With a third of the season left, the Premier League is as intriguing as it has ever been. Four teams have genuine title ambitions, five more are gunning for European places and just eight points separate the bottom eleven sides.
So, as we enter the final straight, we look at where the betting value lies in this season’s Premier League.
A four horse race for the title
With twelve matches left, just four points separates the top four sides in the Premier League. Chelsea lead the way from Arsenal with Manchester City and Liverpool in close pursuit.
City remain the 6/5 favourites for the title and there will be plenty of backers for Manuel Pelligrini’s side. Their home form this season has been excellent and there is plenty of strength in depth in the squad. And, their next four Premier League games are against Stoke, Aston Villa, Hull and Fulham and so they could be in a strong position come the middle of March.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that City have four very tricky away fixtures to negotiate. They travel to Arsenal and to neighbours Manchester City in five days at the end of March before awkward ties at Liverpool in April and Everton in early May.
I actually much prefer the chances of current table toppers Chelsea at 17/10. The Blues’ most difficult away match is on the very last day of the season when they travel to Anfield but in the meantime trips to the likes of Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Swansea look more straightforward.
Yet again, Arsenal’s season looks to be petering out. A heavy defeat at Anfield and a bore draw at home to Manchester United suggest the team is running out of steam. They also have a difficult set of fixtures and face Spurs, Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton in an 18 day period. They represent decent value – just a point off the top and available at 8/1 – but it looks like being another disappointing season for Gunners fans.
Brendan Rodgers insists that Liverpool remain in the title race and on the evidence of their recent displays you’d have to take him seriously. Their fate is in their own hands – they play two of the teams above them at Anfield in the run-in – and if they can avoid slip-ups at the likes of West Ham, Cardiff and Palace then they could still have a say in the title race. They are 8/1 to win their first title since 1990.
European spots up for grabs
Will Manchester United finish in the European places? It’s a question that would have seemed ludicrous at the start of the season but David Moyes’ side remain three points behind Everton and eleven points off a Champions League qualification berth.
We’ve been waiting for the United revival all season but perhaps it’s now time to acknowledge that it is unlikely to happen. Their form is terrible and it’s hard to see where a win against a decent side will come from, especially considering they have only beaten one of the top 9 sides in the league this season. The 1/2 on them overhauling Everton or Spurs looks one to swerve.
I like Everton’s chances of a top 6 finish at 4/6. Roberto Martinez has done a great job at Goodison and I expect them to secure enough points over the remaining games to keep United at bay. Spurs should complete the top 6 although the 1/8 doesn’t represent much value.
The tightest relegation race in years
Two months ago West Ham were in the bottom three and Sam Allardyce was facing the sack. Fast forward to now and the Hammers sit in eleventh position, four points above the drop zone. Earlier in the season it seemed that Sunderland and Crystal Palace were doomed but both of those teams have also been revived under new management.
It’s that kind of league this season and picking the three teams that will go down is tough. Fulham look the weakest team in the league right now and, in Felix Magath, have appointed their third manager in as many months. They have a set of winnable home matches against relegation rivals to come and so maximum points against Norwich, Hull and Crystal Palace could be key to their survival.
Despite their managerial change I do think it could be tough for Cardiff City to stay up. I’m not sure they have the firepower to survive and they have to welcome the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool before the end of the season. The Bluebirds are 8/11 to be relegated.
I think Swansea, Hull, Stoke, West Brom and Sunderland will all so enough to stay up and so the final relegation place looks like a battle between Crystal Palace, Norwich and Aston Villa. A couple of weeks ago I’d have said that Norwich looked the most likely, but having considered the fixtures I think it may finally be the turn of Aston Villa to lose their top flight status.
Paul Lambert’s side are in no form at all and have to play both Manchester sides, Chelsea and Spurs before the end of the season. Their home form is dreadful and so even winnable looking matches against Norwich, Stoke and Fulham look like being a test and they could very easily be dragged into serious trouble.
While Norwich or Palace may end up being the ones that go down, the 10/1 available on Villa dropping into the Championship looks too good to ignore.
Having bagged a couple in the Community Shield, Robin van Persie looks in good nick ahead of the new Premier League season and the Dutch striker will be trying to make sure it is he slipping on the Golden Boot again at the end of the campaign
The close season, summer break or, as they insist on calling it on TV, the transfer window, has been dominated this year by who might be leaving rather than who’s arrived.
Juan Mata’s late goal at Old Trafford on Sunday had massive implications for the race for Champions League places next season. Chelsea are now firmly in the driving seat for third place and will secure a seat at Europe’s top table in the autumn if they beat rivals Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge this week on account of their far superior goal difference.
Manchester United and Chelsea have already met four times this season and the score stands at 2-1 to the Londoners with one match drawn. That was an FA Cup quarter-final tie at Old Trafford when the Blues came from two goals down inside the opening 11 minutes to force a replay, which they won thanks to a goal from Demba Ba.
Form generally goes out of the window when it comes to a Merseyside derby but Liverpool and Everton both renew hostilities in decent shape, the Reds being unbeaten in five while the Toffees have lost just one of their last seven and kept cleans sheets in five of those games.
Arsenal fans have probably developed a twitch every time they see Robin van Persie’s name on the Manchester United score-sheet and it must have been particularly galling for Gooners that their former hero smash the hat-trick to steered the Red Devils to title last week.