After beginning the season as second favourites after Manchester City, Manchester United have now slipped behind Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, and Chelsea in bookies’ estimations of who will win the Premier League title. With thirty games left to play at the time of writing, The Red Devils could punish the odds writers who dared to place them as outsiders so early.
Before a ball had been kicked in the 2016-17 season, United were 3/1 with Betway to be crowned champions. The presumption among football experts was that the appointment of Jose Mourinho and the acquisition of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba would be enough to boost their hopes of an immediate revival after three dismal campaigns. Following on from the 0-0 stalemate with Liverpool in the eighth round of fixtures, odds on United reclaiming their first title in five long years had eased to as long as 14/1 with some bookmakers.
United haven’t got off to the flying start that many were expecting, and there still seems to be that lack of potency that was such an issue for them during Louis Van Gaal’s final season at the helm. Ibrahimovic and Pogba have struggled with the transition to England’s top flight, and Mourinho has yet to strike on the perfect formula for the combination of superstars he has at his disposal. United face a testing fixture list over the next month that includes Chelsea, Arsenal, and Spurs, and things may yet look darker before Mourinho’s men force their way into contention. On the other hand, however, wins against their main rivals would force bookies to once again slash United’s odds as they move into a propitious festive schedule.
Although the Old Trafford side sit seventh in the table, they are only five points behind City in first. As the season has gathered momentum, bookies have been forced to recalculate their original expectations that the league would be a two horse race between the Manchester sides. Liverpool especially are emerging as strong yet previously unexpected challengers. Those that still believe that the huge changes that went on at United in the summer are enough for them to win the title would be wise to bet now while the odds are so tantalising.
Ibrahimovic has thus far failed to set the league alight as many had anticipated, but the striker who scored 38 goals for Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 last season has not been short of chances. The big Swede has had a total of 41 goal attempts with 25 of those coming from inside the box. In comparison the current top goal scorer, Diego Costa, has unleashed a total of 24 attempts on goal. The problem for the United man is that a mere 14 of his attempts have been on target. There is a sense, though, that once the 35-year-old manages to calibrate his sights he could become the most explosive striker in the division.
Dropping Rooney from the starting XI has been a bold but progressive move by Mourinho. Rooney started every game until United’s meeting with reigning champions Leicester. He was relegated to the bench and in his absence the Manchester side ran riot, winning 4-1. The England captain has faced harsh criticism recently as many think he is way past his best, and omitting him from the side allowed Pogba to roam around midfield with a lot more freedom.
Mourinho has a squad packed full of talent at his disposal, and is able to field an entirely different side in European fixtures if he so wishes. This will allow him to play a settled team in the league once he discovers what the best arrangement of his players is.
There is a long and arduous journey ahead, but at these early stages it is hard to say that United’s chances have diminished too much from when the season began. There is no doubt that the current odds are generous, and putting a wager on them now could turn out to be highly fruitful by May next year.