The phoney war is over. You can keep your FA Community Shield. Ram the International Champions Cup. And don’t even f*cking speak to me about the shambles that was Euro 2016. No, this weekend sees the return of the Premier League in glorious technicolour. And what a season it promises to be.
Last year of course saw Leicester City cause ripples around the footballing world as the 5000/1 outsiders stormed to the Premier League title. Interestingly the Foxes are a much shorter price to be relegated than they are to retain their title in 2016/17. This despite the fact that they actually ended up winning the league by 10 points last season and have only lost N’Golo Kante so far in terms of key personnel. One would assume, with the Champions League set to be a midweek distraction for the foreseeable, that another league title is beyond Leicester but I reckon it’s a brave or foolhardy soul who backs them to finish outside of the top half.
Manchester City are the favouritesfor the title. This of course has everything to do with the fact that Pep Guardiola is now in charge at the Etihad as he looks to add to his glowing managerial CV. Pep has done the business at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but could find the Premier League a tougher gig altogether. The Santpedor native is passionate and a proven winner – but he’s coming into a very different league. He will be looking to put his own stamp on this side and try to revolutionise how City play. Can he do all this in one season? My hunch is no, though Ilkay Gundogan looks to be some player. The big issue for the Citizens is in defence. Both full-back positions remain a significant worry.
Chelsea should improve under Antonio Conte, and the capture of Kante is a fine bit of business. However there hasn’t been a big clearout at Stamford Bridge, and too many players who let themselves and the club down last season are still in SW3. Arsenal, who ended up second last season despite another disappointing campaign, will also have their backers but if Arsene Wenger doesn’t pull his finger out of his a*se and sign a top quality centre-half and centre forward soon the Gunners will struggle.
The intensity shown by Liverpool as they thumped Barcelona 4-0 at Wembley last Saturday suggests they could be title contenders. Sadio Mane looked razor sharp on the right for the Reds, who pressed high up the pitch against the Catalans and got their reward. Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum have added quality to the side, and with Klopp calling the shots Liverpool look a decent bet at 13/8 to finish in the top four.
As for who will win the title though, I can’t see past Manchester United. Jose Mourinho, that smooth-talking, fast-walking ball of Portuguese charisma has walked into Old Trafford and you get the feeling that a new era has dawned. The signings have been box office with Don Jose opting for experience (Zlatan Ibrahimovic), potential (Eric Bailly) and class (Henrikh Mkhitaryan). Then there’s Paul Pogba. The Frenchman has been the transfer story of the summer and while it’s been a ballache listening to the endless ‘Will he, Won’t he?’ schtick on Sky Sports News there is no denying that the former Juventus man could be the final piece in the Mourinho jigsaw at Old Trafford. Not everyone is a fan, but trust me, if Gonzalo Higuain is worth £75million, Pogba is worth £89million. He will give them the energy, guile and class that has been missing from their engine room since Paul Scholes retired and look a hell of a bet for the title at 7/2.
In terms of an outsider for Premier League top scorer, how about new Spurs star Vincent Janssen? The Dutch international was the top scorer in the Eredivisie last season despite playing for unfashionable AZ Alkmaar. He plundered 27 goals and has already looked lively for Spurs in pre-season. Spurs were second top scorers in the league last season, and if Janssen gets the same sort of service afforded to Harry Kane last season look for that price to contract rather sharpish.
Betting: Manchester United to win the league at 7/2 (Paddy Power)
Betting: Liverpool to finish in the top four at 13/8 (Betfred)
Betting: Janssen to be top scorer at 50/1 (Betfair Sportsbook)