Manchester United have been installed as favourites to win back-to-back Premier League titles ahead of deposed champions Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
The Red Devils toasted a record 20th top-flight championship triumph at Old Trafford last night as a first-half Robin van Persie hat-trick gave them a 3-0 win over Aston Villa.
And after gleefully wresting the trophy back from the grasp of their ‘noisy neighbours’, United are set to lift it again next season, according to the bwin bookmakers.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are available at 8/5 to deliver title number 21 in 2013/14, with City at 19/10, Chelsea at 7/2, Arsenal out at 12/1 and Spurs rated as 20/1 chances.
The Reds will surely have plenty of takers at that price, which would potentially return £52 for any new customers backing it with their free £20 bet.
Admittedly, Ferguson, who has now won a mind-boggling 13 Premier League titles, has previously gone on record as saying that retaining the crown is far harder than winning it in the first place.
And of course, he’s right: his players need look no further than a few miles up the road for proof, because City’s defence of the title they won in such dramatic fashion 12 months ago has been flimsy at best.
Surrendering the championship to your biggest rivals with four games remaining cannot be acceptable for a club of their resources and Roberto Mancini – assuming he stays – will be under pressure to win it back at the first opportunity.
Victory over Wigan Athletic in next month’s FA Cup final would merely paper over the cracks and Mancini will need to get busy in the transfer market if City are to be competitive again next term.
Judging by the Italian’s withering attack on his players in the wake of Sunday’s 3-1 defeat by Spurs, that is exactly what he has in mind, so the revolving Etihad Stadium door will surely be whirring at full pace throughout the summer.
But an influx of new signings often comes hand in hand with an influx of new team-building problems and Mancini may not be afforded the time to allow his recruits to gel into a cohesive unit if City start next season slowly.
Set against this backdrop, United will go about the more straightforward transfer business they need to conduct – will Ferguson finally sign a central midfielder for the first time since Owen Hargreaves? – to further strengthen the core of the squad that has proved so dominant this term.
In fact, such has been their superiority that they will now aim to beat the record Premier League points haul of 95, set by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2004/05, by winning all of their four remaining games.
But regardless of whether the Reds achieve that remarkable feat, Ferguson has been around the block enough times to ensure his charges are well aware of the challenges facing them next term.
United have not always scaled the heights expected of them in terms of performances and they certainly have not received the plaudits lavished on some of the Scot’s previous title-winning vintages.
And yet here we are on April 23rd, talking about how they have wrapped up the title already, with the relentless Ferguson hungry for more success as he now ponders how to augment an already formidable squad in the coming months.
It is a frightening prospect for all their rivals.