Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs. If you asked any English football fan to name the top six at the end of this season, 90% would name the clubs above. The only difference being in which order they would tip them to finish.
Most of us will have had the traditional pre-season bet on our tip for the title, and after the first seven games of the season the chances of a ‘Leicester’ type shock already look very doubtful. However, for supporters of the other 14 teams in the English top flight there is a market for who will ‘win’ the league without the top six – or in other words, which side will finish highest without those big sides.
A look into Premier League past shows an interesting picture. Everton scooped 7th place last year behind those big six sides – enough to earn the Toffees a Europa League place. Southampton were 6th in Leicester’s title-winning year, finishing best of the rest but also above both Liverpool and Chelsea who finished 8th and 10th respectively. That year may have been an anomaly because the previous 2014/15 season saw the big sides fill the top six spots, with Southampton taking the honour of best of the rest in 7th. 2013/14 was a good year again for Everton as they reached the heights of 5th, usurping both Spurs and Manchester United. Going back one more year and again we find Everton leading the charge of the lesser lights, finishing 6th and highest of those outside the so-called ‘big six’.
So the last five seasons have seen Everton scoop the accolade of ‘best of the rest’ three times, and Southampton twice. That evidence might suggest we should look at the Toffees and the Saints, but the evidence of the first seven games of the season may suggest otherwise.
Saints and Sinners
Everton started this season brightly under Ronald Koeman with a win at home to Stoke and an away draw at Man City. The wheels have fallen off a little of late, and the new manager is already under pressure. Defeats to Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United are fairly easily overlooked, but the 1-0 home defeat to Burnley last time out was a poor result. Disappointingly, the return of Wayne Rooney hasn’t been quite the home-coming that fans were hoping for, and he was left on the bench for that game. Koeman seems unsure of his best line up, the side looks short of pace, and the likes of Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka look decidedly less solid at the back than in previous seasons. Currently Everton sit 16th in the table with 7 points, and although there is plenty of time to turn things around, they don’t appear to justify favouritism in this market at +240 .
So what of Southampton? The Saints have shed their best players over recent years, and want-away defender Virgil van Dijk has hinted at a January exit. However, the South Coast club have invested wisely and maintained a competitive edge despite the talent drain. Early results this season haven’t been particularly inspiring, so are they due for a tough year this time around? They hit 8th place last season, but were only two points ahead of Stoke in 13th in a congested table. Home defeats to Watford and Manchester United, and an away loss at Stoke in the Premier League have left them 12th with 8 points, and the only teams they’ve beaten so far are struggling West Ham and Crystal Palace. At odds of +275 Southampton are ripe to be taken on.
Best of the Rest
Burnley were relegated in 2014/15, but bounced back the following season. The Clarets finished 16th last term in their first season back in the top flight, but that was largely due to a poor second half to the campaign. Sean Dyche’s side caught they eye in patches last season, but have had a superb start to this one considering the fixtures they’ve faced. They’ve already played away at Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool and Everton, but came away with a highly creditable 8 points. Wins over Chelsea and Everton and draws at Spurs and Chelsea are ‘bonus’ points in the sense that most punters would have expected them to lose all four. Burnley currently sit 6th in the table with 12 points, ahead of Liverpool on goal difference.
Games against Man City and Arsenal follow in the next seven, but they also face West Ham, Newcastle, Southampton, Swansea and Bournemouth. Sean Dyche will look at those matches with a view to building on those ‘bonus’ points, and his team could conceivably double their points tally by the end of November. At odds of +1200 with BetVictor the Clarets could represent a bit of value in the race to be the top team outside of the top six.
Consider the teams above Burnley in the bookmakers’ estimation – Leicester, Watford, Stoke, Newcastle and West Ham are all shorter odds to win this market. Leicester and West Ham are both struggling at this early stage, while none of Watford, Stoke or Newcastle look decidedly better than Burnley on the season’s early evidence. Goals may be a problem as the year wears on, but one thing the Clarets don’t lack is a team ethic and organisation. If they can build on that good start in the coming weeks they could be a great long shot bet.
Burnley to ‘win’ the Premier League – Betting without top six