Despite the frenetic schedule of Premier League fixtures, all 20 top-level English clubs have managed to play exactly 35 domestic league matches as of early Tuesday morning. That gives us a chance to make a full analysis of the EPL table and discern the main motivation (or lack thereof) for squads headed into their final 2019-20 appearances, the final 3 Premier League appearances until at least 2021 for a trio of unlucky clubs to suffer relegation.
What intrigue has vanished around Liverpool at #1 and Man City at #2 is building to a fever pitch elsewhere. Chelsea, Manchester United, and Leicester City are a single point apart in 3rd and tied-4th place respectively. 6 teams are within striking distance of Red Devils and Foxes. Brighton, West Ham, and Watford must worry about getting passed-up by AFC Bournemouth or Aston Villa, or both. #14 Crystal Palace is quite safe above the relegation line, while #20 Norwich City has a dreadful 21 points and a ticket to English Championship.
It’s taking more than mathematical table chances to spark teams to best efforts. Take Everton and Southampton in their 35th matches of the season. Toffees didn’t go into Molineux Stadium with a bad game plan, only a cautious one, and when Wolves stumbled into a penalty freebie at the tail end of the 1st half, there was no emotional response from the visitors. Any supporters’ Europa League hopes soon faded away. Saints were Vatican thieves by comparison, coming back to draw 2-2 with Man United at Old Trafford on Monday. But a glance at 2nd-half footage shows that despite the team’s trademark pressing, in many ways Southampton was behaving with a deficit like many Premier League sides would play with a lead. Managers had decided if Saints were to lose the match, it wouldn’t be because United had scored again.
Meanwhile, Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel lost his cool under the pressure, and suffered a 2nd-half collapse against Bournemouth. WagerBop had predicted that the Cherries-Foxes meeting would produce more goals than the O/U (2.5) London consensus, given Leicester’s ability to penetrate the Bournemouth back line and the hosts’ push to get above relegation level.
Who could have imagined what fireworks would ensue, though?
Okay, so maybe the music in that highlight vid doesn’t scream “fireworks,” but the 2nd half at Vitality Stadium certainly did.
The fatigue of over-scheduling is catching up to teams as we thought it might. But what of the expected post-COVID syndrome of managers thinking big-picture without a crowd to whistle at them? It’s happening…to different clubs at different times. The table is a clue to when boring, staid football will occur, but not the only clue.
Let’s try to make our picks about form first, before letting circumstances sway every handicap.
7/15 – Manchester City vs AFC Bournemouth
Talk about the big picture. What do bookmakers think Manchester City is going to do with Cherries following the latter’s surprise result over a fellow aristocrat and just 3 days prior to City’s FA Cup semifinal with Arsenal?
Eh…nothing special. A ho-hum (-2) goal victory is expected for Sky Blues. The Over/Under of (3.5) tells us that City will likely win 3-1 or 3-0.
I do not necessarily expect a methodical win from City. Supporters will wait and see whether Sky Blues will attack aggressively with the best starting 11 or if Pep Guardiola will cycle star forwards in and out, calling for patient defending and figuring to beat the less-talented visitors by a goal or 2. Cherries manager Eddie Howe will probably be waiting to learn the same information.
As was the case for Saints facing Red Devils on Monday, Howe knows his club’s best opportunity is to hold-off an elite opponent’s attack and wait for fortunate counters. Bournemouth wants to get at least 4-6 points from its final 3 matches but it doesn’t matter who the points come against, and goals are at a premium. If Manchester City’s attack appears irrepressible in the opening minutes, it’s plausible that Cherries will shut things down and begin preparing to meet 2 much more-beatable squads in Southampton and Everton, losing to Man City 4-0 or 5-0 in the process. If the favorites attempt to coast with a reserve lineup or look in any way vulnerable in the 1st half, Bournemouth will keep its top unit on the pitch and play with total desperation.
Under (3.5) could have value due to the possibility of City holding a late 2-0 lead and both clubs dialing-back pressure with bigger fish to fry in upcoming fixtures. However, I’ve got 4 other final scores in mind and fat odds on some exact-score props on which to bet small units in combination.
Picks: Under (3.5) or Exact Score (1 or ½ Unit Bets) City 2-0 (+700), City 4-0 (+1000), City 5-0 (+1700), AFC Bournemouth 1-0 (+6000), AFC Bournemouth 2-1 (+4300)
7/16 – Leicester City vs Sheffield United
I wanted to see if Leicester’s odds moved favorably due to Schmeichel’s bad 45 minutes, and wasn’t disappointed. Bets on Foxes-to-win on Thursday are booking at (+105) at FanDuel Sportsbook, light-years away from where the consensus favorite’s line opened at 1-to-2.5.
