So far, with the two Manchester clubs leading the way and Chelsea currently hovering around third spot, the bookmakers have firmly hit the proverbial nail on the head. With the two Manchester clubs commanding by far the shortest title odds, it is here that the first of 2017/18’s early season talking points comes to the fore.
Lukaku to be the difference in Manchester duel
13 May 2012 remains, for many neutrals, the most enthralling day in the Premier League’s 25-year history. Given the potency of both Manchester clubs so far, there is every chance that the (literally) last-minute drama of 2011/12’s final weekend will be repeated. Five years ago, Manchester City’s first Premier League title was won on goal difference. While the day’s hero Sergio Aguero is a veteran of several ruthless title fights, Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku finds himself in virgin territory.
Though never before involved in a title run-in, Lukaku is still the outright favourite (at around 3/1) to clinch the golden boot of 2017/18. As a more improved side than their already-great rivals, Manchester United can gain vital ground on City if the squad can maintain its rediscovered element of surprise for as long as possible. Where the golden boot is concerned, this plays directly in Lukaku’s favour.
Bettors in the golden boot market should also note that the fixtures which directly follow Champions League trips are a true test of a team’s credentials, regardless of how ‘big’ or ‘feared’ they are. Significantly, United have easier fixtures (on paper) than City after Champions League away games. The Red Devils will also enter December’s potentially pivotal derby (at Old Trafford) on the back of a Champions League home game with CSKA Moscow. Meanwhile, City approach it just days after a long and tiring trip to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Thus, there is more justification, even at this early point of the season, for backing Lukaku to be the league’s top scorer.
No end in sight to Tottenham’s Wembley woes
There is still plenty of time for the Lilywhites to right their wrongs, but playing home matches at Wembley continues to be an inexplicable hindrance. For Tottenham, there are no clear routes to improved home form. Wembley Stadium cannot be reconstructed to look like White Hart Lane, and the sacking of Mauricio Pochettino is even less likely. The only obvious solution is an age-old one, whereby Pochettino simply buys more players in January.
If nothing else, such a move might give the current starting XI more of an incentive to work hard for the shirt. However, attracting players of sufficient quality, who know they will be in a squad rotation system, is always difficult. The club also has a decidedly chequered record in January transfer windows. Even today, historical January additions, such as Gliberto de Silva Melo, Ricardo Rocha and Kazayuki Toda are remembered with a shudder amongst the Tottenham faithful.
So severely are Tottenham hindered by alien surroundings, that Pochettino’s squad currently commands the same buy/sell values as a much leakier Liverpool side, in the Sporting Index football spreads, and are now more distant fourth-favourites to lift the title. Nonetheless, the current squad is sufficiently talented to overcome the Wembley ‘jinx’ and improve the club’s spread betting values over time. However, no further ground can now be conceded to the two Manchester clubs, if Tottenham are to make a genuine title challenge.
Senseless spending and sacking culture to prevail again
Nine years ago, as the festive season loomed, a Manchester City side backed by Sheikh Mansour was marooned in the relegation zone. A glut of new signings had done little to improve a City side that had finished 2007/08 with a whimper after a strong start. Of course, City would improve drastically in due course, with that improvement culminating in the club’s first Premier League title. Almost a decade after Mansoor’s groundbreaking acquisition, it is the blues of neighbouring Merseyside that find themselves in exactly the same situation.
After a summer of extraordinary expenditure at Goodison Park, there was wide expectation that Everton would become the next rags-to-riches fairytale. Though due a gleaming new dockside stadium in the coming years, and backed by Iranian billionaire Farhad Moshiri, Everton have looked utterly incompetent for much of 2017/18. Limp in attack and lacklustre in defence, the Toffees slid into the relegation zone after a 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford on 17 September. Though the midfield is strong, it is not particularly creative, and the squad has no proven goalscorer other than an aged Wayne Rooney.
The fact that Everton, by all accounts, faced a deadly opening run of fixtures appears to matter little in the sack race. After overseeing Everton’s summer of madness to little positive effect, Ronald Koeman is currently second-favourite to be the next managerial casualty, despite Everton winning their latest game against Bournemouth. This fact, along with Frank de Boer’s sacking after just four games at Crystal Palace, hints at a season in which nobody’s job is safe, regardless of their background.