Chelsea sit atop the Premier League going into the New Year, with only a solitary loss to Newcastle there to blight what could be a monumental season for the exciting Blues. Manchester City missed a glorious opportunity to cut the deficit as pugnacious Burnley restricted them to a point on Sunday. Louis Van Gaal’s United ran into an inspired Hugo Lloris at Spurs in a game that could have seen them draw closer to Premier League title contention. Van Gaal’s side has yet to replicate their imperious home form on the road and will know that nothing short of a victory at Stoke will be good enough to propel their hypothetical title push. The sacking of Neil Warnock exemplifies the desperation that is now palpable in the lower rungs of the division, as no side has been significantly cut aside yet in the veritable feeding frenzy.
This is a fixture that will certainly test the resolve of Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United. Stoke have been steady in the wake of that defeat to Chelsea, with Mame Diouf’s first Premier League brace accounting for West Brom on Sunday. Bojan and Arnautovic have added class to the traditional ruggedness of N’Zonzi and Walters. Juan Mata seems to be thriving in the number ten role in the pocket, while Wayne Rooney’s influence on the side has steadily increased as the season has progressed. Louis Van Gaal has done well to manage the injuries to his side and knows that nothing less than 100% will be enough to see off Stoke City. Play it safe and take United to win or draw at 1/4.
The sacking of Neil Warnock looms ominously over this game like a spectre, especially considering the tenuous hold that Paul Lambert has always had on his job. Alan Pardew seems the surprising replacement for Warnock in news that has rocked the foundation of the league. Crystal Palace were businesslike enough on Boxing Day in attaining a hard earned point. Aston Villa managed to survive the dismissal of Fabian Delph and hold on to a point against Sunderland. It is the third time in four matches that they have lost a player, following the dismissals of both Kieron Richardson and Gabby Agbonlahor. Both sides had tepid 0-0 draws on Boxing Day and have been serial offenders in not finding the score sheet. Go under 2.5 goals here at 11/20.
Hull City’s epic Boxing Day win was nullified by an extremely disappointing loss at home to Leicester City. Their side has more options now since the welcome return of Gaston Ramirez and Abel Hernandez, while Sone Aluko provides purpose and drive in midfield. Everton have had some serious injury setbacks of late, losing Stones, Howard and Jagielka in the space of one game. Mirallas is also still coming back to full fitness in a truly bizarre season. Consider that they lie ten points behind Spurs, yet one could argue that Everton have looked a far more enterprising side than the North Londoners. I feel that despite a lack of confidence, Everton’s enterprising fullbacks will keep Hull pegged back while their array of talent around the park will nick it for them. Back the Toffees to win at 12/10.
You have to admire the character that Brendan Rodgers’ side have displayed in recent weeks. Sure, they have had relatively easy fixtures, but you cannot underestimate the pressure that Liverpool were under following European elimination and that dreaded derby defeat to United. Nigel Pearson has called on his side to build on their morale boosting victory at Hull, but this should be a step too far for the determined Leicester Foxes. Liverpool to win both halves on the halftime-fulltime double at 19/20 is a good single bet, while the Reds to win at 4/10 goes into the multiple.
Manuel Pellegrini was left visibly frustrated following Manchester City’s inability to hold on to a 2-0 lead at home to relegation candidates Burnley. There were also injury doubts for both Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany going into this game, while David Silva continues his miraculous run of form in recent weeks. The ‘false nine’ experiment with James Milner failed miserably, which may lead to a tactical reshuffle by Pellegrini. Sunderland, the draw specialists of the Premier League, were relegated to their sixth nil-nil draw on Sunday, while Gus Poyet has come out in open criticism of the English fixture list. I’m going for the halftime-fulltime double, with City to win both halves, as the congested fixture list finally catches up with an uninspiring Sunderland side. Get it at 13/20.
The news that Alan Pardew is in talks to replace Neil Warnock at Palace stunned the entire football fraternity, especially considering the work he has done to turn Newcastle’s season around. Newcastle United channelled the inspirational return of cancer survivor Jonas Gutierrez into a fabulously entertaining victory over Roberto Martinez’s flailing Everton. Cisse and Perez continue to provide a lethal spearhead for a side built on the midfield physicality of Sissoko and Colback. Burnley prevented City from winning a record tenth straight game, with yet another virtuosic performance from Ashley Barnes. The striker was ably supported by Boyd and Arfield in a match that may have not elevated them from the bottom three, but went some way to fostering a growing sense of belief in the side. Still, Newcastle to win or draw is the bet here at 2/11.
QPR have benefitted from the struggles of various other sides, with Harry Redknapp’s team still climbing a position on the table following a stalemate with Crystal Palace. The Swans were outplayed at Anfield but know that they still sit solidly in the top half of the table. Wilfried Bony and Gylfi Sigurdsson remain key to Swansea as they aim to break down QPR’s resolute midfield shape. I think Harry will set up QPR not to be beaten, and this should result in few real goal scoring opportunities. Under 2.5 goals is the bet here at 7/10.
Just when everyone thought that Southampton’s top four surge would flounder, Ronald Koeman’s side has defied expectations and established a foothold in the Champions League places. The return to fitness of key players at the right time has seen their side usurp West Ham in the surprise position. Morgan Schneiderlin will miss the game due to suspension in what could be a hefty blow to the Saints’ chances here. Arsenal may welcome back the hugely influential figure of Theo Walcott, while Alexis Sanchez continues to shine for the resurgent Gunners. Both sides will score. Get on at 7/10.
West Ham should not be too disheartened by their defeat to an in-form Arsenal side, and Allardyce will know that a steady home win here will be just the thing to assuage any doubts about his side. West Brom are in desperate need of inspiration as their eternal battle with the drop took another hit away at Stoke. Morrison and Brunt are both looking a touch jaded in midfield while Berahino and Sessegnon are both young players susceptible to swings in form. Andy Carroll will be the focal point as West Ham should run out comfortable victors, available at 8/10.
Spurs have skated by this season without ever really finding their own cohesive playing identity. Contrary to their normal role as swashbuckling underachievers, they have formed a new niche as perpetual grinders in a bid to gain more consistency. Chelsea have started to rotate their players more regularly with the growing demands of the congested fixture list upon them. I’m sure that Mikel, Schurrle and Luis will make way for the more settled trio of Willian, Oscar and Azpilicueta. If Chelsea go with their strongest side they should be far too much for a Spurs side who continually flatter to deceive. Take the Blues to win at 15/20.
10-leg English Premier League Multiple Price - 104/1
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