The shadiest reasons why English Premier League football dominates the sports landscape are well-chronicled. Even casual supporters know that the top-level clubs in England (and a few other aristocrats around Europe) soak up most of the best veteran talent and corner the competition. There’s lots of big oil money to play around with, for 1 thing. (Just read Arsenal’s shirts.)
But maybe it’s time to point out some of the good reasons why Premiership matches are a popular watch worldwide. It’s funny that American sports junkies carp for solutions to long-term problems in pro basketball, baseball, football, and ice hockey – heck, they even complain about Major League Soccer – while all along the sport of European football has suggested handy solutions to those paying attention.
For instance, fans of the United States’ club-ownership rules have called English soccer’s promotion-and-relegation system “socialist.” That’s crazy, unless you think getting a promotion and a raise at work is an experience in socialism. Minor-league baseball, basketball, and football would be 900 times more interesting if clubs at least got to compete against the big kids after winning a title. An awful lot of NBA teams wouldn’t tank so hard at the end of a season if a penalty, not a reward, was involved in finishing last. The threat of relegation to English Championship creates drama on the bottom 3rd of the EPL table in early spring, compared to late-season games played between last-place American sports teams which are subject to fans’ ridicule and covered as sad, meaningless events.
Then there’s the race for Champions League placement. Premier League clubs have been so successful in recent UEFA competition that many are auto-qualified for another round, for instance Liverpool as 2018-19 Champions League winner, and Chelsea as 2018-19 Europa League champion, even though Chelsea’s free ticket to the dance was unneeded and given to Lyon of the French league instead. However, the auto-qualification scenarios are making the EPL table more intriguing, not less. If Chelsea and Arsenal happen to finish far enough out of contention in 2019-20 a grand total of 9 Premiership clubs could play UEFA football in ’20-21. That probably won’t happen, but there’s still a good chance we will see 5 U.K. teams in the Champions League and 3 in the Europa League next season.
When combined with the logjam in midst of the table after 25 matches, the spoils in play give pretty much every club a reason to care, even those sitting a dozen spots down such as Newcastle United. Even as teams caught in-between the 2 races (if we can call the cellar of the EPL a “race”) find ways to coast through the winter months, we can expect a mad dash in springtime for those 5 or 6 unclaimed UEFA slots.
Magpies will visit Emirates Stadium on Sunday to meet a curious favorite in Arsenal, a club which has not out-classed Newcastle in victories or domestic league points. Newcastle has arguably matched Arsenal in form within other competitions, too, as Gunners went bullet-less in the late stages of Europa League round-robin play prior to both sides flourishing in the FA Cup. Regardless, due to tradition, perceived scoring depth, and/or home venue advantage, Arsenal F.C. is a whopping (-235) moneyline favorite vs Newcastle United.
Golly. If we can find a couple other Premiership betting lines as mis-priced as Arsenal-Newcastle, this could be a banner week for WagerBop readers. So what if gambling winnings don’t come from Big Oil? They spring from the delusions of punters…fueled by other liquids.
Wolverhampton vs Leicester City
Many readers will know the result of Friday’s match already, but we’ll give it a quick once-over anyway. Gamblers seem to like Wolves at home against Foxes (sort of a “Darwin” style handicap) but bookmakers appear nervous about the outcome, with at least 1 sportsbook jerking the lines around before the betting action could even convalesce.
It’s hard not to appreciate the moxie of Wanderers, especially after February 1st when the lineup warded-off nifty passing by Man United to preserve a clean sheet for Rui Patrício in a fixture full of tackles, fouls, and yellow cards. What’s been forgotten is that Leicester City – despite nagging injury issues and an upset loss to Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup semifinals – is in far-superior form at 3rd place and has less competitions to worry about than Wolves, which begins Europa League Round-of-32 legs on Thursday.
By the by, Wolverhampton has not won a match at Molineux Stadium since beating Man City over the holidays.
Pick: Leicester City (+190)
Southampton vs Burnley F.C.
