This article first appeared in the Sep/Oct 2012 issue of World Gaming magazine.
The 2012-2013 English Premier League season looks set to be dominated by both Manchester clubs, just as last season was. But which of the two will come through the crucible to emerge victorious?
If nothing too dramatic happens the Premiership trophy for the 2012-2013 season looks set to go to Manchester again. Which club you ask? Last season Manchester United and Manchester City led the table from beginning to end. Each of them showed great strength and topped the league for some period of time. However, it was the “Blue Moon” that waxed strongly to take the final stride on the closing day of the season, winning their first league trophy since 1968 by goal difference. Manchester’s dominance is likely to repeat in the new season, but which teams represent the best betting value?
There has been no change to the first team this time around compared with last year’s Manchester City squad. But this could give City’s manager Roberto Mancini a headache. In the second part of last season, when City kept dropping points, the squad seemed to lack the presence of an additional goal scorer. To pull through the difficult situation, Mancini had to eat his own words and put Carlos Tevez on the pitch once again.
Now City has waved the white flag in the battle of winning the signature of Robin Van Persie, which indicates the board’s hesitation in adding big names to the squad. Financial Fair Play (FFP), which will start in the 2014-2015 season, might have played some role in this. In addition, the City board will expect the Blue Moon to go further in the Champion’s League this season, where the depth of the squad will be truly tested.
Verdict: City are a bad bet. They are reigning champions but now everyone is hunting them. This price looks stupidly short and I would look to lay them rather than bet on them, hope they get off to a bad start, then lay my bet off mid-season. Even if they do get off to a flyer I can’t see them shortening significantly from this already-too-short price, unless United and Chelsea get off to an incredibly bad start and I just can’t see that happening. Email my good friend big Jim if you want to back City as I hear that he is keen to lay them all day at 13/10.
Manchester United lost out on the title by a whisker on the closing day of the season, with goal difference being their only obstacle to victory. However, this setback is more likely to prove an inspiration than an obstacle to Sir Alex Ferguson. This summer, with the unpopular Glazer family’s support, Fergie was extremely busy in the transfer market. The Scotsman has strengthened the Red Devil’s midfield by bringing in Japanese attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa and promising English youngster Nick Powell. While United have been edged out by bigspending French club Paris Saint-Germain in their attempts to sign young Brazilian talent Lucas Moura, they have snapped up Robin Van Persie.
These transfer activities indicate Ferguson’s determination to win back the Premiership trophy from Man U’s bitter rivals. After a season of ups and downs, the relatively young squad is maturing well, with the age structure of the squad becoming more balanced. Ferguson has always received support from his owners so expect some signings to make an impact.
Verdict: If you want to bet on a Manchester club then I would rather bet on United than City. United are seasoned performers, they thrive on success and don’t accept failure. Sir Alex would have shown himself the door if he thought his team weren’t serious contenders this year. Still a little short for my liking but you can never write the Red Devils out of any EPL season.
After three consecutive losses in the pre-season friendly games, Chelsea was in a hurry to bid for Wigan’s Victor Moses. Signing Moses in time for the new season reflects manager Roberto Di Matteo’s desperation. Once the season is over, Roman Abramovich may regret giving Roberto a permanent contract. Time will tell however, and Ambromovich seems more proactive in delivering another title to Chelsea.
Their Champion’s League triumph last year was testiment to the more disciplined approach to football Chelsea always needed. They are a team you love to hate but there just seems to be a feeling from those in the know that the EPL title is ripe for the picking for this proud London club.
Verdict: If I could back a Manchester team at 5/1 then I would be standing in line to place my bet. The problem is that both Manchester options are well and truly under those odds. Chelsea is the clear third pick this year and 5/1 seems a very juicy price to me. If they get off to a flyer then expect this price to halve, and you can lay your bet off for a nice profit. If they can get off to a good start and be within a few points by Christmas then expect a big finish from London’s best team.
The Gunners have lost Robin Van Persie to Manchester United. Wenger has been quick in the transfer market this time around, hoping to avoid repeating the misery of the last couple of seasons. So far he has signed Olivier Giroud, Luka Podoloski and Santi Cazorla. These players are meant to replace Van Persie and add more flair and experience to the young squad. However, the manager has not changed anything to fix the fragile defense.
The emergence of the talented Wojciech Szczęsny has solved the long-term problem in the goalkeeper’s position, but the inexperienced and injury-prone back four are some cause for concern. It’s hard to know what they are trying to do down at Arsenal but whatever their plans are it might be a season too late.
Verdict: Last year the Gunners found form late in the season. On paper it’s hard to see how they are going to challenge the top three, but if any club has the capacity to turn an average squad into a championship threat then it’s Arsenal. At 11/1 Arsenal may represent excellent value because if things gel they are capable of anything.
The appointment of Brendan Rodgers hasn’t brought that many positive aspects to Anfield and the Reds continue to lose ground in this super competitive league. Their biggest problem is their past purchases. Rodgers is still paying the price for Kenny Dalglish’s mistakes last summer and even the sacking of King Kenny and the then Football Director Damien Commoli cannot make up for this.
Rodgers was told before he took over the manager’s seat he had to first rebalance Liverpool’s salary structure, which meant getting rid of overpaid players surplus to the Reds’ needs. As a result Liverpool has only recruited Fabio Borini and Joe Allen so far. The team hasn’t shown too much potential playing the offensive 4-3-3, which is Rodgers’ favorite formation. It may be another tough season for those that “never walk alone”.
Verdict: Liverpool need to get off to a great start or they may be in for another horrible season. If you want to achieve long-term success in this league you have to spend money and work towards long-term stability. That might happen in the more distant future but it is hard to see any Merseyside miracles occuring during the upcoming season.
Villas-Boas’ high defensive line approach will be a huge challenge to any Premiership club. That explains why the first signing of the Portuguese manager is the former Ajax FC central defender, Jan Vertonghen. Although Spurs didn’t perform well in the second half of last season this can partially be contributed to newspaper reports regarding their former manager, Harry Redknapp, taking over the English national team managerial position, which distracted the players.
There will be no such problem this season. Villas-Boas has found a replacement for the Croatian magician Luka Modrić, who has expressed a desire to leave the club and is in the midst of a protracted move to Real Madrid. Whilst Spurs beat Liverpool in the race to sign offensive midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, Modrić will not be easily replaced. Spur’s squad will be weakened when they inevitably lose him.
Verdict: Tottenham is a club pretending to be a contender. There may never be a better time for the London club to force their way into serious contention, but this window will shut as Spurs battle with ongoing managerial stupidity, an inconsistent list and a lack of the polish the best teams have. Their price is juicy and you could easily argue they are better value than Liverpool but it would be a huge surprise to see them outlast the rest of the field.
For some time last season the Magpies showed the potential to reach the top four. However, in the end they couldn’t overtake Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. Newcastle have been clever in the transfer market, with summer signing Demba Ba playing well in the first half of last season and winter recruit Papiss Cissé scoring 13 goals in the last 14 league games.
Cissé scored at a rate last season second only to Van Persie. Cissé and Demba Ba are essential to Newcastle, and if either of them get injured it will be a huge blow. In general, any team relying too heavily on individual players can be a threat in the short term, but chances are they will fade away in the long run.
Verdict: Newcastle suffer from a lack of depth. At their best the Magpies can beat anyone. The problem is they have to do it game after game after game. Newcastle lifting the trophy would be a wonderful fairytale, but fairytales are 100/1 propositions, or maybe even longer. If you are looking to turn nothing into a windfall, this is your only option.