Remember in school, the token assignment on the first day back from Christmas vacation was the "what I did on my Christmas break." As much as the assignment stunk, it was a chance to reflect on the crazy going-ons that the holidays can be.
The time around Christmas and boxing day truly is the best time of the year in the Premier League with most teams playing three times in an eight day period. A lot of ground can be gained or lost — so here’s what happened over Christmas break:
No better sound was heard around the Premier League than the 24 hours when Chelsea dropped out of the top four after a dreadful defeat at Arsenal on Monday night. It didn’t last long as the Blues defeated Bolton on Wednesday one day after dropping into fifth place, to get back into the top four, but to hear "fifth place Chelsea?" was music to a lot of ears.
Chelsea briefly fell into fifth because of the impressive run of form that Tottenham experienced over the past week. Spurs beat Aston Villa 2-1 at Villa Park on Sunday before quickly turning around and downing Newcastle 2-0 on Tuesday. In both contests, Tottenham was reduced to playing with ten men, after a red card to Jermain Defoe on Sunday and Younes Kaboul on Tuesday.
Elsewhere, Arsenal, who were fantastic in a 3-1 win over Chelsea on Monday, fell on their face with a 2-2 draw against lowly Wigan on Wednesday night.
Manchester United held their own in a business-like 2-0 win over Sunderland on Sunday before conceding a late goal to draw Birmingham City 1-1 on Tuesday night.
Manchester City bounced back from a brutal home loss to Everton on December 20th with a 4-0 trouncing of Aston Villa on Tuesday, which followed a 3-1 dumping of Newcastle the day after Christmas.
And now for the sour storylines of the Boxing Day slate. Liverpool, who only played once over this hectic schedule, fell to Wolves 1-0 at home, and stones are being thrown all over Liverpool. Fans and the media are calling for Roy Hodgson’s head, and Fernando Torres looks ready to move back home to a Spanish club in January.
Then there’s Aston Villa, who I’ve glazed over a bit earlier. They lost 2-1 to a ten-man Spurs side before getting demolished 4-0 by Man City. The Villans are staggeringly just one point ahead of the drop zone as we head into the new year.
As bad as it is for Villa and Liverpool, things are taking off for Blackpool, who soared into eighth place on the strength of a 2-0 win against Sunderland on Tuesday. The Tangerines were the only other team who only had one game scheduled, and with a couple other postponements earlier in the month, they have three games-in-hand on a bunch of teams, and two in-hand against most other teams in the EPL. Manager Ian Holloway can already start clearing off mantle space for that Manager of the Year Award.
Wolverhampton, West Ham and Fulham remain in the bottom three. Wolves, who lost 2-1 to Wigan over the weekend, stay mired in 19th place despite their win over Liverpool at Anfield on Wednesday.
How bad is it for West Ham? They took four points out of their two games, a 3-1 win over Fulham and a 1-1 draw with Everton.
And what to make of Fulham, who could be in sell-off mode as January falls upon us. The Cottagers dropped that clunker to West Ham on Boxing Day before earning some redemption with a 2-0 win over Stoke City.
Newcastle have lost that loving feeling after an emotional win over Liverpool on December 11th. The Magpies were dismantled by Man City and Spurs over the holidays, who have fallen within three points of the relegation zone, where they sit tied with West Brom, Everton and Liverpool.
Blackburn gained ground over West Brom on Tuesday with an impressive 3-1 victory over the Baggies on the strength of two goals by Nikola Kalinic.
Silent Night: On paper, Sunderland have a better strike force than the majority of teams than the Premiership with Darren Bent, Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck combining for 17 of the team’s 19 goals this year. But the Black Cats went through the holidays playing 180 minutes without putting a ball in the net.
Too Much Egg Nog: Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli had a memorable holiday campaign, netting the first hat-trick of his Premier League career in a 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa. Balotelli went on to state that he is the second best player in the world, only behind Lionel Messi. He isn’t even the second best player on his team.
New Year’s Resolution: There is not a professional soccer player on the planet who wants it to be 2011 more than Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney. Leaving his off-the-field issues off the field, Rooney will be looking for a rebirth with the dawn of 2011. It started at the World Cup, and has carried over to his performance. Nobody with a clue would have believed it when you said Rooney would have one goal at Christmas.
Here is your table as we head into 2011: