An early look ahead to the English season
The domestic football season may have only just finished yesterday with Chelsea's FA Cup triumph over Everton, but before we know it the new season will be upon us.
Indeed the fixtures are released on 17 June and the Football League begins on 8 August with the Premier League as usual starting a week later.
Here at William Hill we already have ante-post markets available for the domestic leagues for season 09/10.
Below is an early look at the betting markets ahead of a no doubt busy summer full of speculation, transfers, new managerial appointments and maybe a new owner here or there.
Manchester United are the current 11/8 favourites, which is joint best price, to win their fourth Premier League title in a row.
Man Utd's main priority will be sort out either a contract for Carlos Tevez or a replacement. Sir Alex Ferguson's side will be as strong as ever next season and may even be better than this term with an addition or two or if £30 million man Dimitar Berbatov improves next season.
Liverpool and Chelsea, this year's second and third respectively, are joint second favourites at 11/4. Liverpool had their best season in a long while finishing as runners-up and with some added quality could well go even closer next year. At the moment Rafa Benitez's side still rely far too much on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.
While Chelsea were a much better proposition under Guus Hiddink and if the very unlikely happened and the Dutchman stayed at Stamford Bridge they would be the tip for the title. As it is AC Milan's Carlo Ancelotti appears to be the man who will be appointed. Yet Ancelotti has, relatively speaking, failed for Milan in the last couple of years so quite how he will be able to get the best out of Chelsea's players is another matter.
The last Big Four side Arsenal at 7/1 should be better next season if Arsene Wenger adds a commanding centre-back and a holding midfielder. The Gunners at one time or another went without the services of many of their better players in 2008/09 and this often went unnoticed so with a bit more luck Arsenal should at the very least be closer to the other three. Plus they will have the added benefit of having Andrei Arshavin for a full season.
With the nature of the Premier League it is pretty inconceivable to talk about any other sides' title odds. But both Manchester City (33/1) and Tottenham (66/1) will be expecting to finish in the top six.
At the other end of the table, like the season just gone, the battle to avoid the drop looks to be just as fascinating, if not more so, as the title race.
Championship play-off winners Burnley are the 4/7 favourites for relegation, followed by the returning Birmingham City at 4/6. Championship winners Wolves are the fourth favourites for the drop at 11/8.
Both Birmingham and Wolves have the nucleus of a good side and with their respective boards willing to back the managers then for the second season running two of the promoted sides should stay up.
In between Birmingham and Wolves in the betting are last-day survivors Hull City (4/5). It would be an understatement to say that the Tigers had no momentum at the end of the season or rather they did but it was downwards instead of upwards. Therefore next season Hull's luck will probably run out.
Nevertheless Burnley, who have not been in the top flight for 33 years, will take heart from the fact that last year's play-off winners Hull managed to avoid finishing in the bottom three. The key for the Clarets will be to hold off the advances of Celtic for their inspirational manager Owen Coyle. If the Scot leaves, Burnley will be doomed but with him they will have a glimmer of hope of staying up.
Another side who could lose their manager are Wigan (9/1). Steve Bruce is currently in talks with Sunderland and his departure would be bad news. The Latics sold Emile Heskey and Wilson Palacios in the middle of the season and Antonio Valencia is likely to follow in the summer. Wigan struggled to score goals for much of the season and their time could well be up in the Premier League if Bruce leaves the club.
His suitors Sunderland (6/1) should be much better next season with Ellis Short's millions to spend and at the very least there will be a minimum of three worse sides next season.
Stoke (5/2) will be hoping to avoid the 'second season syndrome' and as City improved as the season went on they should be safe for another year.
Blackburn (7/1) and Bolton (4/1) are both solid if not spectacular but like Sunderland should survive as a result of others inabilities rather than their own quality.
The last side to consider in the relegation betting would be Portsmouth at 7/1 but with their impending takeover Pompey should have enough financial clout to avoid trouble.
