1. Liverpool: A very Merry Christmas indeed
Results: 0-2 win at Wolves, 4-0 win vs. Newcastle, 5-1 win vs. Arsenal
There’s little doubt that the Reds are the overall winners of the Christmas period. Their impressive winning streak reached nine games with Saturday’s comprehensive win over Arsenal, and losses from their closest challengers have allowed Jurgen Klopp’s men to open up a buffer between themselves and the chasing pack. What’s more, an 11-1 goal differential over the past three further proves that this is a different Liverpool team than in years past. Up next is a trip to Manchester City: a win there, and Reds fans will truly be believing that they’re on course for their first league title since 1990.
2. Manchester City: Hunters, not challengers
Results: 2-3 loss vs. Crystal Palace, 2-1 loss at Leicester, 1-3 win at Southampton
Back-to-back Premier League losses for the first time since December 2016 knocked Manchester City off the top rung of the league, and though they recovered to beat Saints on Sunday, they now trail leaders Liverpool by seven points. City’s mindset now has to be slightly altered. No longer are they on par with the Reds; instead, they are in the chasing pack that must
3. Tottenham Hotspur: False hope, then a loud thud
Results: 2-6 win at Everton, 5-0 win vs. Bournemouth, 1-3 loss vs. Wolves
For a couple of days, it felt like Spurs were genuine title challengers. Spoiler alert: they weren’t. After throttling Everton and Bournemouth in a pair of scintillating attacking performances, Spurs looked worn down Saturday against Wolves at Wembley, particularly looking sloppy in an awful second-half display in which they watched three goals hit the back of their net and three points fly out of their hands. The lesson is that Spurs are still closer to the top-four fight than they are to the title bout; results like the one they got Saturday — especially ones that seem to happen due to a tired team that’s been rotated minimally during the holidays — further cement that point.
4. Chelsea: Fourth and holding
Results: 0-1 loss vs. Leicester, 1-2 win at Watford, 0-1 win at Crystal Palace
A loss to Leicester was not a good start to the busy period for the Blues, but Maurizio Sarri’s side responded well with a pair of wins over middling clubs. It’s pretty clear now where Chelsea stand and what their goals will be for the rest of the year. While it’s not inconceivable that they could close the 11 point gap to Liverpool, the Blues have been far too inconsistent this year to really think they are going to make a charge at the title. Sarri must instead build on a solid first half to maintain his team’s top-four place over a pair of top-six chasers. One-goal wins over Watford and Palace weren’t inspiring by any means, but they showed exactly what the Blues need to do to maintain their spot, and that’s take care of lower-level opponents. So far this year, they’ve done the job.
5. Arsenal: Still far from elite
Results: 3-1 win vs. Burnley, 1-1 draw at Brighton, 5-1 loss at Liverpool
The Gunners’ spotty form since the end of their lengthy unbeaten run has continued with a couple of mediocre performances. They found a way to get the job done against Burnley (although it wasn’t easy or pretty), but the result against Brighton showed some frailties as Arsenal were outshot and struggled to create much of anything. The battering they received from Liverpool felt inevitable from the moment the Reds took the lead. It’s still been a good first half-season of growth and improvement under Unai Emery, but the Gunners have a long way to go to nail down a top-four place.
6. Manchester United: United are back! … for now
Results: 1-5 win at Cardiff, 3-1 win vs. Huddersfield, 4-1 win vs. Bournemouth
What a week it’s been for Manchester United, who will feel better about their busy period than anybody else in the league. The Red Devils scored almost 30 percent of their goals for the season in the last three days, and won in emphatic form all three times. Caretaker boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is working magic at the moment at Old Trafford, with the looming specter of Jose Mourinho finally gone, but it is worth wondering whether that’s just the inspiration of a new manager that will fade over time. If United can keep up their current form, the top four should be seriously concerned. They are only eight points off Chelsea and are the hottest team in the league. That deficit could evaporate quickly and only add more fuel to the Red Devils’ suddenly raging fire.
