After a six-week break for the winter World Cup, the Premier League is back for Christmas, so what can we expect from the first set of festive fixtures?
“It’s like starting the season all over again,” said BBC football expert Chris Sutton. “There are so many unknowns about almost every team.
“Until we see everyone play, it’s really hard to know what might happen.”
Sutton is making predictions for every top-flight game this season, against a variety of guests.
For the first set of festive fixtures, from 26 to 28 December, he is up against singer and West Ham fan Chesney Hawkes.
Hawkes was labelled as a World Cup lucky charm by the England team after he flew in to perform his number one hit, The One And Only, on the pitch at half-time during their game against Wales, turning him into one the surprise stars of the tournament.
Hawkes was on a 32-date tour of the UK, scheduled to finish in Edinburgh on 27 November, when his co-manager James asked him if he would be up for going direct from Scotland to perform at the game in Doha a couple of days later.
“As a huge football fan, I jumped at the chance, so with little sleep and a lot of tour-lag, I found myself standing on the pitch at half-time singing The One and Only to 60,000 fans,” Hawkes told BBC Sport.
“It was a bit of a lacklustre first half with no sign of a goal. After my half-time show, the boys came out fired up and went on to win 3-0. I by no means ever claimed there was any connection, but the press picked up the story and ran with it!
“I had a little bit of trepidation about performing in front of 60,000 football fans, but I needn’t have worried; it really was a goose-bump moment for me. It was the first time I’d played in a stadium since the early 1990s, but it was amazing to hear that crowd sing along with me. The craziness of the following two weeks was very surreal.
“As far the football was concerned, this World Cup was the best ever: so entertaining, so many wonderful games, last-minute goals and almost ridiculous moments. I loved every minute of it.
“Then we had the greatest World Cup final ever to finish it off. I was on a ship in the Caribbean with my family and we watched it in a theatre with 1,000 fans. The moment Lionel Messi lifted the World Cup was a sublime moment in football history.”
Hawkes is a lifelong West Ham fan so, as well as that Messi moment, another highlight for him was meeting midfielder Declan Rice after the Wales game.
“I was in the tunnel just after the game, so the players were obviously buzzing from a 3-0 win,” he explained. “They all came up to me to say hi, and most of them told me that I should sing at every game as a lucky charm. Declan was particularly lovely. I did have his shirt on, so maybe that helped.
“The England kit men had been kind enough to give me Declan’s shirt. When I got to meet him, I asked him to sign it for my West Ham-mad son Indi. He happily obliged.
“As Declan and I were talking, the rest of the England players were around us. I noticed the unity and team spirit between them. There was obviously a lot of love in the camp.
“I’d love to play a gig for them – just name the time and place, and I’ll be there!
“In the meantime, I am very excited about the upcoming release of my new album, which was written and produced with super-producer Jake Gosling – oh, and I am looking forward to watching West Ham lift the FA Cup on 3 June – come on you Irons!”
|MONDAY, 26 DEC|
|Brentford v Tottenham||x-x||1-1||1-3|
|Crystal Palace v Fulham||x-x||2-1||1-1|
|Everton v Wolves||x-x||1-0||2-0|
|Leicester v Newcastle||x-x||1-2||2-2|
|Southampton v Brighton||x-x||2-2||2-3|
|Aston Villa v Liverpool||x-x||1-0||0-1|
|Arsenal v West Ham||x-x||1-1||2-2|
|TUESDAY, 27 DEC|
|Chelsea v Bournemouth||x-x||2-0||5-0|
|Man Utd v Nott’m Forest||x-x||1-0||3-1|
|WEDNESDAY, 28 DEC|
|Leeds v Man City||x-x||0-4||0-4|
A correct result (picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth 10 points. The exact score earns 40 points.
Games kick off at 15:00 GMT unless otherwise stated
It’s hard to remember what most teams did in their last games before the World Cup, but I have not forgotten Brentford’s stunning win at Manchester City, with Ivan Toney scoring twice.
Toney, who didn’t make it into the England squad, will be looking to pick up where he left off while Tottenham will be hoping Harry Kane hits the ground running after his return from Qatar.
Spurs have got Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski fit again, which will help, but Richarlison is out injured for a few weeks and they are going to miss him.
I’d love to say this will be a thriller to bring back Premier League football with a bang, but my gut feeling is it might actually be a slightly underwhelming draw.
Sutton’s prediction: 1-1
Chesney’s prediction: 1-3
This is a tricky one because Fulham had a real go at pretty much everyone they played in the first part of the season, home or away.
They have probably over-achieved so far, while it feels like Crystal Palace have under-performed in many respects, certainly when I look through their squad.
I am going to back the Eagles this time, though. They are always decent at home and I think they will edge this.
Sutton’s prediction: 2-1
Chesney’s prediction: 1-1
This is a massive game for both teams, but it actually feels bigger for Everton.
It’s a chance for new Wolves boss Julen Lopetegui to get to work properly, in what will be his first game in charge of the Premier League’s bottom side since he was appointed more than a month ago.
Lopetegui has lots to do, including getting Wolves to score some goals, but he is making a fresh start, while Everton were sinking fast before the season paused for the World Cup.
Frank Lampard’s side have lost six of their past eight games in all competitions and could not have signed off on much more of low than being spanked twice in a row by Bournemouth, in the Carabao Cup and then the league.
Wolves are in a relegation battle, but so are Everton and a win here is absolutely crucial for them with Manchester City up next, at Etihad Stadium on New Year’s Eve.
