The return of the Premier League is undoubtedly a huge business boost for the bookies – although the increased predictability of the league can also cause problems. Just look at William Hill boss Ralph Topping’s recent statement, when he attributed some of the group’s record losses to “an upsurge in punters betting on the top four in England and the Old Firm in Scotland in various combinations, increasing our losses on football during the month of May.”
So some astute punting on the football can certainly bring modest rewards – backing the big four in various combinations each week is one possible approach.
Taking the long term view of the whole season, the challengers to Manchester United’s crown don’t entirely convince that they can prevent Alex Ferguson’s side making it four on the spin.
Unusually, United are second-favourites to Chelsea in some quarters, but the Blues are carrying a lot of older legs and are bedding in yet another new manager.
Liverpool might be a greater threat but Xabi Alonso’s loss is as yet incalculable and we won’t see if the injured Aquilani can bring more goals to their midfield for a couple of months.
Manchester City will be happy with a challenge for Arsenal’s fourth spot, while the Gunners would seem to be threading water. Although in Andrey Arshavin, they have potentially the league’s best player – now that Ronaldo has departed.
Much, of course, will depend on how United cope without Ronaldo – and to a lesser extent Tevez. Valencia looks a good buy and the well-oiled unit that can roll over most Premier League makeweights in its sleep should be able to crank out yet another title for Fergie.
Recommendation: Manchester United 11-5
The furore about Manchester City’s spending spree has lengthened some of the odds on other clubs scrambling around the European spots. Arsene Wenger hasn’t missed out on Champions League qualification since his first (partial) season in charge and, despite some reservations from Gunners’ fans, they should have far too much quality for the clubs around them. 1-2 looks a good price, compared to 1-16 about Chelsea.
Twos about Villa making the top six also looks generous. Home straight disappointment ought not to deflect from the fine job Martin O’Neill did in the first part of last season and I’d fancy them to regroup now and push on again. Also look out for Everton, with Tim Cahill in their midfield are always of interest to Australian betting agencies.
Recommendation: Arsenal Top Four 1-2, Aston Villa Top Six 2-1
At the other end, if you can get evens on Hull, I’d snap the bookie’s hand off, while 3-1 looks big about Stoke, now that Premier League defenders have had a summer off to practice heading away throw-ins.
Recommendation Hull 10-11, Stoke 10-3
In truth, you’re backing his ability to stay off the treatment table, but 33-1 about Eduardo topping the goal-scoring charts looks massive for someone who looks like hitting the target any time he receives the ball close to goal. Compare that with just eights in places about Michael Owen.
Mind you, with some of his rivals for attention out of the way, Berbatov at 25-1 also looks big. A saver on Torres at fours may bring more modest profits.
Recommendation: Fernando Torres 4-1, Eduardo 33-1
For very different reasons, Phil Brown and Mark Hughes look decent shouts to become the first Premier League gaffer this season to swell the unemployment stats.
Brown’s antics have ensured a slow start will make him a high-profile figure of fun, while Hughes will have to gel a team of stars quickly if he wants to make it into October. City’s pre-season form would suggest it will take a little time.
Recommendation: Mark Hughes 8-1
Out of the blocks
This might be the best bet you’ll get on United all season. Fours to top the table after the first weekend, with Birmingham visiting Old Trafford on Sunday. A three-goal win for the home side might do it, with a Chelsea canter at home to Hull being the biggest threat.
Recommendation: Manchester United 4-1