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New Year's Day Premier League: 6 things to watch as leaders Chelsea head to improving Tottenham

New Year's Day Premier League: 6 things to watch as leaders Chelsea head to improving Tottenham

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The festive period continues and the football carries on coming thick and fast as Thursday brings with it a veritable feast of New Year”s Day action.

While Louis van Gaal has spent much of his Christmas moaning about the schedule, supporters across the land have been out in force, with the first round of fixtures in 2015 making it three matches in six days for fans to enjoy.

January 1 kicks off a new calendar year with all 20 Premier League teams in action and a number of extremely intriguing match-ups: namely Manchester United”s trip to Stoke, Newcastle”s home meeting with Burnley, Southampton”s clash with Arsenal and the late London derby between Tottenham and Chelsea.

Ten matches. Almost eight hours of action to help get over the NYE frivolities. And MirrorFootball will be on hand to guide you through.

But what exactly should you be looking forward to and keeping an eye on?

Let”s take a peek…

After diving row, Chelsea aim for return to winning ways

Michael SteeleFrustrated: Mourinho was less than pleased after Chelsea”s 1-1 draw at Southampton

Classic Mourinho. The two words that best characterised the Portuguese tactician”s tirade following his side”s 1-1 draw with Southampton.

Don”t focus on the two dropped points. Nor that Eden Hazard”s magnificent effort was the Blues” only shot on target across the 90 minutes. Don”t mention the uncharacteristic John Terry error that allowed Sadio Mane to open the scoring. Heck, don”t even talk about the fact that in taking a point Chelsea are the only side to stop Southampton winning a match when the Saints have taken a lead.

No, Mourinho” post-match interviews focused squarely on the Cesc Fabregas non-penalty (poor decision, it should have been a spot-kick) and subsequent booking for simulation. Mourinho launched into the officials, declaring that there is a “campaign” against his men, having seen Fabregas become the third Chelsea player booked for diving in a month – that despite having seen Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic get away without being reprimanded in recent weeks also.

It was Mourinho at his most belligerent, but also his post-match best: Battening down the hatches, making it an “us against the world” scenario; ensuring there was no focus on his teams failings in the media the next day.

Now they head to White Hart Lane for their first 2015 encounter, with Mauricio Pochettino”s men steadily improving of late. Chelsea”s recent head-to-head record with Spurs suggests they”ll be coming away with a positive result to continue their title charge (one defeat in last 12 meetings), while both Hazard and Fabregas have been outstanding of late.

But if Harry Kane does add to his 15 goals this season and Spurs do knock off their London rivals….well just don”t expect Mourinho to come out and say "we weren”t good enough".

Cesc-y football

Michael ReganStar man: Fabregas has added guile to the Blues midfield

On the subject of Chelsea and Cesc Fabregas: What was Arsene Wenger thinking in deciding not to bring Fabregas back to the Emirates?

Little matter that the Gunners have a plethora of attacking midfielders who can distribute/create/score, they don”t have someone with the leadership qualities or overall class of their former captain. Fortunately for the Blues, Wenger”s decision not to re-sign his former charge has paid off handsomely, with the £27million spent on the Barcelona playmaker looking a bargain.

Re-deployed deeper in midfield alongside Nemanja Matic or slightly in advance and given the scope to get on the ball as often as possible, facing the play, Fabregas is looking like the player Los Cules thought they were signing to replace Xavi Hernandez in 2011 – before moving him into advanced positions as part of their ever-changing front three asking him not to play to his strengths.

Cesc Fabregas – Chelsea record 2014-15

18

Matches

13

Assists

Via Opta

This term he has already claimed 13 assists according to Opta – his latest a sublime outside of the boot pass to free Hazard at St Mary”s – and is bringing the best out of Chelsea”s forward players with his pass appreciation.

Additionally, those 13 assists are more than any player has previously managed after 18 Premier League appearances, as well as being as many as anyone recorded in the whole of last season. The record stands at 20 (Thierry Henry, 2002-03) and the Spaniard has 19 games to set a new benchmark. You wouldn”t bet against it.

Nor, thanks to his consistently outstanding performances, would you bet against him being named Footballer of the Year, in one guise or another, come April.

How will Southampton cope without Morgan Schneiderlin?

PinnacleGone baby gone: But can Koeman”s men cope without Schneiderlin?

The Saints impressed in drawing with Chelsea on Sunday, having recently ended their four-match losing run with successive wins over Everton and Crystal Palace.

Noticeable by his absence in that four match losing run was French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin. Injured, he left the field at half-time against Manchester City on November 30, with the score at 0-0. Ronald Koeman”s men would go down 3-0.

Defeats at Arsenal, Manchester City and Burnley would follow, before the win over Everton. Despite that win over the Toffees, it was little wonder Schneiderlin returned as soon as he was fit for the win at Palace, such is the quality – both with and without the ball – the Frenchman brings.

Now in the return fixture against the Gunners, Schneiderlin will again be missing, having been sent off late on against Chelsea. That”ll mean a re-jig in midfield for Koeman, in which youngster James Ward-Prowse will be the likely beneficiary.

