Have Liverpool finally turned a corner?

Liverpool earned their biggest Premier League win of the season, beating Swansea City 4-1 at Anfield on Monday night. The Reds scored four goals for the first time this campaign, while having 21 shots in the 90 minutes. It sealed back-to-back league wins, and saw Liverpool climb up the table to 8th.

“It was a great performance against a very good side. I felt for the big part of the game we dominated. The work-rate was outstanding and we were really exciting going forward. It was about getting back to performing well and getting ideas that will help the players play how we want to play. Tonight we were convincing. We have to keep that intensity and work-rate,” said Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.

Liverpool certainly looked like the side of 2013/14 playing at Anfield with sheer intensity showing an unwavering pursuit for goals. The likes of Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana didn’t give Swansea a second of rest all evening, and Rodgers was delighted to see his tactics paying off. But the question is, have Liverpool turned a corner? Or is it a false dawn?

While Liverpool’s narrow win against Burnley was far from convincing, there was no doubt of their dominance over Swansea this time around. The Reds seized the initiative early on in the game, and City never fully recovered. Defensive errors will irk Rodgers, but he will be buoyed by the attacking performance on display, as it replicated last season’s showings on home soil.

The Merseyside outfit are five points off a top-four place, and have a run of favourable games to come – Leicester City, Sunderland and Aston Villa – that could see them picking up maximum points. Recent results have been much-improved, and a selection of particular games played in the league this season gives reason to believe that the Reds can maintain their upturn in form.

Rodgers is getting the best of winger Raheem Sterling by playing him through the middle for Liverpool (3 goals from Liverpool’s last four games) where he receives more of the ball. The likes of summer signings Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno are starting to find their feet at the club, and things seem to be clicking on Merseyside.

Maximum points from their next three Premier League games is certainly possible, and would see the Reds close to a European place. Given how disappointing their start to the season was, is it too early to suggest Liverpool have turned a corner?

Is Roberto Martinez nearing Everton exit?

On the 28th of December, Everton lost 3-2 away to Newcastle in the Premier League, with the Toffees having thrown away a one-goal lead early into the clash. The defeat to Newcastle was Everton’s third on the bounce, their fifth in seven league outings, and piles the pressure on manager Roberto Martinez going into the New Year.

The Spanish coach could not be having a more contrasting 12 months, with his debut campaign on Merseyside seeing Everton fourth in the league with 37 points from 19 games. Midway through this season, and the Blues are eight places and 16 points worse off. It sees Martinez on the brink with Everton closer to the relegation zone than any side in the top-eight of the table.

Only Alan Irvine (West Brom) and Alan Pardew (Newcastle) are ahead of Roberto Martinez in the bookies for ‘next manager to exit his post,’ and the 41-year-old has recently admitted how concerned he is about Everton’s poor form.

“It is concerning. We have had no momentum in the league and concede goals. Everything that could go against us went wrong. We have to rectify that. As a team we have to stick by our principles. We have to be a stronger team from this. We have not lost the talent from last season,” he said.

Everton’s defensive record in the biggest problem, with only Queens Park Rangers (34) having conceded more goals than the Toffees (31). Dropping points to bottom-half opposition such as Leicester City, Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Hull City and Stoke City has seen the Merseyside outfit plummet down the table, and confidence is low in the camp.

The last clean sheet Everton kept was at the start of November (0-0 at home to Swansea City), where they have since earned just two wins from the following nine games. Martinez has taken the flak for the poor run of form, and with Manchester City (home), Liverpool (home), Chelsea (away) and Arsenal (away) as four of their next eight league games, things don’t get any easier for Everton.

Losing games so readily was something that didn’t happen last season, and Everton have already matched last season’s total of eight defeats for 2013/14 in half the time. Toffees chairman Bill Kenwright gave David Moyes more than a decade at the club, but will the struggling Martinez be given similar treatment?

Should England have a winter break?

