Santa's been! Santa's been! Santa's been!

Yes, it's the most wonderful time of the year and we're all awfully excited that the big man has been.

But we're even more excited by the familiarity of a hectic Premier League schedule over the next few days!

We appreciate you may be about to tuck into your dinner or snoozing after over-indulging already, but why not digest some tasty Christmas Premier League facts before cracking on with the next beer?

Wondering where you might enjoy such a gem? Well, we have you covered below, with the help of the happy little elves at Opta.

A CRUZ FOR SANTA IN DECEMBER

We ho ho hope you don't mind a little Christmas gag to headline this section to get us cracking…

It seemed only fitting to start with a bit of a coincidence that a man with a festive theme in his name is responsible for the best minutes-per-goal ratio during the month of December (a minimum of six goals).

That man is ex-Blackburn Rovers striker Roque Santa Cruz, who netted nine times in 846 minutes for a ratio of 94 minutes per goal.

Just like Rudolph and the rest of the gang at the end of a busy Christmas Eve shift, Santa Cruz can still be reined in.

Divock Origi has eight December goals in 760 minutes for a goal every 95 minutes (just better than Mick Quinn's eight in 779 for a ratio of one every 97.4 mins). Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah has scored a mightily impressive 23 goals in December, with a minutes-to-goals ratio of 102.1.

MAYNOR THE KING OF THE CHRISTMAS CRACKERS?

Paper hats, Christmas jokes and cheaply assembled plastic toys…you all love pulling a cracker at Christmas!

And there have been many crackers scored in the month of December in the Premier League – not least Maynor Figueroa's 60.5-yard effort for Wigan Athletic against Stoke City back in 2009, which remains the longest of long-range goals in the competition during the final month of the calendar year.

The full-back's quick thinking with a free-kick from his own half caught Thomas Sorensen off guard and nestled in the back of the goal.

Former Portsmouth man Matt Taylor had a penchant for a long-range goal and his famous audacious volley against Everton in 2006 measured in at 40.6 yards.

Juan Mata (39.9 yards for Man Utd v Stoke), Sebastian Larsson (39.4 yards for Birmingham City versus Wigan) and Kevin De Bruyne (38.3 yards for Manchester City v Crystal Palace) all rank in the top five.

LLORIS AND THE KEEPERS GIFTING OUT THE GOODS

Christmas, at least under normal circumstances, is a time for spending time with loved ones and eating copious amounts of foods that aren't particularly good for us.

It is also, of course, if we're being honest, a time to exchange tat by the Christmas tree and say a silent prayer the generous buyer has kept the receipts.

Obviously, in football you're not supposed to be generous with your gifts – but Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has been particularly forthcoming with presents for opposition teams at this time of year.

The France World Cup winner has committed seven errors in the month of December, a Premier League high and one more than Red Devils number one David de Gea.

SANTA'S NOT THE ONLY LAPLAND VISITOR

Santa makes his annual jolly around the globe to deliver presents to all the good boys and girls but back in 2001 there was another who heralded from Lapland to visit England.

Finland international Hannu Tihinen arrived on loan at West Ham from Norwegian side Viking and fittingly made his Premier League debut on Boxing Day!

In total he made only eight Premier League appearances, winning just once in England's top flight.

Perhaps the difference in quality was just – ahem – poles apart for Tihinen, who was nonetheless part of the side that memorably defeated Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup early in 2002.

RED DEVILS TOP OF THE TREE

The old cliche is that it means nothing to be top at Christmas…but for the sake of the jokes in this piece it's very important to be top of the tree come December 25!

Manchester United have sat in such a position on seven occasions, more than any other team, but Liverpool – six times – are the only side to hold top spot three seasons running having done so in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

In total, 11 sides have managed to be top at Christmas – Chelsea (5), Manchester City (3) and Arsenal (2) unsurprisingly also doing so. Norwich City, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United (2), Aston Villa, Leeds United and Leicester City have also achieved the honour.

There have been 15 instances of a team being in first place on December 25 and jingling all the way to the Premier League title, but nothing can be wrapped up this early in the season.

SNOW-BODY DOES IT BETTER THAN SHEARER OVER CHRISTMAS

For a man with 260 Premier League goals to his name, it should come as no surprise to hear that the player with the most goals scored in the period from December 26 to January 5 is Alan Shearer.

The Newcastle United great netted 23 times between those dates, five more than the 18 celebrated by former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler.

Dimitar Berbatov and Jermain Defoe each have 17, the same amount as Tottenham star Harry Kane, who has Shearer's record in his sights.

JESUS RISES TO THE OCCASION

Christmas for many is mainly a secular celebration nowadays but the traditional meaning of the holiday season is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

In the Premier League, there have been six occasions of a player with Jesus in their name scoring a December goal – five of which were from Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus.

The other was netted by former City winger Jesus Navas, who fittingly at this time of year often delivered for others – producing six December assists and amassing 74 crosses from open play.

You would surely have got good odds on Barcelona being the first club to splash the cash in the January transfer window, what with them reportedly not having any.

However, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola confirmed at a news conference on Thursday that Ferran Torres is on the verge of leaving the Etihad Stadium for Camp Nou, with the deal worth up to a reported £55million.

