December review: Man City widen the gap, goals galore for Harry Kane
December saw a flurry of festive football that didn't change an awful lot at the top of the Premier League table. Adam Hurrey looks back at the month's winners and losers.
Who won the month? Manchester City, yet again
A month ago, this column speculated that 10 games in the space of 30 days -- including a derby day visit to Old Trafford -- might be enough to ruffle Manchester City's feathers if not quite derail their juggernaut. In that sense, the month started promisingly: West Ham briefly threatened to sneak three points from the Etihad but left with none, before Shakhtar Donetsk inflicted a first defeat since April on Pep Guardiola in the least meaningful of Champions League group games.
City's response was to royally outclass Manchester United and then put eight goals past Swansea and Tottenham, all within the space of a week. The biggest blip, a bruising 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace, halted their absurd Premier League winning run at a mere 18 games.
Guardiola would never admit such a luxury, but the upshot of their lightning pace-setting means that City can safely assume the chasing pack will falter too. United drew three in a row over Christmas while Chelsea and Liverpool wasted precious energy slugging it out for a single point in their trips to Arsenal. The gap continues to widen.
Who lost the month? West Brom
The more well-travelled manager (to put it politely) relies heavily on the phenomenon of the New Manager Bounce: quite simply, provoking a reaction out of a set of players who had downed their proverbial tools under the previous regime.
Having ground to a halt with Tony Pulis, West Brom would have expected Alan Pardew to repeat his biggest trick and jump-start their pedestrian squad for a relegation battle. As it's turned out, you'd be forgiven for forgetting that he was even there.
A solid draw at home to Arsenal should be a fillip for any struggling side, but that was undermined by a goalless draw with Crystal Palace and defeats to Swansea and Stoke: an unholy trinity of results that suggests Pardew's influence is truly on the wane. A run of 20 Premier League games without a win is one that needs a firm hand to turn around.
Player of the month: Harry Kane
If this football nonsense gets a bit boring, Harry Kane would make a hell of a darts player. Relentless, dedicated, accurate... and apparently peerless when it comes to doubles and trebles. Kane racked up eight goals in eight games during December and the New Year fixtures, despite scoring in just three of them.
Two hat-tricks in the space of 72 Christmas hours provided the glorious bookend to a calendar year in which he has done the unthinkable, outscoring Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. What next? Kane insisted he would keep trying to find "an edge" and continue an obsessive habit of self-improvement. If there's a better, more efficient way of scoring, Kane is going to find it, practise it and then keep doing it.
Goal of the month
It was a solid festive period for emphatic finishing. Jermain Defoe's looping, almost cartoonish effort from an angle against Crystal Palace was an early contender, while Pedro Obiang's rather unexpected rocket against Tottenham was a very late one.
Mesut Ozil's belting volley was more than enough to decide things for Arsenal against Newcastle, Philippe Coutinho added another flourish to his long Liverpool goodbye with a sweeping, gorgeous effort in the thrashing of Swansea, and Everton's Gylfi Sigurdsson bit the hand that once fed him with a trademark long-ranger against Swansea.
Standing out from the crowd, though, was Mohamed Salah. Faced with Everton's stubborn Allardycian Wall, Liverpool's top scorer decided to go through, around and over it all in one go. Cuco Martina was skittled to the floor on the edge of the box, Idrissa Gueye out-manoeuvred with one twist of the hips and then Salah took advantage of the mammoth presence of Ashley Williams to curl the ball round him and into the top corner. Jordan Pickford's desperate, outstretched glove only added to the spectacle.
Good month for... Football fatigue
You couldn't escape the football. Even in the rare moments when Premier League limbs weren't being hauled across the turf in search of a point or three, the void was filled with someone talking about how much football there was. Some managers sighed and some raged, while players creaked under the workload of having to tweet "Match day! Ready to go again" every other day. As for fans... well, nobody thinks about them anymore.
12 - Between December 30th 2017 & January 10th 2018, there are 12 consecutive days in which Premier League clubs are playing competitive games. This is the longest streak of days involving top-flight clubs in English football history, beating a 10-day run in March 2016. Manic.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 2, 2018
Safe in the knowledge that armchair viewing figures were there for the taking, the broadcasters revelled in a staggered, almost non-stop fixture list that tested even the most dedicated Premier League enthusiast. The demolition derby that was Arsenal 3-3 Liverpool was exhausting enough -- and that was just the opening salvo. Tottenham and West Ham dragged themselves out for the second time in three days to complete the top flight's most English tradition... only for the FA Cup to immediately step in with a Friday-night Merseyside derby.
You can almost taste the lactic acid by now but the festive fixture pile-up is a hamstring-stretching custom that English football will take some persuading to abandon.
Bad month for... Intelligent football managers resorting to tired conspiracy theories
Jose Mourinho: the fixture computer is not programmed to be biased towards Manchester United. The same goes for Chelsea, Antonio Conte.
Arsene Wenger: referees are just as likely to be incompetent against Swansea as they are against Arsenal.
Jurgen Klopp: TV interviewers have to ask you questions, it's kind of their job.
What January needs to deliver
The title race may well be dead and buried but there is still plenty of posturing left to do: in that spirit, Liverpool vs. Manchester City at Anfield has all the hallmarks of a pedal-to-the-metal barnstormer. Elsewhere, Mark Hughes and Stoke should sign their decree nisi and put each other out of their misery.
Adam Hurrey analyses the language of football. You can follow him on Twitter: @FootballCliches.