Sunderland’s Gus Poyet was the latest manager to criticise the Premier League fixture pileup around the Christmas period, with the former Chelsea midfielder stating how unfair it is for sides to be expected to play less than 48 hours after a league game.

Like the majority of the sides in the country, Sunderland played on Boxing Day (December 26th) this year, and face Aston Villa on the 28th, before having their third game in a week against Manchester City on New Years Day (January 1st).

With such little time in between fixtures, clubs can often endure shock defeats, while injuries aren‘t uncommon either.

“I know that Boxing Day games are a tradition and I accept that and think we should maintain it. But I think that then playing on the 28th is a disgrace. We shouldn’t be playing then, we shouldn’t,” said Poyet.

In the German Bundesliga, the sides in the top flight were given a six-week break between the middle of December (19th) until the end of January (30th), which allows the players a well-earned break at the mid-point of the season. So should such an idea be adopted in England?

Boxing Day fixtures are tradition, and one not likely to be changed any time soon, but could the games before and after be better spread out? The Premier League season starts in the middle of August, and could well start closer to the start of the month to allow a winter break for the players.

English clubs being forced to play three games in a week can be costly to their pre-season objectives, with title challengers potentially losing ground due to fatigue ahead of their fixtures, or relegation-threatened outfits suffering a slump in form.

Considering the winter transfer window also opens in January, it would make sense for clubs to be allowed a break so their newest recruits can settle in. Playing so many games in such little time is an obviously risk to players’ fitness, however, and something that could be so easily rectified if the idea was carried.

Any point in any game can turn out to be crucial in the domestic leagues, and it’s hardly fair for managers to be forced to change personnel around due to the little rest period. Not many clubs can boast such great strength in depth, and Sunderland need every one of their usual starting eleven fully fit.

Poyet is one of many managers who is unhappy with the Christmas schedule, but should it be reviewed?

Fabregas making Wenger regret lack of Summer interest

Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas has picked up where he left off in the Premier League, scoring twice and making 12 assists in 16 games in his first season back since leaving Arsenal back in 2011. The Spanish international, 27, signed for the Blues for around £30M this summer, but the biggest surprise is that no other side made a genuine approach.

The likes of Arsenal and Manchester United were two of the many European sides linked with Fabregas that never made a bid, and it seems odd that no club deemed him worth signing. Chelsea are currently top of the Premier League, and Fabregas has been a chief contributor to their bright start.

Fabregas has been trumping the rest of the competition, and has certainly paid off his transfer fee. Manager Jose Mourinho had been looking for a creative midfielder to replace Frank Lampard, and has found a perfect fit in the Spaniard, who is already being tipped by bookies to be named PFA Player of the Year.

A player perfectly of the Spanish mould, with some English industry rubbed off on him too from his many years at Arsenal, the talented 27-year-old possesses great vision, and eye for goal, while being level-headed and a model professional. He’s a popular figure in the dressing room, and boasts an incredible CV. He could walk into any side in the world, but wasn’t as heavily coveted in the summer as many would have imagined.

With Arsenal’s ageing midfielders Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini having just one year left on their respective deals, Manchester United eyeing up a long-term replacement for Michael Carrick, while long-serving Liverpool player Steven Gerrard was in need of a successor at Anfield, Fabregas was destined for a Premier League return. He spent eight years with Arsenal, turning into one of the best midfielders in the league in his time with the Londoners, but the Gunners surprisingly overlooked him this summer.

Manager Arsene Wenger suggested the likes of Mesut Ozil would provide the creativity, and that Fabregas was not needed in the side. Liverpool couldn’t compete with Chelsea for his signature, while Manchester United were looking at then-Bayern Munich midfielder Toni Kroos.

With Mourinho’s side flying high and in contention of winning all four major trophies as things stand with Fabregas playing a focal point, the decision made to overlook him is something many clubs could live to regret, but it’s not as if the Spaniard hasn’t been outstanding all through his career.

