As a general rule of thumb, the games after the Christmas/New Year period are some of the most intense matches in football. Smaller teams that have performed beyond expectation must now prove that they are truly worthy of the positions they hold, and that it was not just a run of luck. This is especially pertinent to teams such as West Ham (seventh) and Southampton, who have played with amazing spirit and almost seem to have a point to prove. Against this backdrop, we have the traditional powerhouses vying for the all important UEFA Champions League positions (first to fourth position). The Champions League grants teams access to a vast amounts of money and publicity, and playing in this League is one of the prerequisites for most of the world’s top talent to join your team.
There are quite a few interesting games this upcoming weekend:
Manchester City vs. Arsenal (10 a.m., 1/18): This is the game of the weekend, an extremely salivating fixture. Arsenal seems to have rediscovered their form, especially with the return of defender Laurent Koscielny from injury. With him in the squad, Arsenal will likely play like a team reborn. In tandem, Arsenal has the firecracker Alexis Sanchez, who seems to have been shouldering the entire weight of the team when they went through a rough patch. Sanchez possesses supreme talent, and is certainly the key Arsenal player to watch. On his day he just might deliver it all.
Manchester City on the other hand has recently flattered to deceive, with the mercurial David Silva saving his team many blushes in last weekend’s match against Everton. Manchester City allowed their slim lead on Chelsea to slip away and must now buckle down for a hard fought title race. And with Yaya Toure on international duty for the African Cup of Nations, let’s hope Silva is able to once more deliver some magic.
Burnley vs. Crystal Palace (9 a.m., 1/17): This is a bottom of the league game with interesting implications for whichever side is able to manage a win. The current point difference between 12th position (Everton), and 19th position (QPR) is 3 points. This is an extremely tight contest at the bottom of the table, and the teams are fighting for their existence, as anything below 17th position at the end of the season means demotion to the second division, and obscurity.
Manchester United vs. QPR (9 a.m., 1/17): Manchester United has recently been on an extremely disappointing run of form. It culminated in the loss to Southampton this past weekend with no shots on target and the team playing creatively flat, all while creating no real threat while attacking and being laughable in defence.
This is even more interesting when considering that Louis Van Gaal (LVG) now has almost all of his players fit at the same time, for the first time this season. It baffles the mind that he continually insists on playing the 3-5-2 system, which was only implemented as a result of Man U’s injury-ravaged back line.
But it can never be doubted that United has sublime attacking talents in the form of Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata. So what is going wrong? QPR are currently bogged down in 19th place, struggling to stay up. The team has been extremely poor to watch, but a single win would pull them immediately out of danger. As such both teams have it all to play for: United for their pride, and QPR for their existence.