Manchester United will play three times between Boxing Day and the 2nd January 2017. Jose Mourinho’s side, who have been playing some tremendous football at this stage of the season, will be looking to extend their ten-match unbeaten run in all competitions, which includes the last three Premier league fixtures, which United have won, beating Tottenham Hotspur, Crystal Palace, and West Bromwich Albion. David Moyes’ Sunderland will visit the Theatre of Dreams on Boxing Day, with Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough visiting Old Trafford on New Year’s Eve and United then travelling to the London Stadium to face Slaven Bilić’s West Ham United, for the third time in just over a month.
United drew 1-1 with the Hammers in the league at Old Trafford, beating them 4-1 three days later in the EFL Cup. United’s festive period sees them in a good position, still sixth-placed in the league; three points behind fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur and four points behind fourth-placed Arsenal. Manchester City sits in third just six points ahead of United, so there really is everything to play for, despite United being written off in the league some weeks ago. Winning the title will be unlikely, but finishing in a UEFA Champions League place is very much possible, right now at least.
Sunderland – Monday 26th December 2016 – Old Trafford – KO: 15:00 GMT
David Moyes returns to Old Trafford as a manager on Boxing Day, just shy of three years since he was sacked by the Red Devils for a poor season in charge of the club, his first of what could have been six years. United will be looking for Jose Mourinho to lead them to victory against the struggling Premier League side, who sit in 18th place in the league, a point away from safety. Sunderland has earned themselves just 14 points in 17 Premier League matches this season, winning four matches, drawing twice and losing eleven. Moyes’ side have scored only 15 goals in the league, conceding 28, leaving them in a precarious position. Injury has struck Moyes’ side this season, which will see Paddy McNair miss the return to his former club, having been ruled out this season with a knee injury. Adnan Januzaj is not allowed to play against his
Adnan Januzaj is not allowed to play against his parent club, which will leave Donald Love as the only recent departure from the club eligible to play. John O’Shea will be pitted against his former club, though. Sunderland usually survives relegation, have done for the past few seasons, which is pretty unfortunate as they never better themselves, just play the same pitiful football, drag their supporters through a season of turmoil and then, in the last few matches of the season, pull a dramatic bid for safety. Hopefully, this season, Moyes’ magic will rub off and the Mackems will end up in a league they belong in – the Championship.
Match Prediction: Manchester United 3-0 Sunderland
Middlesbrough – Saturday 31st December 2016 – Old Trafford – KO: 15:00 GMT
Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough side won promotion from the Championship last season. They are currently the highest placed side which won promotion to the Premier League last season, sitting in 14th place with 18 points after playing 17 matches. Boro have played well at times, but also suffered, which will give them something to fight for come the end of the season. Boro has won four matches this season, drawing six and losing seven; scoring 16 goals, conceding just 19. Burnley, the Championship champions last season are in 16th position in the league, just three points adrift of Boro, with Hull City, the play-off winners, are positioned in the relegation zone, the bottom team in the table with just 12 points from 17 matches, winning three times, drawing three times and losing eleven matches. Hull look likely contenders for relegation, whereas Middlesbrough, at this moment in time, look well positioned to remain in the Premier League.
Boro currently have two former Manchester United players, who could both return to the Theatre of Dreams; Fabio da Silva and Victor Valdes. The Spanish goalkeeper left United in the summer on a free, signing for Karanka’s Premier League side. Fabio left United in 2014 for Cardiff, finding his way to Middlesbrough during the summer, establishing himself in the team. Valdes and Fabio could well cause United some problems, but with the player’s United have available, it could be a return to the Theatre of Dreams which both will want to forget. United find themselves in a position whereby they need to keep winning, in order to catch those out above them, earning a higher position in the league, which if both Arsenal and Spurs slip up just once, could see United firm their sites on one of their positions, leaving them to fight for scraps for the remainder of the season, which would be so great to see.
Match Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Middlesbrough
West Ham United – Monday 2nd January 2017 – London Stadium – KO: 17:15 GMT
Manchester United will travel for the first time to the London Stadium to face West Ham United in the Premier League. Both teams have a history, but the Hammers are not having a very good season. Slaven Bilić needs some players to leave his side contending for something, which at this stage can only be a better position in the league at the end of the season. West Ham currently sits in 13th place in the Premier League, earning 19 points in 17 matches. The Hammers have won five matches, drawing four and losing eight; scoring 19 goals, conceding 31, which leaves them wide open as clubs with better forward lines will wreak havoc against them. Bilić has recently been linked to two Manchester United players; Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, seeing them both as loan options based on the matches they play for United this season. Both look unlikely to be allowed to leave on loan and one would question whether both would see it as an opportunity or a punishment.
West Ham is a club many hate, especially in the fact their club is literally run by the taxpayer with them not paying much to keep the London Stadium running, let alone paying much to convert the former Athletics stadium into one to host football matches. For a Premier league team to be run this way is questionable to those allowing the country to keep them. Ashley Fletcher, a striker who left the United Academy in the summer could be a handful against his former side, scoring against them in the EFL Cup, equalising in the 35th minute, 33 minutes after Zlatan Ibrahimovic took the lead. In the second half, United took the lead again just three minutes into the half through Martial, who scored again 14 minutes later. Zlatan completed the scoring in injury time with United winning 4-1.
Match Prediction: West Ham United 1-3 Manchester United
Manchester United will be busy throughout January with the Emirates FA Cup commencing with United drawing Jaap Stam’s Reading at Old Trafford on Saturday 7th January 2017, KO 12:30, then the EFL Cup semi-final first leg against Hull City at the Theatre of Dreams on Tuesday 10th January 2017, KO 20:00. United then entertain Liverpool at home on Sunday 15th January 2017, KO 16:00, before facing Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday 21st January 2017, KO 15:00. United will end the month away to Hull City in the second leg of the EFL Cup semi-final on Thursday 26th January 2017, KO 19:45. United could end the month in the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup but will need to beat Reading to earn a place in the draw.