It may seem curious for Barca to be spending such amounts of money given the financial issues that meant they struggled to register new players at the start of the season until they had eased the wage bill, even leading to Lionel Messi having to leave for Paris Saint-Germain.

A recent bank loan has apparently enabled the deal, and Torres appears like the kind of forward-thinking signing the club should have been making in recent years instead of some of the more ill-thought-out moves that have been made.

New Barca boss Xavi is aiming to spearhead a new era with a club that has lost its way of late, with the nadir arguably being the humbling Champions League exit at the group stage.

With all that being said, is this actually a deal that would make sense for all parties? Stats Perform takes a closer look at what appears to be the first big deal of the upcoming January transfer window.

Why Barcelona want the player

When he joined City from his hometown club Valencia in August last year, Torres was considered to be one of the more promising youngsters to come out of Spain as a pacey wide forward.

Although it was a slow start in England for the then 20-year-old, a hat-trick for Spain in the 6-0 Nations League demolition of Germany was soon followed by his first Premier League goal in a 5-0 win against Burnley, before Torres went on to score a further six in the league last season, including an impressive treble in a 4-3 win at Newcastle.

It may well be his form for the Spanish national side that caught the eye of the power brokers at Camp Nou, though, with that hat-trick against Germany contributing to the 12 goals he has bagged for La Roja, including two at the re-arranged Euro 2020 tournament against Slovakia and Croatia.

A brace in the 2-1 Nations League win against Italy in October illustrated his quality, but a foot injury has kept Torres from playing since the final defeat to France in that competition.

Meanwhile, Barca headed into the winter break in seventh place in LaLiga, just two points off the top four but a whopping 18 behind leaders Real Madrid, albeit with a game in hand.

Despite their struggles without Messi, the Blaugrana are joint-third for goals scored (29), behind only Madrid (41) and Real Betis (32).

However, only Memphis Depay (eight) has scored more than three league goals, with second top scorer Ansu Fati managing to play just five games so far.

The loss of Messi was a huge blow, but it could be argued that Barca have actually missed Luis Suarez more since the Uruguayan was inexplicably allowed to move to Atletico Madrid after the 2019-20 season.

Martin Braithwaite was never likely to replace Suarez's goals, scoring 10 in 56 appearances (22 starts) since signing from Leganes in February 2020, and Luuk de Jong has managed just one in 12 appearances (six starts) since arriving on loan from Sevilla in September, with the Dutchman appearing to be heading out the door soon in any case.

Although he started life as a wide player, Torres seems to have been permanently reinvented as a central striker, which could be exactly what Xavi is after given his best attackers in Depay, Fati and Ousmane Dembele all prefer playing out wide.

Torres has bagged 16 goals in all competitions for Manchester City, as well as 12 for his country in less than 18 months.

It might not quite be the old 'MSN' attack of Messi, Suarez and Neymar, but if Xavi has Torres along with Dembele, Fati and Depay to call on, he will still boast one of the strongest looking forward lines in Spain.

Why Manchester City are happy to let the player go

It feels like a similar situation to the one that saw Leroy Sane move back to Germany with Bayern Munich last year.

Firstly, it seems clear that the move is happening because the player wants it rather than the selling club, but City will still be happy with the eventual deal should it go through.

"If he wants to leave, absolutely no disappointment," Guardiola said on Thursday.

"It's his desire. I'm happy for him. If you want to leave because you're not happy here, you believe you'll be happy in another place, you have to go. The career is short."

Torres has looked impressive for most of his short City career, but more than doubling their approximate £21million outlay on the player in less than 18 months represents a good deal in anyone's book.

He ended last season looking like he was about to become a breakout star at the Etihad, but with the arrival of Jack Grealish and return to form of Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling, it is difficult to see where Torres would get regular games away from the centre forward position, where he began this campaign.

City's failed efforts to sign Harry Kane in the summer suggested that Pep wanted more from his ultimate replacement for Sergio Aguero.

Torres boasts the best goals per 90 minutes record of any City player since he arrived in August 2020 (0.55), but his chances created total (29) was only marginally better than defensive midfielder Fernandinho (26), and well behind all other main attacking players.

It seems like the player is now more of a goal getter than a goal provider, but Guardiola probably feels he can still bring in a super elite player like Kane or Erling Haaland in the next couple of windows to fulfil that role, which would further leave Torres as a fringe player.

 

Why Torres wants the move

On the face of it, one can assume it is a simple desire to return to his home country. Torres joined City as a 20-year-old, and it would be no surprise, particularly given the way of the world since then, if he is feeling a tad homesick.

However, from a football perspective, it looks like a curious one. He will be leaving the champions of England, top of the league again and one of the favourites for the Champions League, to join a Barca side who now reside in the Europa League and who might struggle to even finish in the top four in LaLiga.

As well as returning to more familiar surroundings and much nicer weather, perhaps Torres is intrigued by the idea of leading the next era of Barcelona, obviously still a club with a huge history and reputation, now under the leadership of the legendary Xavi.

At City, Torres has been one of many, more than playing his part but ultimately not being someone Guardiola has relied on in the biggest games. He was an unused substitute in last season's Champions League final defeat to Chelsea.

