Top 6 dominate, relegation haunts many – 5 talking points from the Premier League’s festive fixtures

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Can anyone catch Chelsea at the top of the Premier League? Could last season’s champions be relegated? Here are 5 talking points following a hectic festive schedule.

The Premier League title race is taking shape while the clubs at the bottom are looking for the right managers to steer them to safety.

Football fans were treated to plenty of games over the Christmas and New Year period, and there has been a televised game almost every day since Boxing Day.

For the managers and players it was a time when they learnt more about themselves and the strength of their squads, as they look to push on in the second half of the season.

With 20 games now played by each team we’re just over halfway into the season, with plenty of talking points to discuss.

 

Tighter At The Top

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 3, 2016: Manchester City's manager Pep Guardiola and Chelsea's Manager Antonio Conte before the FA Premier League match at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by Gavin Trafford/Propaganda)

The final game of the festive schedule was the most significant. Tottenham beat Chelsea at White Hart Lane to end Antonio Conte’s side’s unbeaten run, which stood at a record equalling 13-games.

The win leaves Spurs seven points off the top, but it also means that Liverpool are now just five points off the leaders.

Reds fans whose glasses are half full will enjoy Chelsea’s loss, but for the pessimists — some might say realists — it means that Spurs are now just two points behind in third.

All the teams in the top six will now be looking up and the way Chelsea were beaten will give other teams an idea of how to break them down, just as teams worked out how to beat a Manchester City side which looked unbeatable early in the season.

 

Perilous at the Bottom: Could Last Season’s Champions Go Down?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Boxing Day Monday, December 26, 2016: Leicester City's manager Claudio Ranieri during the FA Premier League match against Everton at Filbert Way. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

If a seven point gap at the top gives Mauricio Pochettino’s side a chance of catching Chelsea, then a seven point gap at the bottom of the table can also be closed.

This is the size of the gap between last season’s champions Leicester City and 18th placed Sunderland.

Whereas last season the Foxes were looking up, this time around they’re peering perilously over their shoulder at the figures of Sam Allardyce and David Moyes.

Moyes has relegation battle experience with Everton, while Allardyce is the man any team will look to if they want to avoid the drop.

Claudio Ranieri will hope that the signings he made in the summer will make the difference, and that the likes of Islam Slimani, Nampalys Mendy, and Ahmed Musa have now settled.

There is still the possibility that a side who won the title last season, and are now in the last-16 of the Champions League, could be relegated.

 

Manchester: So Much to Answer For

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, October 17, 2016: Manchester United's manager Jose Mourinho shakes hands with Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp after the goal-less draw during the FA Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)
Manchester United haven’t lost a league game since their 4-0 thrashing at Chelsea in October.

Jose Mourinho looks to finally have the side playing to his tune, even if it it has a different melody to the one usually heard from a side managed by the Portuguese.

They took all nine points available to them over the festive period, and their resurgence has contained some style in the form of Ander Herrera, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and one-time Liverpool target Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

It’s also no coincidence that a fading Wayne Rooney has been on the periphery of a six game winning run.

On the other side of Manchester, Pep Guardiola is struggling to make his mark on a Manchester City side who, after a promising start, now lack identity and cutting edge.

Despite this they still took six points from their festive fixtures, with their only loss coming at Anfield against Liverpool. This game is their only defeat in five, which is impressive considering their performances have rarely caught the eye.

City will be glad to have Sergio Aguero back from his latest suspension, and the arrival of Gabriel Jesus could liven them up further in attack. The next couple of transfer windows will be key for them.

 

The Race For The Top Four: Who Misses Out?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, January 13, 2016: Arsenal's manager Arsene Wenger and Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Six into four doesn’t go, and the big question from the beginning of the season as to which of the six high profile managers will miss out on Champions League qualification remains.

Ten points separate the top six, and there is a gap of nine points between United in 6th, and Everton in 7th, creating a big six in the Premier League where there was once a big four.

Arsenal and United currently sit outside the top four, but are only one and three points respectively off Manchester City in fourth.

It would be hugely disappointing for the likes of Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, or Mauricio Pochettino if their side’s missed out on the top four, but you get the impression it would be even more of a big deal if Arsene Wenger or Pep Guardiola failed to reach that target.

Arsenal’s form is currently the worst of the six teams, but there will be plenty of twists and turns during the next few months.

 

Squad Depth and Recovery

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, May 11, 2016: Liverpool's Alberto Moreno in action against Chelsea's Willian Borges da Silva during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The challenge for all teams now is how well they recover from the glut of festive games and plan ahead for what is likely to be a busy few months.

Some teams will return to the European competition, and others will have unwanted cup games in the FA Cup.

At the bottom of the table, Hull – who have sacked Mike Phelan and appointed Marco Silva – have a two-legged League Cup semi-final with Manchester United to contend with, on top of an FA Cup game against Swansea.

Elsewhere, Chelsea continue to thrive without the midweek games in Europe, while Arsenal, Leicester, Tottenham, and Manchester United will have to balance continental and domestic matches.

Those with players at the African Cup of Nations will also be affected throughout January and into February, and the transfer window could also play its part. The signing of a solid backup player could have as big of an effect as a star signing.

 

We asked fans from all the other 19 teams where they think LFC will end this season – have a read here.

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