Football Features

Every Premier League club’s festive fixture run ranked from toughest to easiest

By Squawka News

Every Premier League club's festive fixture run ranked from toughest to easiest

Published: 11:30, 21 December 2023

The famous ‘festive period’ is here, English football’s busiest time of year.

While the rest of Europe winds down for the winter break, clubs in England prepare themselves for a harsh schedule with little time for rest and recuperation.

For supporters, it’s a feast of football to go with their Christmas dinners and Boxing Day trimmings. For players and coaches, meanwhile, this time of year can often be when their fitness and patience are tested to the limits.

But who has it toughest this time around? Squawka took a look at each Premier League team’s fixture difficulty, travel distance and time between matches to rank* their festive period.

*Rankings are based on fixture difficulty, hours between matches and distance travelled, each of which is rated between one and five for every team. These ratings are then averaged out.

1. Man City – 3.7

  • Travel: 5 | Recovery: 4 | Fixture difficulty: 2
  • Fixtures: Crystal Palace (h), Urawa Red Diamonds (n, Club World Cup), Club World Cup final or 3rd place match (n), Everton (a), Sheffield United (h)
  • Results: 2-2 Crystal Palace, 3-0 Urawa Reds

Things aren’t quite clicking for Pep Guardiola at the moment, as shown by his side throwing away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Palace. Now, they have the small matter of travelling halfway across the world for the Club World Cup, after which they’re expected back to face a confident Everton side at Goodison Park just five days later.

Man City’s travel distance over the festive period will come close to 10,000 miles, with barely any time to recover between matches (an average of 84 hours). Guardiola has a huge squad packed full of stars at his disposal, but even he’ll be tested to his limit.

“The amount of games we have nowadays, it is a bit crazy because of the rest that players get. The risk of injury is up quite a lot,” said Portuguese midfielder Bernardo Silva.

Guardiola himself added: “I am not against the new competitions. I am against the lack of time to recover from year to year.

“This is what I am complaining [about] all the time. For me it doesn’t matter to play every three days, six days, seven days. It is OK.

“But it is really tough to finish the season and then in three weeks restart again and go to Asia, to be financially stable, or the States. That is really, really tough, for ourselves and especially for the players. For myself, things should change.

“But how do you change when [after] you finish the season, you go to the United States to play another competition? This is the problem.”

2. Fulham – 3.6

  • Travel: 4 | Recovery: 4 | Fixture difficulty: 2.8
  • Fixtures: Newcastle (a), Everton (a, EFL Cup), Burnley (h), Bournemouth (a), Arsenal (h)
  • Results: Newcastle 3-0, Everton 1-1 (Fulham progress on penalties) 

Fulham’s run to the EFL Cup quarter-finals put some serious demands on their squad this winter, with the trip to Goodison Park coming straight off the back of their haul up to the north east, where they lost 3-0 to Newcastle.

Fulham’s Premier League schedule is book-ended by Newcastle away and leaders Arsenal at home. With barely any time to recover (an average of 90 hours) and trips right across the country to plan for, Marco Silva has his work cut out.

3. Newcastle – 3.5

  • Travel: 4 | Recovery: 4 | Fixture difficulty: 2.6
  • Fixtures: Fulham (h), Chelsea (a, EFL Cup), Luton (a), Nottingham Forest (h), Liverpool (a)
  • Results: Newcastle 3-0 Fulham, Chelsea 1-1 (Chelsea progress on penalties)

Newcastle’s team coach will feel more like a pinball machine by the end of December, with the Magpies bouncing between the north east, London and Merseyside. Like Fulham and Everton, Newcastle have been given extra work to do in the EFL Cup against Chelsea, while their isolation as the northernmost team in the league means travel will always be an issue.

Spare a thought for Eddie Howe, who has already been dealing with an injury crisis. After this tough run, he then has just one week to prepare for a derby clash with Sunderland in the FA Cup, before back-to-back Premier League encounters with Man City and Aston Villa. It doesn’t get any tougher.

4. Everton – 3.3

  • Travel: 3 | Recovery: 4 | Fixture difficulty: 2.8
  • Fixtures: Burnley (a), Fulham (h, EFL Cup), Tottenham (a), Man City (h), Wolves (a)
  • Results: Burnley 0-2, 1-1 Fulham (beaten on penalties) 

Everton’s 2-0 victory extended their current winning streak to four matches without conceding, and the Toffees are flying with the inspiration from their 10-point deduction. Supporters would have been desperate to see them go all the way in the EFL Cup but there’s no denying their push to the quarter-finals added extra stress to their festive schedule. After hosting Fulham, it’s down to London for a tough test at Spurs away, before going back to Goodison to host champions Man City. Who knows what state their slim squad will be in when they make the trip to Molineux on December 30th?

