And so it begins - that grand English tradition of playing an obscene amount of football over Christmas. It may have its detractors, but from a spectator’s perspective there is not a better time of the year for just kicking back and watching the drama unfold. Chelsea dropped points for only the third time this season and they will no doubt be relishing the visit of city neighbours Spurs. Manchester City are lurking with intent and will look to continue their resurgence at Gus Poyet’s Sunderland. This week’s fixtures are probably more interesting in their relation to the bottom half of the table, with various relegation candidates jockeying for position. December promises to once again have a huge say in the ultimate shake-up this year.
Burnley’s recent tenacity is a testament to Sean Dyche’s unrelenting commitment to imbue his seemingly under-strength squad with the self belief necessary to compete at this level. Alan Pardew’s mesmeric run came to a halt as the Magpies were out ‘Magpied’ by a physical West Ham side. Newcastle’s recent form has probably been derived more from application than quality, and their resurgence was bound to end at some point. I fancy a red card in this game, with both sides eager to win the all important battle of attrition. This one seems impossible to predict, so I’m gravitating to one of these sides drawing a blank. Both Teams to Score, No, at 9/10.
Nigel Pearson’s side has undergone an unbelievable fall from grace since that awe-inspiring victory over Manchester United earlier this year. It is rumoured that Tony Pulis - the Bear Grylls of football management – is already waiting in the wings should any further ill befall the Leicester Foxes. Glen Johnson’s kamikaze header may well have been the difference in ensuring that Brendan Rodgers was not the more maligned manager going into this game. Liverpool are still struggling for fluidity and have battled in these robust away fixtures in recent times. This may seem slightly demented, but I just don’t see Liverpool’s ramshackle squad of players getting themselves up to win after the weekend’s endeavours. Take Leicester or Draw Double Chance at 7/10.
Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United side are slowly starting to regain their Old Trafford pre-eminence, with Robin Van Persie finally recapturing a semblance of the form that saw him top the scoring charts a few years back. Stoke were desperately unlucky at Anfield, with the enigmatic Bojan finally starting to realise some of his former promise. Diouf and Shawcross also came close in a game ultimately decided by a good old fashioned piece of dogged English commitment. United may be without Angel Di Maria but should still have far too much for their opponents. One may be inclined to take the halftime-fulltime double - but their trend of blossoming in the final half gives me cause for scepticism. United to win at 9/20 will do.
Garry Monk would have been devastated by Swansea’s inability to hang on against a wilful Crystal Palace side. Wilfried Bony’s Drogbaesque opener was cancelled out by a soft penalty decision that decided the tight encounter. You can’t help but admire the resolve of Harry Redknapp’s ragtag QPR menagerie. Charlie Austin once again was the man on point while the rest of the side turned in an uncharacteristically frugal performance against the Foxes. Swansea however should have far too much quality going forward against a side regularly flummoxed by intricacy and speed. Expect Sigurdsson and Routledge to provide a consistent support system for Bony. Swansea to win at 7/10.
Neil Warnock and Paul Lambert know that whoever loses this match will come under renewed pressure as the relegation rigmarole oscillates violently following each set of fixtures. Crystal Palace have the pace of Fraizer Campbell and Bolasie, while Aston Villa will be looking for Agbonlahor and Benteke to team up effectively. Both sides will be looking to play on the counterattack, which should set up an interesting cat and mouse game between both sides. This one shouldn’t be a goal fest - I am really feeling the 1-1 draw actually, almost in the spirit of a gentleman’s agreement between the two managers. However, in the interest of safety, under 2.5 goals at 7/10 is the bet.
Alan Irving’s side have been overly reliant on the goals of Berahino and the pace of Sessegnon. It was inevitable that their top players would have a dip in form eventually, and West Brom have traditionally struggled in this festive period of chaos. West Ham’s win over Newcastle was a welcome respite from what was looking like a dramatic swing towards the bottom half of the table. The potent combination of Sakho and Valencia, knocks aside, may begin to be favoured instead of the pragmatic Andy Carroll as the games come thick and fast. Both of these sides are battling to score consistently and perhaps banking on a blank in one of the goal columns would be safer than trying to pick the bones out of a tough match-up. Bet against both teams scoring at even money.
This is a match for the footballing purists; a true barometer of the evolution that has occurred within the English game. Arsenal will be hoping that Sanchez and Welbeck can continue their impressive form against a Southampton side inexplicitly decimated by ten man Manchester City. Ronald Koeman’s star players have had a dip in intensity; Pelle in particular looks to be slightly wearisome following an unbelievable start to the season. Southampton’s all action, pressing game requires the side to be in peak physical condition at all times. But their depth of squad will make it hard for them to maintain that level in the coming weeks. Back Arsenal for victory at 8/10.
The highlight of the midweek fixtures sees unbeaten leaders Chelsea meet improving Spurs in what is always a fantastic derby atmosphere at the Bridge. Mourinho described his side’s performance at Sunderland as fatigued, a slightly worrying sign for a squad - despite all of its talent - that is somewhat short numerically. Spurs in recent years have been the great entertainers - often suffering at the hands of their own insistence on expansive football. In recent weeks, however, they have managed to grind out a sequence of results despite an almost complete lack of fluidity. Christian Eriksen has been influential, but it is probably Harry Kane’s bullish determination that sums up the current Spurs ethos best. But Chelsea are a side built for dismantling teams with lofty aspirations. I’m tipping Chelsea to win both halves at even money. This may seem ridiculous, given the Sunderland result, but Chelsea have been unbelievable at home this season. Furthermore, Spurs have been dismal trying to cope with the top teams - just look at that awful performance against Liverpool.
You have to feel for Steve Bruce. Hull have been decimated by injury and his post-match press conferences are starting to have that repetitive quality to them. A player like Robert Snodgrass - currently on the injured list - would compliment Tom Huddlestone perfectly in a midfield lacking creativity at the moment. Roberto Martinez needs this result; you feel that the Spurs defeat came at just the wrong time for him and Everton. Mirallas scored an absolute thunderbolt in a vastly improved midfield alongside Ross Barkley. Lukaku’s pace will worry Dawson and Livermore and I think the Goodison faithful may finally get some reward for their patronage. Another bold halftime-fulltime double is the tip at 5/4 - Hull were woeful at United and look to have lost confidence. Everton to win both halves shouldn’t be a huge stretch.
Sunderland’s powerful defensive performance against Chelsea was an interstellar light-year apart from that Southampton fiasco. Adam Johnson’s pace provided enough threat to keep Chelsea honest, while their experienced defenders formed an impenetrable shield to keep Mourinho’s men out. Manchester City were excellent at high-flying Southampton, exemplifying the difference between the established class and noble pretenders. Aguero was excellent again while both Toure and Nasri are starting to return to their best. The evergreen Frank Lampard moved a goal behind Thierry Henry in the all-time Premier League goal scoring list, an intimidating example of the power City have in depth. I really can’t see any other result than a City win, priced up at 5/10.
10-Leg English Premier League Multiple Price - 327/1
The man knows his football, but even he gets it wrong from time to time. Feel free to share your EPL tips and multiples below.