On the western side of the Atlantic, the Christmas Day sports lineup will be dominated by the NBA and its traditional slate of holiday games. Over in Europe, soccer will be the Christmas feast, as it so often is. The EPL will give us a hors-d’oeuvre on Friday (Dec. 22) with a battle for fourth-place between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates. La Liga, meanwhile, gives us an even bigger gift with a Christmas Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid on Saturday (Dec. 23). It’s a match that Real have to win if they have any designs on claiming the title.
Since it’s the time of year for giving, here’s our gift to you: some savvy picks, with odds courtesy of Bet365.
Arsenal (+138) vs Liverpool (+175), Draw (+260)
Both Arsenal (10-3-5, 33 points) and Liverpool (9-7-2, 34 points) are almost 20 points behind first-place Manchester City, so their chances of clinching the title this season are virtually non-existent. The best either can hope for is a top-four finish and a spot in the Champions League. The Manchester clubs are all but guaranteed qualification, and Chelsea will likely end the season in third, leaving just one more qualification spot.
Liverpool currently sit in fourth but they only have a one-point lead over Arsenal. They’ll be defending their spot on Friday at the Emirates.
Arsenal are the very slight favorites heading into the match despite having only won one of their last four league games. The Gunners were humiliated 3-1 by Manchester United at the start of the month, and continued to drop points with back-to-back draws against Southampton and West Ham. They finally picked up a full three points last weekend with a sluggish 1-0 victory over relegation-threatened Newcastle.
Liverpool, conversely, are currently unbeaten in their last nine league fixtures and have only lost two EPL games this season. Only unbeaten Manchester City boasts fewer defeats, but draws against lower-tier sides have effectively ruled the Reds out of the title discussion.
They will nonetheless be one of the most exciting teams to watch moving forward. With attacking players like Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah, and Roberto Firmino, they’re one of the fiercest sides in front of net. Once they open the floodgates, the goals start pouring in. They can be quite sloppy in defense, but in recent weeks the Liverpool back-line has looked sturdy.
Liverpool’s record against the Big Six hasn’t been too good this season. They’ve already lost 5-0 to Man City and 4-1 to Tottenham, and drew against Chelsea and Man United. Their only major win came against Arsenal, whom they crushed 4-0 back in August.
When Liverpool are at their best, they’re capable of beating any team in England, and they enter Friday’s match riding a wave of momentum. It should be enough to overwhelm a tepid, unsure Arsenal side.
Pick: Liverpool (+175)
Real Madrid (+110) vs Barcelona (+210), Draw (+275)
Real Madrid (9-4-2, 31 points) already have an extremely narrow path to the top of the table, and if they lose to Barcelona (13-3-0, 42 points) this Saturday (December 23rd), they can kiss their title dreams goodbye.
For reasons still not completely understood, Real Madrid are playing like a shell of their former selves. The back-to-back Champions League winners and defending La Liga champs have struggled all season. They qualified second in their Champions League group behind Tottenham and are now in fourth-place in the league, an unfathomable position for the Spanish giants.
Injuries have been part of the problem, and the squad should be all healed up in time for the Clasico. Defenders Daniel Carvajal and Raphaël Varane are back in fighting form, and even Gareth Bale is, for now, completely injury-free. Sergio Ramos will also be back after serving his suspension.
Barcelona are still unbeaten in La Liga and the Champions League, a hugely impressive feat at this stage in the season. They have some issues that are making fans nervous, like the long-term injury to Ousmane Dembélé and the contentious formation change from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2, but it’s hard to get too concerned until they actually lose a game.
Ernesto Valverde has made some controversial decisions since taking over as manager at Barcelona, yet his results are undeniable. Venturing into the Bernabéu to take on Real Madrid is one of the most daunting tasks in world football, and that explains why Barca are the underdogs this weekend. It’s nothing Barcelona can’t overcome, though. They beat Real Madrid 3-2 at the Bernabéu in April, and they can do it again on Saturday. There’s value on the Catalans at +210.