Premier League clubs can finally breath a sigh of relief after the conclusion of this week’s midweek matches.
Aside from those playing in the Carabao Cup semi-finals next week, and West Ham and Liverpool, clubs will have a week off between their FA Cup ties this weekend, if they are still in the competition, and their next league outings.
Teams have come through a brutal festive period that has transformed some clubs’ seasons, left others in a perilous position in the table and robbed teams of a number of key players with injuries.
Liverpool won all seven of their Premier League games over Christmas to keep them top
Almost everybody has played eight league matches since December 14 with Liverpool and West Ham the only exceptions due to the Reds’ participation in the Club World Cup.
When you add the FA Cup third-round ties and the first legs of the Carabao Cup semi-finals then the majority of teams have played around 10 games.
Here, Sportsmail asses which teams have been the biggest winners and loses from across the festive period as their schedules start to resemble something slightly more normal.
|West Ham United||7||2||1||4||9||10||-1||7|
|Brighton and Hove Albion||8||1||3||4||7||10||-3||6|
In Premier League games Manchester City and Liverpool, unsurprisingly, had the best time over this period.
Liverpool’s title hopes remained firmly intact with seven wins from seven matches, including against Leicester, Manchester United and Tottenham, while City managed six wins from eight as they continue to prove themselves to be the dominant forces in English football.
If there was one team who needed to gather momentum then it was Southampton and Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side responded by winning five of their eight games to climb from relegation contenders to European hopefuls.
Fellow strugglers Watford and Burnley also massively increased their chances of avoiding the drop with good results over the festive period.
Sergio Aguero celebrates his winner in midweek as City try to keep up with Liverpool at the top
Southampton’s 16 points from eight games have steered them away from relegation trouble
Four wins for each from their eight games have given both clubs a chance of staying in the top flight for at least another season.
Three wins appeared to be the average in the top flight though with eight clubs securing a hat-trick of victories.
Everton, Chelsea, Spurs, Sheffield United, Manchester United, Wolves, Leicester and Aston Villa secured three wins but four draws helped the Toffees to fifth place in the form table.
It proved to be a nightmare period for Arsenal, though. They won just one match since December 14, beating United on New Year’s Day, to seemingly surrender any faint hope of finishing in the top four.
Relegation-threatened Norwich and Brighton, as well as Crystal Palace, could also manage just one victory while the likes of Newcastle, West Ham and Bournemouth endured a difficult few weeks.
|TEAM||AVG GOALS SCORED|
|Southampton and Leicester||1.6|
|Watford and Wolves||1.5|
|Tottenham, Villa, Arsenal and Palace||1|
GOALS SCORED AND CONCEDED PER GAME
It is a familiar tale at the summit of the table for average goals scored across the games in the festive period.
City lead the way with 2.6 goals per game thanks to convincing wins against Arsenal, Leicester and Sheffield United, as well as the 6-1 thumping they delivered at Aston Villa.
Despite playing a game fewer than everybody but West Ham, Liverpool are second in the table with an average of two goals scored every game.
A big win away at Leicester and straight forward wins over Watford, Sheffield United and Manchester United were the pick of the results.
Southampton and Leicester are third with an average of 1.6 goals per game with a resurgent Watford just behind them with along with Wolves. A disappointing month for United in front of goal saw them average 1.3 goals a game.
Watford averaged 1.5 goals per game as Nigel Pearson guided them off the bottom of the table
West Ham (1.28), Chelsea (1.25) and Tottenham, Villa, Arsenal and Palace (1) complete the top ten.
|TEAM||AVG GOALS CONCEDED|
|Southampton, Everton and Sheffield United||0.8|
|Man City and Chelsea||1|
|Man United, Arsenal, Palace and Brighton||1.2|
|Wolves, Newcastle, Bournemouth and Norwich||1.6|
Liverpool were also perfect at the other end of the pitch. Their defence looked a little shaky before the festive period but the coming together of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez has helped solidify them again.
Seven clean sheets in a row, six of which came in this period, has them at the top of the table although they were breached in Thursday night’s 2-1 win at Wolves.
Watford have also tightened things up at the back since Pearson arrived and they boast an excellent average of just 0.7 per game, definitely form that will keep them up.
Southampton, Everton and Sheffield United, who have been superb in defence all season, were next with 0.8
Liverpool conceded just one goal in seven games, keeping six clean sheets over Christmas
A defeat by Wolves and a draw at home with Crystal Palace proved costly to City’s defensive record and their average, alongside Chelsea, stands at 1.
Tottenham and Burnley are next on the list with 1.1 while United, Arsenal, Crystal Palace and Brighton are next in the table at 1.2.
West Ham, with 1.4 goals conceded per game, are next which is disappointing for them given they have played one game less than everybody else.
