Well, hello again one and all. As we are only a few days away from the big kick-off in a number of European leagues, now seems a good time to look at where to make some money in the ante post markets. There can sometimes be some great prices about if you don’t mind tying your money up for nine months. But, you also have to factor in that over the course of nine months, many factors can come into play that could derail a bet. I would either look to bet large and look to trade your bet when the odds shorten and get out, or just play for fun with Lucky 15′s or multiples bets on each league.
We shall start with the league with the most markets, the English Premier League and later in the week I’ll follow up with a look through the English lower divisions, then a look around Europe.
English Premier League – Outright Winner
The bookies have this priced as a cakewalk for the two Manchester sides this season and I see little wrong in that assessment. Both Arsenal and Chelsea have made some interesting (possibly excellent) signings, but it is very hard to be confident of them being strong at this stage with so many changes made in the summer.
Chelsea in particular have added some very promising attacking talent in what looks like a move away from the 4-3-3 formation employed since the days of Jose Mourinho. It isn’t hard to understand their rationale as Didier Drogba has moved to China and Frank Lampard should continue in a more defensive role. As a result, they no longer have the most potent threats that system relied upon. The Blues may well stick to a 4-3-3, but I would expect it to be much more fluid with Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata all used behind Fernando Torres in a rotation system. I also have the feeling that Roberto Di Matteo is merely a stop-gap appointment and how he will cope with this array of attacking talent is anyone’s guess. We could well see them flounder and play like Tottenham did under Ossie Ardilles, or blow most teams away. If you think it will all gel together then I would recommend taking their price as it is pretty good value. Personally, I’ll avoid them for now.
Arsenal and Arsene Wenger seem set on re-evaluating their aim of bringing through the next generation of ‘Invincibles’ from the club’s youth system. With every pre-season it seems the previous season’s stand out player leaves the club for bigger and better things, so it’s understandable Wenger is now turning to players at their peak already. Arsenal have always shopped in the second tier of top players, never quite signing truly world-class players. Even the likes of Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry had question marks over them when joining the club. This summer has been no different, with Lukas Podolski failing to sparkle outside of Cologne previously, Olivier Giroud being a late bloomer and only scoring in Ligue Un and Santi Cazorla has never been on a ‘big’ club’s shopping list. I would class them in the same bracket as Chelsea in the ‘maybe’ column, although slightly further out in the betting. Question marks will always remain over the level of cover Arsenal’s midfield provide for the defence. If they sell Alex Song and bring in Nuri Sahin then I’d be more confident with him and Mikel Arteta in the middle sitting deeper. They are probably best avoided to begin with.
Manchester United are very tempting to write off now, with obvious areas of weakness in both full back positions and still in the centre of midfield. With Alex Ferguson again complaining about a lack of value in the transfer market, I get the impression his hands are tied when it comes to a big money signing. The addition of Shinji Kagawa is an excellent one in my opinion and should provide the technique and flair that Wayne Rooney shows in flashes, although much more regularly than Wayne does. I would not be shocked to see Rooney again asked to play at the peak of the attack and Kagawa, Nani, Valencia and Young doing the running and crossing for him. Rooney can flourish in this position if he is disciplined enough to stick to the task and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him run up a large goal tally. There is still a gaping hole in the centre of midfield that is currently filled by a rotating cast next to Michael Carrick. The ageing legs of Ryan Giggs and the eternally disappointing Anderson are not the answer and many United fans would like to see a destroyer in there to leave Carrick to do what he does best. Having Nemanja Vidic back at centre half should not be underestimated as he is by far their best defender. I would expect to see more of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in defence at points this season, with Smalling possibly replacing Rafael if he does not improve on the defensive side of his game. At left back, I would still expect to see someone brought in to challenge (if not replace) Patrice Evra who has been poor now for the last 18 months. You can’t rule them out with Ferguson in charge, but I expect to see a large improvement from their neighbours this season.
Manchester City have not been very active in the transfer market this summer, only signing Jack Rodwell at the weekend in their only swoop so far despite being heavily linked with RVP and Daniel Agger. With Agger it seems they are being held to ransom by Liverpool and I expect to see them looking elsewhere for a cheaper option as a fully fit Joleon Lescott and Vincent Kompany will still be first choice, and rightly so. Defence really was City’s strongest point when those two were fit, but they looked a lot less confident when Stefan Savic had to be brought in and he looked overwhelmed at Premier League level last season. It would probably be best for all if an older international player was brought in as cover. The centre of midfield was also excellent with Gareth Barry having an excellent season and keeping Nigel De Jong out of the side with his simple passing game complimenting City’s copious forwards well. Yaya Toure looked an absolute beast, brushing players aside and marauding towards goal dangerously and I don’t see why that would not continue this term. Then you have the abundance of riches in attack that City possess. You have Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, David Silva, Edin Dzeko, Adam Johnson, Carlos Tevez and even Emanuel Adebayor still on the books. Tevez seems a lot happier now with Aguero around and those two with Silva and Balotelli will be a brilliantly destructive forward line if they get regular playing time together. They can all interchange positions and cause fear and havoc in defences all over Europe. The most important aspect though will be that now they’ve won the Premier League, they should get even better. A frightening prospect. Roberto Mancini will be expected to do better in the Champions League this season however.
