LIVER­POOL AND THE CURSE OF CHRIST­MAS

While the Reds fight a jinx, the rest of the EPL look to feast on lowhang­ing points

CityPress - - Sport - MUHAM­MAD HUS­SAIN muham­mad.hus­[email protected]­press.co.za

As far as his­toric tales go, Liver­pool is full of them. The le­gend of the Kop, the mir­a­cle of Is­tan­bul and the “This is An­field” sign, but the one that’s be­ing flaunted at the mo­ment is the curse of Christ­mas.

In the Pre­mier League’s 27-year his­tory, on 14 oc­ca­sions the side to top the ta­ble at Christ­mas has gone on to win the ti­tle. The only team to fal­ter three times has been Liver­pool, in fact the only team to not lift the tro­phy af­ter lead­ing the pack on De­cem­ber 25 over the past 10 sea­sons is Liver­pool, twice.

Whether Liver­pool will top the ta­ble on Christ­mas Day is un­known at the time of writ­ing, but what is known are the three games there­after. The Reds face the newly pro­moted New­cas­tle on Box­ing Day, Ar­se­nal three days later and, in this year’s match of the fes­tive sea­son, reign­ing cham­pi­ons Manch­ester City on the third day of the new year.

On the morn­ing of De­cem­ber 26 2013, Liver­pool sat at the sum­mit one point clear of City. By the end of the evening they were in fourth place, two-points adrift of even­tual win­ners City.

The baby blues from Manch­ester, by com­par­i­son, have led twice at Christ­mas – last sea­son and dur­ing the 2011/12 sea­son, where they played Liver­pool also on Jan­uary 3 and won 3-0 – but they have never let the ti­tle slip from that po­si­tion.

“Only City can stop City,” Liver­pool coach Jür­gen Klopp said this week be­fore the fes­tive sea­son fix­tures be­gan.

“But we are in De­cem­ber. Tot­ten­ham, Chelsea, Ar­se­nal – they are so close. I shouldn’t think about one op­po­nent or we are the only one that can stop City.”

Even if he is right, his un­de­feated Liver­pool side still has the ad­van­tage and all those teams will be look­ing to­wards the Phoenix of An­field for added hope come next month.

Af­ter City’s de­feat to Chelsea at the be­gin­ning of this month, the top of the ta­ble bat­tle was brought a lot closer, with the top four within nine points of each other. If Spurs and the Blues of Lon­don can get through the fes­tive fix­tures un­scathed and Liver­pool win at Eti­had, City’s per­ceived dom­i­nance will fal­ter.

Chelsea play three teams that have oc­cu­pied the mid to bot­tom slots on the ta­ble. They play away twice – against a Wat­ford side hav­ing failed to score in only two of their home games and a Crys­tal Palace side that they’ve al­ready beaten this sea­son – and at home against Southamp­ton. But the Blues have looked a lit­tle off-colour in their trav­els, giv­ing up six points to the Wolves and Spurs.

Tot­ten­ham have a sim­i­lar fes­tive sea­son fix­ture list, ex­cept they play the pro­moted Wolves at Wem­b­ley.

Wolves have been the stand-out un­der­dog team this sea­son, hav­ing beaten Chelsea and held Ar­se­nal, Manch­ester United and City to oneall draws. Although Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino’s Tot­ten­ham beat the Wolves at Mo­lineux Sta­dium this sea­son, it was a hard-fought de­fen­sive per­for­mance that saw them scrape past.

The Red Devils of Manch­ester seem to have lost their fire as they lan­guish al­most 20 points adrift from the lead­ers, but with United sac­ri­fic­ing José Mour­inho as coach, they will be hop­ing their de­mure fes­tive sea­son out­ings against Hud­der­s­field Town, Bournemouth and New­cas­tle will re­vive a for­get­table first half of the sea­son.

Make no mis­take, the old fur­nace at the The­atre of Dreams still has the po­ten­tial to en­gulf any team will­ing to take care­taker coach Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer’s team lightly.

Although any slip-up from the men in red could see them drop out­side the top 10.

In the rel­e­ga­tion zone, Hud­der­s­field and Burn­ley will be hop­ing to bag a few points be­fore they clash on Jan­uary 2. Nei­ther team has man­aged to lift them­selves from the bot­tom five since Oc­to­ber.

With bot­tom-placed Fulham strug­gling for form and Southamp­ton and Cardiff City up against tough op­po­si­tion, this would be the per­fect time for the Clarets and the Ter­ri­ers to cap­i­talise.

But all eyes will be at the top of the ta­ble come next month.

With City hav­ing won ev­ery game at home, scor­ing 33 goals while con­ced­ing only six in the process (prior to yes­ter­day’s fix­tures), Pep Guardi­ola’s team will be con­fi­dent that they can over­come Klopp’s Liver­pool, even though the Reds have the best de­fen­sive record fea­tur­ing at least 10 clean sheets this sea­son.

But the onus will be on Liver­pool to keep it squeaky clean in the next two weeks.

To para­phrase Klopp, only Liver­pool can beat Liver­pool.

They beat Wolves 2-0 on Fri­day to go four points clear of City.

BACK Liver­pool’s Mo­hamed Salah, who scored goals as if they were go­ing out of fash­ion last sea­son, has found his form af­ter a slow start

PHO­TOS: CLIVE BRUNSKILL / GETTY IM­AGE

CRE­ATOR Manch­ester United’s Leroy Sané opens up spa­ces and cre­ates scor­ing chances for his team-mates

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