International obligations done and dusted for another year, it’s time for the Premier League season to accelerate.
The period leading up to Christmas is typically hectic in English football and this season is no different with 10 rounds of Premier League fixtures between now and January 3.
It means a table that sees Chelsea leading the way with Manchester City in hot pursuit, Liverpool up there, West Ham and Arsenal surpassing expectations and Man United struggling to keep pace, could have an entirely different complexion come the New Year.
Chelsea lead the Premier League as we prepare for the most hectic period of the season
How the top eight in the Premier League table looks as we prepare to resume the season
The 11 rounds of games played so far have suggested that no one team is going to run away with the title this season and that the make-up of the top six could again be different.
The scramble for the four Champions League places could easily go right down to the wire in May, with some big names potentially left disappointed.
As the season enters a congested and crucial phase, we study the fixture list to hazard a guess as to how the table could look come the start of 2022.
Will Chelsea continue their impressive start?
It’s been an impressive start to the season for Thomas Tuchel’s side, who have carried the momentum from their Champions League win into the new campaign.
Just the one league defeat so far, at home to Manchester City, meant they held a three-point lead at the top of the Premier League entering the November international break.
That could easily have been five points had they not conceded a surprise late equaliser at home to Burnley last time out.
However, despite Chelsea’s good form, it’s far from guaranteed they’ll still be top come January.
Chelsea dropped two points against Burnley last time and so are only three ahead at the top
They resume on Saturday with a visit to Leicester and then host Manchester United (admittedly not as daunting a prospect as it once was).
Their run of games also sees a visit to high-flying West Ham and a busy festive period concludes on January 2 with a home match against Liverpool. They also head to City in mid-January.
So it’s a good test of Chelsea’s title credentials to come in the next couple of months. There is certainly the potential for some dropped points but, equally, if they get on a roll, they could be very well placed to win the league.
Chelsea’s upcoming league games: Saturday – Leicester City (A); November 28 – Manchester United (H); December 1 – Watford (A); December 4 – West Ham (A); December 11 – Leeds United (H); December 16 – Everton (H); December 19 – Wolves (A); December 26 – Aston Villa (A); December 29 – Brighton (H); January 2 – Liverpool (H)
Thomas Tuchel’s team have the momentum but some tough tests await in the coming weeks
Can Manchester City and Liverpool keep up the pace?
The reigning champions have certainly looked more fallible than usual during then opening months of the season.
On their day, Pep Guardiola’s side can completely outclass their opponents, as Man United discovered a couple of weeks ago, as well as Chelsea back in September.
But there are other occasions when City mysteriously lose their attacking edge – the surprise 2-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace last month, or the goalless draw with Southampton.
However, they’re about to embark on a set of fixtures where you can’t see them dropping too many points. Everton, West Ham, Aston Villa, Watford, Wolves, Leeds, Newcastle, Leicester, Brentford and Arsenal are ahead between now and January 1.
Manchester City were brilliant as they dismantled rivals United in a 2-0 victory at Old Trafford
In-form West Ham and improved Arsenal may fancy their chances of taking something off City but you’d fully expect them to take maximum returns from all the others.
It really would be no surprise if they enter their home game with Chelsea on January 15 sitting top of the table.
As for Liverpool, they went their first 10 games unbeaten before that 3-2 loss at West Ham just before the internationals.
Jurgen Klopp’s team have produced some impressive displays, especially on the road, with the 5-0 demolition of Man United at Old Trafford the obvious highlight.
But dropped points against Brighton and Brentford explains why they’re slightly off the pace of Chelsea and City at the moment.
Liverpool suffered their first defeat of the season when beaten 3-2 by West Ham last time out
There are plenty of games between now and January that Liverpool will be targeting three points from.
Saturday’s home game with Arsenal isn’t the banker it might have been last season, while there’s also a Merseyside derby at Goodison Park on the near horizon.
But in order to keep up the pace, Liverpool really can’t drop points from their other games against Southampton, Wolves, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Tottenham, Leeds and Leicester before the New Year begins with a bang as they travel to Chelsea on January 2.
Klopp will be determined to prove that West Ham defeat was just a bad day at the office and return to the winning form that has been Liverpool’s hallmark for most of the season.
Man City’s upcoming league games: Sunday – Everton (H); November 28 – West Ham (H); December 1 – Aston Villa (A); December 4 – Watford (A); December 11 – Wolves (H); December 14 – Leeds (H); December 19 – Newcastle (A); December 26 – Leicester (H); December 29 – Brentford (A); January 1 – Arsenal (A)
Liverpool’s upcoming league games: Saturday – Arsenal (H); November 27 – Southampton (H); December 1 – Everton (A); December 4 – Wolves (A); December 11 – Aston Villa (H); December 16 – Newcastle (H); December 19 – Tottenham (A); December 26 – Leeds (H); December 28 – Leicester (A); January 2 – Chelsea (A)
Jurgen Klopp’s side do face a few tricky fixtures between now and a date with Chelsea
Will West Ham still be up in the top four?
