The weekend’s action marks a period of four Premier League game weeks in the space of 18 days, and just as the last of the turkey is consumed and elderly relatives packed off back to whence they came, the cracks will just be starting to emerge in the facade of many of the division’s movers and shakers.
This opening gambit is an excellent opportunity to get three much needed points on the board heading into the busy Yuletide period; but who will get the job done?
Here are the pick of Saturday’s Premier League betting tips:
Crystal Palace vs Chelsea (12:30pm)
You have to feel a bit sorry for Crystal Palace fans: blinded by the occasional ‘new dawn’, such as the 3-0 win over Southampton, the stark nature of their malaise often goes unnoticed. Remember, this is the Premier League’s worst performing team in the 2016 calendar year.
And yet, there are positives here. The Eagles have netted in 81% of their matches this term – the same ratio as Liverpool and Manchester United, including 14 in their last half-a-dozen outings. At least their fans are getting value for money.
Only Swansea and Hull are worse defensively, however, which will be music to the ears of Saturday’s opponent: rampant Chelsea.
The Blues have notched ten straight wins and are seemingly cruising to the Premier League title: no side has been able to cope with them since the switch to 3-4-3. But their last pair of outings – narrow 1-0 wins over West Brom and Sunderland – suggest that the magic, if not fading, is certainly less glittering.
So far this term, Palace have paid no heed to the reputation of their opponents, and while Chelsea’s current defensive record – eight clean sheets in ten starts – is hugely impressive, Alan Pardew’s men have only failed to find the net once in their last fourteen outings. Something has to give here.
Crystal Palace +1 Asian Handicap (8/9 with bet365)
Middlesbrough vs Swansea (3pm)
Just three points separates these two sides now, and the spectre of relegation is looming large over Middlesbrough and Swansea heading into the festive period.
The Boro have been the better of the two teams and certainly more consistent, but that only gets you so far; points on the board are the only currency welcomed. Swansea, meanwhile, have been chaotic and occasionally disruptive – scoring in six of their last seven outings, but that away form (W1 D1 L6) is an atrocity threatening to overshadow their respectable work on home soil.
Aitor Karanka’s side are nineteenth in a hypothetical league table based on home form, and an inability in front of goal could well come back to haunt them here. If Swansea are scoring liberally – and Boro are not able to take advantage of the myriad of chances presented to them – surely there can be only one outcome?
Swansea Draw No Bet (7/5 with Betfair)
Swansea +0.25 Asian Handicap (21/20 with bet365)
West Ham vs Hull City (3pm)
For the first time in a long time, West Ham have strung together consecutive good performances – a draw at Anfield backed by victory over Burnley on Wednesday night – and perhaps the doom clouds will start to lift over Olympic Park. Slaven Bilic has been able to welcome back key figures from injury, and so their upturn in fortunes is no coincidence.
No such look for Hull, whose wretched form continues. The Tigers are at their worst on the road (W1 D1 L6), conceding a whopping 20 goals in just eight away days. They have failed to score in any of their last four matches on their travels, and perhaps the cabin fever of trying to avoid defeat – rather than playing with freedom – has set in for Mike Phelan’s side. It is not a recipe for success.
The Hammers have a relative embarrassment of riches in attacking areas, with Andy Carroll back from injury and supported by the likes of Michail Antonio, Dimitri Payet and Andre Ayew. We can expect their output in the final third to increase as a result.
West Ham -1 Handicap (7/4 with Coral)
West Brom vs Manchester United (5:30pm)
In the football community there are often myths that become hard to shake off; it’s as if they are set in concrete and no amount of chipping away can ever free punters of these perceptions that stick around for the long haul.
One such myth – that West Brom are ‘boring’ and Tony Pulis a dinosaur – continues to be considered the norm, and yet let’s just look at the facts: the Baggies have scored more goals than both Manchester United and Everton this season, notching ten in their last trio of outings at the Hawthorns, where they have lost just 2/8 all term. Why there are so many empty seats there on a fortnightly basis is anybody’s guess.
The good news that stems from such mis-information is that the bookmakers too seem to under-rate the Baggies, and 9/2 for them to win this match at home against an inconsistent United side is bordering on the insulting. Not that we’ll be taking it on ourselves, mind.
It’s been a decent week for Jose Mourinho with victories over Tottenham and Crystal Palace, but he might just find this West Brom side a tougher nut to crack.
West Brom +0.25 Asian Handicap (67/40 with bet365)