Football never went away. The World Cup was an incredible spectacle, a month-long feast of international football, culminating in a phenomenal final for the ages.
But with the Premier League returning on Boxing Day, Best of Bets previews the weekend’s biggest games and runs through some of the odds. Here are three games to keep an eye on in the first round of fixtures after the World Cup break…
Arsenal v West Ham, Boxing Day @ 8pm
Over the past month, it’s been easy to forget that Arsenal are currently five points clear at the Premier League summit. Perhaps it’s the foreboding presence of Man City in second position, or the devastating injury to Gabriel Jesus, or just Arsenal’s recent history of choking in key moments… either way, plenty are predicting a drop-off in form for Mikel Arteta’s side when the action resumes.
This clash against West Ham – who have had an underwhelming start to the season after a decent few years under David Moyes – is a decent start of Arsenal’s credentials after the break. The Gunners are 1/2 favourites to bag their 13th win of the season from 15 attempts, with West Ham 11/2 to spring a surprise and the draw at 16/5. Arteta will need England messiah Bukayo Saka to step up with goals in the absence of Jesus this Christmas.
Our prediction: Score draw (9/2)
Manchester United v Nottingham Forest, December 27th @ 8pm
The last time Manchester United hosted Nottingham Forest in any competition was way back in 1998 – the season in which Sir Alex Ferguson’s United made history by winning the treble. It’s fair to say a lot has changed at both clubs since; United continued to enjoy amazing success under Fergie before their recent fallow spell, while Forest endured a 22-year spell away from the top flight after being relegated that season.
It’s not just history that means there are plenty of talking points ahead of this meeting, though. Jesse Lingard will have a point to prove against his former team, while Forest must deal with the absence of on-loan United keeper Dean Henderson – who is ineligible to face his parent club.
United were comfortable in beating Burnley on their return to domestic action, in the Carabao Cup, in midweek and are 2/7 favourites to clinch three points at Old Trafford. Forest are 19/2 and the draw is 9/2.
Our prediction: United by two goals (3/1)
Leeds United v Manchester City, December 28th @ 8pm
It wasn’t a vintage World Cup for Manchester City players. Kevin de Bruyne never fired for Belgium – and was fairly damning when speaking about his international teammates – before they crashed out in the group stages. Portugal trio Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo will lament their nation’s exit at the hands of Morocco, while Ederson didn’t even get in the Brazil side. Meanwhile, the likes of Erling Haaland and Riyad Mahrez stayed at home.
Ironically, that might spell bad news for Leeds and many of City’s rivals over the coming weeks. Pep Guardiola has been vocal in his criticism of the hectic fixture schedule for players this season following the mid-term World Cup. But he’ll have a fairly fresh squad to take to Elland Road on Wednesday night.
Our prediction: Man City to win 3-1 (10/1)