The 2020/21 Premier League season gets underway on September 12 and Tom Carnduff picks out four best bets for the new campaign.
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Liverpool may have ended their 30-year wait for a top-flight domestic title last season but Manchester City should bounce back in the best way possible and their odds-on price across the board tells us all we need to know about the current situation at the top of the Premier League table.
Granted, Liverpool did lift the Premier League trophy having started the campaign as second-favourites but Pep Guardiola's side aren't used to long spells without a major trophy. Their summer spending, and Liverpool's lack thereof, throws the title chances back in their favour.
Nathan Ake arrived for a £40million fee from Bournemouth to bolster their defensive line, and there's no guarantees he'll start, while Ferran Torres signed for just over half that from Valencia. The potential arrival of Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly will add stability to a previously problematic area of their squad.
Liverpool's 23/10 price across the board is an interesting one given how good they were in the title-winning campaign. Winning with an 18-point margin is more than significant but there will always be the feeling that an outstanding season turned into one that will just be seen as very good; albeit a memorable one at that.
They were on course to become the Premier League's greatest ever team but somewhat wobbled at the end. Defeats to Watford, Manchester City and Arsenal, coupled with draws against Everton and Burnley, may look small in the grand scheme of a season but the fact that they had only dropped points in one of their 27 games prior reveals how their early dominance gave way towards the end of the campaign.
The Reds crashed out of the Champions League while they couldn't get their hands on either domestic cup. A Premier League-winning team that will be remembered in years to come, yes, but one that may well struggle to hold off the challenge of a City side back with a vengeance.
Liverpool don't need huge additions to their squad but compare City's spending with the arrival of Kostas Tsimikas, a second choice left-back, and we can see who is enjoying the better transfer window.
The issue with the title outright markets is that English football is currently seeing a two-horse race for top spot and the odds provide little appeal. The dual forecast of Liverpool/Manchester City fails to go above even money while a straight forecast doesn't hold great appeal for all that apparent predictability.
It could well end up being another remarkable run from both teams, as we witnessed in 2018/19, with both scoring high but ultimately City ending up on top. With both teams odds-on for a top-two finish, the value is elsewhere with the potential for some shock outcomes as the season progresses.
Saints go marching on?
October 25, 2019 was a significant date in Premier League history. Leicester's 9-0 hammering of Southampton became the joint-largest win in the history of the competition. It was also the biggest away win in English top-flight football.
Southampton looked clueless. A team torn apart in all areas by a Leicester side who dominated in the cold south coast rain. Two Foxes players scored hat-tricks and it appeared to be the end for Ralph Hasenhuttl.
However, as much as Saints fans hate the game being referenced in any conversation about the club, it did prove to be a crucial turning point in their season. They were floating above the drop zone, only goal difference keeping them out of it, and their relegation odds were slashed in the immediate aftermath of the result.
Instead of accepting their fate as relegation contenders, the result provoked a reaction. They would earn 44 points across the 28 games after, a return that put them seventh in the table over this period. In fact, they would earn two more points than Leicester and bettered the tallies posted by the likes of Sheffield United and Arsenal.
Southampton finished the season in 11th, two points adrift of a top-half finish, and had it not been for such a slow start they would have easily broken into the top-ten.
That will be the aim for Southampton this season and the addition of Mohammed Salisu from Real Valladolid, combined with the permanent arrival of Kyle Walker-Peters from Spurs, shows how they are improving the area of vulnerability in their side - the defence.
Of course, there was the departure of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg but that was a transfer that was always going to happen in this window. The midfielder was stripped of his captaincy and found playing time extremely limited in the post-lockdown period. That was a period in which Southampton lost just one of their nine games and beat Manchester City 1-0.
This season has the potential to be a strong one for Southampton. There will be expectation of Salisu from a defensive perspective but the other areas have proven to be capable of big things in the Premier League. Danny Ings can replicate another goal-filled campaign while Che Adams saw his performances get better as the season progressed; all four of his goals came in July.
James Ward-Prowse committed his long-term future to the club and he'll again prove to be a threat from midfield, while Nathan Redmond and Stuart Armstrong have become effective options out wide. There could be one or two questions about the depth of this squad but they're in a similar position to the majority of the league. There is also the potential for further additions.
A top-half finish looks great value at 13/8 with multiple bookmakers, but they could well upset the odds further by winning the 'without the big-six' market at a price of 10/1. That is looking at who will finish the highest without the traditional 'big-six' of Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham.
Backing the Saints to break into the top-six gives out a better price of 14/1 but that's an incredibly difficult feat to achieve. Some may point to Leicester last season, and of course the campaign where they won the title, but as unpredictable as the Premier League may be it does have a tendency to rotate the big-six at the top-end of the table.
Three of the last four seasons have seen the teams named above making up the top-six. In fact, Liverpool are the most 'unsuccessful' big-six team when it comes to top-six finishes across the last ten seasons. They have 'only' managed to do that seven times; the other five sit on at least nine times from ten.
Those below are often battling to become the best of the rest and this is where Southampton could shine. A seventh-placed finish also potentially sees European football return to St. Mary's and that will be viewed as a fantastic campaign.
Southampton's 2019/20 season was one which was testament to the argument for sticking by your manager. Had they seen better success in their opening ten games, they would have been pushing close to that seventh spot.
This campaign provides them with an opportunity to kick on and firmly place that Leicester result in the past. Southampton's form following that game, and the post-lockdown period, gives confidence that they can find themselves at the right-end of the table once again.
Arteta's Arsenal revolution to continue?
Arsenal have been a club struggling with a clear direction since Arsene Wenger's departure. Regulars in the top-four under their previous manager's guidance, the Gunners have failed to replicate that in the two seasons since he left.
