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Premier League winners and losers: Everything goes Spurs’ way but Poch, Ten Hag and Howe sack talk intensifies further

Premier League winners and losers: Everything goes Spurs’ way but Poch, Ten Hag and Howe sack talk intensifies further

An amazing set of results for Tottenham and West Ham, the only two members of the top half to record pre-Christmas wins, while Nottingham Forest slide towards despair and the signs of life grow clearer and clearer among the bottom three.


An absurdly good set of results over the long pre-Christmas weekend for Tottenham, whose own battling and frankly slightly fortunate win over in-form Everton was augmented by Arsenal, Liverpool, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Manchester United and Brighton all dropping points – many of them unexpectedly. With Manchester City otherwise engaged, it left West Ham as the only other top-half side to register a lovely mood-boosting pre-Christmas victory.

And it all leaves Spurs still, somehow, in there and fighting away in what is right now a wide open title race. Four points off top spot with the returns of James Maddison, Micky van de Ven, Yves Bissouma, Destiny Udogie and Rodrigo Bentancur – all absent from the team yesterday for one reason or another, while Cristian Romero lasted only 45 minutes – all apparently reasonably close.

The win over Everton was not particularly convincing, but on the other hand it was a win over a team that had just won four games in a row without conceding. Any win, given the absences, was thus highly impressive. Many of their rivals dropped points from easier assignments in this round of games.

It was a game that followed what is becoming a regular pattern of Spurs games. For 30 minutes they play football from the gods and get ahead. For the remaining hour they regress to something between stodgy and outright crap and have to hold on to what they got from that blistering start. The difference between this game – and the win over Newcastle – and the defeats here to Chelsea, Aston Villa and West Ham was really down to turning the early 1-0 lead into an early 2-0 lead. Definitely a policy to stick with.

In their recent run of all-or-nothing wildness, Spurs have scored the opening goal in nine games out of nine. In the last eight of those games, that opening goal has come in the first half. In five of those eight, that goal has come inside the first 11 minutes.

But Spurs have scored the final goal in only two of those nine games: the absurd late equaliser at Manchester City and their second goal in a 2-0 win at Nottingham Forest that nevertheless ended with Spurs clinging on to what they’d got having been reduced to 10 men.

A Spurs team that so often scores in the opening exchanges has also conceded eight goals beyond the 80-minute mark in that nine-game run.

They are a fascinating side, showing us pretty much each and every week both how good they can be and how flawed they remain. But if those absent players all return as anticipated over the next six weeks and the January window is used effectively there’s a real chance to raise that low, low floor for a team with such a giddily high ceiling.

Four goals in three Premier League games – all victories – for a player who had managed two in his previous 38 since joining Tottenham.

Guglielmo Vicario
The bargain buy of the summer at £17m. Spurs took a huge gamble on the Italian when David Raya was, at the time, right there. It has paid off handsomely. For all their pretty football, they simply wouldn’t be anywhere near that title discussion without their ludicrous keeper and his ever-growing highlight reel collection of increasingly implausible and improbable saves.

Fair to say it had been coming. Our pre-season target for Luton was built on pulling down the pants of at least one big club at Kenilworth Road. We kind of gave them it for the 1-1 draw against Liverpool, while they were impressive and pretty unlucky to varying degrees in narrow defeats to all of Spurs, Arsenal and Man City having taken the lead in two of those three.

Now the win that had been threatened has come, and, given the far easier home fixture list that inevitably now awaits after Christmas, given the teams already ticked off, a true reason to believe that their remaining games here could yet spearhead an unlikely survival bid.

Onwards they merrily bound into mid-table with the relegation threats and careful-what-you-wish-for beard-strokings about the wisdom of replacing PFM Gary O’Neil with some daft foreign fella now a long-forgotten thing of the past.

That’s now 16 points from six games since a 6-1 pummelling at the Etihad left them a point outside the bottom three with a solitary win from their first 11 games. The only ‘blemish’ in that six-game run? A 2-2 draw against title-challenging Aston Villa. It’s a remarkable turnaround. The only two teams in the Premier League to have won four of their last five Premier League games are thus Bournemouth (12th) and Everton (16th)

Saturday’s win at Forest was chaotic and dramatic and they no doubt had the odd bit of help along the way, but it all points to a side learning – and what is more now expecting – to win from all manner of difficult or awkward positions. Something is happening on the south coast.

