We can forget about European competition until 2018. Our focus for the remainder of this calendar year is solely on domestic action, and it is about to get particularly chaotic in the Premier League.
The fixtures that draw the most attention are on Sunday this weekend, but there’s fascinating fixtures up and down the league. A few such matches kick-off at the traditional, frustratingly blacked out, 3pm on a Saturday.
Burnley vs Watford
Few expected Burnley and Watford to occupy seventh and eighth respectively in December. I certainly didn’t, despite the undoubtable excellence of Marco Silva and Sean Dyche’s all-encompassing ability to get results.
Shrewd spending, but – more importantly – superb management, has Burnley level on points with Tottenham, with the Hornets a mere three points behind.
This weekend could see the pair switch places, or – if Watford fail to win –the Hornets could drop into ninth. It’s an important fixture in the race to finish seventh.
Burnley deft logic. They have scored just 14, by far the lowest in the top half, but they are the masters of the narrow win. Watford, meanwhile, treat everyone to goals at both ends of the pitch.
It’s a tough one to call as a result, so I’m opting for both teams to score thanks to Watford’s leaky defence.
TIP: Both teams to score @ 10/11
Crystal Palace vs Bournemouth
Roy Hodgson is yet to receive his deserved praise at Crystal Palace. While even victory this weekend will not take them out of the bottom three, it would be yet another sign that the Eagles can fly to safety this season.
Their visitors pulled through their own poor start with a couple of wins, but have since gone winless in three. Taking just one point from two home fixtures is a concern for any side, and Eddie Howe’s team will be just two points above Palace if they lose at Selhurst on Saturday.
These are matches that Palace have to win. I think the ultra-pragmatism of Hodgson should hold off the Cherries’ inconsistent attack and notch a crucial three points for the London club.
TIP: Crystal Palace to win @ Evens
Huddersfield Town vs Brighton
Fixtures between newly-promoted sides are telling. Since a positive start, Huddersfield have lost four straight, scoring just one in the process. Their visitors on Saturday have not won in four, but have a couple more points to their name.
Goal scoring is a worry for both teams. Brighton have been able to score five more than Huddersfield so far this season, however. Only Swansea and Palace have scored fewer goals than the Terriers this campaign.
Both teams have provided some impressive defensive performances, but it is Brighton that hold the better record there too.
I worry for David Wagner’s side if they cannot win matches like this. Unfortunately, Brighton look the better side at the moment in all areas of the pitch.
TIP: Brighton to win or match to be drawn @ 1/2
Swansea vs West Bromwich Albion
Defeat to Stoke last weekend has put Paul Clement on the brink. Swansea fell to the bottom of the table, and are now four points from safety.
West Brom sit just above the bottom three at the moment, and have already made their managerial move to bring in firefighter Alan Pardew. A draw in his first match was a little underwhelming, but the performance was a definite improvement.
Clement is having to wrestle with a painfully imbalanced squad. Pardew has had a full week to work with his new players, and I fancy that to pay off here.
TIP: West Brom to win or match to be drawn @ 1/2
Tottenham vs Stoke City
Spurs collected the most points of any team in the Champions League group stage. While that is a remarkable feat, their joyous mood at the club is dampened with a quick glance at the table.
One win in five has Mauricio Pochettino’s men four points off the top four, and closer to the bottom of the table than the top of it.
Stoke notched a vital victory over Swansea last weekend, that might just have saved Mark Hughes’ job. The Potters’ fans are growing frustrated with the club. Now sitting six points from the drop zone, though, Hughes should be safe for a few weeks yet.
Champions League hangover has harmed Spurs before, but I can’t see past the Lilywhites against this Stoke team.
TIP: Tottenham to win @ 7/25
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*