2018 has marked my first real effort at handicapping the FIFA World Cup and the English Premier League. I’ve won money for gamblers, but have also made some really embarrassing mistakes.
Once, during a World Cup preview, I accidentally called Portugal the “Red Fury” while referencing Ronaldo, thereby lining-up the great attacker up front for the Spanish. Oh, how Spain wishes it were true! With Ronaldo on the Red Fury’s side instead of Portugal’s, that dramatic 3-3 draw in Russia would have been more like the 5-0 drubbing that Manchester City laid on Burnley on October 20th.
There was to be more fun with nicknames. I erroneously called Tottenham’s squad “The Spurs” in an early preview, but it’s simply “Spurs,” though of course you’ll never see them called “Tottenham Spurs” in any official capacity.
English football also has its own vibe and vocabulary. The Premier League is so different in so many respects from the NFL or the NBA, yet the 3 leagues find ways to interact. Not always in a friendly way.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles will be playing a regular-season NFL contest at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, just over a full day before the Spurs and Sky Blues are set to do battle on the pitch at Wembley. That’s a big deal, because Manchester City and Tottenham are each licking the top of the Premier League table after 9 matches, and each would prefer a pitch less-ravaged by tackling and cutting.
The Citizens are without a loss at 7-2-0 and have 23 points, while Spurs are just behind with 21 points.
The hosts at Wembley can hop right over City on Monday afternoon, but their spurs will have to be jingling and jangling.
City is flying high with keeper Ederson posting 6 clean sheets while the attack strikes from everywhere. Leroy Sané with 2 goals. Argentinian teammate Sergio Agüero besting him with 6. Raheem Sterling with 4 tallies. Defenders like John Stones and Kyle Walter sending dangerous balls into the box.
It hasn’t been 100% sunshine and rainbows. City was frustrated and drawn 1-1 by hosting Wolverhampton back in August. Midfielders Bernardo and David Silva were also given extra responsibilities while waiting for World Cup bronze medalist Kevin de Bruyne to return from injury.
That didn’t stop either player from contributing to the attack, however. Manchester City has been getting better in almost every outing, winning their most recent 7 matches (counting Champions League fixtures) by an amazing aggregate score of 20-1.
The Belgium National Team workhorse is back, having appeared in 2 matches already. And he’s steamed up about the potential conditions of Tottenham’s pitch following 4 quarters of NFL beasts in cleats tearing up the surface. “We have played on an NFL pitch before in pre-season and it’s not nice,” de Bruyne tells a reporter from The Guardian. “It’s going to be difficult.”
Have the prospective conditions affected the odds on scoring goals? Maybe. The O/U total opened at a whopping (3.5) goals, but has shrunk to (3) which is still healthy. As for the moneyline, Man City is a (-130) favorite vs (+335) for Tottenham Hotspur and (+315) for a draw in 90+ minutes.
Spurs may be slightly undervalued at home, but City’s attack is unsurpassed in the sport of English football. And Ederson is there to protect the goal in case anything goes wrong.
Have Monday’s hosts had to deal with a level of quality on their home pitch so far that in any way, shape, or form resembles the awesome lineup of Citizens?
It depends on how you look at it. Tottenham played Liverpool at Wembley on 9/15 and constructed a castle made out of sand, possessing the ball for 61% of the fixture but lacking the speed and striking to break Alisson or the Reds’ backline. The squad also could not cope with Liverpool’s counterattacks, giving up 10 on-target shots. Veteran Spurs keeper Michel Vorm did his best to hold off the onslaught, but the team surrendered a pair of 2nd-half tallies to lose 2-1.
Tottenham did manage to beat a marquee opponent on the road earlier this season, taking down Manchester United 3-0. But United is a hot mess so far in 2018-19.
Harry Kane is the wild card, a Tottenham striker who can transcend any forward line vs GK match-up with bold shots from clever angles. Kane has 5 goals on the season and looked outstanding with Three Lions in a closed-doors Nations League match vs Croatia. But every other forward on Monday’s host club has been as quiet as a mouse over 9 fixtures.
I can see Spurs scoring a goal at Wembley. I can also see Manchester City cracking a less-heralded backline than their own and tapping quick passes into the opposing box to set up goals and potential penalty-kick fouls. I’ll be surprised if the score is any lower than 2-1 in favor of the visitors.
The falling (3) O/U total makes an Over bet much safer than it would be on a (3.5) line.
Forget the noise about the Wembley pitch. The Jacksonville Jaguars have a good defense, but unless Spurs can borrow a few athletes from the Jags’ roster, there’s little chance of Monday’s match resulting in a sloppy 0-0 draw or any kind of positive result for Tottenham.
Take the Over (3) total goals and win or push on Monday’s EPL action. City is also a safe, if low-payoff, moneyline pick.
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.