London (AFP) – The Premier League’s traditional festive feast of football packed 39 games into 13 days across Christmas and new year with Liverpool the big winners as 2020 seems destined to finally be their year to win a league title.
Jurgen Klopp’s men extended their lead at the top to 13 points with a game in hand despite also winning the Club World Cup over the past two weeks.
The battle to join the European champions in the Champions League next season is much more competitive, as is the struggle to avoid relegation, with a host of teams condensed in the bottom half of the table.
AFP Sports looks at five things we learned from the festive period.
Liverpool champions in waiting
The final hope for those hoping to extend Liverpool’s 30-year wait to win the title appears to have vanished in six days either side of Christmas.
Firstly, Manchester City showed why they have been record-breaking champions over the past two seasons by beating second-placed Leicester 3-1, preventing the Foxes cutting the gap at the top to seven points.
Leicester were then thrashed 4-0 by Liverpool on their return from the Club World Cup on Boxing Day, putting Brendan Rodgers’ upstarts in their place.
To complete Liverpool’s perfect Christmas, 10-man City then lost a thriller 3-2 to Wolves the next day.
Klopp’s men also saw off Wolves and Sheffield United at Anfield to stretch their winning run in the league to 11 games.
A persistent feature across all four rounds of games has been the growing frustration among players, managers, fans and commentators at the frequency of goals being ruled out for marginal offside calls after lengthy VAR reviews.
Last weekend saw Norwich, Brighton, Sheffield United, Wolves and Crystal Palace all have goals disallowed by narrow VAR rulings amid doubts over whether the available technology is even accurate enough to make such fractional calls.
The Premier League’s interpretation of VAR even drew criticism from the game’s law makers IFAB (The International Football Board).
“If you spend minutes trying to identify whether it is offside or not, then it’s not clear and obvious and the original decision should stand,” said Lukas Brud, general secretary of IFAB.
Fourth up for grabs
Leicester and Manchester City still seem well set for to seal Champions League qualification, even if catching Liverpool now seems beyond them.
However, the fourth Champions League place is at least a four-way race.
Three wins in nine league games for Chelsea has opened the door to Manchester United, Tottenham and Wolves to close in on the top four but all three are just as flawed themselves.
United and Wolves lost two of their last four, while Spurs took just four points from a seemingly enticing run of four fixtures.
Relegation race tightens
Both United and Wolves were beaten by a reborn Watford under Nigel Pearson and the Hornets’ revival means just six points separate them in 19th from Everton in 11th.
West Ham sacked Manuel Pellegrini after falling to within a point of the drop zone and got the instant response they hoped for after rehiring David Moyes by thrashing Bournemouth 4-0 as the Cherries drop into the bottom three on a run of eight defeats in 10.
Burnley and Newcastle have also lost their last three to fall back into the dogfight.
Arteta, Ancelotti make their mark
Mikel Arteta and Carlo Ancelotti watched on from the stands as Everton and Arsenal played out a dreary 0-0 draw the weekend before Christmas to give them an insight into the huge jobs that lie ahead.
However, both have already had an impact as Ancelotti oversaw back-to-back wins over Burnley and Newcastle before running Manchester City close in a 2-1 defeat on Wednesday.
Arteta had to wait until his third game in charge to taste victory, but Arsenal’s performances have been transformed under Pep Guardiola’s former assistant.
The Gunners outfought and outclassed Manchester United to record a first home win since October on Wednesday.
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