Liverpool is officially the 2019-20 Premier League champion, and millions of people around the world are celebrating.
I couldn’t be more embarrassed.
On the night following an excellent 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace last Wednesday, more than a dozen Reds tuned-in via livestream and reacted with delight as Manchester City was beaten 2-1 by Chelsea. The 3 dropped points from City resulted in a mathematical 1st-place clinch for Liverpool, underscoring a dramatic discrepancy in form between Reds and Sky Blues last week.
I had written that Liverpool was as likely to be in average form as not against Crystal Palace, since the trophy was a sure thing already and superstar athletes needed time to adjust to playing a furious schedule after so many weeks off. Man City had outscored its opponents 8-0 since coming back from layoff and appeared poised to make Liverpool continue to win and clinch via a lack of available points, not a City loss.
The terrific form of Reds against a tough CPFC side was a minor surprise. But to make matters worse in the soccer-predictions department, my handicap overlooked that England’s FA Cup is no longer an afterthought, and that a quarterfinal match was looming on which Manchester City would be laser-focused.
Pep Guardiola’s club won a 6th FA Cup in 2019, showing that the manager takes the Football Association event more seriously than does Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp. Thursday’s match with Chelsea occurred only 3 days prior to City’s quarterfinal vs Newcastle. Under normal circumstances, an elite club might have gone all-out to win on Thursday and hoped to prevail with a scaled-back effort on Sunday. Man City’s plan was the opposite.
Boy, did it show. Chelsea could have scored 3 or 4 goals in the 2nd half were it not for some backline (or goal-line) heroics from City’s defenders, but it was when Sky Blues won possession that you could really see how slow the favorites were moving around. Energy, not just minutes and substitutions, was reserved for the tournament match with Magpies, which City won with a clinical performance and a 2-0 clean sheet.
In short, each top-4 EPL team has momentum in its pocket, save Leicester City which lost to Chelsea in another FA Cup battle. It’s an interesting development, considering that Liverpool has made the Premiership title chase academic since January. We have UEFA to thank for so much cracking spirit on the pitch – Wolves, Man United, and Tottenham are in 5th-thru-7th position and in hot pursuit of all but 1 of the leading teams.
Which contenders will out-play the betting odds as another quick-draw round of EPL matches arrives this week?
7/1 – West Ham United vs Chelsea FC
Chelsea is a (-175) bet to defeat West Ham at FanDuel Sportsbook, quite reasonable payoff odds for a commodity once again trending up. Christian Pulisic scored the crucial 1st-half goal against City at Stamford Bridge, and the club’s youthful lineup was a model of discipline for most of the 1-0 quarterfinal win over Foxes. Blues committed only 5 fouls and didn’t let keeper Willy Caballero have a stressful appearance.
I would handicap Blues as at least a 1-to-2 or 1-to-3 favorite vs Hammers. I write “vs” despite the fixture kicking-off at London Stadium on Wednesday because every July match is essentially a neutral-site contest unless visitors are rushing hither and yon.
FanDuel’s ‘cappers and clientele appear to be acting as if West Ham’s supporters (the people who cheer for 90 minutes and then yell “rubbish” for another 90:00) will be there in the flesh. West Ham has lost 18 times in 31 league matches and the only saving grace for underdog gamblers is that the hosts are desperate for points and top-tier survival.
The exact-score wager on “Chelsea 2, West Ham 0” is a (+700) payoff, also longer odds than ought to be offered for such a plausible outcome.
Pick: Chelsea to win and/or Chelsea 2-0 (Exact Score Prop)
7/2 – Man City vs Liverpool
The “main event” of the fresh Premier League slate arrives before the weekend, pairing the 2 best teams in England. FanDuel has handicapped Man City as a solid favorite at (+105) with the obvious logic that Liverpool (+230) is going to suffer a letdown now.
Reds will probably lose or draw a match at some point soon. Klopp is already turning his attention to the transfer window, and Champions League battles on the belated 2020 calendar will focus the club’s long-term planning.
However, it’s absurd to think that Liverpool will have its post-championship hangover immediately with so much pride on the line in a meeting of titans. To play lousy on Thursday would be to squander the impeccable form Reds were missing too often before the COVID-19 break and just rediscovered against CPFC. City may prevail on Thursday but it won’t be because Liverpool phones-in its effort.
Coin-flip chances and underdog odds add-up to an easy pick.
Now for some rapid-fire Saturday 7/4 predictions and a Sunday special.
Norwich City vs Brighton
Seagulls have been held scoreless in 3 out of 4 fixtures and hosts Man United prior to visiting Canaries for a bright early kickoff. That gives Norwich City an excellent shot to grab 1 or 3 points at a desperate interval.
Pick: Draw (+230)
Leicester City vs Crystal Palace
How the betting public overreacts to a few outcomes! Palace lost badly to Liverpool on the scoreboard, but not “badly” in that Eagles didn’t play a poor 90+ minutes. Reds are so fast, talented, healthy, and motivated at the moment that CPFC would have had a better shot against the Belgian or Italian national teams than against Liverpool. An 0-1 follow-up loss to Burnley can be attributed to wayward strikes around the box as Eagles took 18 shots but only 4 of them reached opposing keeper Nick Pope.
Crystal Palace is a 6-to-1 underdog on Saturday. That’s weighted too heavily toward the “host” of an (all together now) neutral-site kickoff at King Power Stadium. Think of hearing music – armchair pundits (and London bookies) like to think they can scout a team objectively when they’re really weighing performances vs opposing performances, like a maestro who thinks she’s utilizing “perfect pitch” when actually judging notes of a scale against each other. Leicester has not won a match in 3 tries since returning and might have lost by the same 0-4 score at Anfield last week.
Pick: Crystal Palace (+600) or (+1) (+150)
Wolverhampton FC vs Arsenal FC
Wolves (+115) is among the great success stories of the modern Premier League and has a crazy-good chance to reach the 2020-21 Champions League round robin. Not that FA Cup semifinalist Arsenal is any slouch, but Gunners are 10-13-8 and will soon have little to play for compared to the teams above 10th place and below 14th position.
Burnley vs Sheffield United (Sunday 7/5)
“No taxation without representation” was a battle cry for the revolution they’ll celebrate in America this weekend. For punters wagering on English football matches, “no relaxation without frustration” would be a better slogan. Sheffield appears to be in free-fall and it’s no wonder with Dean Henderson and the backline having a poor month. Blades hasn’t scored against an established top-level side since February, so there’s no potent attack to fall back on when goals-against occur. Betting against Sheffield may become a popular habit.
I’ve got a feeling Sunday’s match will feature Sheffield’s strongest 90-minute lineup in a 2 or 3-week span, however, and an all-out effort to best Burnley at Turf Moor. Blades manager Chris Wilder knows 7/5 is the team’s best chance to snap out of its swoon and somehow preserve status in the league’s top half. Sheffield has to play Tottenham, Wolves, Chelsea, and Leicester City in 4 of 5 other upcoming matches.
Blades at (+170) is a decent gamble but I’m fond of the Over (2.5) thanks to a (+160) payoff in the market at FanDuel and the relative ease by which each team’s forwards should be able to operate when compared to facing star-studded lineups week to week. When (not “if”) a well-rested Clarets squad penetrates the newly-vulnerable Sheffield backline, you can expect a stronger-than-usual counterattack from the visitors.
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.