The English Premier League table is starting to separate itself into distinct strata. There are roughly six squads with legitimate championship aspirations: eight for the Champions League, four to five in the soft middle and seven to eight seeking to avoid relegation.
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And yet, the size of those subdivisions allows for plenty of movement each week. Fill in something about today's results.
Here, then, are the three most significant changes stemming from the New Year's Day action.
Tottenham Moves Past Man United
Tottenham and United began the day with 34 points each, three points behind a Champions League slot. After seeing each of the five teams ahead of them earn a result, with four winning, the final game of the day became the most important.
Tottenham defeat Man United 2-1 at Old Trafford to leapfrog them in the table. United drop to 7th in the Premier League.— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) January 1, 2014
Goals from Emmanuel Adebayor and Christian Eriksen gave Tottenham the huge victory, a 2-1 decision at Old Trafford. Adebayor's injury is one to track going forward, as the Togolese striker infused the Spurs with their best offense of the season. If his absence is short-lived, Tottenham should remain in contention for the final top-four spots.
Conversely, the loss is bitterly disappointing for United, who dropped their fourth home game of the season. After a recent surge that had seen four consecutive league wins, the Red Devils were presented with an important checkmark on their quest back up the league table.
Now, however, they are back down to seventh in the standings, 11 points behind Arsenal for the top spot and five points behind Liverpool for the last top-four spot. Apart from a road trip to Stamford Bridge, United have a fairly tame schedule the next month to rebound. Still, their already thin margin for error shrunk again with today's loss.
Liverpool Leapfrogs Everton for Fourth
The tightly contested top of the table makes for not only a dramatic championship race, but also an intriguing battle for a top-four Champions League slot. A week after falling from first to fifth, Liverpool moved back up the standings with a 2-0 victory over Hull City.
Arsenal, Chelsea & Liverpool all win by multiple goals & the Gunners return to the top of the Premier League table heading into the weekend.— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) January 1, 2014
Reds supporters had to be apprehensive after their squad dropped back-to-back decisions against Man City and Chelsea. Liverpool will have to wait for another opportunity to prove they belong among the Premier League's best, but as Football365.com notes, when Luis Suarez elevates his game, the Reds are extremely difficult to beat:
After a sleepy start, Daniel Agger settled the early jitters permeating Anfield with a smart header from Philippe Coutinho's corner to open the scoring on 36 minutes.
But it was Suarez, not for the first time this season, who orchestrated everything to help steer his team past tricky opponents and provide some festive relief after two defeats at title rivals Manchester City and Chelsea.
Everton, on the other hand, blew an opportunity to earn three points against a bottom half team; something the Blues can ill-afford to do. Though a late penalty kick from Leighton Baines did salvage a point, it's the second time in three matches that Everton have failed to win despite being solid favorites to do so, following a 1-0 defeat to Sunderland.
The Toffees are just a single point behind Liverpool, so there is certainly no reason for panic. Nevertheless, after a couple near misses that could have won the full three points against Stoke, Everton will be kicking itself.
Fulham Jumps Out of the Relegation Zone
Fulham emerged with three critical points in a game between relegation rivals, coming from behind to defeat 10-man West Ham, 2-1.
The victory was a sweet panacea for the Cottagers following a 6-0 humiliation at Hull. Not only do they move up to 16th, two points clear of the final relegation spot, but they also keep West Ham ensconced deep in the standings. The Hammers, who have to be kicking themselves after Kevin Nolan's red card helped them squander a 1-0 lead, are now in 19th place.
Fulham dictated the action when they gained a man advantage, as West Ham adopted a prevent defense strategy to try and preserve a result. But Dmitri Berbatov's 65th minute goal thwarted those plans, and Fulham celebrated the New Year by moving out of the bottom three:
The Cottagers have a golden opportunity now to build upon this victory, with two upcoming games against bottom-feeders Norwich and Sunderland. Fulham must pick up a result in each game to keep the positive momentum rolling, as well as to preserve themselves against an upcoming three-out-of-four stretch against Man United, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Where Do We Stand Now?
Here are the updated standings after the first batch of matches in 2014. Every team has now played 20 matches, and play will resume on January 11:
via Football 365