Torres made 36 appearances in all competitions last term, and started the first six games of this campaign, but due to injury and simply not being selected, has not played in the Premier League since the 1-0 win at Leicester City on September 11.

The prospect of potentially becoming one of the faces of the resurrection of Barcelona will no doubt be a tempting one, even if it is certainly far easier said than done.

As with Sane and Bayern, it seems a simple case of a very talented player being wanted and needed more by the buying club than the selling one, and the deal itself does seem to leave everyone with a reason to be cheerful.

With so much going for it, this might even be one that Barcelona's accountants can stomach.

Brendan Rodgers has joined Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp in warning of the dangers of over-burdening players during England's hectic festive period.

Leicester City manager Rodgers saw his players lose on penalties to Liverpool in the EFL Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday, and he will take them to Manchester City on Sunday before tackling Liverpool again in the Premier League on Tuesday.

Three games in seven days would be a strain in normal times, but with COVID-19 spreading rapidly and injuries beginning to bite for many teams, clubs are having it tougher than usual just now.

A third game was pulled from England's Boxing Day programme on Friday when Everton's trip to Burnley was called off.

Leicester's visit to the Etihad Stadium remained on though, and although the Foxes have fond memories of their 5-2 win at Eastlands last season, Rodgers was only confident enough to say his team would be "as competitive as we can".

Klopp has been firm in his objection to there being so many games in such a short time span, saying his Reds team, hit by injuries and illness, faced an "impossible" task prior to their assignment against Leeds United on Sunday being called off.

City boss Guardiola floated the idea of a strike by players and managers when he spoke on Thursday, as he addressed the issue of player welfare and burden. Guardiola said he doubted that was a realistic option, but merely raising the suggestion was an extraordinary step.

Rodgers agrees too much is being asked of players.

"To be playing Manchester City on Sunday, and then to be playing Liverpool again on Tuesday, it's not good for the players," said the Leicester boss. "Certainly for the health and welfare of them it's not ideal, but obviously it has been said that we have to play on for another two weeks, and then we take it from there.

"So if that's the case we'll just look to be as competitive as we can. We were competitive [against Liverpool]. That's how we'll always try to approach it going forward."

Guardiola's City have won eight games in a row to sweep to the top of the Premier League and open a three-point lead over second-placed Liverpool, while Leicester sit ninth after an unsteady start to their campaign.

There was a hint of envy about Rodgers as he pointed out the Manchester giants had a free midweek, having already been knocked out of the EFL Cup, with the intimation that gave their already formidable team an extra advantage over Leicester.

"They're a brilliant side," Rodgers added. "They've got technical players, world-class players and, and they're used to winning. But we've done OK against them. So it's going to be a big challenge for us.

"We went there last season and got a fantastic win. You know the challenge that you're playing against: they dominate the ball, you've got to be good in transition, and you've got to obviously have the confidence to play so that'll be a challenge for the weekend."

The fixture is an intriguing one, despite Manchester City having won eight of their last 10 Premier League games against Leicester (L2), including a 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture earlier this season.

Leicester's win in Manchester was spectacular last season and featured a Jamie Vardy hat-trick, his second treble against City in the Premier League. Vardy has eight Premier League goals against the Light Blues, with only Alan Shearer (11) and Wayne Rooney (nine) having ever netted more Premier League goals against City than Vardy.

Yet Vardy, who scored twice in the 3-3 thriller against Liverpool on Wednesday before the Reds beat Leicester in a penalty shoot-out, has never scored in six Premier League appearances on Boxing Day. That makes him one of just three players to score over 100 goals in the competition but fail to find the net on Boxing Day, along with Sergio Aguero and Les Ferdinand.

Leicester won three league games in a row away against City between 1995 and 2003, but they have not won back-to-back league wins at City's home since that streak.

The signs point to a likely victory for Guardiola's men, given they are unbeaten in eight home league games on Boxing Day (W6 D2), winning each of the last six in a row. Their last such defeat came in 1996-97 against Port Vale in the second tier (1-0).

Leicester have a rotten recent record, winning just one of their last 11 Premier League games on Boxing Day (D2 L8), though the exception in that run was a 2-1 victory over City on December 26 three years ago.

Rodgers will hope James Maddison can sparkle, with the playmaker having scored in five of his last seven games after a dip in output. In the Premier League alone, Maddison has had six goal involvements (three goals, three assists) in his last four games – as many as in his previous 26 appearances.

"I think he sees that he's a real threat," said Rodgers. "He's starting to get back to the levels and producing, which is what he has to do: create goals, score goals, work hard. And he's doing all of that."

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola says players and coaches should consider going on strike about player welfare concerns to get football authorities to take the issue seriously.

Amid the rising COVID-19 outbreak in the Premier League which has seen games postponed, clubs are scheduled to have three matchdays during the traditional upcoming festive week.

The Man City boss provocatively suggested that players and managers should strike in response to the situation to demand a reduction in their workload.

"Should the players and the managers be all together and make a strike?" Guardiola said during the post-game news conference.

"Just through words it’s not going to be solved. For FIFA, the Premier League, the broadcasters, the business is more important than their welfare.