Is Sam Allardyce getting enough credit for West Ham turnaround?

It seems to be going unnoticed that West Ham United are still enjoying a high top-half finish in the Premier League at the mid-point of the campaign. This time last year, the London outfit found themselves dangerously close to the drop, after picking up just three league wins in the first-half of the season.

Manager Sam Allardyce found his position under intense pressure as a result, with a host of supporters requesting his immediate sacking. But the decision by the West Ham board to retain the experienced coach was justified, as United started the following season in blistering fashion.

West Ham have won against the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City to enjoy a lofty position as the Christmas fixtures come in, but manager Sam Allardyce is hardly being lauded as he perhaps deserves for a completely contrasting season with United. His future with the club is in fact still surrounded in mystery, with Allardyce having admitted he’s held no talks with the hierarchy.

“It’s the same as it’s been all season. We’ll sit down when we’re ready and comfortable, and discuss the situation. After we got promoted to the Premier League, we talked about (my) contract around the end of April.  I don’t have any problems with that,” he said recently.

Summer signings made by the 60-year-old have had an instant impact in the Premier League, with Diafra Sakho most notably having scored in each of his first six starts for the club. Compare that last season’s fiasco of Andy Carroll suffering a long-term injury after joining on a permanent deal, and there have been many factors to their surprise rise up the table.

Considering the criticism coming Allardyce’s way 12 months ago, he will certainly feel he’s not received the praise he deserves for turning the club around. The last time West Ham were playing in European competition was in 2006/07, but such a pipe dream is looking more of a reality as the Londoners stay around the top-six of the table.

There’s still plenty of work to be done, but the Hammers boss is certainly due a pat on the back after the criticism he was the subject of for the majority of last season. Why are his and the club’s efforts being overlooked?

Harry Kane, PFA Young Player of the Year contender?

Tottenham striker Harry Kane once again got on the scoresheet for the Londoners in their 2-1 victory over Burnley at the weekend, following on from netting in the 4-0 win against Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup. Kane, 21, has scored six goals in his last 11 games for the Lilywhites in all competitions, and he’s fast become one of the first names on the teamsheet for manager Mauricio Pochettino.

The likes of Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor haven’t been providing the goals when they have spearheaded the attack, but Kane has taken his chance with both hands this season. An England U21 international (10 apps, 8 goals), the Tottenham academy product is knocking on the door of a call-up for the England national team, and is among the best young players in the division based on form.

Kane has scored 11 goals in all competitions for the campaign so far, averaging a goal every 101 minutes. He spent the last two years on a series of loan spells with Leyton Orient (2011), Millwall (2012), Norwich City (2012/13) and Leicester City (2013), and was finally given an opportunity to prove his worth with the first-team squad last season.

The 21-year-old is not only showing himself to be a ruthless finisher, he also creates chances for his teammates. Kane is also comfortable with the ball at his feet in deep areas. In recent weeks especially, the young English striker has showcased impressive dribbling ability to create his own scoring chances, and has shown reason to believe he can lead the line on his own for Tottenham.

While approaching the mid-point of the season, Harry Kane cannot afford to rest on his laurels, and still needs to continue his development this campaign. But with the form he’s on, there’s little doubt that he could find himself among the nominees for the PFA Young Player of the Year as things stand.

He’s already in good company according to the bookmakers, with Eden Hazard (Chelsea), David De Gea (Manchester United), Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) among the frontrunners. Harry Kane finds himself in the list of names following a dream start to the campaign in regard to his personal form. Kane has scored some important goals for Spurs too – bagging a hat-trick in the Europa League against Asteras Tripolis (October) and netting a late winner in the 2-1 victory against Aston Villa (November). His opener versus Burnley may well prove a catalyst for Spurs, who are beginning to show  signs of improved form.

He’s a regular in the starting eleven as a result of his consistent run in front of goal, and if Kane can continue with Tottenham this campaign, could the in-form striker find himself named PFA Young Player of the Season?

