For the second year in a row, the spirit of Boxing Day was somewhat dampened for Premier League fans. The festive footballing feast was plagued by empty stadiums last year, and this time around we had to make do with seven matches rather than the usual ten.
However, seven matches were in itself an improvement over the previous Matchweek’s tally of four, and in the circumstances a decent return amidst ongoing whispers that the league could be postponed altogether.
Whilst the Boxing Day goal tally didn’t quite hit the heights of 1963, the Premier League still served up a whirlwind of attacking football, with a total of 30 goals across the seven matches. Among the highlights was Manchester City’s chaotic 6-3 win over Leicester City, Arsenal’s 5-0 battering of Norwich City on the road, and Southampton’s thrilling 3-2 victory at West Ham.
With plenty of action to digest, here are our five Stars of the Week from the Boxing day matchweek.
Goalkeeper: David De Gea (Manchester United)
After over two weeks of continuous match postponements, Manchester United’s long-awaited return to action certainly didn’t live up to the hype, with the Red Devils turning in a poor performance against Newcastle in a 1-1 draw.
Whilst United were lucky to escape from the North East with a point, the outcome could’ve been even worse for them had David De Gea not put in a stellar display in goal. The United No.1 was powerless to stop Allan Saint-Maximin’s early opener, but later made a point-blank stop from the same player, as well as a stunning late save from a Miguel Almiron strike that looked destined for the top corner.
Overall, the Spaniard made seven saves from eight shots on target, underling the excellent individual performance he had at St James’ Park.
Defender: Kieran Tierney (Arsenal)
Whilst Manchester United struggled, Arsenal enjoyed an excellent Boxing Day away at Norwich City. In a rich vein of form right now, the Gunners recorded a 5-0 win against the Canaries in a near-perfect performance.
At left back, Scotland international Kieran Tierney was just one of many players who gave a terrific display at Carrow Road. Although it has to be said that the defensive side of his game went relatively unchallenged due to Norwich’s lacklustre attacking play, it was going forward where Tierney shone.
A constant threat down the left, it was Tierney’s gut busting run and composed finish that put Arsenal 2-0 up in the first half, with his first goal of the season.
A fine day’s work for Tierney, even if the standard of the opposition wasn’t particularly high.
Midfielder: Lucas Moura (Tottenham Hotspur)
After suffering from a number of match postponements of their own, Tottenham’s impressive resurgence under Antonio Conte continued this Matchweek with a comfortable 3-0 win over London rivals Crystal Palace, avenging the 3-0 defeat that Spurs had suffered at the hands of Palace back in September.
With Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane continuing their strong recent form in this match, it was the renascent performance of attacking midfielder Lucas Moura that will have given Conte great encouragement.
After giving Palace a warning sign with an early header that went narrowly wide, Moura helped give Spurs the lead with a lightning-fast run and square pass that gave Harry Kane an easy finish. A magnificent leap and downwards header from Moura doubled Tottenham’s lead a couple of minutes later. The Brazilian was at it again in the second half, when his pinpoint low cross was touched home by Son for 3-0.
On the back of this performance, it looks like Lucas Moura is one of many to be benefitting from Conte’s impact at Tottenham.
Forward: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea)
After some wobbly form in recent matches, title-chasing Chelsea looked much better on Boxing Day against Aston Villa, emerging as 3-1 winners. Having struggled with injury and illness over the last couple of months, it was record signing Romelu Lukaku who returned to make a massive difference for the Blues in this match.
Substituted on at half-time with his side level at 1-1, Lukaku made the most of his side’s persistent crossing by reaching Callum Hudson-Odoi’s ball with a deft header to give Chelsea the lead, just ten minutes after coming onto the field. A constant thorn in Villa’s side, Lukaku outmuscled Matt Targett before being brought down by Ezri Konsa in injury time to earn his side a second penalty that was despatched by Jorginho to seal the points.
This was a much-needed remedy for both Lukaku and Chelsea, and it’s clear that his presence will be vital to the Blues’ title hopes.
Manager: Ralph Hasenhuttl (Southampton)
Amidst all of the entertaining and sometimes chaotic games that the teams near the top of the table treated us to, this week’s Star Manager award actually goes to somebody completely different; Southampton’s Ralph Hasenhuttl.
The Saints have endured a number of increasingly frustrating results in recent weeks, and were looking at the possibility of facing more of the same against West Ham, an opposition the Saints often tend to fare poorly against. Instead, the South Coast side put in a brilliant performance with plenty of attacking intent, and despite being pegged back twice, emerged as 3-2 winners following Jan Bednarek’s 70th minute header.
It was the team’s first win since November 5th, and an absolutely vital one to propel them upwards into mid-table. Hasenhuttl’s brave approach more than paid off, and there is plenty of life in this team yet.
Manchester City and England fan. Writer of opinion and features on all things Premier League and beyond.