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The frantic Christmas fixture list get underway at the weekend with many Premier League clubs facing four games in 10 days that could make or break their seasons.
Momentum, squad rotation and the players staying in the right frame of mind are on every manager’s wish-list but three Premier League bosses in particular are playing for big stakes before the transfer window opens in January.
Manchester United sit six points clear of the chasing pack headed by their local rivals as they prepare for the visit to Swansea on Sunday, while City look to have a very winnable home clash against bottom side Reading on Saturday afternoon.
Both sides are long odds on in Paddy Power’s online betting but United look to have a trickier tie at the Liberty Stadium, priced as they are are at 4/6 (1.67) to see off the Swans.
While Ferguson would obviously love a 5-0 win for Reading at Etihad Stadium, a more realistic Christmas present would be getting centre-back and club captain Nemanja Vidic back to being a more permanent fixture in his starting 11 for the second half of the season.
The 31-year-old returned in United’s 3-1 win against Sunderland last weekend but has played just five games for the club over the past 12 months. Vidic is 11/2 (6.50) to score anytime in United's game against Fulham.
United have conceded 24 goals this season compared to Manchester City’s 15 and even though they’ve scored 43 goals, they have had to come from behind nine times already, winning seven of those.
With home games against Newcastle and West Brom to follow before a New Year’s Day trip to Wigan, the soon-to-be 71-year-old Ferguson - his birthday is on New Year’s Eve - will desperately want a fully-fit Vidic marshaling the defence until May.
Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers faces a different challenge as he prepares for the visit of Fulham in the late kick-off on Saturday evening for which the home side are 4/7 (1.67) with Paddy Power.
The Reds had begun to get their act together recently but there are still gaps – none more so than upfront.
Luis Suraez has played a star role for the Anfield side in bagging 10 league goals to date and is 4/1 (5.0) in Paddy Power’s online betting to get the opening goal of the game. But the Uruguay international desperately needs someone to share the heavy lifting up front.
The Merseysiders place in the last 32 of the Europa League has come at a price and Rodgers has said he will need to rest midfielders Joe Allen and winger Raheem Sterling in the coming weeks.
That doesn’t bode well for the Suarez over the next fortnight as Liverpool face Stoke and QPR away in quick succession after the Cottagers and then entertain Sunderland at Anfield on January 2nd.
A 3-1 loss at home to Aston Villa last weekend will have set alarm bells ringing and Rodgers will hope he can prise open the chequebook long enough from club owners Fenway Sports Group to land some more attacking options in January.
That brings us to Paul Lambert. The Aston Villa manager has had a tough time of it at the Midlands club but there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. The Villains are unbeaten in their last five league games that include wins over Liverpool and Reading. They’re also Capital One Cup semi-finalists.
What the Villa boss needs to ensure though is that he holds on to Belgian international Christian Benteke who has scored a third of Villa’s total goals in 14 starts and three in the Capital One Cup. Benteke is available at 11/1 (12.0) to score first in Villa's game against Chelsea on Sunday or a tasty looking 10/3 (4.33) to score anytime.
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