Finally! After what always seems like an eternity, the Premier League season gets under way this weekend. Will Man.United retain the title, with the blue half of Manchester celebrate once again, or will London provide the champions this year? Here we take a look at the title, top four and relegation markets…
Manchester City are joint favourites for the title at 9/4 with Bet365. The blue half of Manchester will be looking to Manuel Pellegrini for hope after finishing some eleven points adrift of their city rivals last season. With a new manager comes new signings, as the Arab owners open the cheque book once again, bringing Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic to the Etihad.
The squad look strong, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they bring in a much needed centre-back before the end of the transfer window, especially having been opened up so easily in their last friendly against Arsenal, which they lost 1-3. Definite favourites but only just, in my opinion.
Fellow joint favourites are Chelsea, whose 9/4 is available with Coral. The return of Jose Mourinho has boosted the confidence of fans and punters alike, as he looks to replicate the golden years of his first tenure at Stamford Bridge. The squad has seen new additions in Wallace, Andre Schurrle and Marco Van Ginkel, while Michael Essien returns from his loan spell with Mourinho at Real Madrid.
The big story so far this Summer, has been the bids for Wayne Rooney, which United have resisted so far. Mourinho has expressed his desire to sign the England star, but if this is a non starter, could Chelsea look elsewhere? With only Robert Lewandowski or Stephen El Sharaawy matching the ideal. Chelsea’s pre-season has been good, although they did lose 0-2 to Real Madrid in their last friendly.
Champions Manchester United are 14/5 with 32Red to defend their title. David Moyes has stepped in to fill the legendary shoes of the retired Sir Alex Ferguson.
Wilfried Zaha’s return to the club after staying at Crystal Palace on loan and young South American, Guillermo Varela are the only incoming players so far, as Moyes struggles to add a marquee signing to the playing staff. In a recent interview, he was quoted as saying that “irons are in the fire”.
The need for a couple of fresh faces is paramount, with Cesc Fabregas and Marouanne Fellaini being linked, while keeping Wayne Rooney away from rivals is just as important. A good pre-season was had with just two defeats, and a comfortable win in the Community Shield got the season started in the right fashion. If they can bring those on the wanted list in, and keep Rooney, they will be right in the hunt again.
Arsene Wenger arguably has his most testing season coming up, as the pressure to open the purse strings continues unabated from fans and pundits, with Ladbrokes pricing his Arsenal side at 11/1 for the title. The reported war chest available according to Ivan Gazidis has seen just a franction of use as they bring in young, French forward Yaya Sanogo to the Emirates.
Signings become more important when you consider the dead wood that has been moved on from the club, with Andre Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh, Johan Djourou and Salvatore Squillaci moved on among others. So squad size could become an issue if injuries get picked up. A central defender and defensive midfielder is a must, especially with Vermaelen’s injury leaving them light at the back, during a hectic start to the season. Pre-season was very good, finishing with a 3-1 victory over Manchester City in Helsinki. Top four looks about right, although with the manager merry-go-round that’s occurred, there could be an advantage to be had.
With the above four sides quoted at odds-on, it seems the betting firms have already made their minds up in regards to who will reach the Champions League next year. However there are two sides that will hope to change that.
Tottenham Hotspur are 11/5 to finish one higher than last season. The general feeling was that Spurs chucked away fourth, after missing out to north London rivals Arsenal at the end of last season. Despite some excellent business so far, which has seen Roberto Soldado, Etienne Capoue, Paulinho and Nacer Chadli coming to the side, the big question is whether they have any chance of keeping Gareth Bale. The talismanic Welshman was responsible for twenty-four points last season, and will without be missed if he leaves as expected for Madrid. Pre-season has been fairly poor, with the last game producing a 1-1 draw with Espanyol. If Bale stays, top four, if he goes, fifth again.
Liverpool are also fighting off a potential transfer departure, with the fallout from Luis Suarez and his request to leave. Suarez and his goals are a formidable part of the Anfield sides last couple of seasons, and if he goes, will severely blunt any hopes of Champions League football. Incoming players have included Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto, Simon Mignolet and Kolo Toure, with the spotlight falling on Mignolet, after Pepe Reina’s departure to Napoli. Liverpool’s pre-season has been good, barring a 0-1 defeat to Celtic. They look ready for a tilt at European places this year but I don’t think they are ready for a Champions League birth, with or without the Uruguayan goal machine. Liverpool are 11/5 to hit the top four with SkyBet.
Ian Holloway’s Crystal Palace are 4/7 wih Coral to return to the Championship, after gaining promotion through the play-offs. The side that have never stayed longer than a season in the Premier League since its creation and it will take a magicians touch to save them again. The job is made much harder without wonderkid Wilfried Zaha, who returns to Old Trafford after a loan spell. Incoming players have included Marouane Chamakh, Elliot Grandin, Dwight Gayle and impressively, Jose Campana, the Spain under-21 captain. Home form is a must and a little luck will be needed to avoid the drop, but with Ian Holloway at the helm, you just never know.
At 7/10 with 32Red are Hull City, as they start their second ever spell in the top flight. Steve Bruce has looked to strengthen in midfield, with the signings of Tom Huddlestone on a permanent deal and Jake Livermore on loan. Other incoming players include Scotland ‘keeper, Allan McGregor, Maynor Figeroa and Curtis Davies as Bruce looks to build from the back.
The relatively small squad may have trouble if and when injuries come, and goals will be hard to find with pressure on Danny Graham to provide most, along with Matt Fryatt and Sean MacLean hoping to show the Premier League what they can do. The additions of Huddlestone and Livermore will add some much needed bite and class in the middle of the park, but I don’t think there is enough in the squad to save their status.
Cardiff City are 7/4 for the drop, but Malky Mackay arguably has the tools to stay up. Bolstered by Malaysian money, the club have already broke their transfer record four times this Summer, bringing in, Steven Caulker, James Brayford, Andreas Cornelius and tough tackling midfielder, Gary Medel. Pre-season has been quite poor, with a victory against Forest Green Rovers as the highlight. However with the new additions and a raucous home crowd, you feel the bluebirds will have enough to survive, while if needed, a dip into the January window would be possible.
Norwich City are 3/1 to be relegated. The canaries start their third consecutive season in the top flight,with Chris Hughton bringing Gary Hooper and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel into a revamped strike force that saw Grant Holt leave the club recently. Promising Dutch youngster Leroy Fer has joined, along with Martin Olsson and Nathan Redmond. Norwich may find things a bit tougher this campaign after an excellent twelfth last season. Realistically they should survive but it could well be a tight affair this time round.
Paulo Di Canio has rung the changes to the Sunderland squad he inherited and survived with last season. Some seventeen ins and outs have gone through the Stadium Of Light doors in the last couple of months. Incoming players include the surprise signing of Emanuele Giaccherini from Juventus, Jozy Altidore and ‘keeper Vito Mannone among eight signings. Of the outgoing players, the biggest eyebrow raiser was James McLean leaving for Wigan, while Simon Mignolet went to Liverpool and Danny Graham in a loan deal to Hull City. After surviving by three points last year, Di Canio will expect more from side, and despite being again, this season will be tougher than expected fr the Black Cats.