What did we learn about the Premier League during the annual Boxing Day fixtures?
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Here’s a look at 10 things which stood out, as our writers Joe Prince-Wright (JPW), Nicholas Mendola (NM) and Andy Edwards (AE) share their observations from across the most recent Premier League games.
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Let’s get to it.
1. Man City gives gifts to everyone (Manchester City 6-3 Leicester): Everyone includes the visitors, who were in a gift-giving mood themselves through a pair of Youri Tielemans-conceded penalties. City buzzed out of the gates and cut through Leicester with abandon before abandoning defense for a 10-minute stretch that saw the Foxes take the match from 4-0 at the break to 4-3. But Raheem Sterling was at his very best, staying red hot as Man City gave its faithful a six-spot on Boxing Day. (NM)
2. Tuchel gets it right after halftime (Aston Villa 1-3 Chelsea): Christian Pulisic as a false nine, center forward, or whatever Thomas Tuchel wants to call it should be done-and-dusted even if Romelu Lukaku, Kai Havertz, and Timo Werner all are missing at any other point forward in Chelsea history. It plays to zero of Pulisic’s strengths, especially if his attack mates aren’t treating him like they’d treat another center forward. So it’s no surprise that moving Pulisic back to a support role and inserting one of the game’s best strikers worked wonders. It’s been easy to forget how much of a force Romelu Lukaku is given that he’s been limited to 77 minutes of Premier League action in the 10 matches prior to Sunday. A solid goal off a Callum Hudson-Odoi feed and bull-like run to win a penalty off a humorously out-muscled Matt Targett sent a message to Chelsea’s next opponents. (NM)
3. Spurs possessing, passing, creating, scoring (Tottenham 3-0 Crystal Palace): Tottenham Hotspur Football Club plays football once again. You know, all the parts of the game outside of
defending for their lives parking the bus. After two years of Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo at the helm with their largely negative tactical approaches, Conte — the Italian — appears to have given them the tactical freedom and belief to express themselves when Tottenham have the ball. For almost 30 minutes, Tottenham were frustrated with Crystal Palace’s low line of engagement, frequently running into an invisible forcefield inside 30 yards. That changed when Palace began to press higher up the field sometime between the 25th and 30th minutes. The light clicked on for Spurs, they kept playing quickly as they had been doing, and eventually the spaces in behind were wide open for Moura down the right and Son and Sergio Reguilon down the left. They camped in Crystal Palace’s defensive third until the inevitable occurred. (AE)
4. Christmas Saka (Norwich 0-5 Arsenal): Opta brings us this brilliant nugget about young Arsenal electrician Bukayo Saka: The 20-year-old is the second-youngest player to score 10-plus Premier League goals for Arsenal, following only Nicolas Anelka. He’s absolutely dynamite when in form, which is pretty much as often as you’ll see it from a player his age. The off-days are going to happen, but Mikel Arteta continues to push all the right buttons when it comes to his English wizard. (NM)
5. Confidence building (Tottenham 3-0 Crystal Palace): Zaha was sent off after his second petulant yellow card in the 37th minute, and though Spurs only scored once more against the 10 men of Crystal Palace, they took something far more important in the long-term picture: With dominance comes confidence, and no side in the Premier League had been drained of theirs quite like Spurs. They turned on the style to open the second half to put the game beyond doubt for the Eagles, even if they didn’t get the third goal for another half-hour. Everyone at Tottenham will come away from Sunday’s game feeling strong, capable and confident in a way that very few of them have done since the summer of 2019. (AE)
6. Arteta entertain without Aubameyang; real tests begin now (Norwich 0-5 Arsenal): Mikel Arteta took over the Gunners with a vow to fix the defense, and he backed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s plan to break open Arsenal’s bank account on a long-term deal. One of those has worked, as the Gunners’ four-match winning run includes 14 goals scored and just once conceded (throw in a 5-1 defeat of Sunderland in the League Cup and you’re smiling big if you’re a Gooner). All that said, the Gunners next have to break down a solid Wolves before hosting Man City, welcoming Liverpool in the League Cup semifinal, and then heading to Nottingham Forest for an FA Cup match prior to the North London derby. Judgment, for better or worse, is coming. (NM)
7. Foxes really, really bad at the back… including Schmeichel (Manchester City 6-3 Leicester): Kasper Schmeichel is a fantastic goalkeeper and he made a brilliant stop to keep the match from going to 5-0, but he otherwise did not bail out an ailing Foxes back line that had Luke Thomas, Jannik Vestergaard, Daniel Amartey, and Marc Albrighton. Only Amartey had a passable game and Rodgers will have to hope that resting Boubakary Soumare and Wilfred Ndidi for a Tuesday visit from Liverpool was worth the Boxing Day headache in their box. (NM)
8. Possession, style turn into goals, points (Brighton 2-0 Brentford): For two years (at least), Brighton’s identity has been “the team that plays beautiful football for 90 percent of the field, but loses all bodily coordination inside the final few yards.” Perhaps that’s still the case, as both goals came from just outside the penalty area, but on Sunday the Seagulls displayed a confidence — bordering on audacity, for them — to fire when ready, and they were duly rewarded for that approach. Backup-turned-starting goalkeeper Alvaro Fernandez endured another difficult day for Brentford, playing his part in Brighton’s first two-goal Premier League performance since Oct. 30. (AE)
9. Set pieces save Saints (West Ham 2-3 Southampton): They dominated the first half but only had a 1-0 lead, then they looked shaky in the second, but somehow set pieces dug them out of a hole to win it. Southampton have to take chances when they are on top but their set pieces were the key at West Ham. Ward-Prowse with a fine penalty and superb free kick to set up Bednarek made a huge difference and Southampton’s skipper and set-piece expert will have a huge role to play in pushing them up the table. Now he has shaken off some injury issues and rust, JWP looks back to his best. (JPW)
10. Villa can reach its season goals (Aston Villa 1-3 Chelsea): All that said, Chelsea didn’t ask a ton of questions of Emiliano Martinez aside from one fantastic second-half save. Giving up a single goal from the run of play against a wounded and ready Champions League winner is nothing to shake a stick at, especially with the Villans perhaps unnerved by the surprise absence of boss Steven Gerrard. Don’t be surprised if the Villans finish comfortably top half, though navigating the loss of Marvelous Nakamba is a challenge and Leon Bailey’s return seems of great import. (NM)