7. Wolverhampton Wanderers: A possible breakthrough?
Results: 0-2 loss vs. Liverpool, 1-1 draw at Fulham, 1-3 win at Tottenham
8. Leicester: Crazy wins, then a crazy flop
Results: 0-1 win at Chelsea, 2-1 win vs. Manchester City, 0-1 loss vs. Cardiff
Leicester’s last three games will leave many onlookers scratching their heads. Jamie Vardy smashed the Foxes to a win away to Chelsea, and then they picked off another top-six side in Manchester City at the King Power Stadium. Then, with lowly Cardiff visiting, Leicester couldn’t produce any offensive spark and lost to the now 16th-place side in a bitterly disappointing end to what could have been an epic three-game stretch. The Foxes proved they are still mighty dangerous, though, and they continue to punch above their weight.
9. Watford: The midtable cycle continues, but that’s not a bad thing
Results: 0-2 win at West Ham, 1-2 loss vs. Chelsea, 1-1 draw vs. Newcastle
Since coming back into the Premier League three seasons ago, Watford have been established in the middle of the pack, and that’s continued this year. The Hornets have earned some good results, but they are now settling into more of a routine. Over the holidays, they earned a solid win at an in-form West Ham side, played decently well despite falling to Chelsea, and came from behind to nab a point from Newcastle. No, it’s certainly not perfect, but for a club of Watford’s standing, it’ll certainly suffice. We’ll see the black and yellow kits in the top flight for a fifth straight season come next fall.
10. Everton: Still not taking the next step
Results: 2-6 loss vs. Tottenham, 1-5 win at Burnley, 1-0 loss at Brighton
Many felt that Everton’s home match with Spurs was a chance for Marco Silva and co. to announce themselves as possible European contenders once again. Instead, the Toffees were hammered. Following it with a win (albeit a comprehensive one) over struggling Burnley and a loss to a decent Brighton outfit doesn’t exactly signify that Everton are making the jump that some hoped they might this season. On paper, the Toffees are right in the thick of the conversation as “best of the rest,” but on the pitch, they aren’t there yet.
11. West Ham: Right where they should be: average
Results: 0-2 loss vs. Watford, 1-2 win at Southampton, 2-0 loss at Burnley
Let’s be honest: West Ham are a middle-of-the-road team with middle-of-the-road talent, and that is exactly what they have been all season. The last three games were no different. A 2-0 loss to a similarly adept Watford side was followed by a tight, come-from-behind win over Southampton. And then they sputtered again, against struggling Burnley. The Hammers have one four-game winning streak this season, but aside from that, it’s been a lot of rapid ups and downs. The second half should see more of the same.
12. Bournemouth: Torched by torrid sides
Results: 2-0 win vs. Brighton, 5-0 loss at Tottenham, 1-4 loss at Manchester United
Unfortunately for the Cherries, they ran into two incredibly hot and talented teams during the busy
13. Brighton: The steady ship stays on course
Results: 2-0 loss at Bournemouth, 1-1 draw vs. Arsenal, 1-0 win vs. Everton
A club of Brighton’s size and stature shouldn’t be comfortable at this stage of the season, and the Seagulls aren’t quite safe, but an 11-point buffer on the relegation zone shows just how much progress the club has made in the past two seasons. Since returning to the top flight, Chris Hughton has established a defensive-minded side that can hang tough in pretty much any game, and that was the case over the holidays. The loss to Bournemouth was a bit disappointing, but to follow it with a draw against Arsenal and a win over Everton is impressive. Brighton just have to keep doing what they’ve been doing, and they’ll play a third consecutive top-flight season for the first time since the early 1980s.
14. Crystal Palace: A bit of hope
Results: 2-3 win at Manchester City, 0-0 draw vs. Cardiff, 0-1 loss vs. Chelsea
A big win over Manchester City combined with a draw against Cardiff has vaulted Crystal Palace to the top of a relegation scrap that extends from the 14th-place Eagles –– who have 19 points –– down to last-place Huddersfield with 10. While the three-game stretch ended with a close loss to Chelsea, Palace have reason to believe they can break out of the group, showing the best form as of late and easily grabbing the most impressive win at the Etihad. A miserable start has been replaced by second-quarter optimism as the Eagles head into the new year.
