We've arrived at the beginning of the best time of year for Premier League soccer. While the players might not enjoy it as much, and we know it makes Jurgen Klopp boil inside, we're going to see a lot of soccer in the coming weeks. Teams will be playing multiple times per week from now until the new year.
It's the time of the season when titles can be won or lost, as could battles to survive. As an Aston Villa fan, I know what December can do to a team. It crushed Villa last season, as injuries derailed their season and left them at a point where relegation seemed all but a certainty. If not for the pandemic and the league being shut down for months, allowing Villa both the time to heal and work on its defense, I'm convinced Aston Villa would be in the Championship right now. I'd be watching Jack Grealish play in a different shirt. In short, it would've sucked.
But that's what this time of year can do. Last year, Liverpool was wrapping up the Premier League for all intents and purposes. This year, that jumble of teams at the top is likely to become a lot less jumbled.
I can't wait to watch it all unfold. Of course, I'll enjoy watching it even more if my bets win. All odds are via William Hill Sportsbook.
1. Manchester United vs. Manchester City
I have no idea which Manchester United team is going to show up. Nobody ever does, not even Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Whether it's the team that plays hard and well or the team that sleepwalks through a match while Paul Pogba's agent talks to the press, I expect this match to be high-scoring. I don't know if it will be a 4-1 Manchester City win or a closer, back-and-forth affair. Whatever the case, I see goals coming.
If we look at United's last seven matches, including the Champions League, we've seen an average expected goals of 3.5 per match, win or lose. United are getting chances and allowing them. City continue to be amazing defensively. They've allowed a total -- not average -- of 2.1 xG in their last six matches across all competitions. Of course, of their opponents, only Tottenham had an attack resembling what United is capable of. Offensively, City have averaged 2.3 xG per match. This is a team that's rounding into form in attack and is getting healthy. Expect fireworks at Old Trafford. Pick: Over 2.5 (-145)
2. Southampton vs. Sheffield United
All right, so maybe I swore off betting Sheffield United, but I'm back for one last chance. This is it. This is Last Chance Saloon. It's just too perfect a scenario. Sheffield are literally off to the worst start for a team in Premier League history, and you cannot play that poorly without some bad luck, and Sheffield United's had plenty of it. I watched as the side outplayed West Brom to lose 1-0. Last week, I watched Leicester City rip manager Chris Wilder's heart out with a Jamie Vardy winner in added time. But this week? This week the victory is coming! Sheffield United have managed to score only five goals in the Premier League despite an xG of 11.
It's one thing to be unlucky, but I don't recall the last time I saw a team score fewer than half the goals it's expected to. To put this in perspective, Southampton have an xG of 11.8 on the season, only 0.8 higher than Sheffield. The difference is Southampton have scored 21 goals! Nearly twice what's been expected! Surely, if there were ever a time for the luck to even out, it would be in this match. Pick: Sheffield United (+400)
3. Arsenal vs. Burnley
Listen, I've got a pretty simple philosophy this season, and it's to fade Arsenal any time Mikel Arteta's side is favored. It's proven to be quite a profitable philosophy, too, because the Gunners have only won three of the seven matches they've been favored in with three losses and a draw. And, unlike some other teams, this is not the result of bad luck. Any Arsenal fan reading this won't want to see it, but Arsenal have gotten the results the side has deserved in Premier League play. The Gunners actual goal difference of -4 isn't far off their xG difference of -2.1. The team's attack is mostly lifeless, averaging 1.11 xG per match, which ranks 13th in the league. That's not where Arsenal wants to be.
In this match, they're facing a Burnley team that doesn't score much, either but is stingy defensively. So I wouldn't be surprised at all to see this one proving to be a low-scoring, tight affair, but I don't like the price on the under. Also, since I'm already putting myself out there with a longshot play on Sheffield, I'm going to hedge my bet slightly and instead take Burnley to get a result of some kind. The price on it still presents value. After all, Arsenal has only won one of its last seven Premier League matches after winning three of its first four. Pick: Burnley or Draw (+145)
Want more picks? Jonathan Coachman and Tom Fornelli handicap today's Premier League fixture, Leeds vs West Ham, on The Early Edge, A Daily Sports Betting Podcast Powered by SportsLine.