Thursday, December 30, 2021

Premier League Preview Holiday Highlights: Leicester Influences Title Race; Boom Times for Gunners; Canaries Drop More Goose Eggs; Poor Return for Manchester United; Chelsea Falters; Seagulls Escape Schneid; New Year Begins with Top Four Clashes; Hammers Look to Rejoin the Chase

Leicester influenced the title race during the holiday week with two very different performances by the Foxes. Manager Brendan Rodgers’ team wanted to climb into a foxhole under a barrage of goals delivered by Pep Guardiola’s league leading Manchester City squad. The Citizens jumped out to a four-goal lead before Leicester came to life with three goals over a ten-minute span of the second half. Just as traveling Leicester fans thought their trip might have been worthwhile, Manchester City pummeled the Foxes with two more goals for a 6-3 final which marked a ninth straight victory for the defending league champions.

Just two days later, Leicester’s battered defense posted a clean sheet against Manchester City’s closest pursuer in a 1-0 Leicester win over high scoring Liverpool.

The Foxes’ defensive masterpiece included a penalty save by Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel on league leading scorer Mohamed Salah. Liverpool failed to score for the first time in 29 league matches as a second half goal by the Foxes’ Ademola Lookman secured the points for Leicester. Leicester’s win put Liverpool six points behind steamrolling Manchester City after 19 matches as the Reds lost for just a second time this season.

Chelsea moved level on points with second place Liverpool as the Blues put down Aston Villa 3-1. Jorginho converted on two penalty kicks for the win which also saw Romelu Lukaku return to the scoresheet for Chelsea. In the spirit of holiday giving, Chelsea conceded an own goal for Villa’s only score.

Arsenal increased its hold on fourth position by blasting Norwich 5-0 on Boxing Day, a fourth consecutive victory for the Gunners. Bukayo Saka scored a brace and Emile Smith Rowe scored in a substitute role for a third consecutive match as the young Gunners put the Canaries to the sword.

Norwich looks helpless to avoid a relegation fate as the Canaries were again held scoreless a few days later by Crystal Palace, a fifth consecutive defeat without scoring a goal for the East Anglia team.

After 19 matches played by all five of the top teams, West Ham was odd man out, the Hammers trailing Arsenal by four points in the top four chase. The Hammers fell 3-2 to Southampton on Boxing Day, a second consecutive defeat, before returning to the win column with a 4-1 hammering of Watford two days later.

Tottenham Hotspur trails West Ham by just a point despite having completed only 17 matches. Spurs picked up four points with a 3-0 Boxing Day defeat of Crystal Palace followed by a 1-1 draw with Southampton two days later. Manchester United, also having completed just 17 matches, trails Spurs by two points after a desultory 1-1 draw with Newcastle United on Monday. New manager Ralf Rangnick is having little positive effect in his short tenure which has included lethargic performances and periods of Covid induced inactivity.

The Red Devils are back at it Thursday when Burnley comes to Old Trafford. A win by the Clarets would see them escape the relegation zone for the first time since the third week of the season.

Brighton’s 2-0 Boxing Day win over Brentford snapped the longest Boxing Day losing streak in English football and marked the Seagulls first win in over three months. The Seagulls moved level on points with 10th place Crystal Palace after the win with Brighton having played two fewer matches than their rival.

Wednesday saw two of the top teams in action as Chelsea and Manchester City became the first teams to play a 20th match in this postponement plagued campaign. Manchester City notched a tenth straight win in a 1-0 victory over Brentford, a grinding victory quite different from recent City goal fests. Chelsea failed to keep pace as Brighton struck for a stoppage time equalizer in a 1-1 draw which put the Blues eight points back of Manchester City after 20 matches. Brighton’s late point marked the fourth time this season that the Seagulls have struck for a tying goal in the 89th minute or later. Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is already feeling pressure over Chelsea’s diminishing title hopes and was embarrassing in listing various excuses for Wednesday’s dropped points.

Upcoming Saturday and Sunday action features a pair of top four clashes when Manchester City visits fourth place Arsenal followed by a Sunday matchup between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal will be without Manager Mikel Arteta who has contacted Covid for a second time. Chelsea is in dire need of three points after three draws in their last four matches while Liverpool will be anxious to recover from their scoreless outing at Leicester. West Ham, meanwhile, will try to close the gap on Arsenal and rekindle its top four ambitions when the Gunners visit Crystal Palace for a London derby.

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