Clubs around the Premier League finished up an extremely busy holiday stretch of matches with a full slate of fixtures on New Year's Day. As expected, the condensed schedule helped bring some clarity to the title picture heading into the season's second half.
Even though the championship race did clear up with Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea starting to create a gap, the rest of the table remains bunched up. The difference between fourth and eighth is just six points while only nine points separate 10th and last place.
Without further ado, let's check out how the table is shaping up for Week 21 now that Matchday 20 on the first day of 2014 is in the books.
Here's a look at the New Year's Day results:
|Date||Home Club||Road Club||Score|
Among the top three, Chelsea were the only side able to score a convincing victory. Fernando Torres scored at the hour mark and was soon followed by Willian and Oscar as the Blues stretched their winning streak to three with a 3-0 win over Southampton.
Not only did the victory keep Chelsea in the top three with a little cushion over the pursuing clubs, but it also showed they know how to finish an opponent when they have them on the ropes. Jose Mourinho was very pleased with that aspect of the match:
Jose: "We have to kill opponents when we are winning, which is what we did today." #CFC— Chelsea FC (@chelseafc) January 1, 2014
Things were a little more difficult on the holiday for Arsenal and Manchester City.
It appeared the Gunners were going to let two valuable points slip away against Cardiff. Despite controlling the pace throughout and creating several scoring opportunities, the match remained scoreless heading into the final minutes.
Finally, Nicklas Bendtner scored in the 88th minute and Theo Walcott followed in stoppage time to secure the 2-0 result. It was three points they certainly deserved but didn't earn them until the final moments in order to stay atop the table.
City were able to escape a road clash with Swansea even though Wilfried Bony put on a highlight-reel display for the home squad. He scored twice, but Fernandinho, Yaya Toure and Aleksandar Kolarov found the net for the Sky Blues to make sure they didn't lose any ground.
Elsewhere, Liverpool put together a very strong showing to take down an overmatched Hull side, 2-0. At this point it would probably be easier to alert fans when Luis Suarez doesn't score, but he kept his run of amazing form intact with another goal and Daniel Agger added the other as the Reds moved to fourth.
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Everton slipped to fifth after a draw with Stoke. A lackluster attacking effort almost left the Toffees in the loss column, but Leighton Baines equalized in stoppage time to offset an earlier strike by Oussama Assaidi for Stoke.
In a match between two sides with Champions League hopes, Tottenham went on the road to Old Trafford and came away with all three points. It's a major setback for a United squad that had been showing signs of progress in recent matches.
As the Daily Mail points out, given the success of the other contending clubs and United's loss at home, it's fair to start wondering if their hopes of repeating are gone with 18 matches to go.
Arsenal, Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool have all won today... so is that now officially the end of Manchester United's title defence?— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) January 1, 2014
Fulham fell behind inside the first 10 minutes as Mohamed Diame got West Ham on the board early. The Cottagers took complete control from that point, however, and eventually the pressure paid off as Steve Sidwell and Dimitar Berbatov scored to move them a few points clear of the relegation zone.
Sunderland's attacking woes continued in a 1-0 loss to Aston Villa. Gabriel Agbonlahor scored for the Lions to move them six points clear of what's setting up to become a very tense relegation fight in the coming months. The Black Cats remain in the Premier League basement.
West Brom were able to get back on the winning side of things with a 1-0 win over Newcastle. It was another match that didn't get decided until the final minutes when Saido Berahino converted from the spot to drop the Magpies five points behind fifth place.
Wrapping up the action, Crystal Palace and Norwich fought to a 1-1 draw in a match where both sides sought three points because they could easily be battling each other for Premier League survival in the end. A draw didn't do much for either side.