The run of thirty Premier League games inside a week came to an end on New Year’s Day, with only one team failing to pick up any points during that period. With attention switching to the F.A. Cup third round this weekend, here’s a run down of how each club performed between Christmas and New Year, in order of how many points they gained and starting at the most obvious of places.
Tottenham – To get the formalities out of the way, Spurs were somewhat lucky to pick up all three points on Boxing Day, as they won 2-1 at the King Power Stadium to consign Leicester to another defeat; then two days later, Tottenham held Manchester United goalless at White Hart Lane, despite a barrage of shots from the visitors in the opening forty-five minutes.
Of course the game I really want to talk about was the New Year’s Day contest against Chelsea. Before this match, Spurs had only beaten the Blues in the Premier League three times, yet in their last eight home fixtures against them, they had also been beaten just once. Early on, it looked as though the game would follow a familiar script – Tottenham had the better of the opening 15 minutes, but then fell behind to a Diego Costa goal, following a mazy run and shot by Eden Hazard that came back off the post. However, while I saw a thrashing coming, Spurs instead fought back thanks to a brilliant individual goal by Harry Kane, then took the lead when Christian Eriksen fed Nacer Chadli, whose shot hit the woodwork and came back to Danny Rose, who finished first time. Just before the interval, Harry Kane was fouled by Gary Cahill in the area to win a penalty that was converted by Andros Townsend, giving Mauricio Pochettino’s men an unexpected 3-1 half-time lead.
Knowing that a comeback was still very much on the cards, I believed that Tottenham needed a fourth goal and that came in the 52nd minute, as Kane linked up well with Chadli, turned Matic beautifully and finished with a well placed (if deflected) shot. Nevertheless, it would not be a Spurs game without some anxiety and that came when Hazard made it 4-2 just after the hour mark. Tottenham were not to be denied and Chadli settled the nerves once again with another deflected effort. Not even a late John Terry goal could dampen the mood of the home crowd, who celebrated seeing their side record a rare victory over one of their biggest rivals and move up to fifth in the table, two points outside of the top four places.
Southampton – Just above Spurs in the table are Southampton, who put their poor run of form behind them over the festive period, recording two victories and a credible draw against the league leaders, Chelsea. Last Friday, they beat Crystal Palace 3-1 at Selhurst Park, but they will have gotten most satisfaction from their 2-0 win over Arsenal at St. Mary’s to start 2015 in fine fashion. The first goal was scored by Mane from a tough angle, then the second was given to them on a platter by Wojciech Szczesny (who had also been out of position for the opener) as the keeper kicked the ball straight to Dusan Tadic, who poked home from close range. Rumors of Southampton’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, as Ronald Koeman has them playing good football and they have a good chance of competing in one of the European competitions next season.
Manchester City – If there is one team that will be disappointed they did not pick up all nine available points over the past week, it will be Manchester City. They started off in comfortable fashion, beating West Brom 3-1 at the Hawthornes, but then two days later, they gave away a two goal lead and ended up drawing 2-2 with relegation battlers Burnley. They repeated that trick on New Year’s Day, going 2-0 up in their home match with Sunderland, only to let the Black Cats back into the game at 2-2. This time, the reigning champions were not denied all three points, as a header from Frank Lampard – whose time at the club has been extended to the end of the season – ensured they started the calendar year with a win.
Liverpool – Well I guess there are two teams that should be disappointed not to have won all three of their games, as the Reds copied City’s example and dropped two points at home after being 2-0 up against a club threatened with relegation. However, their two goal advantage against Leicester was far from deserved, as both had come from the penalty spot following dubious decisions. In fact, the first was not even one you could called “dubious” as the ball hit Wes Morgan’s head as he was sliding to defend a Rahim Sterling cross. The second was slightly more debatable, but it was still a harsh award as Danny Simpson was only a yard away from Phillippe Coutinho when the ball was hit against his hand. However, two good goals in the second half from David Nugent and Jeffrey Schlupp earned the Foxes a deserved draw and left Liverpool seven points outside of the Champions League places.
