LONDON, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Irresistible Chelsea go into the Christmas round of fixtures knowing they can end the year by re-writing the record books.
Victory at home to Bournemouth on Boxing Day would be a club-record 12th league win in succession. Another win over Stoke City at Stamford Bridge on Dec. 31 would mean the Blues equal the record for a single season of 13 set by Arsenal in 2001-02.
That side became known as “the Invincibles” after going through the entire 2003/04 season unbeaten and Antonio Conte’s team could start calling themselves “the Untouchables” if they take their winning run into the new year.
First, they face Bournemouth without the suspended Diego Costa and N‘Golo Kante, two ever presents this season.
Costa is the Premier League’s top scorer with 13 goals, more than he managed in the whole of last season, while Kante has transferred the form that helped win Leicester City the title into the heart of Chelsea’s midfield.
Costa’s absence means that Michy Batshuayi is likely to make his first league start since his 33.1 million-pounds ($41 million) move from Olympique de Marseille.
Chelsea will be hot favourites to keep the winning habit, particularly since Bournemouth will be without loanee Nathan Ake, who is ineligible to face his parent club.
Another Chelsea win would increase their lead over Liverpool, their closest pursuers who do not play until Dec. 27 when they host Stoke City.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp must decide whether to start with Daniel Sturridge, the substitute whose shot led to Sadio Mane’s stoppage-time winner in Monday’s Merseyside derby against Everton.
Manchester City welcome back Fernandinho from suspension for their Boxing Day trip to bottom side Hull City, but will again be without forward Sergio Aguero, who completes a four-match ban, and Pablo Zabaleta was injured in the 2-1 win over Arsenal.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will be looking for an instant response to that setback and needs victory against West Bromwich Albion to ward off the usual doubts about his side lacking the physicality to mount a serious title challenge.
Jose Mourinho knows Manchester United’s chance has probably already gone this season, but his sides traditionally fare well over Christmas and he will be targeting nine points, starting with a home victory over Sunderland on Boxing Day.
David Moyes’s strugglers are one of six teams separated by five points at the bottom in what is shaping up to be one of the closest relegation scraps in years.
Swansea, at home to West Ham United, and Crystal Palace, away to Watford, are particularly in need of points after woeful runs that have left managers Bob Bradley and Alan Pardew under pressure.
Leicester City, who this time last year were top and on the way to the title, are also in the bottom six.
Although nobody expects Claudio Ranieri to be sacked, they are at least hoping to provide an upbeat end to their astonishing year when they host Everton and West Ham.
$1 = 0.8081 pounds Editing by Brian Homewood and Toby Davis