There are probably six teams who will fancy their chances of wrestling the winner’s trophy from Chelsea this season, and of course there is always the outside possibility of someone ‘doing a Leicester’ and taking the beautiful game by storm.
So where is the smart money going in the Premier League title race?
Manchester City (7/4, Betfred)
When considering the list of possible Premier League winners, it makes sense to take stock and ask who has improved the most during the summer transfer window?
As far as the 2017/18 campaign goes, that has to be Manchester City. They’ve spend an eye-watering £150m on not one but three high quality full backs, have brought in a new goalkeeper who may act as a canny replacement for the error-strewn Claudio Bravo, and splashed out on creative attacker Bernardo Silva.
Factor in the return from injury of Ilkay Gundogan, and the faint possibility that Vincent Kompany won’t spend six months on the sidelines, and we can say with some assurance that the Citizens possess the strongest squad in the top flight.
They also have the Champions League to consider of course, but the improvement in their squad depth is such that they can handle the rigours of both domestic and continental action, and lest we forget that in their last two title-winning campaigns (2011/12 and 2013/14) they also competed for Europe’s richest prize.
As we will see later in this preview, there are question marks over ALL of the other candidates, so really we have to conclude that anything approaching 7/4 is a fantastic price about Pep Guardiola’s side reclaiming the Premier League trophy.
Chelsea (7/2, William Hill)
Chelsea and 2015/16 champions Leicester City had something in common: neither was playing in that season’s Champions League.
It meant that their sole focus, and we give a respectful nod to the FA Cup here, was on winning the league title, and their respective managers simply did not need to rotate their squads as their players remained fresh throughout the campaign.
The Blues will face an upswing in intensity this season then, and it will be intriguing to see how their relatively thin squad copes. If Antonio Conte persists with his 3-4-3 formation, then his side lack quality cover at centre back and left wing back, while any lengthy injury to Eden Hazard will surely prove disastrous.
Alvaro Morata will replace Diego Costa in attack, and while the Spaniard may turn out to be a class act as smart punters we deal in knowns and not possibilities. Until proven otherwise, we have to conclude that Morata for Costa is not a good trade as far as Chelsea’s title credentials go.
With the novelty factor of that 3-4-3 system gone, we can see Chelsea regressing to something like third or fourth place.
Manchester United (4/1, BetVictor)
It seems odd to us that Manchester United are being talked up as title contenders. Sure, we expect Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to excel in their second full campaigns as United players, but there are so many question marks about this squad under Jose Mourinho that this is the ultimate lay bet for betting exchange dwellers.
Romelu Lukaku has come in, but can he match the output of Zlatan Ibrahimović in terms of goals and dressing room personality?
Have Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial peaked already? It’s possible: the likes of Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen and Paul Gascoigne were all at their best in their early twenties. There is no guarantee that ‘potential’ turns into ‘reality’.
Can the players cope with mounting a Premier League title raid AND a Champions League campaign of note?
There are so many question marks here that the Red Devils must simply be swerved in this market.
Tottenham (9/1, Paddy Power)
The fact that Tottenham haven’t signed anybody this summer has been treated with disdain by the bookmakers, who now treat Mauricio Pochettino’s side – one of the most consistent in the land these past two seasons – as nothing more than a jolly in the Premier League outright market.
Why? The temporary move to Wembley Stadium is a factor of course – the Lilywhites hardly covered themselves in glory there in the Champions League last term, but this is a side with one of the very best goalkeeper/defensive units in the country, one of the hottest talents around in Dele Alli, two of the most underrated in Mousa Dembele and Christian Eriksen, and, in Harry Kane, one of the most proven goal-grabbers in world football.
A regression is likely given that they have overachieved to some extent these past couple of seasons, but for Spurs to be more than double the price of a Manchester United side that finished 27 points behind Chelsea and 17 behind themselves last term is laughable.
Arsenal (12/1, Betfair)
If we’re taking the narrative of not playing in the Champions League seriously, then Arsenal fans can expect a decent campaign in 2017/18.
Without the burden of at least six more punishing matches to play, we might expect the Gunners to not suffer their almost annual winter meltdown, and they will remain fresh while those around them suffer the Christmas/New Year blues.
The signing of Alexandre Lacazette is a smart one too. We’ll have to wait and see if the Frenchman takes to life in the English top flight, but at least his pace and guile is suited to Arsenal’s way of playing – unlike Olivier Giroud. Comparisons to Thierry Henry are presumably way off the mark, but if he can contribute his fair share of goals and add to his side’s style of football, he could prove every inch the bargain.
Arsene Wenger must convince Alexis Sanchez to stay – that’s a no brainer, but if he can then Arsenal might just be worth a tickle on the each way front. That will pay 12/1 with Betfair if they lift the title, and around 4/1 if they finish second.
Manchester City (7/4 with Betfred)
Arsenal (12/1 each way with Betfair)