Premier League on Boxing Day: 10 things we learned as the pressure mounted on Louis van Gaal
The Dutchman hinted he could resign after Manchester United slipped to their fourth consecutive defeat at the hands of Stoke
It’s a knockout: Boxing Day brought entertainment aplenty
What a day in the Premier League!
While most of us were still recovering from a turkey overdose, top-flight footballers up and down the country were back to the day job with a bumper 10 games all taking place on Boxing Day.
There wasn’t much festive cheer for Louis van Gaal as Manchester United lost again at Stoke, while Leicester lost for just the second time this season at the hands of Liverpool.
Southampton then rounded the day off with a stunning 4-0 win over Arsenal.
We had a reporter at every ground, but what did they learn on a frantic day of action?
Look no further…
1) Surely no way back for Van Gaal now
Four straight defeats, no wins in seven, and a team that has been drained of any confidence and belief, there is surely now no way back for Louis van Gaal at Manchester United.
Van Gaal took on the media on Wednesday, bristling with indignation that his job was on the line, but his position is even more precarious after this abject loss.
There is nothing to suggest Van Gaal can turn this crisis around, and the time has come for him to be replaced, before United’s miserabke season, already in freefall, sinks without trace.
2) Klopp still needs to go shopping
Liverpool still need a centre half in the January window – they are down to the bare bones with injuries, and Mamadou Sakho still looks a long way from full fitness.
He had the Reds fans’ nerves shredded with his ‘accident waiting to happen’ clumsiness on the ball, though Dejan Lovren is looking more solid under Klopp.
The German manager will surely want to find a physical, dominating partner for Lovren, and if he does then his side can challenge for the top four this season.
3) Chelsea a long way from regaining aura
Chelsea have changed manager but still look as vulnerable and nervous as they did under Jose Mourinho. Teams simply don’t fear facing them at the moment.
They didn’t get an early goal against Watford and the tension quickly rose around Stamford Bridge. Watford took control of the game, exposing Chelsea’s soft centre under the slightest pressure and you could soon feel the unease among a crowd that have grown accustomed to suffering this season.
Watford continued to give as good as they got for the rest of the game and were full value for their point.
4) Vincent Kompany will be a big miss
The roars that greeted the City skipper’s arrival as a substitute against Sunderland after a seven-week lay-off and the groans which greeted his swift departure said a lot.
Kompany is City’s single most important player and despite a comfortable win, his latest setback is a major blow, for a side who struggle to keep clean sheets without their long-serving Belgian.
5) If anything, Harry Kane is getting even better
The debate over whether or not he is the real deal is, thankfully, over. He has now scored 13 times this season with two of those goals in an England shirt.
His first against Norwich came from the spot while his second was a classy diagonal finish just before half time.
He has been driven by a desire to prove those claiming he is/was a one-season wonder wrong. It is safe to say that he has done so already.
6) Garde should recall Agbonlahor
Villa’s attendance of 38,193 was their second highest of the season and this was one of their better displays against West Ham but they need points not performances right now.
Perhaps boss Garde will consider recalling frozen out club captain Gabby Agbonlahor who was again absent and did not even make the bench. In his absence Gestede was a handful but lacked quality
7) Swansea are far from out of the woods
There was a palpable sense of relief around the Liberty Stadium at full-time after the Swans beat West Brom. This was just a second win in 14 games and the first three points picked up on home turf in four months, but Swansea are a long way from being out of the mire.
This was a win, but the difficulty with which it was obtained against a limited Baggies side will give cause for concern
8) Everton pretty and EVENTUALLY effective….
Everton are now ninth, but play football worthy of the top six.
They dominated the start of the game against Newcastle. Stats showed they had 75pc-plus possession until they eased off slightly after 35 minutes.
At that point Everton had completed a mighty 200 passes, and Newcastle just 50. They are a lovely team to watch.
Loads of clever movement from Ross Barkley, and power up front. Tom Cleverly ran the game.
But there was no killer instinct to match the superiority, until the last kick of the game – the 94 minute!
9) Palace need a striker
Connor Wickham, Marouane Chamakh, Dwight Gayle and Patrick Bamford are not the answer.
And neither is Fraizer Campbell, who looked like he was making his first appearance for two months against Bournemouth. Pardew’s process of upgrading his team must see a 15-goal striker his next target.
Arsenal’s win over Manchester City on Monday night was a big statement. Maybe too big. Because it suddenly made Arsenal title favourites. Certainly with the bookmakers.
But while it’s fun to be challengers, chasers and underdogs, being favourites brings a very different set of expectations and pressure.
And from Arsenal’s rather limp performance at St Mary’s, it would appear that Arsene Wenger’s men struggle under the spotlight. In fact, worse than that, it would suggest they cannot handle the pressure and don’t have the bottle.
This was their big opportunity because leaders Leicester lost and Arsenal had chance to regain top spot. They couldn’t grasp it. That perhaps says as much about Arsenal’s mental strength and their ability to maintain a title challenge.
Far too many big players under performed in one of – if not the worst – Arsenal’s worst performances of the season.
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