As if often the case the newly-relegated sides dominate the betting for the Championship title.
Newcastle are the favourites at 5/1 to immediately bounce back to the Premier League as champions. However they are very much a club in crisis. Owner Mike Ashley has put the club up for sale, they have a huge wage bill - with average players on big money and they have no manager. Therefore the Toon Army's price appears to be based on reputation and nothing else. Also bear in mind the fact that the favourites for the title have not won it since Man City in 2001/02.
West Brom may have finished bottom of the Premier League but at 6/1 are far better equipped to return straight away than Newcastle. The Baggies would be the tip for the title provided that they hang onto manager Tony Mowbray.
The other relegated side Middlesbrough are fourth favourites at 9/1. Boro's price a bit like their north-east rivals appears to be based on reputation although they are on a far more solid footing than Newcastle with Steve Gibson at the helm.
Ipswich are an 8/1 shot. The two main reasons for the shortness of the price are Marcus Evans' cash and the appointment of Roy Keane as manager. Keane did a great job at Sunderland to get them promoted to the Premier League before it fell apart a little especially considering the million he wasted on players that were no better than average.
Play-off finalists Sheffield United (12/1) will need to improve the quality of their side if they are going to return to the top flight. In the play-off final the Blades were poor to say the least but at least next season they shouldn't have the Carlos Tevez affair to worry about.
At the same price as Sheff Utd are QPR. Rangers have got money to burn it is just a shame that Flavio Briatore appears to know little about the beautiful game. The flamboyant Italian is constantly changing the manager which ultimately leads to failure.
Reading (14/1) and Preston (33/1) lost in the play-offs and Reading will struggle to do as well now that Steve Coppell has left the Royals while Preston certainly overachieved under Alan Irvine.
Preston sneaked into the play-offs ahead of Cardiff (14/1). The Bluebirds have a good side but this summer that threatens to be broken up with Premier League sides sniffing around Joe Ledley and Roger Johnson. If the Welsh side hold on to their star players then their first season in their new ground could well be a successful one.
Cardiff's rivals Swansea (16/1) were arguably the best football side in the division last term. The Swans finished just six points off a play-off place and should be there or thereabouts again under the stewardship of Roberto Martinez.
The three promoted sides - Leicester (25/1), Peterborough (20/1) and Scunthorpe (150/1) - will at the very least want to avoid relegation back down to League 1. However both League 1 champions Leicester and runners-up Peterborough will have their sights set far higher than finishing fourth from bottom.
Leeds will start the season as favourites for the League 1 title for the second year in a row. But quite simply at 10/3 there is no value to be had. Much like Newcastle in the Championship the price is based on reputation more than anything else.
Leeds were unlucky to lose to Millwall in the play-offs but it was their third play-off defeat in four years. If they are to return to the second tier it looks increasingly likely that they will have to finish in the top two.
In the second half of the season Leeds were one of the form sides in the division. Simon Grayson improved United immensely but with top-scorer Jermaine Beckford on the transfer list and sides lining up bids for Fabian Delph there are too many doubts about Leeds to back them at such a short price.
Charlton and Norwich are joint second favourites at 7/1 as they both seek to return to the Championship at the first attempt. The sides will be hoping to follow Leicester's example from last year but that is far easier said than done.
Charlton were hopeless for much of last season and it remains to be seen who will be in charge at The Valley. Norwich have confirmed that Bryan Gunn will be their manager next season but for me despite his legendary status at the club this is an uninspiring choice that could well backfire.
Huddersfield failed to make the play-offs last term but the Terriers improved after Lee Clark was appointed and with a summer to bring in more of his own players Town could well be value at 11/1.
The Milton Keynes Dons (12/1) suffered the heartache of a loss on penalties to Scunthorpe in their play-off semi-final. Many in the football world were delighted as the smell of franchise still hangs over the MK Dons. The Dons overachieved last season with Roberto di Matteo in his first season of management and they could struggle to match last season's achievement of a third-place finish.
