05 Jan The winners and losers from the festive period
Put away the mince pies, bin the leftover cookies and take the remaining 9 bottles of lager out of the fridge: Christmas is, sadly, over for another year.
While the binge eating, drinking and watching films on the sofa at 2 in the afternoon now be over for another 12 months, the ever-constant machine that is football remains well and truly in full swing.
It was a bizarre festive period this year. Games were being cancelled left right and centre due to Covid, creating an unhelpful backlog of fixtures to be played whenever it is deemed physically possible.
But who were the real winners and losers from the festive period? Here, Rezzil takes a deeper look.
Technically, Manchester City are always winning in one way or another. With their endless stream of talent and bottomless pockets, success is never far away from the Cityzens. That is not to say they never have their off days, or patches of wavering form, though; they are a group of humans, afterall.
It’s safe to say that Christmas 2021 was not one of those rare periods of mediocrity, however. Pep Guardiola’s side won all of their eight league games throughout December, to build on the three matches they won throughout November. It now seems a foregone conclusion that City will indeed reclaim the title this time around, with 10 points now separating them from second-placed Chelsea, and 11 distancing them from third-placed Liverpool.
It also helped that when the two title-chasers met on Sunday, the game ended in a 2-2 draw which was another perfect outcome for the flawless reigning champions. In all, the end of the year couldn’t have gone any better for them.
West Ham were due to hit a bump in the road. After a pretty much faultless opening quarter, the Hammers endured a tough period throughout December, falling to disappointing defeats against top four rivals Arsenal and Southampton, whilst also failing to beat relegation-contenders Burnley.
Such results saw David Moyes’ side drop out of the Champions League spots and signalled the start of a potential collapse for the east Londoners. However, they bounced back just after Christmas, winning their last two games against Watford and Crystal Palace, which has seen them maintain pressure on the current top four, with Arsenal now only a point ahead of their London rivals.
After a poor December, West Ham’s festive period was saved by two solid performances and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them go on another run in the hope of cementing a spot in the top four, with the likes of Jarrod Bowen now showing his class on a consistent basis and Michail Antonio returning from injury.
Southampton were flirting dangerously with the relegation zone a matter of weeks ago, but a strong festive period has seen Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side put some much needed breathing space between themselves and the bottom three. The Saints are not out of the woods just yet, but a 10-point gap between them and 18th-place Burnley – who do have two games in hand over the Hampshire club – has put supporters at ease, with their performance in the 3-2 win over West Ham notably impressive.
Southampton also picked up a good point at home to a resurgent Tottenham side (thanks to a bit of help from VAR), which means that they now sit (fairly) comfortably in 14th heading into the new year. The champagne remains on ice, but a couple of good performances was just what the doctor ordered.
As previously mentioned, Manchester City look to have all but wrapped up the title and it’s only January. Unfortunately (for the rest of us) they are simply too good, and while Chelsea and Liverpool have performed well on the whole so far, both faltered over the festive period and have enabled Pep’s dominant, well-oiled machine to extend their gap at the summit to what looks to be an unassailable lead at this stage.
Liverpool slipped up against an injury-ravaged Leicester on the 28th before throwing a two-goal lead away against Chelsea to draw 2-2 on Sunday – a point that helps precisely nobody except City. Jurgen Klopp also now bids farewell to his two most influential players – Mo Salah and Sadio Mane – as the pair, along with influential midfielder Naby Keita, jet off to the Africa Cup of Nations for the next month. The words ‘mountain’ and ‘climb’ spring to mind.
Chelsea looked back to their best after beating Brentford and Aston Villa over Christmas, before a drab performance saw them draw with Brighton to pretty much solidify them not challenging for the title. Thomas Tuchel’s side did well to draw with Liverpool after finding themselves two-nil down inside 26 minutes, but with a 10-point gap standing between them and top spot, the game looks as good as over. The League Cup’s more important anyway, right?
Watford have endured a terrible time of it of late, with their chances of relegation seemingly building each week. Claudio Ranieri’s side were put through the mill over Christmas, thumped 4-1 by Watford after initially leading the game, before a gut-wrenching 96th winner from Tottenham saw them lose 1-0 at the weekend.
The Hornets have now lost their last six league games and sit just two points above the drop zone having played a game more than Burnley. Tough times at Vicarage Road, and with two pivotal games against Newcastle and Norwich approaching, January could be make or break for the Hertfordshire side as far as safety is concerned.