The twentieth round of the English Premier League season got underway with Boxing Day’s matches where Spurs entertained Southampton at Wembley Stadium, with Spurs claiming a 5-2 victory which included a hat-trick from Harry Kane that gave him the record for most goals scored in a Premier League season of 39, eclipsing Alan Shearer’s 1995 record of 36, opening his account with a goal line header from a left wing free kick from Christian Eriksen in the 22nd minute, adding a second in the 39th minute with a tap in from Son Heung-min’s pull back from the left dead ball line for a 2-nil half time lead. Dele Alli fired in Spurs’s third from outside the box into the bottom right hand corner of the net in the 49th minute, and Son Heung-min drove in a 4th in the 51st minute across goalkeeper Fraser Forster into the left side netting of the goal from just outside the corner of the 6 yard box, Sofiane Boufal pulled a goal back in the 64th minute, Kane claiming his hat-trick in the 67th minute when running into the left side of the box and clipping the ball across Forster into the bottom right hand corner, with Dusan Tadic collecting a consolation for Southampton in the 82nd minute, for a win that lifts Spurs to 4th until Liverpool displaced them in the late game;
Bournemouth hosted West Ham at the Liberty Stadium, in a game full of entertainment, incident, and controversy, that ended 3-all, James Collins heading in the opener from Aaron Cresswell’s corner kick for the Hammers after 7 minutes, Dan Gosling equalising for Bournemouth in the 29th minute, then leading after Nathan Ake’s 57th minute side footer into the bottome left hand corner of the net from Stephen Cook’s cross which led to a 20 minute period of dominance in which West Ham goalkeeper Adrian made a number of important saves, before a brace from Marko Arnautovic, the first a simple tap in after Bournemouth goalkeeper Asmir Begovic slipped on the wet surface in the 81st minute to leave an unattended goal, the second a simple finish from close range after Begovic had blocked Javier Hernandez’s effort, before Callum Wilson claimed an equaliser for Bournemouth which could have been ruled out for offside or handball with the last touch an arm, the referee Bobby Madley overruling the assistant referee and generating heated argument with the West Ham players and staff;
Chelsea entertained Brighton at Stamford Bridge and, after Brighton had contained the hosts in a first half that ended nil-all, Chelsea struck with a 46th minute Alvaro Morata header from Cesar Aspilicueta’s cross, and a 60th minute glancing header by Marcus Alonso from a Cesc Fabregas corner kick, after he had been thwarted minutes earlier with a free kick and header, for a 2-nil victory.
Huddersfield hosted Stoke City at the John Smith Stadium, taking a 10th minute lead through Tom Ince when he slotted home a pull back from Collin Quaner, with Ramadan Sobhi equalising for Stoke in the 60th minute when finishing Joe Allen’s pass, his second consecutive goal for the club, to earn a 1-all draw which gives temporary respite for Stoke manager Mark Hughes in adding a point to the 3 they gained in Saturday’s win over West Bromwich, but still leaving them only 3 points clear of the bottom 3 places.
Manchester United entertained Burnley at Old Trafford, with the visitors taking a 2-nil first half lead through a third minute strike from Ashley Barnes after a free kick from Johann Berg Gudmundsson had failed to be cleared by the United defence, followed by a 28 yard free kick in the 36th minute from Stephen Defour into the top corner, before United manager Jose Mourinho brought on substitute’s Jesse Lingard and Henrik Mihkatarian at half time, and was rewarded with a brace from Jesse Lingard in the 53rd and 91st minute’s, the first a back heel from an Ashley Young cross, the second being driven in following a free kick, for a 2-all dra.;
Watford hosted Leicester City at Vicarage Road and, after Ryad Mahrez opened the scoring for Leicester in the 37th minute with a rare headed goal from a Marc Albrighton cross, Watford struck back with second half goals from Molla Wague in the 45th minute, and a Kasper Schmeichal own goal in the 65th minute after Abdoulaye Doucoure’s shot from a close angle came off of the woodwork and the goalkeeper to cross the line for a 2-1 win.
West Bromwich Albion entertained Everton at the Hawthorns, the game ending in a nil-all draw, in a game of few chances where both sides’ defences frustrated and stifled the opponents’ forwards.
In the later game Liverpool hosted Swansea City at Anfield, taking an early 6th minute lead through Philippe Coutinho’s long range strike after receiving Mohamed Salah’s pass, which they held until half time, adding 3 more in a 15 minute spell early in the second half when Roberto Firmino finished Philippe Coutinho’ free kick to the far post in the 52nd minute, Trent Alexander-Arnold fired into the top corner from Alfie Mawson’s headed clearance in the 65th minute, and Roberto Firmino collected his brace a minute later when slotting into an empty net when Mohmed Salah had unselfishly passed wide of the goalkeeper when he could have tried to score himself, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain topping off a 5-nil victory with a shot into the top corner after the Swansea defence failed to clear their lines despite numerous chances to do so. The victory keeps Liverpool in 4th on 38 points with Spurs fifth on 37 points, both from 20 games.
On Wednesday evening Newcastle United hosted leaders Manchester City at St.James’s Park, with the visitors dominating the game with 90% possession, virtually all of the play conducted in the Newcastle half apart from Nikolas Otamendi’s headed clearance from Rolando Aaron’s ball over goalkeeper Ederson, with City only breaching the home side’s rearguard in the 31st minute when Kevin De Bruyne played a ball in between the defence and goalkeeper which Raheem Sterling expertly sidefooted past goalkeeper Rob Elliot, though having seen Sergio Aguerro squander a number of chances, 2 having hit the woodwork. The second half continued in the same vein, with City having all of the possession and the game being conducted in the Newcastle half, but City failing to find a way through for the second goal, despite Kevin De Bruyne hitting the post and having other opportunities before Newcastle tried to expand their approach in the last 15 minutes creating a couple of unsuccessful chances. Manchester City still recorded a 1-nil victory, their 18th consecutive win, and one shy of Bayern Munich’s European League record of 19, a win that moves them 15 points clear of second placed Manchester United.
Thursday evening will conclude the round with Crystal Palace entertaining Arsenal at Selhurst Park.
Manchester City lead the table with 58 points from 20 matches, with Manchester United in second on 43 points, and Chelsea third with 42 points, both from 20 games, whilst Swansea hold up the table with 13 points from 20 matches, two below West Bromwich Albion in 19th on 15 points, and Bournemouth in 18th with 17 points. With Manchester City now 15 points ahead of their nearest rivals United, it would require a dramatic turn of events for any of the trailing clubs to get close enough to challenge them for this year’s title given that they are the only unbeaten team in the EPL, and would need to lose at least 5 times during the second half of the 38 game season for this to occur
Allan Jackson has been involved in soccer for more than 40 years as a player, referee, administrator and freelance writer.