Chelsea defeat keeps title race alive, top six show gulf in class — Christmas period Premier League talking points

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Richard Jolly looks back over the Premier League’s Christmas period and offers his thoughts on how it could help shape the second half of the season. Move onto the next page by clicking on the arrows in the bottom right corner, or if using a mobile device, simply swipe.

The title race is on

“Can you imagine how annoying it is when you win 13 games in a row and there is still one team only six points behind?” Jurgen Klopp asked on Saturday.

Come Wednesday evening, Chelsea’s winning run had ended at 13 and their lead was reduced to five points. They are still on course to reach 93 this season, yet the chasing pack have renewed hope.

In particular, Liverpool will eye Chelsea’s visit to Anfield on January 31 to reduce the gap further, even if they first have to win at Old Trafford.

But while Chelsea have been brilliantly managed by Antonio Conte, they are not unbeatable and fine as their players are, they are not significantly better than those of many of their rivals.

Their 2-0 loss to Tottenham Hotspur shows this could yet be an enthralling title race.

Alli is the Player of the Christmas programme

Rewind a few weeks and Dele Alli seemed out of form. Go back three weeks and he had only scored two league goals this season. Now he has nine, with three consecutive doubles.

The most significant defeated Chelsea in one of the individual performances of the campaign. He is excellent and exuberant, a player who has propelled Tottenham to five consecutive wins since December’s defeat to Manchester United.

They are now back in title contention and Alli has reached a higher level even than in last season. Real Madrid are credited with an interest in England’s most dynamic attacking midfielder. On this form, it is easy to see why.

The top six set record-breaking pace

Whenever any of the top six drop points, fault is found: this, it is said, is why they will not win the title.

This, the verdict is, shows their failings. Yet consider this: last season Manchester City finished fourth with 66 points and Arsenal second with 71.

Now United are sixth and on course to take 74. With improvement, spending and ambitious managerial appointments, the bar has been raised.

So while some of the challengers are imperfect, and analysis of their shortcomings is valid, the bigger picture should not be obscured.

Standards had slipped at England’s elite clubs. Now, thankfully, they are rising again.

Southampton and Watford had the worst Christmas

When Stefano Okaka propelled Watford to victory over Everton less than four weeks ago, they were seventh. Now they are 13th and seemingly in freefall.

They have a solitary point since then, and even that owed much to Heurelho Gomes’ penalty save from Christian Benteke in the 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace.

Southampton, meanwhile, went seventh when they beat Bournemouth in their last game before Christmas. Three subsequent games have all been lost, with a previously defensively-sound side letting in nine goals. They were unfortunate their three matches came in just six days, but it nevertheless suggested Claude Puel’s early results brought too much acclaim.

Injuries account in part for Walter Mazzarri’s plight but he has to prove he can halt Watford’s slide.

Burnley can stay up

Normally any team that enters the new year with a solitary point on the road would look doomed. That Burnley do not is the product of a remarkable record at Turf Moor.

Only Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham have more points at home and, in three cases, only one more.

Back-to-back games against Middlesbrough and Sunderland may have been among the least glamorous of the Christmas period but they proved productive for Burnley, who took six points. They are now eight points above the relegation zone, having taken an improbable 95.6 per cent of their points at home.

They may only need four more wins to survive. And they could get them all at home.

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