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Predicting the English Premier League Top 4 Battle – Odds and Picks

| August 8, 2018 12:00 am PDT
English Premier League Logo and Soccer Players

Arsene Wenger once famously said that getting into the top 4 of the English Premier League is on par with winning a trophy. A lot of people mocked him, while some Arsenal supporters were furious with his statement.

I always wondered why, as the man was absolutely correct in his assessment. Just look at how many managers of leading clubs define getting into the top 4 as their main goal for the season and how many pundits talk about the top 4 battle.

It’s obviously a big deal, and this is why I decided to dedicate this post to the 2018-2019 top 4 battle in the English Premier League and see if there are some good betting opportunities along the way.

But before I move on to the odds and predictions, let’s take a look at why a top 4 spot is crucial. Of course, the obvious answer is that it provides a place in the UEFA Champions League, but there are plenty of other benefits.

Why Does the Top 4 Matter so Much?

The teams that finish in the top 4 positions in the EPL receive the chance to play in the Champions League.

Throughout the years, the format has changed a couple of times, but as of the latest UEFA changes, the English teams will enter the competition automatically. This means there will be no playoff games or other qualifying stages before the group phase.

Here are the main benefits and the reason why Arsene Wenger was right all along.

Financial Benefits

The English Premier League is a very successful commercial product, and all teams are reaping the benefits. However, the second-best income source is the Champions League. The money from TV deals and UEFA is massive.

They could make the difference in the budget of any team, which is one of the main reasons why reaching a top 4 spot is of such a vital importance.

And don’t forget that getting in the Champions League would result in at least 3 additional home games, potentially much more, which brings extra profits from ticket sales, merchandise, and so on.

If you compare that to the domestic tournaments, such as the FA Cup and the League Cup, the top 4 is actually more important than the local trophies from a financial standpoint.

Player Transfers

It’s not the biggest surprise in the world, but the best players out there want to play Champions League soccer. Sure, if you are ultra-rich, you could probably convince enough quality signings to join your club.

And yet, incoming transfers are so much easier if you can give the potential new players a chance to fight for what most of them consider as the biggest trophy in the soccer world, at least on a club level.

Finishing in the top 4 can be vital for the ambitions of any club that wants to progress.

Of course, the participation in the most popular soccer competition out there is also vital if you want to keep your existing players. If you have a couple of stars, your chance of them leaving is much higher if the club fails to get a top 4 spot.

Expanding Your Fanbase

Soccer is a global business, and there are plenty of new markets all around the world. The clubs that manage to expand there will reap the long-term benefits of their actions by creating a large fanbase that could bring a lot of extra income throughout the years.

Part of this happens directly through merchandise, but the sponsorship deals each club could get are also crucial.

Which Teams Will Be in the Hunt?

I think you now understand how important a spot in the top 4 is. It’s time to take a look at the betting odds and explore the opportunities.

Let’s start with the prices of finishing in the top 4.

Manchester City1.04
Liverpool1.22
Manchester United1.25
Chelsea1.69
Tottenham Hotspur1.77
Arsenal2.75

The next team that has the best chance, according to the bookies, is Everton. The Toffees are valued at 21.00. Despite their ambitious summer, I think this is a fair assessment, and the probability of them or any other team clinching a top 4 spot is negligible.

Also, I think that Manchester City and Liverpool will certainly be there come the end of the season. Their squads are too strong, and the managers have the full backing of both the board and the fans, so it’s hard to see something going wrong. Considering the low odds, though, it’s pointless to bet on them.

This leaves us with four teams that should be fighting for the last two places: the three London clubs and Manchester United. While the Red Devils are seen as more of a team that should be in the hunt for the title, I recognize some potential issues there, which is the reason I’ve included them.

Assessing the Chances of Each Team

I believe there are a couple of key criteria that will determine the chance of each team to find a place in the English Premier League top 4.

I think the best way to go would be to go through each one of them and then summarize which club has what it takes.

Backbone

I had some doubts which aspect should be first, and I think this is the one I like the most. By the “backbone” of each team, I mean the core of 7-8 players that will be playing most of the games and contributing the most.