There’s no question West Ham are the story of the season so far. Up to the nosebleed territory of third following their win over Liverpool, the fans are starting to dream of Champions League qualification.
That was their fourth consecutive league win and coupled with progress in the Carabao Cup and the Europa League, there’s a real feel-good factor around David Moyes and his team.
At the moment, West Ham fancy their chances of beating any opponent and they will certainly be put to the test in the coming weeks with Man City and Chelsea coming up.
It’s been a dream start to the season for West Ham and they should remain in the top four
But if they negotiate those two, there’s plenty of opportunity between now and January to consolidate their top four status.
Games against Burnley, Norwich, Southampton and Watford feature in their festive schedule and it really would be no surprise if they’re still right up there come the start of 2022.
West Ham’s upcoming league games: Saturday – Wolves (A); November 28 – Man City (A); December 1 – Brighton (H); December 4 – Chelsea (H); December 12 – Burnley (A); December 15 – Arsenal (A); December 18 – Norwich (H); December 26 – Southampton (H); December 28 – Watford (A); January 1 – Crystal Palace (A)
Is Arsenal’s improvement set to continue?
It’s taken a while and there’s been plenty of misery along the way but, finally, Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal look like they might be going somewhere.
Now 10 matches unbeaten in all competitions, the Gunners have won their last three in the league to banish memories of that horror start that saw losses to Brentford, Chelsea and Man City.
But this Saturday’s trip to Anfield will be the true acid test of how much progress they’ve made, likewise upcoming games with Man United, West Ham and Man City.
Arsenal beat Watford before the internationals to register a 10th match without defeat
How we predict the table will look on January 3
1st Man City – 51pts
2nd Chelsea – 48pts
3rd West Ham – 47pts
4th Liverpool – 44pts
5th Man United – 43pts
6th Arsenal – 42pts
7th Tottenham – 40pts
But it’s fair to say there’s plenty of opportunity for Arsenal to continue their top four push in the festive period. They must target a good return from meetings with Newcastle, Southampton, Leeds, Norwich and Wolves.
Increasingly, they look less fallible in games they should really be winning but they still need to take the scalp of one of the bigger sides to confirm they’re on the rise again.
Arsenal’s upcoming league games: Saturday – Liverpool (A); November 27 – Newcastle United (H); December 2 – Man United (A); December 6 – Everton (A); December 11 – Southampton (H); December 15 – West Ham (H); December 18 – Leeds (A); December 26 – Norwich (A); December 28 – Wolves (H); January 1 – Man City (H)
Can Man United turn their season around?
It’s pretty common to see United dominating the headlines but most recent coverage has been decidedly negative after a run of four defeats from their last six league games.
Outclassed by both Liverpool and Man City, it’s fair to say Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side won’t be anywhere near the title this season.
Somehow, Solskjaer remains in his job but you have to imagine patience is running thin and a dramatic improvement is needed in upcoming games to spare him.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has survived in his job despite a run of four defeats from six in the league
United remain sixth in the table but there’s the potential for further slippage and further pressure on the manager with Chelsea and Arsenal coming up after Saturday’s trip to Watford.
If Solskjaer can survive all that, though, United do have a series of very winnable games between now and January that could yet save their season.
They should realistically beat Watford, Crystal Palace, Norwich, Brentford, Brighton, Newcastle, Burnley and Wolves.
Do so and they can enter the New Year with renewed optimism. Fail and it’s difficult to see how Solskjaer makes it through.
Man United’s upcoming league games: Saturday – Watford (A); November 28 – Chelsea (A); December 2 – Arsenal (H); December 5 – Crystal Palace (H); December 11 – Norwich (A); December 14 – Brentford (A); December 18 – Brighton (H); December 27 – Newcastle (A); December 30 – Burnley (H); January 3 – Wolves (H)
Cristiano Ronaldo can’t hide his frustration as Man United are outclassed by Man City
Will Antonio Conte’s arrival galvanise Tottenham?
November has seen three managerial sackings in the Premier League already with Nuno Espirito Santo’s departure from Tottenham to be replaced by Antonio Conte the most high profile.
Conte is a born winner and after time on the training ground with at least some of his players during the internationals, he’ll be determined to build on the goalless draw at Everton in his first game in charge.
Spurs are ninth but only six points off the top four, so there’s every chance the Italian could still turn their season around.
New Spurs boss Antonio Conte has enjoyed some time on the training ground this last week
It shouldn’t be difficult to improve on a season that has already seen them lose five league games and Conte has a pretty favourable fixture list up ahead.
A home game with Liverpool on December 19 is by far their toughest test between now and January with winnable games in store against Burnley, Brentford and Norwich.
Even if Conte doesn’t have too much time on the training ground to implement his playing style, you’d still imagine Spurs can pick up some valuable points to kick-start their season.
Tottenham’s upcoming league games: Sunday – Leeds (H); November 28 – Burnley (A); December 2 – Brentford (H); December 5 – Norwich (H); December 12 – Brighton (A); December 16 – Leicester (A); December 19 – Liverpool (H); December 26 – Crystal Palace (H); December 28 – Southampton (A); January 1 – Watford (A)