City slicker than in-form Reds
We have previewed all 10 Boxing Day Premier League fixtures and Manchester City are fancied to beat Liverpool.
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Sam Allardyce had no complaints after Manchester United brushed aside West Ham to record their fourth straight win in all competitions, and a fifth is odds-on here. With 20 points already, Hull have exceeded expectations so far this season and Steve Bruce will be looking forward to taking on the club with whom he spent so long as a player, but bar a 3-1 victory over Liverpool - who were at their very worst - Hull have been making hay against sides close to or below them in the table. We shouldn't expect them to be swept aside with ease, though. Hull have been to Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham, Everton and Arsenal already, and while losing to all five they've never been rolled over. At home Hull have been better still, with their sole defeat coming by a goal to Crystal Palace, and while fixtures have been kind the exception was Liverpool and there's no denying they deserved their 3-1 victory whatever we say about the visitors that day. So, United will have to work hard if they're to come away with maximum points and if you do want to back them then I suggest dutching one- and two-goal victories at around 10/11, rather than 4/7 for them to win regardless of the margin. The concern in doing so is that Danny Welbeck, who has found his scoring touch of late and is at his most dangerous away from home, went off injured on Saturday. Without him, options are thin on the ground and with the notoriously streaky Wayne Rooney without a goal in five games, it's hard to be confident United will find what's required. For Hull, it's worrying that Bruce described Saturday's 1-1 draw at West Brom as feeling like a defeat given that they led for much of the game and raising a big effort here may be a problem. So, a United win is favoured but the prudent play is to wait for team news and back them only if your'e pleased with David Moyes' attacking choices.
Verdict: Hull 0 Manchester United 1 (BC)
Hull have conceded only three goals in eight Barclays Premier League home games this season.The last time this fixture was played Wayne Rooney scored all four in a 4-0 win for the Red Devils at Old Trafford in January 2010.
Danny Welbeck has scored in successive PL games for the first time since April 2012.
Welbeck has not scored in three successive Premier League appearances since November 2010 (playing for Sunderland) - the only previous time that he has managed this.
Wayne Rooney (149 goals for Man Utd) is one goal away from becoming only the second player in Premier League history to reach the 150 goal mark for a single Premier League club (Thierry Henry - 175 for Arsenal).
Of current Premier League sides, Hull City have the lowest points per game record in December (0.80 - 12 points from 15 games).
At times this season, 9/10 for just about any side beating Crystal Palace at home would've looked a straightforward bit of business. This isn't one of them. Aston Villa are a frustratingly difficult side to predict and although they've only had three distinctly winnable home games - against Newcastle, Sunderland and Cardiff - a win, a draw and a defeat from those says it all. Back-to-back defeats mean Palace are back as long odds-on favourites for relegation but there's little doubt they've improved since Ian Holloway's departure. And while a 3-0 reversal against Newcastle on Saturday doesn't look great, let's not underestimate the form Newcastle are in right now. More relevant to this is surely the fact that Palace took nine points from a possible 12 against Hull, Norwich, West Ham and Cardiff prior to losing to Chelsea then Newcastle, and they can head to Villa Park with more than hope. It's interesting to note that Tony Pulis did well at the ground when in charge of Stoke, securing two wins and three draws, and another stalemate could be on the cards. The trouble is if Villa do produce one of their best displays they will probably win and Palace have an undeniably awful away record. So, rather than chance an upset of sorts I'll simply advise you to leave Villa out of your Boxing Day accumulator.
Verdict: Aston Villa 1 Crystal Palace 1 (BC)
No team has picked up fewer away points than Crystal Palace this season (three, level with Sunderland)
Villa have won only one of their last 12 Premier League games played on December 26, that a 4-0 drubbing of Everton in 2005 (W1 D4 L7).
Palace's four Premier League games on December 26 have produced a total of only five goals.
Aston Villa took part in the highest scoring Premier League game on December 26 when they drew 4-4 with Chelsea in 2007.
Christian Benteke has now gone 11 hours and 59 minutes without scoring a Barclays Premier League goal.