Wolves joined relegation-threatened Newcastle, Bournemouth and Norwich in completing the top 10 with their average of 1.6
It is no coincidence that a number of players are paying a physical price for playing such a demanding amount of football.
Whether it may be a twisted ankle, strained ligaments or a muscle tear, every single Premier League club has had some sort of injury problem to deal with over the past month or so.
United and Tottenham suffered the biggest causalities, losing both of their star strikers in Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane.
Rashford is facing three months out with a back injury while Kane has been ruled out until April at least with a nasty hamstring strain.
Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane both picked up serious injuries over the festive period
Both clubs are now pondering moves in the final few days of the January transfer window as they chase replacements up front.
United are also without midfield duo Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba. The Scot suffered a knee injury between Christmas and New Year while Pogba had a recurrence of an ankle injury that has plagued him all season.
The only other absentee for Spurs who was injured over the festive period is Moussa Sissoko. He required surgery on his knee just after the New Year and is expected to be out for three months.
Of the other big six clubs Liverpool trio Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri and James Milner continue to be out of action with various issues and Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic is injured with an abductor problem.
If there is one team currently dealing with an injury crisis it is Newcastle, whose players have been dropping like flies recently. Since December 14, Yoshinori Muto, DeAndre Yedlin, Jetro Willems and Andy Carroll have all suffered knocks.
Jetro Willems’ injury against Chelsea last week made Newcastle’s fitness problems worse
Allan Saint-Maximin also missed the draw with Everton in midweek with striker Joelinton 50/50 for the FA Cup tie with Oxford this weekend.
Aston Villa were dealt a major problem and are still reeling from the loss of their main striker and No 1 goalkeeper in Wesley and Tom Heaton on the same day. Both are set for the sidelines for the rest of the season with knee problems.
Crystal Palace are missing Mamadou Sakho and Max Meyer, Everton duo Richarlison and Alex Iwobi are also out with knee and hamstring issues respectively and West Ham are without star man Felipe Anderson due to a back problem.
Such a large number of games in such a short space of times inevitably comes with hours travelling up and down the country to games.
Sure, elite teams have private jets to take them to and from matches in luxurious conditions but the journey and hassle of travelling undoubtedly has an impact on fatigue.
Lucky teams will have fixtures geographically closer together this time around but others, like Newcastle, have a long way to go.
The Magpies covered 1,060 miles getting to their games from Boxing Day to this midweek, going everywhere from Manchester to Wolves and Everton.
Norwich were not far behind though, chalking up 1,009.6 miles themselves. The Canaries picked up just six points from eight games over Christmas, hinting the travelling sapped some energy from their legs.
Bournemouth (942), Leicester (901.8), Brighton (886.8), Crystal Palace (882.4) and Everton (879.4) also trekked across the country during the festive period in search of points.
It seems home comforts do not necessarily translate to points though. Arsenal (271) covered the lowest distance between Premier League teams yet only won one of their eight matches. They played at Bournemouth and then had two away trips in London against Crystal Palace and Chelsea, yet drew five of their matches.
Manchester City (403.6), Tottenham (446) and Manchester United (534.4) also had favourable schedules in comparison to some of their rivals for Champions League football.
Norwich racked up 1,009.6 miles over the festive period, second to only Newcastle in distance
IMPACT ON SEASON
The Christmas period can often make or break a team’s title challenge. A good few weeks can also nudge somebody into European contention or help a team put some breathing space between themselves and the drop zone. It can also push a team closer to relegation.
For Southampton the past five weeks have transformed the entire outlook of their campaign, turning them from candidates to be relegated to in contention for a Europa League place.
Five wins from those eight matches have take the Saints above Arsenal and Everton into the top half of the table. They are now just three points behind seventh-placed Wolves.
While Southampton flourished, Leicester stumbled and any feint chance they had of winning the league has now gone.
Back-to-back heavy defeats against Manchester City and Liverpool knocked the momentum out of their sails before they also dropped points against Southampton and Burnley. They are now 16 points behind Liverpool, who also have a game in hand.
Southampton were the biggest winners of the festive period, completely altering their season
Just one win from their eight games over this period has left Arsenal out of the top four race
Another team to pull themselves up from the abyss is Watford. Nigel Pearson’s arrival couldn’t have come at a better time with so many games to be played and he has led them to four wins and two draws in eight matches to lift them up to 19th, level on points with West Ham, who occupy 17th.
Burnley also ended their woeful run of form with victories over Newcastle and Bournemouth at the start of the month and Leicester and Manchester United in recent days to move seven points clear of danger.
Arsenal can probably kiss goodbye to Champions League football next season thanks to a miserable Christmas run.
The Gunners may have snatched a point against Chelsea in midweek but they have won just one match in their eight since December 14.
They scored just eight goals in those eight games too, drawing five and losing two to leave them 10 points behind Chelsea in fourth. Mikel Arteta needs to bring some fresh blood into the group in the coming days if they are to have any chance.