Proud of their unique football tradition English fans are every year treated to a proper festive feast which rest of the world are either envious or resentful of.
Christmas and New Year’s football is the tradition that separates the English from the rest of Europe, a distinguishable trait loved and hated by the participants themselves as well as the fans.
The Boxing Day fixture list dates way back to 1860 when the world’s two oldest domestic clubs of Sheffield FC and Hallam FC played their inaugural inter-club match. Two years later, the game was first mentioned in the papers, first ever published in December 1862.
Two decades later, the first Football League season was held with the Boxing Day fixture list duly included. There hasn’t been a year without festive football since, and until 1957 there were even matches played on the very Christmas Day.
Festive football has taken on a life of its own, often providing unique football entertainment. Institutionalized in a way, football around Christmas and New Year has plenty to offer, which will surely be the case this year as well.
The current season has so far brought plenty of unexpected surprises and festive football is offering a chance for an early break in the tight title race.
As the festivities approach we take a look at how the top four clubs could fare during the hectic run.
Leicester: There’s an end to every beginning
Leicester City are leading the pack with 38 points to the name after 17 Premier League rounds. The Foxes are having an incredible season and it would be foolish to disregard them throughout the upcoming hectic period.
However, will their flying form last?
Fresh from an emotional win over Chelsea which saw Jose Mourinho lose his job, Ranieri’s charges ran over Everton as well. The 3-2 away win at Goodison was a timely morale boost ahead of the festivities which Foxes are hoping will bring a lot of presents under the tree.
Leicester are travelling to Anfield to lock horns with the wounded Liverpool on the Boxing Day and the game against Reds could be the breaking point for Claudio Ranieri’s team. Liverpool are winless in their last four games and Jurgen Klopp will demand a response from his team.
With a limited squad resources, the Foxes will be hoping their first-team regulars will endure the difficult times and emerge victorious.
Two days after the Liverpool visit, Foxes are welcoming Manchester City and it will be the third high-profile game for the Foxes in the last four rounds in the Premier League.
Second day of the New Year will see Leicester play host to Bournemouth and the Foxes will surely be exhausted from the major challenges that lie ahead.
Arsenal: Favourable schedule
More experienced and accustomed to the Premier League festivities, Arsenal are entering the busy schedule in high spirits. The Gunners will be pleased to see their Christmas schedule consisting of three games against the teams sitting in the bottom half of the Premier League table.
Boxing Day is bringing the duel against Southampton who are 12th in the standings and winless since November. Bournemouth and Newcastle United are next and Wenger’s troops will have to be careful against the teams which are experiencing an upturn in their most recent forms.
The Gunners have the chance to make the most of their Christmas schedule and take over the leading position. Lead by the incredible Mesut Ozil, Arsenal are heading in the football festivities feeling more optimistic than ever.
The London-based club have once again confirmed their title credentials with a win over Manchester City and are not to be underestimated in their bid as they stand at 1/1 to lift the trophy at the end of the campaign.
Manchester City: Losing the pace?
The Citizens have suffered a dip in form, but are yet to be discarded from the title race.
Perhaps a bit unconventionally, but the Citizens have not endured the heavy barrage of criticism even though they are only three points in front of their city rivals, who are under a huge fire at the moment.
Manuel Pellegrini’s team are coming off from the 2-1 loss to Arsenal and defeat to direct title rivals will have been a major blow to the team’s spirit.
Entering the Christmas schedule, Manchester City brace themselves for two matches against the two most surprising teams in the league.
First up is the home game against the struggling Sunderland and then respective trips to Leicester and Watford in 2016. If they bounce back from the loss against Arsenal, City will be highly motivated to get back in the title chase, but the six-pointer versus the Gunners was indeed a major blow to their ambitions.
Tottenham: Thriving and going strong
The Spurs are currently occupying the Champions League spot with Manchester United and Crystal Palace breathing down their necks. Goal difference is the only thing separating the three sides and the festive period could bring some space between them.
Tottenham are welcoming Norwich on Boxing Day before travelling to Watford and Everton respectively.
It will be highly interesting to see if Pochettino’s young men could rise up to the challenge and keep thriving under pressure. With Champions League football in sight, the Spurs are motivated to make the big step forward.
Manchester United and Chelsea are pitted against each other in the middle of the festive season.
Louis van Gaal could be handed a thank you note instead of the Christmas present and the possible arrival of Jose Mourinho to his place would surely be fitted of the proper Hollywood blockbuster.
Dutch manager will be expected to end the winless streak of six games in all competitions and will have the chance to do so against Stoke on the Boxing Day. Following the derby match with Chelsea, the Red Devils are welcoming the struggling Swansea.
On the other side, Guus Hiddink is taking charge for the first time since 2009 and his priority is to wake the team up and sober the fans from denial and utter disappointment.
First up are Watford, then Crystal Palace who are following up the Manchester United game and Chelsea will be hoping to keep the momentum following their 3-1 win over Sunderland last time out.
Who do you think will gain the most from the festive football period?