The New Year brings new Premier League action with every team making three points their resolution for the day.
After the New Year closed with Liverpool’s thumping win over Arsenal and both Manchester clubs finding their feet again, the top of the table looks as competitive as ever. Just below them, though, two points separates seventh from 11th before the relegation scrap begins towards the bottom third of the league.
We’ve taken a look at all three of the matches on New Year’s Day to pick out the keys to the games.
Everton vs Leicester
With the midtable so tightly packed together, this could be a key game to put some distance between positional rivals. Both teams are coming off the back of disappointing losses (to Brighton and Cardiff respectively) so will even even more motivated to try and get a victory.
It was Everton who won in the reverse fixture, winning 2-1 at the King Power Stadium. Gylfi Sigurdsson nabbed the winner, his fourth in four games at the time, but after that the goals dried up — he’s only scored four since.
The goals have dried up all around at Leicester: there have only been three games in their last ten in the league where both teams have scored. It’s not done them any harm at all though, with back-to-back triumphs against Chelsea and Manchester City over the festive period.
It could be a clash of opposite extremes. Everton racked up the goals over Christmas, 14 goals either side of the big day against Tottenham and Burnley.
If their defeat to Brighton is anything to go by then they seem to have slowed down, though. Not only didn’t they score, but their 13 shots and four shots on target are broadly league average levels. Leicester might be able to limit them even further.
Arsenal vs Fulham
Arsenal’s surge towards the top four was brought to a crashing halt against Liverpool, but Fulham will be a team that they’ll be glad to come up against afterwards.
Or, at least, they would if they were just looking at the table. The Cottagers are 19th, but Claudio Ranieri has overseen a slow but steady improvement during his time in charge.
Their fixture schedule has been relatively kind, but the Italian has moved Fulham from an absolutely dire team to a league average one. Before he joined, Fulham were creating just 0.98 expected goals per game and conceding a dismal 2.23; since then, they’re in the black, on 1.44 and 1.4 per game.
It’s no wonder, then, that Ranieri ‘wanted to kill’ Aboubakar Kamara after the striker took the ball off Aleksandar Mitrovic to take, and miss, a late penalty against Huddersfield. Fulham had just wasted points against Wolves, when the Midlands team got a late equaliser, and it looked as though it was all happening again.
Thankfully for Fulham, Mitrovic popped up with a goal and give Ranieri’s side something to show for their effort, and their improvement.
Arsenal’s performances across the season mean they deserve their fifth place — no higher, no lower. Unai Emery will still be expecting a win, particularly at home, but it looks like a midtable side they’re coming up against, rather than a relegation candidate.
Cardiff vs Tottenham
Both sides were involved in shock results to end 2018, with Cardiff beating Leicester and Tottenham falling 3-1 to Wolves.
Tottenham fans have been lamenting the lack of depth in midfield for a while and, against Nuno Espirito Santo’s side, it finally came home to roost. Five wins on the bounce had papered over cracks of a middle of the park that featured Harry Winks at the base of a diamond. Winks is not a defensive player.
Solidifying the centre with a diamond also meant that Spurs have had to sacrifice some of the width that they struggled to keep even with a fully fit squad. Cardiff, meanwhile — unsurprisingly for a team coached by Neil Warnock — are wing heavy.
Spurs won the return fixture, but only just, 1-0. That was at Wembley, and Cardiff have won four of their last six home games. Could the Bluebirds make it two wins in a row for the first time this season?
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