Well, that was better. WagerBop’s “team” soccer handicaps went right around .500 last weekend, and .500 is typically a great number in a betting sport full of 3-way markets and partial payoffs. At the same time, many of the correct predictions Nikola and I made were at 1-to-1 (or worse) payoff odds, so we can’t claim punters got more than a piddling sum from any of our direct hits this time around.
They say really good teams tend to come out of a slump with draw results, or (if a draw or tie is impossible in the sport) at least stalemating the opposition. It makes sense. A wounded league contender fights back on humble terms, working hard to re-acquire the good habits needed for a stretch run to the grail. At that point a positive psychological chain-reaction occurs – once again able to execute and perform fundamentals as well as opposing clubs can perform them, a talented squad tends to relax and let its skills take over. That’s when another unbeaten streak begins to take shape.
After previously taking it on the chin with 2 losing Premier League weekends in a row, WagerBop’s handicappers (mostly me) can look at a so-so week as a reset button. Smoke is clearing now that 75% of the domestic schedule is behind us, and 10 matches remain to sort-out what is at once a simple and yet complex EPL table of 20.
Lines have been drawn in the 2020-21 UEFA chase. Manchester City is leading the B-flight below Liverpool. The aristocrats Chelsea and Man United are placed a tad more-firmly in #4 and #5 positions respectively, with only 3rd-place Leicester City spoiling the party as an historical underdog. Wolves is lurking with 43 points, and capable of great feats on the pitch, but is consistency-of-form an issue that will spoil Wanderers from catching the top 5? Wolverhampton has only won 10 of 29 matches. Arsenal has 9 victories. Sheffield United has managed 11 wins in an amazing campaign, but Blades have tallied only 30 goals.
Bovada Sportsbook’s lines on the Premier League this weekend feel as cautious as a bobby trying to arrange coronavirus protection procedures at St. James Park. Man City is a customarily-hefty favorite over Burnley, but most EPL odds are smack in +150-300 range.
As for the viral pandemic, the United Kingdom must be hailed for doing a better job than most countries – arguably even the United States – at preventing a public health crisis at home. Premiership football is determined to soldier ahead in spite of the risk of widespread illness but the decision doesn’t feel all that brave, since pubs are not full of sneezing-and-wheezing and few elderly citizens desire to stand amidst screaming supporters in the rafters at Anfield anyway. (They do show up more often to places like Kingsmeadow, where Wimbledon might be sliding down to 4th-tier competition soon.)
If you had to make a general forecast of how coronavirus concerns will affect Premier League handicapping, think of soccer in terms of war – the less travel, the fewer complications. Clubs who must travel across hill and dale to play in Europe, teams who must either send a bevy of athletes to Three Lions or Les Bleus in 2020 or deal with morale problems if celebrated international events are cancelled, and last but not least, superstars whose free-flowing lifestyle will be affected by travel restrictions could all be subject to distraction. Premiership clubs which are playing in 0 other competitions, on which a majority of footballers are not involved with traveling FIFA squads, will have an ideal scenario in which to defeat opponents with all-out focus and sacrifice. We think we’ve seen Man City look uninterested this season? Just wait until Citizens have the #2 slot sealed tight and there’s nothing to do but let multi-millionaire athletes rearrange training calendars, talk to private doctors, and rent their own airplanes doused with disinfectant.
WagerBop’s owners will need doctor’s care if we keep whiffing on soccer picks, so we’d better get to the Premier League schedule and odds for this weekend (and Monday).
Watford vs Leicester City
My handicap of Watford last week involved Hornets getting a temporary jolt of energy from having spoiled a heretofore-invincible Liverpool season. When that’s your expectation, and the result says “Crystal Palace 1, Watford 0” there’s a tendency to react by saying, “aw, crap, back to the drawing board.” But there’s an easy-to-overlook chance that the handicap was actually correct even though bad luck led to the recommended wagers losing.
Watford played a quality match at Selhurst Park on Saturday. Forward Jordan Ayew scored to give Palace the 1-0 and 3 valuable points, but Hornets won ball-possession, forced yellow cards from just about every Eagles footballer who dared to come forward, and matched CPFC with 8 corner kicks. Watford looks alive with Troy Deeney at the front of a 4-2-3-1, and signs of life are precious when a club is threatened with relegation.
Foxes will find space to attack the Hornets formation, but I’d be surprised to see Watford lose by 1 or 2 goals on Saturday without adding a tally to the sheet.
