Premier League: How the Christmas fixtures could impact the relegation battle
Christmas is always a busy period in the Premier League and this year's festive fixtures could have a big impact on the relegation picture with Newcastle, in particular, facing some very difficult assignments.
There's a full round of games over the weekend of 18th-19th December then, as is usually the case, the majority of the top flight are in action twice over the space of three days between Christmas and New Year when the traditional round of Boxing Day games are followed up by matches spread out between 27th-30th December.
If those struggling in the relegation places can pick up two or three quick victories on the spin it can obviously set a positive tone going into 2022, while two defeats, naturally, would have the opposite effect.
At this stage of the season, with only 12 games played, it's possible that all of the teams currently sitting in the bottom half could get dragged into a relegation scrap in the second half of the campaign.
However, we'll focus our analysis on the bottom seven's Christmas fixtures as there are just seven points separating the teams between 14th and 20th place in the table.
Tough festive fixtures for Magpies
Despite their big-money takeover, Newcastle, who are propping the rest up and are still without a win. Recently-appointed Eddie Howe has a big job on his hands as the Magpies, sit five points from safety and if they're still bottom come Christmas things could be looking very bleak indeed at St James' Park.
They face Manchester City at home on 19th December before the red half of Manchester visits on 27th. Then they go to Everton on 30th to round of three challenging fixtures. It's quite conceivable to see a return of zero points from that run, which is likely to leave them firmly in the relegation mire.
Norwich were written off by pretty much everyone after a dismal start to the season but Saturday's win over Southampton was their second on the spin and, with new boss Dean Smith projecting an upbeat message, the Canaries could yet emerge from the bottom three over the winter.
Can Canaries climb?
The problem is Norwich go to West Ham (18th December), host Arsenal on Boxing Day and then play Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on the 28th. It's another set of testing games over Christmas and it means Smith's side will, in all likelihood, still be struggling come New Year's Day.
Another slow start has left Burnley to go down, in the relegation mix as well and Sean Dyche's men go to Aston Villa on the 18th, before a Boxing Day home game against Everton is followed up by a trip to Old Trafford on 30th December.
There's nothing straightforward about those games either, although the Clarets will be targeting at least one victory from that list as they eye what is now becoming a yearly improvement overall in the second half of the campaign.
Brentford, Villa, Watford and Leeds are currently the four clubs sitting the right side of the dropzone and all have shown signs this season that they have what it takes to stay out of trouble.
Villa will hope new boss Steven Gerrard can lead them up the table and he will be after important festive wins over Burnley and Leeds, especially as their Boxing Day home game against Chelsea is predicted to end in defeat.
Brentford face two south coast trips to Southampton and Brighton - games they will want points from because they host Manchester City on 29th December - while Watford's three festive assignments are at home to Palace, away at Wolves and home to West Ham as Claudio Ranieri tries to work his magic at Vicarage Road.
Finally, Leeds' Christmas period is not one to particularly cherish as the Whites, entertain Arsenal, go to Liverpool and then host Villa.
Marcelo Bielsa's men have shown their quality in flashes so far this term but injuries have hit them hard and, if others around them in the table improve, they could yet find themselves in the relegation zone by the end of the year.
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