Liverpool secure three-point lead at the top of Premier League, while a feast of festive darts action and top-class National Hunt racing keeps bookies busy
Liverpool started 2024 with aplomb, opening a three-point lead at the summit of the Premier League after beating Newcastle 4-2 at Anfield.
In a rather bizarre game, Liverpool looked unlikely to take their multitude of chances and after Mohamed Salah saw his penalty saved, the Reds were probably thinking the worst.
However, the talismanic Egyptian put his side ahead just after half-time and despite Alexander Isak levelling affairs five minutes later, it was to be Liverpool’s night.
Further goals from Curtis Jones, Cody Gakpo and a Salah penalty, this time sending the keeper the wrong way, were enough to secure three points despite Sven Botman’s late header threatening a nervous late innings.
What’s more, Liverpool’s 34 attempts on goal, including the two penalties, meant Jürgen Klopp’s side achieved an expected goals (xG) tally of 7.27, a new record for the Premier league.
Bet365’s Steve Freeth said the New Year’s Day encounter was a painful one to take after a more fruitful Christmas period for the bookmaker.
He said: “Welcome to 2024. We definitely do not want it to carry on like it did at Anfield with punters celebrating the New Year with a bet builder bonanza.
“Expected goals were through the roof, meaning multiple shots on target, Salah signing off with a brace and Anthony Taylor handing out a number of belated Christmas cards,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kindred Group’s Sam Farley said: “We also had a bad evening last night on Liverpool versus Newcastle, which was the most popular game of the entire festive period with punters.
“Given the way the game unfolded with so many shots, goals and cards it arguably could have gone worse.”
And while Liverpool rose to the top, stuttering form for Arsenal and Manchester United has been well received by the layers.
The Gunners lost 2-1 away to Fulham and suffered a 2-0 loss at home to West Ham, while United tasted defeat at the hands of Nottingham Forest at the City Ground.
Freeth continued: “Our favourite team over the festive period has undoubtedly been Arsenal, with the stuttering Gunners failing to win any of their three games and their latest failure at Craven Cottage helped enormously. But we’re still licking our wounds after that stuffing we received at Anfield.”
Betfred’s Alan Firkins said Arsenal had had a “week to forget” with the market shifting in turn as the Gunners have drifted to 6/1 for the title.
Manchester City’s routine 2-0 win over Sheffield United and comeback victory against Everton has seen the outrights shift, as Firkins explained.
He said: “It has been fascinating to chart the fortunes of the major players in the annual Premier League drama over the festive period.
“Manchester City’s brief flirtation with odds-against in the outright betting was snapped up eagerly, and we now go 8/11 about that record-breaking fourth crown on the spin. Their slide appears to have been checked, for the moment at least.”
Farley said: “Our biggest hit since Christmas came with City beating Everton on the 27th, City won comfortably despite falling behind, something that gave our punters some great value in-play.”
Elsewhere, in horseracing, Galopin Des Champs showed their credentials at Leopardstown over the festive period to emerge as the horse to beat at March’s Gold Cup.
Last year’s Gold Cup winner looks to be in great form after blitzing the Grade 1 Savills Chase after starting as 6/4 favourite. A stunning 21-length winning margin saw Firkins sing his praises.
He said: “Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old superstar Galopin Des Champs is in to a skinny-looking 5/4 to retain the Cheltenham Gold Cup after a brilliant victory in the Savills at Leopardstown at the Christmas Festival. He was utterly imperious and looks banker material.”
Meanwhile, there was a shock result in the King George on Boxing Day as 12/1-shot Hewick came from last to first in what was a dramatic finish as Shishkin appeared to have the race at his mercy and yet stumbled after the penultimate flight, unseating Nico de Boinville, and hampering the progress of Bravemansgame.
The following day, in the Welsh National at Chepstow, Nassalam (9/2) made light work of the heavy conditions to demolish the opposition, with only five of the 19 runners completing the gruelling three-mile, six-furlong handicap chase.
Finally, over at Alexandra Palace, the Paddy Power World Darts Championship heads to an all-English semi-final stage with teen tungsten sensation Luke Littler taking the headlines.
The 16-year-old thrashed Brendan Dolan to waltz into the last four to follow up his impressive victory over Raymond van Barneveld.
He faces Rob Cross before a potential final face-off with world number three and pre-tournament favourite Luke Humphries or fellow unseeded challenger Scott Williams who upset the odds at 9/1 and dumped an out-of-sorts Michael van Gerwen out of the competition.
There had been betting drama in the quarter-final clash between 2018 champion Cross and Chris Dobey, though. Dobey, the world number 17, raced into a 4-0 sets lead and traded at 1.03 (1/33) on the exchanges, only for Cross to mount an incredible comeback to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with a 5-4 win.
Kindred Group’s Farley said: “Aside from football, we’ve seen the darts’ popularity continue to surge. Luke Littler has become a favourite of fans and we’ve also been buoyed by big defeats, such as MVG losing to Scott Williams on Monday night.”
Firkins concluded: “With head office being in Birchwood, Warrington, we’re extra-fascinated with the sensational progress of Luke ‘The Nuke’ Littler at the World Darts. As I write he’s 15/8 to win the title. At 16. What a story it is already; but just imagine if he can pull it off.”