The Premier League is back this weekend and with the title race sure to capture everybody’s imagination, news.bwin.com/en/ looks at what 2012/13 has in store for Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Newcastle and Everton as the race for the top prize and European places begins.
Title odds: 13/10
Manchester City might have won the Premier League title by goal difference alone last year, but I don’t think that truly represented the gap between the Citizens and the rest of the pack and at 13/10, they should be backed to confirm their superiority over the rest by winning a second consecutive championship in more mundane circumstances.
Nothing will ever top the finale to the Premier League last season, when Sergio Aguero’s injury-time goal on the final day gave City their first title since 1968, but the significance of Roberto Manicni’s men snatching the league in such circumstances cannot be underestimated. With that monkey off their back, coupled with the belief that they can now get the better of rivals Manchester United, City can go from strength to strength and I see them winning the league in 2013 with room to spare.
Mancini has declared himself unhappy with a relative lack of transfer activity (although Everton’s Jack Rodwell has signed and will probably not be the last arrival before the window slams shut) but the Italian already boasts the most talented squad in the division and if Carlos Tevez is up for a game this year, which he certainly seems to be if his Community Shield performance is any indication, then City will have an extra dimension that they sorely missed for much of last year.
Another centre-back would be a bonus, but otherwise City are covered by at least two excellent choices in every position and the others haven’t caught up enough to usurp the team that scored the most and conceded the fewest last time out, beating United home and away and winning all but one home fixture. It is City’s title to loseand that 13/10 might not last too long into the season. Take it.
Title odds: 2/1
The manner in which Manchester United lost their Premier League title will have haunted all at the club over the summer, but as Sir Alex Ferguson attempts to wrest the crown back from his ‘noisy neighbours’, all has not seemed well at Old Trafford in the close season.
Even forgetting Aguero’s strike (if that were possible), all the talk coming from United has been of New York stock market flotations and IPOs as the controversial Glazer regime threatens to become more of a damaging sideshow, even driving a wedge between Ferguson and the hardcore support.
That would have been unthinkable a few years back, but such is the unhappiness at the current ownership model that for first time since the Americans took over in 2005, the disillusionment may even have an adverse effect on the team via the atmosphere at the club, especially if City were to open up a gap early on.
Part of that is due to United’s relative lack of transfer activity, a trademark of the Glazer era, which will have been appeased by the capture of Robin van Persie from Arsenal. The Dutchman is obviously a class act who will score goals among United’s vast array of forward talent, but that has never been their problem and even if RVP is a marquee purchase, other areas of the squad aren’t as strong as they once were.
While Shinji Kagawa is a smart buy and Nick Powell has promise, there are more question marks about their team than City’s: the Red Devils can’t seem to keep their defenders fit, David de Gea is still flaky, while they still miss the dominant central midfielder that the team has been crying out for over several years.
How much of a hangover those dramatic last few seconds of the 2011/12 season will have on United is also difficult to assess: lesser teams would let it affect them, but Ferguson is always one to look forward and has always possessed the mental strength to do so. Yet that was such a unique, crushing blow that United may take a few weeks to get it out of their system, by which time they could already be playing catch-up.
As long as Ferguson is there, they will remain competitive – to get 89 points from a team that was far below the standards of vintage United sides of yore is testament to his enduring powers – but they look short overall when compared to City and may have to settle for second best again.
Title odds: 4/1
Top-four finish odds: 1/4
To qualify for Champions League 2013/14 group stage odds: Yes 13/50, No 11/4
Reigning European champions and FA Cup holders they may be, but Chelsea appear to have too much ground to make up on champions Manchester City and don’t look value whatsoever at 4/1 for the title.
Roberto di Matteo did all that could have been asked of him when he stepped in as interim boss after the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas in February, but it is a different scenario entirely now that he is the permanent manager and his role requires more than coaxing the players along until the end of the season.
It may seem strange to say about a man who has just lifted the Champions League, but Di Matteo has much to prove. His time at West Brom ended badly with the sack and now he is expected to deliver winning and, importantly, entertaining football to the Blues, all the while looking over his shoulder safe in the knowledge he is not Roman Abramovich’s first choice.
