When you’ve been betting on sport for a while, you realise just how sharp the bookmakers are when it comes to pricing up their markets. Forget odds, margins and all the rest of it, and instead focus on the frequency with which their favourites win in the major markets.
Now, we’re not talking about a rainy afternoon in Redcar for horse racing punters, but the biggest markets where less variance is prevalent – the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Ryder Cup, Wimbledon and the like. The bookies’ record at predicting the champion of the English Premier League each season is also unerringly accurate – it’s uncanny how good the analysts and odds-makers are at finding the winner.
2022/23 Champion: Manchester City
Bookies’ Favourite: Manchester City (4/7)
Okay, so you might argue that it doesn’t take a genius to fathom out that Manchester City are the dominant force in English football right now. Pep Guardiola has spent more than £1 billion amassing a squad blessed with some of the world’s most talented players, but it’s Pep’s own tactical genius and continued progression that sets City apart from the rest. They faced obstacles in 2022/23, not least the season being derailed by the Qatar World Cup, while Erling Haaland faced the pressure of a first season in the Premier League with a hefty price tag on his young shoulders.
Not that the bookies were swayed by such red flags, mind you. They installed City at around 4/7 to successfully defend their title, and Pep’s men duly delivered – reeling in a largely unexpected push from Arsenal with a show of unrelenting consistency down the home stretch, which included 14 wins from 15 games between February and early May. The bookies were spot on in their assessment – even if they would have been peppered by punters fancying a short odds-on winner and those assembling outright accas and Yankees.
2021/22 Champion: Manchester City
Bookies’ Favourite: Manchester City (8/13)
Granted, they were pushed all the way by 5/1 outsiders Liverpool, but Manchester City once again did the business in 2021/22 to extend the bookies’ fine record. City justified odds-on quotes from the bookmakers to amass 93 points, a haul that would be enough to decimate the opposition in many of the Premier League’s 30+ seasons. That points tally was aided and abetted by some 99 goals scored and only three defeats all campaign.
But any notion that the Cityzens were going to get an easy ride was dispelled by the continued forward momentum of Liverpool, who themselves delivered a campaign worthy of many a Premier League champion. The Reds lost just two games, scored 94 goals and won 92 points – falling agonisingly short after a poor run over the festive period, in which they failed to win any of their three games, proved costly.
2020/21 Champion: Manchester City
Bookies’ Favourite: Manchester City (4/5)
Although not their finest vintage, City once again came up trumps for favourite backers during the 2020/21 season. They steamrollered their way to the title, winning 15 consecutive games between mid-December and early March to claim back the Premier League crown they had lost the season prior.
So far ahead were City that they were able to lose three of their last seven games and still maintain a chasm of a 12-point advantage over nearest rivals Manchester United.
2019/20 Champion: Liverpool
Bookies’ Favourite: Manchester City (4/6)
Ahead of the 2023/24 campaign, the only time that the bookmakers had got their Premier League outright market wrong in the five previous seasons came in 2019/20. City, once more a red-hot favourite with the odds-makers, scored a mind-boggling 102 goals – the third-best single season tally in Premier League history – and still failed to win the title, losing nine games along the way.
Taking full advantage were Liverpool; not that they needed City’s slip-up to thrive. The Reds were at their heavy metal football best under Jürgen Klopp, winning 32 of their 38 games and collecting 99 points along the way – the 18-point margin of comfort to City was remarkable and, for the bookies at least, wholly unpredictable.
2018/19 Champion: Manchester City
Bookies’ Favourite: Manchester City (8/13)
A dress rehearsal for the 2021/22 campaign, Manchester City and Liverpool once again went head-to-head and toe-to-toe in the battle for the Premier League trophy. Both started strong, with City winning 13 of their first 15 games of the season, before a wobble in December saw them lose three of their next four.
That sent an unlikely Christmas present the way of Liverpool, who took advantage with six straight wins in December….before losing to City on January 3. The Reds still had a four-point cushion and didn’t lose any more games – but even that wasn’t enough, as four draws in six outings in the second half of the campaign allowed City, via a run of 14 straight victories, to nick the title by the barest of margins.