Festive season hits the Premier League

Preview of all matches for round 17 in the EPL

Updated: December 20, 2011, 1:00 PM ET
By Rachel Ullrich |

Wolverhampton vs. Norwich, 2:45 p.m., Tuesday
While this is an important match for both teams, Wolves will be the most anxious to take three points from it, currently sitting just one point out of the relegation zone. Meanwhile, Norwich is somehow in ninth, despite having just one more win than Wolves on the season (five to four). Wolves put on a good fight last week but lost, while Norwich put on a good fight and drew. The game was much more taxing on the Canaries, though, so Wolverhampton will like its chances.
What won't happen: A Norwich clean sheet. They haven't done it once this year. What will happen: Wolves squeak out a win and move up the table.

Blackburn vs. Bolton, 3 p.m., Tuesday, watch on ESPN3
This is more than just a battle of the bottom of the table; it's likely a battle of which club will sack its manager first. Many believe that the loser of this game will be out of a job by Christmas, and it would be hard to blame the clubs' owners. Bolton's Owen Coyle, at least, seems to have the support of his players and fans, but Steve Kean has much more at stake -- last week's local newspaper headlines told him in no uncertain terms that it was "time to go, Steve."
What won't happen: Either of these managers having a job at the end of the season.
What will happen: Blackburn wins

Aston Villa vs. Arsenal, 2:45 p.m., Wednesday, watch on ESPN3 So, say you have to miss work one day. You have a very slight injury that, without really impeding your daily life, keeps you from doing your very physical job. Instead of sitting at your house and thinking about other people at your office doing that job, you pop out to the shops and pick up a few things. Then people start yelling at you over Twitter and you're forced to apologize, because clearly if you didn't watch every minute of your coworkers' actions, you hate your job and want to leave. Isn't that right, Darren Bent?
What won't happen: The injured Bent going shopping again. He should be back on the field.
What will happen: Arsenal rebound from an unlucky loss to Man City with a win.

Man City vs. Stoke, 2:45 p.m., Wednesday
You guys, Stoke is actually pretty good this year. Despite playing in (about a million) Europa League matches and managing a regular Premier League schedule, it's still eighth in the table, and it never looks as though it's going to take a huge fall. The Potters' chances are good to finish in the top 10 this year, probably even the top seven or eight. Of course, none of that will matter against Man City, which proves each week that it's the best team in the league by miles.
What won't happen: Stoke finishing above Man City in the Prem.
What will happen: You know, it's a bold prediction, but I think Stoke has a good chance of going farther than Man City in Europa.

Newcastle vs. West Brom, 2:45 p.m., Wednesday Newcastle's run of no wins in five games is not good, there's no doubt about it. But it seems slightly tempered by the squad's tougher schedule recently. And against West Brom, the Toon will take heart in that they are unbeaten against opponents in the bottom half of the table, with six wins and two losses. The Baggies no doubt are thinking they're catching Newcastle at the right time, but the northerners could be prime to break that terrible streak.
What won't happen: Demba Ba hitting the woodwork again. He has to get lucky sometime, right?
What will happen: Newcastle wins.

Everton vs. Swansea, 3 p.m., Wednesday, watch on ESPN3
It's always fun when two of the lowest scorers in the league meet in a thrilling Christmas-time matchup. Oh, wait. That's not fun at all, and this game probably won't be either. Everton have been hard-pressed for wins this season, so it'll hope newly promoted Swansea offers up three points for the taking.
What won't happen:Anything interesting being said in this preview, apparently. But, to be fair, it really will be a boring game.
What will happen: Everton wins.

Fulham vs. Manchester United, 3 p.m., Wednesday
With all the hype over Manchester United, it's easy to forget that United is five points ahead of where it was at this point last year. The team is playing well despite many injuries to starting players. And, because they're behind, you know the Red Devils are getting the hairdryer treatment basically every day at practice. Fulham has been playing well, but it's no match for Fergie's red-faced anger.
What won't happen: United not scoring. It has found the net in each game this season.
What will happen: United wins. Probably 1-0, if this season is any indication.

QPR vs. Sunderland, 3 p.m., Wednesday
Martin O'Neill is 1-for-2 in his young Sunderland career, but already the Black Cats look more organized and, at least on the surface, seem improved. Much of that is probably the injection of new blood, but Sunderland will hope it's enough to earn a rare away win at QPR. The two clubs have combined for one win (O'Neill's first game) in their past seven games.
What won't happen: Many goals, apparently.
What will happen: Draw.

Wigan vs. Liverpool, 3 p.m., Wednesday, watch on ESPN3
This is exactly the kind of game Liverpool fans hate. On paper, it should have no problem with a match like this. Liverpool is by far the better team, and it has beaten better teams this season many times. And yet, this is exactly the kind of game Liverpool loses, year in and year out. But dropping points at Wigan can't happen this season if Kenny Dalglish's side wants to beat out the intense competition for a top-four spot. A key factor will be whether Luis Suarez is suspended by the FA, which was scheduled to be announced as early as Tuesday.
What won't happen: Wigan winning. It has done it only once in 14 matchups between the two clubs.
What will happen: What should happen is a win. Instead, probably a draw.

Tottenham vs. Chelsea, 3 p.m., Thursday, watch on ESPN2, ESPN3
Chelsea did not look good at Wigan this past weekend. Perhaps, after beating City, the Blues thought, "Wigan? Eh." They'll have to be much more careful against Tottenham, which is a main competitor for qualifying for Champions League football this season. At least we know Spurs won't be hungover -- 'Arry denied them a Christmas party (again).
What won't happen: Didier Drogba putting in any effort.
What will happen: Didier Drogba scoring anyway. And a draw.

Rachel Ullrich

ESPN Magazine Editor