Saints are another tepid favorite in Saturday’s early kickoff, shrinking to a (-135) line while Clarets swell to a (+385) wager to win. Once again bias amongst the betting public may be coming into play, since Southampton just fought Tottenham in a memorable FA Cup battle that lasted 2 fixtures. But the clubs are equals on the league table, and Burnley’s form has improved notably from autumn to late winter.
Nick Pope is an extremely-promising keeper who maintained a clean sheet in Burnley’s recent upset win over United. That adds Red Devils to the list of prominent clubs which have fallen to Clarets despite playing at home.
It’s not unfathomable to think Saints could be next, and I’m intrigued to see what happens to Southampton’s counter-attacking style if Sean Dyche puts 4-across the back and midfield to begin the proceedings. Burnley has not lost to Southampton since 2016 and a half-dozen matches ago.
Norwich City vs Liverpool
Bookmakers were not prepared to handicap Canaries vs visiting Reds as the mis-match of the weekend. After all, Carrow Road was the setting when Norwich City upset Sky Blues of Manchester City in the most-stunning Premier League result of 2019-20 so far. That sort of miracle is unlikely to happen again on Saturday, but with a comfortable 2-0 lead in the 2nd half, Liverpool may begin looking ahead to Tuesday’s UEFA meeting with Atlético Madrid. Don’t tell that to punters who’ve helped make Reds a lock-down moneyline pick at vanishing (-345) odds.
Pick: Under (3) (+105)
Aston Villa vs Tottenham Hotspur
If you’d have been forecasting this match months ahead of time, a likely prediction might have been Spurs in a dull contest. Villains spent late autumn winning Premiership kickoffs against Brighton, Norwich City, and Newcastle, drawing with Manchester United and Burnley in the same time-frame of less than 10 fixtures. It was promising enough that one might have thought Villains could get comfortably into “limbo” at 12th or 14th on the table, and focus on tournament play.
Not so. Even though Aston Villa has advanced – somehow – to the Football League Cup finals against Man City, the club remains lost at 17th out of 20 teams and faces a struggle with Hammers, Hornets, Cherries, and as many other plural nouns as you can imagine to avoid league relegation.
As for Tottenham (-115) things have started to look brighter under Dr. Mourinho, whose pills and powders often take like poison in the beginning (or at the end). Lilywhites vanquished Sky Blues 2-0 on Matchday 25 despite losing in almost every statistical category, getting a goal from 22-year-old winger Steven Bergwijn before Son delivered the coup de grace with more than 20 minutes to play. Harry Kane may still be missing, but Hugo Lloris demonstrated just how crucial his return from injury has been for Spurs with the score still deadlocked at 0-0.
To sully the snooty guy in that wonderful FA Cup ad who complains that domestic tournaments “disrupt our league momentum,” Spurs went out and had a spirited 4th-round FA Cup victory over Southampton and are bountiful with momentum headed out of a brief EPL break. I’m as thrilled about a (+115) payoff on the Over (3) as a Spurs moneyline pick at current odds, since Mourinho has been attacking when in doubt, and both clubs will be anxious about the result on Sunday.
Pick: Tottenham or Over
Arsenal vs Newcastle
There’s at least 1 simple reason why Gunners are a 1-to-2.3 favorite in Sunday’s follow-up match – history. Arsenal has been beating the pulp out of Newcastle for quite some time, and it’s almost as if Bovada Sportsbook anticipated the resulting line-movement in advance and planned the perfect counter to try to snare online gamblers in a losing web.
Payoff odds on Newcastle’s adjusted (+1.5) spread are now (-140) at Bovada while Arsenal is (+115) to cover and giving away 1 and 1/2 goals. The bookmakers are tempting gamblers to keep buying into the home-team hype.
Newcastle and (+1.5) goals isn’t lousy, but why not spend 1 or 2 units on Magpies’ (+600) line to win at Emirates Stadium? Arsenal has at least 1 moment every season in which the entire English football community face-palms while watching the team, and it feels about due time to happen.
But don’t think of this pick as a throwaway hunch – it would take a lot of luck for punters to prove smarter than wiseguys on line-movements such as the above gold-rush on a favorite. Newcastle isn’t all that tempting by itself. The moneyline price is tempting.