I’m talking about the leaders of each team – the stars that are supposed to carry the side to success. The main factors here are the quality, the experience, and the cohesion of this group. Sometimes a well-drilled core that has been together for a while might be better than a group of sublime players that are just starting to play with each other.

If I had to be more specific, I would say the core consists of the following elements.

  • Goalkeeper – If you have a goalie that is both consistent and capable of some amazing saves every now and then, you are easily 10 or more points ahead of teams that don’t from that position alone
  • Leader in the Heart of the Defense – Obviously, you need someone who can marshal your defense and command everybody else
  • Engine – The middle of the park is crucial, as you need players that can both protect the defense and keep the ball ticking
  • Creato – Each team needs players that can create chances and find openings when the opposition is defending deep
  • Prolific Scorer – A guy who can reliably find the net 20 or more times during the season is almost a must if you want to finish in the top 4

Obviously, the best teams have more than one player in the specific role, but I think you get the idea. You need to have these roles covered, or you will be behind the rest of the field.

I think Tottenham leads the way here. The team’s core has been unchanged in the past couple of years and is progressing together. The likes of Hugo Lloris, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Eric Dier, and skipper Harry Kane have proven they can contribute a lot.

The other teams in the top 4 race are lagging behind for various reasons. I believe Arsenal has some solid quality in the likes of Ozil, Aubameyang, Ramsey, and other players.

However, we don’t know what will happen with their goalkeeper and the back four. Also, the cohesion factor could be a problem because many of the players have just joined, and there’s a new manager.

As for Chelsea, they lack a top scorer because of the departure of Diego Costa, and they are on the brink of losing their goalkeeper. This leaves them in a tough spot, and I think they will have issues, too.

Still, the likes of Kante, Hazard, and Fabregas are all exceptional players that could bring a lot.

Finally, there’s Manchester United. The club probably has the strongest core on paper, but I’m not 100% sure if Mourinho will be able to get the best out of them. He doesn’t seem aware of his best center backs, Pogba seems unsettled, and there is no balance in the squad. Still, the potential is there, and they do have the best goalkeeper in the league.

Squad Depth

The backbone of each team is crucial, but the season is long and gruesome. This is why the depth of each club will be tested. You need the sheer numbers to provide enough cover and rotate. You also need the quality, so your results don’t suffer too much when you do so.

I think that the squad depth analysis could be split into two parts. An absolute squad depth, which I believe is self-explanatory, and the subjective squad depth. The latter depends on the involvement of each team in other tournaments than the EPL.

For example, Tottenham and Manchester United will play in the Champions League. This means their squads will be stretched to the limit, and they need every member to contribute on a regular basis. Also, the managers won’t be able to rotate the core as much.

This is where Chelsea and Arsenal have a bit of an advantage. Both clubs will be part of the Europa League. The competition there is way worse, especially in the group stage and the first phase of the eliminations. We could easily see a lot of youngsters play, and I expect the main players of those teams to be fresh for longer.

Finally, in a year when there was a soccer World Cup, the involvement of the players of each team in it matters a lot.

A player that had his full summer off will be better prepared for the season than someone who reached the later stages of the World Cup.

Once again, Arsenal has the upper hand here. There were a number of important players that didn’t even play in the World Cup (Aubameyang, Ramsey, and Lacazette, to name a few) and plenty that were knocked out early.

Tottenham is on the other end of the spectrum here, as they had a ton of players from England and Belgium that reached the last 4. They will certainly have some problems catching up. The same, but to a lesser extent, is true for Chelsea and Manchester United.

All things considered, I think Arsenal and Manchester United have the best squad depth. The Red Devils have the numbers and the quality, while the Gunners had time to prepare and won’t play in the Champions League.

Tottenham has failed to add any players in the summer transfer window so far and will struggle because of the World Cup and the Champions League. As for Chelsea, I believe they are a bit short in both quantity and quality, but at least they will play in the Europa League.

Atmosphere

This factor is a bit subjective, but I believe it’s too important to miss. What I mean here is the harmony in each club. Are the supporters and the board backing the manager?