Chelsea have splashed the cash, most notably on Lille’s Eden Hazard and Oscar of Internacional, but both will need time to bed in and pre-season has gone badly. Four defeats on the bounce, including being comprehensively outplayed in Sunday’s Community Shield, doesn’t bode well and there are question marks over a defence that is creaking and showing its age when not defending the edge of the penalty box, not to mention a goalkeeper who is a shadow of his former self.
There is plenty of quality still in the squad, of course, and Chelsea have enough about them to improve on last year’s sixth position to claim a Champions League spot (although it may not be Di Matteo who delivers it). But having finished 25 points behind City last season, the Blues haven’t done anywhere near enough yet to bridge that gap.
Verdict: Third place
Title odds: 14/1
Top-four finish odds: 31/50
To qualify for Champions League 2013/14 group stage odds: Yes 13/20, No 6/5
Another summer, another transfer saga involving their star player – Arsenal fans must be getting sick and tired of all the feelings of déjà vu.
After a drawn-out affair, Robin van Persie has finally left the Emirates for Manchester United and manager Arsene Wenger has once again seen his pre-season preparations disrupted by the sale of another prized asset as RVP follows Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira in leaving the Gunners in less than ideal circumstances.
All those players have left the club since the Invincibles delivered their last title in 2004 and the fear for Arsenal fans is that it has almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy for Wenger: players are bought, nurtured, improved and then sold for huge profits as they go in search of silverware that has been all too absent at the Emirates for the past seven years.
The only difference this year is that Arsenal have planned ahead, doing some good early business in the transfer window in the knowledge that Van Persie was on his way. Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and particularly Santi Cazorla are all exciting purchases that mean Wenger is at least in a better position than this time last summer.
A mad dash in the last few days of the summer window was partly responsible for Arsenal’s poor start, when the Gunners took just seven points from their first seven league games and were thrashed 8-2 at Old Trafford. But the squad has a more settled look, with a good goalkeeper and strong first-choice centre-back pairing, while Jack Wilshere’s return will obviously help.
They won’t challenge for the title, but they should be good enough to do what Wenger has done for the past 16 years and secure Champions League football at the Emirates, even if Tottenham will again be snapping at their heels.
Verdict: Fourth place
Title odds: 20/1
Top-four finish odds: 9/5
To qualify for Champions League 2013/14 group stage odds: Yes 37/20, No 2/5
So is Andre Villas-Boas the second coming or a lucky charlatan? Depending on who you speak to, opinions will differ – but there is no doubt that AVB’s reputation is on the line as he takes over at Tottenham.
A miracle worker at Porto, winning the treble in his only season in charge, the Portuguese boss was anything but as he was sacked by Chelsea just nine months into his reign as he failed to get to grips with the egos in the Stamford Bridge dressing room who fatally undermined him. And even if there should be no such trouble at White Hart Lane, AVB has it all to prove.
Luckily for Villas-Boas, he is starting from solid foundations. Spurs finished fourth, fifth and fourth in the last three seasons under Harry Redknapp, so the talent is already in place and the squad is more in need of evolution than the revolution he failed to bring about at Stamford Bridge.
That said, the squad as it stands is imbalanced and the extent of Tottenham’s ambitions this year rest on what happens in the remainder of the transfer window. Jan Vertonghen and Gylfi Sigurdsson are both smart additions, but the saga over Luka Modric continues to hold Spurs back. The Croatian playmaker is certainly on his way, but until he leaves AVB is paralysed in the market and that deal needs to be completed before Tottenham make their own much-needed moves.
It means that Spurs go into the opening game of the Premier League campaign with just one senior striker in Jermain Defoe, a situation that desperately needs addressing. Emmanuel Adebayor will probably eventually make his loan move permanent, but that still leaves Villas-Boas short and what type of rabbits chairman Daniel Levy can pull out of the hat between now and September will determine what Spurs can achieve this year.
Failure to bring in a couple of signings will mean the top four is beyond the Lilywhites: capture one or two top players and Tottenham can emulate last season’s fourth-placed finish at the expense of Arsenal. If that happens, then there could be some value in the 9/5 that Spurs break into the Champions League places, but asses their transfer business first.
Verdict: Fifth place
Title odds: 25/1
Top-four finish odds: 21/10
To qualify for Champions League 2013/14 group stage odds: Yes 12/5, No 3/10
And so a(nother) new dawn begins at Anfield this season, one that appears to usher in a brave, modern world for a football club that for too long has rested on the laurels of the past.