Next step is to keep this more pleasing form up long enough to properly sort out that goal difference. It’s improved from a low of -18 to -8 now, but it’s still a bit embarrassing to be shuffling around mid-table with a negative goal difference like that. It’s just a bit Manchester United, and no-one wants that.

Dominic Solanke
Completing a hat-trick with an injury-time winner. Yes. That’s the good stuff. It’s not been the route most would have expected for a player tipped for greatness from youth-team levels, but Solanke is getting there quickly now. There has always been tantalising evidence of what a rounded, multi-faceted forward he could be and now that’s married to consistent goalscoring numbers it’s all tremendously exciting.

Of course, the drab reality of modern football is that Bournemouth fans will now have to grind their teeth as he’s linked with anyone and everyone in need of a goalscorer (a list of clubs that is troublingly long and deep for anyone of a Bournemouth persuasion) but for now it’s a run of form to be revelled in. Only the indisputably world-class Erling Haaland and Mo Salah have more Premier League goals this season than Solanke.

Much-needed proof that Vincent Kompany and his side could get three points off teams that didn’t follow them out of the Championship last season. On that basis alone, victory at Fulham can be considered a significant box ticked. Going and winning 2-0 at a Fulham side whose three previous home games had ended in 3-2, 5-0 and 5-0 wins makes it even more significant.

Jarrod Bowen and Mohammed Kudus
Both on target in a 2-0 win over Manchester United that lifted West Ham above their opponents and briefly into the top six on an enormously impressive 30 points at this stage given their Europa and Carabao commitments. Perhaps inevitably, the bad days have been very bad for the Hammers given how thinly they’ve spread themselves, but the good days have been coming round plenty often enough.

Saturday was another, and with Bowen scoring his 11th and Kudus his sixth of the Premier League season that pair took themselves within a single goal of Manchester United’s entire tally for the season.

Jarrod Bowen celebrates a goal vs Man Utd

Jarrod Bowen celebrates scoring against Manchester United.

Didn’t win but having to settle for a point at Anfield from an early winning position doesn’t feel like it’s as costly a mistake as last year’s proved to be.

Away from home and with a one-point advantage and – important, this – still over half a season to play, that’s an entirely satisfactory result for Mikel Arteta and co. And also one they deserved in a game where almost nothing could separate the sides. Apart from on the ‘messing up a four-on-one counter-attack’ metric, but still.

Top of the table at Christmas, just as they were last year, albeit this time without looking quite so convincing as they did then. But what should bring further succour for Arsenal is not their status in comparison to their own efforts 12 months ago but to their current rivals right now. This does not have the look of being anything like a 95-points-or-forget-about-it season.

There isn’t really any team in the country playing in a way that could lead one to point confidently and say ‘We’ve just seen the champions’. But Arsenal certainly appear currently to have the fewest flaws, and reveal them the least often. Before City – and Liverpool themselves, to an extent – normalised relentless unflinching excellence, that was generally a pretty good hint of a title-winning team.

Virgil van Dijk and William Saliba
The Premier League’s best defender of the last five or six years and his heir apparent both put on absolute masterclasses in one of the biggest games of the season at Anfield. It was a game where two very good defences generally had the better of two very good attacks, and the standout reason at both ends of the field was pretty obvious.

Those who’ve read 16 Conclusions know all this already, of course. Everyone else, shame on you. Christmas is no excuse for slacking off.

Martin Odegaard
Generally excellent anyway in that massive Liverpool-Arsenal game, but also now potentially on the radar of the Harlem Globetrotters. Never hurts to diversify the skillset.

A rare Christmas Eve fixture in the Premier League, and Wolves the joyful and triumphant beneficiaries of a wretched Chelsea performance that provided several of what must by definition constitute the least early ‘early Christmas presents’ a Barclays defence has ever offered up.

The promoted clubs
Have appeared in danger of being cut adrift all season long but it’s never quite happened. And now it’s suddenly getting awful tight down there. The three promoted clubs remain the three below the line as things currently stand but seven points between from difficult games against Aston Villa, Newcastle and Fulham has had a concertina effect and means a few more teams just glancing downwards a little less confidently than they might have a week ago.


Manchester United
Only so many times we can keep repeating the same old sh*t about the same old sh*t. They’re not very good, they don’t appear to have any imminent prospect of becoming any good – takeover or no takeover, manager change or no manager change – because there’s just so much that’s so very wrong on every single level.