The opposite end of the table has become something of a lottery in predicting relegation in recent years, although usually with one standout candidate like Portsmouth or Blackburn. This season, it seems we have no teams in dire straits or who look hopelessly out of their depth.
The promoted sides lead the betting as ever with Reading favourites to go down and Southampton following them. I think the Royals will be fine. The squad that won the Championship has stayed intact and additions like Adrian Mariappa as well as the big signing of Pavel Pogbrebnyak make them a lot better equipped for the relegation dogfight than a few other sides. I worry about Southampton however. They conceded goals with their attacking style last season and they will be further punished for that in the Premier League. They’ll probably ‘do a Blackpool’ and excite us with their style of play but I think they’ll return to the second tier. West Ham are expected to stay up by the bookies and with some decent buys and Sam Allardyce in charge I’d agree with that. They’ll be involved in the scrap at points, but I can’t see them dropping down
You then have the likes of Norwich and Swansea who could succumb to ‘second season syndrome’ under new management. Norwich have presumably appointed Chris Hughton as a steady hand and I think that’s a good idea. They have added a couple of quality Championship performers such as Leeds captain Robert Snodgrass and I think this policy will see them good in their battles this season. Swansea have taken more of a risk on Michael Laudrup, who has made some interesting signings from La Liga. Michu had a fantastic season at Rayo last year and looks a potential bargain at only £2million, but they’ve lost key man Joe Allen to Liverpool and Scott Sinclair is rumoured to be on his way out as well. The Swans could well fall down if Laudrup fails to get them going early on.
You also have teams like Stoke and West Brom who could well be involved for different reasons. Stoke have become something of a mainstay in the Premier League under Tony Pulis, but murmurings are growing louder at the Britannia that their often turgid style could do with evolving. I get the impression Pulis has signed flair players like Tuncay to appease the fans, but has not trusted them thereafter to actually put in the starting line-up. If the fans turn on the team and/or the management, then it could be a long season and difficult for Stoke. West Brom have appointed eternal assistant Steve Clarke to the manager’s position following the departure of Roy Hodgson. I’m no fan of long time assistants being pushed into managerial positions. I always have suspicions of why they have always been behind the scenes. I think this could well backfire on WBA, as good a defensive coach as Clarke is I don’t see him galvanising the side like Roy can.
The other main market for betting is always Top Goalscorer. The two men that head the market are Sergio Aguero and Wayne Rooney and again I think that’s the correct choices from the bookies. Why Fernando Torres is so close to those two in price, God only knows. He might rediscover his touch, but I would suggest after a dire 18 months he should be further out in the betting.
With my opinion that the two Manchester clubs are set to dominate, you have to look at their main men as the only realistic bets to win outright. Sergio Aguero is the best player in the Premier League and settled straight in last season and scored plenty of important goals. The main downfall for Aguero in this is squad rotation with City having so many forwards and multiple competitions to play in this season. Roberto Mancini must be aware he needs to get the team to at least the knockout stages of the Champions League this season and will surely rest Aguero where necessary to keep him ready for the bigger matches. I still think he’s a good bet, but with him the same price as Rooney I think the United man is the better bet of the two. It is well documented that Rooney dislikes squad rotation and wants to play in every match that he is available for, giving Alex Ferguson a great bonus.
After these two you have to look for an Each Way bet and I think there’s a few options. I would imagine goals will be shared around at Chelsea so I wouldn’t back any of them. Arsenal will presumably be looking to supply Olivier Giroud with as many chances as possible with forwards like Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla setting up the chances for him. I certainly don’t think he’s a bad bet, but it might be worth watching the Gunners’ first couple of games to see how they line-up before diving in. I would rule out Newcastle’s African pair of Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba with the African Nations on the horizon in January. I do like the look of two strikers on either side of the Mersey. Nikica Jelavic looked fantastic at the tail end of last season after moving from Rangers and I would expect him to pick up where he left off with Steven Pienaar and Steven Naismith added to supply him with the ball in the penatly box. Fabio Borini could thrive if left alone up front for Liverpool with the likes of Luis Suarez, Stewart Downing Joe Allen asked to look for him in the box at all opportunities. The diminutive striker is, to use a cliche, a ‘fox in the box’ and to score goals, he will rely on getting the ball in the box more often than not. I’d gamble on Brendan Rodgers getting him that supply.
If you want a real long odds bet, then I’d look at Reading’s Pavel Pogbrebnyak and QPR’s Djibril Cisse. I’m a believer that in this market you should look for players who are the focal points of their team’s attacks and both of these fit the bill. You would imagine both will play whenever they are fit and both crucially have experience of regularly scoring in the Premier League last season.
Published with permission from Born Offside.