Festive fixture list fuels Premier League title race

TOP FOUR - PREMIER LEAGUE FESTIVE FIXTURES (Points correct as of 2330 GMT on 21 December)
Manchester City - 44 pointsManchester United - 42 points
Stoke (home) 21 Dec. Won 3-0Fulham (away) 21 Dec. Won 0-5
West Brom (away) 26 DecWigan (home) 26 Dec
Sunderland (away) 1 JanBlackburn (home) 31 Dec
Liverpool (home) 3 JanNewcastle (away) 4 Jan
Tottenham - 34 pointsChelsea - 32 points
Chelsea (home) 22 DecTottenham (away) 22 Dec
Norwich (away) 27 DecFulham (home) 26 Dec
Swansea (away) 31 DecAston Villa (home) 31 Dec
West Brom (home) 3 JanWolves (away) 2 Jan

The hectic fixture schedule that characterises the festive period is upon us, and there is no respite for Premier League clubs.

Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen believes it is a make-or-break time for the title contenders - or break, at any rate.

"You certainly can't win it at Christmas, but you can lose it," he says. "It's such a big period and there are so many points to play for."

Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea play four games in the space of 14 days, while Manchester United play the same number of games in 15 days - although none of the leading pack faces the programme of four games in 12 days that has angered Swansea boss Brendan Rodgers.

Based on the scheduling, United appear to have a slight advantage.

Crucial fixtures for Manchester City include a trip to Sunderland and the visit of Liverpool to Etihad Stadium in the space of just three days, whereas Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates his 70th birthday on New Year's Eve by hosting strugglers Blackburn at Old Trafford followed by a fixture at Newcastle, four days apart.

Hansen acknowledges City are in the driving seat but points to United's greater know-how in this situation as potentially significant.

"Manchester City have got enough strength in depth to do really well over Christmas and new year," says Hansen.

"I can certainly see them maintaining their position over that period but they have got a very tough game at home to Liverpool just after the turn of the year.

"United have had what you might call their mini-crisis when they went out of the Champions League, and while you cannot say they are back yet, they have had a really good run of results in the Premier League since they lost 6-1 at home in the Manchester derby.

"They were impressive at QPR and they could have won by a lot more than two goals. You never write them or Sir Alex Ferguson off because they have gone the distance so many times.

"But it is looking more and more likely that the title will go to one of those two."

And he adds: "It is a really testing time for all clubs over Christmas because the games come so thick and fast. It is never easy for the players and their teams and you don't see teams picking up maximum points from those three or four games too often."

Former Arsenal defender Lee Dixon, who won four league titles with the Gunners, feels Manchester City are the favourites for the title after their 1-0 victory over his old side.

"I don't think [City and United's] fixtures are that different," he says.

"It is not that hard for both of them but Christmas is a funny old time, especially if you get a couple of injuries in key positions.

"But I think it is Manchester City's title to lose, the way they are playing, and they have bounced back from a disappointing loss to Chelsea.

"Looking at results so far, and looking at size of the squad it's not as if they were on a real low after being knocked out of the Champions League.

"Against Chelsea, they were very good for the first half hour, and they came out fighting against Arsenal so they answered a lot of questions."

Chelsea and Arsenal, along with Tottenham and Liverpool, are in action too of course, as the chasing pack behind the Manchester pair try to put themselves in the driving seat for the Champions League spots.

And with a London clash between Harry Redknapp's Spurs and Andre Villas-Boas's Chelsea coming up at White Hart Lane, Hansen feels the north Londoners' impressive start will stand them in good stead for the rest of the season.

"If the top two stay as they are, you've got four teams vying for two spots," he says.

"I think Tottenham will definitely get one of those, and so you have Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool going for one remaining place, which is mega.

"I wouldn't know which to pick."

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