With Christmas all over bar the occasional Quality Street wrapper being thrown at an unfortunate younger sibling, thoughts turn to the new year period and what 2017 might bring.
But before we get all misty-eyed at the thought of another 12 months full of hope and promise, first there is the little matter of a packed Premier League schedule on New Year’s Eve.
A few winners….what a way that would be to see in the new year for punters. Here’s the pick of the betting tips:
Burnley vs Sunderland (3pm)
Burley’s exceptional campaign at Turf Moor continued on Boxing Day with a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough, and they must be delighted that in such a congested time for fixtures they are once again paired on home soil with a fellow struggler, Sunderland, in their New Year’s Eve encounter.
Sean Dyche’s side have posted W6 D1 L3 on home soil, with that trio of defeats coming against Manchester City, Arsenal and to Swansea many moons ago on August 13. Since the opening day of the campaign they have been outstanding on their own patch, with matches played against sides outside of the top six yielding a total of 16 points from a possible 18.
After a mini revival, Sunderland are now back in the relegation zone following three defeats in four, and more worryingly for the Black Cats is that the goals have dried up: after scoring in eight of their twelve outings during the first third of the campaign, they have now failed to register in three of their last six.
That run is compounded by a miserable run on the road (W1 D1 L7), and highlights the size of the job facing David Moyes. On home soil, Burnley will be full of festive cheer once again.
Burnley to Win (29/20 with William Hill)
Chelsea vs Stoke City (3pm)
Any fears about Chelsea’s quality without Diego Costa and N’Golo Kante can be swept aside; they were outstanding against Bournemouth in the 3-0 Boxing Day massacre.
Of course, Antonio Conte will surely restore the pair to his starting eleven here – a nice luxury to have when you are on a 12-game winning streak – and that is very bad news for former Blues legend Mark Hughes and his Stoke outfit.
Something has gone wrong for the Potteries side, and after a decent run of form through October and November they have experienced something of a slump in the past month or so with heavy defeats at Arsenal and Liverpool backed by stalemates with Southampton and Leicester on home soil.
When predicting the outcome of football matches it is usually better to look at the bigger picture, but the specifics show us that Hughes selected a front two of Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters against Liverpool last time out; not a combination that is going to strike fear into the heart of a Chelsea defence with ten clean sheets in their last twelve outings.
Chelsea to Win to Nil (Evens with Coral)
Leicester City vs West Ham (3pm)
There is the old adage of the glorious swan, gliding majestically through the water according to the naked eye but below the surface their legs are kicking wildly in a rather ugly fashion. You get the impression that that might be the underlying attitude at Leicester City at the moment, who face the very real prospect of being sucked into a relegation battle if results don’t improve.
Besides the loss of Kante, it is hard to put a finger on exactly why the Foxes are struggling so badly, and with Jamie Vardy sidelined for another two matches after being sent off against Stoke – and Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani poised for the African Nations Cup in January – life doesn’t look like it’s about to get any easier.
Hence our surprise at seeing West Ham, back to full strength remember following a lengthy injury crisis, priced as long as 14/5 for this match, despite the Hammers embarking on a three-game winning streak that has lifted them up to eleventh in the Premier League table.
With Andy Carroll leading the line and Michail Antonio and Dimitri Payet looking dangerous in wide areas, the Hammers revival should continue at pace, and while Leicester can recall Robert Huth from suspension in place of the hapless Marcin Wasilewski in defence, surely West Ham will still get something from the game.
West Ham +0.25 Asian Handicap (13/11 with BetVictor)
Manchester United vs Middlesbrough (3pm)
As a nation that holds a grudge, Jose Mourinho will never get the credit he deserves amongst football fans in England, but the Special One has led United on a fine run that has witnessed them suffer defeat just once since the start of October.
Manchester United 2.0 have been particularly impressive at Old Trafford, and while the scorelines don’t always reflect their dominance at least the points for column – 12 from 12 in their last four outings – does.
The emergence of Henrikh Mkhitaryan as a Premier League player and the resurgence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic have been two key factors – the Red Devils have scored in every game since October 29 – and that is bad news for a Middlesbrough side whose conservative approach is starting to get found out.
Take the easy 3-0 win over Swansea out of the equation and the Boro have netted just once in 300 minutes of action, and that will be music to the ears of Mourinho. The progress of his United side has largely been halted by an inability to keep clean sheets (conceding in 12/18) as opposed to finding the net (scoring in 15/18).
As such, we would expect United to win comfortably here assuming they can find an early goal to break the deadlock.
Manchester United -1 Handicap (4/5 with Paddy Power)
Liverpool vs Manchester City (5:30pm)
This is a clash between two free-scoring giants….expect disappointment as a result.
The Reds have notched 25 goals in eight matches at Anfield this term, while Manchester City will let a fresh and hungry Sergio Aguero off the leash following suspension.
And yet, there is that worry that matches of huge importance, like this one undoubtedly is, can often break down into tetchy, conservative affairs, with neither side willing to take undue risks.
But football is a clash of styles, as much as anything else, and as Burnley and Manchester United have shown this season, the best way to stop this Liverpool side in their tracks is to defend in numbers and then hit them on the break. That kind of approach is not in Pep Guardiola’s psyche, so we can expect an open and end-to-end contest to unfold.
Both sides struggle defensively but are excellent in attack, and so we might as well go with the numbers here and back goals to flow. It would take a brave punter to back a winner in this one.
Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams to Score (5/6 with Coral)