You might notice a theme this week. Every major European league except one takes a winter break at this time of year. So the Premier League gets all the attention, and they know it. The schedule-makers purposely fill the festive period with big games.
Enjoy the spectacle, especially on New Year's Day. I suspect a few of you will sneak off to bars near Broad Street before the Mummers hit Center City. May your full English Breakfasts be tasty and warm.
Best wishes to all of you for a happy and prosperous 2014, and thanks again for reading my stuff and your many interactions.
Even you, Soccer Blows guy.
Sunderland at Cardiff City
12:30 p.m. Saturday (NBC)
Sunderland and U.S. national team striker Jozy Altidore has scored just one goal in 16 Premier League games this season. The New Jersey native doesn’t lack for confidence, but he needs to recapture his scoring touch as the start of a World Cup year looms.
Expect a wild atmosphere at the Cardiff City Stadium as fans stage another protest against Bluebirds owner Vincent Tan. The Malaysia native is disliked by fans because of his interference with the team and its traditions, incuding changing the team's colors from blue to red. Tan fired popular manager Malky Mackay on Friday, even though Mackay got Cardiff into the Premier League for the first time in team history.
Arsenal at Newcastle United
8:30 a.m. Sunday (NBCSN, mun2)
Arsenal lost its months-long grip on first place in the Premier League with a scoreless draw against Chelsea last Monday, but they got back on track with a 3-1 win at West Ham on Thursday. Now Arsène Wenger must shepherd his team through its third game in a week - with another coming fast on New Year’s Day - to keep title hopes alive.
Liverpool at Chelsea
11:00 a.m. Sunday (NBCSN, Telemundo)
The latest clash of English titans features two of England’s biggest names. Liverpool striker Luis Suárez is the Premier League’s top goal scorer, and has the Reds pushing for their first championship since 1990. But for all of Suárez’s exploits, no one in England commands the spotlight better than Chelsea manager José Mourinho. He’ll be reveling in the chance to spoil Liverpool’s dynamic attack.
Manchester City at Swansea City
7:45 a.m. Wednesday (NBCSN)
New Year’s Day isn’t just about college football and the Mummers anymore. The Premier League has a packed schedule, starting with this showdown between two of England’s most attractive teams.
Manchester City has become the trendy pick to win the title, with midfield general Yaya Touré leading the charge. They struggle on the road, though, having just won three of nine road games this season. This one might be a bit easier, as Swansea will be without injured star forward Michu.
Chelsea at Southampton
10:00 a.m. Wednesday (NBCSN)
Southampton started the season as one of the Premier League’s hottest teams, but the Saints haven’t won since November 9. They haven’t given up on playing attractive soccer, though, led by young Englishmen Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana.
Tottenham Hotspur at Manchester United
12:30 p.m. Wednesday (NBCSN)
The festive period concludes with a meeting of two perennial powers who have been overwhelming disappointments this season.
United, the reigning Premier League champions, are stuck in seventh place. Spurs spent almost $200 million this summer, but a lack of chemistry has them in eighth place. That got manager André Vilas-Boas fired just a few days before Christmas. Even in big-spending England, money alone can’t buy success.
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Real Madrid
9:00 a.m. Thursday (beIN Sport)
It's just a friendly, but it's always a big deal when Zlatan Ibrahimović and Cristiano Ronaldo are on the same field. With Ligue 1 and La Liga on winter breaks, the setting for this game will be Doha, Qatar. It's the home of PSG's big-money owners, as well as the company that owns beIN Sport. Something tells me there won't be much discussion of Qatar's corrupt 2022 World Cup bid, or the nation's inhumane treatment of construction workers. But the star power is worth tuning in for.