Hooray, it's Boxing Day!
For some people, the day after Christmas is a time to recover from the forced jollity -- and requisite binge drinking -- that comes from hanging out with relatives who want to know why you're wasting your life watching soccer until your eyes bleed. To them I say: You can have Jesus' birthday -- I worship at the altar of Boxing Day.
The BD tradition is every bit as proud as the NBA's Occupy X-mas Prime-time movement, with games almost as high-scoring. On Dec. 26, 1963, for instance, a whopping total of 66 goals were scored in 10 matches: Fulham beat Ipswich 10-1, Blackburn won 8-2 at West Ham and Burnley hung six on Manchester United. That must have been some pretty strong eggnog they were serving at Ipswich's holiday party.
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And it's not only goalfests that BD gifts soccer fans, but surreal scenes like a certain orange-faced manager berating his players on the field at halftime because, in the spirit of giving, he wanted to heap as much humiliation on them as he possibly could. Take a bow, Phil Brown, wherever you're currently enjoying your gardening leave.
Happily, I will experience no such stress on Monday, with the Arsenal game against Wolves having been shoved back 24 hours due to a transit strike. Of course, if RvP should tear a hamstring opening that Halo I bought him, I will throw myself down a chimney.
Because there's such a feast of games to choose from and only so much time before your hangover really kicks in, it's important that you don't waste your waking hours on matches that are either blackout-inducing or impossible to find on cable.
So, amid the pablum of Stoke-Aston Villa and Sunderland-Everton, here's a quartet of games that deserve your inebriated attention.
Chelsea vs. Fulham, 8 a.m. ET
How relieved must John Terry be to return to the fortress of loyalty and entitlement that is Stamford Bridge? The England captain endured a shower of haterade Thursday at White Hart Lane after being officially charged with alleged racist abuse, but he rose above it to lead the Blues' spirited comeback to draw against Spurs. After being torn apart early on, the Chelsea defense proved surprisingly resilient in the face of Tottenham's speed and power, and Terry even made a heroic goal-line stop on an Emmanuel Adebayor shot in stoppage time to preserve a hard-fought point.
Fulham, on the other hand, has struggled since beating Liverpool on a Clint Dempsey tap-in, and Manchester United went absolutely medieval on them Wednesday. Looking disinterested and overmatched, the Cottagers allowed United to hang a five-spot on them in a match that could have easily been of Ipswich proportions. (Remember the days when Fulham was Fergie's bogey team, beating the Red Devils twice and drawing once in their last three meetings at the Cottage? So much for that.) Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata must be salivating at the prospect of running at a back line that looks as trustworthy as Dominique Strauss-Kahn on a business trip.
Liverpool vs. Blackburn Rovers, 10 a.m. ET
Free Suarez! A scoreless tie with Wigan goes to show how much the Reds miss the embattled Uruguayan in attack. What's that, the eight-game ban hasn't started yet? Sorry, I thought his teammates were wearing those stupid T-shirts in tribute to the absent striker, but it turns out that Suarez was on the field, just not scoring against one of the Prem's leakiest defenses. On BD, he gets another sieve-like backline to prey upon. After all, the man could use some good PR, and a goal or three against Rovers would at least distract people from his linguistic problems for 90 minutes. Let's hope that if anyone is wearing special T-shirts, it's Blackburn fans imploring Venky's to debone and filet Steve Kean by halftime.
West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City, 10 a.m. ET
City are top of the league on Christmas for the first time since 1929. Mazel tov. But here's a lump of coal for their fans -- the team leading the Prem on Dec. 25 has only gone on to win the title six times in nearly 20 years. And Roberto Mancini can already feel the hot, brandy-kissed breath of Sir Alex on his neck (maybe that's why the Italian always wears that infernal scarf), so it's doubtful that with United two points behind the league leaders the Italian will be encouraging any overly festive hijinks. Besides, these tricky away ties define title contenders every bit as much as 6-1s at Old Trafford. At the very least, the Baggies figure to be a tougher test for the Sky Blues than Stoke. The Potters drove their red-and-white-striped team bus right onto the field at Etihad Stadium and hid behind it, allowing City to complete a Barca-esque total of 924 passes (the highest in any league game since 2003-04) and enjoy a staggering 76 percent of possession. Imagine if Mancini had any decent finishers!
For more from David Hirshey, check out his columns on all things soccer.
• The All-EPL Team, 2011-12
• Saying goodbye to Chinaglia
• Time to dethrone King Kenny Dalglish?
• In praise of Fulham
• The comeback artists
• Call it a comeback
• Death by Manchester
• The battle for third
• Spurs' title credentials
• EPL's best starting XI
• City handed first EPL loss
• Chelsea pushed to brink
• Fragile egos crossing
• City and United
• Is Newcastle for real?
• The bad-behavior derby
Manchester United vs. Wigan, ESPN2, ESPN3, 10 a.m. ET
Sometimes your best just isn't good enough. After 17 games, United has its highest point total in Prem history, yet still trails its extremely loud and incredibly close neighbor in the standings. How is that possible? Is City that good that United needs to be perfect from now until May to make sure the title stays on the red side of Manchester? That's why a Boxing Day match with lowly Wigan -- which in years past would be a mere formality -- has an air of intrigue, as Sir Alex's men can ill afford anything but three points against a team that held Liverpool scoreless midweek and boasts a goalkeeper, Ali Al-Habsi, in the form of his life. For United, it certainly won't be a 5-0 Fulham-esque stroll, a game so noncompetitive that even Dimitar Berbatov joined in the fun, scoring his first goal of the season on an audacious backheel. (As you know, the Bulgarian is unstoppable with a four-goal lead.) Still, Sir Alex was not happy to see his already crowded training room get even more cluttered, with Ashley Young picking up an injury. At least Phil Jones -- who wobbled off the field after Dempsey poleaxed him with an elbow to the jaw -- has recovered and is set to return.
It's the kind of tense, year-end situation that could drive a man to drink. So go ahead, Fergie, have a nip. After all, it's Boxing Day.
David Hirshey has been covering soccer for more than 30 years and has written about the sport for The New York Times, Time, ESPN The Magazine and Deadspin. He is the co-author of "The ESPN World Cup Companion" and played himself (almost convincingly) in the acclaimed soccer documentary "Once in a Lifetime."