The bookies may have Manchester City as clear favourites for Saturday’s encounter with Everton, but the shrewd punters out there will be having a long, hard look at the visiting underdogs.
Exactly why the betting margins are so wide is a little puzzling, since the Toffees remain the only unbeaten team in the Premier League and are sitting pretty in the top four – three places and two points clear of their hosts this weekend.
And with Man City coming off a disappointing display in the Champions League midweek, the clash at Eastlands will serve as a chance for both managers to prove a point.
Manuel Pellegrini has had a mixed start in charge of the Citizens, with defeats to Cardiff City and Aston Villa punctuated by a comprehensive 4-1 derby win over Manchester United.
Having arrived this summer alongside a raft of high-quality signings – Jesus Navas, Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo, to name a few – it will take time for the former Villarreal boss to get his new crew firing on all cylinders. Whether City’s fans (and owners, for that matter) will be quite so understanding of that fact remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, it hasn’t taken Roberto Martinez long to exceed early expectations at Goodison Park. A frustrating start – three straight draws to Norwich City, West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff – has blossomed into a hat trick of wins, most notably a 1-0 victory over Chelsea.
The biggest feather in the Merseysiders’ cap is the quality of football they’ve displayed thus far.
Everton were always a difficult but rather dour prospect under David Moyes, relying often on the strength, industry and aerial prowess of players like Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini to get them across the line.
Martinez has built on that solid base and, sans Cahill and Fellaini, allowed the creative, dynamic talents of youngsters like Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman to flourish behind what has for many years been the missing link with the Blues: a dominant centre-forward, in the form of Romelu Lukaku.
That’s not to say there haven’t been hiccups here and there for Everton. Their wins over West Ham and Newcastle United – both 3-2 results – hinted at a need for heightened security at the back; and we all know that, on their day, Man City’s armada of first-class attackers can breeze through anything less than a navy-spec blockade.
It’s early days yet and both managers have plenty of work ahead of them as they seek to make their mark on their respective squads. But Saturday afternoon at Eastlands could tell us more than a little about whether Pellegrini’s City can push for the title, and whether Martinez’s Everton can pose a real threat to the usual top-four suspects.