A new year begins and with it the remaining half of the 2015/16 English Premier League season. It’s been an incredible journey so far in what is an incredibly open season. Just 10 points separate the top 10 sides so there’s no doubt there will be plenty of shuffling on the table by May. Arsenal look the best placed given they sit top on goal difference ahead of Leicester who could finish anywhere. There’s no doubt Leicester have been the most incredible story of the season so far, perhaps for me even surpassing the incredible demise of Chelsea who sit in 14th at the halfway point. Leicester can certainly finish in the top 4 but the 2nd half of the season will get more difficult as the pressure builds and competitors figure them out. Then the likes of Manchester City will no doubt find their feet again after some inconsistent results lately whilst Tottenham are building a side for the future but have the results and potential to at least mount a challenge and at very least for the top 4. It’s an exciting time to be a fan of the EPL and the first round of games will no doubt provide plenty of action.
**Odds from Sportsbet as at 2nd January
West Ham ($3.6) versus Liverpool ($2.05), Draw ($3.5)
The Hammers finally broke through for a much needed win against Southampton last time out but either way should provide a tough match for the visiting Liverpool. It was West Ham’s first win since Oct 25th when they beat Chelsea 2-1 but during that time whilst they struggled to win games, they did only lose 2. For Liverpool they are coming off a good week with wins over Leicester and Sunderland but shouldn’t take West Ham too lightly. Still part of the problem for Liverpool has been that they just haven’t been scoring enough goals with 5 in their last 6 matches West Ham have been in a similar situation scoring just the 4 goals in their last 6 games but more importantly they’ve only conceded 3 in that time. Football can always bring up some strange results where two sides that haven’t been scoring suddenly swing the trend the other way but I feel like this will be a close and low scoring game. Liverpool have of course won their last 2 but I don’t feel like it’s been done all that convincingly to assure victory here.
Predicted score: Draw 1-1
Best Bet: Under 2.5 goals at $1.71 (75%)
Next Best: Double chance West Ham at $1.72
West Brom ($2.9) versus Stoke ($2.55), Draw ($3.2)
Stoke have won their last 2 with a great win over Manchester United 2-0 and then a 7 goal thriller that saw them beat Everton 4-3 last time out. They’re really starting to hit their stride now which doesn’t bode well for West Brom despite them breaking through for a much needed win against Newcastle last time out. They’re home form hasn’t been bad but it hasn’t been great either with just the 3 wins and 2 draws from 10 games. Stoke should make this 3 in a row with the form of Arnautovic and Shaqiri a highlight recently.
Predicted score: Stoke 2-1
Best Bet: Stoke to win at $2.55 (80%)
Next Best: Stoke to win either half at $1.91
Arsenal ($1.3) versus Newcastle ($10), Draw ($5.5)
The Gunners returned to winning ways on Boxing Day with a good 2-0 win over an in form Bournemouth side. They face Newcastle this weekend who look to be back to struggling for results having lost their last 2 games. A scary prospect for Arsenal is that they’re still performing without some of their injured stars in Cazorla and Sanchez. I don’t think they’ll need either of those two for this game though even if they were fit. Adding to the uphill battle for Newcastle is that Arsenal haven’t lost at home since the opening day when they were shocked by West Ham. Given the confidence with which they are playing their football at the moment, it’s difficult to see anything other than an Arsenal win here.
Predicted score: Arsenal 3-0
Best Bet: Arsenal to win to Nil at $2.2 (80%)
Next Best: Arsenal to score 3 or more goals at $2
Leicester ($1.91) versus Bournemouth ($4), Draw ($3.6)
After two results for Leicester where they haven’t won a game, they’ll be looking to get back into gear when they face Bournemouth this weekend. Despite this being against a lower positioned side, a win here for Leicester will show they are still a title contender. Their 0-0 draw against Manchester City last time out was one of those games where two top sides face off but neither want to give too much away so a draw was a great result. Bournemouth though had been in great form before their defeat at Arsenal last time out which in many respects was probably to be expected. To only lose 2-0 I think will do them good ahead of this one so at the very least they’ll be pretty competitive as they really have nothing to lose. With that said, I have to go with Leicester still after two tough fixtures that were always going to be difficult to get the 3 points from.
Predicted score: Leicester 2-1
Best Bet: Leicester to win at $1.91 (85%)
Next Best: Over 2.5 goals at $1.74
Manchester United ($1.57) versus Swansea ($6), Draw ($4)
Times are tough at Manchester United and it could get tougher them still when they face a Swansea side who have the edge over them in recent meetings. Swansea have beaten United in 4 of their last 5 meetings including their last 2 trips to Old Trafford. United have lost 3 of their last 4 and haven’t won since their 2-1 win over Watford on 21st November. Swansea should make a match of this at the very least and are well in the running for a point or more here. They’re coming off a decent run where they are undefeated in their last 3 games including a 1-0 win over West Brom. They’ve built that recent run on a stingy defence where they’ve kept 3 clean sheets which doesn’t bode well with Man United’s inability to score regularly. That’s something that has been a similar issue for Swansea with United scoring just 3 in their last 6 games and Swansea just 2 times in the same period. As for this one I feel like regardless of the actual result, we won’t see a lot of goals. I’m not convinced by United and I feel like the pressure is still there for LVG to get a result. With that said I’m leaning towards a United win but I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see Swansea get something from this based on their recent form and belief they will take from recent United matches. So with that I’m going to go with a draw here.
