Weekend Boxset: Merry Christmas!

It's our last Boxset of 2019 but what a cracker we have in store for you. While Liverpool are still in Doha their nearest rivals face off against each other as Leicester go to prove themselves at the Etihad. There's also the Mourinho-narrative heavy clash between Spurs and Chelsea. Mince pie with that?

Seven great matches to take you from Friday to Sunday. It's the Sound of Football Weekend Boxset.

All times are GMT


Friday



Championship: Middlesbrough v Stoke CIty


19.45 on Sky Sports Football


The football equivalent of a bum-fight as two recently relegated Premier League teams duke it out at the wrong end of the table. Jonathan Woodgate is a manager under pressure. The former England defender was thrown in at the deep-end with the ‘Boro job, taking over after a failed attempt at a quick return to the Premier League failed under Tony Pulis. Woodgate has to deal with the declining performance of the squad on the pitch while managing a very tight budget as the club saidl perilously close to the EFL’s Financial Fair Play rules. Club owner Steve Gibson has a reputation for being measured and patience but defeat at home to fellow strugglers, Stoke may mean the end of the line for his young coach. Stoke meanwhile have been on a journey of their own, mostly downwards since relegation from the top flight seasons ago. The appointment of new manager, Michael O’Neill has seen a modest bounce but the soon to be ex Northern Ireland boss has a huge project ahead of him and he’s likely to start cutting down the wage bill in January. TD
 



Saturday



A-League: Melbourne City v Melbourne Victory


06.00 on BT Sport 1


It's rare that Kevin Muscat can be mentioned in the same breath as Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson, but just as Arsenal and Manchester United have lost their way after the departure of a long-serving manager, so Melbourne Victory have struggled to adjust in their first season without Muscat's involvement as a player, coach or manager. It's hardly helped that his replacement, Marco Kurz, came from rivals Adelaide United. Despite boasting, on paper, one of the A League's best attacks in Ola Toivonen, Andrew Nabbout and Robbie Kruse, Victory have struggled for goals thanks to a turgid midfield. Meanwhile this finally appears to be the season the noisy neighbours have started to make a racket. Under Eric Mombaerts, perennial underachievers City look like the real deal and sit 10 points and six places above their more decorated rivals. Sure, they're still capable of the odd horror show, such as the recent 3-0 home defeat to Perth, but in full flow they can blow any side away. The derby cliche says form goes out the window, but realistically, it's hard to see anything other than another win for Mombaerts men. GA
 



Premier League: Everton v Arsenal


12.30 on BT Sport 1


On opening Door 7 of our advent calendar in this week's podcast, I suggested that whoever Arsenal put in position of head coach wouldn't be able to solve the deeper lying problems at the club. Maybe the owners are aware of that, which is why they've appointed someone without any first team management experience at all. Perhaps wisely, Mikel Arteta will sit this one out as the new Arsenal manager against the club where he made his name, with Freddie Ljungberg remaining in charge for one last time (for now). The Toffees are still riding the crest of the Big Dunc wave, one they will be hoping Carlo Ancelotti can take full advantage of when he takes over next week. Having played Leicester, Liverpool, Chelsea, United and now Arsenal in succession this month you'd think the 60 year old Italian would have a slightly easier run to start off with. No such luck, they have City on New Year's Day followed by that FA Cup third round clash with Liverpool. It's going to be fun times ahead for both sides so I'm expecting a full on Christmas party atmosphere for this one. GS
 



Premier League: Manchester City v Leicester City


17.30 on Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event


It’s a curious time at Manchester City at the moment. After last season’s incredible treble, the expectation was that Pep would build upon his success and conquer not just England, but Europe to boot. Currently, and by their own high standards, City are enduring something of a lull. They recently slipped up against Newcastle, the other Manchester and, despite the win, struggled for long periods against a fearless Oxford United midweek. There are also rumours circulating that a clause in his contract allows Pep to walk away from it all whenever he likes. Of course, talk of a crisis is premature; City could still win three trophies and Liverpool may well slip up and hand them the title. Talking of the which, today’s visitors are also serious challengers and, with the exception of last week’s draw against lowly Norwich, are a picture of consistency - second only to Liverpool. With both sides needing a win this could be an explosive encounter and a great way to end your Saturday. Expect Vardy and Sterling to be busy in a game which I think Leicester can nick by the odd goal. JB

Alternative viewing: BBC One will be showing the Club World Cup Final, Liverpool v Flamengo, which also kicks off at 17.30
 





Sunday



Bundesliga: Fortuna Dusseldorf v Union Berlin


14.30 on BT Sport 3


If I were a Premier League manager in the market for a new goalkeeper I could do worse that sidle up to Pep Guardiola when I’m playing City next and ask about the availability of Zack Steffen. The US international is currently on loan in Düsseldorf and is posting rave notices. As is Rouwen Hennings, a 32 year old striker who may be familiar to Burnley fans and has scored 12 goals in league and cup this season making him the third top scorer in the Bundesliga. Not that the combined efforts of these players is helping their club much. F95 are second from bottom and face a Union side who, at the start of the season were expected to be where Fortuna are now. I doubt the Berlin club will truly feel safe all season but there can’t be too many of their fans who thought that they could finish the Hinrunde above the likes of Eintracht Frankfurt and cross-city rivals, Hertha BSC. But a win in Düsseldorf will achieve just that. TD
 



Premier League: Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea


16.30 on Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event


Just a few weeks ago I’d have given this tie to Chelsea without much thought at all. Today’s hosts were, after all, wading through the swamp that was the last days of Pochettino’s reign and Chelsea young-guns were becoming my new favourite team. Since Jose took charge, Spurs have won four out of five league games and there’s a swagger about the way they play now. By contrast, Chelsea have lost four of their last five and a reverse in this particular fixture could see them replaced in fourth place by none other than Tottenham. Parking the bus seems to be off the menu for Mourinho these days, in addition to reinvigorating Dele Alli, his consistent selection of Lucas Mora is giving Spurs something new in attack. Chelsea will be counting down the days to the transfer window were they must surely buy at least one central defender. Messrs Christensen, Zouma and Ruidger haven’t been anywhere near good enough of late leaving the side crying out for a world class defender to give Arrizabalaga some peace. I think Spurs might just go to town in this one; a result which will taste all the more sweet for Jose. JB
 



La Liga: Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao


20.00 on Premier 2


Wednesday's rescheduled Clasico was a turgid, dismal affair that was undoubtedly improved by a match-stopping beach ball protest. It was the first 0-0 between the sides in 47 meetings. Gareth Bale played all 90 minutes for Real for the first time since September and almost got a deciding goal but it was disallowed. The top two sharing points has kept the chasing pack vaguely within touching distance but there is an inevitability of them pulling away even though neither are particularly convincing right now. Athletic are still well placed but need to improve their performances away from the San Mames having just one win all season on the road, against Basque rivals Osasuna. Free of the over-shadowing political tension in midweek, this should be a better Real performance against a well-organised Champions League place contender. That said, Florentino Perez, club president of Real and now president of the newly formed World Football Club Association might be wishing his side was in Doha instead this weekend. GS
 



Whatever you watch, have a great Christmas and we'll see you again in the New Year for the FA Cup third round.



Terry (@terryduffelen), Graham (@grahamsibley), Jan (@janbilton) and Gary (@gafootbl)



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