In the 16 days that span between Saturday, December 19th and Sunday, January 3rd, the English Premier League will blast through what amounts to four weeks of competitive play. While most of the world is on vacation, in other words, England's top football clubs are heading into one of the busiest periods of the year. The festive season in the Premier League can define many teams' campaigns for the year, meaning the stakes are high for every soccer club hitting the pitch this holiday season. Teams that find their groove in these two-plus weeks can leap their way up the table or barricade their positions at the top. Teams that hit a rough patch during the festive period, meanwhile, often take themselves out of title consideration.
How Things Stand
Last year at this point, Chelsea FC had long since established themselves as the frontrunners to take the 2014 2015 EPL title. This year, no football club is running away with the season, which means the busy festive period will be even more important in determining the outcome of the 2015 2016 campaign.
At the moment, Leicester City are at the top of the table with 35 points, following a 2-1 win against Chelsea on Monday evening. With games against Manchester City and Liverpool on the way for the holiday season, Leicester-who have two of the season's top scorers, in Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez-will be tested. Can the underdogs retain their spot at the top of the table?
Speaking of Manchester City, the Sky Blues haven't been as solid as usual in recent weeks, losing two of their last five Premier League matches (to Liverpool and Stoke City) and drawing a third (against Aston Villa). With Chelsea out of the running for the title, Man City are likely the next best bet to win the title next spring. Currently sitting in third, three points behind Leicester, the Sky Blues will need to find some momentum over the festive period to rejuvenate their title hopes. In particular, the pricey Raheem Sterling-who has only scored four league goals since arriving at Etihad Stadium-needs to step up.
The holiday season could also be a make or break time for Arsenal. The Gunners haven't won a title since 2004 but have put themselves in the conversation this season by being more consistent than any soccer club on the table except Leicester. With highly ranked (Man City) and lowly ranked clubs (Newcastle) on the schedule for the festive period, Arsenal should have some good opportunities to pick up points.
However, the busy period could also backfire for Arsene Wenger's football squad, given the fact that a lot of key players (especially in the midfield) are still dealing with injuries. Unable to rotate his squad much, will Wenger be forced to work his healthy players to exhaustion during the strenuous two-week holiday period?
The Red Devils and Spurs
If the non-stop action of the festive period puts a strain on Arsenal, then Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur (currently ranked fourth and fifth on the Premier League standings table) will look to be the beneficiaries.
Both the Red Devils and the Spurs have had flashes of promise this season, but both football clubs have stumbled a bit in recent weeks. Indeed, across all competitions, United have drawn or lost five games in a row. An early elimination from the Champions League and a loss last weekend against AFC Bournemouth will mean that the Red Devils enter the 2015 holiday season with virtually no momentum on their side.
Tottenham, meanwhile, have held strong in the Europa League but have fallen apart a bit in the Premier League, with star striker Harry Kane failing to score in each of the last three EPL matches. Will holiday spirit help these two soccer clubs get back on track, or will they continue to drift down the table?
The Red Zone
On the other end of the spectrum, lowly ranked clubs like Norwich City, Swansea City, Sunderland, and Aston Villa will look to formulate escapes from their positions in or near the relegation zone. Aston Villa are in particularly dire straits, with just six points from 16 matches and zero wins since Remi Garde took over as manager.
Chelsea, meanwhile, following their loss against Leicester on Monday, are just one point shy of the red zone-a pitiful spot for the defending champions to occupy. Chelsea will face Man United, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, and Watford over the festive weeks, but at this point, it's tough to bet on the Blues to win any of those games-even against a team as poorly ranked as Sunderland.
What do you think? Can the wearers of the Chelsea shirt 2015/16 finally turn things around? Can Arsenal stay alive until the transfer window opens up and they can sign some reinforcements? Can Leicester City turn themselves from unlikely leaders into title frontrunners? Follow Soccer Box on social media to keep track of the action! You can find us on multiple platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.