Bookies Corner: Pricing a bonkers Premier League season

SBC checks in on how bookmakers’ nerves are faring as we move through the craziest Premier League season of all time, which week-to-week is producing shocks and trauma. 

SBC: As it stands, the Premier League table sees seven teams separated by just seven points and no clubs showing any consistency in their form. Is 2020/2021 the Premier League’s craziest ever football season?  

Harry Aitkenhead – Coral

Harry Aitkenhead (PR Executive @ Coral): It’s definitely been the most unpredictable season so far in terms of results, although Manchester City and Liverpool have remained the favourites throughout with the sense that it will still calm down through the second half of the campaign and the table settle into more familiar shape.

We saw lots of punters back Everton, Southampton, Aston Villa and also even Leeds to win the Premier League this season and the odds plummeted on each of those at different times. Southampton came all the way in to 25-1 and Everton as short as 12-1 at one stage.

The individual games have provided logic defying results too, and not many Coral punters predicted Aston Villa to even beat Liverpool, let alone 7-2 as they did back at the start of this season. The impact of these results means that the supposed underdogs are going off shorter prices than in previous seasons, and perhaps there is greater value on the favourites than usual as they hit their straps. It has proven very tough for bettors to land accumulators with one shock result seeming to come each weekend when the Big Six have favourable fixtures.

The best example of how quickly the landscape has changed this season is to look at the odds of Manchester United winning the title alongside the odds of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to be the next Premier League manager to leave his position.

At the start of November, he went odds on to be the next boss to go and United out to 33-1 to win the title. Just over two months later, the 33-1 available is now for him to be the next to go and the title odds have collapsed to just 5-1. I guess this shows that with the top half of the table being separated by so few points, it can completely change in two weeks even let alone two months.

We have seen the reverse with Frank Lampard at Chelsea as they slipped from 1st to 9th, with Lampard’s odds similar dropping to be next to go.

Manchester City are currently odds on to win the title and I do expect the Champions League places to be filled by the usual suspects at the end of the season. However Aston Villa and Southampton could end up in the Europa League spots, which was not expected by the pre-season betting markets, and this would reflect how it was a season like no other but the top teams did rise to the occasion in the end.

Amy Jones – Paddy Power

SBC: What unique factors and elements are bookmaker trading teams considering when pricing this unpredictable and inconsistent EPL season? 

Amy Jones (Mischief Maker @ Paddy Power): This is really the strangest of seasons… top of the table but are United really back? If you ask a certain member of our PR team – me – you’d probably be told YES… but according to the traders, perhaps not so much.

Based on last 28 seasons, the average winning total of points is 84.25 (2.28 PPG x 38 games) United’s PPG rate this season is 2.12, that means if continue at that rate we see then get 80.47 pts. That would only win you the title in 5 of the last 28 seasons.

Man City and Liverpool’s current rates 1.93-1.94, and that would not win any of the last 28 titles. However, what Man City and Liverpool did between 2017/18 – 2019/20 was phenomenal.

In those 3 seasons, between them, they took 550 points from 228 games, that is 2.41 PPG which if done over 38 games = 91.67 points – That wins 22 of the 25 titles before 2017/18.

What Liverpool and Man City did in the last 3 seasons was overachieved, it was phenomenal… And they have dropped off this season which is to be expected.

We thought Man City and/or Liverpool would put up 85+ points but not now… due to injuries, slow starts, fixture congestion, variability and uncertainty of what lies ahead, less than 85 points will this title. Which means United and others are in conversation. Fancy that!

So the traders don’t know  if United are back, but they are back for this season at least…. I expect Liverpool and Man City’s rate of PPG to improve in 2nd half of season. United cannot do much better.

Personally, I would rather back City and/or Liverpool at current prices as oppose to United or the other outsiders.

SBC: Pricing an unpredictable Premier League, which clubs are giving bookmakers a headache?

Alistair Gill – Kindred Plc

Alistair Gill (Sportsbook Strategist @ Kindred Plc): Tracking this extraordinary season of Premier League football, it seems the only thing we can be sure of is unpredictability. Although the usual suspects currently hold the positions in the upper echelons of the league (if United can still be classed as a ‘usual suspect’ after so long…’), teams at times have seemed to fall over themselves to make sure they don’t put too much of a run together. It would appear that a lot of elements to this ‘current normal’ of football are acting as somewhat of a leveller.

A quick look at the stats highlights that some teams are making life for bookmakers more difficult than others. Arsenal, courtesy it must be said in no small part to a big win over Chelsea, are the team which has cost us the most money this season in terms of bets placed on an Arsenal win. But Crystal Palace are also right up there on that list, with the South Londoners, despite their lower mid table position, having put a few unexpected results together, making pricing up their chances week to week more difficult.

On the flip side, the top 3 ‘bookmaker best friends’ this year are Spurs, Chelsea and Liverpool, who have thrown in a number of shock results so far to redress the balance, as well as taking swathes of that weeks accumulators with them as well.

Whilst we’d expect that, all told come the end of the season there won’t be a huge shock in the team lifting the title, it seems certain that the lower than usual level of consistency this season is making it harder to accurately price up matches by taking all the new elements into consideration. Things such as players missing due to Covid (or dropped for Covid related discrepancies), fatigue due to the schedule, more injuries and the lack of crowd seemingly affecting some teams and players more than others are all here to stay for the medium term at least, meaning the season will continue to be unique for bookmakers.

Pascal Lemesre – Smarkets

SBC: With various clubs chasing the title but showing no consistency, how important will the January transfer window be? Can fresh reinforcements make any real difference to title-chasers challenges?

Pascal Lemesre (Public Relations @ Smarkets): Given it’s one of the most open title races in recent memory, you can certainly argue that improving the squad at this point of the season could be the difference between the title or settling for a European spot. The likes of Liverpool, the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Spurs have deeper squads built for busy seasons and European campaigns, but what if clubs like Leicester and Everton make key additions this month? That could give their squads an edge in what is sure to be a hectic final few months of this peculiar season.

According to the latest Smarkets prices, Leicester are rated just 2% likely to win the league, with Everton at 1%, compared to current favourites Man City at 54%. With fixtures bound to bunch up in the next few months, injuries and coronavirus-related delays could increase and that might just open the door for a surprise package, especially if they recruit cleverly in January.

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