The Premier League is famed around the world for being the home of the upset, thanks to the combination of the vast wealth that has flooded into the division over recent years and a good, old fashioned, English never-say-die attitude. With twenty highly competitive sides fighting tooth and nail for every result they can get, no three points are ever given up easily and, on their day, any side can overcome one of the big boys.
In previous seasons this has led to some wonderfully unlikely sides leading the division as we head into late-September, but not this time around. The campaign may be just six match weeks old, but the cream is already very much rising to the top.
Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United were the bookmakers’ three pre-season favourites for the title, and it’s these three juggernauts that already occupy the top spots. Each is unbeaten since the opening weekend, and each has, in their own way, made it abundantly clear that they are in this title race for the long run.
This weekend sees the first meeting of our three fast starters, as Manchester City head to Stamford Bridge. It promises to be a thrilling encounter, not least because of the men in either dugout. Both Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola have had glittering careers as both players and managers, undoubtedly falling into the ‘serial winners’ category, yet their views on the game are starkly different. One cherishes a clean sheet; one simply wants to see goals galore. One likes to stick to a specific system; one mixes up his side’s setup on an almost weekly basis. They’re unique and intriguing characters, and the clash between their opposing philosophies looks set to be one of the most entertaining elements of the weekend’s action.
Chelsea’s surge to last season’s Premier League title under Conte came with plenty of attacking flair, but was undoubtedly underwritten by a strong and sturdy defence. The one-year anniversary of the Italian’s switch to a 3-5-2 system has recently passed, and in the intervening 12 months much of the division has followed suit. Very much English football’s en vogue system, it’s seen by many as offering the perfect balance of solidity and attacking options, and Chelsea are the masters of it.
Employing it once more on Saturday evening, Conte will be desperately hoping for a clean sheet. It would be a big ask, given that free-scoring Manchester City historically do well at Stamford Bridge, having scored on each of their last four visits, but with three Premier League clean sheets in his last four outings, Thibaut Courtois will undoubtedly back himself to keep them at bay. It’s an outside bet, but with a best price of 7/2, Chelsea keeping a clean sheet is certainly an interesting option for Blues of an optimistic disposition.
The reason for such high odds on a Chelsea clean sheet is clearly the strength of Manchester City’s attack. Quite simply, they’ve been rampant in the last few weeks, scoring sixteen without reply in their last three Premier League outings and blazing a trail to top spot.
Add in the fact that Chelsea have in fact conceded three goals to both Watford and Burnley during their five most recent Premier League home games, and the likelihood deteriorates even more rapidly.
With that in mind, City finding the back of the net numerous times on Saturday evening does begin to appear the more likely outcome. If Watford and Burnley can do it, City definitely can. Over 2.5 Sky Blue goals is available as a best price of 21/20, or for those interested in current football spreads, you can buy Man City team goals at 1.55.
Image By Brian Minkoff- London Pixels (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
If City are to get amongst the goals again once more, then there are a plethora of possible contributors within their star-studded, expensively assembled squad. Six different players have found the back of the net for them in the Premier League already this season, and with the likes David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva yet to add their name to that list, there’s even more to come from a side that’s already terrifying the rest of the division.
Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Agüero are undoubtedly City’s most likely marksmen, having started the season in top form. The pair already have ten Premier League goals between them, and them scoring anytime is available at a best price of 5/4 and 6/4 respectively.
Chelsea, however, have a potent marksman of their own. Álvaro Morata has taken to life in the Premier League like a duck to water, even prompting his manager to declare he’s the kind of man he’d like his daughter to marry. In-law or no in-law, he looks a great bet to find the net anytime with best odds of 5/4 available.
Overall, it’s an incredibly tough one to call and the match outcome odds reflect that. Chelsea’s best odds for victory are 33/20, City’s 7/5. With so little to pick between the two sides at this early stage in the season it’s set to be an unmissable clash.
No matter what the outcome, however, the season still has a long way to run yet. The title will not be won on Saturday night at Stamford Bridge, but the victor will set down a marker. The winners will become the team to beat, and in Guardiola and Conte we have two managers who will revel in being exactly that.
Tim is a keen sports fan and has been writing about football for many years