Chelsea F.C. vs Manchester United
Monday’s big match (and the marquee match of the week for everyone but Kopites) will turn a nice TV rating in North America, airing from Stamford Bridge at 3 PM Eastern Time. You can’t help but wonder why there aren’t more super-matches booked on Sundays instead of Mondays at 3 PM in America. Part of me wants to think the Premiership’s bosses are philosophical and have chosen not to bend to the whims of the American sports public, having seen FIFA and CONCACAF commit joint-scheduling blunders while trying to push the USMNT on everyone, and having witnessed Rene Fasel threaten an art form by booking future IIHF tournaments on NHL-style ice rinks.
Alas, the Premier League is probably just being practical. Too much state-side competition from the Golden State Warriors and Indiana Hoosiers on a Sunday in February. Monday night is perfect for the European viewer, and those of us Yanks who aren’t actually working (or addicted to soap operas) can tune-in anyway. As for what the public predicts will happen when Man United visits Chelsea early in the week, at least this time they’re not going in for gold-rushes.
That’s a fancy way of saying the lines are right where they started. Chelsea is a (-120) favorite to win in 90+ minutes, at once a slap in the face and sign o’ the times for United supporters. Red Devils lost to Burnley, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Man City in January, the latter in a 2-legged Carabao Cup semifinal. On 1 hand, MUFC is playing up to its competition, falling flat against more 2nd-rate opponents than rivals in prestigious derbies. On the other, Man United’s form has only produced 9 league victories in 25 tries this cycle, a saddening number indeed. It’s not exactly losing the plot to suggest Red Devils are a 3-to-1 or even 4-to-1 underdog at Stamford Bridge.
Meanwhile, Frank Lampard’s side has been attacking well but not getting the results it wants. Chelsea allowed Arsenal to score a pair of 2nd-half goals with only 10 Gunners on the pitch following David Luiz’s red card. Blues did not capitalize on enough set-piece opportunities and were often caught out of position when defending, taking almost twice as many fouls as the visitors in a 2-2 draw. Days later, Chelsea again relaxed on the pitch at a bad time, allowing Hull City briefly back into a 4th-round FA Cup match that could have been an easy glide for the favorites.
Supporters are encouraged by Chelsea defender Antonio Rüdiger’s 2 goals in the club’s subsequent draw with Leicester City. But the top goalkeeper, Kepa, did not appear in the match, and headlines are splashing the story that Arrizabalaga could be leaving the team right away.
Amidst the chaos – and as both clubs give up big goals in chronic fashion – the O/U total is a modest (2.5) with about equal payoffs on either side of the market. Did you bet the Over yet? No? Then you’ve already waited too long.
Manchester City vs West Ham
Speaking of Over/Under totals, offshore bookmakers experimented with setting the O/U line on Sky Blues vs Hammers at (3.5), but action at that number soon proved unbalanced, and soccer gambling sites soon honed-in on a whopping goal total of (4) for the lone Wednesday kickoff.
Punters and bookies alike found their blow-out prediction of Matchday 26 with this fixture, and West Ham is getting moneyline action at (+1700). The goal spread has also fattened to (-2.5) on Pep Guardiola’s club. Why is everyone in the world betting the Over? Because the pair of teams meeting at City of Manchester Stadium is viewed as so mismatched in form that there’s a correlation between the goal-total and the likelihood of a host romp.
City is far from a goal-machine against pedestrian foes in 2020, however. Citizens have earned just 3 goals in the last 2 meetings with Sheffield United, 2 of which were tallied by Agüero. Though extenuating circumstances have played a role (like the lineup not needing any goals to get past Man United in a 2nd leg) in this weird statistic, but City has not scored a goal since late January.
I’m thinking that City against the spread might be a stronger wager than Over, since a 3-0 or 4-0 favorites’ win is likely once a desperate Hammers wall is broken late in the 1st half.
West Ham must treat every league appearance like a must-win to avoid relegation. But they’ll be dreaming of 1 point, not 3, lessening the chance of any surprise forward numbers and/or multiple goals from the visitors on Wednesday.
Pick: Man City ATS
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.