Things get underway with a game between clubs with exciting new managers, as both Carlo Ancelotti and Mikel Arteta look on before taking charge of Everton and Arsenal respectively over Christmas.
Then it’s a clash between Man City and Leicester that will determine which, if any, of these teams can challenge Liverpool for the title, before on Sunday Jose Mourinho faces Frank Lampard in a London derby. The winner of that game will probably go on to finish in the top four.
Man City v Leicester
Saturday, 21/12/19, 17:30
Pep Guardiola’s new 4-2-3-1 formation with Phil Foden alongside Kevin de Bruyne in the number ten space helped Man City restore order last weekend, following several months in which they have struggled to build through midfield. This shape should force Leicester back, and the Foxes don’t have the defensive strength to prevent De Bruyne from dominating.
However, this will also spring load the Leicester attack. They can break behind the vulnerable City central midfield, with James Maddison and Jamie Vardy in particular enjoying the hosts’ high line and slow centre-backs. This one should descend into an entertaining end-to-end game.
Tottenham v Chelsea
Sunday, 22/12/19, 16:30
Jose Mourinho will relish beating his former club with classic park-the-bus tactics. Chelsea have lost four of their last five games because opponents have begun to work out how to frustrate them, sitting in a deep block that limits space in the final third for Mason Mount. Chelsea don’t have the patience, or the detailed attacking coaching, to work out how to break down a solid defence.
Spurs will deploy a low block, then, and look to break quickly through a soft Chelsea midfield still badly struggling to cope with the transitions. It is easy to envisage Lucas Moura, Heung-Min Son, and Dele Alli counter-attacking through an empty Chelsea midfield and giving Mourinho the win he craves.
Atalanta v AC Milan
Sunday, 22/12/19, 11:30
Having qualified unexpectedly through their Champions League group, Atalanta are seemingly back on the up despite losing at the weekend to Bologna. They are only four points off the top four, and could make a big statement with victory against AC Milan, who are currently seven points behind them in Serie A.
Atalanta struggle at home, however, because their piercing vertical attacking football requires space on the break. AC Milan, then, have a good chance of extending their unbeaten record to five. Scoring goals has been their biggest problem; their top scorer is left-back Theo Hernandez with four, and AC Milan drew 0-0 with Sassuolo last weekend despite taking 23 shots. A dull draw seems likely.
Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao
Sunday, 22/12/19, 20:00
A stuttering 0-0 draw in El Clasico has done nothing to answer the question of whether or not Zinedine Zidane is the right manager for Real Madrid. They still lack clarity, with good performances from Karim Benzema papering over the cracks. However, that lack of tactical direction should not cause them any grief against Athletic Bilbao this weekend.
Athletic have only won once on the road this season, even though their defence-first approach generally keeps the score low. Real’s strength in attack, even without Eden Hazard, invariably means they score a couple at the Bernabeu.
Bayern Munich v Wolfsburg
Saturday, 21/12/19, 14:30
Two wins on the bounce has put Bayern right back into the title race; they are now only four points off the top, and probably considered favourites again after slips from rivals Borussia Monchengladbach and RB Leipzig. However, Wolfsburg have just the right qualities to make this weekend’s game a difficult one for interim coach Hans-Dieter Flick.
Wolfsburg will sit back and counter-attack at speed down the flanks, their favoured method of playing. Joao Victor has been in particularly good form from the right wing, and so Bayern’s domination of possession could work in Wolfburg’s favour. This is certainly not a foregone conclusion. The only thing we can predict with confidence is plenty of goals.
Monaco v Lille
Saturday, 21/12/19, 19:45
Monaco’s form is steadily improving, with back-to-back wins helping to extend their home record of five Ligue Un victories in a row. That makes this a tough place for Lille to visit despite the gap between them in the table; Lille are third, chasing a Champions League spot now that Paris Saint-Germain are moving clear at the top.
Lille’s poor away form is a cause for concern. They rank 15th, winning just one of their eight games, mainly because they rely on playing possession football to win points – and struggle for territorial dominance on their travels. Monaco, then, should continue their recovery on Saturday.