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Sheffield United v Newcastle United (19:30 GMT, December 5)
The first few months of the 2019/20 Premier League campaign has thrown up a host of surprises, and not many of them rival Sheffield United being sat seventh in the table after 14 games. The newly-promoted Blades have only won four times in the top flight so far, but they have been a model of consistency in avoiding defeat on 11 occasions, and two of their three Premier League losses have come against the top two, Liverpool and Leicester City. They go into this midweek match on a seven-match unbeaten run that includes a home win over Arsenal and draws against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, so to say they are brimming with confidence would be an understatement. Newcastle United will be feeling pretty good about themselves too thanks to the weekend draw at home to Manchester City, but their away form this season has been dire. They have lost four of their last five away from home, scoring in just two of those games, and they have now achieved only two positive away results all season. So while I do expect Sheffield United’s bubble to burst at some point, it may not be on Thursday night. All four of their Premier League wins have been by either a 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0 scoreline, and I am predicting more of the same here.
Lille v Brest (18:00 GMT, December 6)
Lille appear to be back on track domestically thanks to back-to-back wins over Dijon and Lyon, but it looks set to be a thrilling race to fill the last Champions League qualifying spot in France’s top flight, with a whole host of teams threatening to put themselves in the mix for the second half of the season, so the pressure is on them to win three on the bounce for the first time this season. Providing the opposition are a Brest side who go into the game on the back of a 5-0 demolition of Strasbourg. That match was at home though and it is fair to say that their away form – one win, five points and six goals – leaves a lot to be desired. Lille, meanwhile boast the best and only unbeaten home record in Ligue 1 at this time, and that record is built on the back of a rock solid defence that has conceded only four times at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in the league. So as you can see, everything is pointing towards Lille winning and keeping a clean sheet in this one.
Manchester City v Manchester United (17:30 GMT, December 7)
Manchester City got back to winning ways in midweek with a comfortable 4-1 win at Burnley, but Liverpool’s derby win 24 hours later means there is a still a huge 11-point gap between the two clubs as the chaotic Christmas and New Year period gets underway. With the Reds in rampant form City can ill-afford to drop many more points this season, and that means Saturday evening’s Manchester Derby showdown with United has to be considered a ‘must-win’ outing for Pep Guardiola’s side. United desperately need a result too though. The may be up to sixth in the table after getting one over on old boss Jose Mourinho with a 2-1 win against Tottenham Hotspur in midweek, but they are well off the pace in the race for a top-four finish and need to start stringing together some wins to put themselves back in the chase. That level of consistency has been a massive issue for them though. While they are unbeaten in their last four Premier League fixtures, United have still not won back-to-back games in the top flight and that statistic is remarkable even though they are a shadow of the great sides that racked up silverware under Sir Alex Ferguson. It feels like it is only a matter of time before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is given the boot and perhaps a convincing derby day defeat could speed up the timeline? That is what I expect to see here. City did the double over United in pretty comfortable fashion last season, following up a 3-1 home win with a 2-0 victory at Old Trafford, and despite the absence of Sergio Aguero for this one I believe we will see more of the same with City erasing a one-goal handicap on their way to victory. I also expect United to hit the back of the net at the Etihad Stadium for the second season running. They may not be blessed with a ruthless out-and-out goalscorer, but they have been scoring consistently as of late and this Manchester City defence has still not got to grips with the summer departure of influential captain Vincent Kompany. They continue to ship goals and they should ship another one here, but it will not prevent them from running out winners and claiming the derby bragging rights once again. Gabriel Jesus could play a starring role for the hosts, following up a midweek double with another goal here as he once again deputises for the injured Aguero.
- * Odds correct at 10:33 GMT on 5/12/2019
Scottish League Cup Final – Rangers v Celtic (15:00 GMT, December 8)
The first trophy is up for grabs in Scotland on Sunday when Rangers look to finally end fierce foes Celtic’s recent dominance of the domestic game. The Hoops made history last season by completing a third consecutive treble and they will be eager to keep their silverware streak going by putting their cross-city rivals back in their place at Hampden Park – but can they? Rangers blew a two-goal lead as they were forced to settle for a disappointing draw at Aberdeen in midweek, but there has undoubtedly been some serious improvement since the end of last season and this current group looks like it could finally pose a threat to Celtic in the race for silverware this season. However, when these two clubs met earlier this season it was the Hoops who ran out deserved winners at Ibrox and that is a result that really stands out when thinking about this match. There was a real expectation surrounding Rangers that day and they simply folded, producing an uninspiring display as Celtic strolled away from Govan with all three points in the bag. Until Rangers can prove that they are capable of delivering when the stakes are high it would be foolish to back them to beat a Celtic team who have proven time and time again that they are made for the big occasion, especially domestically. The Hoops should get their hands on the trophy this Sunday and I am backing Odsonne Edouard to play a goal-scoring role. Manager Neil Lennon left him out of the team in midweek due to a ‘niggle’ but he is expected to return to action at Hampden Park and he just loves scoring in Old Firm derbies. Edouard has scored five goals in his last seven games against Rangers and he has the pace and power that can unsettle, and punish, a Light Blues defence that can be fragile when facing that type of threat.