By Niall Clarke
- Five lessons learned from match-week 18 of the Premier League season
- Full weekend results
Boxing Day is always one of the most exciting days of the season and the 2016 edition did not disappoint, but should we have had more?
Chelsea can cope fine without Costa and Kante
With two of their most influential players missing for the game against Bournemouth on Boxing Day, many felt that Chelsea were at their most vulnerable since switching to three at the back. It turned out to be no problem for Antonio Conte whose side once again recorded a victory, their 12th in a row.
Two goals from Pedro sandwiched Eden Hazard’s penalty as Chelsea defeated Bournemouth 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. Despite missing Diego Costa, the league leaders still showed plenty of cutting edge up front with Pedro being the main outlet. N’golo Kante’s role was not quite as filled as the pairing of Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic does not work as well as Matic and Kante, but they had a good game in the centre of midfield.
Chelsea move closer to setting a Premier League record for consecutive wins and maintained their six point gap at the top of the of the table. Who can stop them winning the title? It appears so far that nobody can.
Manchester United are coming into their own
It was a rocky patch for Man United which was littered with draws that left them trailing the top four, but now they are right back in the hunt for a Champions League spot with a good run of form.
A 3-1 win over struggling Sunderland was United’s fourth win on the bounce, and it leaves them only four points from fourth position (That is a lot of fours). Daley Blind was the unlikely goal-scorer to break the deadlock not long before the break. Zlatan Ibrahimovic continued his good run with another goal to make it 2-0. Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s back-heel finish was the pick of the bunch for United (even though it was offside) who had sealed the win by the time Fabio Borini netted a consolation for Sunderland.
It seems like the key signings are beginning to flourish at United as we are deep in the busiest period of the season. Paul Pogba is starting to show his class in midfield, Mkhitaryan has been integrated into the side perfectly, and Zlatan is firing on all cylinders. It is becoming clear that these players are going to be the key to United’s and Jose Mourinho’s success. If they can remain fit, then the Red Devils will no doubt be knocking on the door for a Champions League place.
It should be a full set of fixtures on Boxing Day
It is great we were treated to eight compelling games in the Premier League on Monday, but I am sure most can agree that ten would have been even better. Not only does it make the Boxing Day fixture feel even more special, it also helps with the fairness of scheduling.
Southampton having to play Wednesday-Saturday-Monday while Chelsea get Monday-Saturday-Wednesday is not exactly fair. That is 117 hours between matches for the Saints and 223 for the Blues, that is a massive difference.
A lot of it has to do with the television scheduling, but considering the amount of time during the day in which you can have a football match, particularly on Boxing Day, it is not unreasonable to suggest having three televised games in one day.
Spreading the match-week over three days is not only unfair to some of the teams, it is also devalues the meaning and excitement of the fixture. There are not many more compelling things in sport than watching the complexion change in just a matter of minutes and hours. Having 10 matches on Boxing Day would allow that to happen.
The relegation picture is a little clearer
The bottom three failed to pick up any points whilst many relegation candidates picked up vital wins and draws to move clear from the drop zone. Hull City were beaten 3-0 at home to Manchester City so remain at the foot of the table. The Tigers did well to hold the Citizens for over 70 minutes, but City’s class began to tell late on in the game. Swansea were thrashed 4-1 by West Ham and remain in the drop zone. The poor performance resulted in manager Bob Bradley getting the sack after just 11 games in charge . The Hammers seem clear of the scrap, moving to the 11th in the table with this win. Sunderland were defeated 3-1 by Man United so remain in the drop zone.
Sam Allardyce returned to club management by leading his Crystal Palace side to credible 1-1 draw at Watford. The former England manager has the task of keeping the Eagles in the Premier League, a task he is quite familiar with. It was a much improve performance by Palace, who could have won if not for Christian Benteke’s penalty miss.
Burnley continued their good home form by defeating Middlesbrough 1-0 at Turf Moor. Leicester moved closer to danger however, as they were soundly defeated 2-0 by Everton.
What else happened?
A late Olivier Giroud goal got Arsenal back into the win column as they struggled past a stubborn West Brom side. The Gunners are clinging on to any hope they have of possibly winning their first title since 2004, and this was very much a champions-esque victory.
Speaking of champions-esque win, that is exactly what Liverpool managed to achieve, albeit in a different way to the Gunners. Jurgen Klopp knew that nothing but a win against Stoke would suffice with his side trailing Chelsea by nine points when they kicked off on Tuesday. The Reds fells behind to an early John Walters goal, but they roared back to take a 4-1 win at Anfield. They remain in second, six points behind Chelsea.
Tottenham scored their own 4-1 win on Wednesday against 10 man Southampton. That puts them three points clear of Manchester United and only a point behind their rivals Arsenal in third.
Full Premier League results
Watford 1-1 Crystal Palace
Arsenal 1-0 West Brom
Burnley 1-0 Middlesbrough
Chelsea 3-0 Bournemouth
Leicester 0-2 Everton
Man United 3-1 Sunderland
Swansea 1-4 West Ham
Hull 0-3 Man City
Liverpool 4-1 Stoke
Southampton 1-4 Tottenham
The Premier League returns on New Years weekend.
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