Time for punters to take Premier League stock during international break
As top-flight domestic action takes a back seat ahead of key World Cup qualifiers, Austria, Northampton Town and AFC Wimbledon emerge as good value this weekend
Before tackling the rest of the weekend’s international football, it is a good time to reflect on the English Premier League season after last weekend’s breathless action that saw three different leaders.
With the season coming to the boil, the break seems to have come at just the wrong moment, but for punters it offers a chance to take stock.
After this international break it is non-stop domestic action through the deep midwinter and it will be easy for punters to get carried away on the momentum. Cool heads are needed in the betting arena, just as they will be on the field as the title race gathers pace.
Already this season we have seen the dangers of rushing to quick judgments, with Chelsea a prime example when rumours started to swirl around new manager Antonio Conte after only seven matches and British bookmakers cut the odds on the Italian being sacked.
Conte’s side have since won four league games in a row without conceding a goal and have gone from seventh to second, a point behind leaders Liverpool.
One or two bad results bring out the critics, while a couple of exciting performances earn rave reviews. There are sure to be more twists and keeping a sense of perspective is important for punters.
Liverpool had their bad moment with the 2-0 defeat at Burnley; Arsenal in their 4-3 opening-day home defeat by Liverpool; Manchester City went through six games without a win in all competitions; and now Tottenham Hotspur are winless in seven since their impressive 2-0 home win over City on October 2.
Liverpool and Chelsea are the current flavour and have the distinct advantage of not being involved in European football, but the top five all have their merits – as well as some weaknesses – and any of them could finish on top.
Manchester United are still on the edge of the leading group in sixth place, but have been struggling most of all among the big six and look the easiest to write off as potential title winners.
One crucial factor might be who tops the mini-league based only on matches between the big six and it is instructive that United are bottom with one point from three games.
Liverpool and Tottenham are the only unbeaten teams on that measure, and Liverpool’s away wins at Arsenal and Chelsea already give them an important edge with those potentially difficult matches out of the way.
The most attractive bets in Sunday mornings (Hong Kong time) World Cup qualifiers are both in group D of the European section as leaders Serbia are away in Wales, who rate the handicap pick based on their continued strong form under Chris Coleman.
Austria, beaten 3-2 in Serbia last month shortly after a home 2-2 draw against Wales, can bounce back at home to Republic of Ireland.
Austria are unbeaten in their last 10 home qualifiers and their only defeats in the last 19 came against Germany twice and Belgium, who are much better sides than Ireland.
With the Premier League and Championship out of action, punters have to go down to the third tier of League One to have a bet on English football but the good news is that there are some attractive wagers.
Top of the list is Northampton Town on the handicap away to Gillingham. They are the second-top scorers in the division, while Gillingham have conceded the joint-highest number of goals and are the only team yet to keep a clean sheet.
Saving the best till last, but will Chelsea and Manchester United live up to their top billing and avoid another bore draw?
Northampton’s strike power means they have lost only twice in 13 games against teams outside the top eight and they have a good chance against the side in 18th.
A similar chance is held by AFC Wimbledon away to third-bottom Oldham. Promoted to this level for the first time this season, AFC Wimbledon did not win in their first five matches but they have won six and lost only two of their 11 games since then. Four of their five defeats overall came against teams in the top four.
Bolton Wanderers, who have shot up to second with a five-match winning streak, can continue their excellent form away to Peterborough.
This is a tough match for Bolton, but their only defeats came when they were shut out and Peterborough’s low number of clean sheets of two in 16 games suggests they will struggle to beat the visitors.
Wales on handicap