This week sees a reduced slate of fixtures, with the first round of the FA Cup taking centre stage. This means there are no League One or League Two fixtures, and only one fixture in the Vanarama National League. There will be no analysis of the FA Cup games; although such games are particularly entertaining to watch, the one-off games are very tricky to analyse and predict. This is especially true with some teams prioritising league matches over cup matches.
The biggest match of the season will take place on Sunday, between Liverpool and Manchester City. The odds on backing either team is fairly even at the moment at around 13/8. Although Liverpool should be favourites, it is difficult to say that the price represents a significant amount of value.
The focus this week will be on the Championship.
With none of the 3 favourites for promotion at the start of the season (Leeds, Fulham and Cardiff) sitting in the automatic promotion spots, the Championship is as open as ever. Sitting 3rd, Leeds are slightly unfortunate to be outside the top 2 as they have the best defence in the league, having conceded 4 goals less than any other club (8 in 15 matches). Despite ranking joint 11th in number of goals scored, they have taken more shots than any other team in the league, showing they are creating chances. Once they can convert the opportunities they are creating, it would be no surprise to see them secure a return to the Premier League after 16 seasons outside the top flight.
The surprise teams of the season so far have been Preston and Swansea. Both expected to be mid-table teams, they both sit comfortably towards the top of the table. Preston has done this with a strong attack, having scored 28 goals, joint-most in the league, with their goal difference of +12 being tops in the league. They have been near automatic at Deepdale, unbeaten in 8 games, winning 6. Providing they can keep hold of their key players, and manager Alex Neil, it would be a surprise if they don’t secure at least a playoff place in May.
Swansea has cooled following a red hot start to the season, having accrued 16 points from their first 6 matches, but only 12 points from their next 9 games. This is not expected, having lost their manager Graham Potter to Brighton and their star striker (Oli McBurnie) to Sheffield United. They have shown improved form in their last 2, including a derby win over Cardiff. Still, a playoff berth would be an outstanding achievement this season.
The teams at the bottom of the table are a mix of clubs expected to be struggling, and clubs expected to be competing higher up the table. Two of the bottom 4 face off against each other this weekend. Luton were expected to struggle having secured back to back promotions in the last 2 seasons, but have performed creditably overall despite losing their last 3 matches. It was anticipated that Middlesborough would be a team in transition as they switched managers from Tony Pulis to Jonathan Woodgate. Still, performances appear reflective of their position in the bottom 3. It would be a surprise if either finished outside the bottom 5.
Stoke invested heavily in the summer by bringing in several new players; however, the results have been unsatisfactory, costing Nathan Jones his job. This week, they have appointed Michael O’Neill as manager. Given his excellent work with Northern Ireland, it would be a massive surprise if Stoke continued down at the foot of the table given the talent they have in the squad.
This Saturday, they travel to Barnsley. Barnsley had a difficult summer as they lost many of their key players. These included Alex Davies and Liam Lindsay to Stoke, as well as Ethan Pinnock to Brentford and Kieffer Moore to Wigan. They have struggled badly since beating Fulham on opening day. They have not won since, with performances in line with a team towards the bottom of the table. Stoke can be backed at 6/4 to win, and appear good value to do so.
QPR have performed above expectations this season, currently sitting in 9th. Their games have seen the most goals in the Championship this season, with 52 combined goals (3.47 per game). This weekend they play at home to Middlesbrough. Although Middlesborough have struggled to score this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them score here, with QPR conceding the second-most goals in the league. QPR to win and BTTS is available around 5/2, which would be good value given QPR is around 11/10 to win the match.
There is a reduced fixture list on Saturday, due to European matches during the week, with only 4 games kicking off at 3pm. Of these, the best available bet appears to be Burnley vs West Ham. Although Burnley were comfortably beaten by Sheffield United last week, they are formidable at Turf Moor, having won 3 of their 5 matches at home. They have only lost to teams in the top 4 (Chelsea and Liverpool), both of whom pose a far greater threat than West Ham.
West Ham have struggled since beating Manchester United, a result that left them 5th at the time, having picked up 2 points from their subsequent 5 fixtures. Last time out, they lost at home to Newcastle, a surprising and unexpected result. Currently, Burnley can be backed at around 6/5 to win, which represents excellent value.
As mentioned in last weeks blog, Leicester City have performed well all season, but have been in excellent form at the King Power Stadium, only failing to win once. They face Arsenal in the late kick-off on Saturday, who have struggled away from home this season, only winning once in 5 away matches. Although the odds of 11/10 reflect this, Leicester are firm favourites for this. They are fully expected to win and solidify their place in the top 4.
Scottish Premier League
The top of the table is dominated by Rangers and Celtic, who have identical records after 11 games of 9 wins, 1 draw and 1 defeat. They are expected to win their matches on Sunday against Motherwell and Livingston but represent little value at prices lower than 2/5.
At the foot of the table, the bottom 4 face-off. Hearts and Hibernian have excellent opportunities to end long winless runs. Both teams, who are managerless, play the team directly above them in the table. Although Hibernians haven’t won in the league since the opening day of the season, they have been consistently scoring goals in recent weeks. They travel to Perth to take on St Johnstone. St Johnstone’s 6 home games this season have seen 16 goals (2.67 per game); therefore a tentative selection is made of BTTS in the game, which can be backed at 9/10.
Similarly, Hearts have only won once this season, being a 2-1 win away at Hibernian in the Edinburgh derby. However, in their final match under Craig Levein, before he was sacked, they got a creditable point at home to Rangers. A similar performance would be more than enough to beat St Mirren, and they can be backed around 1.95 (19/20) to do this.
The prices quoted in the analysis are from Sportingbet. Sportingbet is the world’s leading Sports betting, Casino, Poker and Games provider. Sign up today with this link to get a risk free £10 bet. As always, the prices quoted in the article were correct at the time of writing and may have fluctuated since.
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