LIVERPOOL AND THE CURSE OF CHRISTMAS
While the Reds fight a jinx, the rest of the EPL look to feast on lowhanging points
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.
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