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Football: bet365's Market Movers as Man Utd lose ground in top four race

As Manchester United’s bid for Champions League football took another hit, and Port Vale’s promotion push received another boost, we’re looking at this week’s Market Movers.

After what has been a three-horse race for months, Manchester United’s push for the top four is all but over.

Arsenal have been unrelenting of late and are still favourites at 8/15, while Tottenham, who are above their North London rivals on goal difference having played two games more, are 6/4, and also hitting form at a key period.

United, meanwhile – dropping points for the third time in their last four games – continue to drift and can now be backed at 8/1 to secure a Champions League place.

Strangely, the Old Trafford outfit’s numbers under Ralf Rangnick have been better than the start of the season under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with the Reds recording a higher xG/90 and lower xGA/90.

But results have been lacking. After the dramatic win against West Ham back in September, United were 1/5 for a top-four finish, having taken 13 points from their opening five games. The season began to unravel from there with Solksjaer sacked as United were 6/5 for the top four, which drifted to 9/4 after Rangnick’s first six games.

And the fixtures don’t get any easier. In their final eight games, the Red Devils still face trips to Liverpool and Arsenal as well as hosting Chelsea in the penultimate game of the season.

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In League Two, Port Vale are looking well placed for promotion after record a fifth win in their last six at the weekend.

Back on 4th September, I was at Port Vale vs Rochdale and thought the hosts were a little unlucky to lose the game, but they were undone by poor defending with the Valiants out to 8/1 for a top-three finish at the time.

Fast forward seven months and you have one team in 3rd and one languishing in 20th with the Burslem outfit in fantastic form. Vale have had streaky spells this season – that Dale defeat was followed by four league wins on the spin, seeing then into 10/3 for a finish in the automatic spots.

I also remember backing Vale away at Sutton and was feeling rather pleased with myself when I saw them take an early 2-0 lead at Gander Green Lane - unfortunately I’m unable to take advantage of the bet365 2 Goals Ahead Early Payout Offer as the hosts came back to win a 4-3 thriller thanks to a late Coby Rowe strike.

Vale got back on track and started November into 15/8 for the top three but then suffered back-to back defeats. I was at Vale Park again that month to see Walsall return down the M6 with all three points, this on the back of another injury-time defeat, this time at Boundary Park and back out to 4/1.

A late fightback by Newport saw a 1-0 lead turn into a 2-1 defeat on 11th December, and fans had over a month to stew on that loss in Wales with the next league game being at Swindon on 15th January. That also ended in a defeat, as did the midweek home game against Salford just a few days later. A number of draws and a late Tom Dallinson header saw Vale drop down to 10th at the start of March with their automatic hopes now priced at 8/1.

But five wins from the next six – the other a 0-0 draw with 2nd placed Exeter – sees the Vale in 3rd and 9/4 to be in the top three come the end of the season thanks to a late Aaron Martin winner at Barrow this weekend. Vale were missing a number of key players against the Bluebirds, mainly from the engine room, but they’re now grinding out results, which can only be a good thing as they head into the final weeks of the season.

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There was heartbreak for Sutton United on Sunday, losing out in the EFL Trophy final to Rotherham, who scored a dramatic 96th-minute equaliser before winning in extra time.

New to the EFL following promotion from the National League last season, it was Sutton’s first appearance in the competition, and were installed as 125/1 outsiders in pre-season, but having won all three games in the group stage, they beat Stevenage on penalties, as well as Colchester and Harrogate.

Still outsiders, they were 8/1 to win the trophy when facing a trip to high-flying Wigan, and for the second time this season, they progressed on penalties and were into 13/8.

They were 2/1 to lift the trophy come kick-off, which shortened to 4/7 after going 1-0 up, and back out to 7/4 following Ben Wiles’ equaliser.

Craig Eastmond’s goal just after half time saw them 1/2, and were 1/33 just before the agonising equaliser from Jordi Osei-Tutu in the sixth minute of injury time.

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It’s been a rather meek defence of their title as rivals Real Madrid came roaring back this season under Carlo Ancelotti, but Atletico Madrid are looking good in the Without Real Madrid and Barcelona market again.

The champions were out to 11/10 after dropped points against Real Sociedad and Levante (the latter came following two penalties from Enis Bardhi, one of which was in injury time) at the end of October, and four defeats on the trot before Christmas saw them pushed out from 8/13 to 9/4, conceding more late goals; first in the 90th minute to 9/1 shots Mallorca and again two weeks later in the 88th minute vs Sevilla.

They lost to 12/1 pokes Levante in mid-February and were 11/4 with even their place in next season’s Champions League in jeopardy.

But they head into their tie with Manchester City in good form after winning six on the bounce – as well as beating Manchester United at Old Trafford – and are back into 8/13 in the Without market.

By Steve Freeth

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