The first day of the new year also happens to be one of the finest on the festive calendar, with 18 of the Premier League’s teams in action across nine matches, all of which will be broadcast live on BT Sport. Chris Bland has put together his first tipping preview of the year but he reckons Arsenal might start the new decade as they finished the last, in disarray. If you agree with his picks then why not have a go at our £5,000 Premier League – Pick 5 pool?
Newcastle United v Leicester City
15:00, BT Sport
Leicester City bounced back from a disappointing defeat to Liverpool by winning at the London Stadium on Saturday evening. Their win proved to be the final nail in Manuel Pellegrini’s coffin.
It was a much-changed side from Brendan Rodgers but, as their League Cup run has show this season, it’s a squad with excellent strength in depth. Winning without Jamie Vardy has certainly expelled a number of doubts on the Foxes. The rotation allowed James Maddison, Youri Tielemans and Caglar Soyuncu much needed rests ahead of a trip to St James Park. This will only reinforce their chances, as they come up against a Magpies side who were defeated by Everton last time out.
Newcastle have overperformed their xG throughout the season and would actually sit bottom of the league on expected points. They rely upon goals from unlikely players, with their strikers not only misfiring but also lacking the ability to get into goalscoring positions.
Defeats to Manchester United and Everton have set Steve Bruce’s side back and the loss at Old Trafford came through their own ineptitude, with individual errors contributing to a number of the Red Devil’s goals.
Bruce’s side will look to concede possession for large periods and subsequently hit Leicester on the counter-attack. However, the Foxes have shown they are adept at breaking these low blocks down this season, perfectly highlighted during their 5-0 thrashing of Newcastle earlier this season.
Newcastle can only out-perform the underlying numbers for so long. The absence of Allan Saint-Maximin has started to show through a decline in their attacking threat in recent games. An xGa of 35.60, coupled with the lowest xG in the Premier League at 17.04, makes them a hard team to get behind, especially against such a well-rested, deep Leicester squad who have the talents to break them down.
The return of Jamie Vardy will be huge, as will a refreshed Maddison ready to pull the strings like he did against the Toon in their victory on penalties in the League Cup earlier this season. The underlying numbers point the result going in one direction, coupled with Newcastle’s misfiring forwards, it makes Rodgers’ side the appealing choice.
Verdict: Leicester City
Watford v Wolves
15:00, BT Sport
A resurgent Watford host Wolves on New Years Day as Nigel Pearson looks to build on three games unbeaten, including an impressive 3-0 win over Aston Villa last time out.
Having sat deeper against Liverpool, Manchester United and Sheffield United, looking to utilise the counter attack through Gerard Deulofeu and Ismaila Sarr, Pearson’s side took the game to Villa. They dominated the first half and taking a deserved three points against Dean Smith’s strugglers.
However, they did play the last thirty minutes with ten men, scoring twice in this period and reinforcing their counter-attacking threat shown against Sheffield United and Manchester United. It is something Wolves will have to be wary of on Wednesday.
However, the effect of the red card could be longer-term than just Adrian Mariappa’s suspension, with Watford’s stretched squad working much harder under Pearson, and unable to rotate to the same extent as Nuno Espirito Santo and his Wolves side.
A fantastic victory over Manchester City, albeit against ten men, was followed up by another impressive performance against Liverpool away from home, where Santo rung the changes yet still enjoyed a strong attacking performance. In a game marred by VAR controversy, Adama Traore and Raul Jimenez were among those rested by Santo, as he looks to build upon a fantastic Christmas period and push forward their credentials as Top four challengers.
Traore and Jimenez being fresh for the trip to Vicarage Road could have a large bearing against a defence that will be tiring and this could be a case to go against the underlying numbers of Watford’s improvements under Pearson.
The midfield three has been largely unchanged and, as impressive as they have been, they could find themselves given a run around once again by Wolves in possession.
The defensive work of the wingers Sarr and Deulofeu may be a cause for concern for Pearson up against the wide play of Wolves, and they should have plenty of joy down this avenue, in what could be a game too far for the Hornets.
The rested Wolves side, coupled with their attacking class, should have enough against Watford. Although they may be asked to work hard to break them down, they definitely possess enough threat to do so. Their own defence has been excellent all season, and will be confident of keeping Troy Deeney quiet up front. As a result, it is hard to see past Wolves for this trip.
Arsenal v Manchester United
20:00, BT Sport
Manchester United travel to the Emirates as Mikel Arteta searches for his first win as Arsenal manager, after a draw and defeat in his opening two games.
Although there have been promising signs for Arteta, there are still major defensive worries which further injuries to Sokratis and Calum Chambers in recent games have not helped. In what is looking like a makeshift back four for the Gunners, Shkodran Mustafi could be forced to return. A backline featuring him and David Luiz will be targeted by Manchester United, who are well equipped in these matches away from home.
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s side are set up to hit opposition sides on the counter, with Dan James, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial all looking to feed off the long balls in behind from the United midfield, who could welcome back the talismanic Frenchman Paul Pogba to the starting eleven.
Arsenal showed their vulnerability to this counter attacking play with Chelsea’s fluid winner on Sunday, and the high positioning of full backs Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bukayo Saka could play into the hands of the United break once again on Wednesday night. Coupled with Pogba’s creativity if required to take the game or chase, United will be confident of netting against a leaky Arsenal defence, who have seen an xGa of 29.14 all season.
However, Arsenal have shown signs of promise in attack under Arteta, and their midfield in particular is showing a better shape and organisation, as they look to get the best out of attacking trio Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil. The German has been given a clearer role than under Unai Emery in central attacking midfield, and he will relish the prospect of coming up against Nemanja Matic.
The Serbian did put in an improved performance against Burnley on Saturday, however this was up against a much more one-dimensional threat, and if Arsenal are able to play at an increased tempo against United, they could look to target his lack of mobility, particularly with Scott McTominay missing through injury.
Manchester United’s defence has been a strong point this season, only allowing an xGa of 19.88, but Arsenal do possess an attack worthy of causing this side problems. However, Arsenal will still be low on confidence, and it is hard to get behind a team with only five wins all season.
A particularly tough game to call, and United win would really ramp the pressure on Arteta, even after three games. The injury worries at the back for Arsenal are a genuine cause for concern against the United attack, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Red Devils come out on top.
Verdict: Manchester United