Festive greetings to you all! I have no idea what day it is but in football terms (actually, all terms) it’s Boxing Day +1, and that means you have the dubious pleasure of a team of the last few days. Most teams have played twice in that time and there’s been a bucket load of incidents, for example, West Ham have been involved in two games and 11 goals. Somehow, I’ve managed to narrow it down to just 11 but we were one more direct free-kick away from a meltdown. Grab another Turkey sandwich and allow me to guide you through the headline makers, with a good old 3-5-2 and a forlorn manager in the dugout.
Rob Elliot – Several goalkeepers have done themselves proud this Christmas. Jonas Lossl got kicked in the face, Huge Lloris managed to concede 2 in a one-sided match and Asmir Begovic tried to use his feet with disastorous consequences. Such are my own rules on this column, Rob Elliot gets the jersey for saving Andre Ayew’s penalty on Saturday. It wasn’t the best penalty in the world but it still needed saving, and Elliot did his bit. It set Newcastle up for an important three points, with a game against Man City on Wednesday not likely to yield many points.
Phil Jagielka – You can’t deny Big Sam has made Everton very resolute. They defend in huge numbers and…yeah, that’s pretty much all they do. That and hoof the ball up the channel looking for that all important territory. On Saturday, champions Chelsea arrived at Goodison and set up camp in the Everton penalty area, but couldn’t find a way past Jordan Pickford. When they did, Phil Jagielka was in the way not once but twice in the same attack. Truly heroic from old man Jags, who was rewarded with a place on the bench against West Brom. A pair of 0-0s for Christmas is just what Sam would want.
Mathias Jorgensen – It’s the season of goodwill and it was nice to see the man known as Zanka doing his bit. The Danish international offered to buy every Huddersfield fan who made the trip to Southampton on Saturday a pint to thank them for their support. How lovely. “Zanka Claus is Coming to Town” he said. A pair of draws will probably just about do for Huddersfield, Zanka and pals put their bodies on the line in the draw against Stoke with some stellar last gasp defending.
Molla Wague – As usual I am short of defenders but my interest was captured by Watford’s opening goal scorer. Not only have I never heard of this man but imagine my surprise that he used to play for Leicester?! Obviously he scored against his former club which is just natural but even at Christmas, you learn something new every day.
Henri Saivet – Yes yes, more of my rules. It’s a theme in the midfielders section as the Premier League went direct free kick crazy. Saivet made his first Premier League start of the season having been rather frozen out by Rafa Benitez, and initially it was easy to see why as he gifted West Ham the ball for their opener. However, Saivet bounced back by bending a free kick up and over the wall from fully 30 yards, one of those where it dipped and pretty much landed on the goal line. Impressive indeed, but will we ever see him again?
Juan Mata – Another in the free kick club, Mata was one of the few to come out of Saturday’s draw with Leicester with any credibility at all. With the score at 1-1, Mata had a free kick about 20 yards from goal which he perfectly curled over the wall and gave his side the lead. They should have held on but that’s not Juan’s fault.
Jesse Lingard – In the same game, Lingard had the chance to seal all three points but danced round the goalkeeper and hit the post. Oh Jesse. Mourinho referred to his team missing “joke chances” in that game so will have been infuriated when Lingard spurned a chance to score shortly after coming off the bench in Tuesday’s game with Burnley, though you’d have to credit the goalkeeper for a great save. Lingard did make amends though, scoring twice including a stoppage time equaliser to save his sides blushes, if not their title hopes.
Marko Arnautovic – Another busy few days for the Austrian, but for all the right reasons this time. West Ham have taken just 1 point from the festive schedule but Arnauotivc has netted three times, including a quickfire double at Bournemouth on Tuesday. He’s doing a great job of trying to drag Moyes’ men to safety but is being let down by the fact they can’t defend – any team that concedes three to Newcastle is probably not defensively sound.
Steven Defour – The final member of the free kick club, the Belgian’s wonderful effort for Burnley is all the more impressive because it was against the world’s best goalkeeper* David De Gea. *Current English press narrative, may not be factually accurate.
Harry Kane – What more could you ask for than a hat-trick for Christmas? How about two hat-tricks. Kane also broke the “goals in a calendar year” record which, in my opinion, isn’t a thing. Football is not played over a calendar year, it famously has a seasonal structure so I’m not including him for that reason, but rather the fact he has netted 6 goals in 2 games and is in one of his purple patches at the moment where he seems unstoppable.
Roberto Firmino – Liverpool and Arsenal played out one of the games of the season on Friday night, which as it turned out was just the tip of the iceberg for the days ahead. Firmino powered in an equaliser in that match but then went one better on Boxing Day with a double against an abject Swansea side. Coutinho and Salah have also been magnificent but Firmino’s unselfishness is really being rewarded at the moment, so let’s celebrate him.
Jose Mourinho – There’s a few managers looking a bit grim at the minute. Pellegrino at Southampton looks fed up, Leon Britton isn’t sure why he’s in the Swansea dugout and Alan Pardew has so far struggled to make an impact at West Brom. But we need to talk about Jose. It’s like a ticking time bomb, his side have had a rough week – losing to Bristol City in the Carabao followed by 2 Premier League draws. It’s probably not helped by the fact his nearest rival, both geographically and by looking at the league table, are the footballing Harlem Globetrotters. I can almost feel a touchline ban coming.
That’s it for this festive roundup but I’ll be back with a New Year’s effort in the coming days. All the best.