Anything can happen over the Premier League's crowded holiday period

And some might have an unhappy Christmas

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 December, 2012, 6:25am

The ghosts of Christmas past haunt Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho. "I was about nine and my father was sacked on Christmas Day. He was a manager, the results had not been good. The telephone rang and he was sacked in the middle of our lunch," he once recalled.

As we reach the 2012-13 season halfway line, Mourinho's Dickensian cautionary tale is enough to make a handful of Premier League managers swallow hard as they chomp on their turkey. It proves that anything can - and likely will - happen in football during the busy and crucial Christmas and New Year schedule.

Amid the mistletoe, dissatisfied owners and chairmen - their digestive systems nagging after the assault from mulled wine, sprouts and lack of points - can turn into Scrooges.

Little wonder that Newcastle coach Alan Pardew banned the annual Yuletide party. "It's out of respect to our fans and what we have served them this year. There's no party for us, and the same for the staff. That's how it should be," he said.

A 3-1 home defeat to champions Manchester City last weekend was Newcastle's sixth loss in seven league outings. They head into today's clash with a newly resilient QPR in desperate need of three points rather than festive cheer.

QPR manager Harry Redknapp has also postponed the team's traditional knees-up for fear of exposing the small chink of hope that has sprung up at Loftus Road to hangovers and indigestion. Rangers fans might think Christmas 2013 has come early if Redknapp lands Nicolas Anelka, who is in talks to leave Shanghai Shenhua. Newcastle striker Demba Ba is another January transfer target.

It's unlikely under-pressure Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will have his déjeuner de Noël interrupted by the shrill of the executioner's ringtone. His wobbling team have made some amends after their embarrassing League Cup knockout by lightweights Bradford. The Gunners' away thumping of Reading this week saved Wenger's goose and three points from today's Christmas opener away to Wigan - with Newcastle and Southampton also on the menu - will ensure the Frenchman can breathe easier over the holidays.

Arsenal spirits were also buoyed by his decision to deck the Emirates' halls and dressing room with Union Jacks this week, securing a good core of young British players on new contracts. Whether from the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere he can find his next Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira will be open to much musing among Gooners.

One wonders if Manchester City's owners and manager Roberto Mancini have read the 1957 children's classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

"Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas ... perhaps ... means a little bit more!" goes one poignant line.

Last season proved money can buy you a crown (with unwitting help from your neighbours, of course). To truly impress, City must keep the title out of reach of United for a least another season. Having your Christmas cake and eating it, is easier than it looks. Mario Balotelli's fine-gate saga this week showed nerves and patience are frayed.

Liverpool fans will also be hoping for a bumper offering under the Christmas tree with Brendan Rodgers closing in on Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge and Blackpool winger Thomas Ince. And Spurs fans can expect to see a paper hat load of points tumble onto their plates. Their festive playlist has been charitable, with games against strugglers Aston Villa, Sunderland and Reading.

The 2012 Scrooge award has to go to Alex Ferguson, who ruled out a January shopping spree. Still, maximum points should be bagged from their Christmas games at Swansea, Newcastle, West Ham and Wigan.

Christmas came early for sacked Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo, who this week was handed the Swiss coach of the year award for guiding the Blues to their historic European Cup win. A seasonal dish of poetic justice is best served with a sanctimonious smile - and Di Matteo duly obliged - just as his replacement Rafa Benitez tried to convince supporters the League Cup really is something to cheer about.

From St James' to St Mary's, supporters will from today don silly Santa hats and strike up a few choruses of Jingle Bells . . . 'Oh what fun it is to see Sunderland lose away!' will be a personal favourite should the game in Southampton go according to script.

Of course, at this time of year we should spare a thought for those poor souls having a miserable time. Reading boss Brian McDermott will be dreading every telephone call over the next 10 days. He'd do well to find some cheer by watching A Night at the Opera and memorise Chico Marx's great play on words in a quick-fire exchange with Groucho … "There ain't no Sanity Clause!"