Jen Offord picks out five key features from the festive football, including Ronald Koeman’s men lack consistency, Foxes are toppled, Van Gaal is under pressure, Spurs surprise everyone and the relegation battle heats up.
From Saints to sinners
A week might be a long time in politics, but a mere seven days in the Premier League doesn’t always amount to much. Not so, the post-Christmas weekend for Southampton boss Ronald ‘I’ve got two weeks to turn it around’ Koeman. While he may well have squandered the first, his second was more eventful than a Craig David song.
After taking Arsenal to the proverbial cleaners on Boxing Day, they came from this 4-0 victory with a renewed sense of purpose. OK, so they were only a goal up at half-time thanks to an own-goal by Carl Jenkinson for West Ham, which might not seem all that purposeful, not least because they ultimately gave their lead away to lose 2-1, but Koeman might care less with his team now seven points clear of the danger zone.
Leicester are toppled
Liverpool finally turned up to work on Saturday, too, with Jürgen Klopp’s men beating the unbeatable Leicester City, who lost top spot to Gunners after their Bournemouth win. But Foxes may yet reclaim the top spot if they see off stiff competition from a Vincent Kompany-less Manchester City.
It was a tepid game, with the Reds securing victory thanks to a solitary goal from Christian Benteke in the 63rd minute, but the Foxes looked to have lost their shine a little. Claudio Ranieri revealed in the post-match interviews that Jamie Vardy had played with a fever and Riyad Mahrez looked “tired” – no wonder with all the goals he’s put away during the first half of the season. A year ago Leicester were bottom of the table at Christmas – I very much hope this is not the beginning of the ‘40 points annnnnd relax’ phase of their season.
Stoke City enjoyed the season’s festivities after they netted six goals in two matches – two of which were against a goalless Manchester United on Boxing Day. United’s fourth defeat in a row, it’s now become the most boring thing anyone can say, to suggest Louis van Gaal might want to start dusting off his tax return. We all know the P45 is coming, we just don’t know who will step into the breach, but that his first name might rhyme with “step”.
After a goalless draw against Chelsea, who were without Diego Costa, Van Gaal’s fate seems more ominous than the soap character who demands he be “trusted”. Stoke, on the other hand, put four goals past Everton at Goodison Park to secure a last-minute victory in the 3-4, thanks to Marko Arnautovic’s penalty.
Spurs hit ‘em for six
It was also a good weekend for Tottenham who took away a great haul of six points, thanks to a 3-0 win at Norwich and a 1-2 win against Watford (who only took a point away from the weekend, drawing against Chelsea on Saturday). It took Spurts to third place in the league. We know it can’t last – it’s not in their genetic make-up, but it’s nice to see their fans’ little faces beaming. Of course City, who sit a place behind them at present, might just edge above them after tonight.
Two down, one to go?
Aston Villa are really the only standout team of the season; in that we know exactly what’s going to happen to them as they are 31 points behind Arsenal at the top. There’s just no way they can come back from eight points in 19 games, and you rather think Sunderland’s fate seems sealed, too, with just 12 points. But who’s going to join them down in the Championship next season?
With Newcastle third from bottom on 17 points, perhaps their future seems a little brighter despite taking home zero points this weekend. There are only four between them and 14th place Chelsea. Christmas has now been and gone, and with it my hopes the league will pull off the biggest of all coup d’etats, sending the Blues spinning into the abyss. But anything could happen in January.
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