Of course, Blades’ excellent week has also been influencing the gambling action. Sheffield’s stunning 3-0 take-down of Chelsea on Saturday followed a 1-0 win over Wolves in which visiting Wanderers managed only 1 shot on-target. Chris Wilder’s club is reaching for the impossible dream of scoring a UEFA bid in the 1st season following promotion.
Not that there’s no precedent for finishing among the EPL leaders as a newly-promoted organization – Newcastle United and Nottingham Forest took turns finishing 3rd overall in the 1990s – but for a nascent top-level bid to be in Champions League contention in the haves-and-have-nots landscape of European soccer is remarkable. It also bears mentioning that Blades didn’t weather a 90-minute Chelsea storm while scoring on a couple of lucky bounces. Sheffield rattled Blues with vicious counterattacks.
The fixture with Foxes will be at King Power Stadium, however, and Sheffield will be facing a more-experienced side in a battle with far-reaching implications. Leicester’s overall form wasn’t lacking all that badly vs Cherries, instead what would have been a clinical win was disrupted by own-box horror.
Don’t expect a lot of wild attacking when counter-attackers meet counter-attackers. Thursday might be the slower-paced, clinical win Leicester needs to get well. The (+105) Foxes line is full of value and I’m also liking Under (2.5) goals despite FanDuel’s payoff handicap of (-142).
Pick: Leicester City and/or Under
7/17 – West Ham vs Watford
Some teams fighting to survive in the Premiership are willing to play 5 across-the-back, bar-up the windows, and defend the box in an effort to earn clean sheets and let goals-for take care of themselves.
West Ham and Watford are not main candidates for such “straight-ahead” stereotyping – Hornets employ real-life strikers like Troy Deeney at the front of uneven formations, and Hammers veteran Michail Antonio threw a party against Norwich City on Saturday, scoring his 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th goals of the EPL season in a marvelous 1-man show.
You would think the fierce attacking from both sides would be driving the O/U upward for Friday’s match, especially since both sides are hot-in-the-arse* with relegation fear. But nope. Betting action on the Over is so cautious that Bovada is giving (+105) payoff odds on Over (2.5) goals.
I’m not buying that, because both clubs know match #36 is an important opportunity to score goals and earn 3 points, not 1. West Ham has Manchester United next on the docket. Watford’s got Man City and Arsenal. Friday is the best (and safest) occasion for each team to attack with forward numbers and try to jump clear of harm’s way on the table.
For a different POV on Hammers vs Hornets check out Nikola’s prediction.
*If you find my metaphor a little too risqué, consider it a Mona Lisa reference.
ATTENTION: Las Vegas and London are withholding weekend odds on English league matches as of press time, preferring to ramp-up action on the FA Cup and wait to see how table turmoil could affect lineup decisions in the final 2 rounds of fixtures. We’re planning to dish-up EPL bet recommendations for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday in addition to the 3 days represented above…but we’ll have to wait for the numbers to come out.
Check this URL for more Premier League touts, and stay tuned to WagerBop on FA Cup weekend.
Update: As promised, here are 3 more betting recommendations for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
7/18 – Norwich City vs Burnley FC
Burnley is the (+125) favorite as Norwich City (+240) knows that a brief Premier League run is over. Canaries, however, have managed to surprise at home a few times this season.
Pick: Draw (+240)
7/19 – Tottenham Hotspur vs Leicester City
Tottenham may be in better form with its top striker and top keeper at full speed, but Leicester City should not be a (+230) wager or anything but a pick’em on the spread. Host GK Hugo Lloris has been at odds with teammates on the pitch, and I’m thinking Spurs may do something to blow 3 points (or 1 point) at a key juncture in Friday’s match.
Pick: Leicester City (+0.5)
7/20 – Wolverhampton vs Crystal Palace
The obvious issues Eagles are having have made Wolves a (-215) favorite in this match. It’s hard to imagine CPFC scoring enough goals to win at Molineux Stadium, but Wanderers’ conservative tactics may ensure that the winning margin is just 1 goal. FanDuel’s (+220) odds on Handicap Draw (-1) could be the football gambler’s steal of the week.
Pick: Handicap Draw
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.