The Premier League campaign is a long old business with 38 game weeks meaning that there is some 34,200 minutes of action to evaluate each and every season, and in truth it felt like the weekend just passed could prove to be a conclusive one as far as the English top flight is concerned in 2016/17.
There were decisive victories and defeats at both ends of the table, and while there are 16 rounds of matches still to come – that’s 14,400 minutes of play by the way – it was Gameweek 22 that’s truck a hammer blow to some and lit a fire of optimism under others.
Here’s how the outright Premier League betting markets have moved as a result:
Premier League Winner
Chelsea (4/9), Arsenal (9/1), Tottenham (9/1), Liverpool (14/1), Manchester City (25/1), Manchester United (40/1)
Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Hull was anticipated, of course, but tis importance became exponentially greater given that those around them all dropped points. Also intriguing was the return to the starting line-up of Diego Costa, who was seemingly exiled from the squad a week prior after expressing interest in a move to China.
The Blues’ eight-point cushion, plus the return of Costa, suggests they are worth every penny of their 4/9 best price.
What can we say about Liverpool, without a win in three in the league and who needed the best part of 180 minutes to see off Plymouth in the FA Cup. They have now beaten Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea this season while dropping points against Sunderland, Burnley, Bournemouth and Swansea, whom they lost to 2-3 at the weekend, and with the vigour of their attacking play deserting them – and just one clean sheet kept in five Premier League outings – you would have to conclude that the Reds’ hopes of a title tilt are all but over.
Tottenham are in red-hot form, but their paper-thin squad – not aided by injuries suffered by Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen – suggests that in the long run they will regress to a third or fourth place finish.
Nether Manchester side appears consistent enough to mount a challenge, and so perhaps we will have to rely on Arsenal’s traditional Springtime collapse to fire any interest in the title race. We would have to conclude that the trophy engraver can start etching Chelsea’s name on the silverware already.
Premier League Relegation
Sunderland (1/5), Hull City (1/4), Swansea (11/10), Crystal Palace (13/8), Middlesbrough (3/1), Burnley (8/1), Watford (17/2), Leicester (12/1)
There is hope, and where there is hope there’s a chance. That will be the philosophy of Swansea right now, whose 3-2 win over Liverpool – coming a fortnight after the 2-1 triumph over Crystal Palace – suggests there is plenty of fight left in the Welsh side. What difference Paul Clement has made since taking over the reins is anybody’s guess, but the Swans have improved exponentially in recent weeks.
They remain porous defensively, but there are goals in the likes of Fernando Llorente and Gylfi Sigurdsson and that firepower, when points are desperately sought, is a great help. Early days yet, but Swansea might be improving at just the right time.
Conversely, we would have to assume that both Sunderland and Hull are doomed. The Black Cats have no money to spend on new acquisitions and just one existing player, Jermain Defoe, to pin their hopes on. If he doesn’t score then they don’t win, and while we have sympathy for David Moyes no amount of good feeling can keep a side up in this cut-throat division. Similarly Hull, brimming with guts and determination, will surely capitulate under the weight of a fixture list that features Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal in their next trio of outings.
Sam Allardyce is a master of avoiding relegation, and while his Crystal Palace side are riddled with deficiencies you would imagine that the Wilfried Zaha-Christian Benteke combination will ultimately yield enough points for them to survive.
Burnley’s home record should be enough for them to stay up, Middlesbrough’s defending – they have conceded fewer goals than Liverpool and Manchester City – implies that they will continue to accumulate points, while Watford, who on their day can be as terrible as anybody, have a happy habit of picking up points against the odds.
The real fear is for Leicester City, who were abject in their 0-3 loss at Southampton. Yes, they are missing Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani and – to a lesser extent – Daniel Amartey at the moment, but their main issue is a defensive one. Their title-winning back four has regressed awfully, and an inability to defend at set pieces is schoolboy stuff.
The Foxes have conceded two or more goals in nine of their last twelve starts, and it really is hard to find three worse teams than them in the Premier League at the moment. The romanticists won’t like it, but the 12/1 available on the champions suffering immediate demotion looks excellent value at present.