Premier League winners and losers features both sides of Antonio Conte and Spurs

Ian King
Premier League winner Eddie Nketiah playing for Arsenal against West Ham

Your Boxing Day Premier League winners and losers features two guys called Eddie, several struggling managers and Spurs in both camps.



Just about all of the top half of the Premier League
This was a good round of fixtures for the teams in the top half of the Premier League table. It was a quirk of the fixture computer that the Boxing Day matches broadly pitted the top half of the table against the bottom half, and of the the 10 teams in the former section, eight of them won while the only two to be playing each other drew.

Furthermore, it didn’t feel as though any of those teams that did win had to work particularly hard to do so. Arsenal, Manchester City, Newcastle, Manchester United, Liverpool, Brighton and Fulham all scored three goals each, while Chelsea scored twice in the first half and Spurs and Brentford scored twice against each other.


People called ‘Eddie’
This was a very good round of fixtures for two very different Edwards.

Eddie Howe could have been forgiven for wishing more than anybody else that the winter break didn’t come when it did. Newcastle went into it off the back of seven wins in their previous eight games, and the obvious concern at such a point was that the team won’t be able to rediscover that form after the distraction of a World Cup.

There was little indication in their 3-0 win at Leicester that this interruption had even taken place. Newcastle strolled to a three-goal lead in 32 minutes, including two goals in the first seven minutes, a result which briefly lifted them back into second place in the table. Miguel Almiron chipped in with another goal. It still feels improbable that Newcastle can sustain a title challenge, but they haven’t lost in the league since August 31 and will not have the distraction of European football throughout the second half of the season. They couldn’t… could they?

At the other end of the A1(M), this was also a good round of fixtures for Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah. A World Cup injury to Gabriel Jesus, Arsenal’s most impressive player from a highly impressive first half of the season, had raised questions over whether they’d be able to maintain their stunning start throughout the winter months. But these fears feel somewhat baseless after Nketiah added a third goal to complete Arsenal’s comeback after falling behind to a first-half West Ham penalty.

Nketiah’s game has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 12 months or so. After this performance, it doesn’t feel as though Gabriel Jesus’s absence is going to be quite the problem it might have been.


Stefan Bajcetic
Most of the headlines following Liverpool 3-1 win at Aston Villa concerned another idiosyncratic performance from Darwin Nunez, but it took the interjection of a teenager making only his second appearance for the club to put the result of this match beyond doubt.

Stefan Bajcetic only turned 18 years old in October and made his Premier League debut for Liverpool as a substitute towards the end of their 9-0 win against Bournemouth in September. Jurgen Klopp clearly rates him. He’s given him a run out in both the Champions League and the EFL Cup this season.

His second Premier League appearance for Liverpool turned out to be decisive. He’d only been on the pitch a couple of minutes when he tore into the Villa penalty area, nipped the ball past goalkeeper Robin Olsen and scored the goal to seal a win that had been in no way certain to that point. Bajcetic is a defender and midfielder, and his introduction into this game may have been Klopp just shoring up a narrow lead, but scoring a goal within two minutes of coming on was a hell of a way for Bajcetic to introduce himself to anyone who may have missed his earlier cameo appearances.


Marcus Rashford
If there are any England players suffering post-World Cup blues following their quarter-final elimination against France, Marcus Rashford certainly doesn’t seem to be among them. Of all the improvements that Manchester United have made over the course of their first half-season under Erik ten Hag, Rashford’s revitalisation has been perhaps the most eye-opening. There had been plenty of points over the last year or two at which it started to feel as though the striker had lost his mojo, perhaps irrevocably, but since the start of this season he has started to look very much like the player who was so thrilling to watch when he first broke into the first team.

He will face far bigger challenges throughout the rest of this season than Nottingham Forest’s notoriously leaky defence, but his goal and assist was a demonstration of what he can offer when he’s firing on all cylinders. For all the talk of how much money Manchester United may wish to spend on new strikers, when Rashford is playing like this it can feel as though they may not even need one.


Erling Haaland
While everyone else was running themselves into the ground at the World Cup, what might have Erling Haaland have been up to? His performance for Manchester City at Leeds suggested that he spent his winter break tuning up and getting ready to, well, carry on very much as before. He was through on goal within 40 seconds at Elland Road, and scored two second half tap-ins – both laid on for him by pantomime villain Jack Grealish – to give City an unassailable lead against Leeds and put his team back into second place. He remains the reason why many still believe that Manchester City can overhaul Arsenal in the title race.


Jolen Lopetegui
Wolves had pursued Jolen Lopetegui before, and their reasons for doing so seem to have been vindicated by the way in which his new club’s fortunes have started to turn in the short period of time since he arrived. With Bruno Lage and Steve Davis having been unable to prevent Wolves sliding towards the bottom of the table, timing seems to have been important.

Lopetegui was finally tempted to Molineux shortly after the start of the winter break, and early results have indicated that progress is being made. Gillingham at home and Everton away may not have been the most testing first fixtures for a new manager in the Premier League, but you can only beat what’s put in front of you and Lopetegui has maintained a 100% record from these two matches.

The win at Goodison Park lifted his team off the foot of the Premier League table and Wolves, which hasn’t been an especially happy club for some time, have reason to feel somewhat optimistic that 2023 will be an improvement upon 2022. They cut it fine at Everton, with a winning goal that came in the last minute of stoppage-time at the end of a game in which they’d already had to come back from falling behind early on. But scoring such a goal suggests that Lopetegui may already have added a little backbone to a team that lacked character.


