Belfast Telegraph

Pep Guardiola sticks with winning formula despite busy festive period

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola made fewer changes than most of his Premier League rivals over Christmas despite warning the hectic fixture schedule will "kill" players.

City maintained their ruthless charge towards the Premier League title by picking up 10 points from a possible 12 but only Burnley and Huddersfield used fewer than the 17 players Guardiola picked for his side's festive fixtures.

City saw their record 18-game winning run ended by Crystal Palace, who missed a penalty in their 0-0 draw on New Year's Eve, but they have a 15-point lead to return to after this weekend's FA Cup action.

Manchester United also recently expressed concerns of player burnout, with striker Romelu Lukaku playing the most minutes in all competitions of any Premier League outfield player prior to the Christmas games.

With a big squad of players to choose from, Jose Mourinho used 19 - though Axel Tuanzebe and Daley Blind played just one and three minutes respectively in New Year's Day's 2-0 win over Everton - while keeper David de Gea, defender Phil Jones and midfielders Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic were ever-present.

Liverpool stayed in the top four after matching City's 10-point haul, with Emre Can the only player not to be given a rest as Jurgen Klopp also used 19 players. Tottenham used 18 as they also collected 10 points after finishing with a draw against West Ham on Thursday.

Times have certainly changed since Aston Villa won the 1980-81 league title using just 14 players all season.

That was in the days of 42 games in the top flight, too, which for Villa included two in successive days over Christmas as they beat Stoke 1-0 on Boxing Day and drew 2-2 at Nottingham Forest on December 27.

This season's festive fixtures were spread from December 23 until the early days of the new year and a pair of ever-presents had enough left in the tank to make their presence felt late in Wednesday night's thriller at the Emirates Stadium.

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte used 17 players, with Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta playing every minute. Alonso's 84th-minute goal in the 2-2 draw at Arsenal was cancelled out in stoppage time by Hector Bellerin, one of three Arsenal players never to leave the field. The result gave Arsenal their sixth point over the four games and Chelsea their eighth.

Talk of European football has disappeared from the bars around Turf Moor as Burnley suffered a dip over Christmas with just two points. Contending with injuries, Sean Dyche used just 16 players - six of whom played every minute.

Southampton and Everton, by contrast, gave playing time to 20 players and used all 12 substitutions possible but also only had two points each to show for their efforts. Sam Allardyce kept four Everton players on the pitch at all times while Mauricio Pellegrino got the maximum out of defenders Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens.

West Brom manager Alan Pardew, who used 17 players and three who played every second, also collected just two points and needs a win quickly before Albion replace Swansea at the bottom of the table.

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