Premier League clubs ready for Boxing Day showdown

By Karen FazackerleyBBC Sport
Liverpool forward Luis Suarez
Liverpool have won their last four home matches against Blackburn Rovers

The Premier League's Boxing Day fixture programme includes potentially crucial games at both ends of the table.

The early kick-off is a London derby between Chelsea and Fulham, while Bolton welcome out-of-form Newcastle.

Under-fire Blackburn boss Steve Kean takes his side to Anfield, where Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool will be hoping to close the gap on the top five.

League leaders , with Wigan at Old Trafford.

Chelsea v Fulham, kick-off 1300 GMT

Chelsea are 11 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City and manager Andre Villas-Boas must know his Blues side have to build on their battling 1-1 draw at rivals Tottenham last Wednesday with a home win.

They are unbeaten in five league matches, with a draw at Wigan being the only poor result in that spell.

Fulham have not won at Stamford Bridge since 1964 and have beaten their London neighbours just once in 30 meetings.

No side has scored fewer Premier League away goals than the Cottagers - losing 5-0 against title-chasing Manchester United in their last outing - and they have won just four of their last 44 away league matches.

Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas: "If we take the six points from the home fixtures, against Fulham and Aston Villa [on New Year's Eve], as we expect, we are pretty much in it [the title race]."

Fulham manager Martin Jol: "Chelsea are a good side so it's a good opportunity to show everyone that we can defend better. If we don't defend better we'll never win a game against a top side."

Full match preview, team news and statistics

Liverpool v Blackburn Rovers, kick-off 1500

Steve Kean's Blackburn were beaten 2-1 by local rivals and fellow strugglers Bolton last Tuesday to drop to the bottom of the Premier League table.

Blackburn manager Steve Kean
Rovers won 1-0 in their last Boxing Day meeting with Liverpool in 2006

The defeat was ominous, as all but one of the teams who have found themselves bottom at Christmas in the Premier League era have failed to escape.

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish managed the Lancashire side in the mid-1990s, helping guide the club to the title at Anfield in 1995.

Liverpool will expect nothing less than all three points, having been held at home by both Norwich and Swansea in the past couple of months.

The Reds have had a disappointing scoring return of just 20 goals from 17 matches, however, they have lost just one of their last 12 in the league.

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish: "Obviously Blackburn are at the wrong end of the table but every game is tricky for its own reasons. There seems to be a bit of animosity in and around the club at the moment - but then sometimes that can be an inspiration for some people. We expect them to be strong characters to do what they can to get themselves points."

Blackburn manager Steve Kean: "I can understand if they're getting uptight about the position we're in. We're all uptight about it but we feel, with the right ability to select the squad, [that can improve]."

Full match preview, team news and statistics

Manchester United v Wigan Athletic, kick-off 1500

Manchester United have had an impressive December - beating QPR 2-0 and Fulham 5-0 - to stretch the longest current unbeaten run in the Premier League to eight games.

Extending that run of seven wins and one draw will be vital if Sir Alex Ferguson's men are to keep pace with near neighbours Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table.

Two respectable draws against Chelsea and have given Wigan a welcome boost ahead of the New Year run-in.

Roberto Martinez's men have lost just one in seven Boxing Day games as a Premier League team, and will be hoping to get themselves out of the bottom three and should results go their way, that could be a distinct possibility.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson: "It says a lot for the philosophy of their manager that they continue to play good football irrespective of what position in the league they are. We have a good record against Wigan but we are not taking it for granted."

Wigan manager Roberto Martinez: "I don't think anyone expects us to get a positive result at Old Trafford and that's something that can give us some extra motivation and test how much we can surprise Manchester United at their own ground."

Bolton Wanderers v Newcastle United, kick-off 1500

Bolton ended a five-match losing streak by beating local rivals Blackburn 2-1 at Ewood Park on Tuesday to climb off the foot of the table in time for Christmas - a result that could prove vital come May.

Bolton manager Owen Coyle
Bolton have won seven of their last eight home matches in this fixture

Owen Coyle's side have a miserable home record with just one win and seven defeats in eight home matches.

