The Chelsea midfielder has recorded 13 assists after 18 games – the most of any player at the midway point – while Louis van Gaal named a rare unchanged team against Tottenham
By Duncan Alexander
In the end, Chelsea saw neither of the Manchester clubs gain on them despite two dropped points at Southampton. The Saints took an early lead and dominated the opening 45 minutes, so much so that Chelsea did not record a single shot until injury time at the end of the first half.
Sadly for the home side this opening shot from the league leaders resulted in an equaliser, with Cesc Fabregas once again recording an assist. The former Barcelona man now has 13 assists this season, more than any player has previously managed after 18 Premier League appearances, and as many as anyone recorded in the whole of 2013-14.
Fabregas now has a possible 19 games to record eight more and set a new Premier League record (currently held by Thierry Henry with 20 in 2002-03). It would be a major surprise if he didn’t manage it.
The shuffled kick-off times in the Premier League on Sunday meant that by the time Manchester City came in at half-time against Burnley, two goals to the good, they would have known that Chelsea were about to drop two points in their game on the south coast.
Whether that had in a psychological impact on City in the second half will remain a mystery but what is crystal clear is that the Clarets became the first visiting side since Fulham in October 2009 to trail by two goals at the Etihad Stadium and rescue a point.
The result meant that Manuel Pellegrini’s side squandered the chance to set a new club record of 10 successive wins, but perhaps more importantly for a side who have won one Premier League title on goal difference and another by two points, it is the fact they failed to close the gap on Chelsea that will smart the most.
Burnley deserve huge credit and their players deserve a good rest: the game vs City was the fourth in a row Sean Dyche has named an unchanged starting XI and he didn’t even make any substitutions as his hard-running troops pulled off the surprise of the day.
So far Arsenal are one of only two Premier League sides to win on both Boxing Day and matchday 19 and they did so at West Ham in the sort of scrappy style that probably says more about their chances of achieving a top-four finish than the sort of comfortable home win they experience so often.
Away at Sam Allardyce’s pumped-up West Ham, the Gunners only completed 66 per cent of their passes (the second lowest figure Opta have ever recorded for Arsenal in a Premier League game) but came away with a 2-1 win, a record 11th Premier League victory at Upton Park by a visiting side, and are now only out of the Champions League spots on goal difference.
The Hammers took advantage of Arsenal’s defensive weakness in the air in the second half but 10 points from four games is slowly erasing memories of the Gunners’ dismal opening 45 minutes against Stoke at the start of the month.
The progress Everton made under Roberto Martinez last season ebbed further away in their game at Newcastle.
A team who conceded only 39 goals in 38 games in 2013-14 have now conceded 31 times at the halfway stage a year on and find themselves a mere five points above the relegation zone and with the same W-D-L record as a struggling Aston Villa team.
The Toffees are repeatedly hamstrung by defensive errors and their total of 10 errors leading directly to goals is more than any other side has recorded. That is already four more than they made in Martinez’s debut season and the feeling persists that the Spanish tactician initially benefited from the well marshalled defence constructed by David Moyes and is struggling to maintain the iron discipline that Everton once enjoyed most weeks.
Sunderland’s defensive recovery since their 8-0 destruction at Southampton in October has been remarkable. In five Premier League away games since the thumping on the Solent, the Black Cats have conceded just once and a 0-0 at Villa Park on Sunday saw them record four successive clean sheets away from home in the Premier League for the first time.
Now they are secure at the back, manager Gus Poyet will surely look to strengthen up front in the transfer window. This game was Sunderland’s sixth goalless draw of the season (there have only been 17 in total this campaign) which is already a record for the Wearside in a single Premier League season.
There may not be much excitement (derby wins against Newcastle aside), but there is stability at last.