Spurs for 30 minutes
To call the Spurs team of 2022/23 a curate’s egg
feels like an understatement. Perhaps ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in the space of the same 90 minutes’ would be more appropriate. With an hour played at The Brentford Community Stadium in the first Boxing Day fixture, Spurs were completely Spursing things up (see below), two goals down and looking as disjointed as they have at any point over the last three or four years.

There remains the seed of a title-challenging team in there. Harry Kane shook off his World Cup blues with a goal, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg brought them level six minutes later, and Kane hit the crossbar with a header which might have snatched all three points. But the fact is that this has happened repeatedly over the last year or so and it’s a risk to assume that everything will just click into place eventually. But when they do pull themselves together they’re more than capable, and it’s this gap which makes them so unfathomable.



Patrick Vieira
A lot of very positive things have been said about Patrick Vieira since he took charge of Crystal Palace, but over the last couple of months there have been causes for concern. Palace have now lost three of their last five Premier League matches, and those defeats have all raised issues. Losing 3-0 to Everton and 1-0 to Nottingham Forest in the weeks before the winter break were bad enough, but their 3-0 home defeat against Fulham hinted that the break doesn’t seem to have done them much good.

Palace remain in the middle of the Premier League, in 11th place as things stand, but they’re only six points above the relegation zone and the Fulham game couldn’t have gone more calamitously for them. Wilfried Zaha up front on his own didn’t work. Conor Gallagher has categorically not been successfully replaced in the centre of their midfield. Palace contrived to get two players sent off.

And Fulham won with a degree of comfort that should be unsettling for the team they beat. They could have won by more than the three goals they eventually managed against a Crystal Palace team that looked shapeless and without motivation. Selhurst Park can be a bearpit when their players give the supporters reason to raise their voices, but this was not that performance and should they not improve they could yet find themselves getting sucked into a relegation fight.


Frank Lampard
Unsurprisingly, Wolves’ late winner at Goodison Park on Boxing Day unleashed a torrent of booing at the full-time whistle which indicated that Frank Lampard is holding onto his position by the thinnest of margins. Lampard has looked dependent on The Treatment Table’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin for goals, and the issues with this were perfectly evident from his team’s failure to build on taking an early lead against the team bottom of the table.

Everton have now lost six of their last eight league games, and for all the possession they ‘enjoyed’ against Wolves, their lack of spark in attacking positions was striking.

Lampard’s managerial career so far has been primarily characterised by just about meeting the minimum expectations required. He managed that last season by almost the narrowest possible margin, securing their Premier League status with just one game of the season left.

But that’s not good enough. Seven months on from that narrow escape, Everton are one point above the bottom three and back in the middle of a relegation fight that they don’t seem to be particularly well-equipped for. The club is a bit of a mess from top to bottom, but Lampard is coming to be seen as another physical manifestation of this decline. He may well not have long to turn things around, even if there isn’t an immediately obvious replacement.


Nathan Jones
Uh-oh. If Nathan Jones had spent the winter break daydreaming about what the end of his home debut as a manager in the Premier League might look like, it almost certainly wasn’t this. Southampton were completely outplayed by Brighton, who cantered to a comfortable 3-1 win, with the match ending to a chorus of booing from those home supporters who’d decided to stay until the bitter end.

It already feels like this was a bad time for Southampton to be bringing in a manager with no managerial experience in the top flight. Jones has now had three games in charge of Saints, with his only win coming by two goals to one against Lincoln City in the EFL Cup shortly before Christmas.

It’s tempting to believe that Jones may have been appointed with one eye on trying to get promoted back from the Championship next season. Whether he’s still there to give it a go already looks less than certain. The issues at Southampton seem deeper than just the manager, but it only took 90 minutes for some to start wondering whether the new manager will end up being remembered as a symptom of a decline which may well not have ended yet.


Reece James, or perhaps Chelsea’s medical team
Of course, calling this column ‘Winners & Losers’ has a somewhat pejorative air to it, but sometimes a player can end up in the ‘Losers’ section through no absolutely no fault whatsoever of their own.

Reece James had been a genuinely transformative presence in the Chelsea team during the early stages of this season, as the tail-off in their performances when he got injured in October attested.

This injury kept him out of the World Cup, but the silver lining to that story was that he was set to return after the tournament. He lasted 52 minutes against Bournemouth before limping off again with a recurrence of the injury which now seems likely to keep him out of the first team for another three or four weeks.

It’s extremely hard luck for James, who’s having an absolute nightmare of a season, but Chelsea supporters may be justified in wondering whether he may have been brought back into the team a little too soon. Whether through bad luck or misjudgement – and it’s entirely likely that this was just the former – James’ season horribilis hasn’t got any better just yet.


Spurs for 60 minutes
There may come a point at which Spurs will start making sense this season, but Boxing Day’s trip to Brentford did not turn out to be that day. For an hour in the first fixture of this round, Spurs played as though their players had consumed an entire turkey each shortly before taking to the pitch. The footballing equivalent of indigestion, they were familiarly panicky in defence, shapeless in midfield and blunt in attack, and this is far from the first time this season that they’ve played this way. It does feel that this failure to be able to get into games quickly may even cost them a place in the top four.