Why Aren’t There Any Dark Horses in English Football Anymore?

Who doesn’t love an underdog? In plucky Blighty, they are part of the culture. So when Nottingham Forest won the old First Division under Brian Clough, the club and the manager went down in history. We love Cinderella stories so much that they don’t need to be British. Come on, no one will forget the Euro triumphs of Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004.

From a gambling perspective, the unpredictable is a fantastic value for money. It’s a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Sadly, the day of dark horses, and punters chancing their arms at long shots, seem over as upsets in football happen less often.

Money = Squad Depth  

It’s a simple equation that has dominated the landscape of English football since the introduction of the Premier League. With the extra money from gate receipts and TV revenues, the biggest clubs can create the best squads. This was always the case, yet the phenomenon is out of control when teams have a world-class player to cover every position.

Think about the Premier League title race. Leicester City made history in 2016, but since then, the status quo has returned. Indeed, it was formed before the Foxes caused a momentary blip on the radar. Only seven different clubs have won the Premier League, with Man City claiming three of the last four. According to the Premier League betting market for 2021-22, the Citizens are the 6/5 favourites to add a fourth crown under Pep Guardiola. Liverpool, the last non-City side to win the league, are 9/2 and Chelsea is 13/5.

Clubs you may consider dark horses, like Leicester and Everton, are quoted as 150/1 rank outsiders. It’s no secret any longer – the insane squad depth of the top teams makes it almost impossible for lower sides to sustain a title challenge over 38 matches.

Turning to Cup Competitions  

What are the consequences of a selection of football clubs having a monopoly on the Premier League title? The answer is that the rest of the ‛Big Six’ turn to the club competitions for solace. Opportunities are few and far between, so the FA Cup and Carabao Cup represent excellent opportunities for Spurs and Arsenal to appease their supporters.

And it works, especially in the Gunners’ case. After failing to take on the big boys in the league, Arsene Wenger focused on the FA Cup and won it a couple of times in a row to end the club’s trophy drought. Other than Leicester in 2021, a team that finished in the top six, you have to go back to 2013 for an upset when Wigan beat City. It’s worth noting that Wigan were in the Premier League, too.

For a competition that involves the entire English football pyramid, it may seem strange that City’s odds are 10/3. However, it isn’t when you factor in that certain Premier League clubs are competitive beyond belief, while the rest are feeding on scraps. Any team outside of England’s main division doesn’t stand a chance as the cup that is notorious for its shocks is boringly predictable.

As far as bettors are concerned, it’s smarter to pick selections in the Premier League since the division is incredibly dominant.