1st January 2015
12.45 Stoke v Manchester United
The first match of the new calendar year should be an interesting affair. Stoke find themselves on a bit of a decent run at the moment with three wins from their last five games, including creditable victories against Arsenal and Everton.
They began their season in a very stop-start sort of manner but manager Mark Hughes seems to have steadied the ship somewhat. Another interesting point to note is that Stoke have only failed to score twice in their last ten games (0-2 & 1-0 losses to Chelsea and Liverpool respectively), surely a plus point going into a match against a Utd side with a less-than-impressive away record.
In fact, Utd have an abysmal away record for the calendar year of 2014, winning just seven games outside of Old Trafford in all competitions. The flip-side of that particular coin is that, two recent draws aside, they have hit a welcome winning streak with their last loss an away one to Manchester City at the beginning of November. One is tempted to think that a draw is relatively likely and Paddypower, amongst others, are offering 5/2 on that outcome. Fancy Stoke to get all three points? Betvictor has a price of 16/5 for that.
15.00 Aston Villa v Crystal Palace
It’s difficult to know what to make of this Aston Villa team. Extremely goal-shy and, according to some fans, extraordinarily negative, it hasn’t been a year to store away in the memory bank for those whose pulses quicken when declaring themselves to be the toast of Birmingham. And yet, they are only two points behind, what many historically-challenged people have chosen to call, a resurgent Liverpool. As alluded to in the opening line, they are a headache to make sense of. Luckily for them, they play host to a team that are less of a conundrum in terms of comprehension. Crystal Palace have it bad and that ain’t good. They have scored just seven goals in their last 10 matches and three of them were against Liverpool.
Over the course of those matches, they have conceded fourteen. And in a case of Insult-meet-Injury, handsome Neil Warnock has been shown the back door and, if reports are to be believed, Alan Pardew may have the red carpet rolled out before him at the front door as Palace look to fill their manager-sized gap. Seeing as it still technically Christmas, this column would like to show basic human compassion by advising anyone thinking of watching this to do something less painful like punch a pebble-dashed wall instead but for those of you who like nothing more than a flogging before breakfast, put your pennies on the Villa win. Bet365 have 7/5 for that result.
15.00 Newcastle v Burnley
From a club that likes nothing more than conferring comic chaos on a consistent basis, we are now given the spectacle of their manager, Alan Pardew, three and half years into an eight year contract, being given permission to speak to Crystal Palace, a club eight places and eight points below them and going nowhere fast. The very fact that Pardew views that as a shinier bauble than the one in his hand presently tells you everything you need to know about the realities facing the Toon Army under owner Mike Ashley’s regime. Newcastle, after a resurgence in October & November, have hit the skids again with four losses in their last five games. They are also without Pappe Cisse as a result of his ban for introducing his elbow to Seamus Coleman’s chin in their last game, at home to Everton (their one win from the aforementioned previous five). It’s a pity for them as Mr Cisse’s goals of late have been handy.
Burnley are one of the success stories of this season. Despite being just one point above the drop zone, they have dragged themselves up from the bottom of the table through sheer dint of courage and belief. After seven losses from their first eleven games (with only five goals for), they now have three wins and three draws along with nine goals scored from their last nine games. For a club with a budget the size of a large pumpkin to come from two goals down away to the current champions in their last game is nothing short of magnificent.
They may end up being relegated but the manner in which manager Sean Dyche and his squad have conducted themselves in a league coloured by cynicism and corporate-based ethics has been the clichéd ‘breath of fresh air’. Presently, Newcastle and Burnley could hardly be further apart in terms of integrity and class and it is for that entirely subjective reason that this column will plump for the Burnley win. The dreamers among you can grab that result at 4/1 from Betfred.