The COVID-19 pandemic meant that we didn’t get the full-on frantic Festive Fixtures we usually get come the end of one year and start of another, but shakeups were still the name of the game.
The biggest winner of the holiday season was undoubtedly Manchester City, as Pep Guardiola flexed his muscles without even using his full complement of subs on multiple occasions in the Premier League leaders’ run through December.
Let’s begin with a report card on predictions made on this here site because what is the world without accountability (besides, it seems, very much the world).
This writer wrote four “fearless” predictions for December and the Festive Fixtures and he’s here to say that he did okay.
- Manchester United is technically four points back of the top four, but holds a match-in-hand on fourth-place Arsenal, too.
- Newcastle United is two, not six, points back of 17th-place… but the Magpies have played one more match than Watford and two more than 18th-place Burnley.
- Crystal Palace is not in the top half despite having played more matches than its proximal rivals
- Harry Kane is back and Spurs are well-positioned for a top-four finish
But it would be difficult to even call three of those four clubs definitive winners or losers — Spurs are certainly amongst the winners — especially since we don’t have the fixture list complete with rescheduled matches.
We’ll try, anyway.
WINNER: Tottenham Hotspur
Outscored their opponents 12-3 and two of the conceded goals came against a Liverpool team who scores against almost everyone. Tottenham fans should write 1,000,000 thank you cards and ship them to Ed Woodward at Manchester United after the Red Devils executive just kept crossing his fingers that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was the answers, leaving Danie Levy a second chance to make the right decision regarding very available Antonio Conte. Oh, and Harry Kane looks pretty good again.
Sean Dyche’s men lost their two biggest matches, 1-0 to Newcastle and 3-1 to Leeds, saw several matches postponed to when not every squad will be as taxed as theirs, and only took one point: a home draw to West Ham. Matches-in-hand can be comforting but not much else went well for Burnley aside from the return of Maxwel Cornet for an exceptional free kick.
WINNER: Manchester City
City won all of its matches of the period to run its Premier League win streak to 12. Pep Guardiola’s men have not lost since Oct. 30 and they’ve scored 39 goals in the stretch. Now they have two weeks to prepare for a Chelsea team who has two more matches in the same time frame. It’s not if City will win the league, it’s how long the matter is subjective.
After hanging tough with Chelsea and Man City, how did Watford respond? Not in any sort of comparable fashion, as injuries also joined a month that saw a 2-1 loss at Brentford, multiple postponements, and a 4-1 loss to West Ham before a slim 1-0 decision against Tottenham. One of two teams (Norwich City) to hit the FA Cup weekend with at least five losses in a row, Watford’s been circled by Burnley and Newcastle (as well as the aforementioned Canaries) as their best hope for safety. There isn’t much silver lining in the advanced stats because Claudio Ranieri hasn’t had Christian Kabasele and his defenders just aren’t executing despite often being in the right position to do so.
December 1 saw Bruno Lage’s man staring down a month(ish) with the following opponent list: Burnley (H), Liverpool (H), Man City (A), Brighton (A), Chelsea (H), Manchester United (A). That’s not fun, but Wolves allowed exactly two goals in 1-0 losses to Liverpool and Man City, then shut out Chelsea and claimed a rare away win at Man United. For a club questioning the post-Nuno Espirito Santo era to start this season, Wolves cannot look at their status as alive for a top-seven finish under Lage and think it should’ve gone too much better.