With the final English Premier League games of 2012 all completed, here are some of the big winners and losers from the final round of games.
Rafa Benitez (Chelsea)
Chelsea’s interim manager took his in-form team to the always difficult Goodison Park to face an Everton side who are breathing down their neck in the race for a top 4 slot, and who were previously unbeaten at home for 9 months. After a tough grilling by David Moyes’ men in the first half, Benitez changed tactics and with two goals from captain Frank Lampard, was able to secure a vital 3 points in their quest to remain in the race for the title.
Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
Goodison Park plays host to one of the festive period’s most eagerly anticipated and potentially crucial matches when Everton welcome Chelsea on December 30. The Blues of Stamford Bridge, currently sitting just two points ahead of the Merseyside Blues, are attempting to regain ground lost on leaders Manchester United before their recent trip to Japan for the Club World Championship. A loss of form signalled the end for Champions League winning manager Roberto Di Matteo and the appointment of the unpopular Rafa Benitez.
The Boxing Day clash at Goodison Park brings Everton and Wigan Athletic to the halfway point of the Premier League season in very different states of affairs.
Everton find themselves in fifth place and more handily placed than most previous years to make a concerted and realistic push for a place in the top 4.
Conversely, Wigan are at the wrong end of the table in an all-to-familiar fight against the drop down to the Championship.
David Moyes brings his side into the first of back-to-back home games off the back of a well-earned victory at Upton Park over West ham United. Roberto Martinez saw his team go down to a penalty by former Toffees star Mikel Arteta in their home defeat by in-form Arsenal.
Saturday’s win for Everton got them right back into the forefront of the challenge for a Champions League qualification place. Despite some poor refereeing decisions for both teams during that encounter in London, Moyes’ men had too much quality for the Hammers.
West Ham United and Everton go head-to-head in what promises to be another tough Premier League fixture which could go either way.
The Hammers always present a difficult proposition for visitors to Upton Park, and with Sam Allardyce in charge that tendency isn’t likely to change anytime soon. However, in their last home game against Liverpool they threw away a lead to lose 2-3. Saturday’s task against 6th place Everton will be no less difficult, especially taking into account their growing injury list.
Andy Carroll, Ricardo Vaz Te and the impressive Mohamed Diame are amongst the players keeping West Ham’s physio busy this Christmas.
Everton manager David Moyes is not without his own set of problems. Kevin Mirallas’ remains sidelined with a hamstring injury and Marouane Fellaini starts a three match ban for his errant ways at Stoke City last weekend.
What exactly do Chelsea need following their ultimately unsuccessful marathon round trip to the Far East? A blood and thunder Capital One Cup quarter final up north on a cold December evening against a determined, Neil Warnock-managed Leeds United would probably not be the first answer to pass Rafa Benitez’ lips.
This fixture carries with it several side plots that should make for interesting viewing at Elland Road.
Firstly, there is an enmity between these two clubs and their sets of fans that goes back to the late 60’s and early 70’s when they both fielded great teams worthy of challenging for major honours. Indeed the pair met in the infamous 1970 FA Cup Final which Chelsea won in a replay. Both sides were renowned back then for their combatant nature as well as their style on the ball. These were the halcyon days of Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris and Norman ‘Bites-yer-legs’ Hunter.
During the decline that each of tomorrow nights’ opponents experienced during the late 70’s and 80’s, both clubs and their rivalry were associated and defined by the hooligan element that attached itself to them.