This match will see the two sides with the lowest average possession figures in the 2013-14 Premier League season face one another - Crystal Palace (40.3%) and Aston Villa (42.2%)
A little bit like Aston Villa, Cardiff have had some difficult home games so far this season and in fairness to them, they've done remarkably well in the main. Victories against both Manchester City and Swansea were much deserved and they perhaps should've added another against Manchester United, and if they can find a way to produce that level of performance here then another three points could be on the agenda. Southampton have gone off the boil of late and deserved to lose to Tottenham on Sunday. What's most concerning is that they've stopped defending well; having started the campaign with six clean sheets in nine, they've failed to add another in their subsequent eight Premier League games. There is of course no disgrace in losing to Spurs, nor is there in previous draws with Newcastle and Manchester City, but their 3-2 defeat to Aston Villa is a concern and away from home they've gone six without victory, a run which dates back to their 1-0 win at Anfield over three months ago. All of this points towards the hosts at 5/2, and with Malky Mackay handed a reprieve by chairman Vincent Tan there should be a good feeling about the club come kick-off. However, while that 5/2 is tempting I like the look of the draw no bet option at around the 6/4 mark. Only Arsenal, Newcastle and Tottenham have returned from Cardiff with maximum points and Southampton aren't playing at a level which justifies their price at present. There's a chance their firepower could prove the difference and that's why the safety-net is preferred, but Cardiff will see this as a game they can win and I fancy they might just do so.
Verdict: Cardiff 2 Southampton 1 (BC)
Cardiff have won the last five home league games against Saints, all by a one-goal margin.
None of the last 11 matches in all competitions between Cardiff and Southampton has ended as an away win (nine home wins, two draws).
Southampton have won only one of their previous 12 Premier League games played on December 26 (W1 D6 L5)
It was back to the good old days of Jose Mourinho on Monday night as Chelsea ruthlessly sucked the life out of Arsenal to gain a point at the Emirates. They came close to nabbing all three as well and a similarly dominating effort should see them overrun the Swans. The latter were left breathless at times chasing the possession football of Everton at the weekend and you get the feeling it will be tough for them to get their foot on the ball for any length of time again at Stamford Bridge. They will be able to draw some confidence from the 2-0 victory at Chelsea in February on the way to Capital One Cup glory but it is tough in all honesty to see that manifesting itself again in a Premier League encounter. Chelsea are around the 4/11 mark and will be included in many Boxing Day accumulators but I will take a more speculative approach on 5/1 poke Ramires to score anytime. He took up a number of advanced positions against the Gunners and a better final ball or two may have seen him get on the scoresheet. His opportunities to get forward once more may be plentiful and considering he banged in a brace against these rivals back in September 2011, another important contribution from the Brazilian would not be a shock.
Verdict: Chelsea 3 Swansea 0 (DJ)
Swansea won 2-0 at Stamford Bridge in the Capital One Cup semi-final last season.
Chelsea have never lost a Premier League game on December 26 since Jose Mourinho began his first spell at the club.
Swansea have won just two of the last 13 meetings with Chelsea in all competitions (W2 D5 L6).
There is so much to like about Everton under Roberto Martinez and, looking at their next five Premier League fixtures, things could get a whole lot better for the in-form side. Having lost just once in the league all season and currently sitting just two points off the top, upcoming games against Sunderland, Southampton, Stoke, Norwich and West Brom will have Everton fans licking their lips in anticipation and they could realistically be set to mount some sort of title challenge come the end of January. Sunday's success at Swansea was yet another impressive display from the improving Toffees and it seems highly significant they have retained their form despite lone striker Romelu Lukaku seemingly going off the boil having failed to score in his last four outings. That unwanted run isn't going to last much longer and it's worth noting he's found the net three times in two previous top-flight appearances against Sunderland, but the layers aren't taking many chances at 10/3 for him to net first and around 4/5 any time. Goals have been flowing from all over the pitch for Martinez's men, full-backs Seamus Coleman and Bryan Oviedo contributing five between them from the side's last 11 strikes. The 2/5 for a home win seems fair enough given no team has picked up fewer away points than Sunderland this season and Everton have lost just two of their last 36 league home games, but I'd rather take 13/10 for Everton to win to nil as Sunderland main goal threat Steven Fletcher hasn't hit the target since October and is struggling for game time.
Verdict: Everton 2 Sunderland 0 (MB)
Opta stats: Romelu Lukaku has scored three goals in two Barclays Premier League appearances against Sunderland.
Sunderland's victory over Everton in April ended a run of 16 without a win in the Premier League for the Black Cats against the Toffees (D4 L12).
Everton have not lost a Premier League game on December 26 since 2005 (W3 D3 since then).
This is only the second of the last 12 December 26 games that Sunderland have played away from home.
Everton's haul of 34 points this season is only two fewer than Roberto Martinez managed in the whole of 2012-13 with Wigan.
Five of Everton's last 11 Premier League goals have come from their full-backs (Coleman 3, Oviedo 2).
