Boxing Day Action - A Review
Boxing Day football is a more than century-old tradition in English football. Fans from all around the country and indeed the world, wait with bated breath, the kick-off times for their teams' last game of the calendar year.
This is the day when the Premier League witnesses the most number of fans attending games and cheering their teams on while still breaking down the last fragments of the turkey they had the day before.
Historically, Boxing Day has thrown some of the most memorable games in the top-flight of English football and this season showed no inconsistency in that regard. It stayed true to its heritage and brought us some exciting games this time around too. So, let’s kick this thing off
City third in a two-horse race
It hasn’t been quite the festive season Manchester City fans expected. After the surprise defeat at the Etihad at the hands of a struggling Crystal Palace side during the weekend- also losing their unbeaten home record- the stakes were even higher on the Boxing Day against Leicester City.
Leicester were always going to be a huge challenge for Manchester City, especially with the foxes going into this game with their tails up after their surprise win over Chelsea at the weekend. It was imperative for City to win the game and keep Liverpool within sight.
Unfortunately, the pressure told and they crumbled, and now sit six points behind the pace-setters from Merseyside.
Pep Guardiola’s teams past and present, have always thrived on infusing fear in the opposition camp. And the margin by which they won the league last season emphasizes the danger they pose to the league's other teams. Matters suddenly look different this time around though. The two consecutive defeats have come at some price for City. The rest of the Premier League has taken note of the manner of those defeats. Take them on and you may get something.
The foxes have been City’s nemesis for the last few seasons, and they weren’t going to sit back in their 18-yard-box and watch City run circles around them. Bernardo Silva drew first blood for City within 20 minutes of the game only to be pegged back by Leicester’s Marc Albrighton. It was a chase thereafter for City for the winner which meant the inevitable, a Leicester counter and the games winning goal scored by another Portuguese, Ricardo Pereira.
City are now 7 points adrift of Liverpool and their misery was compounded when the referee flashed his red card to Fabian Delph for a rash challenge on Leicester’s Ricardo in the last minute of the game.
The title is Liverpool’s to lose
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool remain the only unbeaten team going into the second half of the season. The have played 19 games, won 16 of them, drawn 3 and lost none.
City’s two defeats in a row have put some daylight between the two sides and have made the Reds firm favourites for the title. They hosted Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United on the Boxing Day which some thought- given the history between the two sides- could be a potential banana-skin for the Reds. But it wasn’t to be. The Toons were beaten by 4 goals to nil.
Dejan Lovren kicked things off with a sublime half-volley to put the Reds in front inside 15 minutes. Mo Salah then scored his 12th goal of the season in the league from a penalty, albeit, a soft one. Xherdan Shaqiri came up with the 3rd and ex-Monaco midfielder, Fabinho rounded off the scoring by adding the 4th to complete the rout.
Undoubtedly, Klopp has bigger targets for the season but this win was a tad special as far as personal statistics go. This was his 100th win as a Liverpool manager in 181 matches in all competitions, one to savour.
Spurs might be the contenders
Tottenham Hotspur have now scored 11 goals in the last two games. It’s not about just the goals, which are impressive as it is, but the manner in which they score them. The notorious bunch of buccaneers, sweeping one and all that comes before them with some guile and panache.
Bournemouth, as eye-pleasing as they are, must have considered themselves slightly ill-fated to have found in the way of this Spurs side and their ambitions. The North-Londoners battered them 5-0 and have become Liverpool’s closest rivals for the Championship. Spurs came into this game after thrashing Everton 6-2. The Toffees weren’t half as bad and perhaps didn’t deserve to be on the receiving of a thrashing. But Spurs gave them a footballing lesson and to the rest of the league as to what happens when you go toe-to-toe with them.
Eddie Howe and his team perhaps didn’t get the memo and had to learn it the hard and embarrassing way, the usual suspects in Kane, Eriksen and Heung-Min Son tearing them apart and all scoring. In all fairness, The Cherries had their moments but just weren’t clinical enough. They have now lost 4 away games in a row and Howe must be the most concerned man on the South Coast.
Even though Pochettino has downplayed title talks, there’s no doubt that Spurs aren’t going away, at least not just yet.
Manchester United look more United than ever
The change of fortune in Manchester is quite remarkable and could pass for a Hollywood script.
City shockingly lost two games in a row and United, surprisingly won two. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's start to his regime couldn’t have been any sweeter. His United side scored three goals on Wednesday against Huddersfield handing the Terriers their 6th defeat on the bounce.
For all it’s worth, the sacking of Jose Mourinho did half the job and Solskjaer's appointment as a caretaker manager, the other half.
The Norwegian seemed of have stuck to the basic principles of man-management and has brought the best out of the likes of Pogba, Martial, Herrera et al.
Pogba suddenly looks like a £90 million player, relishing the new responsibility of playing higher up the field. He scored two nicely-taken goals against the passionate David Wagner’s team. The Terriers were up for this game right from the start and had it not been for another one of David De Gea’s super-natural saves to prevent Laurent Depoitre from equalising, United would have been in for a tough evening.
The January transfer window can’t come soon enough for the Huddersfield boss. With Mathias Jorgensen, a centre back, also a leading goal scorer with three goals, he desperately needs a striker with some finishing abilities.
Arsenal rue miss-opportunity
Unai Emery’s Arsenal visited the Amex stadium to face Chris Hughton’s Brighton on the Boxing Day. Hughton seemed to have taken to the idea that the home form would be the key difference between the relegation and staying up, at the end of the season.
The Seagulls have lost just the two home games in their last twelve, winning five and drawing five. The idea definitely has appeared to work for Hughton after frustrating the Gunners for long periods of the game for yet another draw. Jurgen Locadia took full advantage of Stephan Lichtsteiner's misdirected header that had the ball kindly fell into his path for Brighton’s equaliser.
On the other hand, Arsenal fans were left frustrated as they witnessed arguably their teams’ worst performance under Emery. So much so, Emery booted a stray water bottle in frustration that flew into the crowd behind him for which he later apologised. The makeshift defense looked disjointed and although Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored his 13th goal of the season, the offense looked somewhat out of sorts.
Arsenal’s next trip is away to Merseyside to face the league leaders Liverpool and if Emery wants anything from that game, the performance has to be better on many levels than it was on the Boxing Day
Eden, hazardous again!
Watford have been this season’s breath of fresh air. Javi Gracia, the Hornets manager has had them play some skilful quality football and Chelsea were the latest team to experience that out. But the difference between the two sides was Eden Hazard.
The Belgian passed a century of goals for the Blues with a brace against Watford becoming only the 10th different player to have found the back of the net 100 times in a Chelsea shirt. Hazard has been asked to play a more central role by his manager, a false No. 9 if you will and his goal tally (10) this season so far has completely justified the decision. He rounded Ben Foster for a tap-in for his first goal and then buried the penalty that he had won by drawing a foul from Foster again for his second. He’s unquestionably Chelsea’s most prized asset and whether or not they finish the season in the top 4 purely depends on how he fares in the second half of the season.
Watford may have considered this fixture as a ‘free-hit’ at the start of the season but Gracia won’t be a happy manager with this loss, such is the form and quality of his team. Watford have scored some memorable goals this season and Roberto Pereyra’s smack volley for the equaliser on Wednesday at the cusp of half-time is certainly right up there with them. Watford manager must be proud of his team’s adventure so far in the first half of the season.