If you’re reading this on the 31st, have a great New Year’s Eve! If you’re reading this on the 1st, Happy New Year!
Okay, pleasantries done. Now let’s get down to the real business. New Year’s Day is a footballing feast, and that means another ‘Saturday’ acca from me. Yes, we know it isn’t a Saturday, but we can make an exception to welcome 2018 in.
Burnley vs Liverpool
Liverpool are undefeated in their last 12 matches, and have scored three or more in their last five on the road. Jurgen Klopp’s men are flying. They are now only four points off second-placed Chelsea, while playing some of the best attacking football in Europe.
In contrast, suspensions and injuries have hurt Burnley. Sean Dyche’s side have not won in four straight league games, but remain three points behind Spurs and Arsenal. What they have done this season is remarkable, and it will remain such regardless of what happens in the rest of the campaign.
We all know the pattern of this match. Liverpool are going to dominate the ball, Burnley will aim to close gaps by sitting on the edge of their own box. The hosts’ hope will be a counter-attack or set piece.
The potential absence of Mohamed Salah could cause a large outwards breath at Turf Moor. That relaxation may well vanish when they remember the other forwards that Klopp will name. Liverpool’s form and the stretched Burnley squad lead me towards an away win. I doubt it will be another three goals for the Reds, but they will be happy enough with the three points.
TIP: Liverpool to win @ 4/9
Stoke City vs Newcastle
Mark Hughes has heaped pressure on this match with his team selection against Chelsea. That match ended in a 5-0 defeat for the Potters, who hold the league’s worst defensive record. I happen to agree with Hughes’ decision, but the Stoke fans will quickly become restless if things go wrong against the Magpies.
Newcastle were involved in a dire 0-0 with Brighton at the weekend. Rafael Benitez’s side are still short on invention in the final third, but have shown defensive solidity in their last two. The Spaniard would surely be happy with a draw....
Separated by just a point and loitering above the bottom three, this – in just the 22nd match of the season – has the trademarks of a ‘relegation six-pointer’. We can be sure a Match of the Day commentator or Soccer Saturday ‘pundit’ will label it just that.
Stoke need the three points more than Newcastle, bizarrely. The visitors’ defensive improvement suggests they might just frustrate the Potters, however.
TIP: Match to be drawn @ 23/10
Leicester City vs Huddersfield Town
Having enjoyed a traditional new manager bounce when Claude Puel arrived, Leicester have hit a bump in the road. One point from the last 12 available has left them with a slightly sour Christmas taste.
Huddersfield are just three points off the Foxes. Three straight draws have been acceptable, though a little frustrating. One extra goal could have the Terriers feeling particularly comfortable as we edge into 2018.
Attack is the issue for David Wagner’s men. Their options are limited, especially when compared to their New Year’s Day opponents. Luckily, Wagner’s side have shown resilience. They will need every bit of that if they are to get a result from the King Power.
I fancy Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez to do enough to squeak past Huddersfield, even with the Foxes on this poor run of form. The visitors should be safe this season, but the combination of Leicester’s attack and Huddersfield’s offensive difficulties make a home win good value.
TIP: Leicester to win @ 8/13
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*