Premier League Preview: Chelsea to get top four and West Ham to go down
Alex Keble takes a look at the top markets as the Premier League nears a return to action, predicting that Chelsea will be the big winners as West Ham face the drop...
The Premier League is set for a return on June 17 with a great double-header that - with implications at the top and bottom ends of the table - highlights just how much is left to play for in the 2019/20 season.
Manchester City versus Arsenal, followed by Sheffield United versus Aston Villa, should be fascinating matches. City are clear favourites (4/11) to win and Mikel Arteta's team are a remarkable 6/1, while United (13/10) are expected to beat Villa, who can be backed at 2/1 to win their first match back.
These two games kick off a six-week schedule in which all 92 games will be televised and 29 free-to-air - including four on the BBC.
Matches will be played seven days a week, with as many as eight stretched across Monday to Friday and eight per day - all staggered - on Saturdays and Sundays.
Here's a look at where we stand in the major Betfair Exchange Premier League markets, taking into account clubs' remaining fixtures and the possible impact of neutral and empty stadiums.
Liverpool are such heavy favourites to win the title, being 25 points top, there is no money to be made from backing them in the Exchange market. Should Arsenal take something from Man City in the midweek game, Jurgen Klopp's side could even seal the title in the Merseyside derby.
Top Four, Top Five & Top Six
Six teams are separated by eight points in the race for the top four, and even Arsenal down in ninth can anticipate a good go at it. Their tactically-astute and methodical approach under Mikel Arteta is well-suited to football behind closed doors, especially given Arsenal are prone to emotional volatility against the backdrop of an anxious Emirates crowd. However, there is perhaps too much for them to bridge the gap; it is more sensible to put them down for a top six finish at3.45.
The same can be said of Tottenham Hotspur, even if Jose Mourinho has used the break to hit the reset button and focus minds on his tactical methods. There are too many issues - and too much fragility - at Spurs to cope with the new normal significantly better than their top-four rivals. Even top six, priced at 2.82, looks a stretch.
Manchester United could go either way: will they find comfort away from the Old Trafford glare and play their counter-attacking football, or, without being intimidated by the crowd, will opponents find it easier to expose Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's tactical flaws? Given their excellent form prior to the suspension, back Man Utd to finish top five at1.30.
That leaves Chelsea as the most likely to finish fourth, available to back at1.54. The hiatus gives their younger players a chance to recharge and come out firing as they did at the start of the season, plus Frank Lampard's side didn't previously have much of an advantage from playing at Stamford Bridge.
It's worth placing an outside bet on either Wolves7.40 or Sheffield United14.00 to finish fourth, because both have the tactical organisation to thrive in emotionless environments. Certainly Wolves to finish top five at 2.30 and Sheff Utd to finish top 6 at 3.05 are worth a bet.
Leicester City and Manchester City, meanwhile, are too far ahead to slip down to fifth.
Given that technical and tactical superiority is more likely to rise in the new environment, all of the top nine already mentioned ought to hold onto a top ten finish. The final spot should go to Carlo Ancelotti's Everton, priced at1.81, because of the clearly defined methods of the new manager.
Everton also have a lot of games against clubs who are likely to have very little to play for, and given the increased risk of injury and lack of crowd support an end-of-season motivation issue could seriously affect some teams. This issue is less likely to affect a mid-table team with a new manager.
Crystal Palace are unfortunate to have had their good form cut off by the suspension and are unlikely to sustain it now, given how much they relied on Selhurst Park, while Burnley - the only other realistic candidate for a top ten finish - are almost exclusively playing teams fighting tooth and nail for something.
Norwich1.17 and Brighton 3.35 are in an alarming position. Both clubs heavily relied on home form to win points and both have tough fixture lists coming up. Norwich could plausibly have performed a great escape given they had five six-pointers at Carrow Road, but now it looks very unlikely Daniel Farke can inspire something special without supporters.
West Ham had completely lost direction under David Moyes, and that uninspiring environment should continue in neutral and empty venues. What's more, they have a really tough fixture list and, with only goal difference keeping them out of the bottom three, they are in serious danger of relegation, priced at3.35.
Tipping these three for the drop is as much about what Bournemouth, Aston Villa, and Watford will achieve as it is where Norwich, Brighton, and West Ham will fail.
Bournemouth are well organised and tend to perform better when allowed to sit back and break, rather than cave in to the pressure at Dean Court to play an expansive game. Eddie Howe's team can get over the line with humble performances against Newcastle, Palace, and Southampton.
Villa welcome John McGinn back, suggesting they can rediscover the strong performances of the first third of the season. Dean Smith's side were stuck in a rut and will have benefitted from the reset more than anyone.
Similarly Watford had just started to fall away under Nigel Pearson, but can now enjoy a second new-manager bounce to collect the 11 points they need from the likes of West Ham, Norwich, Newcastle, Southampton, and Burnley.