Premier League managers have a point when they say the fixture congestion around the festive period is mind boggling. Yours truly had to check the league table just to be sure of the number of rounds that have been played so far. It’s 22, yes. After 22 rounds of matches, the usual suspects are crammed together at the top of the standings and some Premier League regulars find themselves in unfamiliar (but by no means undeserved) territory near the foot of the table. Let’s see who got good grades this time and who stunk the place out.
Crystal Palace and Roy Hodgson: The memories of Iceland are fading fast, with the Eagles on the road to recovery and Roy on the road to redemption. Might be worth trying him out as the England boss once Southgate quits after a disastrous World Cup campaign. Too soon?
Liverpool: Back into the top four thanks to Ragnar Klavan’s last gasp winner at Burnley. Having given up any pretense of being a defender long ago, Klavan is working his way towards being a serviceable striker to replace the perma-crocked Daniel Sturridge.
Jesse Lingard: After years of lingering around the first team looking like a misfit, Lingard is making himself an indispensable part of Mourinho’s starting XI. Manchester United supporters are now saying “It’s Jesse fxxking Lingard” in excitement rather than exasperation.
Marcos Alonso: He may be a bit slow, seeing as he has to ensure that glorious hair doesn’t get messed up, but he was the quickest to the ball when he scored Chelsea’s second against Arsenal. The highest scoring defender in all top five European leagues and he didn’t cost £75 million.
Jack Wilshere: Lucky Jack somehow managed to stay on the pitch to score Arsenal’s opening goal against Chelsea. It’s this kind of luck that England desperately need in the World Cup this year. Call him up, Gareth.
Leicester City: They’re now just four points behind a supposedly high-flying Burnley. Will Puel get the same kind of accolades that were being heaped on Dyche for getting Burnley to where they are now? Don’t count on it.
West Ham United: Another point gained in their bid to escape the quicksand of relegation. No one said it would be easy, Hammers. Or pretty.
Pedro Obiang and Heung Min Son: As a disgraced former television pundit would say, “Take a bow, Son. You too, Obi Wang. And you missy, go make me a sandwich”.
Newcastle United: If you’re going to give up a game by resting your players, just make sure you win the next one. Rafa Benitez got the memo and acted on it. His opposite number didn’t. But he’ll find someone to blame.
Mark Hughes: If you’re going to give up a game by resting your players, just make sure you win the next one. Mark Hughes didn’t get the memo. Or maybe he got it but his dog ate it before Sparky could read it. Either way, after surrendering five goals to Chelsea his Stoke City side, presumably fully rested now, went on to lose to Newcastle United. Time to cross the T’s and dot the I’s on that P45.
Watford and Marco Silva: That’s one win in five games now. Come on, Marco. You don’t want to be at the receiving end of another Merson & Thompson rant, do you?
Everton and Sam Allardyce: That’s one win in five games now. Come on, Sam. You don’t want to be at the receiving end of another P45 for mind-numbingly boring football, do you? Everton are not getting relegated, so you can drop the act of being the saviour of Merseyside football now.
Arsene Wenger: Please welcome the newest member of Jose Mourinho’s Tinfoil Hat Club.
Southampton and Mauricio Pellegrino: The Saints are outside the relegation zone purely on goal difference. Pellegrino is in a job because… well, that’s the question everyone is asking but getting no answers for.
Alvaro Morata: A stupendous Fernando Torres tribute act, almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
West Brom and Alan Pardew: Being kept off the bottom of the table due to a “superior” goal difference. No one’s dancing, Alan.
Jose Mourinho vs Paul Scholes: “It’s not Paul’s fault that he has made much more money than Paul Scholes. It’s not Paul Scholes’ fault either, it’s just the way football is”. Oh, Jose. If you think Paul Scholes’ motivation to criticize Paul Pogba is his jealousy towards the younger man’s wealth, you really need to get your head checked. I wonder what the United supporters think of it, considering they spent 80% of their waking hours making up quotes from other footballers praising Paul Scholes.