5. Man Utd – 3.0

  • Travel: 3 | Recovery: 3 | Fixture difficulty: 3
  • Fixtures: Liverpool (a), West Ham (a), Aston Villa (h), Nottingham Forest (a)
  • Results: Liverpool 0-0

Man Utd’s travel commitments aren’t truly horrendous with only one trip to London over Christmas, while being out of the EFL Cup means they get a little extra rest this week. But that makes this so tough is the fact their only home game in this run comes against high-flying Villa, while their away trips included Liverpool and next West Ham.

They made a solid start by taking a point from Anfield, though.

6. Burnley – 2.9

  • Travel: 3 | Recovery: 3 | Fixture difficulty: 2.75
  • Fixtures: Everton (h), Fulham (a), Liverpool (h), Aston Villa (a)
  • Results: 0-2 Everton

Burnley have already thrown away their first festive fixture, losing 2-0 at home to Everton last weekend. It doesn’t get any easier from here, with a long trip to London to face Fulham up next, before facing two of the top three in Liverpool and Aston Villa. There will be some hope that the Turf Moor faithful can inspire an unlikely result against Liverpool, or even that they catch Fulham a little tired from their  EFL Cup exertions at Everton. But things are starting to look bleak for Vincent Kompany.

7. Crystal Palace – 2.8

  • Travel: 2 | Recovery: 3 | Fixture difficulty: 3.5
  • Fixtures: Man City (a), Brighton (h), Chelsea (a), Brentford (h)
  • Results: Man City 2-2

Crystal Palace are pretty lucky in that their longest trip came last weekend in Manchester. However, their festive period brings a really tough run of champions Man City away, fierce rivals Brighton at home, and then London derbies away at Chelsea and at home to Brentford.

Of course, Palace have already taken an unlikely point at the Etihad, so confidence will be high that they can overcome this tricky test.

= Sheffield United – 2.8

  • Travel: 2 | Recovery: 3 | Fixture difficulty: 3.25
  • Fixtures: Chelsea (a), Aston Villa (a), Luton (h), Man City (a)
  • Results: Chelsea 2-0

Simply put, Sheffield United have to make the very most of that home clash with Luton, because just look at the schedule around it. They’ve already lost away at Chelsea and now must prepare to go to Villa Park, while they round things off with a trip to the champions. There’s unlikely to be a tougher run of away fixtures this season, let alone at the busiest time of year.

If the Blades don’t take maximum points from Luton, the writing could already be on the wall.

9. Liverpool – 2.7

  • Travel: 1 | Recovery: 4 | Fixture difficulty: 3
  • Fixtures: Man Utd (h), West Ham (h, EFL Cup), Arsenal (h), Burnley (a), Newcastle (h)
  • Results: 0-0 Man Utd, 5-1 West Ham

Liverpool have found themselves in the extremely lucky position where four of their five festive fixtures come at home, while the one away match is at struggling Burnley. Of course, those home matches do come against incredibly tough opposition in Man Utd (who they drew 0-0 with) West Ham in the cup (who they beat 5-1), leaders Arsenal and Newcastle United. But you’d rather face them at Anfield than on the road.

What could really hurt Jurgen Klopp is the pile-up of games, with their cup run meaning they have an average of just 90 hours between matches.

= West Ham – 2.7

  • Travel: 2 | Recovery: 3 | Fixture difficulty: 3
  • Fixtures: Wolves (h), Liverpool (a, EFL Cup), Man Utd (h), Arsenal (a), Brighton (h)
  • Results: 3-0 Wolves

Nobody will envy West Ham having to travel to Anfield and the Emirates either side of a home clash with Man Utd. The confidence from beating Wolves 3-0 was diminished by a 5-1 hammering away to Liverpool — with David Moyes continuing his barren record at Anfield.

11. Arsenal – 2.6

  • Travel: 2 | Recovery: 3 | Fixture difficulty: 2.75
  • Fixtures: Brighton (h), Liverpool (a), West Ham (h), Fulham (a)
  • Results: 2-0 Brighton

Arsenal have gotten lucky in that Liverpool is their only trip outside of London this Christmas. However, that game being a six-pointer between the Premier League’s top two will bring its own test of Arsenal’s mental strength and fortitude. West Ham at home and Fulham away are no gimmies either, though they made a good start to this run by beating Brighton 2-0.

= Villa – 2.6

  • Travel: 2 | Recovery: 3 | Fixture difficulty: 2.75
  • Fixtures: Brentford (a), Sheffield United (h), Man Utd (a), Burnley (h)
  • Results: Brentford 1-2

Villa have already come from behind to win their first festive fixture 2-1 at Brentford and with their toughest remaining game now away at a faltering Man Utd, you really wouldn’t be surprised to see them take maximum points. Beware complacency, however, especially at home to Sheffield United and Burnley.

= Luton – 2.6

  • Travel: 2 | Recovery: 3 | Fixture difficulty: 2.75
  • Fixtures: Bournemouth (a), Newcastle (h), Sheffield United (a), Chelsea (h)
  • Results: N/A

Luton have tested some of the big boys at home this season, and they’ll hope to do the same against both Newcastle and Chelsea. They’ll also view that trip to Sheffield United with the same importance as the Blades themselves.