Brendan Rodgers has taken the reins at Liverpool with an almighty task on his hands to restore them to their former glories, but with owners Fenway Sports Group making a clean break from the club’s daunting history by (correctly) dismissing Kenny Dalglish at the end of last season, Reds fans can look forward with a cautious degree of optimism.
Odds of 25/1 for Liverpool to win the league are so fanciful not even the most one-eyed Kopite would be tempted, but that is not Rodgers’ remit. Not yet, anyway. Signs of progress are what everyone connected with the club wants to see and in truth, improving on last year’s dismal Premier League showing shouldn’t prove too difficult.
The Reds posted their worst top-flight points tally since relegation in 1954, winning just six home games and scoring only 47 goals to finish below rivals Everton in eighth. A Carling Cup triumph was some consolation, but Rodgers will be concentrating on league enhancement and so far, the former Swansea boss hasn’t put a foot wrong.
His public declarations have mixed realism with Bill Shankly-esque tub-thumping, he has a clear philosophy both on and off the pitch that supporters and players are buying into, while his transfer business has been sound: Fabio Borini, Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin (who is 99% certain to join on loan from Real Madrid) look like very good acquisitions.
Of course, the squad lacks depth and, for all Luis Suarez’s many qualities, a natural goalscorer. And with doubts over the futures of Andy Carroll and Daniel Agger, more upheaval could yet materialise between now and September. But the initial signs are good and Rodgers can start his long-term project with a decent short-term showing by getting much closer to the top four than last year.
Verdict: Seventh place
Title odds: 250/1
Top-four finish odds: 12/1
Newcastle exceeded all expectations last season to finish fifth in the Premier League and stay in the hunt for a Champions League place right up until the penultimate weekend of the season – could they possibly repeat those heroics again over the next nine months?
A quote of 250/1 suggests not, but when you consider that Liverpool, who Newcastle were comfortably superior to last season, are just 25/1, it appears that the Toon are once again being underestimated and there is no reason why another run for Europe won’t materialise.
Alan Pardew did a fantastic job last season and at the time of writing, Newcastle haven’t lost any of the key men who starred during 2011/12, with Papiss Cisse, Yohan Cabaye, Cheick Tiote and Hatem Ben Arfa still at the Sports Direct Arena, giving the squad its creative x-factor to go with its solid defensive base.
There is no sign of those players moving on, either, and Newcastle look set for another good year battling for a top-six finish. Pardew will be slightly concerned he hasn’t strengthened with a significant signing – although Andy Carroll may yet be brought in – but there is enough about Newcastle to prove that last year wasn’t a flash in the pan.
Of course, there are a couple of slight concerns: a Europa League campaign could prove problematic to a small-ish squad, while there is always the danger that teams will be a bit more clued up to some of their best performers, who were relatively unknown talents last season. But nevertheless, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for Newcastle and I envisage another strong campaign for the Toon to enjoy.
Verdict: Sixth place
Title odds: 500/1
Top-four finish odds: 20/1
Optimism abounds on the eve of a new season at Goodison Park, but the same question that gets asked every August will once again be posed at Everton: can the Blues get off to a good start for once?
Poor starts have become a trademark for the Toffees under David Moyes and every year their season is undermined before it has even got going. There are often many reasons for this – injuries, a lack of signings, the loss of big players – but none of these are the case this summer and Everton look set to be competitive as part of a top eight that are considerably better than the rest of the division.
For once, Moyes has been more concerned with ins rather than outs. Both Tim Cahill and Jack Rodwell have left, but the former was past his best while it is arguable how good the latter is. Instead, the former Preston boss will be happy at bringing in Steven Pienaar and Steven Naismith, and the squad has a settled look to it.
But Moyes’ most important signing happened in January. Nikica Jelavic looks an absolute steal at £6 million and is the proven goalscorer that Everton have desperately needed for years. With his goals and the Blues’ defensive soundness – only the Manchester clubs conceded fewer goals last season – Everton will be well in the mix for a European place in what looks set to be a very close battle indeed, where a relatively small squad just might be their eventual undoing.
Verdict: Eighth place
Recommended bet: Manchester City to win the Premier League @ 13/10
Outside punt: Tottenham to finish in the top four @ 9/5
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