Are the players happy? Is there a reason to believe that a lot of problems could emerge if the club is under pressure?

I think the best example of the importance of the atmosphere is Arsenal in the past 2-3 years. A large part of the fanbase didn’t believe in Arsene Wenger anymore, and the pressure was immense. Every bad result led to problems, protests, and what not. This affected the performance of the players in a major way.

As for this year, I will start with the two clubs that changed their managers. Arsenal appointed Unai Emery, and I feel that the supporters are currently behind him, as well as the players.

It was time for a change in the club, and there will be enough patience in the tough moments of the season ahead of us.

The situation should be similar at Chelsea, because Maurizio Sarri is a proven manager who should get the backing of both the locker room and the supporters. Of course, we should always have in mind that there is a risk when you appoint someone new, and both teams might suffer the consequences.

This is why I feel Tottenham has the upper hand when it comes to the manager. Pochettino has earned all the patience and trust he could get. The question is, will the manager be satisfied after the lack of transfers? And what happens with Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld, who looked like leaving for most of the summer?

Those problems are not that big, though, especially if you compare the situation with Manchester United. I feel that there’s a time bomb there, and the clock is ticking.

Mourinho has to perform this season, and he knows it.

There’s little doubt that the Manchester United manager is under severe pressure, and we’ve seen cases in the past when he has lost the locker room in such circumstances.

Plenty of supporters are not happy with Jose, and he hasn’t managed to get the best out of certain players yet, most notably Paul Pogba.

I feel that a string of bad results at the beginning of the season could lead to a lot of problems at Old Trafford. In fact, this is my main concern for the club.

Betting Picks and Predictions

After going through the major factors that play a role in a team’s performance, I think it’s time to share my final prediction for the top 4 battle this season.

On paper, Manchester United has the strongest squad, and the bookies believe the club is well-equipped to do the job.

In fact, most pundits and gambling sites seem to recognize the Red Devils as a team that will fight not for a place in the top 4, but for the title. I beg to differ, as I feel that there’s a lot of potential for pressure early on, which could hurt the side a lot.

On top of that, Pogba obviously wants out, so Mourinho will have to deal with that, too.

The next best teams according the sportsbooks, with a negligible difference, are Tottenham and Chelsea. The Spurs have the best core out there, but they failed to add the numbers, and this could backfire at some point. As for Chelsea, there are a lot of question marks surrounding the team, and I’m not sure what to expect.

The same can be said for Arsenal, although the club did all of their transfer business early, and the manager certainly addressed the most problematic areas of the pitch. Whether the deals will work out as expected is another question.

So, my final assessment would be that Tottenham is the slight favorite, ahead of the other three teams. United looks strong on paper, but there is a huge chance of a disrupted locker room and all sorts of problems.

Considering the odds provided by the bookies, I feel there are two value bets available out there.

PICKManchester United to Finish Outside the Top 43.00

The price is too high to pass because of the potential issues with the atmosphere at Old Trafford.

A bad start could lead to a disaster, and with so many players behind the schedule because of the World Cup, we could very well see the Red Devils struggle early on. Once the pressure starts piling, it could get ugly fast.

PICKArsenal to Finish in the Top 42.75

I feel the Gunners actually have a strong squad, and they’ve underperformed in the past two years because of the pressure surrounding Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman’s era is now over, so this problem should be done and dusted.

On top of that, Emery is a good manager who instantly addressed the main issues of the club in the transfer window. The lack of Champions League soccer is another advantage.

And since I want to make a prediction as well, I would say that London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal will finish in the top 4 at the end of the season.

Final Words

I expect a tight battle on all fronts in the 2018-2019 English Premier League season. You could also check out my thoughts on the title fight and the relegation scrap. As always, feel free to share your own opinion in the comments section below.

Good luck, and enjoy the start of the season!

Jerry Summer

Jerry Summer has a wide-ranging interest in gambling and the gambling industry. He's made a living out of both playing poker and betting on sports.

The English Premier League and the NBA are among Jerry's primary areas of expertise. He's knowledgeable about many other sports, too, along with poker and several casino games.

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