December is arguably our biggest month in years. Having struggled to find points since the beginning of the season, we find ourselves sitting dangerously in the relegation zone with no clear way out. After starting the month losing 2-1 at Manchester City, we then host Chelsea and Arsenal, making it more crucial than ever to get points wherever we can.
Up until the Leicester game, fans didn’t know where to turn and the atmosphere was turning unsavoury. Big wins, and perhaps, more importantly, big performances are what we need to get everyone back on side. Facing these three top six clubs in succession will not only be a test to get points, but a test of fitness.
Moyes’ first game in charge saw the team cover 5km more than the average game so far this season, but only time will tell if we can we keep this up against the big teams. My main concern is our tendency to leak goals, with our last clean sheet before our Everton game being against Swansea on September 30.
The only other two clean sheets were in a 0-0 against West Brom on September 16 and against Huddersfield on September 11. On top of that, we have conceded the most goals in the Premier League and have made a habit of demonstrating inaccurate passing. This is something we simply cannot afford to continue against the big clubs in the lead up to Christmas.
Manchester City look unbelievable this season with 40 goals in their first 12 fixtures and Chelsea are challenging for second place alongside Arsenal, meaning we need our defence to be tighter than ever before.
Going into 2018, we need to have picked up some points to boost confidence of both the players and fans leading into the second half of the season.
I have been an advocate for bringing youth into the squad since last season, and think December will have a huge impact on whether the youth are given a chance on the pitch, or we stick with the safer option and keep the more experienced, older players in the starting lineup.
I think getting the young talent in could make competition more fierce and push players to fight even more for their place in the team, particularly as healthy competition is something we seem to have been lacking in recent months. The first three fixtures in December are certain to test us, but getting early points will boost confidence as we come up against Stoke, Newcastle, Bournemouth, and finally, Spurs.
From all seven fixtures this month, I’m going to put my neck on the line and say 10 points would be what we need to get our season back on track and hopefully avoid a nightmare before Christmas.
The one thing I am grateful for is that we won’t be playing on Christmas Eve this year. Originally assuring fans that no games would take place later than 4pm on Christmas Eve, there was uproar as West Ham v Newcastle looked set to fall on the 24th. The 560-mile round trip between London and Newcastle left football fans up and down the country criticising the league and broadcasters for their lack of thought into how this would impact those attending.
Broadcasters having rights to technically cover Christmas Eve fixtures didn’t seem to come as a shock to management, as Bilic, then still our manager, explained at the time: “We would all love to be with our families on Christmas Eve.”
Bilic went on, making it clear that the decision was beyond his powers: “This is the Premier League, the most attractive league in the world with all the rewards that brings. That means, in turn, you have to give something and if it requires you to play on Christmas Eve, then that is what we have to do.”
Fans angrily responded to the news of potential Christmas Eve fixtures as the decision was left in the hands of the broadcasters, with many criticising the ‘selfish’ decisions of the television companies. The Premier League’s executive chairman Richard Scudamore was quick to jump to the broadcasters’ rescue, explaining that they had been given contractual rights to select fixtures over Christmas Eve, putting decision makers in a predicament.
But what seemed like a no brainer to most, certainly took a while to be quashed. To the relief of football fans, it was announced that there would be no Christmas Eve fixtures scheduled, presumably to stop the fallout which would no doubt ensue.
Scudamore concluded by adding that he would “like to thank broadcast partners and clubs for their co-operation for flexibility.” With the last Christmas Eve Premier League fixture taking place in 1995 as Leeds beat Manchester United 3-1, the 22-year tradition looks set to continue, and long may it stay that way.