15. Newcastle: Any progress is good progress, but this is pretty slow progress
Results: 0-0 draw vs. Fulham, 4-0 loss at Liverpool, 1-1 draw at Watford
Newcastle are in a weird spot. They’re a huge club, but penny-pinching owner Mike Ashley has made it very difficult for Rafa Benitez to bring in the players he needs in order to really make a jump up the table. What that means is a string of results that look decent — two draws in three games sandwiched around a loss to the best team in the league isn’t bad — but also highlights the club’s issues. The Magpies need to start scoring goals quickly if they’re going to get away from the bottom three; if they don’t, they’ll need to rely on Rafa’s magic once more to keep them out of the drop zone come spring.
16. Cardiff: More progress than anyone expected!
Results: 1-5 loss vs. Manchester United, 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace, 0-1 win at Leicester
Neil Warnock has been very clear all season that he believes his team is the underdog in every game it plays, which he is right about. That makes it all the more impressive to see the Bluebirds earn back-to-back road results, which have at least for now catapulted them out of the drop zone. The game against United was in many ways a wash as the Red Devils looked like a new side without the weight of Mourinho on their shoulders. Since then, Cardiff
17. Southampton: Exactly as expected
Results: 1-3 win at Huddersfield, 1-2 loss vs. West Ham, 1-3 loss vs. Manchester City
Southampton have really struggled this year, and their Christmas-time results are on par with what is to be expected from Saints. A win over a bad Huddersfield side was important for the points, but Saints proved again they aren’t ready to take another step, losing to West Ham and Manchester City. There’s no shame in a loss to a team like City, but if Southampton are to get out of the relegation battle –– they are only safe on goal differential at the moment –– they are going to have to start turning the trick on middle-tier sides, while continuing to pick off the bottom. They haven’t done that with any consistency this season, and that is why they are in real danger.
18. Burnley: Not much to see here
Results: 3-1 loss at Arsenal, 1-5 loss vs. Everton, 2-0 win vs. West Ham
Burnley, on the other hand, were able to beat West Ham during the busy period for an important three points after getting smacked around by Arsenal and Everton. They find themselves in a similar position to Southampton, needing wins against weak teams to break out of a potentially dangerous scrap. And while picking off West Ham certainly helps the cause, not much else they did during the busy stretch will inspire a ton of optimism into the fan base that they might actually escape. After a giant-beating season last year, Burnley’s inept offense has caught up to them, and their once-stout defense has been exposed as second worst in the league with 41 goals allowed so far. There’s a lot that Sean Dyche needs to correct to avoid sputtering back to the second tier.
19. Fulham: Is Claudio Ranieri leading another impossible dream?
Results: 0-0 draw at Newcastle, 1-1 draw vs. Wolves, 1-0 win vs. Huddersfield
Ok, so Fulham’s dream of survival is certainly much more realistic than Leicester’s miracle title was a few seasons back, but Ranieri is nonetheless making his magic happen once again. Fulham were rooted to the bottom of the table when the gregarious Italian arrived, with a miserable defense and an inconsistent attack. In the last three games, they’ve earned three results, allowing just one goal, and taking all three points from a relegation rival in Huddersfield (courtesy of a stoppage-time Aleksandar Mitrovic winner) could prove massive in the long run. Ranieri still has work to do — the attack especially has much to improve — but these were some very good first steps under his reign.
20. Huddersfield: In deep trouble
Results: 1-3 loss vs. Southampton, 3-1 loss at Manchester United, 1-0 loss at Fulham
It’s gone from bad to worse for Huddersfield who are in dead last, have lost seven in a row and were beat up over the last week. The one piece of good news for the Terriers is they are still five points from safety and with half a season to go have plenty of time to make up the distance. That’s about it however, for David Wagner who’s seat might be getting a bit hot. The worst part about the last three games is two of the losses came to fellow bottom feeders in 17th place Southampton and 19th place Fulham who each got a boost from Huddersfield this week. They have to find a way to at least scrap some points together against other bottom sides or it will start to get very bleak.