Title a Three-Horse Race? Premier League Preview
After a long summer of transfer merry-go-rounds surrounding Gareth Bale, Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez, the eagerly anticipated Premier League finally returns and with an influx of new signings, new managers at all of the top three clubs, the introduction of goal-line technology and with William Hill offering over 200 pre-match & in-play markets, this year is expected to be better than ever!
This year will be the first time that last season's champions Man Utd will kick-off their Premier League campaign without Sir Alex Ferguson in charge and is one of the major reasons why the bookies are so undecided on where the title will end up come May. William Hill make their rivals Man City and Chelsea, who are also under new management, as joint favourites this year at 9/4 with United out at 5/2. It will also be the first time that last season's Capital One Cup winners Swansea will be joined by their South Wales rivals Cardiff City in England's top flight.
FOR THE TITLE
After a six year absence, the 'Special One' returns to Stamford Bridge in a move that has injected new confidence into the Chelsea players and fans alike. But returning to your old club isn't always successful - Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool is one name that comes to mind. Their squad is far younger than the side originally coached by Mourinho though his presence is likely to inspire Oscar, Eden Hazard (both of which still have a lot to learn) along with new signings Andre Schurrle and Marco van Ginkel. A lot will depend on Mourinho bringing out the best of goal-shy Fernando Torres (20/1 Top Goalscorer) as the creativity that the likes of Juan Mata (their best player in my opinion) will bring will mean nothing if they don't have someone up there to put the ball in the back of the net on a regular basis. I'm going for Chelsea as runners-up in Mourinho's return season.
Man City have heavily invested again this summer under new manager Manuel Pellegrini signing the likes of Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo, Fernandinho & Stevan Jovetic and on paper may have the strongest team in the league but, like the manager, these players will need time to adjust to the Premier League. I'm predicting a third place finish for the blue side of Manchester.
If Chelsea have the manager, City have the squad then Man Utd have the know-how and after David Moyes managed to win his first piece of silverware in his first competitive game in charge at United last weekend, albeit against lower league opposition, it would be foolish to write off their chances before they have even kicked a ball in the Premier League. He has already been under scrutiny during pre-season for failing to complete any major signings before the big kick-off but has managed to so far fend off interest from Chelsea for Wayne Rooney. With the addition of Wilfried Zaha and sprinkled with a few exciting academy graduates, Moyes has inherited a title-winning side from his predecessor. Robin van Persie bagged two goals in the season curtain raiser last weekend and if he can continue that form this season (7/2 to finish Top Goalscorer), I'm backing United to retain the title this year.
TOP 4 FINISH
Of the chasing back, it looks as if it will again be between Arsenal and Tottenham for the remaining Champions League spot and player-for-player, I now feel that Spurs have the better team looking at their signings this summer. Even without Bale, Tottenham still have a squad worthy of a fourth place finish after bringing in Roberto Soldado for a club record fee. Soldado scored 24 goals last season for Valencia and is great value at 14/1 for the Golden Boot and well worth the e/w bet, especially if the club can hang onto Gareth Bale. You can back Spurs for a Top 4 finish at 2/1.
Arsenal, other than the free signing of French under-20 striker Yaya Sanogo, are yet to invest this summer, but have already had a bid rejected for Liverpool striker Luis Suarez and it will take a player of that calibre to ensure they compete with their North London rivals this season. You can back them at 4/6 to finish in the Top 4. It has been widely reported this week that Arsenal are in advanced talks with Bayern Munich midfielder Luiz Gustavo and after the Gunners have openly admitted to having the funds to spend this season, they will be under pressure from the fans to ensure they do just that before the transfer window closes.
You can back outsiders Liverpool at 7/4 and Everton at 20/1, but if the red side of Merseyside sell Luis Suarez and the Toffees lose Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines, I'm convinced both sides will struggle to get into the top 6 this season unless most of the money recouped is invested back into the team.
BEST OF THE REST
The betting suggests that Liverpool and Everton could be joined by Newcastle (5/4), Swansea (7/4), West Brom (13/8) and West Ham (7/4) for a top half finish, but my surprise package for this season is for Cardiff to break into the top half in their maiden season at 8/1. You only need to look at QPR to know that investing heavily in your squad doesn't guarantee survival but the Bluebirds, now playing in red, have been banging on the Premier League door for years and backed by a billionaire Malaysian, are not going to let their opportunity go to waste. They have a good manager in Malky Mackay, who has invested wisely in his team already, breaking the Championship winner's transfer record three times in the process on Andrea Cornelius, Steven Caulker and Gary Medel, with further additions expected before the transfer window shuts.
Another good shout to finish in the top half could be Norwich, who have made some impressive signings of their own in Dutch international Leroy Fer, Celtic's Gary Hooper and Lisbon's Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who just a year ago was being linked with the likes of Man Utd and Liverpool. They're 7/2 to finish in the top half.
FOR THE DROP
The betting suggests that all three promoted clubs are set to go straight back down to the Championship. Crystal Palace are the favourites for the drop at 8/15 and just like it was with his Blackpool side in the 2010/11 season, Ian Holloway's stay in the Premier League will be short lived. They are 15/8 to finish rock bottom.
It's quite a tough call this year, but I think it could be Hull (4/6) and Stoke (3/1) that will be joining them in the bottom three. Steve Bruce has signed several players this summer, but his purchases are not as good as what the other teams have made around them and are likely to struggle. Stoke on the other hand may look good defensively, but lack that cutting edge in attack and have been quiet on the transfer front so far. Mark Hughes will need to make an immediate impact as boss if Stoke are to improve on last season's 13th placed finish and to avoid a repeat of his early sacking as QPR manager (he's 33/1 to be the next Premier League manager to get the sack).
With the best league in the world set to return this weekend and with William Hill now offering three great football concessions* over both internet and mobile channels, football really is coming home so make sure you get on at William Hill, the HOME of Betting.
For the Title: Man Utd 5/2
Top 4 finish: Tottenham 2/1
Surprise package: Cardiff for a Top Half Finish 8/1
For the drop: Stoke: 3/1