But can the Saints match a talented Arsenal midfield without the man who spots danger so effectively and who transitions from defence to attack so well? If they can”t, it”ll likely be a fourth loss out of five without the 25-year-old.

How will the managerless trio get on?

Moving on: Pardew”s time at Newcastle is over as he heads to Crystal Palace

The King is dead, long live the King.

Probably not what you”ll see at St James” Park on Thursday as Newcastle United host Burnley, in the first game of the post-Pardew era; no doubt the Toon Army, now rid of the man who has proven such a divisive presence for supporters, will be right behind their team.

And that will make how Sean Dyche”s Burnley start the game particularly important. John Carver, caretaker Newcastle boss, will want a quick start from his side; the Clarets will need to ride that early storm, and quieten the Geordie faithful.

MALYON: Why Pardew is perfect for Palace – and they”re perfect for him

Pardew”s prospective new club, Crystal Palace, will remain under the charge of caretaker Keith Millen for their trip to Aston Villa. Millen led them to a 0-0 draw at QPR on December 28, a good result given the R”s home form.

Millen has vowed his side will have a go against Paul Lambert”s side in a bid for three points, stating "We played well against Aston Villa earlier this season and we”ll take confidence from that and will go there looking for a result."

Villa”s home form isn”t strong and they”ve been struggling. A result for Palace would close the gap between the two sides to two points. Defeat however would leave Palace in the drop zone and would have allowed one of their bottom half rivals an eight-point lead before Pardew takes charge.

By the same token, West Brom, having sacked Alan Irvine, head to West Ham. Jeremy Peace has sacked managers before and seen it work out. Has he made one mistake too many?

Stout Sunderland aim to further frustrate striker-less City

Stu ForsterTop of the stops: Pantilimon will hope to impress against his former club 

With Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko out and Stevan Jovetic only fit enough to return as a substitute, Manuel Pellegrini continued with James Milner leading the line against Burnley. After 45 minutes all was fine in the City garden, leading 2-0 and closing the gap at the top on leaders Chelsea.

However, at the end of the game and having handed the relegation-threatened Clarets a share of the spoils, City”s striker-less formation no longer looked such a grand tactic; though certainly it wasn”t Milner”s fault they allowed goals from George Boyd and Ashley Barnes to undo their first-half work.

Now City will be doubly-determined to heap pressure on Chelsea ahead of their late game at White Hart Lane, when they host Gus Poyet”s Sunderland, whose Christmas period so far extends to a 3-1 home defeat by Hull and a 0-0 draw at Aston Villa.

However, the result is by no means a foregone conclusion, with the Black Cats proving particularly resolute on their travels ever since their 8-0 hammering at Southampton in October.

Costel Pantilimon 2014-15

The arrival in the first XI of ex-City keeper Costel Pantilimon, teamed with a back-to-basics defensive style, has seen Poyet”s Mackems concede just once in their last five Premier League away fixtures – including trips to Liverpool and Newcastle – while they head to the Etihad Stadium on the back of four successive away day clean sheets.

Already they”ve seen six goalless draws this season and until Poyet can bring in added goals, flair or Fabio Borini up front, then don”t expect them to deviate from their safety-first game plan on the road.

Can they frustrate the reigning champions however? They drew 2-2 at the Etihad last season, so perhaps they could come away with something again.

Charlie Austin to fire against the Swans

PAQueens Park Rangers” Charlie Austin celebrates scoring his sides second goa

Rewind back to 2012, when Michael Laudrup”s Swansea City headed to Loftus Road on the opening day of the season. Brendan Rodgers had gone from the Liberty Stadium, Mark Hughes had embarked on a summer of spending at Loftus Road and these were two sides expected to go in opposite directions in many pre-season predictions.

Alas, those predictions were right. But not in the way that had been expected.

Swansea sauntered into west London, slammed home five goals – with Michu devastating on his debut – and claimed three points. Six months later, they claimed the League Cup. QPR quickly sacked Hughes, hired Harry Redknapp and were relegated.

Now the R”s are back, with Redknapp still at the helm, and while they can”t get a point for love nor money on the road, their home form is keeping them above water. All 18 points they”ve picked up this term have been claimed on home turf, with 17 goals scored (four times as many as away).

Charlie Austin's stellar season

Appearances

Charlie Austin of QPR celebrates scoring his hat trick against West Brom

17

Goals

Charlie Austin of QPR celebrates his third goal

12

Assists

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 20: Charlie Austin of QPR celebrates his third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and West Bromwich Albion at Loftus Road on December 20, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

3

They host Garry Monk”s Swans on a repeat of that horrific day, but this time have Charlie Austin in their armoury. The No.9 has 12 Premier League goals to his name this term and has found the net in six of the R”s 10 home matches so far (nine goals). He has also picked up three assists in those matches.

While it would be harsh to call Redknapp”s side a one-man team the fact that he has played a direct part in 71 percent of their league goals this term makes its own point. And it points clearly to the fact that the former Poole Town forward is vital to their hopes of safety.

The Swans have been warned.

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