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Monday, 17 December, 2018

Manchester men let down their Premier League title-backers

Guardiola will rue missed opportunities

Chelsea celebrate with the Premier League trophy
1 of 1

It was supposed to be the year that Manchester ruled the Premier League once again.

Two world-class managers in Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho arrived at City and United respectively with their very different tactical masterplans but their backers could not stop crying their hearts out after seeing the title slide away.

Some might say the best man won in Chelsea's Antonio Conte but that won't stop those who followed the Manchester clubs from looking back in anger at missed opportunities, particularly those of City persuasions.

The stage was apparently set as early as September 10 when Mourinho met Guardiola for the first time in English football with the teams first and second in the title betting, as they had been pre-season when City kicked off at 13-5 and United 18-5.

City had shortened to 7-5 and United 3-1 after three wins each, while Guardiola's outfit were slashed to evens following a blistering first-half performance at Old Trafford to land a 2-1 victory.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho shakes hands with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola

Those who had heavily backed United at 8-1 and all rates down over the summer unfortunately knew their fate early with the City loss followed by a defeat at Watford, while the Red Devils' October was horrendous with disappointing home draws with Stoke and Burnley as well as a 4-0 hammering at Chelsea.

City's eventual demise was less obvious and they went to Tottenham on October 2 as 4-6 shots for the title, 6-1 to break the record for most Premier League wins (29) and 33-1 to match the 2003-04 Arsenal Invincibles.

The perfect start ended with a comprehensive 2-0 defeat but they were still odds-on for the title and maintained favouritism until suffering a 3-1 home defeat to Chelsea in early December.

Tottenham finished second in the Premier League

Chelsea had hit full stride by that point and title quotes of 25-1 following the 3-0 loss at Arsenal in September seemed half a world away, but it was Liverpool who had been considered City's most likely challengers as the league started to take shape.

"Reds romp to the top" screamed the Racing Post's back page after Liverpool hit Watford for six at Anfield on November 6 and Jurgen Klopp's side looked a genuine threat judging by title quotes of 11-4 compared to 9-4 market leaders City. 

There was no shame in a 0-0 draw at Southampton next time out but an untimely injury to Philippe Coutinho the following week in a 2-0 success over Sunderland severely damaged Liverpool's title dreams.

Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane were in sizzling form early on for Liverpool

The Merseysiders became Merseysliders and by the time Coutinho next started (January 31) they had drifted to 13-2 and even then the brilliant Brazilian needed several appearances to rediscover the kind of magic which had made him only 5-1 to be named as the PFA Player of the Year before injury struck.

Coutinho had scored twice in the crazy 4-3 opening-weekend victory at Arsenal, who would not lose again until a 2-1 defeat at Everton on December 13 that seemed to totally derail the Gunners.

Arsenal arrived at Goodison Park as 4-1 shots for the league and knowing a victory would see them hit the summit but Ashley Williams' late winner for Everton opened up old battle wounds, which little by little eventually led to a full-blown crisis.

Arsene Wenger appeared a broken man following the shambolic 10-2 aggregate Champions League exit to Bayern Munich and there were other high-profile defeats that suggested a managerial change was due.

Arsenal were well beaten at Chelsea and Liverpool and suffered humiliating losses to Watford and West Brom which left the Frenchman 5-2 at one stage to remain at the helm.

Some Arsenal fans have had enough of Arsene Wenger

The season could still be saved by winning the FA Cup but for the first time in Wenger's tenure he has had to settle for being second-best in north London which was a minor ante-post upset as Tottenham had been available at 13-10 to finish above Arsenal.

Second-placed Spurs landed the each-way money at 10-1 but despite Sky presenter Rachel Riley claiming Tottenham had "bottled it" following the loss to West Ham they had never really threatened to claim a first championship since 1961.

Mauricio Pochettino's men were 14-1 for the title after beating Chelsea in January and went as low as 9-2 when a defeat for the champions at Old Trafford narrowed the gap to four points in mid-April.

However, Tottenham were out to 10-1 even before the Hammers defeat and Chelsea wrapped up the title seven days later with a 1-0 win at West Brom to the delight of those who avoided the Manchester hype machine and backed the Blues at 13-2 ante-post.

It was still easier to pick Chelsea than the previous winners, Leicester, who made headlines all around the world with their astonishing 5,000-1 title triumph in 2015-16.

Pricing up a repeat was a tricky task for bookmakers with Leicester going off 33-1 for the title and 16-1 to go down.

Only one of those eventualities looked possible from as early as the opening match of the season when Leicester lost at newly-promoted Hull. The Foxes were just 7-4 to be relegated when Claudio Ranieri was sacked on February 23.

Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Leicester in February

Craig Shakespeare made sure there was not to be another chapter written in Leicester's amazing story with Sunderland, Hull and Middlesbrough filling the relegation spots. That drop-zone treble had been 33-1 ante-post.    

Sunderland, who were 12-1 to finish bottom, and Boro were down tamely, but 8-11 ante-post favourites Hull put up a more robust fight before losing out to Swansea.

It was a helter-skelter season for the Swans.

They twitched first in the managerial merry-go-round by axeing 5-1 sack-race favourite Francesco Guidolin in early October and replacing him with Bob Bradley, who lasted only 85 days.

Fernando Llorente helped Swansea to stay up with a win at Sunderland

Swansea were 8-13 for relegation when Paul Clement was confirmed as Bradley's replacement so, while it was a good effort, perhaps the great escape stuff being bandied around is hyperbole.

Then again, hyperbole and the Premier League go together like cigarettes and alcohol. Arguments will go on as to whether it is the best league in the world, but from a betting view point it is unrivalled in Europe's top leagues.

It's like an oasis in a desert of mainly one or two-team title races on the continent and 2017-18 could be even more competitive with six teams in with a genuine title shout and the Manchester clubs certain to respond over the summer to this season's limp title efforts.

Wonderful.


Premier League roll of honour

Outright
1 Chelsea 13-2
2 Tottenham 10-1
3 Man City 13-5

Top-four finish
Chelsea 4-7
Tottenham 11-8
Man City 2-9
Liverpool 7-4

Dual (& straight) forecast
Chelsea-Tottenham 22-1 (40-1)

Top goalscorer
1 H Kane (29 goals) 7-1
2 R Lukaku (25) 12-1
3 A Sanchez (24) 25-1
4 D Costa (20) 20-1
=4 S Aguero (20) 7-2

Premier League handicap
Chelsea +4/+5

Places - bet365: Tottenham, Liverpool, West Brom; Betfair, Hills: Tottenham, West Brom, Liverpool/Burnley dead-heat; Betfred, Betway, Sky Bet: Tottenham, West Brom, Burnley; BoyleSports: Tottenham, Liverpool/West Brom/Burnley dead-heat; Coral, Ladbrokes: Tottenham, Liverpool, Everton.

Relegation
Sunderland 11-4
Middlesbrough 19-10
Hull 8-11

To finish bottom
Sunderland 12-1

Without big four
Tottenham 9-4

Without big seven (inc Leicester)
Everton 10-3

Top promoted club
Burnley 5-2

Top London club
Chelsea 7-4

Top Midlands club
West Brom 12-1

Top north-west club
Man City 6-5

Top north-east club
Hull 5-1

Sack race
F Guidolin 5-1

EFL Cup
1 Man Utd 8-1
2 Southampton 28-1

FA Cup
Chelsea 7-1 or Arsenal 9-1

Those who had backed United at 8-1 and all rates down over the summer knew their fate early
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