Southampton are the third relegated side from the Championship. But with their financial future uncertain and points deductions impending the Saints should be avoided at 16/1.
Brighton and Millwall are also rated at 16/1. The Seagulls avoided relegation on the last day of the season while the Lions lost to Scunthorpe in the play-off final. Brighton should do better next season while Millwall may struggle to do as well but neither look like title contenders.
Tranmere and Southend finished just outside the play-offs and both will be challenging for minor honours again. They are at 20/1 as are Colchester who simply didn't win enough matches at home.
Oldham (33/1) fell away in the latter stages of the season and have appointed Dave Penney as their new manager. If Penney can hold to young winger Chris Taylor and make a few additions to the side the Latics could be a bit of value.
At an even bigger price Swindon (40/1) could also be within a shout of a play-off place. The Robins will inevitably lose their star player Simon Cox in the summer but if Danny Wilson is able to use some of the funds on his squad then they will do much better than last season's 15th place.
Brentford in the end comfortably won the League 2 title but at odds of 25/1 look short for the League 1 title. The other automatically promoted sides, Exeter and Wycombe (both 40/1), will just be hoping to avoid the drop back down to League 2 as will play-off winners Gillingham (also 40/1).
Bury surprisingly are the early 8/1 favourites for the League 2 title. The Shakers fell to Shrewsbury in the play-off semi-finals last term but for me do not possess enough quality to warrant favouritism. Alan Knill has done a fantastic job at Gigg Lane but there appears to be better options in the betting available.
Bury's conquerors Shrewsbury lost out to Gillingham in the play-off final and are rated at 10/1 joint second favourites along with Bradford and Rochdale. Stuart McCall's Bradford hit some poor form towards the end of the season which saw them miss out on a play-off place, while Rochdale were beaten by Gillingham in the play-offs.
Paul Simpson has the basis of a very good team at Shrewsbury, but once again the race for promotion to League 1 looks wide open. Bradford will be affected by a cut in their budget while Rochdale will have to get over another disappointing play-off campaign but in Keith Hill they have a good manager.
Just behind this trio in the betting are Mark Robins' Rotherham. The Millers are 11/1 shots to return to the third tier after their promotion bid last season was hit by their 17-point deduction.
If it was not for starting on minus 17 points then Rotherham would have finished in fifth place. Next season they should finish higher than fifth which makes the 11/1 look very backable.
Bournemouth also started on minus 17 last term and without them would have finished six points shy of a play-off place. The appointment of Eddie Howe last season was inspirational to say the least as the Cherries went on a fantastic run to avoid the drop. Therefore their great run of form under the league's youngest manager sees them installed at 11/1 for the title.
Relegated Northampton are priced at 12/1 to return to League 1 at the first time of asking. The Cobblers rather meekly surrendered to the drop in the last few weeks of the season with some poor displays which culminated in relegation on the last day of the season, so confidence will be low at Sixfields.
At the same price as Stuart Gray's side are last season's surprise package Dagenham & Redbridge. John Still certainly overachieved with his Daggers side leading them to an eighth place finish, just one point below Shrewsbury. To ask Still to improve on that will probably be pushing it so their price seems too short.
The other three relegated sides Cheltenham (25/1), Crewe (14/1) and Hereford (20/1) could all struggle to return to the third tier as League 2 is very competitive.
Blue Square Premier champions Burton and play-off winners Torquay are both priced at 25/1 to win the title. Despite Burton winning the fifth tier last season, Torquay could well be the ones who do best as they look to follow in the footsteps of Devon rivals Exeter who gained a second successive promotion last term, a year after winning the Blue Square Premier play-offs.
Burton have appointed Paul Peschisolido as their new manager as the Brewers look forward to their first ever campaign in the Football League. But the way their massive lead at the top of the Blue Square Premier disappeared when Nigel Clough left for Derby would be a worry as to their ability to adapt to life in League 2.