The final round of fixtures for 2018 has now been and gone. After the busiest period of the season so far, the Premier League is really starting to fall into place nicely for the second half of the campaign. Here’s a look at five things we learnt from all the drama of this weekend’s festive fixtures.
Wolves aggression leaves Spurs reeling
All the focus was on Spurs as the Saturday three o’clock kick offs got underway. Pochettino’s men had the chance to close the gap on Liverpool to three points, albeit temporarily. Things looked to be going their way at Wembley again when Captain Kane curled in a delightful shot from outside the area. It was a top class finish from a player at the peak of his powers, but it was as good as it got for Tottenham as they slowly succumbed to Wolves’ relentless energy and fierce tackling.
The visitors seemed unfazed by their hosts and really went for it in the second half. They bettered the home side’s intensity and once they drew level it seemed inevitable that they would get out in front. Spurs were blunt for the remainder of the game and created very little. A 1-3 score line did not flatter Wolves at all, and it leaves the same old questions about the mentality of Spurs when it comes to the crunch. They’ve bounced back well after defeats so far this season and will now need to do so again.
Arsenal’s old vulnerability comes back to haunt them
Liverpool v Arsenal is a fixture which had yielded 150 Premier League goals prior to Saturday’s late kick off. The neutrals hopes where duly obliged as three goals went in, inside the first twenty minutes. Unfortunately for Arsenal, their early aggression, which saw them startle Liverpool and take an early lead, ultimately came to nothing as they were swept away by the home side’s breathless pressing, composure and ceaseless movement. To be on the receiving end of a 5-1drubbing is bad enough, but when you consider Liverpool reserved their energy, whilst still controlling the game, it really does paint a stark picture.
The progress made under Unai Emery has been excellent, but this was a result that painfully highlighted the flaws which still hamstring Arsenal’s ambitions. In fairness, their defensive numbers have been severely hit by injury and they clearly miss their overlapping fullbacks who have so effective. However, their lack of cohesion and vulnerability virtually every time Liverpool went forward demonstrates how far off the pace they remain. A lack of leadership also hurt them at Anfield and they remain very much a work in progress this season.
Cardiff City show some Premier League quality
There is one hell of story in the works down in South Wales. You would have been hard pressed to find anyone giving the Bluebirds a chance of survival back in August. However, they continue to confound expectation as the points stack up. Their Achilles heel is an obvious lack of Premier League quality, but away at Leicester City, their players started to show signs that the top flight is rubbing off on them.
It was very much a smash and grab win, but there was plenty to be excited about for Warnock’s men. Neil Etheridge is always going to be a busy man at Cardiff, but he was unbeatable at The King Power, saving everything the Foxes they threw at him. Their defence was also stoic with Bamba and Gunnarsson showing some real leadership to see them through. Victor Camarasa’s 92nd minute winner will go down as one of their greatest moments in The Premier League. The Spaniard curled an outstanding, dipping shot past Schmeical to secure a vital three points. No keeper is stopping that kind of strike and for the first time this season, Cardiff and Warnock looked like they have enough quality to pull off an unlikely survival bid this season.
City show their true colours
After a massive festive blip, Guardiola’s men needed a win urgently going in to this weekends trip down South. Southampton’s recent form has seen them turn a corner and climb out of the relegation zone. Hopes would have been raised on the South Coast that they could spring another shock result. That was of course, until City turned up in no mood to mess about.
The away side clearly benefited from Fernandinho’s return, and they had effectively killed the contest off with a quick fire brace just before half time. Southampton huffed and puffed, but couldn’t get near their opponents. There was a period in the second half, when City were playing it around their opponents as though in a training session, Southampton could barely touch the ball as they ran themselves into exhaustion. Pep will be pleased with the 1-3 win, not a classic, but a huge result to get his men back on track for now.
OGS continues to impress
When you looked at United’s run of games, following the dismissal of Jose Mourinho: Cardiff, Huddersfield and Bournemouth looked like a decent Christmas tonic to detoxify the club. Solskjaer will have sterner tests and runs of games in his United managerial career, but what we have seen so far, suggests a manager who is prepared to let his team fly forward with real pace and menace. Their first half display at home to Bournemouth was full of speed, aggression and skill. United’s fans will be lapping this up after five years of austerity tactics from their managers.
There was an element of a frenzied attacking approach, without much control or composure at the back, but twelve goals in three games is nothing to be sniffed at. There still looks to be real issues with his defence, they were exposed a lot against Bournemouth and Bailly’s dismissal was insanely naive, rash and unnecessary with the game already won. However, the manager will certainly win many friends playing at that level of intensity at Manchester United, even if the clean sheets are not stacking up.