"The simplest example is all around the world they have five substitutions; here it’s still three. Tell me one argument to take care of players’ welfare than this one? Here, where everyone decides for themselves, we didn’t do it.

"I don't think [a strike would happen] because we want to play, we want to continue. Make the people happy going to the stadium on the 26th, 27th, 29th, 31st [December] and 1st [January] and play games because we love to do that.

"I'm not saying there's a reason to make a strike. But when people say World Cups, European Cups, Carabao Cup semifinals over two legs, and FA Cups and the Premier League; more games and more games and less holidays.

"They need holidays. They need a rest for two or three weeks. And now we talk about welfare for players in that moment? No. It's a problem."

Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) chief executive Maheta Molango reinforced Guardiola's messaging, adding that the issue cannot be ignored any longer.

"I can tell you that it isn't going away. Players don't choose to speak out on issues like this without having given it a lot of thought," he said. "As their union, the PFA enables players to stand together. That unity gives them enormous strength.

"Now it's up to those who run the game at all levels to begin to take this seriously so it's an issue that can be addressed constructively with players at the heart of the conversation. That has to happen now."

It's the most wonderful time of the year… To many that means Christmas, to some it means a packed festive football schedule!

While the relentless flow of Premier League matches at this time of year might seem like overkill for the players, it's a somewhat bizarre British tradition that shows no sign of stopping.

The swift turnaround between matchdays barely gives players a moment to catch their breath, and fantasy football managers (don't say we're not thinking about the big issues…!) have to react quickly as well if they're to make the most of the action.

But if you're one of those players who's liable to forget to make changes around this time of year because you slept through the deadline after eating too much leftover Christmas dinner, Stats Perform has some player tips that might just come in handy for each of the next two matchdays…
 

EDERSON (Manchester City v Leicester City, and Brentford v Manchester City)

Sure, Leicester may have impressed against Liverpool in midweek, but Man City have been impressively resolute at the back again this season.

Unsurprisingly, Ederson leads the way with 10 clean sheets in 2021-22, making him virtually a must-select if you're worried about potentially forgetting to change your goalkeeper between matchdays.

No on else in the division has reached double figures for clean sheets yet this term, and City will fancy their chances of getting a shutout at Brentford in their second game post-Christmas.

EMILE SMITH ROWE (Norwich City v Arsenal, and Arsenal v Wolves)

Christmas time, Emile Smith Rowe and wine…

Forgive us the bad pun, but like mistletoe, Smith Rowe is a solid choice for some festive joy, particularly given Arsenal have two very winnable matches on the horizon.

Ahead of their Boxing Day trip to Norfolk, Smith Rowe is the joint-second highest-scoring Englishman in the Premier League this term with seven goals, highlighting just how much of a threat he's been in 2021-22.

Three of those have come in his last three games as well – hopefully he's the gift that keeps giving.

MARCUS RASHFORD (Newcastle United v Manchester United, and Manchester United v Burnley)

Remember Manchester United? It feels like it's been about two months since they last played, so they'll surely be raring to go when they face Newcastle at St James' Park on Monday.

Myrrhcus (sorry) Rashford will presumably be even more excited than the rest of the team, such is his record against the Magpies.

The England star has seven goal involvements in as many meetings with Newcastle (four goals, three assists), making them his favourite opposition.

Additionally, Newcastle have won just once all season, so there's every chance it won't just be the Christmas turkey getting stuffed.

HARRY KANE (Tottenham v Crystal Palace, and Southampton v Tottenham)

Spurs star Harry Kane loves Boxing Day, so much so that these days he's arguably more synonymous with Christmas than his namesake, Candy.

He'll be hopeful of stocking up again this year as he is just one behind Robbie Fowler's record of nine Boxing Day goals – it's worth saying he looked sharp against Liverpool at the weekend, so who's to say he won't sleigh Crystal Palace?

A trip to Southampton awaits after that, and Saints haven't exactly been watertight at the back recently, conceding 12 goals in their past five Premier League games.

Pep Guardiola has reminded his Manchester City players of their responsibilities after Jack Grealish and Phil Foden were pictured on a night out.

Earlier this week, photographs were published in the Telegraph showing the unmasked England duo believed to be at a nightclub posing for selfies with fans following City's 7-0 rout of Leeds United. 

The pair, whose condition when they reported for a recovery session the following day reportedly angered club staff, were dropped to the bench during last weekend's 4-0 win over Newcastle United.

Guardiola said after the game the changes were made due to behavioural issues off the pitch, though he did not specifically refer to Grealish and Foden.

The club has issued guidelines for their players and staff to follow in light of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in England, but it is unclear whether the midfielders broke any rules.

Addressing the media ahead of his side's scheduled clash with Leicester City on Boxing Day, Guardiola said: "They are not rules, I'm not police. They are old enough to know what they have to do.

"We are not alone in the world, we are living with people. Being careful, we are exposed. Just be careful, that's all.

"In this career, the work on and off the pitch is so important. The managers, too, we have to live for the profession – all the time.

"Otherwise, there are guys who live every second in the profession, they sustain for longer. This message I give to them six years ago, and many times [since].

"You have to prepare, there are a lot of players who live this way, that's why we are consistent."

