The Premier League campaign is looking more exciting by the day. The pressure on leaders Chelsea comes primarily from holders Manchester City who have nowÂ won six league games in a rowÂ having netted three in the second half against Crystal Palace – and, to a lesser extent, from 2013 champions Manchester United.
But Louis van Gaalâ€™s men failed to pick up the three points they sorely needed at Aston Villa â€“ and their burgeoning title challenge seems to have been punctured in the process. The way City are going, thereâ€™s no room for anything less than a 100 per cent record.Â Chelsea slipped up away at NewcastleÂ but recovered to beat in-form Stoke City on Monday night.
Jose Mourinho knew that anything less than three points from the Britannia Stadium could have handed Man City an incentive â€“ whilst United would still look to pounce on any weakness from either of the leaders.
AndÂ when it comes to finding a little value in your football betting, you need the courage to be a little contrarian. So perhaps the value lies with a United â€“ the only club of the three without a Champions League campaign to distract them.
The Champions League knockout phase commences in late February, by which time weâ€™ll be a lot further down the line. But if United are still in touch by then â€“ hopes of European glory could be Chelseaâ€™s and maybe Man Cityâ€™s undoing.
However â€“ Man City are the outsiders to proceed against Barcelona in the first stage of the Champions Leagueâ€™s knockout phase. Chelsea, meanwhile, have aÂ slightly easier looking tieÂ on paper against PSG, but even that one may be too close to call.
All in all â€“ itâ€™s developing into a fascinating race. The most interesting aspect of all will be to see if this is a two-horse race or whether Man United can truly join the fray. The red half of Manchester are seven points adrift of Man City and ten behind Chelsea. But when you take into account the potential Champions League campaigns and the fact that United play both their rivals once in mid-April (at home to Man City followed by a trip to Stamford Bridge the following week) then those points totals do not look insurmountable.
But if there is to be value in Man Unitedâ€™s odds at as big as 20-1 with Bet365, then theyâ€™ll have to start playing better than they did away at Villa.
Of course, if Van Gall really can persuade his countrymanÂ Arjen Robben to come to Old Trafford, then that would mark an enormous shift. But whoever Van Gaal signs in the January transfer window, we can expect it to be a shrewd purchase (or loanee) and the Dutch manager has a habit of getting his teams to come good in the latter half of the season after a faltering start.
This is a mirror image of what Van Gaal achieved in his tenure at Bayern Munich â€“ and we may yet see the same this season at Old Trafford. It ainâ€™t over â€˜til the fat lady sings.