Festive fixtures crucial in Premier League

At this time of year, Premier League players are stuffed with games rather than good food and drink like the rest of us.

Which is why it is all the more important to have deep reserves of goodies in your stocking.

However, even league leaders Manchester City, who some claim are unable to field a weakened side such is the talent of their bulging squad, will see their numbers eaten up quicker than Christmas pudding on a crowded table.

Both newly-crowned 2011 African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure and brother Kolo will be missing from action after their tasty third round FA Cup tie against neighbours Manchester United.

This underscores the importance placed on their upcoming fixtures over the festive period. The blue half of Manchester have only won once in their last four away matches in all competitions, including a draw at Liverpool and losing at Chelsea.

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Admittedly, West Brom (Boxing Day) and Sunderland (New Year’s Day) away, look easier assignments, although Fulham managed to peg back Roberto Mancini’s men at Craven Cottage from a two-goal deficit.

Who is to say Martin O’Neil can’t reproduce the same with the resurgent Black Cats?

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Looking to pounce will be second-placed Manchester United, who conversely have two home games against equally manageable Wigan before hosting imploding Blackburn at Old Trafford.

Wayne Rooney appears to be on another goal-scoring run and traditionally performs at this time of year. He scored a 19th Premier-league title clinching penalty the last time the two sides squared off in the league, and he could compound the misery for Steve Kean – if he escapes receiving a lump of black coal on top of his notice over Christmas.

Elsewhere, after nearest challengers Tottenham and Chelsea played out a stalemate at White Hart Lane last night, both sides would expect to have accrued nine points by January 3.

Aston Villa’s trip to London could prevent Andre Villa-Boas’ troops from marching towards this target on New Years Eve, while after trips to Norwich and Swansea are successfully navigated a home clash with West Brom may give third-placed Spurs a tricky start to 2012.

Wolves, currently one place clear of the relegation zone, will be carefully looking behind them as visits to Arsenal and second-bottom Bolton precede a home game against Chelsea.

That sandwiched match with Owen Coyle’s Wanderers could prove to be pivotal, but with both Wigan and QPR away twice in their next three matches, all relegation-threatened clubs will be scrambling for loose scraps at the foot of the table, like the scene at the after a Christmas family meal.

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