At the most basic end of the problems, though, lies that miserable record in front of goal. This is just not a team secure enough in any other aspect to be able to subsist on a diet of one goal per game. And that’s a number that’s trending downwards. It’s now no goal in the last four games in all competitions, and in the Premier League only a Sheffield United team that was until very recently firmly in contention for rivalling the worst season Our League has ever seen have scored fewer.

Of the seven teams now above then in the league, only one has failed to at least double United’s goal tally. That odd one out is West Ham, who leapfrogged them with Saturday’s 2-0 win and still have a 13-goal cushion. You have to go all the way down to 15th now just to find another team to match United’s meagre 18-goal return.

A miserable few weeks for a team, club and manager with rightly sky-high ambitions. Out of Europe altogether, a huge missed opportunity in the Carabao to end a trophy drought that would make Spurs fans wince and three painful defeats in the last four Premier League games to leave Newcastle seventh and with plenty of work to do to turn things round.

The manner of those three defeats will be causing the gravest concern around St James’ Park as comprehensive beatings at Everton and Spurs were followed by Luton at last snaring the big Kenilworth Road victim they’ve threatened all season. That Newcastle fans will have been painfully aware it might well be them only adds to the sense of a season unravelling.

Howe now faces a fight not just to turn round the results and the mood but also for his job. The Jose Mourinho chat will not go away. Newcastle have Liverpool, Man City and Aston Villa to come within the next four league games. If that run goes the way it currently looks like it might, there’s a real chance Eddie Howe isn’t there for the return date with Luton that follows.

Nottingham Forest
There were reasons for optimism among the gloom surrounding Steve Cooper’s sad but probably necessary exit and Nuno Espirito Santo’s first game. There were clearly some significant moments of bad luck along the way in a game that could have gone very differently but Nuno has little time to alter the direction of travel before Forest find themselves in a deeply sticky situation.

The bottom three picking up seven points from their games meant conceding an injury-time winner left it close to a worst-case scenario of a weekend for a team tumbling into deep, deep trouble.

Willy Boly
Sent off for winning a tackle so early and so cleanly it barely even qualified as a tackle. He pretty much passed it. An absurd decision, clearly, and one that highlights an increasingly hard-to-justify and easily remedied quirk of VAR in which yellow cards can be upgraded to red but second yellows cannot be moved the other way. There’s a ‘slippery slope’ argument against the gradual expansion of areas in which VAR can get its tentacles, and it’s an argument we generally have a good bit of time for. We don’t want it gradually creeping in to every single element of the game. But changing its remit from ‘some red cards’ to ‘all red cards’ doesn’t feel like a step that leads inevitably to every single throw-in being checked for eight minutes by Stockley Park.

Aston Villa
Welcome to title challenges, lads, where draws can land you in the losers section at the click of a finger. It was a worrying night in lots of ways for Villa, who came up against one of the first parked buses in justified reflection of their new-found status and had few compelling answers to the new questions that poses.

In the grand scheme, ‘carelessly missing the chance to go top at Christmas’ isn’t the worst problem for a team like Villa to have, but it was still all a bit galling.

Plenty of focus on Palace’s winless run after their 1-1 draw but just quietly that’s two Premier League wins in 12 games now for Roberto De Zerbi’s men with a rejuvenated Tottenham to come next.

The thrilling Europa League campaign has understandably reduced the attention on and fretting about that league run, but there is a real danger now of the Seagulls’ league campaign subsiding into irrelevance.

So, so sloppy. So, so many mistakes. And just so, so unforgivably dreary in attack. Christopher Nkunku showed with his injury-time header that he might make some difference to the overall drudgery that is Chelsea’s league campaign. But really the most striking thing was how hollow sounding were the punditry attempts to place this Wolves win alongside notable 2-1 successes against Man City and Spurs or even the draws against Newcastle and Villa.

Wolves absolutely do have something about them in home games against the big teams. Cheerfully accepting gifts from this fellow-mid-table Chelsea team just isn’t a particularly compelling piece of additional evidence.

There’s an awful lot of rubbish blowing around on the pitch. Someone just said it’s always like that here. #CFC

— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) September 10, 2011

Chelsea’s away kit
Black with neon blue Tron-style stripes just looks blue on the TV. We told you this. You didn’t listen. No away kit in history has ever looked less like an away kit. We cannot think of a single fixture where this kit actually has any practical use. It is, in this way, a pretty good fit for this Chelsea team.

The Conspiracy
Martin Odegaard’s unpunished basketball dribble at Anfield raises some serious questions about the efficacy of the definitely real multi-agency campaign to keep Arsenal from winning the league.

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