Pick: Over (2.5)
A.F.C. Bournemouth vs Crystal Palace
This week’s “Saturday simul” includes a kickoff at Dean Court in which Bournemouth is a (+140) moneyline to CPFC’s (+205), largely because of recent back-to-back outcomes in which Cherries appeared to disrupt Chelsea and Liverpool. But each of those units has been dealing with poor form and injuries. The last time Bournemouth played an EPL opponent that was ready and cracking for 90+ minutes, it was Burnley, and Clarets posted a 3-0 victory that day. Cherries also lost to Hornets 0-3 at Dean Court on 1/12.
Pick: Crystal Palace
Brighton & Hove Albion vs Arsenal F.C.
Gamblers appear to like Seagulls (+210) and have dragged an opening 2.5-to-1 underdog line tighter through several days of offshore action. Arsenal could benefit from improved defending in addition to a Europa League loss that means no team travel outside of the U.K. until summer. It’s striking to think that Gunners have not lost a domestic football match in 2020. Meanwhile, Brighton has had problems defending Falmer Stadium from interlopers, losing to Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup and visiting Crystal Palace in a league fixture 2 weeks ago.
Pick: Arsenal (+125)
Manchester City vs Burnley F.C.
The Under (3.5) for City vs Burnley is among the more-tempting of Matchday 30 betting lines. Yes, I know Sergio Agüero and Sky Blues could wallop Clarets all week and twice on Tuesday with an all-out determined effort. Some of Pep’s game plans became more conservative around this time last cycle, though, and Burnley’s backline has been impressive in recent bouts against elite forward units. Even over the holidays when Clarets scored 0 combined goals in losses to Toffeemen, Red Devils, and Pensioners, none of the totals reached 4 tallies.
Newcastle United vs Sheffield United
Everyone loves to wager the goal total – specifically the Under – on Sheffield matches. It’s true that Blades have carved-out a nice niche in the EPL with solid, straight ahead football. But perhaps preoccupation with the total has punters overlooking a nice (+230) Magpies line-to-win, considering that Sheffield’s favorable statistics accumulated during the teams’ previous clash in 2019-20 were racked-up once Newcastle had pierced Sheffield’s 5-across midfield and felt content to sit back and protect its lead at Bramall Lane.
Norwich City vs Southampton F.C.
Canaries could have a psychological boost from scoring a huge win over Tottenham in the FA Cup. As with Watford, a simple glance at the scores is deceptive. Norwich City lost 0-1 at Bramall Lane following the epic upset of Spurs, but controlled the football with passes and in-space defending in a notably clean match from both sides. Saints meanwhile are barely clinging to fringe contention for anything but a pass to play in the Premiership next season, and have only beaten Villa in league competition since late January.
Pick: Norwich City (+185)
Aston Villa vs Chelsea F.C.
For many speculators, Saturday’s late kickoff will be about where Chelsea is right now. Frank Lampard “brings a lot to the coach’s chair” as they say, but the fault in that cliché is that the key is how Lampard infuses the squad (not his chair) with confidence. Blues may have been dismissed as a hanger-on in the international scene as of 3 weeks ago when the club fell behind Bayern Munich 0-3 in a Champions League tie. Soon, however, the youth-laden team eliminated Liverpool from the FA Cup with a clean sheet, and pulverized Everton 4-0 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Interesting to note that Kepa is back between the posts for Chelsea despite European reporters all but kidnapping the famed keeper and dropping him off at Real Madrid training grounds themselves. It may be a short-term solution, but a proven superstar in the hand is better than whatever’s in the bush later on…once Blues begin sending and receiving players like a normal Premiership club again.
Aston Villa will comprise half the players on the pitch, to be sure, and successfully handicapping Saturday’s denouement can’t just be about looking at Chelsea. Unfortunately for host-supporters what information we have on Villa’s form amounts to additional good news for Blues. Villains have struggled to ward-off dangerous attacks on home turf, giving up 6 goals to City and 3 goals to a dodgy Tottenham side at Villa Park. Chelsea has acquired a cool 5-0-0 record in its last 5 meetings with Aston Villa.
Bovada’s (+105) payoff promise on Chelsea (-1) ATS seems a wee bit too generous.
Pick: Chelsea ATS
West Ham United vs Wolverhampton F.C.
