On the face of it, the unique demands of the English holiday soccer schedule should favor the clubs who spent heavily on deep squads. That was not how the action unrolled on Sunday, as 18 of the Premier league clubs played for the second time in 48 hours.
On a day when six of the top seven met each other, only Arsenal won, and the Gunners were distinctly fortunate to finish a wild match at Upton Park with a 2-1 victory.
In two matches, top clubs had tough away games at teams a few places below, so all involved might view draws as satisfactory results.
But Louis van Gaal was not happy after Manchester United drew 0-0 at Tottenham, and José Mourinho attempted to channel his younger, angrier self after Chelsea drew 1-1 at Southampton.
Meanwhile, Manuel Pellegrini was rueful after Manchester City, which kicked off the second half two goals up at home to Burnley and knowing United and Chelsea had dropped points, contrived to draw 2-2.
City did take its chances, albeit only in the first half. David Silva, alone in front of goal, finish a pleasing move with a neat finish. Then, as Burnley’s defenders again hung back, Fernandinho curled a shot in off the underside of the bar.
In the second half, City faded. George Boyd was marginally offside after he darted between City’s statuesque central defenders to touch in Burnley’s first goal. Ashley Barnes tormented City defenders Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis. After 81 minutes, he beat Demichelis to reach a high ball. City could have cleared but, to Manuel Pellegrini’s disgust, allowed the ball to bounce back to Barnes who bashed it home.
After that, Burnley dominated and looked like the team that had the energy to win.
“It was very difficult in the second half,” said Pellegrini told Sky Sports. “We felt the last game 48 hours before. The pitch was very heavy against West Bromwich. The second half we felt we didn’t have the legs to try to score.”
Yet while City made three changes from the team that won 3-1 in a blizzard at West Brom on Friday, Burnley started the same 11 players who had begun against Liverpool.
Pellegrini did have the grace to acknowledge that the opposition’s play had something to do with the result.
“Burnley is a brave the team that tries to attack,” he said.
The other Manchester club also faded in the second half.
At White Hart Lane, Wayne Rooney, Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata all spurned chances one would expect far lesser players to snap up. Mata also hit woodwork. Vlad Chiriches cleared a chance off the line for Tottenham. Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris gave another dazzling, desperate display.
“We had the best performance of Manchester United this season in the first half and we could have scored four or five goals,” Van Gaal told BT Sport. “Even when we are on the goal line we couldn’t score.”
Yet in the last 20 minutes, United wilted. Harry Kane could have had a penalty for Tottenham and Ryan Mason wasted a chance as good as any United had spurned.
Van Gaal blamed the Christmas schedule.
“It’s the culture of England. I think the human body cannot recover in 48 hours so good and you have seen it the second half it was a struggle,” he said.
If he knows that players cannot recover, why did he start the same 11 that had played against Newcastle on Friday?
A lot of the physical side of the game is mental. After the match Mauricio Pochettino, who made three changes in his Tottenham team, continued to work on the idea that his team is far fitter than their opponents.
“We are happy with our physical performance,” he told the BBC, adding, with a grin, that, in the four days before Spurs' next match match with Chelsea, his players will not get a rest but will “train, train, train.”
Mourinho was not in the mood to be generous after his team had drawn at Southampton. Although he affected to be raging as he faced the Sky cameras, a smile seemed to be playing round the edges of his mouth as he stoked himself into a fury. It could be that his complaints against referee Anthony Taylor was an attempt to distract from his team’s failings.
After falling behind to an early goal by SadioMané, Chelsea dominated. The Blues completed 174 passes in the attacking third, yet managed only one shot on target. That shot came from Eden Hazard, who wriggled past three terrified defenders before scoring just before half time.
Chelsea was utterly shot shy, seemingly intent on creating tap-ins for Diego Costa and, later, DidierDrogba and LoïcRémy.
Chelsea might have had a penalty when Matt Targett of Southampton tumbled into CescFàbregas. Instead, Taylor booked Fàbregas for diving, which is becoming something of a theme of Chelsea’s season.
Mourinho pushed back, complaining of a “campaign” against Chelsea.
“We are polite people in the end of game no problems no fights no shouting to referees,” said Mourinho, a remark that might come as a surprise to Anders Frisk, who was effectively driven out of soccer by Mourinho’s rant after a 2005 game between Chelsea and Barcelona.
Mourinho blamed other coaches for accusing Chelsea players of diving.
“Match after match they are speaking about the same,” he said, his English disintegrating as his voice rose. “And the others, the other teams, the other opponents, are the ones that are getting the penalties that decide matches and results.”
What the coaches do not see -- Arsenal caught a break when the score was 0-0 at Upton Park. Alex Song fired the ball into the net against his old club, only for the goal to be disallowed because DiafraSakho was offside and adjudged to be blocking WojciechSzczesny’s view.
“I didn’t see what was wrong,” said Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, showing, rather late in his career, that his poor vision from the bench is not restricted to embarrassing Arsenal moments.
Meanwhile in Manchester, Burnley manager Sean Dyche said he had not spotted that Boyd was offside because he had been getting a drink of water “as I usually am, when we score.”
The sack race -- After Neil Warnock became the first Premier League manager fired this season, doubtless heading for the Crystal Palace exit on Saturday looking for a referee to blame, will the dam burst?
Nigel Pearson looks a little more secure after Leicester’s unlikely 1-0 victory at Hull, which will have made the home manager Steve Bruce a little more nervous.
“We had a bit of luck,” Pearson told Sky. “If I was in Hull’s shoes I’d be thinking what do we have to do to score. But we’ve had plenty of days like that over the past two or three months.”
The wisdom of the ancients -- With long coaching experience comes great knowledge.
“When you don’t score goals you can’t win,” was Van Gaal’s profound insight into United’s draw.
“I always say that the game is never over until the last whistle,” Pellegrini intoned after City’s draw.