Betting blog: The new season
The Premier League, surely the most entertaining league in world football, returns this weekend and that means a host of possibilities for all 20 teams concerned. Some will harbour title hopes; others will be searching for that 40-point mark as soon as possible to avoid the spectre of relegation.
One thing is for sure, though, there will be goals, drama, joy and heartache for the fans to lap up. And Bet365 have done us proud with a host of season-based markets to get our teeth into.
If you listen to the managers in the top leagues, this year's Premier League could be even closer than last season, which would take some doing. Five or six teams, they suggest, are in with a chance of the title but Chelsea, after some astute buys in the summer, are the favourites with bet365 at 15/8, followed by champions Manchester City at 9/4, Man Utd at 9/2, Arsenal at 6/1 and Liverpool at 10/1.
So, where to begin? Chelsea will be strong, of that there's no question and the arrival of Diego Costa and return of Didier Drogba suggests that they should score a lot more often than last season. Defending the title is not easy -- just ask Arsene Wenger, who never has been able to -- but City look stronger than last season.
Arsenal have bought well with Alexis Sanchez one of the players to watch while Liverpool have to cope without Luis Suarez. Louis van Gaal, meanwhile, is hoping to turn Man Utd back from also-rans into champions.
There is always ifs and buts but if you look at the spine of the teams, City's Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero takes some beating. At 9/4, with the experience of two titles in three seasons, they have to be worth a shout with Bet365.
United will be much better under Van Gaal and I expect Wayne Rooney to have a good season but I struggle to see them going from seventh to first. It just doesn't happen. Arsenal also should be closer but still lack that outstanding goalscorer to rip through defences.
I was all set to write off Liverpool with no Suarez but a good preseason has been matched with some expensive deals and some top players arriving. Adam Lallana will add invention but it's the signing of defender Dejan Lovren, also from Southampton, that could be the best of the summer. With Lovren dominating defence, their spine of Mignolet, Lovren, Gerrard (and Henderson) and Daniel Sturridge could be outstanding. At 10/1 -- with Bet365 offering a third of the odds the first two -- they have to be backed to go one better than last year.
PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEWS
As we count down to kickoff on Aug. 16, ESPN FC previews all 20 teams in this season's competition. Can Burnley, QPR and Leicester stay up? Will the new signings of Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa and Adam Lallana help usurp Man City's crown? Will Manchester United get back on track under Louis van Gaal?
Van Gaal will be all over Rooney this year to get the best out of the England striker. He has looked sharp in preseason and with a new manager to liven things up, he looks a solid bet at 5/6 to score 15 goals or more -- something he managed last year in an otherwise poor campaign.
Wenger looks like using Sanchez wide, something he did with Thierry Henry all those years ago. The Chilean has the class to do well, so Bet365'soffer of 8/11 to score 12 or more is worth taking.
Chelsea have spent a fortune on Costa and there's no doubt he had a great season last time with Atletico Madrid. However, Chelsea still lack creativity and I think he might struggle. He is 5/6 to fall short of 14 and that could be worth taking.
Rooney might be worth a dabble at 11/1 to be top goalscorer in a market led by Robin van Persie at 9/2. Sturridge and Aguero are 11/2 but Rooney could be good each-way value with Bet365 at 11/1.
We'll have a full preview of the opening set of fixtures in the next column.