Stoke secured a timely win against Aston Villa on Saturday, particularly given that this trip to Newcastle marks the start of an extremely testing run of games. Mark Hughes knows all about the importance of this time of year and his squad will be fit and ready for the fight, but their most defiant performances remain likely to come at home as they continue to struggle on the road. So far this season Stoke have managed just one away win, way back in August, and it's hard to see them adding to that against in-form Newcastle. Life never seems quite straightforward on Tyneside but Newcastle have performed terrifically well all season despite having a relatively light squad lacking in top-flight experience. We know they're a potent force at home but three away wins in four have fans dreaming of European football once again, and at this stage of the season it'd be folly to rule that out; we'll know more once Manchester City and Arsenal have been and gone. For now, they should manage a third consecutive win in this fixture and at 4/5 represent solid accumulator material. However, the angle I like here is backing Yoan Gouffran to score first at 8/1. The French striker is really beginning to hit form and has opened the scoring in each of his last two starts at St James's Park. On Saturday he had several opportunities to add to his tally against Palace but he's shown throughout the season that he's at his most threatening at home, and odds of 8/1 look much too big given how frequently Stoke fail to trouble the scorer on their travels. Loic Remy probably remains a worthy favourite but if he's a 9/2 chance then Gouffran is 5/1 with me so there appears definite value. Yohan Cabaye is the other to consider at 11/1 having found the net in the fixture last year and opened the scoring on Saturday. He'll be fresher than most on his return from suspension and rates a threat - those who like a saver need look no further - but Gouffran looks primed to give Stoke serious problems and can open the scoring in a home win. Finally, those with Bwin accounts should take their 7/2 about Gouffran scoring in a home win for the reasons mentioned as something in the region of 11/4 would be more accurate.
Verdict: Newcastle 2 Stoke 0 (BC)
Yohan Cabaye has scored three goals in three Barclays Premier League appearances against Stoke.
Jon Walters has scored in four of his last five Premier League appearances against Newcastle.
Papiss Demba Cisse has scored three goals in three Premier League appearances against Stoke.
Jon Walters has scored more goals against Newcastle than versus any other Premier League opponent (4).
This will be sold as a massive game in the battle to avoid relegation although increasingly, Norwich look unlikely candidates for the drop. Chris Hughton has done really well to plug away in the face of mounting pressure - most of which has come from those outside the club - and his perseverance is paying off. Norwich are unbeaten in four at home, winning twice, and arrive on the back of a pair of draws which followed a hard-fought win at West Brom. What I find interesting is that you have to go back to September for the last time Norwich lost to a side not currently the top six, and indeed only twice all season have they lost a game you'd have given them a genuine chance of winning - at Hull in August and at home to Aston Villa in September. That says to me that while they can look woeful against the division's finest, they're among the best equipped sides in the bottom half of the league when it comes to the games that probably matter most and for this reason, I strongly considered Norwich at odds-against here. However, I was happy to chance Fulham at a huge price against Manchester City last weekend on the grounds that they do look better under Rene Meulensteen, and while they lost 4-2 there were again some encouraging signs. The Dutch manager was handed the reins in the middle of an incredibly difficult run of fixtures and will be best judged on games like this and the three that follow against Hull, West Ham and Sunderland. There's little doubt that the form book points towards a home win but I am wary of Fulham and feel it'd be foolish not to allow the new manager a little more time before assessing his team with any great confidence. With that in mind I have to go no bet.
Verdict: Norwich 1 Fulham 1 (BC)
Dimitar Berbatov has five goals and five assists in six Premier League appearances on December 26.
Berbatov is one of only five players in Premier League history to score a hat-trick on December 26th in the Premier League (Man Utd v Wigan in 2011).
In fact, 23 of Dimitar Berbatov's 93 Premier League goals (25%) have been scored in December - at least 10 more goals than in any other month of the year.
Fulham have only won one of their 11 Premier League games played on December 26 (W1 D6 L4) and that win came back in 2003.
Norwich have never scored a goal in a Premier League game on December 26 (four games).
Gary Hooper has scored in three successive Premier League games at Carrow Road.
New Spurs boss Tim Sherwood raised a few eyebrows with his attacking team selection against Southampton on Sunday, opting for a 4-4-2 setup including Emanuel Adebayor, who had been completely ignored by former manager Andre Villas-Boas. The former Real Madrid man rewarded Sherwood in no uncertain terms, supplementing his midweek Capital One Cup goal with a brace in the 3-2 win that moved Spurs seventh in the league and very much back in the picture for a Champions League spot. Adebayor has made himself hard to drop for the visit of managerless Baggies but an inevitable lack of match fitness, combined with the extremely busy festive schedule, does bring that possibility into play so I can resist the 5/4 for him to find the net anytime, certainly before the teams are announced. Roberto Soldado, Tottenham's leading goalscorer this term (4), and Jermain Defoe are the same sort of price but neither has been prolific so can't be put up with great confidence at not much bigger than even money. West Brom are on a torrid run of form, a 2-0 home victory over Crystal Palace early last month their only taste of success since winning at Old Trafford in September. It looks set to get worse before it improves and Spurs should prove too strong. Given Sherwood's positive style and obvious intentions to make a serious impression on the home faithful, it might pay to take Tottenham/Tottenham at 11/8 in the half-time/full-time market in the hope they come out all guns blazing and put West Brom to the sword early in the piece.
