Sometimes you can practically hear a sports-media narrative buzzing in your ears before it arrives, like a noisy vehicle on a country road.
There is already a tradition of English Premier League sides playing over their heads on the opening 5 to 10 Matchdays of any season. That’s what made Leicester City’s recent Cinderella run to the EPL title so surprising – not that Foxes had started fast but that they kept it going in spring.
There’s also the fact that the Premiership is starting dreadfully early this year. Consider that Harry Kane and Spurs are less than 2 and ½ months removed from playing in the Champions League final and have been involved in spirited International Champions Cup and Audi Cup matches since then, taking on the best in the world in Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Juventus.
Quick as a flash, Tottenham hosts Aston Villa this Saturday on Matchday 1.
The press narrative is going to be “surprises and upsets.” Many transfer scenarios and contract negotiations are yet unresolved, and Liverpool must face promoted squad Norwich City on its historic day to kick off the season. Wilfried Zaha’s whereabouts as of next weekend are still anyone’s guess, highly impacting Crystal Palace’s moneyline against Everton. “Anything can happen” is a cliché precisely because of times like these.
But in the words of Bill Lumbergh, “Yeah. I’m gonna go ahead and have to, um, disagree with you on that.”
Handicappers might be wise to expect less surprises overall. We’re used to watching the NFL, and the NBA, and most any domestic soccer leagues have seasons in which games are played and then offseasons in which teams can change dramatically. There aren’t that many dramatic changes in the overall look and feel of English football clubs headed into August – there can’t be, because there hasn’t been enough time for organization-wide overhauls to take place.
In some ways it feels as though the 2018-19 season never ended. The squads just toured around for a few weeks and now here they are again.
Jordan Pickford is still Jordan Pickford, and Everton is still Everton. CPFC is still CPFC, though Eagles might wind up looking even more cautious and staid on the pitch in 2019-20 without a marquee attacker like Zaha.
It’s time to catch up on the Premier League’s ongoing continuum, and a gambler’s perspective is just the ticket. Let everyone else worry about upsets – there are no upsets when you’ve successfully handicapped a fixture ahead of time.
Scroll for this weekend’s 10 matches in chronological order, with moneylines and O/U totals courtesy of Bovada Sportsbook.
Liverpool vs Norwich City
This long-awaited battle will kick off in mid-afternoon in most of the United States. Canaries are the 2018-19 Championship winners, and arrive in Anfield to play a Premier League match for the 1st time since 2014.
Norwich City manager Daniel Farke is praised for reviving the squad’s attack. His teams angle for possession-advantage and employ crisp, accurate short passes.
Farke has some elite talent at his disposal. Teemu Pukki is a 29-year-old Finnish striker who could become a legitimate threat in the Premiership after taking home his league’s Player of the Year award. Pukki led all scorers in the Championship with 29 goals last season. Meanwhile, keeper Tim Krul knows his way around a Premier League box as a former member of Newcastle United.
Liverpool has the annual Golden Boot favorite on its side in Mohamed Salah, and a UEFA crown to boast about. The backline has been a topic of concern for supporters due to the ACL injury of Nathaniel Clyne.
But Allison can’t flourish without taking a shot-against every once in a while.
Bovada gives Reds the nod as a (-600) moneyline favorite in a fixture with a (3, 3.5) Over/Under total. Canaries might be worth a 1-unit wager at (+1400) and Draw (+650) is also an intriguing market.
West Ham vs Manchester City
City is only a (-400) moneyline bet in this early Saturday fixture, and I’m wondering if there’s a little Premiership-bias at play in the Vegas odds.
Manuel Pellegrini’s team must fill gaps at defensive midfielder, at forward, and on the backline. West Ham is struggling to maintain Premier League-level funding and must be crafty with its dollars spent.
The addition of striker Sébastien Haller from Eintracht Frankfurt could provide a much-needed boost to West Ham’s goals-for total. Still, I doubt Hammers could have matched Norwich City’s results in Championship last season, and Liverpool and Man City have been equally perfect against underdog squads for months.
Maybe the Leroy Sané saga is viewed as a major negative by EPL ‘cappers. But as a door closes, another opens, and Citizens are ecstatic to be welcoming midfielder Rodri from Atlético Madrid. The 23-year-old Spaniard is a defensive-minded player who could complement the club’s bevy of attacking talent.
Pep Guardiola and City also had defense in mind when activating a buy-back clause to return left-back Angeliño from PSV Eindhoven. He’s expected to challenge Benjamin Mendy for playing time.
Canaries are a better underdog ML pick than Hammers on Matchday 1, but I’m interested in Bovada’s Under (3) market for West Ham vs City at (+105).
Crystal Palace vs Everton
Toffees are a promising (+150) moneyline wager to beat Eagles at Selhurst Park on Saturday, a line that underscores just how badly Everton might be underrated by the betting public as the 2019-20 season draws near.
Forget the chase for Zaha’s transfer. Such a signing would be icing on the cake for a club which has bolstered itself throughout the 2019 window.
29-year-old midfielder Fabian Delph has arrived from Man City in hopes of taking on an increased role on the pitch. Portuguese midfielder André Gomes has been a key member of the team, but on loan from Barcelona, and Everton solved that by signing Gomes to a 5-year deal. Richarlison will continue to pick up the most headlines as Everton’s finest attacker.
Now suppose Jordan Pickford finally has the season in goal that everyone thinks he’s capable of. Would a 150-to-1 underdog start looking like a favorite under the tutelage of Marco Silva?
Everton is my moneyline lock of Matchday 1, but the Over (2.5) (+115) is another hefty Bovada payoff on a reasonably likely outcome.
Watford vs Brighton
Here’s a contest between 2 teams of 2019 FA Cup heroes. While the semifinal round went better for Hornets than Seagulls, neither squad would claim the Football Association crown as City blew away Watford 6-0 in the final.
Watford has been a Vegas nightmare for the past year. Hornets have not just been one of the best Premiership sides against-the-spread but finished in 10th place on the table in May after consistently out-playing bookmakers’ expectations.
A surprise 2-1 victory over Spurs capped a 4-0-0 streak to begin the club’s previous EPL campaign. The underdogs trailed 1-0 in the 2nd half but rallied with goals by Troy Deeney and Craig Cathcart.
The gambling public is catching on at least. Watford is a (-110) favorite to win in 90+ minutes in a match with an even-bigger payoff on the Over (2.5) – a 1.2-to-1 market at current prices.
Bournemouth vs Sheffield United
Cherries are fortunate to remain in the Premier League after a season that included clean-sheet losses to Cardiff City and Fulham.
There’s nothing like being branded an elite side in the eyes of bettors, and A.F.C. Bournemouth is a (-110) moneyline favorite to beat the newcomers from Sheffield in a match with a (2.5) Vegas total.
I’m not buying it, though, despite the kickoff taking place at Dean Court. Sheffield United might be the least fun of the 3 newcomers to play in 2019-20.
Keeper Dean Henderson is the man for the visiting “Blades” while on-loan from Manchester United and potentially as a full-fledged member of the club in future days. Henderson was a brick wall last season, leading the English Championship with 21 clean sheets.
Sheffield’s backline is formidable. Jack O’Connell is an up-and-comer who has led his club from League One to the Premier League. Fierce Irish defender John Egan joined this season after spending 2 successful seasons with Brentford. Meanwhile, club captain Billy Sharp powers the attack.
Skipper Chris Wilder’s unorthodox system utilizes back-liners as weapons in a high-paced offense. Center-backs possess the ball as wings push high up the field. While that tactic can leave the squad open to counter-attack when something goes wrong, Henderson is usually there to shut the door.
Elite opposing sides will find ways to exploit the gambit as a season wears onward, but this is Matchday 1. For a momentum-heavy underdog pick on Saturday morning it’s hard to beat Blades-in-90+ at (+285).
Burnley vs Southampton
A pair of clubs happy to be alive in the Premiership.
Burnley F.C. played brilliant soccer when it counted most in spring, managing a 2-2-draw with Chelsea just 9 days after a clean-sheet win over Cardiff City that helped send Bluebirds back to Championship.
The odds on Saturday’s bout at Turf Moor reflect an unpredictable clash of styles, but Burnley is the slight ML favorite at (+155).
Bovada’s total is again (2.5) and clients think a draw is a little more likely than usual (+225).
But if I could “lay” a Draw result here, I would. It’s likely than 1 side or the other will score a goal on a ragged play as an untimely turnover makes the difference in a 3-point, not a 2-point outcome.
Tottenham vs Aston Villa
This match will get a hefty share of gambling action as a stand-alone fixture that comes after the insanity of Saturday’s early barrage of kickoffs.
Harry Kane’s mind-numbingly great strike in the ICC has captivated continents full of Spurs fans, and Tottenham is a solid (-340) favorite to beat Aston Villa in “Villains’” return to the Premiership. The Over (2.5) is a squalid (-150) payoff, a market for which Kane is responsible for the lack of candy.
Harry isn’t the only fresh-faced star looking hot with Spurs over the summer. 22-year-old midfielder Tanguy Ndombele made a quality debut for Tottenham after transferring from Lyon. My only concern is that defender Kieran Trippier has been lost to Atlético Madrid.
As for this weekend’s guests at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, manager Dean Smith has led the Villains to a stunning turnaround in his maiden year under contract. The team jumped from 14th to 5th on the Championship table, beating Derby County 2-1 in a playoff to win promotion for 2019-20.
The attacking freedom the skipper has lent his midfield has produced a higher possession-% mark and more scoring chances and goals.
Center-back James Chester joined the team in 2016 and didn’t get a whole lot of help in the box until recently. With a better supporting cast, Chester has thrived, if also suffered from the injury bug.
But the striker position is unsettled headed into a crucial campaign. That means Saturday’s “Over” market is for suckers, and Villa is not a terrific underdog ML even at (+950) odds.
Leicester City vs Wolverhampton
Half of an early-Sunday pair of matches, Foxes vs Wanderers is among the more-tightly handicapped battles of Matchday 1. Bovada posted, adjusted, and then scratched a (+.5) spread on Wolves and a (-.5) spread on Leicester City, but the hosts are a (+125) moneyline favorite at King Power Stadium.
Wolves finished 7th in the Premiership last season and scalped a lot of quality clubs, knocking Liverpool and Manchester United out of the FA Cup before losing to Hornets in the semifinals.
But the organization isn’t sitting on its hands. The transfer window has been especially busy for Nuno Espírito Santo’s side, with 5 signings thus far. 28-year-old Mexican striker Raúl Jiménez had a spectacular 2018-2019 campaign while on loan from Benfica and Wolverhampton has wisely signed the star to a 4-year contract. Wolves also permanently signed 24-year-old Leander Dendoncker after a successful season on loan from Anderlecht.
Leicester City’s Harry Maguire appears to be on his way to Manchester United, calling the Foxes (+125) line into question. It doesn’t feel like that long ago when the club stunned the Premiership by holding the #1 spot on the table at the end of 38 tough matches. But it might feel like part of another era quite soon.
Skipper Brendan Rodgers has expressed interest in acquiring an attacking midfielder for his maiden full season with the club. Ayoze Pérez was recently transferred from Newcastle United and can take the field at forward or in the midfield. The team has added depth to the backline with the signing of 21-year-old defender James Justin from Luton Town. He’s no replacement for Maguire, however.
Wolverhampton is a solid underdog pick, and I’m liking the Over (2.5) given the % chance that Leicester City will be dealing with distractions.
However, it may be a good thing for the hosts that Maguire has finally settled on a transfer and the team can get on with business.
Newcastle United vs Arsenal
Newcastle has been faring poorly in summer friendlies, dropping a 1-2 result to Preston North End F.C. last week.
That’s helping Arsenal to a (-125) moneyline despite Sunday’s fixture taking place at St. James Park. I’m highly skeptical of that market. Gunners might be more sizzle than steak at this point.
Arsenal is part of the chase to reel-in Palace forward Zaha. But other developments suggest that the club isn’t as rich or as free-spending as its rivals in 2019. Several noteworthy players have left the roster, including Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who will now suit-up alongside Ronaldo at Juventus.
Unai Emery’s club also made a long-term deal for defender William Saliba, but he’s a greenhorn on a reserve line full of them.
Over (2.5) bets could win easily as Magpies surprise an in-flux opponent with attacks.
Man United vs Chelsea: Sunday Premier League Odds
MUFC is a solid (+120) moneyline favorite for Sunday’s clash of titans, which will air as a stand-alone match around midday in the United States.
The Over/Under total for United-Chelsea is (2.5), a popular number on Matchday 1. But I’m drawn back to that ML…and whether or not Old Trafford’s guests could spoil it.
Supporters aren’t seeing a whole lot in Chelsea F.C. this summer. Eden Hazard has bid farewell to in a move to Real Madrid worth a record-setting transfer fee. The club will also transition on the sidelines as former standout midfielder Frank Lampard replaces Maurizio Sarri as manager.
Sarri’s stubborn tactics were nobody’s favorite, and the team’s lack of a dominant striker was a weight around the former skipper’s neck.
Will Lampard be blessed with a new toy at the front of the formation? Maybe not. The club’s most-significant summer acquisition is Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovačić.
Blues have reached into the club’s youth program to fill gaps, expecting midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, teen forward Callum Hudson-Odoi, 20-year-old midfielder Mason Mount to play substantial minutes in EPL fixtures.
Meanwhile, United appears ready to rock in spite of Paul Pogba’s endless transfer-drama in the tabloids. The addition of Maguire is well-timed following the knee injury to Eric Bailly in a friendly against Tottenham.
I’m also liking MUFC’s summer youth acquisitions, speedy and mature-enough to immediately help out in world-class matches. 21-year-old right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka has a bright future after transferring from Crystal Palace, where he won the club’s 2018-2019 Player of the Year award. Newly arrived from Swansea City, 21-year-old Welsh winger Daniel James is also a fast runner and thinker.
Any August meeting between legendary sides is hard to predict, but my prediction is that at Sunday’s end, the game will be as it ever was. Premier League sides that are prepared to win right now will prosper over those caught a day late and a striker short.
It’s dangerous to have an average offseason, especially when there isn’t one.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.