Gamblers against-the-spread and on the moneyline alike don’t seem all that keen on Wolves (+140) in Sunday’s early kickoff. Wolverhampton must travel to meet Olympiacos in a Europa League leg on Thursday which increases the team’s likelihood of enduring fatigue, injury, or even a coronavirus scare. At the very least there will be headaches and complications when passing the squad across borders.
But Wolves is a pretty healthy side, and its ranking among the top 1/3rd of clubs in the Premiership is no accident. Wanderers have every motivation to play as hard as Hammers, who are struggling to avoid relegation and squandered numerous counter-attacking chances with poor ball movement in an 0-1 loss to Arsenal on Matchday 29. Wolverhampton’s handy (EVEN (-130)) goal spread at Bovada is an opportunity to play a U.K.-style “lay” wager of sorts on West Ham, and although many old-timers counsel laying favorites on the road, we’ll lay an underdog at home this time.
Pick: Wolves to-win or ATS
Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester United
Sunday’s 2nd kickoff is among the most-interesting gambling match-ups of the weekend, and we’re not just reporting that because the meeting of Spurs vs United is a worldwide ratings bonanza and a match many readers have scrolled directly down to.
It’s intriguing because it’s a fixture between clubs that handicappers have learned not to trust and yet also sides whose supporters still blindly trust as a way of life.
Is it OK if we come right out and call these 2 teams flaky? Spurs appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough in execution under new skipper Mourinho, but dealing with injuries is the ultimate test of any improvement, and Tottenham has flunked without Harry Kane. Spurs lost a 5th-round FA Cup contest to Norwich City on penalties, then proceeded to lay an historically-bad egg in Germany, falling 0-3 to RB Leipzig to lose the UEFA Champions League Round-of-16 by 4 aggregate goals. The betting public adores Man United (+120) to beat host Tottenham this weekend, dragging MUFC’s line all the way from 2-to-1 opening odds. But life isn’t peaches and pitchforks for Red Devils either.
Man United must travel to play a Europa League fixture in Austria this week, and results from the previous Round-of-32 alone demonstrate that MUFC’s ceiling is far higher at Old Trafford than any other venue right now. I’m more skeptical of barnstorming soccer clubs (save Wolves) than convinced of United’s status as a true 1.2-to-1 favorite in London.
Pick: Tottenham (+235)
Everton F.C. vs Liverpool F.C.
If manager Jürgen Klopp of Liverpool is wise, and he often is, he will allow the 1st-place Reds to hit “reset” following a sour Round-of-16 dismissal from the 2019-20 Champions League. There is still a lot to be happy about at Anfield. Barring a total collapse, the club is on its way to a record-setting domestic finish.
Klopp’s stout defense of keeper Adrian following the veteran’s ghastly late form that turned the tide in favor of Atlético Madrid on Wednesday is a step in the right direction. Move on, moving forward to Matchday 30. The best Liverpool 11 did not lose a UEFA tie, but the fact that Reds couldn’t overcome a key injury in goal should demonstrate how vulnerable even the top English club can be in a given appearance.
Liverpool’s current (-125) Bovada line to beat host Everton on Monday may shift into plus-range soon given the massive downer of Wednesday’s leg at Anfield. The away-goals rule still isn’t 2nd-nature to every supporter, and even the Liverpool players appeared to relax once Reds went ahead 2-0 in the match and 2-1 on aggregate. The overall tie had been deadlocked at 1-1, so going ahead by 1 did not feel as though the team was still an opposing goal away from elimination. It felt like a cushion in addition to a promise of winning without penalty kicks. But the opposite was true. Reds swiftly collapsed once the Spanish side scored to draw the match level and take a virtual 2-goal lead in the round.
Will the Merseyside Derby wake Toffees up? It had better, because it won’t be a happy pack of superstars invading Goodison Park. Everton (+330) is on another winless skid thanks to a haphazard backline, an overwhelmed star keeper in Jordan Pickford, and midfielders trapped out-of-position without the ball and thus out-of-favor with referees.
Liverpool’s form is too sickly for the team to waltz into a rival’s building and post a clean sheet without lots of luck. On the other hand, even the “Mattress Makers” of Spain couldn’t put Liverpool Football Club’s attack to bed prior to extra time, and it’s doubtful Everton can ward-off multiple goals-against on Monday night (afternoon in the USA) even as the Premier League match requires less minutes.
A score of 0-0 in this derby – featuring Salah and Richarlison among others – would be as unforeseen as a “Coronavirus Vanished” header in The Guardian early next week.
Pick: Over (2.5)
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.