If last season provided the most surprising winner in the Premier League era, this season is shaping up to offer up one of the most open title races in years. With the arrivals in the dugout as exciting as those on the pitch, there are no fewer than four sides for whom nothing less than the title will do.
There are a further two sides for whom Champions League qualification is the minimum expectation and that’s before you even consider last season’s champions. This is reflected in the outright betting market with the top six in the betting all backable at less than 11.0.
While some ambitious punters are hoping history will repeat itself, the betting market doesn’t agree and suggests a reversion to the average will see one of the top four take back the title this year. This is evident by a huge price for last season’s winners Leicester, in seventh spot in the betting, who are currently trading at 39.0.
But with last season’s twists and turns still fresh in everyone’s minds it will be interesting to see how long those prices last…
Manchester vs. Manchester
Leading the betting are the two sides of Manchester and the key to both team’s title hopes, and improving on last season’s disappointing finishes, lie at opposite end of the field.
In the blue corner sit the top scorers in the top flight for the last three seasons, but last season’s fourth place side at 3.7. In the red corner the Special One is now the Old Trafford one and the market has huge faith in him bringing back the good times with last season’s fifth place team rated at 4.3 to win the title.
But despite what Mourinho might think it’s Manchester City that have got, almost certainly, the best coach in the world. Pep Guardiola has added to City’s forward fire power with the purchase of Nolito and Leroy Sane. But while it’s easy to be distracted by that glittering forward line, it’s at the back where we need to look closer.
City struggled last season in defence, not least when captain Vincent Kompany was absent. They’ve added İlkay Gündoğan to the engine room, but so far they’ve been frustrated in their pursuit of John Stones and Guardiola’s ability to shore up the defence, which also has ageing full-backs, will be crucial if the title favourites are to win the title. Smart bettors should be keeping a close eye on defensive stats and performances in the opening weeks.
At around 3.7 you could argue they seem short for a team with so many unknowns but equally you could make a case that they are too long for a star-studded team with the best coach in the league. Their performance in the early part of the season will be watched incredibly closely and you could see some big moves in that price depending on how those games pan out.
Another team who it may take some time to figure out the true value of is Manchester United. Mourinho’s known – perhaps unfairly for dour defensive football and superbly organising his teams – and he has a solid defence to build on. The Red Devils had the joint best defensive record last season, including 18 clean sheets.
But he’ll need to trade some of their defensive solidity for attacking verve if United are to reward those who’ve backed them in to 4.46 to win the title. The 49 goals they managed was just one more than Sunderland and 13 fewer than the Red Devils scored in the 2014/15 season. Even Mourinho’s much derided title winning Chelsea side of 14/15 managed to find the net 73 times on their way to the title.
He has moved to strengthen the spine of the side with Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic swelling the ranks. And it will be fascinating to see how he uses the emerging talents of Martial and Rashford as the season goes on. United more than any team seem a really tough team to call and are probably best watched for the opening weeks with shots on target and expected goals a key metric to look for here.
Best of the Rest
At much bigger prices there are compelling cases for some of the other sides at the top of the betting. Rounding off the top three is another side with a new manager at the helm. Chelsea will be hoping they can be as entertaining on the pitch as Antonio Conte is on the touchline. Champions two years ago but 10th last season, bettors reckon that was just a blip as The Blues are 7.2 third favourites in the outright market.
A lack of European football will be to their advantage but the championship winning squad is now two years older and it can be argued they lack depth in key positions. Indeed, despite signing Michy Batshuayi and N’Golo Kanté, Conte wanted five signings if they were to compete for the title. That may not be possible across the two transfer windows and it may be a season too soon for the West London side.
Not having enough transfer windows to shape a side is not an excuse Arsene Wenger can use. Whilst Granit Xhaka will add steel to the midfield it seems the same old story with Arsenal a player or two away from challenging for the title, yet almost dead certs for the top four.
The talent in the ranks is undisputable with an embarrassment of riches in midfield. Despite being linked with countless players, no other major signings have followed Xhaka to North London. If Wenger splashes the cash on an elite striker and a quality centre-back before the end of the transfer window then they may make a mockery of the current 7.6 at which you can back The Gunners.
The Nearly Men
Liverpool (9.8) and Spurs (10.6) aren’t too far behind in the betting. Both have progressive coaches who love the high press and both have young sides who should, in theory, have lots of room for improvement. So, is their price down to those above them in the market improving, or the market underrating their respective chances?
In the case of Spurs then you feel it could be the latter. A settled first XI who, let’s not forget, pushed Leicester the hardest for the title. Not only that, their underlying metrics last season, at both end of the pitch, were excellent. In short there’s nothing to suggest that they can’t repeat last season’s performance levels. And that price may look very generous by Christmas.
Whilst Spurs conceded more than one goal in just seven games last season – a league low – Liverpool’s shaky defence was often their undoing with 50 goals conceded the same as Watford and joint eighth best in the league. A new centre-half and goalkeeper have gone some way to plugging some holes, but it’s at left back where most Liverpool fans would like to see a new arrival, a position that James Milner has played in for much of preseason.
Sadio Mane adds some thrust, pace, and goals to an already creative midfield and where they finish in the league may well come down to how many minutes they can get out of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho. It would take a brave man or a scouser to bet on Liverpoool at this stage.
With so many unknowns going into this season and so many new managers at big sides, the opening weeks of the season should make compelling viewing. The fixture computer has thrown out some mouth-watering match ups over the first six weeks beginning at The Emirates on the opening weekend of the season.
Arsenal vs. Liverpool is the highlight of the opening round of fixtures. This clash will dominate the headlines and likely see some pundits write off the chances of one team winning the title if they lose, but be wary of drawing too many conclusions from the opening week’s encounters. In fact it may be the second week before any trends first start to emerge.
Leicester begin at newly promoted Hull before entertaining Arsenal in gameweek two. The Gunners inflicted two of Leicester’s three league defeats last season and it’ll be an early gauge of where both teams stand this season and how the loss of Kante has affected The Foxes. The defending champions also face Liverpool and Manchester United away from home in the opening six fixtures for a tough start to their title defence.
Man City head to Stoke on the second weekend of the season, but it’s the Manchester derby in gameweek four that has really got fans in Manchester salivating. United will have home advantage in the quest for early bragging rights and as well as blanket coverage on rolling sports news channels, we can expect another fascinating chapter of Mourinho vs. Guardiola.
Questions and Answers
The battle of Manchester is just one of many fascinating storylines that will play out over the next nine months. One of the biggest questions to answer is how much of a freak was last season? Will we see a return to dominance from the perceived big four or will we see as many “shock” results?
Just 41.3% of games ended in a home victory last season with only the 2014/15 season (39%) seeing fewer home wins in the Premier League era. Is this the new norm then or will there be a reversion to the mean? Careful analysis of early performances not least with an eye on sites such as Stats Bomb may help dig out the early season trends before everyone else spots them.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect will be how the betting markets react to the opening weeks when so much has changed. For example West Ham, who didn’t lose a game at home between August 22 and May 7, are at a new stadium. Will the market overreact to their early home form? Likewise will it overreact to either side of Manchester emerging with a set of strong or poor performances?
This could be one of the most volatile betting seasons in the Premier League yet, and throw up some big trading opportunities in the early weeks of the season as everyone tries to make sense of a season with far more questions than answers. It’s a long season, and a cool head, a solid staking plan and some disciplined analysis of the betting opportunities ahead will be needed to make this Premier League a profitable one.
Win or lose, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.
Go here for the latest Premier League outright odds.