Things can change quickly in the pandemic-altered Premier League. Just ask Tottenham.
A week ago, Spurs were top of the table, with Jose Mourinho & Co. dreaming of a title. Now they're in sixth. By the time they play again, they could realistically be eighth.
Such is the nature of a league playing through a compressed schedule and the congested table that has emerged as a result. No club has been able to truly pull away from the pack (though Liverpool is threatening to do so), while 10th-place West Ham is just as far from first as it is from the drop zone. It's been that kind of year.
So with each club shoehorning three games in between Boxing Day (Dec. 26) and Jan. 4, the festive season figures to bring about some more significant movement–and ideally some stratification in the table. On one hand, the clubs are used to playing so frequently at this point, that perhaps the compressed holiday slate won't seem all that different. On the other, this has to all be absolutely exhausting. After the year everyone has had and with all the sacrifices all have had to make, there will come a point at which this all becomes unsustainable.
Yet the games will go on, and the table will fluctuate a considerable amount in the next two weeks.
Here's what to expect when the dust settles on another festive season sprint:
Liverpool begins to pull away from the pack
Despite everything that's gone against the Reds this season–between the onslaught of injuries to key players, Roberto Firmino's scoring slump (which has since been remedied) and swirling questions regarding Mohamed Salah's future–Liverpool persists.
Jurgen Klopp may have won the Premier League last season and the Champions League the season before, but this is arguably his most impressive managerial work given all the time core players have had to miss.
Liverpool's holiday slate is a forgiving one, starting at home vs. relegation-threatened West Brom followed by matches away at Newcastle and Southampton. It's true that Liverpool's home and away splits differ greatly (7-0-0, +13 goal differential at Anfield vs. 2-1-4, +4 goal differential away), and Southampton has proven a worthy adversary, even if its recent form has dipped. But you'd expect Liverpool to take nine points off these games, and pull away from the scrap that's been unfolding beneath it.
Questions will persist regarding Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's suitability
Manchester United has been an enigma for much of this season, though a 6-0-1 stretch in the league during which it's scored at least three goals on five occasions suggests that perhaps some domestic consistency is arriving. Nevertheless, it has seemed like for every glimpse of greatness and dominance that's flashed, there's an equally maddening glimpse of ineptitude or a distraction in the way of questions over its manager's (or Paul Pogba's) future.
That pattern could well continue in the coming weeks, as its festive slate may not be so joyous: at Leicester, and home vs. Wolves and Aston Villa is not the easiest run of fixtures. The club's road form in the league, oddly, has been flawless (6-0-0), and it's that first match at second-place Leicester that will set the tone for everything that follows. A loss to the Foxes could snowball for the Red Devils against a very capable Wolves side that's still missing injured star striker Raul Jimenez. A win, and it could be a very merry Christmas and happy new year, indeed.
Solskjaer will need to trust his squad and rotate accordingly, and, aside from Arsenal's Mikel Arteta, there's arguably no manager facing more pressure to deliver over the holidays than Ole. Man United has backed him to remain at the wheel, but if the table turns quickly on the club, it could get awfully interesting–especially with a new transfer window opening, a bout vs. Liverpool on the horizon following a two-week break in league play and a top-four finish a baseline requirement.
Tottenham finds out where it truly stands–and if others can step up
The drastic drop in the table was a result of consecutive losses to Liverpool and Leicester, who are 1-2 in the standings. There's no shame in that, even if there's some significant disappointment and halted momentum.
By playing at Wolves, and home vs. Fulham and an unpredictable Leeds, Spurs can get back into the top-four picture, but they'll also want to be wary over the usage of Harry Kane. The do-it-all star forward has suffered significant injuries in each of the last two Januarys, and overuse was a big reason why Carlos Vinicius was brought in from Benfica over the summer. Yet the Brazilian has only played 12 minutes in the Premier League this season, with Mourinho riding his Kane-Son Heung-min tandem (to a successful degree). He'll need to trust his depth in order to both stabilize the present and look out for the near future. This is where Gareth Bale is supposed to be helpful and alleviate some of the workload that's fallen to a select two.
Fulham falls deeper into the drop zone
Poor Fulham. Its return to the Premier League hasn't been a very happy one, though by securing three straight draws, it has remained in touching distance of escaping the relegation zone. Matches vs. Southampton and at Tottenham are daunting asks of Scott Parker's side, though, and with Burnley taking an impressive amount of points off three top-half sides and Arsenal in its last four matches, that game isn't the favorable six-point swing it might have appeared to be a couple weeks ago.