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The story of this season's top-four race and how the odds have continually changed

Vardy scored 17 league goals before Christmas to make Leicester 1/8 for a top-four finish going into the New Year
Vardy scored 17 league goals before Christmas to make Leicester 1/8 for a top-four finish going into the New Year

It’s been a funny old season in the race for the top four and it’s not over quite just yet. I’ve taken a look at the teams involved, how their odds have changed, and the key moments which have defined the race for the Champions League places, which goes down to the final day this Sunday.

Below we can see a graph showing how the chance of each of the top 4 contenders has varied throughout the season. The number next to the club badge shows the percentage probability based on the bookmaker odds at that time. 

It’s often a good way to view bookmaker odds as a percentage. This is the probability percentage  chance something has of happening. For example if something is priced at Evens (1/1) it has a 50% chance of happening, if it's 1/20 on, it's a 95% chance.

Arsenal - Price pre season: 11/10 - Implied probability of top 4 finish: 47.6%

Possible finish 8th-10th

It’s been a disappointing season for Arsenal, despite positives like reaching an FA Cup final after changing their manager from Unai Emery to Mikel Arteta back in December. At the start of the season I was quietly confident that the forward trio of Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe would preprell the Gunners into the Champions League places. I could not have been more wrong in many ways; Arsenal are on for their worst Premier League finish since 1995 when they finished 12th. 

A model of inconsistency at times, Arsenal’s defensive woes have been exposed time and time again, with just four wins on the road all season! After defeat to Aston Villa, Arteta’s side can only finish between 8th and 10th place which will also be the fourth consecutive season they have finished behind their North London counterparts Tottenham.

They will have to make sure they hold onto their prize possessions such as Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang this summer with a move for the Gabon striker potentially on the cards. He’s scored more goals than any Premier League player over the last two seasons and needs to remain the focal point of the attack if they are to improve their league position next season.

There’s one key period I feel that led to the demise of Arsenal’s season and quest for the Champions League which came between the end of October and the New year, where the club only managed one victory from 12 league games. Their odds drifted from 5/6 out to 20/1 within the space of two-and-a-half months which ultimately led to the sacking of Unai Emery.

Sheffield United - Price pre season 500/1 - Implied probability of top 4 finish 0.2%

Possible finish 8th-10th

With just one game to go Sheffield United are guaranteed a top half finish with 8th the highest possible position they can finish in. It’s been a truly remarkable season for the Blades and the key to their success in my opinion is their ability to not ship goals. They’ve got the fourth-best defensive record in the division with just 38 goals conceded in 37 games, which compared to the teams from 16th to 20th who have all conceded 60 plus goals this season is astounding.

Plenty of savvy South Yorkshire punters have been sat on fancy prices this season for their side to qualify for the Champions or Europa league, which they will now miss out on (just), however it’s been some ride for those sat on the slips. The Blades remained a treble figure price for a top 4 finish right up until the week before Christmas and this was due to the fantastic run they went on in the first half of the season. Wilder’s side went through October and November unbeaten, with wins in there against Arsenal and Burnley as well as well-earned draws against Manchester United, Spurs and Wolves. Off the back of this Sheffield United then won three consecutive games in December which saw them slashed to 55/1 with PaddyPower and several other firms.

Into the new year and the Blades marched on, however the season was to have the most rude of disruptions from the global Covid-19 pandemic. This was the period coming into spring where people really started to ask themselves if this newly promoted side could reach the top-four. 

It wasn’t quite to be in terms of European qualification for the Blades but the team have everything to be proud of and should take real confidence heading into next season.

Premier League Top-Four Odds

Manchester United
Odds correct as of 2023-02-06 09:10 Odds subject to change.

Wolves - Price pre season 16/1 - Implied probability of top 4 finish 5.9%

Possible finish: 6th-7th

Wolves finished 7th in the league last season and I was doubtful that they would be able to match that this time around. However Nuno and his fluorescent side have proved me wrong once again, despite their season starting all the way back on 25th July with a Europa league fixture at home to Northern Irish side Crusaders. 

It was a bit of a shaky start from Wolves as they were winless in their first six league games which led to them more than doubling in price to 45/1. In fact, Wolves would go on to draw seven of their first 11 Premier League games which left many questioning whether being in the Europa league would be detrimental to what position they would finish in the league. 

However on December 27th, Wolves completed a magnificent league double over champions Manchester City with a 3-2 win at Molineux after an earlier 2-0 triumph in October at the Etihad. This made people really sit up and think these guys could challenge for the top-four and as a result they were cut in price from 25/1 to 9/1 off the back of the win. 

