Soccer

Five things to know about EPL's Boxing Day program

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The Canadian Press
12/25/2013 8:50:37 AM
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MANCHESTER, England - Boasting the Premier League's most dangerous attacking units, Manchester City and Liverpool should provide a glut of goals when the title challengers play during Thursday's packed Boxing Day program.

Liverpool is at the top at Christmas for the first time since 2008 after scoring 42 goals.

Only Manchester City has been more lethal in front of goal, with the team — a point behind Liverpool and Arsenal in third — scoring 51 goals in 17 games.

With Europe's leading leagues on their winter breaks, every Premier League team is in action on Boxing Day. Here are five things to know about Thursday's games:

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The short trip to Manchester will be a test of the depth of Liverpool's resources — as well as its title credentials — with only 17 players fit to travel across the northwest.

"Our squad is very thin at the moment," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. "None of the guys who have been out have returned and there is still the timeline which was set for them."

Among the casualties are captain Steven Gerrard, defender Jose Enrique and striker Daniel Sturridge.

Crucially, though, striker Luis Suarez is fit and in form, scoring 10 times in four straight victories.

"We will need to keep him quiet," City midfielder James Milner said. "But Liverpool are a top side having a good season and it's not just about stopping him, because they have plenty of other players who can do damage as well."

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BLUES BOUNCE BACK

Chelsea was 11 points behind the leaders at this time last season under Rafa Benitez, but is now within two points of Liverpool going into Thursday's match against Swansea.

"We don't go to Christmas as leaders, but we go with evolution because last season the championship was already lost by this point," Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said. "Now, we are there ... we are completely alive."

Chelsea and Arsenal drew 0-0 on Monday to leave the Gunners two points ahead in second.

Arsenal has another derby on Thursday against West Ham.

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MERRY MARTINEZ

With only one loss in 17 league matches, Roberto Martinez has spent his first season at Everton trying to downplay expectations. The Merseyside club is only out of the top four due to Chelsea's superior goal difference.

"I feel we haven't reached our full potential and that excites me," Martinez said ahead of Thursday's match against last-place Sunderland.

Last year it was Martinez in charge of a struggling team, with Wigan going on to be relegated before he was handed the Everton job. A draw against Sunderland would put Everton on 37 points, surpassing Martinez's total haul of 36 points with Wigan last season.

As for the man Martinez replaced? David Moyes and Manchester United travel to Hull in eighth place, six points behind Everton.

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JOB HUNTING

West Bromwich Albion travels to Tottenham still searching for a manager almost two weeks after firing Steve Clarke.

Tottenham only dismissed its manager, Andre Villas-Boas, last week, but has already replaced him. Tim Sherwood was surprisingly entrusted with his first managerial job.

"We're two sides who are a probably little bit unsettled at the moment," West Brom interim manager Keith Downing said.

But Sherwood isn't exactly inheriting a Tottenham team in crisis, despite the club feeling the need to fire Villas-Boas last week.

While in temporary charge on Sunday, Sherwood oversaw a 3-2 victory at Southampton that put Tottenham within four points of fourth-place Chelsea.

While the 44-year-old Sherwood's appointment was a surprise, given his lack of managerial experience, he does know Tottenham, having been part of the coaching setup since 2008.

"I've known it from the grass roots right up to the first team, worked at every level of the football club and played here, so I know it better than most," Sherwood said.

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CARDIFF STAND-OFF

Malky Mackay remains in charge at Cardiff for Thursday's game against Southampton.

Mackay was asked to quit by owner Vincent Tan — and looked set to be fired — before being handed a reprieve on Sunday.

But with Mackay's fractured relationship with Tan yet to be healed, chairman Mehmet Dalman concedes the south Wales club might still have to act swiftly to bring in a new manager to restore stability.

Luis Suarez (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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