Are Manchester United Premier League Title Contenders?

Are Manchester United Premier League Title Contenders?
© PA

Given the fortuitous nature of their late Premier League win over Brighton on Saturday, there is a sense of renewed optimism around Manchester United.

Not that their performance in the 3-2 win at the Amex was anything to write home about, but the Red Devils got a big slice of luck with Bruno Fernandes’ late, late penalty and in football sometimes that’s all you need to kick-start a campaign.

Watching Manchester City fall to a surprise 5-2 home defeat to Leicester City the following day will have only raised spirits among United supporters, with Pep City’s loss cancelling out United’s own home defeat to Crystal Palace a week earlier.

All-in-all it was weekend which restored some faith around the Old Trafford faithful, who came into the season with raised expectations following a scintillating finish to the last campaign. But are they good enough to compete with City and Liverpool over the course of a full season?

The odds suggest not, with United drifting out to 33/1 to win the title having been as short as 12/1 on the opening day. In fact, the bookmakers rate both Chelsea and Arsenal as having a better shot.

Latest Premier League Outright Odds

TeamOdds (Bet365)
Man City11/8
Manchester Utd33/1

On the back of their form at the back end of last season, United were one of the most-backed teams to win the Premier League title before the beginning of this new campaign.

Just days before the curtains were raised on the 2020/21 season, Ladbrokes revealed 11.9% of the outright bets they’ve taken on the title race were placed on United – more than champions Liverpool (9.8%) and Man City (5.8%).

And while that is reflective of the betting value available on United in the Premier League outright market, those with money riding on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were left cursing their luck as they slumped to a 3-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace in their opening game.

Ranking Chelsea and Arsenal higher in the odds than United – who finished third last term remember – does seem a little premature at this early stage though, so would now be a wise time to bet on them for the title?

Perhaps, because under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer United have shown an ability to reel in seemingly insurmountable point deficits with winning streaks, so you would imagine 33/1 is as big as that price will get in the near future.

Betting on a team you have faith in when they’re being ruled out by the bookies can ensure you get the best possible price – just ask any one of the punters who cost Paddy Power over £1million when United defied odds of 12/1 to knock PSG out of the Champions League on their own soil last year.

That said, it’s not always a wise move, and one suspects those with money on United to win the title may be disappointed come the tail-end of this season.

For all the optimism at the end of last term, the harsh reality is that United are indeed closer to Arsenal and Chelsea than they are to champions Liverpool and Man City.

In fact, United should be more concerned by the small gap between themselves and the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal, Leicester and Everton – the latter two of which look as though they mean business this year – than they should about the sizeable ground they have to make up to compete with the top two.

With Arsenal retaining Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Tottenham bringing back Gareth Bale and Everton now building around James Rodriguez, a top-four finish for Manchester United is by no means a formality.

Indeed, William Hill’s odds of Evens (1/1) suggest their chances are finely balanced at 50-50, meaning Man Utd fans may have to endure another season of uncertainty in their quest to secure back-to-back Champions League qualifications.

Long-Term Problems at Man Utd

Long-term, the problems are more worrying for the club’s fanbase. The longer fans are barred from attending Premier League games, the less pressure the much-maligned Glazer family will feel from vocal supporters opposed to their ownership of Manchester United.

Granted, the Glazers will want fans back inside the ground soon, given the amount of revenue a full Old Trafford generates on match-days, but there’s less heat on the Americans with no spectators to point the finger when things aren’t going their way on the pitch.

But even when they do come back into the stadium, United fans are going to have to accept that the Glazers aren’t selling anytime soon.

In 2010 Manchester United was the most valuable sports team in the world at $1.83 billion, according to Forbes. Ten years on, they’re worth €3.81 billion, but have slipped to 10th in the most valuable sports team rankings and have fallen behind Real Madrid ($4.24bn) and Barcelona ($4.02bn) in the football-only list.

There were already few business figures and consortiums in the world who could afford to buy Manchester United, and with a global recession on the horizon, even fewer are now likely to be interested in a team whose status is in decline.

Not that the Glazers are knowingly willing to sell – they appear to be content with how things are, and so long as the club’s owners are happy with the profit they’re making they will have little concern about results on the field.

With all that in mind, another top four finish should be considered an achievement by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, if he remains in charge for the duration of the season, while a title win would surpass all reasonable expectations.