No soccer handicapper has had a weirder reason to be optimistic.
Here we are again, and is there any comparison between this and any scenario in football history? Following a months-long suspension of English Premier League play thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, EPL footballers are likely to be fresh as daisies.
But the clubs themselves could rustier than an old lorry.
We like to follow “Matchday” protocol here on the handicapping blog, keeping in line with Google’s format in addition to the lingo of traditionalists. But the return of Premiership fixtures is constrained by time – organizers have UEFA and the 2021 season in-mind every bit as much as completing the 2020 domestic calendar. Therefore, the schedule of matches will feel so fast and furious that going weekend-by-weekend would be fruitless.
Aston Villa, for example, plays this Wednesday against visiting Sheffield, hosts Chelsea over the weekend, then visits Newcastle just 3 days later. Liverpool won’t play until Sunday at Goodison Park, but Reds’ upcoming weekday match vs Crystal Palace offers a much-tastier underdog line of (+1500) on an upset and (+600) on a 90+ minute draw.
Successful gambling means looking at every betting line possible, widening the “pool” of examined odds before choosing kick-offs on which to wager. The more markets a ‘capper looks at, the more-likely mistakes in the numbers will be found.
There’s only 1 thing to do. Look afresh at the calendar (and the betting board) every Monday, and find what picks seem to make sense in the coming 6-7 days, without forgetting how “interim” results may affect the psyche and motivations of any EPL club with more than 1 fixture at a time listed by action-thirsty bookies.
Supporters (and betting punters) can look on the bright side. Injured players such as Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris have had 3 months to regain perfect health. Lineups are going to look as 100% fresh as they have in a long time, but there’s also no corresponding managerial-reset to complicate the handicapping of footballers on the pitch.
Under “normal” suspended-play circumstances – if there is such a thing – clubs could have rehearsed together and generated secret new tactics for weeks on-end. Every head coach would have a surprise cooked-up for his next EPL or UEFA opponent. Except due to the pandemic, team training sessions have been as rare as matches. Clubs may struggle to return to league-worthy form right away even as a proud 1st-choice lineup dots the pitch. Others may fall right back into the routine, like riding a bicycle.
Finally, without crowds to egg-on conservative backlines, we can expect to see more cautious finishes and scoreless final 20:00 intervals of matches. Teams protecting advantages can play however they want to play with no live crowd to offend. That should bring “Under” markets into sharp focus as the Premiership resumes action.
Promising angles indeed – and few brand-new formations or tactical hiccups. That sounds like a solid handicapping scenario for 2019-20’s encore act.
Premier League Odds and Best Bets: Wednesday 6/17 through Sunday 6/21
6/17 – Man City vs Arsenal (Over 3.5 goals (-102))
We’ll be tracking soccer odds at FanDuel Sportsbook as a nod to new friends. Not only has the sports suspension led to an unlikely and fruitful collaboration between blogs, but FanDuel has geared-up for the restart of world-class soccer with some user-friendly options in Over and Under betting.
Punters can choose easily from Over/Under 1.5, 2.5, or 3.5 goals – in fact the sportsbook appears to be funneling as much O/U action as possible into old-fashioned pick-a-number O/U slips.
My handicap of likely Over/Under wins as the Premier League resumes is simple – excellent defensive clubs will flourish in goals-against (or flourish without many goals-against) while teams with shaky systems and average keepers will be temporarily blown-away by the rapid pace. Consider that modern football clubs play pretty much all the time. When not injured, Leroy Sané’s services are called upon 9-to-11 months per year. It’s not comparable to the NFL’s scenario in which players were already taking an offseason to heal. This was a never-before-seen shutdown of English soccer for 10+ weeks, after which the health and vigor (pending the all-clear from COVID-19) of top lineups could be at an unprecedented level even as out-from-the-back passing needs a little work.
FanDuel is offering nearly a 1-to-1 payoff on Over (3.5) goals in Man City vs Arsenal, presenting a good chance to take advantage of fresh legs and foul rhythm.
It is possible that a striker like City’s Sergio Agüero will be little icy with his aim in the early going. Strikers have not taken on world-class keepers in live action since March. However, it’s just as likely the Arsenal backline will react poorly to unexpected, ragged scoring opportunities for Sky Blues, and Gunner GK Bernd Leno is as bound to commit a howler against a full-speed Man City attack as Agüero is apt to strike balls over the bar.
Pick: Over (3.5)
6/19 – Tottenham vs Manchester United (Under 2.5 goals (-110)
Bets should tack to the low side of the O/U in Friday’s marquee fixture. 2 healthy backlines and fine keepers should protect the nets vs attacks still getting it together.
Harry Kane will be back on the pitch, but look for the elite striker to break out in other matches soon to come.
Pick: Under (2.5)
6/20 – West Ham vs Wolves (Wolverhampton (+115))
I’m liking Wanderers in a workmanlike performance at London Stadium.
6/20 – Watford vs Leicester City (Leicester (+115)
Another 1.15-to-1 bet to adore. Watford indeed came alive before the unexpected break, spoiling Liverpool’s unbeaten reign and giving supporters hope that the club may survive another year at the top level. But Leicester was an underrated favorite in fall and winter, and is still an under-valued favorite now.
Pick: Leicester City
6/21 – Newcastle United vs Sheffield United (Under 1.5 goals (+182))
Return matches at home will be full of emotion even as crowds are missing. That’s why it may not be a grand idea to wager on Villains vs Blades this week, for the weird combination of passionate, healthy athletes and zero-crowd noise creates a lot of random chaos. We can afford to sit back and let certain fixtures play-out as a “control group” experiment in how upcoming Premier League matches (and FA Cup matches, if the tournament follows suit and resumes competition in June) should be expected to feel.
But even with Newcastle playing its 1st match since March against visiting Sheffield, by the 2nd 90+ minutes we can expect Dean Henderson to be in harmony with Blades’ backline, and for the club’s 5-across midfield to have worked out all responsibilities in executing Sheffield United’s strangling road tactics.
It’s possible that Magpies will win the match but the score of such a result might be 1-0.
Pick: Under (1.5)
Bonus Line-to-Watch: 6/24 – Liverpool vs Crystal Palace (CPFC (+1500)
We’ll be publishing new Premier League touts every Monday or Tuesday, with predictions set-out through Sunday of the weekend to come. But it’s important for wise-guys to keep early eyes on the Liverpool vs Crystal Palace underdog odds, especially since the numbers could change if said underdogs – Eagles of course – play well and win at AFC Bournemouth this week. 15-to-1 is a striking number for a team that could benefit from the pause facing a team that could still be slightly distracted by it.
As a lineup of FIFA superstars, Liverpool’s roster has been affected by coronavirus concerns in ways that a 2nd-string back from CPFC can only have nightmares about. Reds have already blown an opportunity to post an “invincible” EPL season, and yet Liverpool’s fate as the 2019-20 Premier League champion is a foregone conclusion.
Furthermore, there will be no rabid crowd of supporters at Anfield when Crystal Palace arrives next week.
CPFC will take advantage of a 100% fresh lineup to employ even more air-tight zonal defense than ever. Liverpool also gets to play once before the match, but not against a team like Palace. Remember that Reds had proven to be mortal already before the suspensions of sports hit English football. Ultimately, Crystal Palace has a lot of macro-variables going its way while Liverpool’s form will be a question mark over the short term.
That means the ‘dog has a much better than 1-in-15 shot at an upset.
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.