Could Chelsea win the quadruple this season?

After victory against Derby County in the Capital One Cup quarter-final, Chelsea are being tipped to make the league cup their first trophy of the season. The Blues are into the semi-finals, where they will face Liverpool or Bournemouth, Tottenham or Newcastle, and Sheffield United.

With Chelsea top of the Premier League, two legs away from the league cup final, drawn against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last-16, and facing Watford in the FA Cup third round, Jose Mourinho’s side are on course to win the quadruple. However, the Blues boss was keen to play down such talk.

“We spoke a few weeks ago about being unbeatable in the Premier League and we never did it. Now we speak about the quadruple but we haven’t done it. We have our feet on the ground,” he said.

There’s no doubt Mourinho will be thinking about the possibility of winning on all four fronts this season, and spending wisely in the January transfer could well be key to help them achieve such goals. Chelsea have a very strong squad, but little in the way of depth in case of a heavy injury crisis, which could see the Blues falter late in the season.

Against Derby County, they lost centre-back Kurt Zouma to injury, and barring a positional shift for Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea have no other viable option to play at the heart of the defence should the likes of John Terry or Gary Cahill pick up a knock.

Having a strong squad full of depth will be vital for the Londoners to compete for the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and Capital One Cup, but if anybody can do it; Jose Mourinho can. It’s certainly taxing on the players having to feature in so many games a season, and Mourinho will know he has to invest on more options so he can rest his key stars to avoid them becoming fatigued.

For Chelsea, the job is far from done, but they can do little more to prove their credentials to win on all four fronts as things stand, with only one defeat from 25 games played in all competitions. Last season saw them finish third in the Premier League table, Champions League semi-finalists, Capital One Cup quarter-finalists, and in the fifth round of the FA Cup. And considering how greatly they’ve since strengthened in the summer, can Chelsea win the quadruple this campaign?

Club World Cup last test for Ronaldo

By any standard it’s been a banner year for Cristiano Ronaldo with Real Madrid. Even the disappointment of finishing third in La Liga mattered little when the Champions League was won, and Los Blancos landed the famed Decima.

Ronaldo scored in the final, one of 53 club goals to date in 2014. And yet there is still a question hanging over Europe’s leading scorer. The goal in the Champions League final was the fourth of a 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid and the Spanish title winners were an exhausted husk by the time Ronaldo converted from 12 yards. It didn’t stop him celebrating as if he had scored the winning goal, though, ripping off his shirt and basking in the world’s adulation.

In fact it was Sergio Ramos who scored the crucial last-minute equaliser, Gareth Bale who netted the vital goal that put Madrid in front, and Marcelo who wrapped up the victory. Ronaldo’s spot kick was the cherry on the icing on the cake, ultimately meaningless to the match but clearly anything but to the man himself. It was a goal in a final but not the goal of the final, the showpiece largely passing Ronaldo by until he eventually grabbed his share of the glory and took centre stage.

It’s hard to be too critical of Ronaldo. He has after all scored 32 goals in 24 games this season but didn’t net in the Club World Cup semi-final against Cruz Azul. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, particularly as when Madrid went a few goals clear against the Mexicans it appeared the team were doing everything in their power to give the No.7 a goal. It never came. Carlo Ancelotti joked after the match that Ronaldo must be saving a goal for the final and maybe he’ll score on Saturday.

If he does and it’s the opener or the match-winner then one of the last remaining doubts about Ronaldo will be answered. The Club World Cup lacks the difficulty, prestige or the importance of the Champions League – except to Madrid, where every trophy matters and as they’ve not won this one since 2002, it has a particular significance. Ronaldo missed out on being the man who delivered La Decima but bringing home the Club World Cup would be an achievement of note – and prove Ronaldo isn’t only in the goals for his own gratification.

Wenger back in fashion?

