Sport

Football party’s started

2019-01-06 06:35

Between December 21 and January 3, there were 40 Premier League games, 120 goals, 129 yellow cards and 104 points gained.

A football glutton would feel well fed after this festive season served up a plethora of high intensity matches to augment the presents under the tree and fireworks in the sky.

But one team would feel less full despite wolfing down their first three opponents. Log leaders Liverpool lost their last game of the festive period to a rejuvenated Manchester City on Thursday evening as the Citizens scooped all three points to keep them in second position.

Having tactically outplayed his counterpart Jürgen Klopp through goals by Sergio Agüero and Leroy Sané, Pep Guardiola’s team re-established their footing at the top of the table after a disastrous December, when they lost two matches on the trot. First, a shock loss at home to Crystal Palace and then in an away trip to the King Power Stadium in Leicester, which saw them go down in the last 10 minutes to the former league champions.

These uncharacteristic performances saw them play musical chairs for the second spot with Tottenham Hotspur, who destroyed their opponents in the opening two games of the 14-day football festival with 11 goals. But, as the smoke cleared and the new year began, City made sure to exact revenge on Liverpool by ending the Reds’ unbeaten run this season. Last season, it was Liverpool who finally beat City, also in January, to end the champions’ undefeated streak at Anfield, and Guardiola and his blue brigade have been wary of Klopp’s red phoenix ever since. But it was not to be this time around.

The second half of the season is usually more intense as all competitions reach the business end and with no break for the English clubs this season, it could get tricky for teams involved in more than two competitions to keep their players feeling fit.

Liverpool, to their credit, continued their winning streak against Wolves and Newcastle, while thumping a deflated Arsenal 5-1 to end the year top of the log for the fourth time in Premier League history.

However, with their first loss this season and their tendency to let the title slip after leading the pack in January, Klopp has to find the words to re-inspire the Reds, lest they burn to ash.

Without a doubt the most successful team of the festive season’s four games has been Manchester United. Ever since the return of Ole Gunnar Solskjær as manager, his men were the only team to win all four games while scoring 12 goals and conceding just three. Paul Pogba seems to have found his rhythm – and dance – and the Red Devils look as if they are playing with unbridled freedom.

United’s litmus test, however, will be against Spurs on January 13. If they get through Mauricio Pochettino’s Lilywhites without a defeat, they will bolster their hopes for a top-five finish, despite being rooted to the sixth spot for most of this season. It’s easy to forget that Spurs are one of the title contenders this season and, with Harry Kane a newly appointed member of the British Empire, they will be hoping that he and his top-scoring foot will lead them to glorious victory.

Sergio Agüero proved his goal-poaching skills once more when he scored one of Manchester City’s goals in a 2-1 win over Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday night Picture: Shaun Botterill / Getty Images

At the opposite side of the spectrum, Huddersfield Town lost all four of their festive fixtures and cemented themselves to the bottom of the table. Fulham finally have a three-point buffer between themselves and Huddersfield, but are still in the relegation zone. Burnley clawed themselves two points clear of the drop zone with two crucial wins and now sit in 16th position.

The giant-slayers, Wolves, who have only lost to one top-six team this season – Liverpool – also lost ground after their magical first half of the season. From sixth to ninth, Wolves dropped eight points, but Nuno Espírito Santo will be pleased with the fighting spirit his team has shown. Defeating Spurs, who were in second place at the time, at home showed that Wolves have the potential to be kingmakers, especially considering their last league game is against Liverpool on May 12.

The second half of the season is usually more intense as all competitions reach the business end and with no break for the English clubs this season, it could get tricky for teams involved in more than two competitions to keep their players feeling fit.

After numerous calls for a break last month, like the leagues in Spain, Germany, Italy and France, the English Football Association has confirmed that, from next season, a two-week winter break in late January and early February will be implemented. Klopp and Guardiola have both been critical of this lack of rest, and with both teams suffering injuries to key players, we might get to see a few player rotations. That in itself will make for some intriguing fixtures when the snow starts to melt. We might even see a spring-time miracle with a new team being crowned Premier League champions come May.

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January 20 2019