We’re now into December, and the Premier League is in the midst of its busiest time of year. Normally here at the Turf, we throw out a weekly review of the Premier League. I was up for week 14, and by the time I started to write my post it was week 15. Then week 16. All within…a week. I decided instead to do an all encompassing article that hones in on the highlights, and lowlights (I don’t even think that’s a word), of those three weeks.
And I have no intention of breaking them up by weeks.
December 2nd: Derby Day
There have been some mouthwatering derbies over the past few matches. We saw Arsenal come into form in the North London Derby and score three in the second half to beat Spurs. This match was great because the derby fight was there. Eric Dier’s equalizer, and subsequent celebration shushing the Arsenal fans, injected an energy not oft seen this season from any club. Pochettino made some suspect decisions, not playing Toby and Jan together, and waiting too long to make personnel changes.
On the other side, Unai Emery made two changes at halftime that changed the course of the match. I hope you all realize how hard it is for me to praise his moves. But he deserves it. But also fuck Arsenal.
Also, Spurs still somehow sit 3rd despite their four losses this year. I guess if you don’t settle for draws (they’re the only club without a draw in the league this year) you can maximize your point total despite your losses.
On the same day, Everton played a solid 90+ minutes against Liverpool in the Merseyside Derby until Jordan Pickford played a ball just above the bar that Divock Origi put home as time expired for a 1-0 win. Virgil Van Dijk must be thanking his lucky starts for it. And some fans had some fun with it…
Chelsea put Fulham down 2-0 in the first West London derby in a while. Other than Ruben Loftus-Cheek getting a run out, and scoring the second goal, there’s not much to write home about here. Unless you consider Fulham holding someone to two goals a feat, in which case, talk it up.
Restoration at the top (and a changing of the guard)
For the first time since early in the season, the top 6 looks like it’s back how it should be. Both Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs, and Arsenal round out the top of the table. Then, 7-13 are separated by three points.
Manchester United has fought their way from mid-table to 6th, and need to push hard in December to separate themselves from the pack of wolves on their tail (pun fully intended). They only sit five points above 13th place Brighton and have hardly been consistent throughout the first third of the season. Maybe Jose’s calling out Pogba and Fellaini’s haircut have helped so far, but United need to dig back into the days of Fergie if they’re going to take the bull by the horns.
For the first time all season, or at least since the first week or two, Manchester City are not sitting top of the table. I said it early this season. Liverpool are the biggest threat to City’s ability to repeat. And so far, this is proving to be true. The Reds are grinding out wins, and are now the only undefeated club in the PL. If they can get through their next five games and stay within three points of the top, I think they’ll pull it off. Reason being? They play United, Wolves, Arsenal, and City in that stretch. They should beat Newcastle, but the other four will be dogfights, and will show us what Liverpool is made of.
This isn’t terribly uncommon for this time of year, but the 6-13 spots are separated by just five points. While United have finally moved themselves into the top 6, it’s possible they could be usurped by Everton and/or Bournemouth by the end of the month. Leicester, Wolves, West Ham, Watford, and Brighton are all nipping at their heels as well.
December is always madness in the Premier League, and the above shows what can be at stake. With four matches left for each team, and then one in the first three days of January, we’re looking at up to 15 point swings in any direction. The festive period will help to separate the pretenders from the contenders. And, man, I’m excited to watch.
What to watch for the rest of the month
I mentioned Liverpool’s tough schedule, and the craziness in mid-table, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Manchester City hosts Everton this weekend, and the Toffees need to continue to show up. City will be reeling from their first defeat of the season and looking to get back on track. Everton is sitting 7th in the table, and could use a result to stay relevant. City should be able to win their other matches, so it’s going to be key for them to do so. A match-up with Liverpool is coming on January 3rd, and their taking advantage of their difference in strength of schedule will be key to reclaiming the top spot.
With Arsenal’s derby victory, they looked to be on pace to continue climbing the table. And technically they did so by moving into third. However a couple of blah displays, and back to back wins from Spurs, have pushed them back to fifth. They should be able to dispatch Southampton and Burnley, but may find a challenge in their Boxing Day opponent when they travel to Brighton. Liverpool will prove to be the toughest matchup of their run. They could lock themselves into the top five over this stretch.
Chelsea looked as though they’d be able to challenge for the title, but have had some serious up and down form as of late. They drew Everton, Lost to Spurs, beat Fulham, lost to Wolves, then beat City. Based on that roller coaster I can see them having problems with the likes of Bournemouth and Leicester, and possibly even Brighton. They need to hammer those clubs in order to keep the pace at the top.
Tottenham rebounded nicely from their North London Derby loss, and are now at two wins and one loss in December. They are the only club without a draw in the league this season, and they should be able to keep that going. Once again, Bournemouth are going to stand in the way of one of the top clubs in this run. The question is can they hold up, or will they be tired by the time they get to Wembley on Boxing Day? Spurs have the opportunity to power through and challenge for a top two spot, but at the very least solidify their place in third. They have the ability to take full points for the rest of December, but they can’t overlook the likes of Everton, Bournemouth, or Wolves.
December is bat shit crazy in the Premier League and it’s going to be fun to watch. I’m hoping the table looks nothing like it does now. We’ll look back on this time in January and wonder what on earth happened to some, and how others mustered the grit and strength to climb the ladder.
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