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Is the smart money on Solskjaer?

Manchester United will have a big decision to make in the summer, and they might be able to find help from an unusual source: the betting markets.

The odds of Premier League matches are akin to a financial market, with the smartest and well-funded professional gamblers using all the available information to predict the likelihood of each team winning. As a result, the odds on each game tend to be highly accurate, providing the ‘best possible’ prediction on each game. And with a little bit of maths, we can understand how the betting markets rate each team.

For example, when Crystal Palace hosted West Ham two weeks ago, the price of the home team was 2.13 (or just over 11/10) which means they were expected to win around 47% of the time. This season the home team has won 46% of the time, indicating that at kick off the betting market rated Crystal Palace and West Ham as equals despite 6 points separating them in the league.

The bookmaker Sporting Index also have a Premier League points market, where smart punters can bet on how many points a team will win this season. These predicted points totals change during the season based on how many points a team has won, and how many points they are expected to win. If we extrapolate those points over a full season we can show how a team changes over time and in particular how the market reacts to key personnel changes, like at Manchester United.

The first thing to note is how far Manchester United fell over the first 17 games under Jose Mourinho. In August, the betting markets thought that United were a 75 points-per-season team, but by December they were rated a 67 points-per-season team, such was their performance levels. For context, Liverpool’s points rating over the same period only increased from 81 to 85 despite being unbeaten to that point.

The effect of Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment to Manchester United’s rating was immediate; after their victory at Cardiff they immediately jumped up 5 points. However, despite winning 7 and drawing 1 of their next 8 games, their rating has only increased a further 0.6 points and is still 2 points below their rating at the start of the season. This suggests that the initial bump in rating may have been more about Mourinho (and Pogba’s position on the bench) than the new manager.

The fact that Manchester United’s rating has stayed consistent for the rest of the season and is still 2 points below August’s rating, despite fantastic results, suggests that the smart money in the betting market is still yet to be convinced about Solskjaer’s ability to challenge the league’s top two. In making major decisions at football clubs, it sometimes helps to think like traders in a financial market. If we know something the market doesn’t, we have an edge – so it helps to know where the market is at any given time.

About Guy Rogers

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