The English Premier League has a long-standing tradition of having every team play a game on the 26th of December, no matter what day of the week this is. This is no random date though, as the 26th of December is an English holiday called Boxing Day. This date always provides a high television attendance rating as there is not many other sporting events across the world that takes place. This idea is similar to the NFL playing on Thanksgiving and the NBA playing on Christmas day. This year, there was not much of a game to look forward to though as the schedule did not necessarily provide any top quality soccer match. However, there were definitely some games that are worth re-watching. Some key fixtures and analysis follow:
Everton vs Wigan Athletic
Goodison Park played host to Wigan in front of nearly 39,000 supporters. The visitors had reason to fear coming into the game as Everton have untraditionally made a fast start to season; 30 points in only 18 games making them a resounding 5th place. Wigan, meanwhile, sits near the foot of the table in the relegation zone at 18th place with only 15 points from their 18 matches. The game did provide some entertainment was Everton claimed a 2-1 victory with strikes from Leon Osman in the 52nd minute and Phil Jagielka in the 77th minute, before Arouna Koné gave Wigan a lifeline in the 82nd minute.
This game marked a special occasion for Everton’s Phil Neville as he made his 500th Premier League appearance (becoming only the seventh player to do so) and celebrated this day with a game winning assist. There were other special moments of the game such as when Shaun Maloney (Wigan) had thought he won a penalty but there was no whistle from Lee Mason, but none more so than when Everton came close to scoring after only 13 seconds when Victor Anichebe shot just wide off a Darron Gibson cross. More drama followed later in the game as Koné was denied by a superb block from Neville when the score line was still 1-0 Everton. Wigan continued to applied pressure after Koné eventually scored, but they could not find an equalizer as the Everton defense held tight.
Why this Game was Important?
Everton may very well be the surprise of the season if they continue in their current form. They are a legitimate challenge to the top 4 (meaning potential Champions League play in the near future) and have one of the revelations of the season in Maroune Fellaini. Everton need him to stay if they have a shot at cementing their top 4 status.
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Manchester United vs Newcastle
In front of 75,596 supporters at Old Trafford, Manchester United once again proved they are the comeback kings after defeating Newcastle 4-3 with an injury time winner from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. Newcastle has not won at the Theatre of Dreams since 1972, but it seemed destined for the trend to snap as they took the lead on three different occasions. They opened the scoring in on the 4th minute through a James Perch strike (granted De Gea should have done much better on the original shot from Demba Ba) before another rebound goal was scored on the opposite end by Johnny Evans in the 25th minute. Evans would go on to double his tally; however his deflected effort crossed the wrong goal line to send Newcastle into a 2-1 lead after 30 minutes. Patrice Evra would level the scoring through a nifty shot in the 58th minute before Newcastle once again took the lead through Pappa Demba Cisse ten minutes later. Newcastle held this lead for only three minutes before Robin van Persie scored his 16th of the season in the 71st minute. The scoring cooled down for a while until the 90th minute when Michael Carrick played a great pass over the defense for Chicharito to complete the comeback and give United the full 3 points.
Why this Game was Important?
Manchester United has had a bad habit of conceding many goals and finding themselves in losing positions. However, they are ‘mighty’ United and you can never count them out as this win (coupled with Manchester City’s surprising defeat to Sunderland) gave them a 7-point gap a top the table. This game shows that Manchester United need to bolster the defense in the January transfer window or Ferguson has got to work his magic with what he has got because he cannot rely on the Manchester United attack to continue to score at will.
Newcastle, on other hand, were a surprising story last year with how well they played before finishing the season in 5th place. Pappa Demba Cisse was one of the players of the year and Demba Ba was not far behind. Newcastle, however, have dropped the ball this year in the Premier League sitting in 15th place with only 20 points from their 19 outings. If only they could replicate their European form where they are currently in the Round of 32 in the Europa League.
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Norwich City vs Chelsea
Juan Mata scored the game winner for Chelsea late in the first half after a sweet shot from outside the box found the far post after a splitting pass from Oscar. This gives Mata his sixth goal in only 8 games, showing what an important piece he is to the Chelsea attack. This game was rather boring by comparison to most Premier League games as neither team could get hold of the game. There were few points of quality on exhibit as emphasized by two of David Luiz’s shots that were nowhere near being on target. Both teams continued to push and it was only a smart save from Bunn that kept Norwich in the game after Mata took a quick free kick.
Frank Lampard (one of the other seven to have made at least 500 appearances in the Premier League) made an appearance later in the game and helped to solidify the win for Chelsea. He has been the focal point of many transfer talks lately, but his last few performances have shown that Chelsea need him and especially so when John Obi Mikel leaves to take his place in the African Cup of Nations.
Why this Game was Important?
Chelsea now sit in 3rd place with 35 points and have a game in hand over both United and City (1st and 2nd respectively) meaning that if Chelsea win that extra game, they will only be 1 point out of second and 8 behind United. 8 points sounds like a lot, but it was only last year that Manchester United dropped a 7-point lead in the standings to eventually finish in second place after Manchester City beat United on goal differential. Chelsea started the season in great form but hit a major slump leading to the sacking of club legend, Roberto Di Matteo. Ex-Liverpool boss, Rafael Benitez, was given the realms and has actually helped turn around Chelsea’s fortune and is partly credited with the increasing strike rate from Fernando Torres.
Norwich City, on the other hand, has also done fairly well for them being just out of the top half of the table in11th place. They have defeated both Arsenal and Manchester United with 1-0 score lines at Carrow Road this year, showing that they can come to play in their own stadium.
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Here are the other score lines from Boxing Day:
Fulham 1 – Southampton 1
(Berbatov 8th min and Lambert 85th min)
West Brom 2 – QPR 1
(Cisse 68th and Brunt 29th, Green Own Goal 49th)
Reading 0 – Swansea 0
Aston Villa 0 – Tottenham 4
(Defoe 57th, Bale 61st, 73rd and 84th)
Stoke City 3 – Liverpool 1
(Jones 12th, Walters 5th,49th and Gerrard 2nd)
Arsenal and West Ham postponed