Inside Edge: How important is it to be top of the table at the turn of the year?  

Inside Edge: How important is it to be top of the table at the turn of the year?  

Kicking off 2021 with his Inside Edge analysis, Nick Haynes from Form Labs – a division of Bettorlogic – takes a look at the significance of being league leaders on New Year’s Day and whether this season is where value lies away from the top of the table.

We are now exiting the most intense and challenging part of the campaign and with that comes a fresh new year. More often than not this is the exact middle of the season and teams look to regroup as they enter the reverse fixtures of the ones that have got them to this stage. Currently, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool (6/4) side top the table on New Year’s Day for the third year running, becoming the first side to achieve that feat this century having been the first to top the table on January 1st in consecutive seasons since Chelsea (28/1) in 2005 and 2006.

Recent history is certainly on the Liverpool’s side, with eight of the past 11 Premier League winners having led the way at this point in the year, though in truth we are a good three or four games worse off this year than in season’s gone by, owing to the delayed start to the campaign which may work against the Merseyside club in this case.

What is clear is that the significance of being league leaders on New Year’s Day varies from club to club. Chelsea have been in this position five times since 1999/00 and going on to win the league on all five occasions while Arsenal have the same record at this stage, though have maintained top spot once in 2001/02, failing to hold their position on each of the last four occasions.

Liverpool have led the way at this stage in three previous seasons since the turn of the millennium, and twice previously have they forfeited that position come the end of the campaign. The exception came last season as they had amounted a 13-point lead over 2nd place, compared to just three this year having played a game more than Man United (7/1) in second.

All things considered, this has already been a season unlike no other and the unpredictable nature has been one of the most enticing aspects thus far. A three-point lead after 16 matches is far different than a 13 point one after 19 games. You only need to look back two seasons, when Liverpool blew a seven-point lead at this stage to know this season is far from done and dusted and unless they begin to pick up their away form (they sit 9th in the away table), this could be the season where the value lies away from top spot.

Chelsea v Man City – Can Stamford Bridge turn the Blues’ form around?

This game appears set to go ahead despite the postponement of Man City’s (5/4) clash with Everton, though it remains unclear exactly whether any players beyond Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus have tested positive for the visitors.

Chelsea (2/1) could have done with a moment to regroup themselves, though for different reasons following a disappointing spell that’s seen them win just once in six across all competitions. Even the 3-0 win over West Ham looked better on paper as Tammy Abraham’s late brace from the bench added gloss to the scoreline. That remains Chelsea’s sole clean sheet in seven appearances and owed more to West Ham’s lack of cutting edge than any staunch rearguard action.

In a boost to the Blues’ defensive cause, Frank Lampard rested first-choice centre-back duo Kurt Zouma and Thiago Silva against Aston Villa last time out and both will return to the team here. However, Chelsea’s attack is blunted down the right-hand side as attacking full-back Reece James and winger Hakim Ziyech both remain injury doubts.

Lampard also has further decisions to make in attack and Christian Pulisic may well have to settle for a place on the bench, given the number of minutes he’s played of late and a troubled hamstring history since arriving in West London. There’s also a big question as to whether Lampard sticks with expensive German duo Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, with the former being outshone by back-up options Abraham and especially Olivier Giroud, despite that duo’s limited game-time.

Man City have lost just once in 20 appearances across all competitions and are currently enjoying a run of seven wins from 10 unbeaten games, conceding just two goals across this more recent spell. The transformation at the back appears to be a consequence of a new centre-back pairing of Ruben Dias and John Stones, though City’s output certainly has taken a hit.

There have now been fewer than three goals in nine of City’s last 12 in all competitions, while in the league alone, a massive 11 of 12 have gone under that same threshold. Sergio Aguero may be back in the fold, but with limited time to get back up to speed and now Gabriel Jesus absent, this game may not properly ignite. Indeed, Lampard can’t afford another defensive shocker and will be happy to keep this encounter tight.

Although Chelsea aren’t in the best place right now, they remain a tough proposition at Stamford Bridge where they’ve lost just once in 18 appearances across all competitions since March, drawing five of the last nine. Meanwhile, Man City have won just five of their last 10 on the road, and just two of six road trips in the league, and with the potential for further missing players we’ll avoid the match outcome.

Spurs v Leeds – Value in ‘Unders’ for unpredictable Leeds?

Jose Mourinho’s Spurs (4/5) squad have been given some extra time to prepare for this next clash with Leeds. Indeed, their fixture with Fulham was postponed just hours before kick-off due to an outbreak of Covid in the Cottagers’ camp, meaning instead of three games in the space of seven days, they now only have two. Leeds (3/1) on the other hand, come here having played on both the Sunday and Tuesday and will have to put in another strong effort this weekend if they’re to pick up any points. 

The Whites have had an interesting run of fixtures in more recent times. Having been beaten 6-2 by Man Utd in their final game before Christmas, they’ve recorded back-to-back victories over relegation battling sides Burnley and West Brom. Interestingly, those results came without their injured centre backs Liam Cooper and Robin Koch, who’ll be absent for this one too, as they kept clean sheets in both those games. It follows the trend of how unpredictable this high pressing Leeds side can be, and with the ‘Overs’ market at such a short price, there might be some value in getting behind a low scoring encounter. 

After an electric start to the 2020/21 Premier League campaign where goals were flying in at a rate of knots, it’s more than calmed down now and 12 of the last 14 matches of 2020 saw two goals or fewer. Nobody knows how to park the bus better than Mourinho and he’ll be more than aware of the threat that Marcelo Bielsa’s men pose. Five of Spurs’ seven home games this term have seen fewer than three goals, including all the last three against Man City, Arsenal and Leicester. Moreover, the goals have dried up a bit in North London for the Lilywhites, netting just three goals from their last four outings.

Leeds were certainly helped on their way to putting five goals past the Baggies last time out as an own goal by Romaine Sawyers opened up the flood gates. It was a different story when they faced Burnley prior to that, with Patrick Bamford’s penalty the only goal of the game and if we exclude that West Brom performance the promoted outfit have scored 13 goals from their nine matches since the start of November. Nearly 40% of those strikes came in one game against Newcastle at Elland Road, and with that in mind, the ’Unders’ looks a hefty price. 

Spurs have conceded just 15 goals all season with only Aston Villa and Man City bettering their defensive record, and their pragmatic approach will surely benefit them in this one. They’ll be fully fit in the defensive unit and will no doubt be extremely hard to breakdown on home turf. 

Stat of the day

Sheffield Utd have two points from 15 matches and are now 10 points from safety. It’s the joint-worst start to a season ever by any club in England’s top four leagues. 

Form Labs delivers bespoke editorial covering a variety of sports to a number of sportsbooks. Click here for more information or contact Nick Haynes on [email protected].

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