Premier League Review | December 2019
Sporting Index's December Premier League Review
The Premier League fixtures came in thick and fast throughout December and fans were treated to a number of exciting clashes. Liverpool were full of festive cheer as they extended their lead at the top of the table to 13 points, while Watford and Southampton also excelled. Yet it was a bleak month for several top-flight clubs and there were managerial casualties too, so there is plenty to dissect in our December Premier League review.
The Reds Remain Unbeaten
We have now gone past the halfway point in the 2019/20 campaign and Liverpool remain unbeaten. Jurgen Klopp’s men won all five Premier League games in December and then beat Sheff Utd 2-0 on January 2. They have now secured 19 victories and one draw from their 20 league matches, leaving them 13 points clear of second placed Leicester, with a game in hand. In December, they also beat Salzburg to seize top spot in their Champions League group and they won the Club World Cup in Dubai, so it was a superb month for the Reds. They are cruising to the title and they may soon start dreaming of an invincible season. Everton, Bournemouth, Watford, Leicester and Wolves were all brushed aside in the league during December, and Klopp will be happy to have navigated a congested period unscathed.
Leicester remain second in the table. They began December with a strong 2-0 victory over Watford and then the Foxes extended their winning streak to eight games by battering Aston Villa. It finally came to an end with a disappointing 1-1 home draw against Norwich and they then lost consecutive games to Man City and Liverpool. They were thoroughly outclassed when they hosted Klopp’s men on Boxing Day, but they have since bounced back with wins against West Ham and Newcastle.
Champions Man City swept aside Burnley at the start of December, but then suffered a shock 2-1 defeat in the Manchester derby. They were caught out by Man Utd’s pace on the break and the scoreline ultimately flattered United. They responded with a 3-0 win against Arsenal and then a 3-1 victory against Leicester, but it all fell apart at Molineux on 27 December. Goalkeeper Ederson was sent off early in the game, and although Raheem Sterling banged in a brace, the 10 men could not hold on and they lost 3-2. Subsequent wins over Sheff Utd and Everton have restored a semblance of order, but City are inconsistent this season and they sit 14 points behind Liverpool, having played an extra game.
Top Four Battle Looks Wide Open
The scrap for a top four position is really heating up. Chelsea are in the driving seat, as they are currently in fourth and enjoy a five-point margin over fifth placed Man Utd. However, they lost three of their six games during December, making it a month to forget for manager Frank Lampard. The Blues did the hard part by beating Spurs 2-0 and Arsenal 2-1, while they also edged Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge, but they lost 3-1 to Everton, 1-0 to Bournemouth and 2-0 to Southampton. Their transfer ban has been lifted and they may require reinforcements this month.
Man Utd had a pretty strong December. It started with a discouraging 2-2 draw when they hosted a Jack Grealish-inspired Aston Villa, but back-to-back victories over Tottenham and Man City were hugely impressive. The Red Devils also lack consistency and they followed it up with a 1-1 draw against Everton and a 2-0 defeat to Watford. They thumped Newcastle 4-1 on Boxing Day to buy Ole Gunnar Solskjaer some breathing room and they then picked up a 2-0 victory over Burnley. However, a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal on New Year’s Day enraged the fans.
Spurs are down to sixth after the new manager bounce provided by the arrival of Jose Mourinho started to wear off. They began the month by losing 2-1 to Man Utd, but they then destroyed Burnley and then a late strike from Jan Vertonghen handed them a 2-1 victory away at Wolves. Mourinho was outfoxed by his former player, Lampard, when Chelsea visited north London on December 22. Spurs beat Brighton 2-1 on Boxing Day, but then they could only draw with Norwich two days later before losing to Southampton on New Year’s Day.
Wolves are still seventh despite losing their last two games. Their small squad looks a little stretched as they compete on multiple fronts, and they have now won just three of their last eight games. The highlight in December was that 3-2 win against Man City, courtesy of second half strikes from Adama Traoré, Raul Jimenez and Matt Doherty. Wolves have now taken six points off Man City this season, a feat no other team has achieved in recent years.
Sheff Utd finally lost an away game for the first time this season when they visited The Etihad on 29 December. It followed another impressive month in which the Blades beat Norwich, Aston Villa and Brighton, and they look set for a comfortable mid-table finish. Crystal Palace keep plugging away despite a lack of resources and they sit ninth right now following a three-game unbeaten streak. They only lost once in December, away at Newcastle, and they will have enjoyed beating West Ham at Selhurst Park.
Managerial Merry-Go-Round Gathers Pace
It is remarkable to see Arsenal down in 10th place in the table after 21 games. They sacked manager Unai Emery at the tail end of November and interim replacement Freddie Ljungberg failed to galvanise the squad in December. The Swede presided over a 2-2 draw with Norwich, a 2-1 home defeat to Brighton, a 3-1 win away at West Ham and then a dismal 3-0 loss when they hosted Man City on 15 December.
