The festive cheer may not have been as prominent as in previous years but fans were welcomed back to Boxing Day football in the Premier League for the first time since 2019 with five matches on show.
Tottenham‘s match against Crystal Palace went ahead despite widespread reports it would be cancelled, and Antonio Conte will be glad it did as his side cruised to a 3-0 win over 10-man Crystal Palace thanks to Harry Kane, Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min.
Elsewhere, Manchester City survived a second-half fightback from Leicester City to edge a nine-goal thriller 6-3 at the Etihad Stadium, having been four goals up after 25 minutes.
Arsenal closed the gap to Chelsea to just three points with a thumping 5-0 win at Norwich City. The Gunners move further clear of stuttering West Ham, who lost 3-2 to Southampton at the London Stadium.
Here are the major talking points from the Premier League action on Boxing Day.
Man City 6-3 Leicester City
Can anyone stop them?
Nine wins in a row and another five goals at home. For 45 minutes, Manchester City looked frighteningly good.
Of course, they had some help in doubling their lead when Youri Tielemans twice gave away a penalty for Riyad Mahrez and then Raheem Sterling to score.
But the football on display was mesmeric and ominously reminiscent of how City were simply unbeatable in the 2018-19 season when they finished the season on 99 points.
Leicester are by no means as potent or solid as they were last season, but the way they were casually dismantled inside 25 minutes, conceding four goals to the champions, will strike fear into teams lower down the table fearing a similar thrashing.
Brendan Rodgers’ side put on a spirited fightback to score three goals in the space of 15 minutes to make it 4-3, before Laporte’s header dampened their spirit. But that lapse arguably came from City’s own complacency more than anything.
Now six points clear at the top of the table before Liverpool’s next game, it will take some effort — or perhaps the worst Covid outbreak imaginable — to prevent City from strolling their way to the title now.
VAR makes the right call
For the cynics who still believe video review technology still has no place in the modern game, the incident with Aymeric Laporte only underlined its importance.
The centre-back was dragged to the floor by Tielemans after a tussle inside the penalty area but play went on.
Referee Chris Kavanagh was advised by the VAR official to review the incident on the pitch-side monitor and, after some time reviewing the incident, pointed to the spot.
From a corner kick there are all sorts of individual battles as players try to mark and snuff out their opponents. But Youri Tielemans never had his eyes on the ball, only on Laporte, and he refused to let go of the Spain international’s shirt.
Physical contact to some extent should be allowed in football, but when there is no clear attempt to play the ball, it should be a penalty — and it was.
Tottenham 3-0 Crystal Palace
Kane loves belated Christmas celebrations
Harry Kane has been on the receiving end of plenty of criticism this season, having scored just two Premier League goals heading into Sunday’s clash with Crystal Palace.
But the England captain is beginning to find his feet under Antonio Conte and was in stunning form in their routine win over the Eagles, notching his second goal in as many games for the Spurs boss.
Indeed, the striker got his customary Boxing Day goal, with his opener meaning no player has scored more top-flight goals on December 26 than Kane (he is now level with Robbie Fowler on nine).
Conte will undoubtedly be chuffed – and so will Peter Crouch, who noticed before the game that Kane is beginning to deliver.
Speaking BT Sport, Crouch said: “It’s definitely been better since Conte’s been in and I just want to highlight Harry Kane playing higher.
“I think it helps, as good as he is dropping deep, I think if you want to play Harry Kane high. What you want is Harry Kane in the box, being an attacking threat.”
He was certainly a threat against Palace, who were deservedly beaten 2-0.
Zaha sees red
Wilfried Zaha divides opinion among rival fans – and Tottenham fans made their feelings clear when the Crystal Palace star received his marching orders.
It was a needless decision from Zaha, who showed his petulance with his Eagles side 2-0 down in the first half.
He was booked for a foul on Davinson Sanchez and was then shown a second yellow when, with the defender trying to shield the ball for a throw in, Zaha pushed him to the floor.
Jon Moss had no choice but to send Zaha off for an early shower – and the winger left the pitch to cheers from the home supporters.
West Ham 2-3 Southampton
Ward-Prowse sets the example
If there was anything to take from this Southampton performance, it is Southamptin cannot put a price on James Ward-Prowse.
There is a recognition on the South Coast that the relegation fight is well and truly on, with five sides battling to avoid the drop as it stands.
Southampton showed enough desire, grit and resilience to frustrate West Ham for large periods of the game. But they won this game because James Ward-Prowse showed his class once again.
The midfielder is a Southampton man through and through, he shows it every time he steps out onto the pitch. He was everywhere in the midfield, and capped the performance with a goal and assist.
It was his firmly-struck penalty that put the Saints back in front to make it 2-1 and he produced the goods with a wicked free-kick for Jan Bednarek to head home the third.
If they are to stay up, Southampton need him to stay fit because the England international is so vital for his side.
Antonio on target but Hammers have striker problem
Mohamed Elyounoussi’s strike put the Saints in front early in the first half but, as Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side retreated in their own half, the Hammers searched for an equaliser.
The hosts spent most of the first 45 minutes camped on the edge of Southampton’s box, but they were unable to unlock the resilient backline.
Nikola Vlasic saw an effort palmed away by Fraser Forster and on several occasions, the east London side saw their path into the box blocked by the stubborn Southampton backline. But with three creative midfielders in Vlasic, Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma, the home side looked short of ideas.
Moyes’ double substitution at the break suggested how unhappy he was as he brought on Antonio for Vlasic, and the Jamaica international responded with a close-range header only four minutes after coming on.
After selling Sebastien Haller in January, Moyes failed to find a suitable replacement. But if they are to become a challenger for European places this season, signing a forward in January should be the Scot’s first priority.