Everton have to win, and I think they will win. I was at Goodison Park last season when their fans made a huge difference for them in games like this, and they will help them again here.
Sutton’s prediction: 1-0
Chesney’s prediction: 2-0
Both of these sides were in great form before the World Cup – Leicester had climbed the table thanks to four wins in five league games, while Newcastle flew up to third with five league wins in a row.
The Foxes won this fixture 4-0 in December last year, but Newcastle are a completely different team now. It will be close, but I’m backing them to find a way of winning this one too.
Sutton’s prediction: 1-2
Chesney’s prediction: 2-2
Southampton are another team with a new manager after appointing Luton boss Nathan Jones, but I am not convinced they will stay up, regardless of the decision to replace Ralph Hasenhuttl.
I might be proved wrong come May but I actually think they would have a better chance of avoiding relegation if they had stuck with Hasenhuttl.
Saints have got a pretty kind run of games coming up, with Fulham and Nottingham Forest next after Brighton, and they really need a ‘new manager bounce’ to pick up some wins from those fixtures.
I am not sure they will get one of them here, though. Brighton play with a bit of freedom under Roberto De Zerbi, and they always look like scoring goals.
Sutton’s prediction: 2-2
Chesney’s prediction: 2-3
Liverpool looked pretty lively against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup on Thursday but they missed some big chances and also looked quite leaky at the back.
I can see there being at least one surprise result in this first round of games back after the World Cup and I think Villa boss Unai Emery will fancy his chances of sneaking this one.
Sutton’s prediction: 1-0
Chesney’s prediction: 0-1
Arsenal are five points clear at the the top of the table but we are going to find out in the next few weeks whether they really are title contenders, aren’t we?
The break probably came at the worst possible time for them, because of the form they were in, and there isn’t a more significant player they could have lost to injury than Gabriel Jesus.
People might point at his lack of goals before the World Cup but Jesus is integral to them in the way they press, and with his link-up play.
He is irreplaceable, certainly from within their squad, so the seriousness of his injury will probably decide whether they try to make some signings in January.
I feel like I have backed West Ham to be better than they have been on plenty of occasions already this season, but the one thing they should be here is tough to beat.
Sutton’s prediction: 1-1
Chesney’s prediction: Arsenal are on fire at the moment, but West Ham have always performed against in-form teams. I know we haven’t had the greatest first half to the season, but I am hoping we can start playing the way I know we can play now, starting here! It’ll be a fast-paced game with both teams attacking from the start. I think Jarrod Bowen and Gianluca Scamacca will score for us. 2-2
Why West Ham? My father is a Queens Park Rangers fan, but he never took my brother and I to any games. A close family friend, Roger, took Jodie and I to West Ham versus Spurs in the early 1980s. West Ham lost, but the Hammers were doing the Hokey Cokey up and down the aisles. I’ll never forget that feeling of belonging to a tribe, and we were hooked from the start. I love West Ham and I’ve passed my love down to my kids. I told them from the beginning that if they chose another team, they’d have to find somewhere else to live! Luckily, they chose wisely…
Chelsea are desperate for a win after going six domestic games without a victory, and losing the past four of them, so the pressure is really on Blues boss Graham Potter here.
I am a strong believer that Potter just needs time to get things right at Stamford Bridge, but they have had issues with scoring goals since he took charge and they will need to finish their chances against Bournemouth, as well as create them.
I do expect Chelsea to win this game but it is going to be interesting to find out what happens with the Cherries next too.
Gary O’Neil’s success as their caretaker boss meant he definitely deserved to be appointed on a permanent basis but, to keep the job, he needs to match those results now.
Sutton’s prediction: 2-0
Chesney’s prediction: 5-0
At the start of the season, I didn’t think Nottingham Forest would go down but right now they are bang in trouble.
At least Forest have got some time to save themselves but their away record is appalling – just two points and one goal from seven games – and I don’t see them adding to either tally at Old Trafford.
Now old sulky pants – aka Cristiano Ronaldo – has gone, the expectation is that Manchester United will be in a better place and be much better as a team.
That may well be the case, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they make hard work of winning this game and need a bit of magic from Marcus Rashford to get over the line.
Sutton’s prediction: 1-0
Chesney’s prediction: 3-1
Manchester City put out a strong team against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup on Thursday and they looked like they meant business in their first game back.
I like the way Leeds play, and they always seem to have a spell in every game where they are on top, but they rarely do it for 90 minutes and that worries me when they are up against a side as good as City.
There will be a great atmosphere at Elland Road – I always loved going there as a player, and it is the same now I go to work on games there for 5 Live – but that won’t help Leeds much here.
Sutton’s prediction: 0-4
Chesney’s prediction: 0-4
Chris Sutton was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.
In the last set of fixtures before the World Cup, Sutton got four correct results from 10 matches, including two exact scores, giving him a total of 100 points.
He beat Jamie Johnson stars Jessica McHale and Olivia Chomczuk, who both got three correct results, with no exact scores, for a total of 30 points.
|Ian Broudie, GK from Bad Boy Chiller Crew, Kasabian’s Serge Pizzorno, Editors bassist Russell Leetch, Aaron Moorhead, Phoenix singer Thomas Mars||70|
|Chris Sutton (average after 15 weeks)||65|
|Ross MacDonald from The 1975, Ryan Porteous||60|
|Justin Benson, Al Greenwood from Sports Team, Dapz on the Map||50|
|Blake Bowman, Tom from Dry Cleaning||40|
|Jessica McHale, Olivia Chomczuk||30|
|Juice Menace, Patrick Whelan||20|
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