That spurred the board into action and they hired former Mikel Arteta as their new manager. The upturn in form has been impressive. His reign began with an inauspicious draw away at Bournemouth and then a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea, but that was mainly the result of an individual blunder from Bernd Leno. They then beat Man Utd 2-0 on New Year’s Day and fans can dare to dream of surging up the table again.
Everton also changed managers when they axed struggling Marco Silva on 6 December after a 5-2 defeat to Liverpool. Duncan Ferguson was handed temporary charge and he led the Toffees to a 3-1 win over Chelsea, a 1-1 draw with Man Utd and a 0-0 draw with Arsenal. Carlo Ancelotti was parachuted in and he picked up a 1-0 win against Burnley in his first game and then a 2-1 victory at St James’s Park. Everton are now 11th in the table.
Relegation Scrap Looks Brutally Unpredictable
Norwich have not tasted victory since 23 November and they sit bottom of the table after enduring a dismal December. The goals have dried up for Teemu Pukki and the Canaries are losing ground on their rivals. Watford are up to 19th after taking 10 points from a possible 12 in their last four games. The decision to replace Quique Sanchez Flores with Nigel Pearson in the dugout looks inspired, and the Hornets have given themselves a great chance of beating the drop.
Injury hit Bournemouth suffered a miserable December as they lost to Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Burnley and Brighton. They beat Chelsea and drew with Arsenal, but their form over the past 10 games has been woeful, and a 4-0 defeat to West Ham on New Year’s Day left them 18th in the table. Any of the six teams above them could be dragged into the relegation scrap. Aston Villa are just a point clear of the drop zone after losing five of their six games in December. Burnley and Newcastle have both lost their last three games and they are hovering close to danger.
Brighton are just four points above Bournemouth and they will hope for more miracles from Alireza Jahanbakhsh if they are to beat the drop. The Iranian was sensational over the Christmas period and scored a wondergoal to secure a share of the spoils against Chelsea.
Southampton had a fantastic December. They appear to have banished the memory of their 9-0 drubbing at the hands of Leicester, as confidence levels have improved significantly at St Mary’s. They beat Norwich, Aston Villa and Chelsea during December, before securing a fine 1-0 win against Spurs on New Year’s Day to surge up to 12th in the table. However, they remain just five points above the drop zone, and it looks like developing into an extremely tense relegation battle in the second half of the season.
December’s Winners & Losers in the Premier League
Top Five Winners
Ralph Hasenhüttl: The Southampton manager was the favourite to be the next Premier League manager to lose his job after the Saints lost 9-0 to Leicester in October. However, he has sparked a fantastic upturn in form at the club and he now looks comfortable in his job, while several rival managers have been axed. Danny Ings has been superb up front and Southampton look a lot more solid at the back, which helped them enjoy an excellent December.
Gino Pozzo: The Watford owner took the bold decision of sacking Quique Sanchez Flores after just 10 games on 1 December. It was a massive risk, but that decision now looks extremely shrewd after new arrival Nigel Pearson presided over a huge improvement in results and performance levels. Troy Deeney is back in business and the Hornets have rediscovered their sting.
Trent Alexander-Arnold: Liverpool’s right-back delivered one of the most astonishing performances in Premier League history on Boxing Day. Leicester were second in the table and tipped to give the Reds a run for their money, but the young Englishman absolutely dismantled them. He set up two, provided a corner that saw Liverpool awarded a penalty – which was successfully converted – and then fired in a fourth from outside the box.
Mikel Arteta: The former Arsenal captain finally landed the top job at The Emirates, 18 months after narrowly losing out to Emery in his bid to succeed Arsene Wenger. He has been highly impressive in press conferences and post-match interviews, having clearly learned a lot from his time under Pep Guardiola’s wing at Man City.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin: The Everton striker hit winning goals in consecutive games against Burnley and Newcastle during December. The 22-year-old has always been an exceptionally hard worker, but he has lacked the finishing touch. There are now signs of him developing into a top forward.
Top Five Losers
Quique Sanchez Flores: Very few managers suffer the ignominy of being hired and fired during the opening months of a Premier League season. Yet that fate befell the Spaniard after he won just one of his 10 games at the helm.
Ederson: The Brazilian goalkeeper cost his team dearly when he was sent off in the opening stages of Man City’s 3-2 defeat to Wolves. He was then injured towards the end of the month, leaving the champions reliant on the hapless Claudio Bravo.
Eddie Howe: The Bournemouth manager has been really unfortunate with injuries over the past month. A number of key players have been missing and others have had to play despite carrying knocks, and the results have been predictably disastrous, leaving the Cherries in the relegation zone.
Manuel Pellegrini: The Chilean was sacked as West Ham manager on December 28 after they suffered a ninth defeat in 12 games. He arrived with a big reputation, having previously led Man City to the title, but left with that reputation in tatters.
