Premier League: The State Of Play
Pre-season favourites Chelsea, City and United sit outside the top 4. Today Adam Bate takes a look at how the key Premier League betting markets are shaping after six matches played.
The Title Race & Top 4
After several seasons of Manchester dominance, there is a distinctly retro feel to the top of the Premier League table. Older readers will recall that the current top four – Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton – accounted for four fifths of the so-called Big Five of the 1980s. But few of any age would have predicted Manchester United missing out on the fun.
The question punters need to be asking is whether or not United have already hit rock bottom under David Moyes. Is this merely an early scare exacerbated by an injury to Robin van Persie or a sure-fire sign that the Scot is out of his depth? Forthcoming fixtures against Sunderland, Southampton, Stoke and Fulham offer the chance of redemption – or the prospect of the title defence going up in smoke by Bonfire Night. Lets’ just hope Moyes doesn’t blame that malevolent fixture generator.
Any hope of United gaining ground on the leaders looks unlikely given the form and fixtures of their rivals. Rejuvenated Arsenal are playing with the confidence of an Ozil-inspired group that have just found out that world-class footballers do want to come and play with them after all. Current form suggests they can expect nine points from games against Albion, Norwich and Crystal Palace, while Liverpool and Tottenham also have winnable games ahead of them.
Current Premier League Winner Odds - Odds as at 2nd October 2013.
The Reds have been bolstered by the return of Luis Suarez and his partnership with Daniel Sturridge has the potential to devastate better teams than Sunderland, who were punished 3-1 on Sunday. Brendan Rodgers has made compromises in order to accommodate his strike duo centrally and his team have lost some fluency in the process. But with the injured Philippe Coutinho a more natural fit than Victor Moses for the support role in the hole, things could yet get better for Liverpool rather than worse.
As for Tottenham, a series of narrow victories suggest Andre Villas-Boas has managed the transition process well by picking up points while his plethora of new signings bed in at White Hart Lane. Erik Lamela is still waiting for his first Premier League start as Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andros Townsend respond to the challenge for their places. The young Argentine is a player of significantly greater potential than those two and when he and Christian Eriksen are occupying the attacking midfield zones in tandem, their creativity could bring out the best in subdued summer signing Roberto Soldado. Spurs look good for their best league finish since Gazza, Lineker and, err, Steve Sedgley were rocking the Holsten shirts.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Tottenham’s ambitions can extend any further this season. Much will depend on Manchester City and Chelsea. The filthy rich pair began the campaign as the favourites and the bookmakers still rate them as the two teams most likely to be top come May despite their stuttering starts.
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea have been underwhelming as the returning hero fumbles around for a forward while Romelu Lukaku continues to look suspiciously like exactly what they need out on loan at Everton. For their part, Manuel Pellegrini’s Man City looked formidable in their derby win over United only to soon discover that feat was rather less impressive than initially anticipated. In fact, away defeats to Cardiff and Villa suggest City are vulnerable. Even so, expect the winners of the Stamford Bridge clash between these sides on October 27 to find themselves installed as firm title favourites by the end of the month.
All that and not even a mention for unbeaten Everton. What seems clear is that with last season’s top seven looking more evenly matched in 2013/14, results against each other will prove critical in the race for a top-four finish. If Moyes gets that wrong then there could be bigger problems than merely failing to defend the title.
Current Premier League Top 4 Odds - Odds as at 2nd October 2013.
The Relegation Battle
Although things are looking up in north London, elsewhere in the capital things are rather more bleak. West Ham secured a top-half finish under Sam Allardyce on their return to the Premier League last season and what his sides lack in aesthetics they usually make up for in the pragmatics of point accumulation. Not so thus far. Five points from six games is a paltry return from a generous start and with a home match against Man City sandwiched by trips to Spurs and Swansea in October, the focus could soon be on a misfiring Hammers side that appears to make little sense without Andy Carroll as the focal point.
The pressure is already on another of the big beasts of Premier League management as Martin Jol presides over the strolling bones at Craven Cottage. While other clubs can point to a bright future ahead and the prospect of improvement from their youngsters, Fulham’s ageing outfit invites judgement in the here and now. Not good when you’ve acquired four points from six games. It’s Stoke, Palace and Saints up next for Jol’s side and if they can’t at least double that tally from those games then expect the Dutchman to be pensioned off.
Fortunately for fans of Fulham and West Ham, not to mention newly-promoted duo Hull and Cardiff, two of the three teams set for the drop are already being tentatively pencilled in. Paolo Di Canio may have been sacked but the mess at Sunderland remains. Problems at full-back, hit-and-miss wingers and no creativity in the middle – the song remains the same at the Stadium of Light. Sadly, there are also 14 new players flailing about on Wearside and Stephane Sessegnon is long gone. One point from six games means the turnaround will have to come quickly. It’s Manchester United, Swansea and arch-rivals Newcastle coming up so the Black Cats could be out of luck before the next permanent boss is even appointed.
And yet, you’d still back them to finish above Crystal Palace. The Eagles topped the Championship in November of last year, the month Ian Holloway was appointed, but are looking every inch the club that eventually finished fifth and edged to promotion through the playoffs. Bodies have come in but with Wilfried Zaha in the stiffs at Old Trafford and star striker Glenn Murray out for the foreseeable future with a long-term knee injury, it’s been one step forwards and two significant steps back for Palace. With Liverpool and Arsenal to play in October, it’d be brave to bet against an immediate return to the second tier. Where exactly Liverpool and Arsenal will be come the end of the season is rather more intriguing…
Current Premier League Relegation Odds - Odds as at 2nd October 2013.
Follow Adam on Twitter: @ghostgoal
And read more of his work at SkySports.com