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola insists he will not stand in the way of Ferran Torres' expected transfer to Barcelona, saying he is happy for the forward.

The Spain international has been heavily linked with a move to Barca, who will reportedly pay an initial €55million (£46.7m) and as much as €10m (£8.5m) in add-ons.

Torres, who arrived from Valencia 18 months ago, has made six appearances for City in all competitions this season, scoring two goals and looked sharp at the start of the season.

However, his momentum stalled after suffering a fractured foot while on international duty at the Nations League in October.

Guardiola acknowledged the opportunity to join his former club Barcelona is difficult for his compatriot to turn down, but he said City will not seek a replacement for the 21-year-old, who has netted 16 times in 43 appearances for the club.

"If you want to leave because you're not happy here and you believe you'll be happy somewhere else, you have to go," Guardiola said.

"A career is short and one day, it's over. If he wants to leave, absolutely no disappointment. I'm happy for him.

"Always, I have the feeling if Barcelona and Real Madrid want a player, it's difficult to say no. They are the strongest teams in the world. 

"He knocked on my door and said he wants to leave; I said leave. I cannot push the players or convince the player if his mind is elsewhere.

"We won't bring in a striker in January."

City are due to welcome Leicester City to the Etihad Stadium on Boxing Day.

The two scheduled early kick-offs were postponed on Thursday, after six of last weekend's 10 Premier League games were also called off.

The league confirmed that scheduled fixtures would continue across the festive period during an emergency meeting between top-flight clubs earlier this week.

Applications for postponements are being considered on a case-by-case basis with emergency measures reintroduced in light of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in England.

"What we want is for people stay safe and well, social distance and wear masks," Guardiola added.

"The welfare for the players should be the most important.

"We are living in special circumstances that we cannot live free like in the past. The pandemic is still here. Everyone has to try to follow as much as possible.

"What the league decides, we support."

Benjamin Mendy has been charged with a further count of rape.

The Manchester City defender had already been charged with six counts of rape and one count of sexual assault and has been held in custody since his arrest in August.

Mendy was charged initially by Cheshire Constabulary in relation to alleged attacks between October 2020 and August 2021.

In November, he was charged with two additional counts of rape, alleged to have taken place in the same timespan.

On Wednesday, Mendy, along with co-defendant Louis Saha Matturie, appeared at Chester Crown Court for a pre-trial hearing.

That court appearance resulted in reporting restrictions on the new charge, which was made earlier in December, being lifted.

Real Madrid saw Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos leave in the off-season.

The Spanish champions have fared well without them, leading LaLiga comfortably.

But Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti wants to add to their backline.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID CONSIDER GOMEZ MOVE

Madrid are lining up a potential move for Liverpool defender Joe Gomez, according to the Daily Mail.

Madrid will monitor the England international defender who has recently returned to fitness ahead of an off-season move.

Los Blancos' priority after 2021-22 is their attack and landing Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe, but they do want to bolster their defensive options.

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool are genuine contenders to sign Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland according to Sky Germany. Madrid, Manchester CityManchester United and PSG have been heavily linked with the Norwegian, but the Reds are in the race.

- Mundo Deportivo claims that Manchester UnitedBarcelona and Madrid are all keeping tabs on Bayern Munich's Kingsley Coman.

- United forward Anthony Martial wants to join Sevilla on loan in January and will hold talks with the club, claims Sky Sports.

- Hoffenheim midfielder Florian Grillitsch is drawing interest from both Tottenham and Roma who will jostle for his services, reports Sky Germany.

- Everton will look to sign Rangers right-back Nathan Patterson again but will need to pay £10m, reports the Daily Mail.

Jurgen Klopp might consider the Christmas and New Year programme an "impossible" task for his stricken Liverpool team, but the Premier League has challenged its clubs to get games on over the coming fortnight.

These games can throw up season-shaping drama, with the packed calendar meaning the stakes are high and stress levels higher, and any manager that chooses to rotate his squad does so at his own risk.

Nobody wants to offer up gifts, despite Santa delivering three goals for Blackburn Rovers in 2007 – Roque Santa Cruz scoring twice in a 2-2 draw with Manchester City on December 27, and adding another in a 2-1 win over Derby County three days later.

Manchester City lead the way in the English top flight this season, ahead of Liverpool and Chelsea.

The 12 days of Christmas are traditionally considered to run from December 25 to January 5, and Stats Perform has looked at that period, assessing prospects for some of this year's games, along with a lesson or two from history.

You're top of the tree, but what makes you think you'll stay there?

In the first 10 seasons of the Premier League, from its launch in 1992-93, the eventual champions were only top at Christmas on three occasions – Manchester United in 1993-94, Blackburn Rovers in 1994-95 and United again in 2000-01.

Norwich City were the leaders on Christmas Day in that inaugural campaign, but Mike Walker's classy Canaries finished in third place in May as champions Manchester United and Aston Villa swept past the Canaries. Norwich had lost to United and derby rivals Ipswich Town in their two games leading up to the Christmas run, and back-to-back goalless draws with Tottenham on December 26 and Leeds United two days later further stifled their progress. The winless run ultimately extended to six matches, with the high-flying Canaries having their wings clipped just as the title began to look possible.

Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United famously led by 10 points on Christmas Day in 1995 and looked for all the world like runaway champions-in-waiting. Yet a 2-0 defeat at Manchester United on December 27 was an omen of what was to come as the Magpies were barged off top spot by the Red Devils come the end of the season.

Aston Villa were top at Christmas in 1998 but fell away to finish sixth, the lowest final position by any team to have sat top of the Premier League tree on December 25. They lost 2-1 at Blackburn on Boxing Day in that year, Tim Sherwood scoring a late winner, and although Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu netted to earn a 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday two days later, Villa's form was far from championship-winning from that point on.

As the Premier League has evolved and an elite crop of teams has developed, it has been a safer bet that the pace-setters by December 25 will go on to capture the trophy. In fact, over the past 10 seasons, the future champions have held top spot on that date on seven occasions, with Liverpool the only team to fall away from the summit in that time, dropping to second place in 2013-14 and 2018-19, and to third in 2020-21.

They climbed the mountain as snowflakes fell

Manchester United were fifth at Christmas in 1996-97, seven points behind leaders Liverpool, but Fergie's fledglings went on to win the league, and their results in late December were a big factor. They had beaten Sunderland 5-0 on December 21 and followed that with a 4-0 win at Nottingham Forest on December 26 (goals from David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Andy Cole), before sinking Leeds United two days later at Old Trafford thanks to an Eric Cantona penalty. A New Year's Day goalless home draw with Aston Villa followed, but United had a verve about them again and swept past Liverpool's 'Spice Boys' in the closing weeks.

Arsenal were sixth at Christmas in 1997-98 and 13 points behind United, but it was the Gunners who pulled off a startling comeback in this season. They launched an 18-game unbeaten run as they beat Leicester City 2-1 on December 26 and followed that by coming from behind for a 1-1 draw at Tottenham two days later. Arsene Wenger's team did not lose again in the league until their final two games of the campaign in May, to Liverpool and Villa, by which time the title had been secured. That remains the biggest Christmas Day deficit to be overhauled by a team that went on to be champions.

Manchester City were eighth on December 25 last year and still won the league, but Pep Guardiola's team were only eight points behind leaders Liverpool with a game in hand at that stage, with no team having played more than 14 games due to a delayed start to the season. City were 2-0 winners at home to Newcastle on December 26 and followed up with a 3-1 victory at Chelsea on January 3, their charge to glory gathering pace.

Merry Christmas? It's no guarantee of a happy new year

This year, there are three rounds of Premier League games spread across the 12 days of Christmas. In the past there have been as many as four, and there have been 13 occasions when teams have snaffled 10 points or more during this period.

Liverpool were the first to win all four of their games in this hectic spell, as they saw off Leicester, Manchester City, Leeds and Norwich by a combined 10-1 aggregate in 1994, only to trail home fourth in May. Jose Mourinho's Chelsea then achieved 12 days of Christmas clean sweeps in their title-winning 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.

All the other teams to rake in double-figure points hauls from their four festive period games managed 10 points from three wins and a draw.

Only one of those 10 sides went on to capture the title: Manchester United in the 2010-11 season. United also had a 10-point tally from 2004-05, and two other sides have hit that mark twice: Arsenal (1993-94 and 2004-05) and Sheffield Wednesday (1993-94 and 1994-95). Tottenham, Wimbledon, Liverpool and Manchester City are the other teams to have done so.

They delivered the goods

Manchester United have the best per-game record at this time of year, pulling in 2.19 points on average in the Premier League era. Of teams to have spent more than one season in the top flight, Arsenal are next (1.99), followed by Liverpool (1.96) and, surprisingly, Blackburn (1.88). United's legendary former manager Alex Ferguson reeled in a league-leading 135 points from 61 games during the 12-day run, with a hearty plus-74 goal difference, while his great rival at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger, earned 132 points from 62 matches.

Ferguson and Jose Mourinho lead the way with an average of 2.21 points per game over the 12 days, among managers with more than 20 such games behind them.

Befitting his status as the Premier League's all-time top scorer, Alan Shearer is ahead of all the rest in the goals stakes, having hit 23 during this period, five clear of next in line Robbie Fowler.

A bad Christmas? It doesn't mean your goose is cooked

A diabolical 12 days of Christmas can be a retrievable mid-season mishap.

There have been 49 instances of teams losing all of their games over this period in a season. Among those, Everton in 1993-94 and West Brom in 2010-11 have played the most games in the 12 days – four games each for a zero-point return. The snowballing run of defeats almost proved hideously costly for Everton, who needed a famous 3-2 win over Wimbledon on the final weekend of the season to survive, but West Brom finished in the relative comfort of 11th place after their bleak midwinter, albeit following a February change of boss as Roy Hodgson replaced Roberto Di Matteo.

The bottom three from Christmas Days past have gone on to be relegated three times, with Derby County, Leicester City and Ipswich Town suffering that fate in 2001-02, Wigan Athletic, QPR and Reading sliding into the Championship after the 2012-13 campaign, and last season’s turkeys – Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United – also sinking into the second tier.

