Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

UK: 2011 Festive football preview

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on December 24, 2011
Manchester City

Will Manchester City still top the English league after Christmas?

While the rest of European football shuts down for a well-earned break at Christmas time there is no such luxury in the United Kingdom. It has long been a traditional within the Home Nations to continue over the festive period and this season will should see some interesting action.

In England there is the very real possibility of the top two teams pushing away from all the rest to indulge in their own private dual to win the Barclays Premier League. Manchester City (Played 17, Points 44) will top the standings on Christmas Day for the first time since 1929 but they only have a two point advantage over arch-rivals United who, as usual at this time of year, are peaking are just the right time. Having trailed City by seven points only a few weeks ago, United are now breathing down their neighbours’ necks and have dropped only two points out of the last 24 available since they suffered an embarrassing 6-1 at the hands of City in the Manchester derby.

City will hope to preserve their place at the top but will face tough challenges against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns on Boxing Day followed by a home tie against a Sunderland team revitalized since Martin O’Neill became their manager a fortnight ago. Roberto Mancin’s men have done well to remain at the top given all of the antics happening on and off the field. The Carlos Tevez saga has annoyed and bored everybody in equal measure whilst Mario Balotelli remains a constant source of fascination whether he is setting off fireworks in his home United, meanwhile, will play two home games, both of which look very winnable on paper. Wigan Athletic have taken points from both Chelsea and Liverpool in their last two games but recent history suggests that the Latics will do very well to take anything off United as the Lancashire side have lost every game against United in thirteen matches since they came into the Premier League in 2005. Blackburn Rovers are the visitors to Old Trafford on New Year’s Eve with Rovers fans’ campaign to get rid of their coach Steve Kean likely to take up the headlines going into that match.

In case either of the Manchester teams slip up Tottenham Hotspur are still the best placed team to take advantage despite their 1-1 draw at home to Chelsea FC on Thursday night. Spurs face two of last season’s three promoted sides in the form of Norwich City and Swansea City over the festive period. Three-time Premier League champions Chelsea hope to maintain their top four ambitions with wins in the local derby at home to Fulham FC and against struggling Aston Villa. Just outside of the Champions League places Arsenal FC have two home games against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Queens Park Rangers whilst Liverpool, who have had to contend with recent allegations of racism towards star player Luis Suarez, also have two home games with Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United providing the opposition. Nothing less than six points will do for the Reds who have struggled for consistency and dropped too many points against teams they should’ve beaten this season. If Kenny Dalglish’s men are to challenge for the Champions League spots then they really need to start a good run from here.

Ally McCoist

Will Ally McCoist be celebrating further success in the Old Firm derby on Wednesday?

In Scotland defending champions Glasgow Rangers (Played 19, Points 48) have an early kick off today away to St Mirren with three points essential if the Gers are to at least preserve their current four point lead going into next Wednesday’s Old Firm derby against eternal rivals Glasgow Celtic. Neil Lennon’s Celtic side have a home tie against sixth placed Kilmarnock today with the former having enjoyed a run of seven straight wins following a tough start to the season. Old Firm games always have something riding on them and Wednesday’s encounter will be no exception. The first meeting between Rangers and Celtic this season saw the former etch out a 4-2 win over the latter after Celtic had led the game 2-1 at half-time. Celtic, however, will have home advantage next time and go into the game in better form. Even so coach Lennon must prove that this is a Celtic team that will be capable of taking the champions all the way in this season’s title race following a three year title drought at Parkhead.

Outside of the Old Firm, Motherwell have had a great season under Stuart McCall and they hope to continue their impressive form with wins against Heart of Midlothian, who have been beset by internal upheaval with players in dispute over unpaid wages throughout the season, and Dunfermline who are currently bottom of the table on goal difference with Edinburgh side Hibernian just above them on goal difference. Speaking of Hibs they will face local rivals Heart of Midlothian in the capital city derby on January 2nd in a game neither club dare lose given their current predicaments.

In the Welsh Premier League there is currently an exciting tussle at the top with the best three sides – Llanelli AFC, The New Saints and Bangor City – all separated by just two points. With just two games left before the twelve team league is split up into two groups of six it is imperative for clubs to see out 2011 on a high. League leaders Llanelli (Played 20, Points 45) will face off home and away against fourth place Neath Athletic, who are ten points behind the league leaders, whilst The New Saints and defending champions Bangor City will also face double headers against Newtown and Prestatyn Town respectively.

In Northern Ireland table toppers Linfield FC (Played 22, Points 52) have a five point lead over Portadown and Cliftonville going into the festive period. Record champions Linfield, who won their 50th championship last season, will meet fifth placed Glentoran and ninth placed Glenavon over the next seven days. Should Linfield slip up then Portadown and Cliftonville will be looking to close the gap. Portadown, whose last league title came in 2002, have games against Glenavon and sixth placed Crusaders to look forward to whilst Cliftonville, whose most recent title triumph came in 1998, meet Crusaders and fourth placed Coleraine FC.

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