‘He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice…something, something…Jürgen Klopp is coming to town!’
And he’s doing so with his nostrils flared, his tombstone teeth angrily bared, and his grievance list clenched tightly in his fist.
The Liverpool manager has a famously uncharitable view of the annual English tradition of stuffing oneself at Christmas time, you see. He considers the way we gorge over the course of the festive season – be it on smoked salmon, roasted parsnips, forced jollity, or a thoroughly unearned sense of achievement – to be ‘criminal’.
It could be argued, very persuasively as it happens, that Klopp was referring specifically to the way we gluttonously indulge ourselves with football in December that’s the issue – cramming as many games as we can into an under-sized box, wrapping it crudely in last year’s gift-paper, and then expecting your sport-hating Auntie Mavis to be delighted at the prospect of sluggish, wall-to-wall hoof-ball during her one family holiday of the year.
The Liverpool manager can’t feel too aggrieved this time round, however. Yes, there are a lot of games. But a roll call of Wolves (away), Aston Villa (home), Newcastle (home), Spurs (away), Leeds (home), and Leicester (away) for his side – given the way they are playing right now – is a suitably flossed and scaled gift-horse.
Chelsea’s advent calendar reveals (yes, sorry, I peeked) a trip to West Ham this weekend, followed by wide open windows of opportunity against Leeds (11th), Everton (16th), Wolves (19th), Aston Villa (26th), and Brighton (29th) – with Steven Gerrard’s rehabilitated Villans currently looking by far the stiffest drink on the menu.
And Manchester City’s December parade of Watford (away, 4th), Wolves (home, 11th), Leeds (home, 14th), Newcastle (away, 19th), Leicester (home, 26th), and Brentford (away, 29th) may well be the most benign series of outings for the top three.
With Leicester struggling to unearth the kind of form that put them on the cusp of the Champions League last season, City could quite easily rotate their entire first team, take an indulgent shopping trip to Lapland, and still expect to win all of these fixtures
What compiling these Christmas lists has inadvertently revealed, however, is that Wolves must have been very, very naughty indeed this year.
Look, I don’t know if this counts as insider trading, but if you’ve got stock in Wolves, sell it at once. Because their name appears in all of the leading trio’s December schedules. In fact, of their next seven games, heading into the New Year, five are against a daunting quintet of Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester Utd.
There could be an almighty, obsidian hangover on January 4th in the Black Country following all that – assuming they make it through in one piece, that is.
Leeds fans must have thought they’d suffered enough during their lengthy absence from the top flight, but their Christmas 2021 selection box is a profoundly disappointing assortment of misshapen coal dollops too: Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Liverpool – all of which must be consumed in the space of just over a fortnight.
Marcelo Bielsa will be replacing his upturned pitch-side bucket with a padded armchair in an attempt to provide some yuletide comfort for his backside, as his team continues to hover precariously above the relegation zone.
Manchester United are hoping to assert a much-needed sense of order and consistency over the nativity period – efficiently wrapping-up points as well as presents – finally under the purview of Ralf Rangnick, who appears to have wisely delayed his arrival in order to avoid some decidedly tricky fixtures.
A welcoming Weihnachtsmärkte of very winnable ties now awaits the German as he prepares to experience an indulgent, football-stuffed, traditional English Christmas for the very first time. But will it be a December to remember for him…or a dreaded advent to circumvent?