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A busy holiday period lies ahead for the 20 Premier League teams.

The whirlwind schedule sees each team play three games over Christmas/New Year.

Which of the Premier League's top six is hurt most by the packed holiday schedule?This affords some the chance to consolidate or build on their position – while others nurse their squad through to normality later in January.

A gulf is emerging between the top six and the rest, with Manchester United six points above of Southampton ahead of a run of favourable fixtures. We look at how these six teams will fare over the holidays as the race for the top four heats up.

Chelsea

Antonio Conte’s side have peeled off 11 consecutive wins since their capitulation to Arsenal at the Emirates in late September, and are cushioned at the top of the table with a six point buffer.

Firebrand striker Diego Costa and midfield anchor N’Golo Kante will be missing for a clash with Bournemouth on Boxing Day. The Cherries stunned Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season, but a repeat is unlikely.

Costa and Kante will be back to face Stoke on New Year’s Eve, after which the Blues will confront Tottenham. The injury-riddled Spurs lost at the Bridge last month but may regain Toby Alderweireld and Erik Lamela for this meeting.

Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp’s men enter the festive fixtures off a gritty derby win, with pundits lauding a resilient performance from a team better known for its potency up front. The Reds lead a tight pack of contenders trailing Chelsea.

A home fixture against Stoke looms on the 27th, for which Klopp may regain Joel Matip and Philippe Coutinho. The Potters are winless in their last three outings, but will be boosted by the return of Ibrahim Afellay.

Liverpool will need to maintain their hard edge against Manchester City on New Year’s Eve. The Sky Blues have been cruelled by knee injuries but regain the suspended Sergio Aguero. The Reds will back up just two days later, meeting relegation battlers Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

Manchester City

Pep Guardiola has admitted to his difficulties with the Premier League’s physicality, and to lose both Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan is a major blow to his chances of overcoming them. Regardless, the Sky Blues go into Christmas with consecutive wins.

Last-placed Hull await on Boxing Day. A host of Guardiola’s best players will not be making an appearance, but the Tigers are unlikely to add to their three victories for the season.

Liverpool at Anfield on New Year’s Eve could prove a stumbling block for the Citizens’ hopes of staying in touch with Chelsea, but lowly Burnley await just two days later.

Arsenal

After a brief stint on top of the league, a loss at Goodison Park has sent the Gunners into a tailspin. The absence of Santi Cazorla in midfield has left Arsene Wenger’s side more susceptible than ever to a high press, and two first choice centre-backs in Shkodran Mustafi and Per Mertesacker are missing.

Fortunately for the North London side, a comfortable run of fixtures after Christmas presents them with a chance to reignite their title tilt. West Brom will visit the Emirates on Boxing Day, before 17th placed Crystal Palace visit on January 1st, barely a week after dismissing manager Alan Pardew. A trip to Bournemouth just two days later may present a challenge in rotating an injury-hit squad.

Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs have been blighted by injury in recent months. Regardless, Mauricio Pochettino’s side has conceded the second-fewest goals in the Premier League, and the return of key players in Toby Alderweireld and Erik Lamela could spark their chances.

They meet Southampton on the 28th in a potential danger game – the Saints are undefeated in their last four across all competitions – followed by a trip to Vicarage Road to face Watford.

Chelsea will field a near full-strength side at White Hart Lane, and present a significant challenge to Spurs’ hopes of keeping pace with Liverpool and Manchester City, much less Conte’s side.

Manchester United

After a turbulent start to the season with Jose Mourinho’s on and off-field methods under scrutiny, United are unbeaten in 10 games in all competitions.

Sunderland await on Boxing Day, and should be comfortably accounted for. Middlesbrough follow on New Year’s Eve and will not be pushovers, having troubled Manchester City and Arsenal in hard-won draws away from home.

A trip to West Ham’s new home at the Olympic Stadium rounds out the Red Devils’ holiday draw. The Hammers held United to a draw at Old Trafford but were easily dispensed with in a League Cup tie three days later.

Who benefits, and who should be nervous?

United look the big winners, already in ominous form and set to face three teams outside the top 10, while Liverpool can consolidate their position as the main challengers to Chelsea, provided they maintain the determination that characterised their derby win.

Tottenham and Manchester City should collect two wins apiece, but clashes with the Blues and Liverpool respectively could dent their aspirations.

Arsenal have an opportunity to kick-start a campaign that has ground to a halt in the past week, but injury concerns and the poor form of Mesut Ozil could see an upset.

Likewise, Chelsea should maintain their sparkling form but the suspensions to Costa and Kante may leave the door slightly ajar for Bournemouth.

It is difficult to pinpoint who has drawn the short straw, but the Gunners look most susceptible at this stage.

Originally published at outside90.com

Post written by Nathan John for Outside 90
Blog: outside90.com, Twitter: @Outside90

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