The Christmas season is in some ways a turning point in a footballing year. A good couple of weeks (crammed with games) can certainly be the difference between relegation and a relatively comfortably end of the season, and my five strugglers went in distinctly different directions over the holidays.
Fulham are looking more realistic survivors, for example, while Metz go from strength to strength compared to expectations. Elche and Arminia Bielefeld, though, have slipped into trouble. It’s back to normality this week instead of the big round ups. Here’s how it went down…
Fulham 18th, 1-1 away to Tottenham
Fulham drew their fifth game on the trot away to Tottenham, and it’s kind of working for them, as they slowly but surely close the gap in Burnley and Brighton ahead of them with games in hand, too.
In truth, Tottenham should really have been out of sight in this one, with Kane putting them ahead after numerous decent chances. Spurs have that very Mourinho habit of trying to sit on leads, though, and they did it again here. By the time Fulham got level with 15 to go, they deserved it. A 2-0 away win to QPR in the cup won’t do confidence any harm, either.
Spezia14th, 2-1 at home to Sampdoria
It feels increasingly like Spezia belong in the top tier of Italian football, especially with the goalscoring prowess of Mbala N’Zola up front. This game was a derby of sorts for two traditionally mis-matched teams, and Spezia got the better of it.
Sampdoria dominated much of the first half despite going behind, though Spezia will be frusrated with the equaliser, which really should have been saved. It was N’Zola with the winner again, from the spot, and while Sampdoria had plenty of half chances, they never looked all that threatening even with pressure in the closing stages. A great win for Spezia that gives them real space over the drop zone.
Metz 12th, 1-1 at home to Nice
Metz’ early season form suggested to me they might even push on towards Europe, though perhaps that was unrealistic for a team 1/6 on for the drop. The points keep coming, though, and this draw against Nice is probably reflective of where the teams are right now.
Both teams’ goals were a little ridiculous: a silly (though correct) penalty for Nice, and an unintended backheal goal for Metz (give it a glance, it’s bizarre).
Surprisingly, at the other end of the table, a decent title race is hotting up involving the usual suspects PSG alongside Lyon (who lead by a point) and Lille (behind PSG on goal difference). Watch this space.
Arminia Bielefeld 15th, 1-0 at home to Hertha Berlin
Arminia’s improvement in form came at a good time: this home win to Hertha drags the Berlin side into the relegation battle, lifts Arminia out of the drop zone, and comes on the same weekend that Schalke finally ended their losing streak by absolutely hammering Hoffenheim (who Arminia actually play next).
The win went slightly under the radar, then, but it’s an important one. Arminia dominated especially in the second period, with Hertha frankly awful. The Berliners complained about the winner, though there was nothing wrong with Yabo’s thundering volley or the build up play, and they really deserved to lose by more all things considered. Another win at the weekend would be even bigger for Arminia.
Elche CF 18th, 1-3 v Getafe at home
Elche are on a really poor run, and it’s coming home to roost at the moment as they drop into the relegation zone after a promising start to the season (theirs was also the only loss for my teams this week, unusually!). Getafe are a good team these days, though, and there’s no shame in this one.
Guti had Elche in front early and they were well in the game until a second half red card at 1-1, at which point the high-flying visitors became too much to handle. After that, Getafe looked comfortable. Those games in hand are going to need to count for something!
Overall stats (all five teams):
Played 83 Won 19 Drawn 26 Lost 38
Goals for 95 Goals against 119
Average score – 1.14-1.43