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Can Anyone Defy The Odds And Break Into The EPL’s Top 6?

John Dillon for Bookies.com

John Dillon  | 6 mins

Can Anyone Defy The Odds And Break Into The EPL’s Top 6?

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It’s a tricky one for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this Saturday. High-flying Leicester City visit Manchester United.

This could be the first big test of whether a New Guard is seriously emerging in the Premier League to replace the faltering giants of the old one.

This will pit the smart, experienced and thriving Brendan Rodgers against the Norwegian Solskjaer, who got one of the biggest jobs in soccer as a former United player – but is now coming increasingly under fire.

This could crystallise a trend towards a power shift as the Premier League resumes, although it’s only a month until another international break.

There is also the intriguing question of how Harry Maguire will fare against his old team after his £80 million summer move to United and after he clumsily handed Kosovo a penalty against England on Tuesday night.

Leicester are third and United are eighth in the early running.

So far, it is Rodgers’ team who have done most to fulfil the belief that a group of middle-sized clubs including Leicester, Everton, Wolves and West Ham are ready to take on United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs in the battle for the top six.

And even for the top four Champions League places.

On same day Leicester are at Old Trafford, Wolves meet Chelsea at Molineux. Another examination of a ground-shift?

Bookies Impressed With Leicester

Betting analysts have been most impressed by Leicester from among that group of four improving outfits, with William Hill bringing them into 2/1 (+200) for a top six finish from 6/1 (+600) in June.

Rodgers’ team are unbeaten in the opening four fixtures. Yet it could be argued that the two most recent results, wins at Sheffield United and at home to Bournemouth are not the most daunting tasks in the competition.

Then again, few points are easy-earned in the world’s most competitive league unless you’ve got the kind of expertly identified and lavishly expensive strength-in-depth built by Manchester City and Liverpool.

Prior to those wins, Leicester drew at home to Wolves in an opening day battle of the newly-ambitious and then got a point at Chelsea, too.

This season’s form, though, is part of a trend which began soon after Rodgers’ controversial arrival at the Walkers Stadium from Celtic.

Establishing himself at an awkward time of the season after being appointed on March 3, he won five, lost three and drew two of the club’s remaining matches.

They were 11th when he took over from the unloved Claude Puel and finished ninth. Not a great leap in position. But indicative of a huge change in mood and approach.

Quickly, Rodgers’ side has won praise for the attractive, intelligent brand of attacking football he is creating and which, in the modern era, is the only way to consistently challenge the big boys.

Jamie Vardy has already scored three times, the permanent acquisition of Youri Tielemans and the signing of striker Ayoze Perez settled any qaulms among the fans about the loss of Maguire. Meanwhile, James Maddison and Harvey Barnes are again making an impression.

Although United are slightly favoured for the win this weekend, their odds are drifting a little while Leicester’s have been narrowing.

At Ladbrokes, Coral and William Hill, United have moved a pinch to odds 5/6 (-120). Leicester have moved in slightly to 13/4 (+325) with Ladbrokes and 7/2 with Betfair. BetVictor and Betway call the draw at 11/4 (+275).

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Honeymoon Over For Solskjaer

For Solskjaer, who currently sits joint-top of the EPL Sack Race odds, last season’s honeymoon period ended quickly.

After hammering Chelsea 4-0 on the opening day, they have picked up just two points.

After losing the most recent, first-ever home game against Crystal Palace, the pressure is cranking up.

Since the high-point of the Champions League last 16 win at Paris St Germain last March, United have won just three times in 16 matches.

They are 4/11 (-275) for a top six finish with William Hill. But the phone-in callers are getting more than twitchy. The demands for yet another managerial change are growing.

Solskjaer really needs a response from his team this weekend.

In the current, early top four, Crystal Palace are the surprise package in fourth place. They’ve beaten Aston Villa as well as United. They have lost at Sheffield United and drew with Everton on the opening day.

They face a stuttering Tottenham side in north London on Saturday with Spurs having suffered a stinging defeat by Newcastle last time at home. But William Hill don’t have much faith that Roy Hodgson’s team will remain near the top and they are 28/1 (+2800) for a top six finish.

West Ham more or less discounted their opening game. They have a dreadful record against Manchester City and were walloped 5-0.

Since then, however, they have begun to fulfil some pre-season expectations and are seventh. New striker Sebastien Haller has hit three goals and they drew at Brighton before winning at Watford and defeating Norwich at home.

Not the most demanding fixtures, perhaps, but William Hill still rate the Hammers at 6/1 (+600) to make the top six.

With Everton at 11/4 (+275) with seven major bookies for a similar outcome, the old guard are still favoured in this order - Liverpool, City, Tottenham, Arsenal, United and Chelsea.

Frank Lampard’s side are rated the most vulnerable to fall out of that elite group come next May at 4/7 (-175) for a top six finish with Bet365, William Hill and Ladbrokes. But Leicester are really nipping at their heels at 2/1 (+200).

Lampard has secured just one win in four so far. Wolves have drawn three and lost at Everton last time out.

But they have been adjusting to competing in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League at the same time. It is hugely demanding.

Players have been away on international duty. The Europa League group stage begins next week. So things won’t get easier for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side.

This, though, is the price of their success in finishing seventh last season in their first campaign back in the top flight. Betfair and Bet365 still price them at 5/1 (+500) for top six finish.

The visit of Chelsea could be the kind of occasion when their domestic season really gets going.

About the Author

John Dillon for Bookies.com
John Dillon
John Dillon is a freelance sports journalist covering, among other things, boxing and football. His work has appeared in The London Evening Standard and USA Today.