CHRIS Graham (@chrisgraham79) takes a look at the hugely competitive Premier League title race this season. What’s he backing?
Premier League 2016/17 | Outright Winner
After the most unpredictable (and thrilling) Premier League season in memory, the sequel looks by far the most competitive renewal in the last quarter century. It’s a bit like going from Against All Odds to The Matrix in back to back cinema sittings.
Let’s start with the facts. There are six sides priced at 10/1 or shorter. The favourites are chalked up at 13/5 best price and of course the defending champions are 33/1. This is a puzzle in the same breath as a 3 mile handicap hurdle.
Pep Guardiola’s Man City head the odds as the Spaniard aims for an astonishing seventh title win is his last eight seasons as a manager. This might just be his toughest domestic challenge yet within that eight season bubble.
At the time of writing Man City’s biggest signings had been John Stones (nearly £50m on a kid who couldn’t get into a poor England back line during the Euros), the youthful Leroy Sane from Schalke and the hugely respected Ilkay Gundogan.
There remains a big question mark over a number of the players who played at the club last season due to the meek way they performed for three quarters of the campaign. It really felt they were never in top gear after around October and only showed glimpses of their true potential during a positive Champions League campaign.
If one man can wash away that apathy and lack of care it’s Guardiola and we can be sure his team, or rather squad, will be timed to the minute and finally tuned for this epic season.
The talent at the club is there to behold (Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and an on his game Vincent Kompany) but it still feels quite an ageing squad. Guardiola’s new purchases will help push down the average age but it might take a couple of seasons for him to have the balance he’ll look for.
At the other end of the city is United of course. A strange beast it has to be said in 2016. Managed by a guy the fans no doubt loathed not so long ago and full of the kind of egos that Sir Alex Ferguson would have had no desire to deal with.
Pogba, Ibrahimovic, Rooney, (the spurned) Schweinsteiger, all managed by manger Mourinho. It feels like a computer game rather than real life. Or even a Real Madrid side 10 years ago. It really is a world away from that last title winning side of 2013 – a fairly modest hard-working ensemble.
When I look at the team I feel I should get excited about United but I don’t. It’s a side who scored just 49 goals last season. 22 adrift of a City team that finished on the same number of points as them. Sure, there will be a lot more creativity there via Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan but there’s no guarantee these big buys will all quickly gel. A number at this club post-Fergie have failed to do that.
Chelsea are next at the betting at 13/2 and are another real tough one to solve. Antonio Conte has come in to manage the side and a number of the squad that walked the league in 2015 are still aboard.
N’Golo Kante has joined the club from champions Leicester to add a bit of work ethic and protection and crucially they have no European football to contend with.
Can Conte re-energise the likes of Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic? Why not. Surely a large part of the problem lay with Mourinho and his antics last season. The Blues’ form got better after he left but you could see Chelsea were on the bridle for all the second half of the season.
Conte looks a demanding, successful man and will expect his charges to give 100%. His first season in England will be intriguing and with more time to work with his players than his direct rivals things could go well.
Arsenal I obviously can’t back. The way they disintegrated in the second half of last season was hugely disappointing. The wins over Man City (December 21) and Leicester (Valentines Day) should have acted as a trigger for the club, instead they felt like a tax.
I still think Liverpool lack the overall quality to go all the way at 9/1. Their signings this season stand a rung below the captures of the clubs mentioned above and I’m sure the highlights of their campaign will be stunning victories over these teams and perhaps a trophy but I doubt whether they can last the pace.
Spurs are intriguing in that they’ve adopted an Arsenal-like approach of not upsetting the squad dynamic too much. Like their North London rivals they may also regret early into this season that 2015/16 really was their big chance to land the title.
We all know who did win the title last season don’t we? Yup, and how Leicester fare this season has been the hot topic round the boozers of Britain this summer.
After predicting they’ll go down last season I won’t make too many grand proclamations here except to say (like many others) that balancing an emotionally and physically demanding Champions League campaign with league duties will blunt them.
And also (unlike many others) that the tag of champions could weigh very heavily on them as individuals. Do you really see all these guys reaching the same emotional levels that they reached last season? Not for me. It’s a huge ask.
Some fantastic sides have failed to defend their crown against the odds in years past so it wouldn’t be an enormous shock to see Leicester flirt with the bottom half of the table.
Summing up, it’s an incredibly hard market to call. Usually in these scenarios I take a look at the odds and see who offers the greater rewards. With question marks over the front two in the market I’m happy to take a (small) chance on Chelsea at 13/2.
This side have been waiting for this season to start since around October last year and with a new exciting man at the helm, no midweek distractions and potentially another big signing they could give me a run for my money at decent odds.
Premier League 2016/17 Outright Winner – Chelsea (13/2 Paddy Power)