The September International break also coincides with the closing of the summer transfer window and is an ideal time to reassess the chances of Premier League success for the main title contenders.
United have shortened since the end of the transfer window
Although the identity of the title challengers rarely changes, the EPL often provides a competitiveness that is perhaps lacking in the other major European leagues. France and Germany kicked off the season already with odds on favourites installed at the head of the market and Spain and Italy do not have the depth of potential challengers.
In the EPL however, five teams – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and the two Manchester sides – were all priced at single figure fractional odds in the immediate run up to the season’s kick off, but frantic activity in the transfer window and a trio of opening matches has seen these initial odds lengthen or shorten.
Initial optimism surrounding van Gaal’s Manchester United and Arsenal, who spent nearly 20 weeks as EPL leaders during 2013/14, has evaporated, with United still winless and Arsenal struggling to turn dominant chance creation into points.
Remarkably around 10% of Manchester United’s available playing minutes in the opening three games were taken up by players who have since departed in the transfer window and van Gaal’s expensive summer replacements have been impressive enough in stature to see a shortening of their odds as the window shut. But an initial return of just two points from three games mean they are now considered – 15.000* – the least likely of the five to lift the title.
A mixture of reasonably impressive results and strong transfer activity has seen Liverpool’s initial price – 11.230* – remain firm, but two teams now dominate the outright market.
According to Pinnacle’ odds makers Chelsea and Manchester City currently have a combined 82% chance of lifting the title – with Chelsea given an implied probability of 55%.
Bettors should question whether or not Chelsea’s very short price is justified so early in a 38 game campaign?
Has the market overvalued Chelsea?
Chelsea’s performances in August have certainly been eye catching. They have three straight wins, while their challengers have each suffered setbacks. They are the league’s top scorers by a considerable distance and the league’s highest scoring team has won 10 out of the last 14 titles.
This simplistically demonstrates the idea that attacking abilities are slightly more important than the defensive side of the ball and Chelsea’s publicly stated preference in the mid 2000’s that defence wins titles may have shifted. The best defences have won the title only 8 times over the same timeframe.
They also have a striker, in Diego Costa who has scored four times from nine shots, while impressing with his belligerent attitude and are managed by Jose Mourinho, who often produces better performances once he has had a season to assess his team.
All of these are positive pointers for Chelsea and shot location based modelling of the campaign to date confirms that they are worthy current leaders. But such small sample sizes may not justify such a dramatic line movement. Chelsea’s implied probability of winning the title has increased from around 34% before a ball was kicked to a current high of 55%.
Winning streaks – read more here – are quite naturally associated with the best teams and we are restricted to examining three game winning streaks because of the earliness of the season, but such runs do correlate significantly to title success.
Title winning teams, on average, have twice as many three game winning sequences than their natural rivals who failed to win the title. So Chelsea are a step ahead of the rest already in a category which usually indicates success.
The obvious proviso is that Chelsea have also been gifted a relatively easy set of opening matches. They have hosted the winners of last season’s Championship, Leicester and travelled to the runners up Burnley and the consistent, but short of Champions League quality, Everton.
Over the last dozen seasons, 13 legitimate title contenders have taken all nine points from a visit to the Championship runners up, Everton and a home fixture against last season’s Championship winners. Of those 13 sides, four went on to win the Premier League title, four finished 2nd and five finished 3rd or lower.
So 100% success in a similar run of games doesn’t guarantee a title. Perfect results against a similar calibre of teams aren’t the near exclusive preserve of the Champions elect.
We can further illuminate the relative tasks faced by each contender so far by looking at the current record of the opponents each side has faced.
Leicester, Burnley and Everton have accumulated five points in their combined six EPL matches against opponents other than Chelsea. In comparison, Manchester City’s three opponents have gained nine points, Arsenal’s opponents have just three and a relatively unconsidered Liverpool side, just three points adrift of Chelsea, have faced opponents which have won a combined 13 points from their remaining matches.
This method is crude, but Liverpool’s start has likely been more difficult and Chelsea’s among the easiest of the title contenders.
Even Chelsea’s good start should be tempered with caution. A few months ago the Netherlands overwhelmed Spain in their opening World Cup group game with a dramatic display of lethal finishing, but were then fortunate to overcome Mexico in the knockout stages and failed to score in 240 minutes of subsequent open play.
Diego Costa has been faced with chances which a typical EPL player would equal or better his record of scoring four or more times in just 2% of trials. Costa may have higher talent levels than most, but his performance is extreme and there should be doubts that he will maintain that rate of scoring. And injury is an ever-present possibility – the striker has been ravaged by injury in the last four months.
Similar concerns exist about Chelsea’s scoring overall. Their shot locations imply that a typical side would score 11 or more goals barley 1% of the time. So the intent may be there to be a more free scoring side, but they might be expected to cool as the Netherlands did at the 2014 World Cup.
The Blues are also yet to face a Premier League title rival, whereas their closest challengers in the betting, Manchester City and Liverpool have already met. So called “six pointers” against your immediate rivals can prove significant.
There is an understandable eagerness to gain fresh insight as more data becomes available, but overreaction is difficult to avoid.
Chelsea are perhaps understandably now seen as free scoring and dominant, while Manchester City are dubbed as inconsistent, having just lost at home to Stoke, after defeating Liverpool. Arsenal have struggled, often against lowly rated opposition and Manchester United are a work in progress.
Each of these assumptions may be true to a degree, but they are just single factors, amplified over a short run of games, among many that contribute to a team’s season. Random events, particularly contribute greatly to a single result, so judgement should be made in light of the uncertainty inherent in the extra evidence.
Four months ago, Chelsea were losing at home to relegation threatened Sunderland, during an EPL run that would eventually see the lead change hands 25 times over the season.
This term they have made a very favourable impression during the opening month. But even if the number of title contenders has decreased, the lure of Champions League football in 2015/16 means that each of the newly strengthened Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool have both the capability and the incentive to beat either of the two current front-runners over the year.
Chelsea may have confirmed in August that their revamped squad has the Mourinho seal of approval and is at least the equal of Manchester City’s, making them worthy favourites, but the odds movement in their favour based on just a handful of games appears to be excessive.