Premier League leaders Chelsea registered a record-equalling 13th straight win over the New Year weekend, while Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City slipped out of the top four after losing at Liverpool.
Here are five things we learned:
Manchester United’s Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic (C) lifts the ball over Sunderland’s English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford (R) to score their second goal during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on December 26, 2016. Oli SCARFF / AFP
United’s never-say-die spirit intact
Alex Ferguson spent his 75th birthday watching Manchester United play Middlesbrough at Old Trafford and his former side produced a fitting tribute to their old mentor. United specialised in last-gasp comebacks in the Ferguson era and they pulled off another against Boro, coming back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 through late goals by Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba. Both players had earlier been thwarted by the woodwork, but they stuck to their task to keep United in touch with the leading pack. The victory also suggested that unlike in the grim final months of his Chelsea tenure last season, Jose Mourinho’s players are determined to produce the goods for their manager.
Chelsea’s Brazilian midfielder Willian (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring their second goal during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Stoke City at Stamford Bridge in London on December 31, 2016. PHOTO: Ian KINGTON / AFP
Chelsea made of stern stuff
If Saturday’s gritty 4-2 win over Stoke City proved one thing, it’s that Chelsea are unlikely to crack under pressure when the title race heats up in the new year. On the brink of a record-equalling feat, Antonio Conte’s side were given a stern examination by Stoke and rose to the challenge in impressive style. Twice Chelsea were pegged back by the visitors after they had gone ahead through goals from Gary Cahill and Willian. But the Blues didn’t flinch as Willian struck again before Diego Costa wrapped up his team’s 13th successive league win, equalling Arsenal’s single-season record and maintaining their six-point lead at the top. Conte says he is only concerned by trophies rather than records, but on current form Chelsea might well reward him with both.
This could be Giroud’s year
Any hangovers among the 60,000 fans at the Emirates Stadium were quickly forgotten as Olivier Giroud produced one of the goals of the season in Arsenal’s 2-0 New Year’s Day win over Crystal Palace. Giroud endured a difficult 2016 which saw him left out of Arsenal’s starting line-up for long periods, as manager Arsene Wenger preferred Alexis Sanchez in the central striker’s role. But he remains a potent force on his day and he may have convinced Wenger not to splash out on a replacement in the January sales when he launched himself into an astonishing mid-air, backheeled volley that gave Arsenal the lead in the 17th minute. Giroud’s seventh goal of the season will rank among Arsenal’s greatest strikes of all time and gave the France striker and his manager renewed hope of a year to remember.
Tottenham Hotspur’s English midfielder Dele Alli (L) and teammates mob Tottenham Hotspur’s English striker Harry Kane after he scores his team’s first goal during the English Premier League football match between Watford and Tottenham Hotspur at Vicarage Road Stadium in Watford, north of London on January 1, 2017. PHOTO: Adrian DENNIS / AFP
Tottenham are back
A recent return of two wins from eight league games suggested Tottenham Hotspur would struggle to match their feats from last season, when they were the closest challengers to champions Leicester City. But they have stormed back to win four games on the spin, which has catapulted Mauricio Pochettino’s side into the top four. Their two most recent wins — 4-1 at Southampton and 4-1 at Watford — have showcased Spurs at their best, with Harry Kane on target three times and Dele Alli scoring four.
Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola gestures from the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Hull City and Manchester City at the KCOM Stadium in Kingston upon Hull, north east England on December 26, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Lindsey PARNABY /
City not yet a Guardiola team
Pep Guardiola wasted little time making an impression at Manchester City, clearing the deadwood from his squad and instilling his trademark possession-focused philosophy. But with his side 10 points adrift of leaders Chelsea at the season’s halfway stage and outside the Champions League places, he has not yet had the impact people expected. Guardiola’s great Barcelona and Bayern Munich teams pummelled their opponents into submission, but City have struggled to impose themselves at times and registered just two shots on target during Saturday’s meek 1-0 defeat at Liverpool. They also have big problems in defence. Barcelona conceded an average of 27.25 goals per season under Guardiola and Bayern just 19.3, but City have let in 21 already and kept only four clean sheets.