From the grinners (Klopp and Solskjaer) to the grimmers, we take a whistlestop tour of the Premier League…
ARSENAL: Mikel Arteta
The Gunners boss offered a rather unseasonal challenge of hitting him in the chest. Not advisable; he’s wobbling like an inebriated Santa about to climb down a burning chimney. “I don’t like to think about those steps [walking away] because then I will be thinking in a negative way and I cannot do that,” the Spaniard said this week. Don’t jump, Mikel. No need. You might be pushed.
ASTON VILLA: Dean Smith
He was your lucky loser, surviving relegation on the final day of last season to avoid the underworld of the Championship. Now he has returned with a different New Model Army and a strut to match. He’s like Bruce Willis in Die Hard at Birmingham Airport. Villa are a different beast.
BRIGHTON: Graham Potter
Britain’s nicest manager is too often on the wrong side of results. The opportunities come to deliver, but his team cannot get the post through the letterbox. If there was a government contract to send out special gifts to children on December 25, then Potter would be the likeable CEO who you want to believe in but can’t quite recommend.
BURNLEY: Sean Dyche
Burnley have got their scorched earth mojo back. Sean Dyche is now at his bristling best, repelling any sense that football is a beautiful game. A win is a win. That’s his currency. If opposition managers complain about physicality, the Clarets boss just backs it up with a bit more welly: “When there’s a proper tackle, it’s almost frowned upon.” Get stuck into the stuffing, Sean.
CHELSEA: Frank Lampard
Frank is nervously laughing. Or laughing nervously. He’s crossing arms a lot on the touchline but not crossing borders of expectation. Frank says that Chelsea are unlikely to win a big Christmas hamper Premier League title, even with all his golden global raffle tickets. Trouble is, being first at finishing fourth might not be enough for Roman times.
CRYSTAL PALACE: Roy Hodgson
He’s the Grandpa that is solid but capable of the odd swear word under pressure. Cheery Roy smiled manfully through the 7-0 shellacking by Liverpool, but then pronounced that it would take him a few days to get over it. It might be safe to knock on his door now and wish him good Christian (Benteke) returns of the season. If only the big man had played last Saturday, eh?
EVERTON: Carlo Ancelotti
Always the delightful uncle you wish you had, Carlo would invite you into his home for a seasonal latte to treat you like one of his own. He might even give you a biscotti while discussing Christmas tree formations. The Merseysiders are second only to their neighbours, so as long as Carlo doesn’t put up a red tree, he should be just fine.
Ronald Koeman uploads picture of Red tree…forced to then change tree colour following tweets from angry Everton fans! pic.twitter.com/C9Q7WqblNt
— Coral (@Coral) December 1, 2016
FULHAM: Scott Parker
Scotty has all the making of the most earnest of Santa’s helpers. He doesn’t dress the part – preferring the corporate stockbroker look on the touchline – but when it comes to the feel-good factor, there’s no one like the Fulham manager.
“The Christmas period is a fantastic time for English football, it is something we all love, in terms of Boxing Day, New Year’s Day games.” He’s dead positive, Scott, like one of those greenhorn Apprentices with an earnest speech in the boardroom being shouted down by Alan Sugar.
LEEDS UNITED: Marcelo Bielsa
Get the man a proper stool outside and let him discuss New Year goals. Hopefully, there will be many of them, for better or for worse. Deserves a medal for just not changing. Or talking English. Leeds are the team that literally keep on giving.
LEICESTER CITY: Brendan Rodgers
Brendan’s luck of the Irish has never served him well on Boxing Day. A year ago, his Leicester team opened the gates of The King Power to world champions Liverpool and didn’t touch the ball. He has another chance to make the 26th more special against those away terrorists Manchester United. Home Alone might be the order of the day if it goes to form.
LIVERPOOL: Jurgen Klopp
Top of the pile at Christmas, Klopp has all the bonhomie to be Good Santa. That’s good news for BT Sport after a few weeks where the German’s Bad Santa mutant strain went looking for Des Kelly every other week. It looks like Jurgen has hit the gluhwein just in time to chill out. That fixed smile after Grinch Jose told him “the best team lost” was really something.
MANCHESTER CITY: Pep Guardiola
When asked if Manchester City could catch Liverpool, Pep responded: “Right now, I don’t know.” Nothing like getting into the festive frowning. He’s signed a new contract, but the Spaniard isn’t exactly full of it: “When you are ninth in the table, you try to next week be eighth in the table, then seventh in the table.”
MANCHESTER UNITED: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
“We are desperate to get our hands on a trophy; these players are desperate to learn how to win,” said a giddy OGS before beating Everton in the Carabao quarter-finals. Sir Alex wrote a book called ‘A Will to Win’. Maybe Ole should read it to negotiate semi-finals. He’s rather chipper at the moment, telling us that title talk can be saved for “later” after the 6-2 win over Leeds. Is he a very competent Norwegian Xmas tree salesman or is he about to find cojones and clear tactics when the stakes are high? Just don’t mention Leipzig. Or Thursdays.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Steve Bruce
Brucie almost seemed angry after the defeat to Brentford. It cost Newcastle a chance of rising above their service station of indigestible football to reach a semi-final. “We didn’t run forward enough or cause them enough problems – especially with the attacking players we had on the pitch.” Priti Patel said: “Lorries are not static.” Unfortunately, Newcastle are.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Chris Wilder
Wilder came to the Premier League with a bandwagon of goodwill, a team bubbling with kilometre power and some decent football. Now Wilder is getting into arguments with Jurgen and sounds like a man who can only talk in spirit and endeavour. At least Neil Warnock is already engaged at Middlesbrough. Is it really that bad? It is. It is.
SOUTHAMPTON: Ralph Hasenhuttl
Ralph looks like he’s enjoying life, eh? He even has the awkward Teutonic jokes, like when he first joined the Saints: “I was thinking about the Titanic leaving here and I hope I don’t hit the first iceberg waiting for me.” He did hit it – a 9-0 avalanche against Leicester – but he’s back on the sleigh making hay. Only Klopp was better in 2020.
TOTTENHAM: Jose Mourinho
The mouth is turning down a bit, isn’t it? Everything was sweetness and light with a twinkle in the eye until the late Palace equaliser. If the Special One saw that coming, then his expression after the injury-time reverse at Liverpool showed an open wound window into his soul. Jose’s face looked like it had just been slapped by a wet kipper dipped in kerosene.
WEST BROM: Sam Allardyce
Big Sam is back on his turkey-gobbling perch. The man who would have managed Real Madrid and Manchester United to just as many titles if given the chance, is now ready to start work with a Championship-heavy squad at the Hawthorns. The relegation super saver is loving it . First stop Anfield to try and stop that home run once and for all. Allardyce might celebrate with a festive pint of wine if he can get a win.
WEST HAM: David Moyes
The Scot is continuing his quiet renaissance without the pressure of having to take over an all-conquering dynasty. West Ham is a homecoming that appears to suit both parties. Christmas will not be a wild affair in East London, but it’s a damn sight more stable than Manuel Pellegrini and his calamitous friend, Roberto.
WOLVES: Nuno Espirito Santo
The Wolves boss has the perfect profile for a really jolly European Santa. After the defeat to Burnley, he looked like he was stuck in a 20-mile jam in Kent without a portaloo.
Tim Ellis – follow him on Twitter