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Michael Cox: Premier League 2014/15 Preview

The Premier League is no longer considered the best major European league, but it arguably remains the most competitive.

Whereas France and Germany both have 1/6 favourites to win their domestic top flight, and in Spain there’s little chance of anyone outside the top three prospering, it is Italy and England who offer the most exciting title fights. And while Serie A’s situation has changed dramatically after the departure of Antonio Conte, who led Juventus to three straight titles, in England there are simply lots of teams at a similar level.

No-one has retained the title since Cristiano Ronaldo was still in this country, and this season, the top five are all 12/1 or under. Competitiveness often makes for a more entertaining league than quality…

Chelsea are favourites for the Premier League title, and rightly so. Jose Mourinho’s side have strengthened significantly in all their problem areas, taking three players from Atletico Madrid (reminiscent of how they raided Porto a decade ago) as well as Cesc Fabregas.

Mourinho always fares well in his second season – he’s won the league at Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid in his second campaign, and managed two European Cups in those years too. Chelsea’s odds have fallen over the summer, and a best-price 19/10 looks about right.

A better bet for Mourinho’s men is 13/2 from Coral for them to win the League Cup. Mourinho usually took this competition seriously in his first spell, winning it two out of three times – and while they failed last season, the squad is stronger and a rotated side is capable of triumphing.

Manchester City haven’t significantly improved their starting XI, although their squad is certainly stronger after the arrivals of Bacary Sagna, Frank Lampard and Fernando.

At their best, City are still the best side in the Premier League, injury problems remain a concern. If their attackers can stay fit all season, they could be unstoppable – but Stevan Jovetic and Sergio Aguero are always out, Alvaro Negredo will miss the first couple of months, and David Silva encountered problems last season. I’ll steer clear of them however if you fancy a punt the latest odds are 11/4 from 666bet.

Manchester United are unpredictable with a new manager, a new system and a huge loss of experience, particularly in defensive positions. It would be a huge turnaround for them to win the league having finished seventh last year, although Liverpool nearly managed something similar, and in reality last season’s squad was better than seventh would suggest.

United look more promising as a back-to-lay bet at 5/1 with Paddy Power. Why? Well, their opening fixtures are a walk in the park – they play the three newly-promoted sides, Burnley, QPR and Leicester, plus Swansea, Sunderland and West Ham. It’s not until October they face a decent side, and by then Louis van Gaal will be being praised, United’s odds will have shortened, and you can lay them ahead of games against Everton, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal in October and November.

Arsenal are rated as fourth-favourites, unsurprisingly for a side that seemingly always end up fourth regardless of whether they start the season fighting for the title, or worrying about falling out of the Champions League places. The best bet with the Gunners could be Alexis Sanchez to finish top goalscorer at 16/1 with Ladbrokes. His ability as a centre-forward is being underrated, and he should play there once Theo Walcott returns from injury. Nevertheless, he can score goals from any forward position, and could make an instant impact – again, you might be able to lay it off later.

Liverpool will find life difficult without Luis Suarez, and with the added pressure of Champions League football this year. The squad has strengthened but the starting XI itself is weaker, barring another major signing, and the bookmakers suggest Liverpool will just about fail to reach the top four. That seems a fair assessment.

Tottenham and Everton will be fighting for the Champions League places, but both have an uphill struggle. Spurs will need a while to get accustomed to Mauricio Pochettino’s new system, while Everton haven’t particularly improved and will find Manchester United overtaking them.

An interesting market this season is the ‘Winner without the top seven‘, because there’s such an obvious split in the division – it’s a 7+13 league, and tough to see anyone disrupting this separation.

I think bet here. Tony Pulis did a fantastic job last season, and of the three ‘other’ sides who finished above them last season, both Southampton and Newcastle look weaker, while Pulis’ old side Stoke might struggle to accommodate new signings. There’s no reason Palace can’t be the best of the rest.

In terms of relegation, Burnley are odds-on and look doomed without signings better players, but fellow newly-promoted side Leicester are more tempting at 13/5 – I worry about the lack of Premier League experience in both sides, although the Foxes at least have a deeper squad.

However, I think the real value is West Brom to finish bottom at 10/1. In truth, as a manager Alan Irvine is an unknown at this level, and the Baggies are completely unpredictable – I wouldn’t rule out a decent campaign, but nor would I be surprised if they crashed and burned. Brown Ideye at £10m looks a huge gamble, and many of their new signings are unaccustomed to English football.

Posted in , Premier League, Zonal Marking | 1 comment

August 7th, 2014 by Michael Cox

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