With Arsenal just two points adrift from a top-four place in the Premier League after 16 games played, were the supporters too quick to request the sacking of manager Arsene Wenger?

The long-serving Gunners boss has been under pressure in his position, after the London side ensured a slow start to the campaign. But a recent 4-1 victory against surprise package Newcastle saw them back on track to finish in a Champions League spot.

A lot had previously been made about Arsenal’s lack of wins against sides in the top-half of the table, but wins against Southampton and Newcastle have silenced their critics of late, and they are welcoming back a host of key players to boost their chances of achieving their objectives too.

Mathieu Debuchy and Olivier Giroud have recovered from their lengthy injuries and have already influenced results upon their return. Laurent Koscielny is expected to be back in action in the New Year, which means Arsenal will be even stronger at a crucial point in the campaign.

Supporters were perhaps guilty of getting ahead of themselves this season without paying attention to Arsenal’s injury list and games to play that could see them climb up the table. The Londoners still have plenty of work to do, but victory in their next game could well see them in a top-four place as they will have hoped at the start of the campaign.

It’s easy to forget that Arsene Wenger is still without the likes of Mesut Ozil (knee), Theo Walcott (groin), Mikel Arteta (calf) and Jack Wilshere (ankle) from the first-team, pivotal players from the previous season.

Arsenal are also into the Champions League last-16, and have been given a favourable draw against French Ligue 1 side AS Monaco, so things are looking up for the Gunners. They have a break from European fixtures, which will mean players are given adequate rest in between fixtures, so injuries shouldn’t be as much of a problem for the next two months either.

Recent form has been impressive, with three wins from four Premier League games to gain ground on the sides around them. It hasn’t been the best campaign, but it’s far from their worst considering how many other teams have also been dropping points.

Currently sixth, two points off fourth, favourable draw in the Champions League last-16, while facing Hull City in the Fa Cup third round, Arsenal have a lot to play for this season. Were supporters too quick to jump on Wenger’s back?

Where will Southampton finish in the Premier League this season?

Southampton suffered a shock 1-0 defeat against newly-promoted Premier League side Burnley on the weekend, which stretched the Saints’ winless run to five games.

A draw against Aston Villa, and defeats to Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United, and most recently Burnley has seen the previously second-placed South Coast outfit close to dropping out of the top-six altogether in the next game week.

Supporters were confident of a top-four finish when Southampton were sitting in a lofty second place in the league after 12 games, but now previous optimising is starting to fade. Manager Ronald Koeman was keen to play down the dip in form by pointing to the calibre of opponent faced, but with the Saints having dropped points to Aston Villa and Burnley in recent weeks, their season could be starting to unfold.

The next set of games haven’t been too kind to them either, as Southampton are set to come up against Everton (home), Chelsea (home), Arsenal (home) and Manchester United (away) as four of their next five league fixtures.

Coupled with the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham starting to pick up results, and the Saints could find themselves on the outside looking in to the teams in a European finish. Four of the sides who finished in the top-seven last season are still currently below Ronald Koeman’s side in the table, so there will be extra competition in the coming weeks.

Last season, Southampton finished in an impressive 8th place in the table, but spent the early periods in the top four before suffering a six-game winless run around Christmas time. Then-manager Mauricio Pochettino saw his side pick up just two league wins in 12 games, which saw them drop from 3rd to 9th at the time.

While the aforementioned quartet are all expected to climb up the table, Southampton are also fighting with surprise packages West Ham (4th), Newcastle (8th) and Swansea (9th), which could see the final points tallies being very close between a large selection of sides sitting below 6th.

The biggest worry for Saints is their poor record against the elite sides. Koeman’s men have lost all five of their meetings against teams in last season’s top-seven, which means their poor run could continue with such a difficult run of games to come.

A top-half finish will be the objective for Southampton, but supporters may well have to be content with a similar or lesser finish than last season’s, given the quality of the teams around them.