Predicted score: Draw 0-0
Best Bet: Under 2.5 goals at $1.62 (75%)
Next Best: Double chance Swansea at $2.4
Norwich ($3) versus Southampton ($2.4), Draw ($3.3)
After such a big win over Arsenal you would have thought Southampton would have built something from there but they didn’t. They lost to West Ham last time out and now face a tricky trip to Norwich who’ve won 2 of their last 3 games overall and are undefeated in their last 4 home games. I think Southampton just haven’t been consistent enough to push on for a win here whilst Norwich have been getting some good results which sees them in good form. Southampton’s chances aren’t made much easier given they have lost 3 in a row away from home and being unable to back up such an excellent win over Arsenal just shows they have a lot of work to do. With the uncertainty about Southampton’s inconsistency though presents a challenge here where we just don’t know which Southampton will turn up. For me I don’t think it’ll be the Arsenal winning Southampton but I think they have enough to grab a point.
Predicted score: Draw 1-1
Best Bet: Both teams to score – Yes at $1.72 (75%)
Next Best: Exactly 2 or 3 goals at $2
Sunderland ($2.45) versus Aston Villa ($3), Draw ($3.25)
A battle of the bottom two sides here should make for an interesting contest. Both sides are clearly desperate for points with Sunderland 7 points from safety and Aston Villa 11 points off safety. Villa have certainly been the better side of the two in recent games with Sunderland on a 5 game losing streak whilst Villa have at least scrambled 3 points from their last 5. It’s still going to be an uphill battle for Villa here despite that though with the mental barrier of an 11 point gap to safety at the halfway point of the season something pretty difficult to come back from. I think the reality of relegation may start to creep in to Villa unless they get another win soon. Just 1 win from 19 games is appalling and despite Sunderland being out of form themselves, I think they’ll find it tough here to win. This could be a bit of a scrap but I think Sunderland will get what they are looking for.
Predicted score: Sunderland 1-0
Best Bet: Under 2.5 goals at $1.6 (80%)
Next Best: Half-Time draw at $1.91
Watford ($4.75) versus Manchester City ($1.73), Draw ($3.8)
In a lot of ways Watford have been just as impressive as Leicester this season as shown by their position at 9th on the table and just 2 points off 5th placed Crystal Palace. They lost to Tottenham in their last match but they fought vigorously to the finish despite being a man short and were a little unlucky not to snatch a point from that one. It really showed me that this is a team that fights, is well trained, well structures, and does not give up. I think Manchester Coty will see that too when they face them this weekend. One of the issues for City is that they’ve been struggling at the back to keep a clean sheet. They have conceded in 9 of their last 10 games in all competitions and the way Watford are going about things up front I don’t think they’ll keep a clean sheet here. For me that puts Watford well and truly into this game but I just can’t help but feel that City will play well enough here to get a win. They haven’t been in the best form but there’s no reason they can’t bounce back here.
Predicted score: Manchester City 2-1
Best Bet: Manchester City to win at $1.73 (70%)
Next Best: Both teams to score – Yes at $1.62
Crystal Palace ($3.8) versus Chelsea ($2), Draw ($3.5)
The challenges continue for Chelsea in recent results but on the positive they haven’t lost in their last 3 games. The same can’t be said of Crystal Palace who continue to impress by currently sitting in 5th place after a run of 6 games undefeated. There will be some challenges for Palace ahead of this one though in terms of personnel. Along with the absence through injury of Bolasie, Wickham, Sako, and Gayle, Palace will also be without Cabaye through suspension. That will test their depth whereas for Chelsea I think they’ll be gaining confidence under Hiddink despite two draws under his management so far. A boost for Chelsea will be the return from suspension of Diego Costa who scored twice at Watford before missing the Manchester United game and I think he’ll be a welcome return. There’s still a long way to go for Chelsea this season but they should begin that journey and 2016 with a win here.
Predicted score: Chelsea 2-1
Best Bet: Chelsea to win either half at $1.56 (85%)
Next Best: Both teams to score – Yes at $1.91
Everton ($2.7) versus Tottenham ($2.6), Draw ($3.4)
The first round of games of 2016 finishes up with a great looking fixture between Everton and Tottenham. Spurs will be looking to kick on after finish 2015 off in great form with 3 straight wins and another win here will see them maintain or increase a good gap on 5th placed Palace who sit just 4 points behind. Everton are an interesting case this season so far. They’ve had no trouble up front with 35 goals from 19 games but down back they have a bit of work to do having conceded 28 goals. They haven’t been that great at home this season either taking just the 3 wins and 3 draws from 10 games. I can see them playing well here and causing Tottenham some troubles defensively through the likes of the in-form Lukaku, but Tottenham have lost away from home just once which came on the opening day of the season. Defensively Tottenham are also at the top of the league having conceded just the 15 goals. I think this will be a really tough game for Tottenham but they are showing that they have the belief now to kick on in 2016.
Predicted score: Tottenham 2-1
Best Bet: Over 2.5 goals at $1.71 (85%)
Next Best: Half-Time Draw at $2.1