New Year’s Day was a brilliant one for teams fighting the relegation battle. Starting at the bottom and working up, Leicester battled back from 2-0 down to force a tie at Anfield, scoring twice in a three-minute span in the second half. They were unlucky, also, as the Foxes had the upper hand for most of the afternoon, and both Liverpool goals came off Steven Gerrard penalties. The first penalty decision was a travesty, as a sliding Wes Morgan was called for a handball despite the ball clearly smacking off his face. Sitting in 19th is Burnley, who scored a late equalizer — also on the road — at Newcastle. The 3-3 draw again did not tell the tale of the tape, as Burnley hit the woodwork four times throughout the match, and the third Newcastle goal came completely against the run of play. Crystal Palace, who currently occupy the last relegation spot, also earned a road draw, battling valiantly for a 0-0 result at Aston Villa. Palace were the beneficiaries of Villa’s continued woes in front of goal, but they earned the point with a staunch defensive effort. Continuing the theme, 17th-placed West Brom also procured an away tie against 7th-place West Ham. After conceding early, young striker Saido Berahino found the back of the net on 41 minutes, and West Brom had an equal run of play throughout the match. Moving up the table, QPR were unlucky not to secure a full three points against Swansea, conceding in the 92nd after holding a 1-0 lead for most of the afternoon from a Leroy Fer wonder strike. Finally, Hull City gained points on all of their relegation rivals and jumped to 15th with a dominating 2-0 win over an out-of-form Everton team. Former Toffee Nikica Jelavic put Everton away just before halftime following a beautiful over-the-head through ball from Abel Hernandez after an Ahmed Elmohamady opener. While many of these games ended in ties, the bottom six looked as good as ever for a single matchday. If what occurred in the first of the reverse fixtures continues, the lower-tier sides are going to provide nightmares for those chasing titles, and make the relegation battle a spectacle to behold.
2. Southampton finally cashes in against a top club
Now sitting in the final Champions League spot, Southampton — for the first time this year — won full points from a top-tier club. In the first half of the season, the Saints lost to United, City, Arsenal, Spurs, and Liverpool. However, in their final game of 2014, they gutted out a gritty tie against Chelsea, which seems to have the team playing with confidence after a recent skid. With star midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin suspended after picking up a late red card against Chelsea, Southampton came out firing on all cylinders, scoring twice and blowing away Arsenal at St. Mary’s. The first goal was a beautiful chip from Sadio Mane over the poorly positioned Wojciech Szczesny that floated past the outstretched boot of Per Mertesacker on the line. The woes didn’t stop there for Arsenal or Szczesny, as the keeper cleared a terrible touch from Koscielny right to Dusan Tadic, who poked in for the second. After another clean sheet for Fraser Forster (and Chelsea’s North London nightmare), the Saints have now conceded the fewest goals in the league. It is these kind of results that Southampton will need in order to continue their challenge for a Champions League place. However, only being 10 points back of the co-leaders, they might want to set their sights a little higher.
3. The title race is more alive than ever
At the start of the season, Chelsea seemed absolutely unstoppable. It looked like they would never lose, and their starting XI looked like one of the best Premier League groups of all time. However, a busy winter has taken a toll on the Londoners, and their lack of depth has shown. In particular, the dismal 5-3 away defeat to Spurs showed that their starters need some rest. If Jose Mourinho doesn’t give it to them, Manchester City, who have been lurking all season, look primed to pounce. After two unlikely results on New Year’s Day, the teams are tied on every metric, with Chelsea in the lead on alphabetical order. While City have been getting quality results, there are worry signs at the Etihad as well as the Bridge. The Citizens have blown 2-0 leads in their last two games. They scraped out a 3-2 win over Sunderland on New Year’s Day, but only after being punished in a tie against bottom-feeder Burnley. Meanwhile, Manchester United had been on an absolute tear, but they could only manage a point versus Stoke. In addition, each of the three teams sitting behind the top three could make a late run and expand the title race. The aforementioned Saints have earned back-to-back results after a four-game skid. Though they looked poor against Southampton, Arsenal are always dangerous, and they are starting to get players back from injury. Finally, Spurs were by far the most impressive team on the holiday, putting five past a previously dominant Chelsea defense. The title race is wide open. New Year’s Day only helped to complicate the league, and everyone (except Chelsea) is totally fine with that.