Verdict: Tottenham 3 West Brom 1 (MB)
Jermain Defoe has scored in three of his last five Barclays Premier League appearances against West Brom.
The Baggies have won only one of their last 10 Barclays Premier League away games (D4 L5).
Spurs are unbeaten in their last seven Premier League games against West Brom (W4 D3).
Tottenham are unbeaten in their last eight Premier League games played on December 26 (W6 D2).
The Hammers have picked up just one point in December and that has left them hovering just above the relegation places. The news does not get any easier for Sam Allardyce either as they face a team that rarely gives them a sniff with just two draws and nine defeats from their last 11 fixtures. Long-term injuries to key players has left Allardyce with a pretty threadbare squad although the return of captain Kevin Nolan after a suspension for the trip to the Emirates is a glimmer of light amongst the clouds. This is a bit of a pivotal moment for the visitors and I think three points would re-ignite the belief that they can keep up the challenge for the title as we turn the corner into the New Year. There were only flashes of the glorious football we have been seeing from them this season in the 0-0 draw against Chelsea while frusttration between team-mates seemed to bubble to the surface on a couple of occasions that could potentially undermine and cause unrest. With that in mind, I will be happy to let them go off unbacked at 8/13 although such a strong record against West Ham suggests they can come away with a valuable three points.
Verdict: West Ham 1 Arsenal 2 (DJ)
West Ham have lost eight and won none of their last 10 Premier League games against Arsenal.
Theo Walcott has scored in his last three Barclays Premier League appearances against West Ham.
Olivier Giroud has scored three goals in his two appearances against the Hammers and Santi Cazorla has two in two.
Manchester City are unbeaten at home this season, scoring goals for fun and simply must be backed to see off Liverpool and go to the top of the Premier League table. Manuel Pellegrini was dealt a serious blow when City's leading goalscorer Sergio Aguero was ruled out for around eight weeks, but such is the strength in depth to their squad, the 4-2 weekend win over Fulham highlights the fact finding the net isn't going to become an issue due to his absence. Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo are frankly not in the same calibre as Aguero, but they would walk into the starting XI of most top-flight sides and both pose threats aerially, which could be crucial considering Liverpool's moderate set-piece defending. Brendan Rogers should be applauded for the way he has the Reds playing this season, which shouldn't be a surprise given there were some very encouraging signs last term. Luis Suarez has taken his game to another level and looks nigh on unstoppable, especially at Anfield. During December, the Uruguay striker has become the first player to score 10 goals in a calendar month in the history of the Premier League and looks on course for an incredible haul if maintaining the momentum. Not only has his glut of goals shuffled Liverpool to the top of the pile, his overall performance levels have been of the highest order and he also appears to have inspired the likes of Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling to raise their games. But City look better equipped to cope with Suarez than Norwich, WestHam, Spurs and Cardiff, who he has terrorised in recent weeks, with Fernandinho and Yaya Toure providing good protection for the fit-again Vincent Kompany and his central partner Martin Demichelis. Liverpool started the campaign with three straight clean sheets but they've only managed two in their subsequent 14 league outings and it's hard to see them keeping City at bay. The injured Steven Gerrard doesn't appear to have been missed on the face of it, but his absence could be key if things start to get tough and I only see one result if the home side play to their potential, as they have against Man United (4-1), Tottenham (6-0) and Arsenal (6-3) at the Etihad this season.
Verdict: Manchester City 3 Liverpool 1 (MB)
The last top-flight team to score as many goals as Man City (35) in their opening eight home games were Spurs in 1962-63.
Liverpool have only won one of their last five Barclays Premier League away games (D2 L2).
Liverpool last won on December 26 back in 2009 when Rafa Benitez was manager (2-0 v Wolves)
Luis Suarez already has 10 goals in December 2013 - no other player in the history of the Premier League has scored more than eight in a single month of Premier League action within a season.
Suarez has 29 goals in 26 Premier League appearances in 2013. Should he score one more, it'll be only the seventh time that a player has scored 30+ goals in a calendar year in the PL.
Manchester City are the only team in the Premier League this season yet to drop a point at home (P8 W8 D0 L0). They have also scored in each of their last 58 Premier League home games.