BEN CLEMINSON PREVIEWS THE PREMIER LEAGUE
THE upcoming Premier League season is set to be one of the most open in recent memory with bookmakers struggling to split Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea at the head of the outright market. What is unusual is that the three leading fancies all have new managers who will be under different levels of pressure.
The obvious starting point is champions Man United who have finally waved goodbye to Sir Alex Ferguson after an astonishing 27-year spell at Old Trafford. Everyone knows he will be an impossible act to follow, so, although fellow Scot David Moyes will be feeling the heat, he knows he will be given time to find his feet.
However, the problem for Moyes is that, as Gary Neville has said, Ferguson was probably worth 10 points alone, and his squad aren’t as strong as local rivals Man City. They were very reliant on Robin van Persie last campaign, while no-one knows what’s going to happen with Wayne Rooney.
United should never be underestimated, but at 5/2 with Coral they are the easiest of the top three to rule out. Both the United board and fans will be patient with Moyes and a solid first season is all that is required.
Chelsea’s claims are more difficult to ignore with the return of the messiah, Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese didn’t quite do the job that everyone thought he would at Real Madrid, but he needs to be loved and there is nowhere he is loved more than at Stamford Bridge.
He won the Premier League title at the first attempt during his previous spell at the club and although winning the Champions League again, but for the first time at Chelsea, will be his number one priority, he would dearly love to win the league as well.
If the Blues had been nearer the 7/2 that they were at the end of last season, rather than the 9/4 they are now, then I might well have been tipping them. But they are short enough really, especially with the Rooney saga yet to come to a satisfactory conclusion.
Romelu Lukaku is a fantastic proposition back at the West London outfit, while Andre Schurrle has a great deal of potential in midfield. However, Fernando Torres is still struggling for form and with John Terry and Frank Lampard’s best days surely behind them, I’m not sure they’ll quite have enough to finish on top of the tree.
That brings me on to Man City who have to be the selection at 9/4 with Coral. Arguably, they already had the strongest squad in the division prior to Manuel Pellegrini’s summer spending spree and the acquisitions of Fernandinho, Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas and Stevan Jovetic add even more weight to a world class group of players.
Roberto Mancini was idolised by the City faithful, but with the talent at his disposal he really should have won at least one more league title. Pellegrini is hugely respected in footballing circles after the jobs he has done at Villarreal and Malaga.
It is always difficult for a new manager to come in and win trophies in his first term, but the Chilean has walked into a club with such an array of talent that he will be confident his men can master their rivals over the course of the season.
Arsene Wenger will be hoping to take advantage of any chinks in the armour of the three new managers, but he hasn’t made any significant signings, while fourth-place looks the highest possible target for both Tottenham and Liverpool.
At the other end of the table, the best bet is Stoke to be relegated at 3/1 with Paddy Power, as I really do feel their five-year stay in the top flight could be about to come to an end. Mark Hughes has a really tough job on his hands with what looks a pretty weak squad. Tony Pulis performed miracles during his spell and he is going to be another very difficult act to follow.
The pressure will be on Peter Crouch to get the goals and he just doesn’t look to be the same player nowadays.
I would also advise spread bettors to sell Stoke’s total points at 39 with Sporting Index.