Traditionally, Last month of the year and the first month of the following year, bring cheer, joy and hope to the people around the world. Nothing different when it comes to football.
While rest of the Europe use this time as a Winter Break to freshen up their leagues, allow teams to make tours to middle east and mint money, England and Scotland pile up the fixtures on the Boxing day, New Year’s eve and 2nd day of the year and following weekend. Large crowds are drawn away from home to the stadiums to they can enjoy Festive Season with their mates, over the beer rather than spend time with the families.
As people flock in the stadiums to enjoy more and more football, 11 men on the pitch and the one in dugout, start to sweat over the games coming thick and fast. With Pride, Glory, Promotion, Relegation, Local bragging rights at stake, Managers can’t wish for anything else but to scrape through this period with minimum injuries and maximum possible points.
This season teams will be playing played 5 League matches and a Cup game between 17th December – 8th January span. These 5 games can define your season. You can break away from your nearest rivals, either to the summit or away from the abyss, or you can blow up the lead or get sucked into the relegation battle.
Before getting in that fixture frenzy, Man City (38 Pts) and Man United (36 Pts) were split by 2 points at the summit while Bloton (9 Pts), Blackburn (10 Pts), Wigan (12 Pts) made the bottom three and Wolves, Sunderland (14 pts) and West Brom (15 Pts), were lurking just above the relegation zone.
Out of these 8 placed teams City, United, Bolton, Wigan, Sunderland and West Brom are yet to play their 5th fixture of this frenzied fixture pile up. And this is going to turn out to be significant.
Currently the bottom six of the table has been occupied by Bolton (13 Pts), Blackburn (4 Pts), Wigan (15 Pts) at the bottom three, new entrant QPR, Wolves (17 Pts) and Sunderland (21 Pts) occupy 17th, 16th and 15th place respectively.
Now looking at the remaining fixtures of this frenzied last round, Wigan will play Sunderland at Home tonight, Tottenham will host West Brom and Everton will host Bolton on 5th Jan.
Resurgent Sunderland, under Martin O’Neill has picked up 7 points in their last 4 games (L,W,D,W) and I fancy them to go to Wigan who have picked up just 3 points (D,D,L,D), and take all 3 points. These 3 points will take Sunderland to 24 points and will see them propelled to 10th Position and Wigan will be rooted to 18th place. A draw will see Sunderland climb up just 1 place to 14th but a win for Wigan will get them out of the relegation zone and move up on 16th place, pushing QPR in the relegation zone.
Wigan will be hoping that Sunderland will be tired after playing on 1st Jan and beating Man City with the last kick of the match.
Everton will host Bolton, who are rooted down the bottom of the league. A win for Everton or a draw will change nothing in the table (which I think will be the scenario). But a Bolton win will still keep them in the relegation zone but from bottom of the league to 18th place.
Wolves have shown a promise in patches but have picked up just 3 points in last 5 (L,D,D,D,L). Their next 5 fixtures are Spurs (A), Villa (H), Liverpool (H), QPR (A), West Brom (H).
While Norwich, Swansea have shown incredible promise to stay up in the League, QPR will be looking forward to buy more fringe players and make a desperate attempt to improve the disastrous form (1 point in 5 games). QPR’s next 5 fixtures are Newcastle (A), Wigan (H), Villa (A), Wolves (H), Blackburn (A) and I think they have a best chance of pulling out from the relegation zone.
I hope Blackburn and Bolton, traditionally combative teams, will keep trying hard and picking up points here and there and sneak out of the drop zone. But it might just be too little too late.
Bolton’s next 5 fixtures (post Everton trip) are against Utd (A), Liverpool (H), Arsenal (A), Norwich (A), Wigan (H). Blackburn will play with Fulham (H), Everton (A), Newcastle (H), Arsenal (A), QPR (H). I can see Bolton have a chance of picking up 4 points and Blackburn 3. Wigan’s next 5 (post Sunderland trip) are Man City (H), QPR (A), Spurs (A), Everton (H), Bolton (A) and might pick up 3 points.
I reckon that will not change the scenario at the bottom.
I was hoping that the teams in the relegation zone and just above drop zone would be showing a spirit and some true grit. I was hoping that after every match day, bottom of the League Table will keep on shuffling.
None of that has happened so far but I haven’t given up the hope yet.
Hope 2012 gives combative spirit to the bottom 3 and spices up the relegation battle.