If you have a bad Christmas period, 9 out of 10 times you’re not going to achieve your ambitions from the start of the season. Whether you like the Christmas schedule or not, its influence on the texture of the Premier League season is undeniable.
It’s a trial of short-term adaptability game after game, a chance to gain momentum and a test of squad depth. If a side can get a run together, they lay in place the foundations for relative success. I remember a pivotal moment in Tottenham’s season last year. Heung-Min Son’s 87th minute winner away to Watford last season on the 28th December was important in setting up what would be their most successful season for years.
Each Premier League side will play an approximate average of a game every 4.3 days. On reflection, that’s relatively routine for the teams with a weekly schedule that includes travelling to all ends of Europe. Speaking with a glass half full, which clubs should be doing at this stage, increased games represents opportunity. Just ask Arsenal, who are revelling in the routine of winning. Nothing said about fatigue, Arsenal finished top of their Champions League group and are looking like the only team capable of mounting a stable week to week challenge to Chelsea. Then, conversely, you may want to look at Tottenham who have been frail all season, much of which can be accounted for by a sub-standard Champions League campaign. Then Leicester, what is the point in trying to analyse them? Their 5-0 loss in Porto was the catapult for a 4-2 win at home to Manchester City so, if anything, Leicester are doing all they can to ruin this ide
But I still think the point has solid reasoning. The Christmas period is football on speed. Every team, regardless of Europe and injuries, must play their share of 5 Premier League fixtures before their first FA cup game at the beginning of January. For some teams, you cannot stress enough the importance of these approaching weeks.
At the top end of the table, Chelsea are cruising, Arsenal too, but Liverpool, Man City and Tottenham have all been halted in some way or another. When it was announced that Coutinho would be out for 5 weeks, many did not realise that would be more than 5 games and frankly without Coutinho, Liverpool look half the threat. The same can be said for Sergio Aguero, whose suspension will see him unavailable until the New Year. When the games come thick and fast, reward and punishment are equally extreme. Should Man City fail to rally themselves, they may come out of January totally out of the title race. The same goes for Spurs. If they fail to pick up some victories or manage to pick up more injuries, they may well be playing catch up already. Man United’s victory over Tottenham was quintessentially Mourinho, but its timeliness is as important as the 3 points. They now sit 6th, ready to pounce upon mistakes made by those above them.
Then you have those sides who are teetering with very little consistency. Southampton will have been frustrated with this season so far and, having lost Charlie Austin for three months, their next few weeks are vital. That same reasoning goes to Stoke, West Brom and Watford. Everton have been a fascinating case study. They were flowing and looked to have overcome their early season hoodoo, but got lost somewhere down the line. They are a side in need of reinvigoration and the next few weeks offer that chance, should they fancy it of course.
The sides in a relegation scrap have the greatest chance of reward. Knowing how tight the tussle is come the end of the season, the Christmas period is a timely stepping stone to safety. Of course these sides are in a relegation battle because they are the ones unable to accrue an inkling of drive and impetus, but teams like West Ham, Swansea, Sunderland and Hull have huge opportunities to fast-track their way out of that rut. That then brings the lower-to-mid table sides into the equation: Burnley, Crystal Palace, Leicester and Middlesbrough.
If it were that simple, every side would be feeling secure come January. Sunderland managed to lose every game in December last year but as the saying goes, ‘New Year, new me’. They won their first 2 in 2016 and forged together enough of a winning habit to stay in the league. At the other end of this schedule is the point at which managers and fans alike must realise it’s not “still early” anymore and start to recognise their place in the league. Those I do fear for are the ones with no experience in English football. Its Christmas period is unique and the likes of Bob Bradley, Walter Mazzarri, Antonio Conte and Claude Puel may not recognise its importance until it is too late. For someone like Bob Bradley, that could well be terminal.
This week’s column on the importance of the Christmas period to each side in the Premier League. For uMAXit. Available on https://www.umaxit.com/index.php/columns/christmas-is-the-premier-leagues-vortex-where-success-usually-results-in-relative-triumph