Manchester United and current holders Chelsea have shared the Premier League title three times each in the last six seasons.
The pre-season prices suggest that the trophy will end up in familiar territory again with the West London club as 7/4 favourites and United close behind at 9/4. That’s nearly 70% of the outright book taken up by two teams, but it’s hard to argue with the sums of the Blue Square odds-compilers.
Last season Carlo Ancelotti led his Chelsea side to their first title since Jose Mourinho departed Stamford Bridge. The Blues have finally settled after that turbulent period in no man’s land under Grant, Scolari and Hiddink – but they were never really that far away from recapturing the title winning formula.
At times their away form let them down last season and they also had to cope with losing key players to the African Cup of Nations and some nasty injuries. They still scored an incredible 103 times in their 38 matches and held on to pip Sir Alex Ferguson’s men by one point.
Fergie had his side playing some great football in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and could claim to have only missed out by virtue of the two defeats inflicted on them by the eventual champions – even a draw in one of those games would have been good enough.
It all points to the importance of matches against title rivals and that is why it’s hard to see any other team making an impact on the title race.
Neither club have spent a huge amount in the summer but both look well equipped to challenge once again. Even the England ‘stars’ that went to South Africa turn out for both clubs as if they are different players and that will be enough for Ferguson and his Italian counterpart to mount another fascinating head-to-head race which could climax on 7th May when they face each other at Old Trafford.
Arsenal have been tipped by plenty of shrewd (and not so shrewd judges) to do well, but it’s hard to see where those tipsters are coming from on this one.
The general view was that the ability to keep Cesc Fabregas would be the difference between sneaking into the top four and becoming challengers, whereas the more realistic fans in the red half of North London knew that keeping their Spanish captain would just about keep them in contention for third or fourth.
Fabregas’ committal to his existing contract led to Arsenal’s price being clipped from 6/1 to 11/2 by Blue Square. The real problems for the Gunners lie in defence and the lack of cover at centre back and the absence of a ‘title winning’ standard goalkeeper are a real worry for their backers.
With some three weeks until the transfer window closes those acquisitions are the ones to look out for by anyone yet to back Arsene Wenger’s team. The Frenchman was the subject of a question posed by the Racing Post in their excellent pre-season Kick-Off pull-out “deluded or a genius?” – without seeming ungrateful the Arsenal faithful might like to answer that at the moment by saying he is a ‘deluded genius!’.
Before writing off the Gunners completely it would be nice to know how much money Wenger has to spend, but you’re just as likely to find out how long a piece of string is. If there hasn’t been any money around for Wenger to invest then he has kept very loyal to a board that have been economical with the truth. If there was money then it’s Wenger that’s being unnecessarily economical for reason’s we can only guess at.
One manager that doesn’t have that problem is Roberto Mancini at Manchester City. Money is apparently no object at Eastlands and Mancini’s real test will come in the man management of such a big squad.
City missed out on a Champions League place last season as Mancini became reluctant to throw caution to the wind. One game away to a depleted Arsenal at the Emirates in late April comes to mind, City were happy to hold on for a point against a home team that had been beaten by attacking teams Wigan and Tottenham in their last two games and were there for the taking.
Mancini let the Gunners of the hook with a rigid 4-5-1 formation which hints that having all the money in the world doesn’t do anything for having a decent scout to work out the opposition. Mistakes like that could cost City again and even the most talented title winning sides have been underpinned by great organisation behind the scenes.
City are 5/1 to claim their first top flight title since the 1967/68 season.
Liverpool have more recent claims to English football’s biggest prize but it’s all change once again at Anfield. Rafa Benitez has been replaced with Roy Hodgson and for the first season in a while the air of expectation around the club has subsided.
One would think that the Anfield faithful would settle for a return to the ‘top 4’ and a Champions League berth as Hodgson is tasked with turning around this huge club. The Reds are one of the biggest prices they have been for the title in a couple of decades, a huge 14/1. Tottenham Hotspur are the last of six clubs given quotes of under 33/1 to take the trophy. That kind of market suggests an ultra competitive heat, but surely it would still require some improvement for the rest to figure against the big two.
Tottenham fans will have the pleasure of seeing their side compete on the biggest stage in Europe but will still wonder what kind of inroads can be made after a season in which they finished fourth but still failed to beat Stoke, Wolves and Hull at White Hart Lane.
Even a clean sweep of nine points from that relatively easy trio of games would have left them eight points adrift of Chelsea.