The Black Country train continued to gather momentum after the New Year and at the start of March Wolves reached the lowest price they had been all season, with an implied percentage probability of 18% (9/2). Even with the suspension of the Europa League potentially helping Wolves in the latter stage of the domestic season they were edged out by two sides in Chelsea and Man United who hit form at the perfect time of the season, but every credit should be given to Nuno and has side and I’ll be keeping a close eye on who they approach in this next transfer window.

Spurs - Price pre season 4/9 - Implied probability of top 4 finish 69%

Possible finish 6th-7th

After finishing second, third and fourth in the three seasons prior to this, as well as reaching a Champions League final, Spurs had high hopes of an excellent season under Maurcio Pochettino. However on gameweek eight Tottenham went down 3-0 to a hard working Brighton side, which consequently saw them priced at odds-against for the first of the season at 13/8 and given a 38% chance of a top-four finish.

Into November and after a run of five league games without a win, Maurico Pochettino was excused from his duties with the club now 14th in the league, but still 4/1 to qualify for the Champions League after the arrival of Jose Mourinho.

Moving into 2020 and Spurs improved slightly by putting three consecutive wins together in January, which saw them priced at 5/2 moving into February. However the inconsistency continued and despite climbing the league slightly, Spurs will miss out on top-four this season. There are still many question marks for some Tottenham fans on whether Jose's style of play is really the right way to take their club forward.

Leicester - Price pre season 20/1 - Implied probability of top 4 finish 20%

Possible finish 3rd-5th

Leicester have been quite the story this season, between October and December they went on a run of eight consecutive victories, including a stunning 9-0 away win at Southampton, which saw their price plummet from 20/1 all the way into 1/3 for a top-four finish. By Christmas the Foxes were second in the table and Leicester fans and certain punters started to believe they could even challenge Liverpool for the title!

Things were to take a dramatic turn for Brendan Rodgers' side as between January the 11th and July, though, as they managed just two victories. Leicester had been available to back at just 1/8 before the resumption of the Premier League, an 89% implied chance.

A 3-0 loss to Spurs in their penultimate fixture of the season now means that Leicester will face off at the King Power on Sunday with them needing to beat Manchester United for a place in the top-four. However if Chelsea were to be beaten by Wolves, the Foxes would need only a point to qualify. 13/8 is the price now available on Leicester to finish in the top-four, and were they to miss out it would be a huge disappointment after collecting 39 points in the first half of the season.

Chelsea - Price pre season 17/10 - Implied probability of top-four finish 37%

Frank Lampard has earned lots of praise this season for what he has done with Chelsea, especially when you consider he could not sign anyone last summer. A positive start to the season saw the Blues win six straight consecutive games from September to November and as a result their odds were slashed into 1/6 for what would be considered a successful season were they to finish in the top-four.

One stand out result for Chelsea came after the restart when they beat Manchester City 2-1 at The Bridge. Only the second game since the break and with Manchester United breathing down their necks this was a real statement from Chelsea; goals from Willian and Christian Pulisic - who have both enjoyed excellent individual seasons - was enough to seal the victory and keep Lampard's side odds-on in the top-four betting market.

Chelsea will need to make sure they match or better Leicester’s result against Manchester United on the final day to ensure a place in next season’s Champions League. They face Wolves at Stamford Bridge, who themselves have a top-six finish still to play for. It’s set to be a cracking last day to the season and Chelsea’s current odds of 1/9 with BetVictor imply a 90% chance of them qualifying for Europe’s major club competition next term.

Manchester United - Price pre season Evens (1/1) - Implied probability of top 4 finish 50%

It’s been very much a season of two halves for a United side who won just six games before Christmas but have won 11 since. A home draw to Aston Villa in gameweek 15 epitomised the first half of their season and by this point the Red Devils had reached a double figure price to finish in the top-four with 10/1 being offered from Paddy Power.

One key turning point in the season was the signing of Bruno Fernandes. He’s been an absolute revelation since arriving at the club, scoring nine goals and contributing eight assists. He’s settled perfectly into life in England and has allowed other players such as Mason Greenwood to flourish in a United side that looks the best they have been in the post-Sir Alex era.

United’s final day showdown with Leicester is sure to be the game of choice for many football fans come Sunday and the bookies still have them priced 1/4 to remain in the top-four. The Reds sit third going into the final day and avoiding defeat to Leicester would guarantee them a place in the 2020-21 Champions League. OGS and the rest of the army of United fans will pray for a positive outcome as they would not want to rely on winning the Europa League as their only chance of gaining entry into Europe’s most prestigious club competition next season, so it’s going to be very interesting to see how everything transpires on the final day of a bizarre and elongated campaign this weekend.

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