The NFL has Thanksgiving. The NBA has Christmas. For the English Premier League, Boxing Day plays home to one of the season's greatest extravaganzas.
As is traditional, there was a full slate of matches on the schedule for Dec. 26, typically a day of rest and recovery that serves as an excellent showcase for the Premier League's top talent. All 20 clubs in England's top division were in action, and there were no shortage of surprises and notable results.
Although the opening whistle of the season seems like just yesterday, we're nearing the midway point of the 2013-14 campaign. No longer are the struggles of Manchester United or the triumphs of Arsenal early-season trends that are guaranteed to correct themselves over the long haul.
Eighteen matches are no small sample when the season consists of 38. Thursday's Boxing Day extravaganza was just the latest in proving that point, as errors continue to plague struggling squads while the elite continue pushing forward—even if their performance isn't always up to snuff.
With that in mind, here's a quick look at how the Premier League shakes out following the first 18 matches of 2013-14, highlighting some storylines from Boxing Day.
|Pos.||Team||W||D||L||Goals Scored||Goals Allowed||Differential||Points|
|15||West Bromwich Albion||3||8||7||19||24||-5||17|
|19||West Ham United||3||5||10||15||25||-10||14|
Boxing Day Storylines
Brendan Rodgers Is Not Pleased, and He Doesn't Care Who Knows
In perhaps Thursday's most notable result, Manchester City rode scores from Vincent Kompany and Alvaro Negredo in the first half to defeat Liverpool 2-1 at Etihad Stadium. City's victory was notable for any number of reasons, not the least of which being it keeping them within one point of Arsenal.
Meanwhile, it kept Liverpool from maintaining their perch tied atop the table. One swing game brought them all the way back to fourth.
Losing to City away from home isn't anything to be upset about. They have been absolutely scorching of late, have easily the best goal differential in EPL and have a roster so expensive that the Brooklyn Nets think they're spending overzealously.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers wasn't upset necessarily about losing. Rather, speaking to the media after the game, Rodgers was white-hot about what he deemed insufficient officiating—going so far as to call out Bolton resident Lee Mason as possibly being biased.
“I thought we never got any decisions," Rodgers said, via ESPN's Richard Jolly. "The linesman on the offside one, he wasn’t even on the same cut of grass. If you are working at this level, you have to get it right. It’s not even a difficult one. It is a perfectly-timed run, and he is given offside when he is through one-on-one on goal."
Rodgers will likely be hearing from the Football Association following his tirade. The English governing body typically frowns upon any public criticizing of officials, and Rodgers' words went beyond even your average expression of disappointment. He, without quite putting it in these terms, felt his squad was robbed of a victory because of the incompetency of the officiating.
While I'm certainly not about to accuse anyone of malfeasance, there were a couple questionable calls that could have swung the match. The Raheem call Rodgers mentions multiple times could have at least left the two sides at a 2-2 draw, which would have felt like a more appropriate result.
Nonetheless, considering the fire Rodgers spoke with, it will be awfully interesting the next time City and Liverpool take the pitch.
Everton Shockingly Falls to Sunderland
Yikes. If you want to talk about a club who feels it blew a massive opportunity, look no further than Everton. The Toffees came into Thursday evening's contest having obtained table points in every match since Oct. 5, a run that had them borrowing their way into Champions League contention.
Potential Champions League teams do not lose to Sunderland. The lowly Black Cats won their first match in seven tries, with the key play coming on a red card to goalie Tim Howard in the 25th minute. Following a mishandled goal-kick, Ki Sung-Yueng charged toward the net and looked to have an easy score upcoming. Instead, Howard blatantly tackled him, drew a red card and exited.
Ki then blasted a penalty past replacement Joel Robles, as Sunderland held on against the man-down Everton side.
Even playing with 10 men, Everton have to feel like they left points on the pitch. They doubled Sunderland's shot total (26-13), had 11 corner kick opportunities and held the time of possession advantage. But a whopping nine stops from Vito Mannone changed the match's trajectory, and Everton were left to wonder whether they will ever quite get over the hump.
Even Sunderland boss Gus Poyet could not help but praise Everton's talent in victory.
"Then, probably because of the situation we are in and probably because of how good Everton are, even with them having 10 men, we were just defending for our lives," Poyet said, per ESPN. "This is the best team we have played against, even with 10 men.''
Rather than hanging around the top four, Everton's loss dropped them to fifth in the table. Sunderland still sits in last place and will have a long way to go to avoid relegation, but it will only take a couple more victories like this to dig their way out.
Manchester United Barely Survives Near-Nightmare vs. Hull City
Thirteen minutes in at Kingston Communications Stadium, and Manchester United were already down 2-0. Maligned manager David Moyes was seemingly looking at what could have been his most embarrassing defeat yet. The Red Devils' slow start to 2013-14 was one thing, but getting crushed on the Boxing Day stage would have led to even more criticism coming from the United faithful.
Luckily, the next 13 minutes would prove as thrilling for United as the first 13 frustratingly did. Chris Smalling found the back of the net in the 19th minute, and Wayne Rooney did the same seven minutes later to tie the score at 2-2. For those in attendance, it was a thrilling early run that kept heads going back and forth down the pitch.
High-scoring matches aren't really the EPL's kind of thing, but those opening minutes you had to check the dial to make sure it wasn't La Liga on your screen. The match understandably ground to a slower pace after the first flurry of goals, but the way Manchester United pulled out a 3-2 victory was no less notable.
With the two sides seemingly headed toward a draw—the match was played very evenly overall despite United holding the possession advantage—James Chester scored an own goal in the 66th minute. Chester, who had scored one of the early goals for Hull City, had suddenly turned goat at a critical point for United.
The Red Devils are in seventh place in the table but are working their way back to respectability. They are just five points behind Liverpool for Champions League contention, and with matches against Norwich City and the struggling Tottenham coming up, six more points should be attainable.
Hull, meanwhile, are comfortably above the relegation line. After finishing second in the championship last season to return to the top division, being in 12th place should be more than enough for upper management.
That said, getting a win over the (not so) mighty United would have been quite the triumph.
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