Home Sports EPL: Leaders, Chelsea, Kick Off Boxing Day Action

EPL: Leaders, Chelsea, Kick Off Boxing Day Action

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Chelsea’s bid to retain their place at the top of the Premier League kicks off a full Boxing Day programme across England’s top four divisions.

The Blues, who have a three-point lead over Manchester City, host fourth-placed West Ham United at 12:45 GMT.

It will be Chelsea’s second match in a busy sequence of four games in 11 days.

“It doesn’t matter – English or not English – the moment you are a football player in this country, I respect you a lot,” said Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho.

“At this moment the German guys are on the beach, the Spanish guys are in the Maldives getting sun – everybody else is doing that.

“But in this country you play on the 22nd, you play on Boxing Day, you play on the 28th, you play on New Year’s Day. There is no Christmas – just football, and I think the players deserve respect.

“The supporters all around the country give them that respect because every stadium is sold out. And I think the way to do it is with the kind of professionalism my players have shown.”

After the match with the Hammers, Chelsea visit Southampton on December 28 and Tottenham on January 1, having beaten Stoke 2-0 on Monday to stay three points clear at the top.

On the continent, Spain’s La Liga does not restart after Christmas until January 3, while Germany’s Bundesliga is on hiatus until Friday, January 30.

“Chelsea can beat you five or six-nil on their ground,” said West Ham boss Sam Allardyce.

“But we’re enjoying our football this year and enjoying our Christmas a lot more than we enjoyed Christmas last year.

“We’ve got the two hardest games over 48 hours over Christmas – Chelsea away and Arsenal at home in the space of 48 hours is a big demand for us, even though we’re on top of our game at the moment.

“Getting through these two games is going to be a tremendous effort for all the players selected, and hopefully they’ll come through for us as they have done for most of this season.”

Manchester City visit The Hawthorns to play West Bromwich Albion, with boss Manuel Pellegrini in bullish mood.

“We are not thinking about leaders Chelsea,” said Pellegrini, whose team have won six successive league games. “You never win the title in December.

“We have a long five months to continue playing as well as we are doing so far and we will see at the end of the season which team has most points.”

City have what seems on paper to be the more attractive festive fixtures of the top two, with the trip to West Brom followed by home matches with Burnley (December 28) and Sunderland (January 1).

Third-placed Manchester United are at home to Newcastle United.

Bottom club Leicester City welcome Tottenham Hotspur while Hull City go in search of a first win since October 4 when they travel to Sunderland.

Nigel Pearson’s Leicester have taken only two points from the last 33 on offer to drop to the bottom of the table but the boss is confident of an upturn of fortunes.

“I can honestly say I look round the dressing room and I’ve not seen anybody who has given in to our current circumstances. I think that’s a real positive,” said Pearson.

“We are capable of turning it around. Clearly we’ve got to start winning games pretty quickly.”

The Foxes welcome a Tottenham side with three wins from their last three matches in all competitions.

Four points from the last 30 available has also increased the pressure on Hull manager Steve Bruce – and the Tigers boss will travel to former club Sunderland eager for a response from his players after last weekend’s home defeat by Swansea.

“There is always scrutiny on Premier League managers and if you go six, seven, eight weeks without a victory then it is your turn, but I’m still convinced we will be OK,” said Bruce.

Liverpool visit third-bottom Burnley with boss Brendan Rodgers hoping Martin Skrtel’s late equaliser against Arsenal on Sunday will inspire his side.

“The goal and the performance can help turn things around because there has been a lot of criticism of us and I hope it will change and be better in the second half of the season,” said the Reds boss.

Elsewhere, Arsenal host QPR,Everton play Stoke, Swansea welcome Aston Villa and fifth-placed Southampton face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, reports the BBC.

Rangers boss Harry Redknapp has made it clear that he will not sell striker Charlie Austin, who scored a hat-trick in Saturday’s 3-2 win over West Brom to move to 11 goals this season.

“If we sold Charlie Austin we might as well go home,” said Redknapp. “We need Charlie to keep doing what he’s doing.”

Boxing Day Premier League fixtures

Chelsea v West Ham United, 12:45

Burnley v Liverpool, 15:00

Crystal Palace v Southampton, 15:00

Everton v Stoke City, 15:00

Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur, 15:00

Manchester United v Newcastle United, 15:00

Sunderland v Hull City, 15:00

Swansea City v Aston Villa, 15:00

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City, 15:00

Arsenal v Queens Park Rangers, 17:30

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