The turn of the year and the turn of the screw as the Big Six – Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United – jostle for bragging rights as the second half of the Premier League season begins to unfold.
Clear daylight now to seventh in the table, Everton.
Manchester United enjoy perfect Christmas with maximum points
However, there can be just one winner of the Premier League and four into six doesn’t go when it comes to the Champions League. There are going to be some demanding owners with sore heads.
United still aspire for top spot despite their poor start as the star names and precious egos are finally moulded into a team by Jose Mourinho.
Asked whether a European place was the minimum requirement, Paul Pogba insisted: “We try to go higher – to win the Premier League. It is not easy but we try.”
Big trophies and championships was what joining United was all about, he declared.
Certainly, the never-say-die Sir Alex Ferguson spirit is returning.
United left it late against Middlesborough with Pogba and Anthony Martial scoring in the last five minutes to deservedly take all three points, having had to come from behind to overturn a Grant Leadbitter strike.
Pogba hit the post with an overhead kick, Martial shook the same upright with a long-range attempt and Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a goal ruled out harshly for a high boot in the vicinity of advancing ex-United goalkeeper Victor Valdes though it never touched him.
And they then made hard work of beating 10-man West Ham at the London Stadium who lost Sofiane Feghouli to a controversial red card on 15 minutes. It took second half goals from Juan Mata and Ibrahimovic for United to prevail.
The Red Devils are now unbeaten in their last 11 league games.
Chelsea continue to lead the way in the Premier League ahead of trip to Tottenham Hotspur
However, it is Chelsea who are the team to catch. The Stamford Bridge side equalled the top flight record of 13 consecutive wins in a single season after overcoming Stoke.
Gary Cahill gave Chelsea the lead but Stoke defender Bruno Martins Indi levelled. Willian put the Blues ahead again only for Peter Crouch to equalise.
But the home side then finished off the Potters as Willian smashed a fierce angled finish and Diego Costa – who else? – made it conclusive.
With Costa, Willian, Hazard et al in this form it will take a remarkable run to pip them to the title.
Liverpool beat Manchester City before slipping up at Sunderland
Liverpool beat Manchester City at Anfield 1-0 in what was a brilliant defensive performance – how many times in recent seasons could you say that?
City dominated possession in the second half but barely had a shot on target.
Georginio Gregion Emile “Gini” Wijnaldum – great name, good player – scored with a bullet header.
But centre halves Ragnar Klavan and Dejan Lovren, assisted by full backs James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne, were magnificent.
Liverpool closed it down all over the park, stifling the creativity of Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva.
Raheem Sterling, who left Liverpool for City amidst angry recriminations, was booed every time he touched the ball – to the point he was largely ineffective. Sergio Aguero spent more time offside than making productive contributions.
Liverpool mixed one-touch passing and long balls. Yet again City’s attempts to play out from shaky goalkeeper Claudio Bravo were constantly flirting with disaster.
A different story for both clubs 48 hours later though.
Daniel Sturridge and Sadio Mane twice had the Merseysiders ahead but gifted Sunderland two Jermain Defoe penalties to allow the home side to get away with a draw. Jurgen Klopp not a happy man.
Spurs rediscover their form thanks to England stars Kane and Alli – now the Premier League leaders await
Harry Kane and Dele Alli each scored two goals as Tottenham easily overcame Watford 1-4 at Vicarage Road.
Perhaps the home side had gobbled too much Christmas pudding, but, whatever it was, they were very disappointing. Ex-Spurs centre back Younes Kaboul got a consolation albeit his dubious defensive work perhaps explained why he was let go.
Arsenal remain in the title hunt thanks to Olivier Giroud wonder-goal
Anything Manchester United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan can do Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud can do to.
His sublime scorpion kick helped beat Crystal Palace 2-0.
Reaching a cross from Alexis Sanchez delivered behind him, Giroud flicked it over his head and in off the underside of the bar. A special moment and every bit as good as Mkhitaryan’s over Sunderland.
An Alex Iwobi header made the victory secure.
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