Premier League: what did you miss over the Christmas break?
Chelsea stunned by Spurs, Lampard commits to Man City and Steven Gerrard says farewell to Liverpool
After another hectic Christmas and New Year programme Man City and Chelsea are neck and neck at the top of the table, while two of the division's biggest stars made important announcements about their futures and the Premier League managerial merry-go-round swung into action.
Here's what's been happening over the past few days.
Chelsea get the new year blues:
On paper Chelsea's Christmas did not go that badly and they remain top of the table, just. But the Blues' stunning 5-3 defeat to Spurs on New Year's Day leaves them level on points with Man City and with an identical goal tally. At the end of November Jose Mourinho's men were running away with the title and led City by eight points, they have thrown that lead away in eight games and dropped five more points in three games over the festive period. The Blues beat West Ham, but drew with Southampton and then conceded five against Spurs – only the second time that has happened in Mourinho's managerial career.
Chelsea did make it through the FA Cup clash with Watford, but there was more embarrassment for Mourinho when he was forced to apologise for criticising referee Kevin Friend after the match. The Chelsea boss said Friend's decision not to award the Blues a penalty for handball in the build-up to one of their goals was part of a "campaign" against his team. He backed down after Friend explained he had been playing advantage.
Man City on the rise:
After a pedestrian start to the season the defending champions finally look like they want to defend their crown and are top of the Premier League form table, if not the table proper.
Despite throwing away a 2-0 lead against Burnley at the Etihad City took another three points out of leaders Chelsea over the Christmas period as Frank Lampard once again proved what an inspired signing he was by scoring the winner in a 3-2 thriller against Sunderland on New Year's Day.
Even more importantly, City have also extended the former Chelsea star's contract to the end of the season. The 36-year-old had been due to join MLS side New York City this month but will now remain in England until the end of the campaign. It would be a bitter pill for Chelsea if the veteran inspired City to another title.
Farewell Steven Gerrard:
Liverpool's Christmas was overshadowed by the news that legendary skipper Steven Gerrard will quit the club at the end of the season. The talismanic midfielder said the decision to leave was the "toughest" of his career and vowed not to join a potential rival as he could "never contemplate" playing against the Reds. The 34-year-old is expected to join an MLS club in the US.
On the pitch Liverpool notched seven points out of nine, beating Burnley and Swansea before an unexpected home draw against Leicester on New Year's Day dashed their hopes of a perfect Christmas run. However, the Reds' rise up the table continues and the 4-1 win over Swansea was particularly encouraging for Brendan Rodgers's men.
Same old Arsenal:
Arsenal fans would not have been surprised by the way the festive programme went. Wins against QPR and West Ham were followed by what could be an important defeat against Southampton on New Year's Day. That result left the Saints three points above the Gunners and also showcased Arsenal's ability to self destruct at the back as Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny combined to gift Southampton the win.
Just as worrying was the sight of a furious fan rushing onto the pitch to remonstrate with Wenger late in the game. He was bundled away by stewards, but he is thought to be an Arsenal fan and his actions highlight the increasing divisions over Wenger's reign.
Then, as usual for the Gunners, there was a morale-boosting response with Alexis Sanchez providing another masterclass as Arsenal beat Hull in the FA Cup.
Spurs wish it could be Christmas every day:
If there is one club that prospers over Christmas it would appear to be Spurs. Tottenham are unbeaten in ten years on Boxing Day after seeing off Leicester City and they followed that up with a draw with Man United. If that could be considered a success, it pales in comparison to the Lilywhites' expoits on New Year's Day, when they put five past Thibaut Courtois and the Chelsea defence in one of the games of the season so far.
Harry Kane was brilliant as he scored twice against Spurs' London rivals and the result also propelled them above Arsenal in the table.
If Spurs can maintain the momentum they gained over Christmas they could make a charge for the top four in the new year.
Everton in trouble:
The award for worst Christmas goes to Everton, who lost all three of their Premier League games over the festive period. The Toffees have now lost four in a row and are only four points above the relegation zone. Things could get even worse this week when they face high-flying West Ham in the third round of the FA Cup.
Manager Roberto Martinez has made his displeasure clear, and has demanded a response from his players. However, Toffees fans can take a crumb of comfort from the fact that three of the four defeats were away from home and four of their next five games are at home – although they include visits from Man City and Liverpool.
After a bloodless start to the season, the guillotine came out at Christmas. First to go was Crystal Palace boss Neil Warnock after a 3-1 Boxing Day defeat to Southampton. His exit precipitated the departure of Alan Pardew from Newcastle, and the unpopular Magpies boss had been installed as Palace manager in time for their FA Cup victory over Dover on Sunday.
The other Christmas casualty was Alan Irvine of West Brom who was sacked after the Baggies' third straight defeat, a 2-0 loss at Stoke on 28 December. His replacement is Tony Pulis who was in charge in time for the FA Cup match against Gateshead. He made his presence felt by moving from the stands to the dugout to inspire his side to a 7-0 win.
Big guns survive the FA Cup:
The third round of the FA Cup, billed as the most romantic weekend of the season, failed to sweep the Premier League off its feet as only one top flight club fell to lower division opposition. QPR, whose cup record is nothing short of dire, were the unlucky side, beaten by Sheffield United of League One, who specialise in giant killing.
Newcastle and Hull were also bundled out of the competition by teams from the same division, with Leicester beating the Magpies and Arsenal overcoming the Tigers. But with two more all-Premier League ties in the offing this week, Liverpool heading to Wimbledon and Southampton facing a replay there will be between 13 and 15 top flight teams in the fourth round.