Good Christmas, Bad Christmas

Twenty games over five days separated the men (Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City) from the boys (Aston Villa and perhaps Chelsea). There were no shortage of goals, a total of 53, but there were less of the shocks we have come to expect from this Premier League season.

Good Christmas

Roberto Mancini: Bobby MC has presided over two successive victories having conceded no goals and suddenly the furore over Mark Hughes’ sacking looks a little premature. City have enjoyed the new perspective brought by Mancini to the club, with Javier Garrido one recipient of a fresh look at the playing squad.

Carlos Tevez (27/1 to be top goalscorer) scored three goals in two games and is still making a mockery of Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision not to take him permanently to Old Trafford. With the semi-final Carling Cup clash with United coming up and a run of winnable games in the Premier League, things are beginning to fall into place at Eastlands.

(Manchester City are 6/4 for a Top Four finish this season)

Arsenal: Almost out of nowhere the Gunners are looking like the form team in the title race and are making their run up the table at just the right time. The win over Aston Villa may have been inspired by Cesc Fabregas but the victory at Fratton Park was a true team effort.

Alexandre Song and Abou Diaby continue to impress and it is difficult to argue with Arsene Wenger when he says: “Everybody is telling us to buy strikers, but we have scored 51 goals in 19 Premier League games so we have good balance somewhere.”

(Arsenal are 7/2 to win the Premier League)

Manchester United: Eight goals in two games and the defeats to Aston Villa and Fulham are receding in the memory. The upturn in fortunes are undoubtedly down to defenders returning but the forward players are beginning to hit form as well.

Wayne Rooney (3/1 to be top goalscorer) in particular was majestic at Hull and was then part of a fine team performance at home to Wigan, probably United’s best of the season. Brazilian full back Rafael and Antonio Valencia were also both hugely impressive against the Latics. With Arsenal set to take over United with a win over Bolton on Wednesday, we have a real three-horse title race on our hands.

(Manchester United are 5/2 to win the Premier League)

Liverpool: It may not have been pretty and Rafa Benitez’s side undoubtedly rode their luck, but two wins out of two games and six points is just what was needed to lift the gloom at Anfield after the defeat at Portsmouth.

It will come as no surprise that the match winners were Steven Gerrard (against Wolves) and Fernando Torres (versus Aston Villa), Liverpool may rely on these two but when they are two of the best players in world football it brings obvious benefits.

(Liverpool are 15/8 to have a Top Four finish)

Tottenham: Whilst Aston Villa may look back on their Christmas blip as where it all went wrong, Harry Redknapp’s side stayed in the hunt with a creditable draw at Fulham and then a victory over West Ham that should have been by a larger margin.

Individuals are now standing up for Spurs. Heurelho Gomes was outstanding against Fulham and Tom Huddlestone produced a master class against the Hammers. Tottenham’s next Premier League game is at Anfield which looks like a massive match for both clubs.

(Tottenham are 13/5 to have a Top Four finish)

Chelsea: It wasn’t pretty, but by virtue of gaining four points, it was a decent Christmas for Chelsea. The Blues look unconvincing as Premier League leaders and could easily have come away from matches with Birmingham and Fulham with nothing.

Only a wrongly disallowed goal at St Andrews’ ensured Carlo Ancelotti’s side secured a point and for much of the win over Fulham, Chelsea were laborious and uninspired. The league leaders look set to be without Drogba and Essien for four Premier League games (Hull, Sunderland, Birmingham and Burnley), any slip ups and the momentum may be lost.

(Chelsea are 11/8 favourites to win the Premier League)

Birmingham: The win at Stoke extended their run of unbeaten matches to 11 and matched a club record that had been set in 1908. Alex McLeish should be in line for Manager of the Season and with the riches of Carsen Yeung coming into the club, the sky is the limit for Birmingham.

(Birmingham are 11/1 to have a Top Six finish)

Everton: Now in 11th position, the Toffees look like they should be safe from relegation. Marouane Fellaini has been playing some great stuff in a deeper role after a slow start to the campaign and Everton have now not tasted a Premier League defeat since the Mersyeside derby at the end of November.

(Everton are 129/1 to win the Without Top Four market)

Bad Christmas

Gary Megson: The “Ginger Mourinho” paid the price for a leaky defence that failed to keep a clean sheet all season in the league. There are though plenty of reasons to feel sorry for Megson.

Not least because Bolton have two games in hand on many of their relegation rivals and that results in recent weeks have picked up, the Trotters were undefeated in four games. Megson’s time at the Reebok is aptly summed up by Ivan Klasnic, a player he signed from obscurity in France’s second division and who he substituted to a round of boos on Tuesday night.

(Bolton are 14/5 to be relegated)

Aston Villa: Two defeats to rival teams and the memories of last season’s collapse in the second half of the season have returned. Quite simply, Villa do not have at their disposal match winners of the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Torres who did the damage over the two losses.

Questions have also been raised about the high octane game employed by Martin O’Neill at Villa Park. Perhaps Villa are paying the price for working so hard in the first half of the campaign.

(Aston Villa  are 9/2 to win the Without Top Four market)

Fulham: Similar to Villa, Fulham also close down the opposition incredibly quickly and invest a huge amount of energy on being defensively tight. In truth though the Cottagers have had a wonderful 2009 and could well have come away with all six points against Spurs and Chelsea had the rub of the green gone their way.

(Fulham are 17/2 to have a Top Six finish)

Sunderland: Over the two Christmas matches, Sunderland conceded the lead three times and have now not tasted victory since beating Arsenal in November. The wheels are falling off for Steve Bruce’s side and in yet another indication of the nature of the Premier League, could get sucked into the relegation battle.

(Sunderland are 24/1 to be relegated)

Blackburn: Two tame draws leave Blackburn where they have been all season, looking like they will avoid relegation but it will be tight.

(Blackburn are 9/1 to be relegated)

Wolves: The momentum from wins over Bolton, Spurs and Burnley has been lost, losing 5-0 on aggregate over Christmas. Wolves didn’t look like taking much from either game and are now just a point off the bottom three.

(Wolves are 6/1 to finish rock bottom)

Hull: Stephen Hunt provided some festive cheer at Bolton but the Tigers are crying out for the return of Jimmy Bullard.

(Hull are 100/30 to finish rock bottom)

Wigan: A second 5-0 defeat to Manchester United this season has reinforced Wigan’s position as the side with the worst defence in the Premier League having let in 44 so far this season. Just a point above the relegation zone, Roberto Martinez’s genius has yet to come to the fore and he could be a busy man in the January transfer window.

(Wigan are 19/1 to finish rock bottom)

Stoke: Along with rock bottom Portsmouth and annual chokers Aston Villa, Stoke lost both games over Christmas without scoring a goal and are another side being dragged into the relegation zone who we all thought would be safe this season.

Portsmouth: Two defeats over the festive period and a winding up order from HM Revenue & Customs leaves Pompey in dire straits. Four points adrift in 20th position and Avram Grant has admitted he needs new players; it seems much more likely that Portsmouth will lose their remaining sellable assets in January.

The 2008 FA Cup winners are in freefall.

(Portsmouth are 6/4 favourites to finish rock bottom)