a half days to prepare for each game, Arsenal aren’t expected to pick up any fresh injuries in this period.
Chelsea – away games at Selhurst Park and Emirates Stadium in the way to getting back to winning ways
Guus Hiddink’s target of securing 4th place in Premier League seems like a joke than a serious target – especially when your team is 15 points below the 4th placed Tottenham Hotspurs. Their only easy fixture is the FA cup third round game against Scunthorpe at Stamford Bridge. Their games against high flying Arsenal at Emirates Stadium and Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park will definitely be challenging.
The game against Everton should be played within 3 days preparation making it even more challenging than how it looks. January fixtures are the right test for Chelsea players’ pride to prove that they indeed are star football players. As the Blue Cesc Fàbregas himself said “If you are a big player and paid like a big player, you must play like a big player and behave like a big player”.
Liverpool – Liverpool-West Ham-Stoke-Exeter-Liverpool – 850 miles travel in 8 days
Liverpool have to play the League cup semifinals against inform Stoke City and FA Cup third round against Exeter City and 4 league games. Among these 7 games, 5 games are to be played with less than 4 days preparation and 1 among with has to be played with less than 3 days preparation. This tight schedule is definitely going to give Jürgen Klopp a headache with injuries and fatigue.
They also have to play both leaders Arsenal and Manchester United back to back. Only positive here is that both games are to be played at Anfield. Away games at Norwich City and Exeter City are the only easy fixtures. January is a tricky month for Liverpool as they face a tight schedule ahead of them with a travel of around 850 miles in the first 8 days.
Manchester City – Ideal month to restore away form and lead the table by dethroning Gunners
Like Liverpool, Manchester City has to play 7 games in January. However, they have to play only 3 games with less than 4 days preparation. Those three were against away games against Watford and Norwich City and home game against Crystal Palace. They are relatively easier fixtures considering City’s squad depth. No opponent other than Crystal Palace is placed in the top 5 positions in the Premier League.
Comparing their fixtures with fellow title contender Arsenal, this is the ideal month to reduce the gap with Gunners. City face Everton 3 times – 2 at home – in Premier League and 2 legs of League cup semifinals. Everton are currently struggling as they won only 2 in 6 games in December. City’s only problem is that their current away form is very pathetic that they haven’t won a single game away from Etihad Stadium since 3rd of November. January is a month for Manchester City to win the position in the top of the table.
Manchester United – Lifeline January fixtures for Louis van Gaal to save his job
First 3 fixtures in January for Manchester United are against struggling Swansea and League One team Sheffield United at home and out of form Newcastle United at St. James’ Park. Louis van Gaal should take advantage of these 3 relatively easy fixtures to progress in FA Cup and reposition Red Devils comfortably for the fight for Champions League spot.
They play their remaining 2 games against Liverpool at Anfield and Southampton at Old Trafford. Those 2 would definitely test Red Devils’ mettle as Liverpool are in an upbeat mood and even in poor form Southampton can bring in a surprise cracking win like they downed the formidable Arsenal 4-0. January is the much needed relaxed fixtures for Louis van Gaal to save his job at Old Trafford. José Mourinho can wait.
Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur – aspiring sides pitting against each other
Both Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur are in the title challenge. They both play against each other at White Hart Lane in FA Cup 3rd round and Premier League with back-to-back games. These games will test the readiness of these sides for the second half of the marathon.
Apart from these games, the fixtures look moderately difficult with one tough fixture and 2 easy fixtures for both the sides.
Along with these exciting fixtures, winter transfers will also play a crucial role in how the sides strengthen or weaken over the month. Overall a rocking month is assured with the following key EPL games: Arsenal-Chelsea London Derby, Liverpool-Arsenal, Liverpool-Manchester United battle and Leicester-Tottenham showoff.