Mark Stinchcombe: Why I'm laying one of the favourites for the title in the PL this weekend

13 min

I’m sure many of you welcomed the Football League back like an old friend last weekend, but for me it just meant three more leagues of work. As someone who bets on leagues all around the world during the summer, the return of the Championship, League 1 and League 2 was treated with a bit less celebration in my house.

This isn’t due to any reverse football hipster snobbery, or a preference for the Brazilian Serie A, it’s about making sure I don’t go in too hard too early. At the start of any new season, be it the Championship or the Swedish Allsvenskan, I’m always fairly cautious. As a data-driven punter I like to backup my initial hunches with numbers to consolidate a value bet, and this tends to be thin on the ground in the opening weeks.

Don’t get me wrong I will still punt things without any significant data to back it up if I think the price is wrong, but my stakes will be sensible as there is nothing worse than reviewing the bet afterwards, especially if it has lost, and thinking ‘I knew I couldn’t justify backing that!’

Even when we finally have the return of the Premier League this weekend I will only be dipping my toes in, but you can hear my thoughts on the big matches, as well as some thoughts on the outrights on the Matchbook Betting Podcast. Although one bet I really like is at Man United where they are a ludicrous looking 1.33 for their opening game at home to West Ham.

Skip to 42 minutes for the soccer segment featuring yours truly. Ollie Noonan previewed the PGA alongside Neil Channing in the earlier segment, and George Danzer joined Jesse and Emmet to announce the bankroll for the new season and shared some knowledge about optimal bankroll management for sports betting.

Premier League Bet

I can’t believe United are second favourites for the Premier League. They finished 24 points behind Chelsea last season, or eight wins, and while I think we’ll see a more competitive points tally triumph this season, that is still a big deficit to make up and their transfer business doesn’t suddenly suggest they’re about to.

They’ve downgraded Ibrahimovic for Lukaku (who scored just 8 of his 25 goals last season against top half-teams), and brought in Matic and Lindelof seemingly to fix defensive problems they didn’t have with the second best record last year. Going forward, on the other hand, they managed just 54 goals, which is awful in-comparison to the top five who ranged from 77 – 86.

The signing of Romelu Lukaku from Everton could be a game changer for Mourinho’s team.

Yes, they under achieved in some matches last season but that doesn’t all of a sudden mean they are going to overachieve. In this fixture last season it finished 1-1 yet United won the xG 1.82 – 0.63. But would Utd fail to win this sort of game more than 1 in 4?

They won just 8 of their 19 home matches last season, and after an energy sapping Super Cup tie in the heat of Skopje, could come into this tired. West Ham have made some decent signings in Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta, who are both probably on a downward trajectory ability wise but should improve the side and the signing of Javier Hernandez looks ridiculously impressive.

Since joining Man Utd in 2010, the Mexican has scored 107 goals in 163 starts across seven seasons that includes Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen. Still only 29, he’ll go to Old Trafford with a point to prove and I fancy West Ham could get something out of this game and United are a value lay at the price.

Best of the Rest

With all that said earlier about keeping our powder dry in the early weeks there looks to be a decent opportunity in the Championship this weekend where title favourites Middlesbrough are also almost Evens to see off Sheffield United at the Riverside Stadium. These sides were playing Premier League and League One football respectively last season, and Boro have spent close to £50M in their pursuit of going straight back up.

Middlesbrough’s Jonny Howson (right) in action vs Wolves last weekend. Boro lost 1-0 at Molineux.

I’m happy to suggest they are priced correctly as faves in the outright market, one that money has been bet into all summer, and even if Sheffield United are 11th favourites as that market suggests, this Middlesbrough price feels too big for a team with their ambitions.

For my other bet I’m looking away from the English leagues as Juventus take on Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico in the Italian Super Cup on Sunday night, in a fixture the Turin side dominate. But this is a great example of where you can find value in matchups, where they play out in a manner that doesn’t always fit the profile of the odds.

Juve have won 12 of their last 14 meetings, in which Lazio have won none, scoring just three goals. Juve are around the 1.91 mark and I think that’s about right given they were 2.10 when winning this fixture in May to clinch the Coppa Italia, and factoring in the losses of Bonucci and Dani Alves. And I think they’ll play this cautiously without those two in what is Lazio’s stadium. Lazio themselves have lost Lucas Biglia to Milan who all their play went through, so again they’ll need time to adjust.

The never aging Gianluigi Buffon will be crucial to Juve once again this season.

With Juventus’ domination in this match, combined with Lazio’s inability to break them down, it’s the under 2.5 goals market I’m looking at here. With 17 of their last 24 meetings seeing under 2.5 goals, including 15 of the last 20 in Rome, and the price at 1.91 this looks the bet to me.

Hometown Heroes

One of the leagues I focus on over the summer is the MLS and my bets were slightly disappointing there last week with Houston managing to avoid defeat to give me half a win but Minnesota United putting in a woeful performance to lose 4-0. A highlight was seeing Philadelphia Union take full of use their home advantage by beating Dallas 3-1.

I’m a big advocate of making sure home advantage is factored in properly when pricing up matches, so when two sides don’t differ too much in abilities and the home team is priced up as an outsider, I believe there’s scope for them being value.

This is particularly true in the MLS where sides have to travel huge distances and play in conditions and on pitches they simply aren’t used to.

This has been particularly prevalent this season in the MLS, with home sides winning by 0.70 goals on average, and by 0.60 goals since 2015. This is a huge differential compared to Europe where generally home sides are only given around a 0.35 start.

Keep The Faith?

One of my most disappointing bets from the weekend was a losing bet on the LA Galaxy and it left me wondering how much longer can I afford to keep the faith. Sometimes that’s one of the hardest decisions to make as a gambler of how often do you continue to invest in a side when you have nothing to show for it?

One of my key betting strategies is identifying a team that is consistently underrated by the market, that long-term, or at least for a significant amount of time before the market corrects itself, you can back week after week, knowing you’re getting value, and if you stake correctly, you will profit long-term.

I firmly believe LA Galay are in that bracket, particularly with the players they have available. The expected goals result (xG) was 1.49 – 1.19, so in truth backing them +1.0 looks a good bet, it just unfortunately didn’t win this time. And I’m not giving up on them just yet…

My bets

  • Lay Manchester United @ 1.33 – 1 point
  • Middlesbrough @ 1.95 – 1 point
  • Under 2.5 goals Juventus v Lazio @ 1.91 – 1 point