Weekend Wanderings – Crystal Palace look to halt Man City, Old Firm derby and Tony Pulis era begins at Middlesbrough

Alasdair Hooper takes a look at some of this weekend’s big talking points in football…

We are currently in the middle of that period between Christmas and New Year where no one has a clue what day it is or what they’re doing.

Only three things are certain in life – the TV schedule is average, you feel like you’ve gained a couple of stone in weight and there always seems to be a football game on.

Thankfully for us that last part is the good bit and this weekend is no exception with numerous fixtures taking place.

In this edition of Weekend Wanderings we look at the games you should keep tabs on.

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1) Can Hodgson’s Eagles halt Manchester City in their tracks?

As much as we still wish there was a title race ongoing in the Premier League, the reality of Manchester City’s performances and gap at the top suggests it could all be over very soon.

Wednesday night’s 1-0 victory over a cautious Newcastle side left them 15 points clear of Manchester United.

Of their 20 games played in the league they have won 19 and drawn one. Scary stuff.

On Sunday City travel to Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace and plenty may see this as just another formality for Pep Guardiola’s team. But hold on.

Roy Hodgson has dusted himself down from the wounds he sustained at the hands of Iceland and has managed to turn Crystal Palace into a much more dependable outfit.

Funnily enough – though the Eagles are still down in 16th – you get the sense that if any team is to frustrate Manchester City it might just be Palace.

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2) The best of enemies meet again

Before the New Year arrives there is still time for another edition of one of the world’s most fiery derbies – the Old Firm.

On Saturday at midday Celtic host Rangers,who now have Graeme Murty at the helm until the end of the season.

Brendan Rodgers’ side bounced back from their Hearts humbling admirably by winning their next three, including against second-placed Aberdeen, and sit proudly at the top of the table eight points clear.

However, Rangers will desperately want the points on offer themselves as they look to haul in Aberdeen who lie a place and three points ahead of them.

One thing is for certain though. Regardless of where Celtic and Rangers are in the league standings you just know the Old Firm Derby will deliver a fiery atmosphere.

3) The Tony Pulis era begins in Boro

After Garry Monk was surprisingly removed from his position as Middlesbrough manager the club wasted no time in finding his replacement.

Recently-sacked West Brom manager Tony Pulis took the step back down into the Championship and joined Boro in their quest to bounce straight back into the Premier League.

Pulis was in the stands to oversee their 2-0 win over Bolton on Tuesday but Saturday’s match against Aston Villa will be his first venture into the Riverside’s home dugout.

Villa are level on points and just a place behind Boro at the moment and the game is sure to be a close encounter.
However, the former Stoke City boss obviously has plenty of experience at this level and, should he get the best out of his new players, he has a squad full of quality.

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4) Will Wolves extend their lead at the top of the Championship

Wolverhampton Wanderers continue to look a cut above the rest in the Championship as they sit top of the pile on 55 points.

A squad filled with talent, plus the managerial quality of Nuno, is paying off nicely but in Saturday evening’s fixture they will be put to the test.

Wolves make the trip to face the team currently sitting in second – eight points behind them – Bristol City.

Lee Johnson’s side have been in exemplary form this year, with their victory over Manchester United in the Carabao Cup a particularly outstanding highlight.

In fact the only thing that has arguably been better than Bristol City’s play has been the goal GIFs utilized by the in-house social media team.

With two highly talented and in-form sides going toe to toe you can be sure this game will be entertaining.

5) Can Lazio catch up with Serie A’s title-chasers?

As has been mentioned a lot in this weekly feature, if you want a top-flight title race then Italy is the place to be.

Napoli are on top with 45 points, Juventus in second on 44, third-placed Inter Milan have 40 and Roma have 38 in fourth (but also have a game in hand).

However, the team in fifth and on 36 points are Lazio who are performing well above expectations under the management of Simone Inzaghi.

On Saturday they travel to the San Siro to face Inter with an opportunity to haul themselves right up into contention for the Serie A title.

We could be looking at a five-team tussle for the Scudetto all the way through to the season’s end.

Follow Alasdair on Twitter at @adjhooper1992

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