LONDON, United Kingdom, Dec 27 – The Premier League’s relentless festive schedule means there is little time for a Christmas hangover with another full round of fixtures crammed in before the new year, starting on Monday.
Liverpool still lead the table by three points, but a shock 1-1 draw at home to West Brom for the champions has kept a host of contenders tightly bunched together with just four points separating Everton in second from Southampton in ninth.
AFP Sport looks at three things to watch out for this midweek in the Premier League.
Lampard under scrutiny
Frank Lampard deflected the spotlight onto his players after Chelsea’s third consecutive away defeat on Saturday against an Arsenal side that had slipped into a relegation fight.
The Blues’ position of eighth in the table is not what owner Roman Abramovich would have expected after bankrolling a £220 million ($298 million) transfer splurge as most of Europe’s giants were cutting their cloth due to the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
Abramovich has never been slow to sack under-performing managers at Stamford Bridge, although Lampard’s legendary status as Chelsea’s all-time top scorer will buy him some more time.
However, the former England international needs a big response in two huge games this week.
Chelsea welcome Aston Villa, who lead Lampard’s men on goal difference having played two fewer games, on Monday before Manchester City visit the Bridge next weekend.
Lampard has already promised changes and not just because of the tight two-day turnaround.
Timo Werner was hauled off at half-time at the Emirates and criticised by his manager after 11 games without a goal.
“Timo wasn’t giving us enough with or without the ball,” said Lampard. “Some of it we have to give him time. I keep saying the same thing because it’s a different league but we also have to get there quickly.”
Will Man City finally click?
A 2-0 win over Newcastle on Saturday summed up Manchester City’s season.
Pep Guardiola’s men again failed to take their chances to make the scoreline reflect their dominance, but kept an eighth clean sheet in 10 games to remain very much in the title race.
Liverpool’s shock slip-up means City are just six points off the top with a game in hand on the champions.
However, City face a testing week for their title challenge unless they can find a killer instinct in front of goal.
A trip to second-placed Everton on Monday comes just 48 hours after facing Newcastle.
City then travel to Stamford Bridge on Sunday, where they have lost in three of their previous four seasons under Guardiola.
The gruelling schedule will see 12 sides play this week on just two days’ rest in a season already marred by a rise in injuries due to fixture congestion and a lack of pre-season preparation.
Lampard has been the most outspoken critic of the schedule as both Chelsea and Villa’s request for their clash to be moved back to Tuesday was rejected.
Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham are among those to benefit from an extra day’s rest, which Lampard complained creates an unfair advantage.
“It’s an important point for us because there are other teams that are challenging at the top of the league that play two games in three days,” said the Chelsea boss.
“It’s counterproductive for the quality of the Premier League. It’s a risk for players if they are going to play both games at top-end elite sport, everybody knows that.”
Player welfare has been a hot topic this season as Premier League clubs have three times rejected the chance to fall in line with the rest of the major European leagues and adopt five substitutions.
Should there be another spike in injuries over the next few days, the English game will again stand accused of not doing enough to protect players.
Crystal Palace v Leicester (6pm), Chelsea v Aston Villa (8:30pm), Everton v Manchester City (11pm)
Brighton v Arsenal, Burnley v Sheffield United, Southampton v West Ham, West Brom v Leeds (all 9pm), Manchester United v Wolves (11pm)
Tottenham v Fulham (9pm), Newcastle v Liverpool (11pm)