Who can climb the Premier League over Christmas?

By Mike HensonBBC Sport
Santa at Stamford Bridge, Louis van Gaal, Manchester City Christmas jumper
Chelsea lead the Premier League going into the festive period, with the Manchester clubs on their tail

Chelsea played their first four Premier League games of the season over the space of 27 days.

Over the Christmas period, where games are squeezed into every nook and cranny of the calendar, the league leaders will play for another 12 points - this time over 11 days.

Put together a run of form and you could head into 2015 flying. Hit a sticky patch and suddenly you could be free-falling down the table.

So who has the festive fixture list favoured and cursed?

Tough at the top. A perfect slipstream for Man City?

Chelsea head into this weekend with a three-point lead over second-placed Manchester City, but the west London club appear to have a significantly more testing couple of weeks ahead.

Jose Mourinho's men will not encounter much Christmas cheer on a visit to the Britannia Stadium on Monday where Stoke have already ambushed Arsenal this season.

High-flying West Ham will cross London to Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day in buoyant mood and then it is back on the road for Chelsea, who visit Southampton on 28 December and Tottenham on 1 January.

Going into this weekend, the league positions of that quartet of opposition add up to a total of 28.

As a rough comparison, the respective positions of the four teams that Manchester City will face over the same period - all dwelling just above the relegation zone - tot up to a total of 62.

Manuel Pellegrini's side, who are riding high on a seven-match winning streak that included beating Bayern Munich and Roma in the Champions League, begin their festive programme at home to Crystal Palace.

Their only away match of the Christmas/New Year period is against West Brom on Boxing Day, before they take on Burnley (28 December) and Sunderland (1 January) at Etihad Stadium.

Man Utd dodge the Christmas crunch games

"I have a wife, kids and grandchildren, and I cannot see them at Christmas, but I want to work in the Premier League, so I have to adapt, and I shall adapt," said Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal earlier this month.

This season is the Dutchman's first taste of English football's hectic Christmas demands, but his side could hardly be in better form to meet them.

Festive fixtures
DateMan UtdWest HamSouthamptonArsenal
20/21 DecA Villa (a)Leicester (h)Everton (h)Liverpool (a)
26 DecN'castle (h)Chelsea (a)Palace (a)QPR (h)
28 DecSpurs (a)Arsenal (h)Chelsea (h)W Ham (a)
1 JanStoke (a)WBA (h)Arsenal (h)So'ton (a)
See the full Premier League fixture list

An emphatic victory over Liverpool last Sunday was their sixth successive victory.

Currently lying third, they could tighten their grip on a top-four spot, if not apply pressure to the two sides above them, over the coming fortnight.

United's fixture list is not particularly kind - an away trip to Tottenham on Sunday 28 December looks tricky - but two of the three teams below them could take points off each other.

West Ham, currently fourth, visit sixth-placed Arsenal on 28 December before the Gunners travel to fifth-placed Southampton on New Year's Day.

West Ham and Southampton also face festive games against league leaders Chelsea in that time.

Leicester... on the road and running out of time?

Since the heady days of September's 5-3 win over Manchester United, Leicester City have taken only two points from a possible 33 and dropped to the bottom of the table.

Manager Nigel Pearson clashed with a critical fan after the defeat by Liverpool earlier this month, and any seasonal goodwill could run out entirely by the time 2015 comes around.

Eight away games, seven losses, four goals for
23 AugustChelseaLost 2-0
13 SeptemberStokeWon 0-1
27 SeptemberCrystal PalaceLost 2-0
18 OctoberNewcastle Lost 1-0
25 OctoberSwanseaLost 2-0
8 NovemberSouthamptonLost 2-0
29 NovemberQPRLost 3-2
7 DecemberAston VillaLost 2-1

The Foxes, who have lost seven out of of eight away Premier League games, play at home only once before the FA Cup meeting with Newcastle on 3 January.

Either side of Tottenham's Boxing Day visit to the King Power Stadium are trips to West Ham (20 December), Hull (28 December) and Liverpool (1 January).

Should they lose to Hull - currently three points better off and the closest side to them in the table - could Leicester's Thai owners be tempted into dramatic measures with the prospect of an immediate return to the Championship looming?

A saving grace for Leicester might be Burnley's unenviable series of games.

The Clarets, who spent several weeks propping up the table earlier this season, could drop back into the danger zone after playing Tottenham away on 20 December, Liverpool at home on Boxing Day, Manchester City away on 28 December and Newcastle away on New Year's Day.

Beyond the top flight

There are some delicious fixtures to tuck into in the Championship this Christmas, including Nottingham Forest playing Leeds on Saturday, current leaders Bournemouth taking on Fulham on Boxing Day and struggling Wigan attempting to revive their season at home to Sheffield Wednesday on 30 December.

At the top end of the table, Ipswich may have the most to gain - or lose. Currently fourth, Mick McCarthy's side host second-placed Middlesbrough on Saturday, before taking on high-flying Brentford on Boxing Day and Charlton on 30 December.

Keep the faith. And perspective.

A run of four games in the Premier League is only a smidgen more than a tenth of the season. Twelve points from a possible 114.

And it need not set the tone for how your season continues in 2015.

Last season Liverpool slipped from the top of the league to fifth following defeats by Manchester City and Chelsea on Boxing Day and 29 December respectively.

It seemed like a sobering reality check on the Reds' title ambitions.

Instead, they took 44 of the next 48 points on offer, to move five clear of the chasing pack with three games remaining and to the brink of a first league title since 1990 - only to fall at the final hurdle.

Liverpool in defeat and victory over Manchester City
A Liverpool side that left Etihad Stadium deflated in December were exuberant after beating Manchester City at Anfield in April