After Chelsea's title hopes took a severe blow with defeat to Sunderland, Matt Stanger ponders where it went wrong for the Blues. Jose Mourinho has much to answer for...
While other managers have been quick to speak about limitations, Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez have pushed the boundaries to embarrass their peers...
Boxing Day is well named for a day where violence simmers under the surface of many households. You've now been around your relations for too long and are ready to hit the ones that have spent the last three days showing off about how well their kids are doing, or how great their new car is, or how they've got a John Lewis store card and generally how magnificent their life is compared to your humble existence as one of life's foot soldiers. You never knew you could hate someone quite so intensely until you have been shut up in a house with them for 72 hours.
Then there are the bossy relations who see Christmas as a military campaign which has to be planned and executed in minute detail. 2.15pm on Christmas Day, its is time for The Christmas Walk. Ah yes, The Christmas Walk, all through the highways and byways of Britain there are small groups of people out walking together who never ever normally walk together or indeed, even actually walk. They look awkward and self-conscious with hands behind their backs, Xmas clothing on, desperately trying to think up something, anything to say to each other and all the while praying that the first drink of the day is not far away as a massive bulk of carbohydrate ferments in their distended gut.
But there is hope. Into this heinous parade of social obligations and saturnalia comes our long-lost friend, football. Oh God almighty how we love Christmas football. It is quite literally Jeff, a lifesaver. It is a reconnection with your world before it went all jingle-belly and better still, it is a legitimate reason to get out of the house for a few hours and to oil your throat, which is by now parched dry from lying about presents and lying about your life in general to people that you now hate.
The Boxing Day fixture list has long been one of the best attended of the year as even casual football fans decide that the massive sprout fart that Auntie Jean has just released into the atmosphere is one guff of sulphur too many for any human to tolerate without actually passing out.
Ooooh lovely lovely lovely football. up and down the country at all levels, big games, small games, lots and lots and lots of festive football. It's as traditional as vomiting after drinking a bottle of Baileys Irish Cream.
But stop right there. It's worth bearing in mind that all of this would be outlawed by those who want a winter break. Outlawed! No football. Imagine it. None. Yeah, how do ya feel now? Life doesn't seem quite so good, does it? You might have to go to a shopping centre instead and you know how awful that'll be. Unless there's an especially good chase between a Superdrug security guard and a razor blade-stealing heroin addict to watch, your local shopping centre is a void which sucks all the joy out of the universe and replaces it with hollow-eyed people getting excited by discounted scented candles.
A winter break is essential if England is to compete successfully in summer tournaments. That's what we're always told, though having bloody good footballers who can retain the ball always seemed like a better priority to me. Everyone else has a winter break and they're all better than us, so we should have one too. Yeah yeah, I know.
The trouble is, while your French or Italian footballer may take the opportunity to ease his stressed body, your Englishman takes time off as an excuse to go on the lash and shag lasses until they are utterly dehydrated from the subsequent loss of bodily fluids.
The last thing we want to do is give an English footballer time off because when he returns he'll be on 40 fags a day, covered in bits of pizza, chips and less definable protein stains, two stone overweight and reeking of lager. It'll be April before he's back match-fit.
Here, time off work is time on the drink. You're probably half-cut reading this and its only 11am and what's more, if you are, I admire you for it and few Brits would not. Being messed up on drink over the festive period is perhaps the only thing that binds the nation together.
So asking a footballer to knock off in mid-December and not spend the next month injecting Toilet Duck into his eyes in a nightclub bathroom or sniffing petrol from the current Miss Wakefield's bra in a Ramada Inn just off the A1 is unrealistic. Our footballers need to be kept busy brutalising each other in acts of repressed homosexuality, burning each other's suits and generally behaving like eight-year-old boys who have eaten five bars of Kendal mint cake (officially the sweetest thing ever created). Any other strategy risks destruction.
It's easy to argue the logic of a winter break when it's June and England have been beaten on foreign shores again, but think about it now. No Boxing Day football. None. What the hell are you going to do? Sod the summer, life is lived in the short term. We want a good time now and a good time now demands football be played and to hell with the consequences in six months' time. Football was invented to entertain and excite us when we have free time, it isn't a business plan, it isn't part of a corporate strategy to achieve set goals, it's just a bit of fun.
And anyway, loads of countries which have a winter break still haven't won the World Cup, so it's not like it's helping everyone. Yeah Germany and Italy have it but even Germany hasn't won anything since 1996, so it's not a given that the break helps you win. Having loads of excellent footballers to choose from, having some tactical nous and not running around like a brainless chicken in 110 degree heat has much more to do with it. England is forever looking for a simple solution; for a lever to pull which will magically deliver success to the national side as though it is that simple. The winter break isn't it and even if it is, sod it.
As another gaggle of self-conscious Christmas walkers shuffles past my house I'm telling you this, a winter break would be immeasurably more destructive to the national psyche and general happiness than any amount of summer tournament defeats ever has. Seeing a fluorescent pink Wayne Rooney trudging off the pitch after another shambles on foreign soil, I can cope with; Christmas without football, I bloody well can't and I'm pretty sure you feel the same, don't you?
Johnny has written some novels you know. They're superb - www.johnnicholsonwriter.com is where you can find them.