Unai Emery's appointment didn't work out, although they did finish runners-up in the Europa League, and they were in danger of slipping into a managerial merry-go-round, the like of which so many clubs find themselves on.
In Mikel Arteta, Arsenal took a risk. He was a top player but someone who had little to no managerial experience. That said, working under the guidance of Pep Guardiola for multiple seasons will have a huge impact on anyone's career and we have already seen signs of that paying off.
An eighth-place finish can be seen as a success given that Arteta arrived midway through the season with the team sitting in 11th. It's not just the points on the board and the final position though; winning the FA Cup in his first season in charge is an achievement that can not be underestimated.
Granted, Wenger was in charge for a significant period of time but Arteta became the first Arsenal manager to win a trophy in their first season since George Graham in 1987. To not only turn around this team's fortunes but to also have silverware to show for it at the end of the season is a strong indicator of what we can expect to come.
The Premier League table from Arteta's first game in charge, a 1-1 draw with Bournemouth on Boxing Day, to the end of the season would have the Gunners sitting in sixth - just one point off Chelsea in fourth. His impact was immediate.
This was an Arsenal side who had won just five of their 18 games before Arteta appeared in the dugout. They would go unbeaten from the beginning of January to the lockdown period; eight games without defeat which included contests against Manchester United and Chelsea.
They have become a well-drilled team, the opposite of the mess Arteta inherited, and victory over Liverpool in the Community Shield indicates that this could be a good campaign for the Gunners - even if it was a game that is seen more of a warm-up than the trophy on offer.
The transfer window has brought Willian to the club as they look to reinforce their attacking options, while the impending arrival of Gabriel Magalhaes adds quality to a defence that has been lacking it in recent seasons. They won't be hugely active in this window, but Arteta's impact during a short spell at the club suggests that they may not need to be.
The most telling indication of the direction of this Arsenal team is the contract situation for star forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It seemed clear that he would depart the club in search of Champions League football, but the fact that the Gunners have managed to close in on a new deal for him to stay at the club reflects the new-found belief in this side.
This season could well be the one in which Arsenal return to the top-four picture. A lack of activity at Manchester United has led to questions about whether or not they can replicate last season's strong finish, while Chelsea's spending at the opposite end of the scale could well lead to similar issues.
The Blues have gone big with names such as Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva all joining the club. The defensive issues may still remain though and with added spending comes added pressure. All eyes will be on Frank Lampard and his Chelsea side to perform. Can they cope with the expectation considering there was little to none on them during the 2019/20 campaign?
Manchester United and Chelsea are both under the microscope while there will always be concern with Jose Mourinho at Tottenham.
Arsenal have been building and perhaps they didn't expect it to go this well so early into Arteta's spell at the club. He will be targeting another trophy this season, but in terms of the objectives, a top-four finish will surely be top of the list.
Best bet: Arsenal to finish in the top-four at 3/1
Worrying times at Wolves
Wolves have experienced a rapid rise up the standings over the past three seasons. They won the Sky Bet Championship title in convincing fashion and followed that up by finishing in the European places at the first time of asking on their Premier League return.
That led to a hectic schedule last season with Wolves looking to balance multiple competitions with a fairly small squad. No Europa League football could benefit them this time around, but the lack of activity in the transfer window has led to concerns.
The departure of Matt Doherty to Spurs, a team who they should consider as rivals in the Premier League, seems a bizarre transfer from a selling perspective. Of course, he was a player picked up for next to nothing some years ago but his performances have been solid in the Premier League and, with three years left on his contract, a fee of £15million seems far too low.
They could play Adama Traore there but there are concerns as to how good he will be defensively. Playing him in a right wing-back role also restricts his attacking impact and it's a move that doesn't really suit anyone. The other option is to play a left-back in that position but that is far from ideal.
Wolves' spending and recruitment over recent years has played a huge part in their rise up the divisions but this summer appeared to be one in which that has come to a standstill until just before the new season.
From nowhere they then broke their transfer record for Porto's teenager striker Fabio Silva, paying £35.6m for the 18-year-old. He's highly rated, but it's a big ask for him to come in and make an immediate impact this season. Left-back Marcal has also arrived from Lyon.
A change in recruitment policy at top level goes someway to explaining why Wolves have made this late, expensive and young addition to their squad.
Chairman Jeff Shi now leads the committee following the departures of Laurie Dalrymple and Kevin Thelwell over the past year. The lack of direct replacements highlights their change in direction.
A concern is how last summer saw Raul Jimenez and Leander Dendoncker arrive early in the window, while Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho came before August in 2018. Of course, players did arrive towards deadline day, but Wolves have done their better business early on in previous seasons.
Wolves won't be in relegation trouble, far from it, but there is a case to be made that this team could end up sitting in mid-table given that they haven't freshened up what must be a tired squad as much as they would have liked. Jimenez may enjoy a prolific season in which he's among the top scorers, but the other areas could end up being ones of concern as the campaign progresses.
On top of the recruitment, Wolves go into this season on the back of a poor finish at the end of the 2019/20 campaign. They won just two of their six final Premier League games in July, while their Europa League adventure came to an end at the quarter-finals stage as they were beaten by eventual winners Sevilla.
They could have hit a brick wall, which happens at every club at some point following a rise in position, and a mid-table finish wouldn't necessarily be the worst. However, with others improving, Wolves are in danger of being left behind.
Final table prediction
- Manchester City
- Manchester United
- Sheffield United
- Crystal Palace
- Aston Villa
- West Ham
- West Brom
Odds correct as of 0700 BST (07/09/20)
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