With the Spanish and Italian leagues taking their usual winter breaks, the traditionally hectic Christmas period in England was full of goals and drama.
Champions-elect Manchester United had their usual productive Christmas as they took seven points from a possible nine, thanks to a thrilling 4-3 victory over a struggling Newcastle team and a more comfortable 2-0 home win over West Brom. Robin Van Persie netted in both wins to take his personal tally to the season onto fifteen goals and it means that going into the New Year the Red Devils lead their bitter rivals by seven points.
Second placed City managed six points from their three matches to establish themselves as the main challengers to United going into the latter half of the season. A shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of a resurgent Sunderland was a small blip for Mancini’s boys as they reacted well to take all three points against both Reading and Norwich, 1-0 and 4-3 respectively.
Rafa Benitez’s impressive start as Chelsea manager continued over Christmas as his team took maximum points from the three Christmas fixtures. The pick of the results was an enthralling 8-0 home victory over Aston Villa in which seven different players got on the score sheet, including Fernando Torres who now has seven premier league goals, four of which have come since the arrival of the Spanish boss. Frank Lampard also proved his worth as he netted both goals in a gritty 2-1 win at Everton proving just why allowing him to leave in January could be a huge error.
Chelsea’s 8-0 was eclipsed only by Arsenals superb 7-3 victory over Newcastle which gave Wenger’s side a 3rd consecutive win. Walcott netted a hat-trick and his fourth goal in two games since being played as an out and out forward in the absence of Olivier Giroud, who scored a brace himself in the mauling of Newcastle. They showed their graft and determination as well as their attacking flair as the Gunners scrapt to a 1-0 away victory at Wigan, courtesy of a late Mikel Arteta penalty.
Villas-Boas maintained his impressive start to life at Spurs as he negotiated the Christmas period with ease chalking up two wins and a draw, which cemented Tottenham’s place in the final Champions League place. Conceding just one goal in the three festive matches, Spurs ran out convincing 4-0 victors away at Villa with Gareth Bale scoring an impressive hat-trick, as well as coming from behind against Sunderland to secure a 2-1 win.
The top teams performed well over Christmas; however, it was a miserable time for some of the bottom clubs in the Barclays Premier League. As we have seen Aston Villa shipped eight versus Chelsea and another four when they hosted Spurs, but the most crucial match for them against former relegation candidates Wigan also ended in comprehensive defeat as they went down 3-0 at the JJB Stadium thanks to goals from Kone, Ramis, and Boyce. This was Wigan’s only positive result of the festive period as they succumbed to two successive defeats at the hand of both Everton and Arsenal.
Queens Park Rangers also continued to struggle even under the new stewardship of Harry Redknapp as they lost all three games, and will look to the imminent January transfer window to bring in some much needed quality to the squad to help the survival bid.
The intensity of the fixture list also took its toll on some of the smaller squads in the league that had been impressing prior to this run of games. Both Norwich and West Ham failed to win over Christmas and both dropped into the bottom half of the table as a result.
Norwich lost all three, although they did face sides all of whom were in the top five of the table, and came close to pulling off an upset at home to Manchester City but lost out in a 4-3 thriller due to an unfortunate Mark Bunn own goal.
West Ham started well with a goalless draw away at West Brom but then suffered a shock defeat at home to struggling Reading and lost narrowly on Boxing Day against an impressive Everton team.
Image Courtesy: Ganyball (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons