So I’ve been too full of blog-content demand for American pigskin to preview or recap English Premier League matches for a couple of weeks. Soccer fans, don’t be upset with me – it had nothing to do with liking 1 sport more than the other. If the FA Cup or Champions League final ever occurs during a gridiron season – hypothetically possible if the XFL grows and grows – you might see me hand-off Vince McMahon like a football (an American football) and keep blogging about events from across the pond.
Many thanks to Nikola Velickovic for making English football predictions for WagerBop in my absence. You can always learn something from Nikola’s colorful, concise commentary on the matches. For instance, I learned from reading his posts that he has seriously followed soccer for many, many more years than the 5-10 years under my belt. You’d never find me calling any Premiership match “boring and dull football” as my colleague described a match between Magpies and Toffees over the holidays.
Boring? Sure. Everyone gets bored watching staid, conservative action on the field, especially in a clash of losing teams. However, I’d never go so far as “dull” since to my eyes the English Premier League is too complicated and confusing to ever be dull. There’s certainly no faster league in Europe, and none so deep in talented lineups. English clubs race up and down the pitch turning chances into counters, playing out from the back with speed and acuity. There’s just enough parity among the 20 teams of the Premier League that no outcome is truly predictable – and that’s music to the ears of any bookmaker.
It feels great to handicap U.K. football accurately, but it’s impossible to do by honing-in on every small detail. It’s easy to think of angles such as “I like that 5-across midfield that Sheffield United uses” or “the injury to player X will make player Y have to adjust his game.” But no matter where Blades has its starting 11 they’re still exactly 11, and a single injury can knock-out only a single footballer. ‘Capping the overall trajectory and morale of a squad can pay-off much more handsomely in a league of rich rosters and lurking strikers.
There’s only 1 trajectory at the top of the Premiership table right now – and that’s Liverpool. Reds have pretty much cemented the race for EPL hardware in 2019-20 barring any bizarre collapse in form or health. What effect should that information have on English football prediction-making?
We’ve got to keep a keen eye on the B and C-flights, if you will, or the races for Champions League and Europa League placement. Man City has clearly resolved to put more emphasis on Champions League success as of this season, but that doesn’t mean Citizens can or should shrug-off recent missteps in domestic play. Manchester City is only in 3rd position, behind Liverpool and Leicester, with at least 2 quality sides in Chelsea and Man United within striking distance…considering that there are still 17 Matchdays left despite the Premier League’s insane flurry of holiday fixtures.
Don’t forget the bottom of the table either. Canaries may possess the worst form of 20 clubs in the league, but the shoddy W/D/L records of brands like Hornets, Cherries, and even Villains leave things very much in doubt as to whom can be handicapped to drop into Championship. Even Burnley FC with its 7 victories stands just 10 points ahead of the caboose.
Gambling action, needless to say, is cautious at the moment – but January is a time for licking one’s wounds at the bank. Let’s see how many Premiership match-ups this weekend are worthy of perking speculators’ ears up a little bit.
Sheffield United vs West Ham
There isn’t too much left-over of Ham after New Year’s. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Marked injury issues are causing gamblers to pass-over a (+325) moneyline on Hammers at Bladesville, erm, Bramall Lane on Friday. I’ll be candid about this – there just aren’t any online betting markets to like the way that some bookmakers have this curious fixture laid out in the markets. (+325) is just-enough of a nice payoff to keep you spending it the next day if West Ham surprises, yet as much as the more-established EPL club needs a victory, Sheffield has visions of UEFA bids after killing it for 1/2 of a season relative to other newcomers. Blades might be a solid “lay” wager considering the experience of David Moyes’ reserves with Hammers, but West Ham’s (+0.5) margin ATS comes with a souped-up house % at Bovada Sportsbook. The O/U line (2.5) could look tiny if West Ham’s backline collapses, but Sheffield tends to keep things conservative even at home. Yikes!
Since this Premier League post has been delayed a day for injury reasons (no fooling) and a majority of readers will get to see this prediction along with the actual final score, here’s a Peter Sellers quote from the original Casino Royale.
Pick: No Card
Crystal Palace vs Arsenal
No one ever knows the exact “ratio” of credit that should go to manager and roster when a team improves. Then again, it’s a false dilemma. Bill Parcells had a saying as an NFL head coach, “every year is a new deal.” What the brilliant skipper meant was that while the public sees the coach-player dynamic in a static way (all’s well unless it isn’t) there’s always complications as players age and experience life-changes. I’ve criticized bookies for setting minus-lines on soccer clubs with new coaches after a few contests have gone by, since there’s usually a brief streak of good form while players “audition” for a spot, even if the footballers aren’t a quality long-term solution given what the tactician has in mind and will revert back to form very quickly.
Mikel Arteta’s initial results with Arsenal are getting grand reviews that seem a wee-bit premature at this point. But there’s evidence that what Arteta is doing involves a simple, solid foundation that can help Arsenal’s entire starting 11 and reserves. The club has been inconsistent, even flaky without the football for months upon months. Gunners didn’t prevail in a holiday match until New Year’s Day when Manchester United visited Emirates Stadium and lost 0-2.
Arsenal enjoyed goals from the wing and the backline while neutralizing United for much of 90+ minutes. The marquee win made supporters eager to see how Arteta would handle the FA Cup on Monday, and the Spaniard’s answer was to field a strong starting 11 in a 3-4-3 which was later tweaked into a 4-2-3-1, with backup GK Emiliano Martínez manning the posts.
In a sense, Arteta got lucky with the keeper choice – Gunners played without cohesion and relied on Martínez to make sterling saves in a 1-0 victory over Leeds. But the momentum of 2 important victories under the new regime has gamblers confident, and Arsenal has shrunk to a (-120) favorite on the moneyline vs host Crystal Palace in Saturday’s early Premier League match.
Given CPFC’s steady (and casino-friendly) form at 7-7-7 through 21 matches, and the fact that Arsenal may be too-methodical for its own good at Selhurst Park, I can see Gunners dropping an early goal on a counter before settling-in and drawing the contest level at 1-1 sometime in the 2nd half.
Pick: Draw (+290)
Now for a round of quick handicaps on Saturday’s simultaneous kickoffs…
Chelsea vs Burnley FC
Bettors seem to like Clarets following a nice FA Cup triumph, but the visitors have lost 3 domestic club matches in a row and it’s hard to imagine Blues letting down at Stamford Bridge while in the thick of the race for UEFA honors.
Pick: Chelsea ATS (-1.5)
Everton FC vs Brighton
The FA Cup shrinketh odds, and the FA Cup fatteneth them. Brighton’s disappointing 3rd-round exit is no picnic for Seagulls to live through, but neither is Everton pleased about falling to Liverpool without Muhamad Salah on Sunday. Brighton is not an especially-popular underdog at (+325) but enjoys real chances here. Consider that Seagulls have suffered 9 losses; Toffeemen have 10.
Leicester City vs Southampton
“Goals,” Nikola often advises me. “I only bet goals. Totals. Easier than wins, losses, and draws.” I certainly cannot disprove that betting totals is in any way less efficient than soccer moneylines. The only counter-argument I might make is that the more markets you pay attention to and consider relative to the total number of bets you make, the more efficiently a shark can make money. There are more bookmaker’s errors and public-betting trend gaffes hidden in 100 markets than in 10.
But in this case, we see the goal total refusing to rise, even threatening to shrink below (3) as Foxes and Saints prepare for battle. American ‘cappers (at least) seem to think that a match between 2 counter-attacking sides will lead to a stalemate as neither lineup chooses to attack. But that’s more of an ice hockey handicap than a soccer handicap. Southampton’s style will create openings for Leicester to get counter-play even when Saints are missing the football.
Pick: Over (3) or (2.75)
Manchester United vs Norwich City
Forget all that talk about cautious gambling – speculators love Canaries on the moneyline (+750) after watching United lose again, but this is still a David vs Goliath fixture in David’s backyard. Furthermore it is unlikely that Daniel Farke will lay it all on the line to try to knock-off a marquee opponent. Canaries already had that experience this season, and that’s amazing, but the time has come to think about avoiding relegation somehow. That means not letting players kill themselves trying to beat MUFC. Matches against the bottom half may prove to be much more important outcomes for Norwich City in early 2020.
Pick: United (-1.5)
Wolverhampton vs Newcastle United
Wolves is often a popular pick at home for no particular reason, but in this case the favorite Wanderers line of (-220) is popular thanks to mild opposition. Newcastle can’t get a whole lot done on the pitch these days.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Liverpool
Once again, very recent disappointments are leading to line-movement, as Liverpool opened as a modest favorite before taking a plurality of action on the moneyline. Reds odds to win are now (-145) in a match with a (3) goal O/U total.
Bettors must be historians, but do we need to be so-consumed with 2019-20 history? Hand-wringing over Tottenham’s poor results vs Canaries, Saints, and even Smoggles over the holidays (a “smoggle” just sounds like a creature that would come along to ruin the holidays, but don’t tell that to Middlesbrough supporters) overshadows that the club has progressed in areas in Mourinho’s arrival. Certainly the backline isn’t what it was last season, and any adrenaline-rush with the coaching change has worn-off the attack. But there’s no need for a skipper to whip the ponies prior to a meeting with fierce UEFA rival Liverpool.
The fact that Spurs will attack doesn’t mean Salah’s side is a weak favorite. Tottenham attacks could lead to Liverpool goals. At the same time, a talented host will be compelled to fight back and produce at least a goal or 2 vs Alisson.
AFC Bournemouth vs Watford FC
We forgot the theme of this week’s preview quite conveniently for United’s match – now we must remember it again as Cherries hosts Hornets in Sunday’s early match at Vitality Stadium.
Careful betting action is tipping toward Watford (+175) but clean sheets from both sides in the rivalry – and Bournemouth’s sad domestic record in December-January – are causing the Over/Under to be affected more directly with a falling (2.5) line.
The caution is unheeded. Watford’s lineup knows that now is the time to seize momentum and play its way out of any relegation talk. Hornets have recently beaten Villains and Wolves in harsh meetings in which, controversy aside, we can all agree that the hosts played their guts out.
Hornets managed a 1-1 draw with Sheffield United in a Boxing Day road game, and the team does not want to go into an FA Cup replay with a Premiership loss hanging over the proceedings.
Aston Villa vs Manchester City
Sky Blues odds-to-win have shrunk to (-550) for Sunday’s late kickoff at Villa Park. But it’s kind of a moot point, because whether the moneyline is 1-to-4 or 1-to-6 a heavy favorite is always a high risk and a low reward.
Better to look at other markets. Pep Guardiola wants to get into rock-solid top 4 position by February if possible, but he won’t necessarily want to run any superstars into the ground and produce an injury or a red card, considering the ambitious domestic and international schedules just in front of the club. City’s biggest wish is to win the Champions League in 2020, and Real Madrid looms on the calendar soon. Yet a glance at the short-term overloads the brain with a short-rest 1/21 trip to Bramall Lane, followed by the 2nd leg of an EFL Cup tie with Man United, followed by the 4th Round of the FA Cup.
I don’t know how high “5 goals at Villa Park” would be on the coach’s priority list. Aston Villa is likely to play a conservative 90 minutes too, since City might actually be the club’s opponent in the aforementioned tourney final if Villains can get past Foxes. (That sounds far-fetched I suppose, but consider that the 1st leg was already drawn 1-1.)
Each roster has been and will continue to be busy as hell, and that could lead to less fireworks on Sunday thanks to conscious decision-making on both sides. Villa should go quietly in an 0-2 or 1-3 outcome.
Pick: Villa ATS (+2.5) or Under (4)
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.