There had been better performances from the Reds earlier in the week, they enjoyed a narrow 1-0 victory at Burnley, then thrashed Swansea 4-1 on Monday night in a pulsating contest at Anfield. Liverpool took the lead through Alberto Moreno, then shortly after half-time, the match became a fantastic spectacle. First, the home side took a 2-0 lead and Adam Lallana was credited with a goal when he charged down a Lukas Fabianski kick out and the ball flew into the net – the keeper was badly at fault, as he was attempting to play a pass across the face of his goal. A minute later, Swansea hit back through Gylfi Sigurdsson, but were lucky not to go 3-1 down when Rahim Sterling hit the inside of the post after he was played in by Jordan Henderson. Lallana then doubled his tally for the day with a direct run and finish, before an own goal from former Red, Jonjo Shelvey, ensured Liverpool got all three points against Brendan Rodgers’ old club.
Stoke City – Perhaps the most surprising team to end up with seven points from their three matches, Stoke’s impressive form propelled them all the way to…eleventh. On Boxing Day, they had a good win at Goodison Park against Everton, then two days later they beat West Brom 2-0, a result that ended Alan Irvine’s tenure at the Baggies. On New Year’s Day, the Potters opened the scoring early on in their match with Manchester United, but were denied a third consecutive victory by a Radamel Falcao goal shortly before the break. However, Stoke now sit nine points above the relegation zone and should not have to be looking over their shoulders during the second half of this campaign.
Arsenal – Two London derbies in two days brought festive cheer to Arsene Wenger, as he watched his team beat QPR and West Ham by the same 2-1 scoreline. However, the first day of 2015 was not a good one for the Gunners, as they were beaten 2-0 by Southampton, after starting the day behind the Saints only on goal difference. There was some good news for Wenger, as he was able to bring Theo Walcott on as a substitute after a lengthy injury absence.
Hull – Of the three fixtures that Hull faced over the past week, the home match against Leicester last Sunday stood out as their best chance to pick up some points in their battle to avoid relegation. As it turned out, that was the only game their lost, as they recorded impressive victories away at Sunderland and at home versus Everton. The six points the Tigers picked up moved them out of the relegation zone and into 15th place.
Manchester United – Before the aforementioned draws with Tottenham and Stoke, United enjoyed a 3-1 Boxing Day success over Newcastle at Old Trafford. Wayne Rooney, who has an impressive scoring record against the Magpies, found the net twice, with Robin Van Persie scoring the other. The Red Devils currently sit in third, outside of the title race, but in poll position to claim one of the other two Champions League berths for next season.
Chelsea – Earlier this season, it seemed as though the title race was going to be nothing more than a procession for Chelsea, who completely dominated in the opening quarter of the campaign. However, despite a 2-0 Boxing Day win against West Ham, the Blues find themselves at the summit of the Premier League at the end of the first day of the year only on alphabetical order. Their draw at St. Mary’s, followed by the 5-3 reverse against Tottenham mean that they and Manchester City have identical records, right down to goals scored and conceded.
Swansea – Although the Swans were heavily beaten by Liverpool, they remain in a good position in a top half of the table thanks to four points in their other two matches. On Boxing Day, they defeated Aston Villa 1-0 via a brilliant free kick by Sigurdsson; then they left it late to claim a point on New Year’s Day away at QPR, but an injury time strike from Wilfried Bony earned them a 1-1 draw.
Newcastle – It was an eventful week for Newcastle: they lost at Old Trafford; beat Everton 3-2; had their manager Alan Pardew leave to join Crystal Palace; then shared six goals with Burnley for a point to start 2015. Pardew had received a lot of criticism from home supporters during his time at St. James’s Park, starting from the moment he was appointed, so they will not be too disappointed that he has opted to leave. However, they should be concerned that moving to a relegation-threatened side with a far lower average attendance was considered preferable to a manager who led them to a fifth place finish just two years ago.
Leicester City – The defeat to Tottenham on Boxing Day was Leicester’s sixth in succession and being bottom at Christmas has resulted in relegation from the Premier League on all but one occasion (West Brom 2004/5). The assistant manager at the Baggies when they performed that escape was Nigel Pearson, now boss at the Foxes. The win at Hull and comeback against Liverpool have given Leicester a chance of doing the same, though they remain in 20th place and four points from safety.
