In the surest sign that the Premier League race is all over, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has stated that it isn’t necessarily rivals Manchester City that are on his mind – it is actually Chelsea’s record Premier League points tally that he has his sights on.
And to be fair, the Old Trafford boss has a point. Currently 15 points ahead of their ‘noisy neighbours’, this year’s Premier League title race has been the type of canter few expected, least of all Ferguson: even the Scot has expressed his shock that United have such a comfortable lead over City and with nine games to play, it is a gap that is never going to be bridged.
So it was no surprise to see Ferguson turn his attention to another target. With 74 points after 29 games, Manchester United are on course to rack up the highest ever points tally in a Premier League season, a record currently set by Jose Mourinho’s first title-winning side in 2004/05, when Chelsea won 95 points during a relentless campaign.
That beat United’s previous best haul of 92, and Ferguson is going to use the record as a means to keep his players motivated once the inevitable happens and his team clinch the title.
“There’s nine games left, so a possible 27 points,” said Ferguson in an interview with American radio station SiriusXM this week.
“We’ll drop points somewhere along the line, I mean we’ve got to, it’s a tough league, but all the rest will drop points too. If we can get to 95 points I’ll be absolutely delighted.”
It is the only way United are going to keep themselves amused at the top of the table, and bwin go 11/5 that the Old Trafford outfit get more than 95.5 points come the end of the campaign and 3/10 that they fall short of that total.
So the question is now: with 22 points needed from nine fixtures, does that 11/5 represent a good bet?
There are different ways to look at this. Statistically, it certainly does: with 24 wins and two draws from their 29 matches, this United side are averaging 2.55 points per game – the highest average of the Premier League era – and if that continues until the end of the season, Ferguson’s side will break the record.
United would win an average of 22.95 points from their last nine games, which would see them reach 96/97 points for the season. And a look at their remaining fixtures makes you think that seven wins and a draw are more than possible.
There are six games that immediately stand out as winnable: home clashes with Aston Villa and Swansea City and away trips to Sunderland, Stoke City, West Ham and West Brom on the last day are the sort of fixtures that Ferguson has built his title wins upon and there is no real reason to doubt that a full-strength United side would see those sides off.
But with Manchester City and Chelsea to face at Old Trafford and a trip to Arsenal also to come, things look trickier, even if on home soil you always fancy United to pick up the points no matter the opposition.
You could even look at this another way: if United win their four home games, are they capable of getting ten points from those five away fixtures? The answer would be yes.
So there is no doubt that United CAN win enough points – but I think the 11/5 looks too short to be getting on.
One thing that concerns me is the FA Cup, especially this weekend. United go to Sunderland in the league on Saturday and while the Black Cats may be terrible, Ferguson is bound to rest his big guns for Monday’s 12.30pm FA Cup quarter-final replay against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, especially on the back of an international week.
So what appears like a routine win suddenly looks like there is the potential (at least) to drop points, and there is not much margin for error if 95 points are to be reached.
And it is this lack of room for manoeuvre that makes me sceptical about the short price. United can only fail to win two games – one of which must be drawn – and that is a big ask of any side at any time, and there are enough games in there that could not go their way to put you off.
Besides, 11/5 is no kind of price. Okay, it gives you any type of combination of results for the bet to come in, but if you were to back United to win their next two league games – Sunderland away and Manchester City at home – you are getting over 2/1 anyway.
Add in Stoke, who United play in three games’ time, and a treble on Ferguson’s men pays 9/2. When you consider that United have to win most of these games for the bet to land, you would be better off backing them in doubles and trebles if you are confident enough of picking out the fixtures you are convinced they will win.
And no matter what Ferguson says, it is hard to keep motivation once the league has been won – even a manager as brilliant at keeping his players focused would find that difficult and with Arsenal and Chelsea to face in their last four games – at which point the title could be in the bag – it would not be ideal to be relying on United to beat good sides with much to play for when they themselves have packed in.
So while the bet itself could well come in, and would be worth a play to give you some interest in United’s games between now and May, the 11/5 is too skinny to be getting involved with any more than a few quid.