However, Newcastle are winless in their last six games and have only taken one point from four matches in December - the equal-lowest tally along with Neil Warnock's QPR.

After Bolton, the Magpies face Champions League-chasing Liverpool and Manchester United, so they will view this match as an opportunity to add some much-needed points.

Bolton manager Owen Coyle: "Newcastle have been sensational this season and they've got quality players. What we have to do is try and kick on and win our points in the home games to come, and in doing that it will catapult us within five or six teams and that is going to be the focus for the Christmas period."

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew: "The pressure we are under is going to be generated because of the results we have had. We have got to be mentally strong and if we just do what we do and we do it well, then we should win this game."

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Sunderland v Everton, kick-off 1500

Two wins from three games since Martin O'Neill took the reins at the Stadium of Light have lifted Sunderland within reach of the top half of the table.

But without those key victories - against Blackburn and QPR - O'Neill's points haul would be two rather than six and Sunderland would be on 13 points and in the bottom three.

Everton are unbeaten in their last 13 Premier League meetings against the Black Cats, winning 10 of those games, and all six of the Toffees' wins this season have come against sides in the bottom half of the table.

Moyes' men had enough chances to beat Norwich earlier in December - eventually taking a point in a 1-1 draw - and beat with both of their goals coming in the last two minutes.

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill: "We badly needed some points on the board and that's been achieved. But we have still a long way to go."

Everton manager David Moyes: "I think Sunderland have got a good squad and it would have been a hard game whether they had Martin or Steve Bruce in charge. We have not got a bad record at Sunderland so I hope we can go and make that count."

Full match preview, team news and statistics

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City, kick-off 1500

West Brom have only won two home games all season but come into this game on the back of a thrilling 3-2 win at Newcastle. But they will be without midfielder Steven Reid who has been ruled out for a month following a knee operation.

Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli and manager Roberto Mancini
Man City have only failed to score once in their 26 matches this season

Roy Hodgson's men will be well aware that Manchester City have won their past three Premier League encounters against the Baggies.

Roberto Mancini's City side quickly forgot their first defeat of the season at Chelsea, to bounce back with wins at home against Arsenal and Stoke - going into Christmas top of the table for the first time since 1929.

City are the first team for 49 years to score 50 goals in their first 16 top-flight matches - and only the ninth club to achieve this in the history of English football - and will be looking to add to their two consecutive clean sheets with a win at the Hawthorns.

West Brom manager Roy Hodgson: "This season, we look more likely to get results in games. No-one can accuse us of being where we are in the league through good fortune. If we'd had a little bit more luck we'd be even higher up the table. That's what gives me heart for the future."

Man City manager Roberto Mancini: "I think it will be very hard because they play good football. We want to win because we want to stay at the top. But all games in the Premier League are difficult, we will have to play 100%."

Stoke City v Aston Villa, kick-off 1945

Stoke's victory against Wolves on December 17 was there fourth in succession and lifted them to eighth in the Premier League table. However, that good run came to an abrupt halt four days later at the Etihad Stadium as league leaders Manchester City eased to a 3-0 victory.

The Potters impressive start to the campaign has included a run to the last 32 of the Europa League, a feat which maintains momentum after .

Villa have have had a stop-start campaign and have been hovering around the mid-table mark in what is a period of transition following the exit of Martin O'Neill back in August 2010.

Striker Darren Bent is expected to be available for the trip to the Britannia Stadium after missing the last two games with a thigh injury, and providing Peter Crouch is fit enough - following illness - he could reach a landmark of 100 career league goals if he scores against one of his previous clubs.

Stoke manager Tony Pulis: "We have had a good first part of the season and we have now got to make sure we keep our foot firmly down on the pedal. We have created lots of opportunities and luckily now we have got the players to take those opportunities."

Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish: "I've been disappointed we haven't got any points on the board against the elite clubs. We have a lot of young players and at Villa expectation levels are massive. The kids have a fantastic opportunity and a great challenge ahead of them."