Aston Villa – After losing 1-0 to Swansea on Boxing Day, Aston Villa had two goalless draws with Crystal Palace. It is not surprising that the Birmingham-based club managed to pick up two points without scoring a goal during their three matches. So far this season, Villa have found the net just eleven times, but they have somehow managed to pile up 22 points in the process (giving them a points-per-goal average of 2.0). By contrast, Everton have scored 29 times, yet sit a point and a place below Paul Lambert’s men (giving the Toffees a league-worst points-per-goal average of 0.72).
QPR – The festive period summed up QPR’s season: they extended their unbeaten run at home to seven matches with the draws against Swansea and Crystal Palace; while they had suffered their ninth defeat in nine away games, losing 2-1 to Arsenal the day after Christmas. Harry Redknapp will be particularly annoyed that his side failed to hold on for a win over Swansea, as they allowed the 10 men Welsh-side to equalize in the final minute.
Crystal Palace – The 3-1 home defeat against Southampton last Friday was the final match in charge for Neil “Colin” Warnock, who was dismissed the following day. With Alan Pardew set to come in, who spent some of his playing career with the Eagles, they at least have their managerial situation sorted heading into the January transfer window. They desperately need to bring in a striker during that time, as the goalless draws against Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers underlined.
Burnley – The Clarets lost to Liverpool on Boxing Day, then fell 2-0 behind against Manchester City two days later. It would have been easy for the players to allow their heads to drop, but instead they rallied to earn a point against the reigning champions, then came from behind three times to claim a draw against Newcastle to start 2015.
Sunderland – The most disappointing result for the Black Cats was the home loss to Hull, though they will also be annoyed that they wasted their comeback against City. The goalless draw with Aston Villa represented Sunderland’s solitary point gained over the festive period.
West Brom – Another team that opted to make a managerial change, it was a defeat to Stoke that saw the end of Alan Irvine’s short reign in charge of the Baggies. Tony Pulis, who has never suffered a relegation, has been brought in to turn things around for West Brom and he watched as they earned a point at West Brom on New Year’s Day.
West Ham – That draw was more disappointment for West Ham fans, who saw their side drop down the table over the last week following defeats against Chelsea and Arsenal.
Everton – The only team not to pick up any points from their three matches, Everton find themselves in free fall this year after finishing fifth last season. Roberto Martinez is unlikely to get the sack, but defeats to Stoke, Newcastle and Hull have lead some fans to start questioning his position and effectiveness with the Toffees.
F.A. Cup Third Round
This weekend, the Premier League takes a break as the F.A. Cup takes center stage, with the competition reaching the third round. Here are some of the highlights of the ties being contested between Friday and Tuesday:
Blyth Spartans vs Birmingham – The lowest ranked team left in the competition, Blyth Spartans of the Northern Premier League take on Birmingham, who have moved themselves into mid table in the Championship.
West Brom vs Gateshead; Dover vs Crystal Palace – Two conference sides taking on Premier League opponents who have appointed a new manager in the past week. While both Pulis and Pardew will be eager to make a positive start with their new clubs, they both might want to rest some of their main players to save them for their relegation battle.
Sunderland vs Leeds – A repeat of the 1973 Cup Final, neither team will be prioritizing the competition this time around as they are struggling against demotion from their respective divisions.
AFC Wimbledon vs Liverpool – I could not be more excited for this tie. It is a rematch (of sorts) from the 1988 F.A Cup Final, which was considered a major upset that Wimbledon won, despite the fact that they had finished sixth in the top flight that year, such was Liverpool’s dominance in the 1980s. It is the first Cup Final I remember (I think I have deliberately wiped 1987 from my mind, given the fact that Spurs were beaten by Coventry that year), but so much has happened since then that gives this tie even more relevance. In 2004, the owners of Wimbledon moved the club more than 50 miles north to a new city and renamed it Milton Keynes Dons. It was a contentious move at the time and is the only instance in modern English football of a team being effectively “franchised” and relocated. Of course, Arsenal did make the trip across London from Greenwich to Islington, but that happened nearly a century before the formation of MK Dons. When the decision to move Wimbledon was announced in 2002, supporters set up a new club named AFC Wimbledon. After having to start in the lowest rung of English Football – the Combined Counties League – AFC Wimbledon achieved five promotions in their first nine seasons and have been in League Two since 2011.