We keep being told that anything can happen in this weirdest of Premier League seasons, and the outright betting markets are certainly backing that up.
After 11 weeks, we now have prices and ratings for each team that – quite confidently – section off the table into three parts, even with a small margin for error.
We’ll start at the bottom this week, where we are in the unique position of having four teams at odds-on for the drop. I say unique because it’s incredibly rare in a market with lots of selections that the number of odds-on options outweigh the number of potential winning selections (in this case, three, representing the number of relegation spots).
The reason for stacking a hefty collective percentage (264 per cent) against Sheffield United (4/11), West Bromwich Albion (2/5), Fulham (1/2) and Burnley (10/11) is that they are cut adrift both in the table and on performance ratings. They’re also the only four teams in the division to have a double-digit negative goal-difference.
Earlier in the season the compilers were reluctant to overreact in the case of Sheffield United, believing the excuses of personnel issues and tough fixtures were valid. Chris Wilder also won a lot of neutral fans last season, and maybe that swayed a few market-makers before they reached for the price cut on the Blades.
They’re now rock-bottom and the worst of the quartet.
At the top, the closest set of prices for a good few seasons got even closer at the weekend.
In betting there are, of course, no absolutes until a market is settled, but Newcastle and Brighton are the ones most in danger if two of the four do manage to make a dramatic recovery. It’s a satisfying position for any team in the bottom half of the table to be in, knowing that there has to be a huge improvement for two teams, rather than just one, to put your status under threat.
For that reason, even the hugely underperforming Arsenal, under Mikel Arteta, can be grateful for drop quotes of 50/1.
In any other season, with a more condensed and open relegation fight, we’d be seeing quotes of nearer 20/1, considering their current abysmal league form. In three of the last four seasons, Arsenal have been a bigger price for the title than the drop at Christmas – including their final year under Arsene Wenger.
At the top, the closest set of prices for a good few seasons got even closer at the weekend. The top four in the current title betting all registered victories – Liverpool (15/8 favourites), Manchester City (2/1), Chelsea (5/1) and Tottenham (11/2).
The market has readily dismissed Leicester (50/1), Southampton (250/1) and Manchester United (20/1) despite their proximity to the others. The fact that trio completed a clean sweep of victories for the top seven in the current table made it a horrific weekend in terms of match result betting for the bookies.
So, what will happen to the 12 teams that are neither in the bookmakers’ thoughts for the title nor the drop?
They’re all rated broadly the same and, on their day, can beat any of the others, so it’s well worth looking for opportunities to back the biggest prices when any of them meet.
This coming Premier League weekend, for instance, the qualifying fixtures for the teams in that 12-club no man’s land would be Leeds v West Ham, Wolves v Aston Villa and Leicester v Brighton. The draw or away wins are worth serious consideration in those games.
The biggest game to focus on at the top of the table will be third-favourites Chelsea at Everton – a tough fixture on paper, despite the Toffees’ woes. The compilers will be impressed if Frank Lampard’s men can come away from Merseyside with three points.
At the other end, West Bromwich Albion will want to drag Newcastle into the survival argument with a win at St. James’ Park after their dismal 5-1 defeat at home to Palace on Sunday.
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