Premier League Betting Preview: The Battle for the Top Four
The UEFA Champions League stands unchallenged as soccer’s leading club competition; it brings great riches and makes any club a sought-after destination. Each season, only the four top finishers in the English Premier League (and in Manchester United’s case, the winners of the Europa League) have the opportunity to battle it out with Europe’s best, and so the race for the top four in the Premier League is one of the biggest talking points during the season – and it’s a great race to bet on.
After going without a trophy in his first season at the Etihad, much will be expected of Pep Guardiola this season. Expectations are always high at City, and a repeat of the 2016/17 campaign is not an option for the Spaniard.
It was City’s defense that was their weakness last season, and Guardiola has acted quickly to rectify this by splashing a combined £103million on full-backs Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, while also adding goalkeeper Ederson for £34.9m. Despite this, a center-back is definitely still required considering the constant injury cloud over skipper Vincent Kompany and with neither Eliaquim Mangala nor Nicolas Otamendi up to the task of partnering John Stones in the heart of the defense.
By adding Bernardo Silva to an attacking unit that already contains talents the likes of Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, and Ilkay Gundogan, City have ensured that they certainly won’t be short of goals.
Trophies are likely for City, but of course never guaranteed, however, a top-four finish should be, and that’s why City are rated at -500 to finish in the top four.
After spending the 2016/17 season in the European wilderness, Chelsea are back in the Champions League this season, and they’ll be desperate not to repeat the failings of their last attempt to defend the Premier League title. It’s hard to see Antonio Conte’s men suffering such a drop off, but then two seasons ago nobody saw the calamitous downfall of Jose Mourinho coming either.
Alvaro Morata, Antonio Rudiger, and Tiemoue Bakayoko have been added to the fray to effectively replace Diego Costa, John Terry, and Nemanja Matic, and the trio should all prove to be upgrades. Despite those arrivals, Chelsea haven’t been as decisive in the transfer market as one may have expected, and time will tell whether that will prove costly error.
The early-season absence of the injured Eden Hazard and the addition of European football will stretch Chelsea in a way they weren’t tested last season, but while that may impact their title credentials, you can bank on them finishing in the top four, and odds of -334 suggest bookmakers feel the same way.
United were forced to make do with Europa League action last season, and while they went on to win Europe’s second-tier club competition (and qualified for the Champions League as a result), only a top-four finish will do for Jose Mourinho’s men this season.
The arrival of striker Romelu Lukaku should provide United with a 30-goal-a-seaon player for the first time since Robin van Persie achieved the feat in 2012/13, while Nemanja Matic will not only bolster the center of the midfield, but also provide Paul Pogba with the freedom to make more of an impact than that achieved on his return to Old Trafford last season. Despite some shaky pre-season form, Victor Lindelof should add guile to the United defense.
United finished seven points off the Champions League places last season, but they’re likely to be right among them this season, and are rated at -300 to finish in the top four.
On the Fringe
It may seem odd to have elevated Manchester United into the realms of favorites above Tottenham, despite Spurs finishing second in the league last season. However, a lack of activity in the transfer market and an over reliance on a few key players are the reasons for this.
A look at Spurs’ likely starting XI shows a side capable of beating any club in the league, but should injury befall any of Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen or Toby Alderweireld, manager Mauricio Pochettino will primarily be banking on youngsters to step up and fill very, very large voids.
Tottenham could easily thrive once more this season, they certainly have a core of players capable of doing so, but a slight slip down the pecking order wouldn’t come as a surprise. Don’t underestimate the impact of playing at Wembley either, with Spurs set to turn out at the ground on a temporary basis while their new stadium is built. Tottenham are -138 to finish on the top four, and you can mark them down as a team on the bubble.
After 20 years of Champions League action, Arsenal are on the periphery this season. Manager Arsene Wenger resisted the calls for his exit, and will look to navigate the north London club back into the top echelon of European soccer.
Much will depend on whether or not Alexis Sanchez remains at the club. The Chilean is crucial to Arsenal’s success or failure, and while at one stage an exit seemed all but complete, there is now some optimism that he may remain at the Emirates. The prospect of Alexis and Mesut Ozil slotting in behind new signing Alexandre Lacazette is an exciting one; on their day, Arsenal can play the most mesmerizing brand of soccer, unfortunately they’re equally capable of disaster.
Wenger has stated that the Europa League will be a secondary conquest, with domestic ambitions at the forefront of the Frenchman’s mind. Arsenal are slated at -110 to return to the top four this season, and should Alexis stay and one or two quality players make their way to north London, they could do so.
The Reds just snuck into fourth place last season ahead of Arsenal, and they needed strengthen in order to stay there. Unfortunately for Liverpool fans, they haven’t yet done so sufficiently to calm concerns.
The purchase of Mohamed Salah in June suggested Jurgen Klopp was laying the foundations for a spending spree, but the German’s tunnel vision in the apparently doomed pursuit of Naby Keita means that only full-back Andrew Robertson and youngster Dominic Solanke have arrived since Salah came through the doors at Anfield. While there has been much talk surrounding Keita, another central midfielder should not have been the priority, with the long-running interest in Southampton center back Virgil van Dijk the transfer saga that needed to take priority; Liverpool have quality in the midfield, it’s in defense where changes are needed.
With a European campaign to manage, Klopp needed his full squad to come to the party, and with Adam Lallana already injured and Philippe Coutinho heavily linked with Barcelona, there is reason for concern on Merseyside. The Reds’ ability to produce attacking brilliance is undoubted, but questions remain about their defense.
Liverpool are even money to make the top four, but I wouldn’t bet on them doing so. The reality is that there are six quality teams competing for four positions, and the Reds will be one of those to miss out.
From Liverpool at even money, next in line in the betting for a top-four finish is Everton at +1000 – that’s quite a jump and there is good reason for it! Everton are one of England’s historic giants, but have finished in the top four just once in the Premier League era. However, the investment of new owner Farhad Moshiri has heralded in an era of renewed optimism at Goodison Park.
Romelu Lukaku’s exit aside, it’s been one-way traffic at Everton; the prodigal son, Wayne Rooney, has returned, and he’s joined by a host of young and talented players that include Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane, Davy Klaassen, and Sandro Ramirez. With Gylfi Sigurdsson, another striker and further defensive reinforcements on their way, the Toffees boast a team that could challenge for the top four.
Unfortunately, while Everton have strengthened significantly, the clubs above them haven’t stood still.