One intangible factor for Luton is the effect Tom Lockyer’s medical emergency at Bournemouth may have on them.

= Wolves – 2.6

  • Travel: 2 | Recovery: 3 | Fixture difficulty: 2.75
  • Fixtures: West Ham (a), Chelsea (h), Brentford (a), Everton (h)
  • Results: West Ham 3-0

On the face of it, Wolves’ run looks pretty reasonable. However, they’ve already been beaten 3-0 by West Ham, while their two home games are against a Chelsea side undeniably talented despite their poor form, and an Everton side that may well still be riding high. This could get tricky, despite appearing reasonable.

15. Chelsea – 2.5

  • Travel: 2| Recovery: 3 | Fixture difficulty: 2.4
  • Fixtures: Sheffield United (h), Newcastle (h, EFL Cup), Wolves (a), Crystal Palace (h), Luton (a)
  • Results: 2-0 Sheffield United, 1-1 Newcastle (Chelsea progress on penalties)

Chelsea will count themselves rather lucky this Christmas, with their Premier League fixtures looking reasonably winnable on paper. Things are complicated by their cup clash with Newcastle, while Chelsea rarely do the things they should on paper at the moment. But things could have been much worse.

16. Bournemouth – 2.4

  • Travel: 3 | Recovery: 2 | Fixture difficulty: 2.25
  • Fixtures: Luton (h), Nottingham Forest (a), Fulham (h), Tottenham (a)
  • Results: N/A

Bournemouth have a difficult trip to Tottenham on New Year’s Eve but before that, they have a couple of very winnable games, while the furthest they have to travel is Nottingham. Their home match with Luton at the weekend was a traumatic experience for obvious reasons.

17. Forest – 2.3

  • Travel: 5 | Recovery: 3 | Fixture difficulty: 2
  • Fixtures: Tottenham (h), Bournemouth (a), Newcastle (a), Man Utd (h)
  • Results: 0-2 Tottenham

With Forest’s 2-0 defeat to Spurs coming on a Friday night, there’s been plenty of time for Nuno Espírito Santo’s squad to recover. Physically, they should be fine, but the issue comes mentally now for Forest, who are sliding very quickly down the Premier League table. Can they get something at Bournemouth, or perhaps make home advantage count against a fragile Man Utd? They need to make the new manager bounce count.

=. Brighton – 2.3

  • Travel: 2 | Recovery: 2 | Fixture difficulty: 3
  • Fixtures: Arsenal (a), Crystal Palace (a), Tottenham (h), West Ham (a)
  • Results: Arsenal 2-0

Brighton definitely have some of the toughest fixtures, as proven by their 2-0 loss at Arsenal. However, their recovery time could offer a huge advantage, with an average of 130 hours between their matches. The extra recovery time could count for so much by the time that West Ham game comes around, especially with the Hammers juggling EFL Cup commitments.

19. Spurs – 2.1

  • Travel: 2 | Recovery: 2 | Fixture difficulty: 2.25
  • Fixtures: Nottingham Forest (a), Everton (h), Brighton (a), Bournemouth (h)
  • Results: 2-0 Tottenham

Spurs have already beaten Forest and that’s as far as they’ll travel this Christmas, so the stress on Ange Postecoglou’s side should start to ease. Everton at home could be tricky given the form of Sean Dyche’s men, while Brighton away is never easy. But Tottenham’s travel schedule is very favourable indeed.

20. Brentford – 1.4

  • Travel: 1 | Recovery: 1 | Fixture difficulty: 2.3
  • Fixtures: Aston Villa (h), Wolves (h), Crystal Palace (a)
  • Results: Brentford 1-2 Aston Villa

Brentford were supposed to face Man City on Saturday but now have the weekend off due to the champions’ Club World Cup commitments. What’s more, the Bees don’t even have to leave London this Christmas, so they have by far and away the easiest schedule.

They’ve already squandered a one-goal lead to lose 2-1 to Aston Villa, but Wolves at home and the short trip to Crystal Palace present more favourable opportunities. Thomas Frank will be rightly livid if he doesn’t get at least a couple of points for Christmas.

Full Premier League fixture schedule difficulty ratings:
  • Man City – 3.7
  • Fulham 3.6
  • Newcastle – 3.5
  • Everton – 3.3
  • Man Utd – 3.0
  • Burnley – 2.9
  • Palace – 2.8
  • Sheff Utd – 2.8
  • Liverpool – 2.7
  • West Ham – 2.7
  • Arsenal – 2.6
  • Aston Villa – 2.6
  • Luton – 2.6
  • Wolves – 2.6
  • Chelsea – 2.5
  • Bournemouth – 2.4
  • Forest – 2.3
  • Brighton – 2.3
  • Spurs – 2.1
  • Brentford – 1.4