A chaotic Christmas period ended with no changes in the bottom three of the Premier League, while Leicester City’s unlikely title charge continued in uncompromising fashion. The Foxes topped the Christmas Day table on merit, representing the continuation of this season’s overriding theme – that of revolution.
December never fails to produce drama in the Premier League, and the final month of 2015 proved to be no exception, as fans were treated to a plethora of surprise results. Such results were made possible only by heroic performances on the pitch, and faultless tactical planning in the dressing room, with five standout examples to reflect upon.
GW15 – HOWE V CHELSEA
5th December 2015
Many neutrals feared that the long term injury to Callum Wilson would prove fatal to the Cherries’ survival aspirations, and a winless run in the autumn appeared to justify such thoughts.
While Bournemouth’s struggle for survival continues, Howe’s charges remain firmly in control of the club’s destiny after a strong end to the year and a few performances of unmatched spirit. With Glenn Murray in the squad, the absence of Wilson is now barely noticeable, and his strike against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge firmly established him as the new danger man on the South Coast.
For Howe, employing a 4-1-4-1 formation was not much of a choice, but in a classic display of ‘rope-a-dope’ (of which even the great Muhammad Ali would have been proud!), the physical presence of Simon Francis was enough to frustrate Chelsea’s ‘world class’ midfielders at every turn.
After a goalless 80 minutes, a straight swap enabled a pair of fresh legs in Glenn Murray to enter the fray. With Chelsea tiring, it was almost inevitable that Murray would strike within two minutes of his introduction.
Key Players: Glenn Murray & Simon Francis
GW16 – MCLAREN V TOTTENHAM
13th December 2015
Many would call it a coincidence, but both of Newcastle’s goals were scored within three minutes of a substitution. After a woeful first half in North London, the Newcastle squad could count themselves fortunate not to be further behind.
The Tottenham pressure continued past the hour mark with no further goals, but the deployment of attacking duo Ayoze Perez and Alexander Mitrovic (for the ineffective duo of Siem De Jong and Papiss Cisse) gave the visitors a new element of danger.
Tottenham’s young squad was woefully unprepared for Newcastle’s newfound blend of combativeness and flair, leading to an equaliser within minutes of Mitrovic’s introduction.
Key Players: Ayoze Perez and Alexander Mitrovic
GW17 – NEIL V MAN UTD
19th December 2015
Daley Blind and Ashley Young’s unsuitability in the fullback positions clearly unsettled the central defensive pairing of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. Their status as internationals was rendered meaningless, as unanswered goals from Cameron Jerome and Alexander Tettey gave the visitors a 2-0 lead with minimal intervention from manager Alex Neil.
Having seen that scoreline maintained well into the second half, Louis van Gaal inevitably rang the changes. Ander Herrera is one of few United players that is eligible for any praise after an indifferent first half to the 2015/16 campaign, and in replacing the impotent Marouane Fellaini, the Spaniard added a greater amount of balance to the ailing midfield.
Aided by this newfound solidarity in midfield, Anthony Martial could not fail to thrive off the improved service, duly netting an assist from Wayne Rooney within just six minutes of that change. To nullify the newfound threat level, Norwich manager Neil was astute enough to make an immediate change, with Jonny Howson entering the fray (for Wes Hoolahan) and adding ballast to a midfield that was about to endure intense pressure.
The introduction of midfield ‘enforcer’ Yussuf Mulumbu for the final ten minutes added further freshness and physical prowess to a tiring midfield, enabling Norwich to reach the finish line and claim a first win at Old Trafford since 1989.
Key Player: Cameron Jerome
GW18 – KOEMAN V ARSENAL
26th December 2015
With Ronald Koeman’s meticulously phased substitutions, the Saints made a mockery of Arsenal’s title credentials in a resounding 4-0 win.
Refusing to compromise on their standard formation of 4-2-3-1, Southampton were already 2-0 up by the hour mark. However, the introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain provided Southampton with a new challenge of pace that could exploit their mounting fatigue.
Foreseeing this, a midfield change was made in immediate response to Chamberlain’s introduction, with Oriol Romeu replacing Clasie to bolster the defensive half of the midfield. A third goal, scored within moments of this change, fully vindicated Koeman’s decision. Mere minutes after the third goal, Dusan Tadic replaced James Ward-Prowse, as the emphasis shifted towards ball retention.
Southampton’s fourth and final unanswered goal came from an assist for Tadic, completing the Koeman masterclass of ‘Total Football’.
Key Player: Shane Long
GW19 – POCHETTINO V WATFORD
28th December 2015
With a plethora of promising international players, lead by a young, fast-learning manager, Tottenham are capturing the imaginations of many neutrals.
Danny Rose and Kieran Tripper continued to flourish in advanced roles in the match at Vicarage Road, while Eric Dier’s new role at centre back enabled him to play to his main strength of distribution from defence. It was ultimately the deployment of Trippier in the new position that proved decisive, with Watford fullback Nathan Ake’s dismissal weakening the Watford left flank and providing him with greater creative freedom.
Key Player: Kieran Trippier