Premier League: The State Of Play
With the Premier League returning this weekend, today Adam Bate takes a look at how each club is placed in the eyes of the bookmakers. Who will win the league? Who will finish top 4? Who will be relegated?
The Title Race
What a strange Premier League season this is turning out to be. This post-Ferguson world that an entire generation - and a fair few bookmakers - could barely conceive has finally become a reality. Managerial change at each of last season’s top three clubs was always going to lend itself to unpredictability in the upper reaches of the table but the last round of matches before the November international break still had the capacity to shock.
Struggling Sunderland beat Manchester City 1-0 at the Stadium of Light for a fourth successive season, while their North East neighbours Newcastle picked up an unlikely win at tepid Tottenham. Jose Mourinho was even seconds away from losing his precious unbeaten home record at Stamford Bridge to West Bromwich Albion. Curiouser and curiouser.
Everyone has been left so giddy they were actually expecting table toppers Arsenal to win at Old Trafford. Of course, they didn’t. And so, the situation is now incredibly tight at the top with just half a dozen points separating the top eight teams. As if to highlight the perverse state of affairs, the favourites for the crown remain Manchester City - and they are the team lurking back in eighth.
However, there is some logic there. After all, there exists a nagging suspicion that if Manuel Pellegrini & Co can find some consistency there exists a squad capable of running away with this title. But it’s a view easier to sustain if you confine yourself to watching Premier League matches that occur within the environs of the Etihad Stadium, Manchester.
City’s five fixtures on their own patch have yielded an astonishing 20 goals for the home side with Norwich having the good grace to ship seven of them. On their travels, it’s looks a very different world. A nasty and spiteful place where poor old Joe Hart doesn’t know whether to come or go walkabout. One where trips to Cardiff, Aston Villa, Stoke and now Sunderland can bring just a solitary point. Even Chelsea’s Fernando Torres was able to score a late winner against them.
Premier League Winner Odds - Odds as at 21st November 2013.
Indeed, the Spaniard’s return to something approaching form had briefly created a buzz at the Bridge. But one point from six in games against Newcastle and West Brom does not champions make and for all the fuss over Mourinho’s return, his first 11 games have produced the same number of points - 21 - that predecessor Rafa Benitez managed from his opening outings. A pertinent reminder that the Chelsea boss inherited a team that fell someway short last term.
Such stuttering from the financially flush has allowed bridesmaids up and down the land to get carried away with dreams of their own big day. The door is ajar for the perennially unconvincing ambitions of Arsenal and Liverpool to be fulfilled. And yet, Arsene Wenger’s assertion that his team were “nervous” at Manchester United did not augur well, while one suspects Brendan Rodgers would still be justified in regarding a top-four spot as a managerial triumph.
Which all brings us back to the defending champions. Written off, mocked, derided. And that’s just Marouane Fellaini. Yes, David Moyes may not have them playing like Fergie’s boys but somehow they’re still in there and blundering through one of the least convincing nine-game unbeaten runs you’re ever likely to see.
With all their matches against teams below them from here until the other side of New Year, United can expect to be in the shake-up at the business end - at which point faithful fans will be hoping instinct kicks in and Moyes gets dragged over the finish line. If not, with so many questions surrounding the other usual suspects, the confused punter could do worse than lump it all on Southampton and be done with it. It’s been that sort of season.
Premier League Top 4 Odds - Odds as at 21st November 2013.
Sunderland’s aforementioned revival under Gus Poyet has created an intriguing situation near the foot of the table where the more complacent characters might have been hoping the Black Cats could be disregarded alongside bottom club Crystal Palace. The Eagles appear to have at least one limb in the Championship already but Poyet has his side scrambling for an escape route. They’re still effectively four points from safety but playing like men emancipated from the oppression of the Paolo Di Canio regime. Don’t rule them out.
How Fulham could do with some of that fight. Instead they’ve got Dimitar Berbatov, Bryan Ruiz and Darren Bent. They’ve actually beaten the other three members of the bottom four this season, but have been so abject in every other fixture that Martin Jol’s future looks increasingly uncertain. The next two games against Swansea and West Ham might prove critical.
Elsewhere, Swansea will surely have more than enough once the Thursday-Sunday routine runs its course, while Sam Allardyce knows the points accumulation business too well to see the Hammers go down. Of course, winning ugly was the Tony Pulis mantra and if Stoke have forgotten that skill under Mark Hughes then there could be trouble.
Like the Potters, Cardiff and Norwich are both hovering precariously over that drop zone, although the latter seem to have that knack of winning whenever the pundits are ready to ink in the words ‘Carrow Road crisis’. But the real money could well be made in backing that old friend ‘regression to the mean’ - Hull City have plenty of plaudits but are just four points clear of the drop. Food for thought.
Premier League Relegation Odds - Odds as at 21st November 2013.
There is rather more certainty on this front thanks to the relentless brilliance of Luis Suarez and his insatiable appetite (for goals). So remarkable is the Uruguayan forward that he could even afford to give the rest of the division a five-game head start. Just the eight goals in six games since then for the Liverpool man. That makes him the current joint Premier League top scorer and the favourite to be out on his own at the front come May.
Alongside Suarez, also on eight goals, is strike partner Daniel Sturridge. The England forward has been a huge hit at Anfield but any hopes of claiming this prize would seem to hinge on the efforts of his team-mate and there is no doubting Suarez has been the main man since his return. Indeed, if Rodgers is forced into a formation switch further down the line, it could be Sturridge forced to make way to accommodate the senior striker.
Elsewhere, Olivier Giroud has enjoyed a fine start to the campaign and is benefiting from the sort of service that must leave fellow north London resident Roberto Soldado casting envious glances his way. But doubts over the Frenchman’s reliability combined with the rotating cast of characters that makes up the Chelsea frontline means the top scorer is unlikely to come from the capital this season - unless you count long shot pick Romelu Lukaku, on loan at Everton.
Suarez’s chief rivals are expected to come from Manchester in the form of two-time defending champ Robin van Persie and fellow eight-goal top scorer Sergio Aguero. Van Persie was perceived to have endured something of a dip following his opening weekend brace at Swansea but has now netted in his past four Premier League games to sit just one strike off the pace. RVP is a proven performer and is perhaps the safest of the each-way bets in this race.
Meanwhile, the little Argentine striker over at City is a rejuvenated force alongside Alvaro Negredo and has nine in his last seven matches in all competitions. However, the fact that four of them were in the Champions League hints at the problem - Will Aguero be rested for Europe later in the season, while Liverpool’s star striker is confined to domestic duties? As a result, all evidence points to that man Suarez.
Premier League Golden Boot Odds - Odds as at 21st November 2013.
|R van Persie||4.50||5.50||5.50||5.50|
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