Boxing Day is always a special day in the football calendar – for some fans it’s a Christmas tradition that’s right up there with turkey and the trimmings, for others a chance to get back to some semblance of normality – but for the players it’s business as usual.
For the Reds of Merseyside, there will be no expectation of goodwill from their Tyneside visitors, with both sides desperate for points for very different reasons. For Liverpool, the overriding need is to continue their charge for their first league title since 1990, for the Toon – who are just four points above the relegation zone – it’s all about Premier League safety.
Liverpool fans, with good reason, are dreaming and Jurgen Klopp has unquestionably done a fine job in building on last season’s Champions League run, which culminated in that final defeat by Real Madrid.
The flip side of that thrilling season finale was to crank up the level of expectation in the red half of Merseyside, and for a club that prides itself on its past achievements this now means the current crop will soon feel the weight of history on their shoulders. This can be either a blessing or a curse, and how Klopp’s group react to this ever-increasing pressure will likely dictate whether they can turn this good season into a great one.
TOP TIP! – Liverpool to win 2-0 @ +600 / Shaqiri as first goalscorer @ +450
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The signs are good though and there is even talk in the Reds’ camp of them being the first team since Arsene Wenger’s 2003/04 ‘Invincibles’ to go through the whole league season undefeated. Centre-back Dejan Lovren, in particular, has been bullish citing “That is why we came to Liverpool”.
For Newcastle, two wins in five (prior to the weekend’s fixtures) hauled them clear of the relegation zone and, despite the ongoing furore surrounding Mike Ashley’s ownership of the club, Rafa Benitez’s squad appear to have more than enough to avoid any end-of-season nerves.
Let’s not however expect too much from the Toon at Anfield. The Liverpool juggernaut appears unstoppable right now and it’s worth noting that, in terms of performances, they have yet to regularly hit the heights of the second half of last season.
All of this doesn’t bode well for Newcastle who haven’t won on Merseyside since November 1995, and we don’t see any long-awaited Christmas presents being offered to the Toon Army. Newcastle don’t give loads of goals away though and have the second-best defensive record in the bottom half of the table (22 goals conceded in 17 games).
So, while a Liverpool win looks likely, the Toon won’t roll over and will make the Reds work for the points. We’re tempted by the 2-1, but ultimately, it’s Newcastle’s lack of goals that have cost them so far this season, so we’re going for a 2-0 home win +600 with BetVictor, and given his hot streak in front of goal, Xherdan Shaqiri at +450 with Bet365 for first goal is also worth a second look.
TOP TIP! – Spurs to win 3-1 @ +1100 / Both teams to score and Spurs to win @ +176
The temporary appointment of Ole Gunnar Solkjaer to the Old Trafford hotseat has, for the time being at least, quelled talk of Mauricio Pochettino departing north London for Manchester, so the Tottenham faithful can at least rest easy between now and May.
The Argentinian however continues to impress at every turn and with Tottenham in the last 16 of the Champions League and in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup – as well as being hot on the heels of City and Liverpool in the Premier League – it seems certain that his CV is only going to be enhanced in the second half of this season.
All of which is a concern for Spurs fans but a concern for another day, and right now there is every reason for optimism at they near the end of their time at the temporary home of Wembley, with the aim being to move into the new version of White Hart Lane before the Champions League resumes.
What really matters for Spurs is clinging onto the coattails of the top two and, while Wembley hasn’t been quite the lodgings they had hoped, their record there this season has been quietly impressive, with only said top two beating them.
Bournemouth, meanwhile, have had an unhappy time since edging themselves to the cusp of the top six and, prior to this weekend’s round of games, had won just once in five games. Eddie Howe’s men play attractive football though and the open spaces of Wembley will suit them, although it’s extremely hard to see past a win for the Lilywhites.
The difficulty for the Cherries is that Spurs look full of goals right now and so, while we can see the visitors getting on the scoresheet, we feel they will be simply outscored. So, that considered, the 3-1 on offer with Bet365 at +1100 looks very tempting.
On a similar theme, we think the chance to almost double your money by both teams scoring and Spurs winning is almost too good to refuse +176 with 188bet.
TOP TIP! – Watford & Chelsea to draw 2-2 @ +1550 / Deeney as anytime goalscorer @ +300
Chelsea booked themselves a place in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup last week but made heavy weather of their quarter-final tie with Bournemouth. Watford will offer a similar level of resistance.
Maurizio Sarri’s side, despite being fourth in the table, have had a mixed run of form and where once a trip to Vicarage Road would have held no fear, with a defeat at Molineux still fresh in the mind, this will be a tricky one for the Blues.
Under Javi Gracia, the Hornets have made some progress this season and it speaks volumes that they find themselves closer to the Europa League spot than the relegation zone. Barring a disastrous second-half to the season, they will comfortably consolidate their place in the Premier League.
They are also playing some good football, especially at Vicarage Road, and so will approach the Chelsea game with confidence, especially given they are one of only two teams to beat Tottenham on the road.
Troy Deeney, Watford’s talismanic striker, will fancy his chances of roughing up David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger, while in Gerard Deulefou, Ken Sema and Quina, they have players at the top of their game.
Chelsea, of course, have Eden Hazard, and any side that contains Eden Hazard is a dangerous proposition, but we feel there’s enough about this Watford team to take points from the Blues.
We can see goals here, but we can also see the Hornets giving as good as they get, so a Desmond (2-2) at +1550 with 188bet looks great value, along with Troy Deeney as an anytime goalscorer +300 with BetVictor.
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