The good news for Norwich, Newcastle and Burnley – the current top three – is that clearly this rarely happens. Bottom side Norwich have history to wrestle with, given only three of 26 last-placed teams on December 25 in the 20-team era (since 1995-96) have avoided the drop.

There have been 37 instances of teams being in the Premier League relegation zone on Christmas Day but finding a way to survive.

Newcastle face Manchester United, Everton and Southampton in their festive games this year, and it may be a concern that manager Eddie Howe has a career points average of just 0.87 in games played from December 25 to January 5 (W2, D7, L6).

Burnley boss Sean Dyche can better that, taking an average of 1.12 points per game (W5, D4, L8) into assignments against Everton, Manchester United and Leeds.

Norwich will hope Dean Smith can summon his Aston Villa festive form, having achieved 1.67 per game at this time of year while in his former job (W3, D1, L2). Arsenal, Crystal Palace and Leicester await Smith's men this year.

Canaries knocked off their perch

A morsel from Norwich's Premier League past might serve as a salutary tale for mid-table clubs that feel secure about their Premier League status by now.

Norwich were seventh on Christmas Day in 1994, far from trouble, but their season imploded and they finished 20th, suffering relegation from the then 22-team league.

They had a crummy 12 days of Christmas, losing 2-0 at home to Tottenham and 1-0 at Nottingham Forest on successive days – December 26 and 27 – before undoing some of that damage with a 2-1 home win over Newcastle on New Year's Eve, only to be thumped 4-0 at Liverpool on January 2. They would not win another Premier League game until they beat Ipswich 3-0 on March 20.

Nightmares can occur after Christmas, as well as before.

Jack Grealish and Phil Foden have been warned about their off-field behaviour by Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola after being pictured on a night out.

Grealish and Foden dropped out of City's starting line-up for Sunday's 4-0 win at Newcastle with Guardiola hinting post-game that the decision was not rotation.

On Monday, The Telegraph published a photo of the pair believed to be at a nightclub following last Tuesday's 7-0 rout of Leeds United.

According to the report, City staff were unimpressed with the condition of Grealish and Foden when they arrived at a recovery session the next day, with Guardiola absent to attend Sergio Aguero's retirement conference in Barcelona but kept informed on the situation.

"I pay a lot of attention to behaviour on and off the pitch," Guardiola said after Sunday's game.

Guardiola added on BBC Radio 5 Live: "And when off the pitch is not proper they are not going to play.

"So they have to be focused all the time because the distractions in the Christmastime and everything that happens - you have to still be focused."

Grealish and Foden along with John Stones were the only changes from the starting XI that beat Leeds, with the latter used as a 70th-minute substitute against the Magpies.

The City manager had labelled Grealish as "outstanding" after he scored in the win over Leeds last week.

Vincent Kompany said he was “disgusted” after being racially abused during Anderlecht's 2-2 draw with Club Brugge on Sunday.

The former Manchester City captain, now manager of Anderlecht, stated after the game that players and coaches were verbally abused throughout.

"I go home disgusted and disappointed. My players, my staff and I were victims of racist insults," the 35-year-old told broadcaster Eleven Sports.

"I want to get together with my staff, to be with the people who matter to me. We should not still have to experience this today."

Club Brugge, who were in the same Champions League group as Manchester City this season, released a statement after the game condemning the actions of their fans, saying: "Club Brugge, its fans, staff, players and board, strongly condemn any form of racism.

"These individuals are not representative of the values and norms of our club, and do not have their place at Jan Breydel Stadium."

On Monday, Club Brugge said the club would do all they can to identify those responsible and seek to impose stadium bans.

Kompany won two Belgian league titles as a player at Anderlecht before going on to win four Premier League titles with City, as well as two FA Cups and four EFL Cups during his time at the Etihad Stadium, before heading back to Anderlecht as player-coach in 2019. He retired from playing in 2020 to focus on managerial duties.

Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku posted support for his former Belgium team-mate on Instagram, and demanded a firm response from the football authorities.

"An icon like Vincent Kompany has been insulted because of his skin colour," Lukaku wrote. "Enough is enough ... take real action now."F

Manchester City made history by putting Newcastle United to the sword and Arsenal also set a Premier League record in their thrashing of fragile Leeds United.

Rampant City ran riot at St James' Park on Sunday, hammering the relegation-threatened Magpies 4-0 to ensure they will be top of the table at Christmas.

Pep Guardiola's side took their tally of top-flight victories in 2021 to 34, bettering a record they had shared with Liverpool.

Depleted Leeds handed out far too many gifts in the season of goodwill, dishing out a 4-1 drubbing as Marcelo Bielsa's side were blown away in the first half at Elland Road on Saturday.

Second-placed Liverpool had to settle for a 2-2 draw at Tottenham in an eventful game for Andy Robertson on Sunday.

The fixture list was hard hit due to COVID-19 outbreaks, but there was no shortage of quirky Opta facts from the matches that went ahead.

 

No presents from Pep for struggling Howe

City can celebrate Christmas at the top of the tree for the first time since 2018, with Liverpool having been at the summit in the last three seasons.

It has been another memorable year for the champions, who not only set a record for number of top-flight wins but have also scored the most goals in a year by a Premier League team.

