Unbeaten leaders Manchester City came out of the festive fixture list with a 15-point advantage at the top of the Premier League despite their winning streak ending at 18 games with a goalless draw with Crystal Palace.
City beat Bournemouth and Newcastle either side of Christmas Day but their record run ended at Selhurst Park by a resurgent Palace, who edged out of the relegation zone after also drawing with Swansea.
Brighton and Huddersfield moved themselves into the relative safety of mid-table with a pair of key draws apiece.
You can read the thinking behind my team below but, first, have a go at picking your own team of the festive period, covering the games from 22 December to 2 January.
Choose your XI from the shortlist selected by BBC Sport journalists and share it with your friends.
Pick your XI from our list and share with your friends.
Goalkeeper – Mat Ryan (Brighton)
Ryan was outstanding during the 1-0 win over Watford and the 0-0 draw with Newcastle, helping provide four massive points for the Seagulls. I find Brighton deadly dull as an attacking force, but as a defensive unit they were magnificent against the Hornets and Magpies, and did not give Chelsea a sniff for 45 minutes on Boxing Day. They work hard as a team, are so brilliantly drilled, and give their manager everything.
Ryan’s performances have been so compelling he has left Tim Krul with very little chance to come in and prove himself. In the Newcastle game the stop from Isaac Hayden that took a massive deflection en route to goal was wonderful but the save from a flicked header from Dwight Gayle was even better.
I’ve been saying all season that Brighton will run out of gas, and it seemed to be happening quicker than I thought against Bournemouth on New Year’s Day. They must pick up maximum points at home against teams such as the Cherries otherwise their existence in the Premier League will be short-lived. However, neither of the two goals they conceded in the 2-2 draw were down to Ryan.
Defender – Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
It was nice to see rival managers Roy Hodgson and Pep Guardiola sitting together reflecting on what was arguably the most entertaining 0-0 draw of the festive period when Crystal Palace held Manchester City on New Year’s Eve. This was a very different test for City and short of an excellent penalty save from Ederson, Palace would have taken all three points. However, there were some star performances from City in that game, and Walker’s was definitely one of them.
Walker has played every game throughout the festive period and been as solid as a rock. The England full-back has matured under Guardiola, especially as a defender. He tamed the menace of Wilfried Zaha for most of the game against Palace and made City look almost impenetrable down their right side.
Walker has made the transition from Tottenham to City look easy. And now he is on the verge of winning a Premier League title as well. I was amazed by the amount of money City were prepared to pay for him, but no-one is talking about that £50m price tag now, are they? Least of all me.
Defender – Lewis Dunk (Brighton)
What a result it was for Brighton to take the points against Watford on 23 December. Connor Goldson – nine months after heart surgery – produced a performance that must have frightened the life out of the surgeon that did the operation. His quality on the ball was impressive, especially alongside the outstanding Dunk.
It was Dunk’s performance against Watford, and again at Newcastle, that left me thinking he is a top-four defender if ever I saw one. Whether he can mentally cope in that environment would be my only concern, but in terms of his defensive qualities I don’t think I’ve seen a better centre-back this season. I’ve seen more polished performances but nothing quite so efficient.
It struck me that Liverpool could do themselves a great service by making an audacious move for Dunk. What would he cost – £35m in today’s grossly over-inflated market?
Offer £45m and I’ve no doubt Brighton boss Chris Hughton would drive him to Anfield himself. Could Brighton afford to turn that down? Alongside Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool would suddenly have two towering defenders who know how to defend. They should be paying me a consultancy for this column!
Defender – Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Azpilicueta helped keep a clean sheet at Everton and produced the ball of his life for Alvaro Morata to nod home against Brighton. The entire Chelsea backline seems to respond to everything he says these days. Brighton contained Chelsea brilliantly in the first half until Azpilicueta found a way through. However, what is so amazing about his performances this season is the number of times the defender has found Morata with the same ball from the same position.
Blues boss Antonio Conte went to great lengths to point out in his post-match news conference just what ‘good feet’ Azpilicueta has to offer. I, for one, had not really appreciated the extent of the Spaniard’s talents and neither did the teams who have fallen victim to his superb delivery.
He also registered a clean sheet against Stoke, who were more concerned about their game against Newcastle two days later than they were against the champions, which once again poses more questions about the Premier League’s scheduling.
Midfielder – Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
The touch around the corner from Sergio Aguero for Sterling to finish against Bournemouth was just mesmerising. Sterling was brilliant on the ball yet again and the England star provided a glorious ball for Danilo to scored his first goal for the club in the 4-0 win over the Cherries. Sterling has proved to be a total pain in the neck for Bournemouth this season as he robbed them of points in the reverse fixture at the start of the season.
Against Newcastle, Sterling, who has a striking resemblance to a young Eusebio (and has his pace), was electric once again and seems to be latching onto everything Kevin de Bruyne throws at him. The awareness these City players seem to have acquired under the careful development of Pep Guardiola is simply breath-taking.
Midfielder – Fernandinho (Manchester City)
When they give out the industry awards at the end of the season I can almost guarantee Fernandinho will not be among them. No PFA team of the season award, or Players’ Player of the Year, but what he is guaranteed is a place every week in the best team in the country.
