Football’s Silly Season
When the premier league draw was handed down some months back, all of the ‘Top 6’ clubs were gifted an early Christmas present by being given some very winnable fixtures over the festive period. But whether due to an overindulgence of turkey, late nights playing santa or them being a little too heavy-handed on the sherry, the Premier League’s best all seriously underperformed over Christmas and New Year period.
With the top teams getting tangled up in the Christmas lights, an opportunity was presented for some of the other ambitious clubs to put some pressure on those sitting at the top of the tree before Christmas, but the trend of upsets was such that none were able to fully capitalize. This left the teams at the bottom of the table as the true festive beneficiaries as many took valuable points against their much fancied opponents.
Lets look at what happened amongst the top 6 starting out with those that had a moderately Merry Christmas and finishing with some over-baked Christmas Turkeys.
Tottenham Hotspur – Games played: Norwich (a), Swansea (a) Points: 4
Handed arguably the trickiest Christmas assignment with both games away, Spurs almost capitalised on the other top teams misfortunes by taking the full 6 points, but a late equaliser from the home team in Wales meant they had to share the points with Swansea. Won convincingly over West Brom on Christmas eve with star man Gareth Bale scoring a quality brace and dominating proceedings with his pace and footwork.
Arsenal – Wolverhampton (h), QPR (h) Points: 4
Arsenal finished 2011 on a high with a win on the final day of the year against QPR, but it was the 1-1 draw at home to Wolverhampton that will leave them feeling grossly unsatisfied. This feeling was somewhat amplified by the manner of the draw more than the result itself, with the Gunners enjoying 73% of possession and having 27 shots on goal compared with Wolves 6. If not for the heroics of Wolves keeper Wayne Hennessey, who was virtual glad wrap over the goal mouth for the entire second half, Arsenal would have taken max points from both games and rejuvenated their title hopes. Star striker Robin van Persie bagged a goal on new years eve to take his tally for the calender year to 35, only one shy of the record set by Alan Shearer, which capped off a phenomenal year for the Dutch hitman.
Liverpool – Blackburn (h), Newcastle (h) Points: 4
Like Spurs and Arsenal, the Christmas period for Liverpool was far from the disaster it has been at other clubs, although the draw at home to Blackburn was yet another substandard performance where Liverpool failed to take maximum points at Anfield. With Suarez set to serve a suspension, these were valuable points that went begging in their quest for the top 4 and champions league football.
Manchester United – Wigan (h), Blackburn (h) Points: 3
With their best player Wayne Rooney watching on in horror from the sidelines (for no other reason but the choice of the manager who was punishing him for an unauthorized Christmas celebration… the joys of being a modern fooballer), Manchester United were involved in one of the biggest shock losses in the clubs history going down 3-2 to Blackburn on the last day of the year. Despite being down 2-0, the red devils rallied and had all the momentum going into the final half hour, only for Blackburn to extinguish the Christmas cheer of the 75 000 odd fans inside Old Trafford and completely ruin Sir Alex’s 70th birthday celebrations. A solid 5-0 win against Wigan on boxing day made the loss to Blackburn even more hard to fathom, although if there is one man who appreciated the Manchester club’s festive ‘giving’ spirit, it was Blackburn boss Steve Kean who with his job on the line, took 4 points from away fixtures against Liverpool and Man United… a Christmas miracle if ever there was one.
Chelsea – Fulham (h), Aston Villa (h) Points: 1
Chelsea finished the new year in the most disappointing fashion possible going down 3-1 at home to Villa. This was following up from a disappointing 1-1 draw there to South London rivals Fulham there on the day after Christmas. The former fortress of Stamford bridge, where they did not lose a match in 60 encounters on Mourinho’s watch, has been turned into little more than a sand castle with the right attacking wave from mid table teams now enough to send it crumbling and give the points to the thankful visitors. Yet more question marks over boss Andre Villas Boas and his lacklustre defensive unit who are faced with the immense challenge of turning things around at the club in 2012.
Manchester City – WBA (a), Sunderland (a) Points: 1
The official Christmas turkey away goes to Manchester City, who waited for these 2 fixtures to show the world they are not only vulnerable to dropping points through draws, they are beatable as well. If someone had told you that Man City would only take 1 solatiray point from these two fixtures, you’d have pointed them in the direction of the looney bin. But it seems that the only upside to Christmas at City this year was Mario Balloteli driving around Manchester dressed as santa handing out wads of cash to strangers.
With both the Manchester clubs and Chelsea doing their best to impersonate Clark Griswold over the Christmas period, the premier league itself was a huge beneficiary as the title race was shown to be far from a done deal. For the other 3 clubs who harbour title aspirations, a return of 4 points helped them to gain ground on their rivals but you can’t help but think that they will be left lamenting what could have been if they’d taken maximum points from games where any less was considered unsatisfactory.