As much as it was tempting to go full Argentinian and take a month off after the World Cup, I’m back baby – though in fairness, you’re probably more excited about the Premier League’s return than this rubbish.
If the World Cup plus Christmas Day meant you’d pretty much forgotten what the state of play was in the Premier League and hadn’t been bothered to catch up, do not worry – not much has changed at all.
And if you want a quick summary, meaning you don’t have to suffer the rest of the column, strap yourself in.
Spurs are still rubbish in the first half (and not that great in the second if you saw the Villa game) and we’re all still wondering how on Earth they are still in the race for the top four. Arsenal are still top of the league and, whisper it quietly, will probably win it unless they have a collapse of Keegan-esque proportions. Liverpool can be very, very good or very, very bad and not much in between. Haaland scores goals for fun. United are quietly improving. Southampton are rubbish and might already be regretting appointing a manager from Luton. Lampard still ‘gets’ Everton. Forest still don’t know how to integrate the 300 signings made in the summer, let alone the 40 lined up for January. Newcastle might be in a title race but will accept top four. Chelsea are waiting for Potter to work some actual magic. Did we mention Tottenham are still rubbish in the first half?
Boxing Day came with some football guarantees – Harry Kane was going to score after Tottenham went behind. Ivan Toney was odds on to score too, and you know he would have backed himself. Brentford were fantastic for much of their clash against Spurs – Thomas Frank certainly earning his new 5-year deal and in Toney, they have a striker that they are really going to miss if (a) he gets a long, long ban for the alleged 200+ betting irregularities or (b) his knee injury picked up on New Years’ Eve turns out to be quite bad.
As for Kane, he now has ten Boxing Day goals and has scored against all 32 Premier League opponents he has faced. Still missed that pen though, didn’t he? And coming back from 2-0 down to get a point against Brentford is one thing, losing 2-0 at home to the Villa is another thing entirely. They kinda forgot the comeback part of the deal on New Years’ Day.
Credit to Unai Emery though, that’s three wins in four for him now and he’s the first Villa manager to win both his first two away games since Stan Collymore’s surrogate father, John Gregory.
Arsenal fans were worried that Jesus being unavailable during the Christmas period and not likely to be seen again before Easter could derail their title bid. Fortunately for them, Eddie Nketiah has been resurrected and scored against West Ham and then again against Brighton. The six points gathered by Mikel Arteta’s young side saw them increase the gap over Man City to seven points – apparently, nobody with this kind of lead come Jan 1st has ever failed to win the league but then no team has ever played so few top-flight matches come New Years’ Day. Bukayo Saka has taken his World Cup form into the return of the Premier League – thank goodness Gareth Southgate took him off against France to rest his young legs.
In any other season, a Chelsea manager failing to win a match since the start of November would have been shown the door but Graham Potter was able to end a run of three defeats in a row with a fairly comfortable 2-0 win over Bournemouth. United eased past Forest 3-0 because, you know, Forest are rubbish and United appear to be a better side now Ronaldo has been sacked – who’d have thought it?
But if Forest are rubbish what does it actually say about Chelsea if they could only draw 1-1 at the City Ground and the only goal was, you know, a bit lucky? Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink wasn’t far wrong when he said that if you are the Blues and you draw away to a team in the bottom three, their best player has to be their goalkeeper. I was busier on New Years’ Day than Dean Henderson, so that wasn’t the case.
Erling Haaland was born in Leeds but that didn’t stop him taking his self-proclaimed recharged batteries (he also believes he is a machine, clearly) and sticking two past them at Elland Road. Haaland grew up with posters of his Dad (Alfie) and fellow Norweigan Eirik Bakke on his wall – and I can guarantee that puts him in an elite group of one.
Our whistle-stop tour through the Boxing Day football (plus two days) lands us in the post-Christmas present.
New Years’ Eve Eve saw David Moyes realise the jig might be up – West Ham lost their fifth in a row in a 2-0 home defeat to Brentford. They sit just above the relegation zone and the Moysiah won’t be getting big funds to spend in January because he was given an open chequebook in the summer and look how that went.
Liverpool splashed the cash in signing PSV’s Dutch star Cody Gakpo for around 35 million big ones – yet, all they really needed was to sign Wout Faes if they wanted to increase their goal output. Leicester’s well-rested Belgian centre-back had a night to forget at Anfield, scoring twice in the wrong net to condemn his side to a second defeat in a row – so does that mean that Brentan is rubbish again now, or? It certainly doesn’t mean Liverpool are great again, even if that did mean it was six points over the festive run. And as for Wout, it doesn’t help people forget he looks just like David Luiz.
Erik ten Hag is really starting to grow on me, I must admit. Not just for getting Ronaldo out of the club and condemning him to a very well-paid early retirement in Saudi Arabia, oh no. For dropping people for being late to meetings, especially on Sir Alex’s birthday of all days.
Marcus Rashford inadvertently hit snooze and found himself on the bench against Wolves and felt the need to turn those negative headlines upside down by coming off said bench to score the only goal in a 1-0 win. He’s on a bit of a hot streak right now is Rashford – and United could be on for the top four. Early thoughts on Julen Lopetegui’s tenure as Wolves boss is that his trousers are far too tight for man in his 50s.
City have now dropped five points in their last two home games against Brentford and Everton. Champions not maketh from a run like this. What’s that? Haaland scored again? And Everton showed character? Blimey – that’ll keep them up, that will. One of the best NYE memes sent around cyberspace was around 1st January always being a bit odd – Australia are in a different year before the rest of the world, Europe are a little bit behind and then Everton are still stuck in 1995. If it wasn’t so true it would be funny.
Nathan Jones could well be thinking he and teams in red and white stripes are not good bed-fellows. Southampton have one point from six games and sit bottom of the table. James Ward-Prowse scored at both ends – his free kick was marginally better than his OG – but Fulham still found a way to win, a win that sees them 7th. 7th!
At the back end of 2022, Newcastle were being talked of as title challengers – a 3-0 win over Leicester boosted that theory, a 0-0 draw at home to Leeds (more chance of seeing a Christmas elf than Leeds keeping a clean sheet and all that) did not.
Gary O’Neil has been hit by the curse of the permanent manager – when interim/caretaker/the temporary guy he was an English tactical genius. Since being given the job full-time, not so much. Crystal Palace scored twice from unmarked corners – which is impressive given the second one was from 25 yards.