Fernandinho is another player who has played in every Manchester City fixture throughout the festive period and been absolutely magnificent. I adore this player because he is a throwback to the old-fashioned midfielder on whom you can always depend.
David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne will get the awards but with Fernandinho in the team and with their unassailable lead, Pep Guardiola knows City will win the only award that really matters and that is the Premier League title. And it doesn’t get better than that.
Midfielder – Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
Coutinho sprinted 60 yards to get his head on the ball in order to finish off a move that tore Arsenal to shreds in the brilliant 3-3 draw at the Emirates on 22 December.
Four days later, against Swansea, he scored the 250th goal of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool managerial reign. If anyone deserved to achieve the landmark it was Coutinho. The finish by the Brazilian was sublime. His pass for Roberto Firmino to finish was also top class.
How Liverpool have retained the services of the Brazilian is a mystery to me when Barcelona keep knocking on the door. It is also a commendable that the Brazilian has given his all regardless of the speculation surrounding his future at Anfield. However, should Liverpool fail to win a trophy (again) this season you cannot blame Coutinho for moving on.
Meanwhile, 250 goals for the team under Klopp’s leadership might be impressive but that statistic should be the last thing occupying the manager’s mind. It’s the goals he has conceded that should be consuming Klopp’s thoughts right now.
Finally Klopp has bought a defender who can actually defend. Virgil van Dijk alone cannot stem the flow of traffic heading for Liverpool’s goalmouth and will need someone of note beside him to make them a credible defensive unit. But Klopp seems to be finally on the right track. And about time.
Midfielder – Jesse Lingard (Manchester United)
Having been dropped from United’s starting line-up, Lingard was brought on as substitute and practically saved United from certain defeat against Burnley. Jose Mourinho was right not to hammer his players after the game. Burnley are a decent Premier League side now with a very competent manager. However, Lingard’s finish with the flick of his left heel was sensational and out of nothing.
He was dropped after a series of missed opportunities against Leicester in the previous fixture but finished two glorious chances against Burnley and put the game well beyond Everton on New Year’s Day with another outstanding goal.
What I find extraordinary about Mourinho is his audacity. To even suggest a lack of purchasing power has somehow limited his ability to be more successful is a stretch even for him. Mourinho has spent the best part of £300m and has arguably (when all fit) the best squad in the league.
Mourinho seems to know everything about money but nothing of Manchester United’s history. United have a legacy of producing homegrown talent. As for Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, they both came gift-wrapped for Mourinho and there is more where that came from if he’s prepared to look. There is no doubt Mourinho can take great players and make them into a great team. But not since his days at Porto has he created a team out of nothing. I wonder, is the great man losing his touch?
Forward – Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Mohamed Salah has been quite extraordinary over the festive period and warrants an inclusion in my team. He was pushed hard by Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez, who was brilliant against Manchester United and impressed against Liverpool a few days later. His goal against Huddersfield on New Year’s Day was brilliant. I must admit I was torn. However, it was Salah’s performances against Arsenal, Swansea and Leicester that blew me away and the reason he eventually won my selection.
Salah could have had six goals against the Foxes but settled for two. Meanwhile, for Claude Puel to substitute Vardy and Mahrez without seeing out the game first was a shocking decision and cost Leicester dearly. Again this was another decision made by a manger with a fixture two days later uppermost on his mind. Boy have the Premier League got this scheduling wrong and unless it is changed it is in danger of compromising the integrity of the league.
Forward – Harry Kane (Tottenham)
It was a superb hat-trick by Harry Kane against Burnley and another one against Southampton four days later. To score 56 goals in a calendar year is some achievement but shouldn’t the best finisher in the country be talking about winning trophies instead of breaking records in his post-match interviews?
Scoring goals is Kane’s job and he does it exceptionally well we know that. Records are for statisticians especially when your trophy cabinet is bare. Congratulations Harry, you broke Alan Shearer’s record. Of course we should doff our cap to such an achievement but the game has always been about the team and not those who administer the finishing touches.
Meanwhile, players like Raheem Sterling and Victor Moses (who I am often told are not in Kane’s class) are adding domestic and European titles to their names. Need I say more?
Forward – Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
It was the amazing double act of Mesut Ozil and Sanchez who helped salvage a point in the 3-3 extravaganza against a Liverpool side that once again only seem to have a forward gear. Both men were at it again two days later, this time against a Crystal Palace team who did have gears that went into reverse as well as forward, but their defence couldn’t make the transition from one to the other quick enough to stop Sanchez or Ozil from exploiting the gaps.
If Spurs are a one-man team and can’t cope without Harry Kane, then Arsenal must be a two-man team because the Gunners are very ordinary without Sanchez and Ozil. The German was missing against West Brom leaving Sanchez holding the fort. Sanchez did his best and would have nicked all the points had it not been for a dubious penalty given by Mike Dean.
This left Wenger fuming about the penalty decision and incandescent about the match scheduling. I agree about the match scheduling by the way, but haven’t the owners of football clubs, managers and players for that matter agreed this vicariously by taking television’s money. I can’t imagine what Wenger and Sanchez are paid but it’s all down to TV income isn’t it?
Meanwhile, Sanchez has all but left for Manchester City and who can blame him. The Chilean has been absolutely brilliant and a model professional for Arsenal throughout the festive period. He hasn’t downed tools like others I could mention but has conducted himself in the best possible manner under the circumstances.