Unpacking Boxing Day: It's Liverpool's Title to Lose; Ancelotti, Arteta Debut

Liverpool has a daunting lead atop the Premier League as it seeks its first top-flight title in 30 years, while there were mixed debuts for two new managers and another head-scratching result for Frank Lampard's Chelsea.
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Liverpool’s lead at the top of the Premier League table is now 13 points after it thoroughly beat second-placed Leicester City, 4-0, at the King Power Stadium on Thursday to cap a loaded Boxing Day slate.

Manchester City failed to close that gap to 11 points by dropping points at Wolves on Friday, so the victory, secured through two Roberto Firmino goals, another from Trent Alexander-Arnold and a James Milner penalty, gives Jurgen Klopp’s side a comfortable cushion going forward.

Elsewhere, a diving header from Dominic Calvert-Lewin got Carlo Ancelotti off to a winning start as Everton manager, as the Toffees beat Burnley 1-0. There was no win for the other manager taking charge of his new team for the first time, though, with Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal struggling to a 1-1 draw at Bournemouth.

Chelsea slumped to its fifth defeat in seven games, going down 2-0 at home to Southampton, which won its fourth game in six to move up to 14th. Anthony Martial scored twice as Manchester United hammered Newcastle 4-1.

Tottenham came from behind to beat Brighton thanks to goals from Harry Kane and Dele Alli, while Sheffield United was held to a 1-1 draw at home by the bottom side Watford, mainly thanks to two extraordinary saves from Ben Foster.

In a key swing toward the bottom of the table, Aston Villa remains in the relegation zone despite a 1-0 win over Norwich City, while a brilliant late winner from Jordan Ayew gave Crystal Palace a 2-1 victory over West Ham, which is now just a point above the drop zone.

Here are three thoughts on the fallout from Boxing Day:

Carlo Ancelotti and Mikel Arteta debut, while Liverpool rolls on in the Premier League

Leicester no match for top-class Liverpool

Perhaps, at some point, the weight of the last 30 years without a league title will begin to be felt. Perhaps Liverpool will tighten up. Perhaps fatigue will begin to take effect. But there is no sign of that yet, and Liverpool’s lead at the top if the Premier League table is 13 points. This was supposed to be the week of Liverpool’s biggest test. This was its eighth game out of nine in December. It has just returned from Qatar having won the Club World Cup. But this was a hugely authoritative performance against a supposed title challenger.

Leicester, yet again against a top side, disappointed. Its nervousness at the back presented Liverpool with a couple of chances within the first five minutes. At that stage it was helter-skelter, madcap stuff, with both sides looking vulnerable to the counter. And that perhaps is the difference between this Liverpool and the iteration of two years ago. Whereas before it might have been content to trade blows, here it calmed the game down, took control, and took the lead after 31 minutes, with Alexander-Arnold, the most creative of fullbacks, sweeping in the perfect cross for Firmino to nod in.

For an hour, Liverpool was extremely comfortable, and although Leicester did come into the game a little more, a 71st-minute penalty from substitute Milner, awarded after Caglar Soyuncu’s handball, settled the game. It was an Alexander-Arnold delivery that led to the offense, and the fullback set up the third as well, his precise low cross finding Firmino, who converted calmly. Alexander-Arnold then capped a memorable night with a sharp first-time finish from the edge of the box, punctuating Liverpool's title statement. Liverpool is no stranger to being atop the league around Christmas only to let it slip, but this iteration appears to be considerably different.

Mixed debuts for Ancelotti, Arteta

Nobody should have been in any doubt about the magnitude of the task facing either Arteta at Arsenal or Ancelotti at Everton, and the problems of both sides were clear as their new managers took their places in the respective benches for the first time. Everton at least got a win, but Arsenal was held to a frustrating draw away at Bournemouth meaning it has won just one of its last 14 games in all competitions and lies a lowly 11th in the table.

Everton played out a scruffy game at home to Burnley, a match of misplaced passes and lots of directionless effort. But it was at least organized enough–using a back three for the first time since the defeat at Liverpool that cost Marco Silva his job–to keep a clean sheet before nicking the win with a goal that was a classic of its type. Djibril Sidibe’s arcing cross to the near post was converted by a brilliant diving header from Dominic Calvert-Lewin, one that flew in off the inside of the post. The 22-year-old striker has been rejuvenated since Silva left, leading the line and scoring three goals in his last four league games.

Arsenal, meanwhile, was fortunate to salvage a draw at Bournemouth, which started and finished the game the better, even if Arsenal controlled a long section either side of halftime. Characteristically limp defending allowed Dan Gosling to steal in and put Bournemouth ahead and although Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leveled, it was the home side that had the bulk of the chances.

Chelsea's inconsistency continues

The mystery of Frank Lampard’s managerial career goes on. The doubts seemed to be mounting before Sunday, but his Chelsea side then produced its most mature and disciplined performance of the season to win 2-0 at Tottenham. 

But on Thursday it was back to the problems that have plagued Chelsea over the past few weeks. Maintaining the 3-4-2-1 shape that had brought success at Spurs, it was weirdly ineffective against a dogged Southampton and ended up conceding on the break in each half: first to Michael Obafemi and then to Nathan Redmond. 

That’s five defeats in seven games in the league now for Lampard's side, and although Chelsea remains in fourth, in terms of points won it’s nearer to the relegation zone than the top of the table. With the transfer ban lifted, this feels like a very big couple of months for Lampard’s managerial career.