Premier League Highlights for Christmas and New Year
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The Christmas period provides an opportunity for English Premier League teams to build some momentum.
Four matches over 12 days can provide the impetus for a top-six finish or send a team crashing towards the relegation zone.
The EPL fixture list has thrown up a number of intriguing clashes over the festive holidays.
Here, we look at some of the key games in the Premier League over Christmas and New Year this season.
Swansea City vs. Manchester United, Saturday 23rd December 2012
Javier Hernandez is congratulated by Manchester United teammates after his winning goal at Swansea last season
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Manchester United were grateful for Scott Sinclair’s miss when they traveled to Swansea last season.
An 11th-minute error by Angel Rangel had allowed Ryan Giggs to find Javier Hernandez in the box and the Mexico striker scored the only goal of the game.
That was United’s first win over the South Wales team after six defeats and two draws.
There may be a new man at the helm of the Swansea club in the shape of Michael Laudrup, but the team’s style of play mirrors the passing game instilled by former manager Brendan Rodgers.
But Swansea have won only once at home in the league since October 20 and are looking to re-establish the Liberty Stadium as a fortress in a bid to cement a place in the top-half of the table.
United are in pole position for the English Premier League title this season with a six-point lead over rivals Manchester City.
But Sir Alex Ferguson will not allow his side to take their foot off the gas ahead of the Christmas period.
Norwich City vs. Chelsea, Wednesday 26th December 2012
In-form Chelsea striker Fernando Torres will be a threat to Norwich on Boxing Day
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Norwich have not beaten Chelsea since December 1994 when the Canaries ran out comfortable 3-0 winners at Carrow Road.
Chris Hughton’s side had struggled at the start of the season, but have now found their feet to such an extent that their current run of 10 Premier League games without defeat is bettered only by Barcelona in Europe.
Norwich are waiting on the fitness of striker Grant Holt, but with Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington in sparkling form, Chelsea will not find an easy task waiting for them whether the Canaries captain is playing or not.
Interim Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez ended his winless run since succeeding Roberto Di Matteo with victories over Nordsjaelland and Sunderland.
But the exertions of the long trip to Japan and back for the Club World Cup may take their toll over the Christmas period.
Arsenal vs. Newcastle United, Saturday 29th December 2012
Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba have failed to hit the heights of last season with Newcastle this year
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So is Arsenal’s recent upturn in fortune a light at the end of the tunnel or just another train heading their way?
The Gunners look to have a relatively comfortable fixture schedule over the holiday period, but have proved before that they are more than capable of disappointing supporters at The Emirates this season.
Arsene Wenger’s team do appear to be clicking into gear after the impressive 5-2 win at Reading, but need to maintain the momentum through the festive period to keep up their hopes of a Champions League spot next season.
Newcastle have endured a relatively poor campaign this season after the highs of 2011-2012.
The Magpies finished fifth last season, narrowly missing out on Champions League qualification, but are currently just two points clear of the relegation zone.
With strike-pairing Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse failing to hit the heights of last term, Alan Pardew’s side have struggled to recapture the form of last year.
They have won only once since October 28 and travel to Manchester United and Arsenal over the Christmas period.
QPR vs. Liverpool, Sunday 30th December 2012
QPR striker Adel Taarabt is in great form ahead of Liverpool's trip to Loftus Road on 30 December
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However, even the most optimistic Hoops supporter will recognise that there is still a long way to go if they are to survive the drop.
With talismanic striker Adel Taarabt finding form under manager Harry Redknapp, QPR know that a win over a mid-table Liverpool can resurrect their season.
Things have not been good at Liverpool this season. The team has failed to find any kind of consistency so far this season and the 3-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa merely underlined the work needed to rediscover their form.
Luis Suarez remains the main danger for the Reds. During their last trip to Loftus Road, Liverpool suffered a meltdown, conceding three goals in the last 13 minutes as QPR ran out 3-2 winners.
Another similar defensive lapse will increase the pressure on manager Brendan Rodgers.
Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester United, Tuesday 1st January 2013
Shaun Maloney fired Wigan to a shock win over Manchester United last season
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So far this season, it has been the same old same old for Wigan Athletic—a lovely passing game, but without an end product of points.
Roberto Martinez’s side are currently in the bottom three after winning just four league matches all season.
But the Latics’ season turned around last year with the help of a shock 1-0 triumph over United, courtesy of Shaun Maloney’s 20-yard strike. And ended a run of 14 successive defeats to the Old Trafford club.
While the win boosted Wigan’s hopes of survival, it was the catalyst for United’s eventual title loss to Manchester City.
United again hold the aces in the title race heading into the Christmas period but are wise enough to know that could be easily wiped out over this crucial time of year.