Not forgetting that football was indeed played before 1992, City's total of 106 goals in the top flight in 2021 sees them match a figure last set by Liverpool back in 1982. Aston Villa, however, hold the all-time top-flight record with a staggering 120 in 1930.

It has been a very different story for Newcastle, who conceded 79 times in the league this year, matching an unwanted record Ipswich Town set in 1994.

Eddie Howe will be glad to see the back of City, as the Newcastle head coach has lost all 11 matches against them – the worst 100 per cent losing record by any boss against one club in the history of the competition.

Ruthless Arsenal make Leeds suffer 

Leeds were thumped 7-0 by City in midweek and they gift-wrapped Arsenal three points with a naive display, even if injuries must be taken into account (all nine of Bielsa's substitutes were aged 21 or under, with 15-year-old Archie Gray among them).

The Gunners extended their winning run to three matches after dominating the first half, Gabriel Martinelli scoring twice and Bukayo Saka putting them 3-0 up at the break.

It could have been worse for the Whites, as Arsenal had 11 shots on target in the first half – the most on record (since 2003-04) by any side in the opening 45 minutes in a Premier League match.

With Emile Smith Rowe also on target, it was the first time Arsenal have had three players aged 21 or younger on the scoresheet in a Premier League game (excluding own goals).

Kalvin Phillips was once again sorely missed by Leeds. The Yorkshire club have lost 12 of their 15 Premier League games when the England midfielder has been absent.

Robertson turns from hero to villain

Liverpool are three points behind City after they were held by Spurs, having come from behind to lead 2-1 in the capital.

It was an eventful match for Robertson, who was unable to complete the 90 minutes after being shown a red card for a tackle on Emerson Royal.

The Scotland captain was given his marching orders eight minutes after putting the Reds in front and he also set up Diogo Jota's equaliser. Since Jota's Liverpool debut in 2020, only Christian Benteke (a former Red) has scored more headed Premier League goals than the Portugal forward (six).

Robertson became the first player to score, provide an assist and be sent off in a Premier League game since Aleksandar Mitrovic for Newcastle in May 2016, also against Spurs.

Harry Kane got the opener in an enthralling encounter, netting just his second league goal of the season and his first one at home since May.

That means Kane's last three home league goals for Spurs have all come under different managers – Jose Mourinho, Ryan Mason and Antonio Conte.

Kieran Trippier has long been linked with a move back to England.

The 31-year-old full back has plied his trade in Spain for the past two-and-a-half years.

Trippier spent time with Manchester City, Burnley and Tottenham before joining Atletico Madrid, but seems set for a Premier League return next month.

 

TOP STORY – ATLETICO TO PERMIT TRIPPIER MOVE

Atleti are set to allow England international Trippier to join Newcastle United in January according to the Daily Mail.

The report claims that Atleti are hoping for £15million (€18m) from cashed-up Newcastle, who need reinforcements in their bid to avoid relegation.

Atleti will let the deal progress if they can find a suitable replacement for the defender during January.

ROUND-UP

- Tuttosport claims Juventus will switch their attention to signing an attacking player in January to boost their Champions League qualification hopes, with Manchester United pair Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial, Paris Saint-Germain's Mauro Icardi and Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in their sights.

- AS reports that Eden Hazard does not want to leave Real Madrid in the January transfer window, despite struggling for impact with Los Blancos.

Chelsea are set to make a move for Wolverhampton's Ruben Neves according to TodoFichajes. Thomas Tuchel wants to reinforce the midfield with Saul Niguez having underwhelmed since joining in August.

Real Madrid are plotting a move to sign Internazionale's Netherlands international Denzel Dumfries reports Defensa Central.

- Veteran Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho is set to extend his stay with Manchester City, scuppering interest from Atletico Mineiro, reports Sport Witness.

Pep Guardiola labelled Manchester City's first-half performance in their record-breaking 4-0 win over Newcastle United on Sunday as "one of the worst we have played this season".

City scored twice before the break as Ruben Dias headed in after a defensive mistake from Newcastle, before Joao Cancelo smashed into the top corner.

Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling netted in the second half to give the scoreline a comfortable look.

The victory saw City record their 34th league victory of 2021, establishing a new record for the most top-flight wins by a team in a calendar year, but Guardiola was not pleased with the display before half-time.

"A good result, not a good performance," Guardiola said to the BBC. "We were lucky, but Newcastle did not defend well for the first goal and a brilliant action from Joao Cancelo for the second goal.

"The first half was one of the worst we have played this season and [the] second half was much better.

"We played better with the ball, gave players more touches but were losing balls in the first half. We were calm at half-time and spoke about what we should do."

The four goals scored also took City to 106 for the year, two more than their previous best, and Guardiola hailed his side's consistency.

"Records show the consistency we have as a team, it is not winning titles or finals but it is winning and winning," Guardiola continued. "Records are there to be broken and happy to have them.

"I didn't rotate today, I decide the best team, we need a different base for the players and now we have seven days until the next game.

"Hopefully, Leicester are getting better with a lot of COVID cases so I will take a decision on the team."

City's 44 points ensure they will sit top of the tree on Christmas Day – they have gone on to win the title in the two previous campaigns in which they have done so (2011-12 and 2017-18).

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