Like slipping on a new pair of trainers fresh out of the box after Christmas, Premier League fans are getting nice and comfortable with the presence of (copious amounts of) domestic football this festive period. The World Cup already seems a distant memory, with a tightly packed fixture list to enjoy over the next few weeks.
Here, Best of Bets previews the action around New Year, starting on Friday night and continuing onto New Year’s Day. Who will start 2023 with the momentum? And who is staring at a long 12 months ahead? Here are three games this weekend to keep an eye on…
Wolves vs Manchester United, New Year’s Eve @ 12.30pm
Erik ten Hag got exactly what he wanted for Christmas; a reinvigorated Manchester United side, who had shed their problematic individualist in Cristiano Ronaldo and then secured routine wins over Burnley and Nottingham Forest either side of Christmas Day. Then came the Cody Gakpo situation, however, with United missing out on a top transfer target at the hands of bitter rivals Liverpool.
Now Ten Hag’s men face a test that has tripped up many of his United predecessors – not least Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. United won both their 2021 visits to Molineux but failed to win on their four previous trips in 2019 and 2020. Now under new boss Julen Lopetegui, and with a morale-boosting late Boxing Day win over Everton under their belts, Wolves will believe they can throw a spanner in the works of Ten Hag’s promising United project.
Brighton vs Arsenal, New Year’s Eve @ 5.30pm
Everyone is waiting for the inevitable moment when Arsenal slip up and hand Manchester City the initiative in the title race. The problem is, it’s simply not happening. The month-long World Cup break – compounded by a key injury to striker Gabriel Jesus – seemed to be the perfect storm for City, surely prompting an Arsenal meltdown when the fixtures returned. But Mikel Arteta’s side, even after going 1-0 down to West Ham, responded like champions, swatting side the Hammers with a 3-1 win.
Brighton have typically caused problems for the Gunners in recent years and they looked in confident form on Boxing Day when beating Southampton 3-1. But it will take an enormous performance from Roberto De Zerbi’s side, with Jesus replacement Eddie Nketiah looking razor sharp up front, alongside the menacing wide duo of Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka. Expect goals in this one.
Tottenham vs Aston Villa, New Year’s Day @ 2pm
It took an almighty fightback from Tottenham on Boxing Day to salvage a 2-2 draw with Brentford, but Spurs fans will have been encouraged by the sight of Harry Kane playing the full 90 minutes – and finding the net – after his World Cup travails. Brazil star Richarlison is still out injured, but Dejan Kulusevski and Son Heung-Min flanked Kane in West London and the trio may strike fear into the Aston Villa defenders when they’re seeing in the New Year the night before this game.
Villa remain an impossible side to predict, even under new boss Unai Emery. They showed glimpses of their attacking best even in defeat to Liverpool earlier in the week and given Spurs’ defensive vulnerabilities, the midlands outfit will believe they can further dent the top four aspirations of Antonio Conte’s side. It could be another draw for Kane and company.