Tim Krul: The Norwich goalkeeper is getting used to picking the ball out of his net. He did not keep a single clean sheet during seven games in December, and the Canaries now have the worst defensive record in the league.
December’s Premier League Unfortunates
Watford have enjoyed a magnificent rally in recent weeks and they now look perfectly capable of dragging themselves out of the relegation zone. However, they can count themselves unfortunate to even be in that position. Their Expected Goals (xG) figure for the season is 26.09, but they have only scored 17 times. That leaves them with the worst attacking record in the league, but now that Deeney is back from injury they should become more prolific in front of goal.
The other big unfortunates are Southampton, who have an Expected Goals Against (xGA) tally of 30.57, but they have actually conceded 38. The Saints also have an xG of 31.37, but they have only scored 25 times, so their strikers need to sharpen their finishing skills.
Burnley’s xG is 27.22 and their xGA is 27.55, but they have only scored 25 and conceded 34, so they have been unlucky on both counts.
Man Utd and Chelsea have also scored fewer and conceded more than expected. At the other end of the spectrum, Liverpool, Leicester and West Ham are all ahead of the game for both xG and xGA.
Premier League in December – The Numbers
5 – Southampton striker Danny Ings scored five goals in six games during December and then bagged the winner in a 1-0 victory over Spurs on 1 January. He has now scored more than half of the Saints’ 25 goals this season.
149 – Alireza Jahanbakhsh scored his first goal for Brighton after just 149 seconds in their game against Bournemouth in December. It was the Seagulls fastest ever Premier League goal.
308 – Jordan Henderson made his 308th Premier League appearance in December, ensuring he played more games than any other player during the decade. It left him one ahead of teammate James Milner.
50 – Liverpool extended their unbeaten home record to 50 games when they beat Wolves 1-0 on December 29.
151 – Pablo Fornals became the 151st Premier League goalscorer for West Ham in December, two more than any other team.
9 – Leicester made nine changes to their starting 11 on December 28, making them the first Premier League team to do so that early in the season since Blackpool in 2020. Brendan Rodgers Foxes still beat West Ham 2-1.
3 – Andy Carroll provided three assists in five games during December, which is as many as he managed in his previous 89.
5 – There were just five shots when Bournemouth faced Burnley in December, the fewest in a Premier League game since detailed shot records began in 2003.
How Have the Premier League Betting Markets Moved?
Before the season began, our traders created a Premier League Points Index that assigned each team an expected points tally. They predicted that Man City would secure 90.5-92 points and secure a third consecutive title triumph, while rivals Liverpool were pitched at 85.5-87. By the end of November that had flipped, as Liverpool were predicted to gain 93-95.5 points and Man City were down to just 87-88.5. Now the gap is expected to be a lot wider. Liverpool have an updated points index of 98-99.5, which is close to the record of 100 that Man City set in 2018. Guardiola’s men now have an index of just 84-85.5 after losing to both Man Utd and Wolves in December.
The traders predict that Leicester will comfortably finish third in the table, with a points tally of 75-76.5. They also reckon Chelsea have what it takes to clinch the final Champions League spot, as the Blues have been assigned a points index of 66.5-68. Man Utd were assigned a pre-season index of 67.5-69, but that has gone down to just 58.5-60. Spurs are the biggest fallers, having dropped from 73-74.5 pre-season to 57-58.5 now. Harry Kane is out with a bad injury and that could dent their chances of challenging for a top four place. Arsenal now have a points index of 55-56.5. That is a lot lower than the pre-season prediction of 69.5-71, and it is also worse than the 57-58.5 they were assigned at the start of December.
Our traders feel that Norwich are doomed, as their points index is now just 27-28.5. They initially predicted that the Canaries would finish 19th, with Sheff Utd expected to finish bottom with 32.5-34 points. Yet the Blades are the biggest climbers, with a new index of 49-50.5 after enjoying a very strong season thus far.
That would leave them in the top half of the table, ahead of big-spending Everton. The Premier League Points Index makes grim news for Aston Villa and Watford fans, as they are now expected to finish 19th and 18th respectively, with Bournemouth escaping by the finest of margins.
Liverpool are now just 1/25 to win the Premier League in the football odds, while Man City are 14/1 outsiders.
Chelsea are priced at 4/7 to secure fourth place, but you can alternatively find 3/1 on Man Utd, 7/2 on Spurs and 14/1 on Arsenal.
The Gunners are 9/4 outsiders for a top six finish too, with Wolves priced at 2/1 in that market.
At the other end of the table, Norwich are 1/10 to go down and Aston Villa are priced at 5/6 to join them. Watford are 5/4 and Bournemouth are 11/9, with Newcastle providing a longer shot at 3/1.
Will Liverpool see January through unbeaten? will Norwich drift further away? Will Leicester maintain their Champions League push?...Be sure to stay tuned to the Sporting Index blog for all our Premier League previews in January.