As always, there was plenty of chaos in Week 1 of the English Premier League season. Brighton, who closed as +460 underdogs against Manchester United, pulled off the biggest result with a 2-1 win at Old Trafford, but we also saw Fulham earn a 2-2 draw against Liverpool and Bournemouth pull off a minor upset against Aston Villa.
Will we see more carnage in Matchweek 2? History tells us that, while Week 1 is a great time to back underdogs in the EPL, things settle down a bit after the opening weekend. Since 2012, teams that have closed +200 or longer for their second game of the EPL season have gone 15-73 (17% win rate) and have an ROI of -18%.
Nonetheless, there will always be exceptions to every rule and there are a couple of underdogs that are worth a look on Saturday.
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Aston Villa (-125) vs. Everton (+370), Draw (+260)
Time: 7:30 a.m. Saturday
Everton and Aston Villa both lost low-event games in Week 1. Villa fell, 2-0, to newly-promoted Bournemouth, while Everton lost as big home underdogs to Chelsea, 1-0. Neither match was particularly exciting and that could become a theme for these two teams in the early going.
In the 27 matches they played under Steven Gerrard last season, Aston Villa averaged 1.4 goals, which was the eighth-best mark in the league during that span. And even if their actual production made Villa’s offense look slightly above-average under Gerrard, their expected indicators painted a less rosy picture. Villa only produced 31.93 expected goals (1.2 per match) in their last 27 games, which was the sixth-worst mark in the Premier League from Nov. 11 onwards.
It’s hard to read too much into Everton’s metrics last season. It went off the rails, they fired their manager, hired Frank Lampard and he quickly abandoned any notion of playing ball-on-the-floor football in favor of just doing everything they could to avoid relegation.
That resulted in a much more defensive gameplan from Lampard but it worked, as the Toffees stayed up. Rather than completely jumping ship from that defensive posture, Everton have solidified their defensive personnel by bringing in a couple of solid centerbacks during the transfer window: James Tarkowski and Conor Coady.
Everton were a mess defensively for much of last season, but they took massive strides as the season wore on and looked like a tough side to break down in a 1-0 loss against Chelsea. The London Blues had very few big scoring chances and if it weren’t for a penalty kick late in the first half, that match could have ended nil-nil.
While Everton’s defense looks to be in decent shape — even after losing two center-backs in Week 1 — the offense is concerning. Their best striker, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, is out for another five to eight weeks, which means that journeyman Solomon Rondon is the only natural center-forward on the roster. That should force Lampard to deploy a pragmatic set-up against Villa, as one goal could decide this match.
If Everton carry over their defensive form from the Chelsea match, they have every chance to pull the upset at Villa Park on Saturday. Aston Villa ranked 18th in creating big scoring chances last season and proved pretty toothless in Week 1 against Bournemouth, even though they were chasing the game from the first minute.
The margins for this match should be quite thin, so a bet on Everton at a big price is definitely worthwhile.
Aston Villa vs. Everton pick
Everton +370 — FanDuel
Nottingham Forest (+320) vs. West Ham (-115), Draw (+260)
Time: 10 a.m. ET
You can be forgiven if you want to pass on betting Nottingham Forest after what we saw in their Week 1 loss to Newcastle. Not only did Forest lose, 2-0, but nothing looked cohesive and the Tricky Trees struggled defensively, allowing 1.86 expected goals to Newcastle.
But as often is the case, we’re seeing a little bit of a market overreaction off of 90 minutes of soccer. Forest are likely in for a long season, but West Ham United are not a team without some significant flaws themselves.
After a great start to last season which culminated with a famous 3-2 victory over Liverpool in November, West Ham United struggled down the stretch in the Premier League. In the 19 matches they played after Jan. 1, the Hammers went 7-4-8 (Win-Draw-Loss) with an even goal differential (26 GF, 26 GA) but a -3.41 expected goals differential. West Ham’s defense, which was solid through the first portion of the year, started to wilt after losing Angelo Ogbonna to a long-term injury and allowed 1.5 expected goals per 90 minutes over their last 19 contests.
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Ogbonna didn’t feature in West Ham’s season-opening loss to Man City and it would be a surprise if he gets the nod for Saturday’s tilt with Forest. Even if Ogbonna does play, it would be his first match in nine months, so it’s hard to know what to expect out of him.
West Ham has a wealth of attacking talent so that can provide some cover for their thin defense right now, but the Hammers enjoy more success in see-saw type contests where there’s space for players like Jarrod Bowen, Said Benrahma and Manuel Lanzini to create chances. That likely won’t be the case against Forest, who prefer to set up deep defensively and look to counter.
Saturday’s match with West Ham will be the first Premier League match played at the City Ground in the new millennium. The crowd will be raucous and Forest should prove to be a trickier out for West Ham than these odds suggest.
The betting credo goes “bet numbers, not teams” and the price on Nottingham Forest is high enough for a play.
Nottingham Forest vs. West Ham pick
Nottingham Forest +320 — BetMGM