Premier League Season Preview: The battle for places

Manchester City are the big favourites to win the Premier League, but there are leagues within the league and this season the lines are being blurred like never before between the top challengers and the also-rans.

We had a two-horse race for a couple of years, there’s the crucial top four spots and we’ve got a ‘big six’ that doesn’t necessarily reflect the league standings.

There are betting markets on all of these and you can also throw in a top half finish, which could be the most complicated riddle of all to solve as we’re seeing promoted sides such as Leeds come up and taking on the establishment with ease.

For more on all 20 teams read our runner-by-runner guide right here

For here I’ll just focus on the betting markets and what the best bets are for each…

Top four race a closed book

Right, we’re hardly breaking new ground here but I think that backing the obvious favourite in the ‘name the top four’ market offers us a touch of value for what really should be a nailed-on result.

Over the last five years it’s only Tottenham who have managed to muscle in on this foursome, doing so three times, but you’d be mad to think they could do so again this year of all years.

Leicester have been knocking on the door but they always seem to find a way to fall short and if they couldn’t do it last year when Liverpool were an injury short of asking Jamie Carragher to come back to play centre half then you feel their chance has gone.

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The problem is there’s so much improvement in the big guns – Liverpool have Virgil van Dijk back and now a truck load of defenders, City have Jack Grealish, United have Jadon Sancho and European champions Chelsea have a full pre-season under Thomas Tuchel.

Spurs with new boss Nuno and possibly without Harry Kane won’t get a sniff and nothing Arsenal, Leicester or West Ham have done suggests they could bridge what looks a sizeable gap over the course of a long season.

Leicester are seen most likely at 3/1 to make the top four, and new signing Patson Daka could be a lively addition, with Arsenal 100/30 after signing Ben White and Spurs 5/1 – although that price will fluctuate depending on Kane. To me they’re hopeful punts banking on some big injuries to the big guns, and I’d much rather take the 2/1 on offer for the status quo to remain this term.

Back Man City, Liverpool, Man Utd & Chelsea to make the top four @ 2/1

Foxes rightly firm favourites for top six

On the face of it it’s three into two with Leicester (5/6), Arsenal (6/5) and Tottenham (6/5) battling it out for two spots behind the big four, as is reflected in the betting, but it really is an intriguing heat this with plenty of other sides capable of making that step up.

Arsenal splashed out for Ben White which should improve them, but they’re still a bet ‘meh’ for me with no real idea what philosophy Mikel Arteta is trying to implement at the Emirates. They did the double over Chelsea and closed out the season with five straight wins, but that could have been as other teams eased down late on.

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They’ll need more consistency to trouble Leicester, who even at slight odds-on are worth a bet as it’d only be a big run of injuries and European football seeing them take their eyes off the ball as Brendan Rodgers dealt with plenty of treatment room trouble last season to still give fourth a good run.

Spurs could be anything, they really could, and they look the ones to take on if nothing else purely on the Kane situation and new manager causing some confusion.

They’re 4/7 to finish outside the top six.

Leeds the best of the outsiders

Everton are pegged as the next best at 16/5 to crack that top six under Rafa Benitez – although he’ll need a fast start to prevent the Goodison faithful from getting the hump with the former Liverpool boss. He’s on a very short leash.

Leeds must have a shout at 4/1 if they can avoid a second season syndrome, but you’d think Marcelo Bielsa would be far too experienced to fall into that trap. Junior Firpo could be another excellent signing and if anything they should be better than the side that finished ninth, six points off sixth, last season.

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West Ham are the reigning sixth placed finish title holders but the only way is down for them this season I’m afraid after a record Premier League points tally last term. It’s the dreaded Europa League effect that could scupper their chances of climbing even higher.

They’re 9/2 for a top six spot and at that price I’d rather even take a punt on Aston Villa at 5/1 to stand more of a chance when proving to be a better all-around team without Jack Grealish than with him. Emi Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings can provide plenty of goal threat and it could well be a case of ‘Jack who?’ come the end of the season.

So Leicester for me, but a nice loophole here is to back them in the ‘betting without the big six‘ market as then instead of 5/6 on them finishing above one of either Spurs or Arsenal, you effectively get 11/10 on them finishing above West Ham, Leeds and Everton.

Back Leicester to top the table without the ‘big six’

Top half finish

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The middle of the pack is so volatile this season with a host of sides all capable of beating each other on any given day and a few able to go on a decent run of form – especially with fans coming back into the equation.

Villa finished 11th last season for example, four points behind Everton, but have made some nice-looking signings to replace Grealish. Villa are 10/11 to finish in the top half and 4/6 for a bottom 10 finish.

Wolves under new boss Bruno Lage could be in for a tough season, while I’ve a feeling Southampton may also struggle and Ralph Hasenhuttl may not last the season – more through his own frustrations than anything else.

Brighton are another mystery side after their well-documented xG exploits last season – if they start sticking a few chances away they could be dangerous but I’ve got my doubts and 11/10 on a top half finish is nowhere near enough to tempt me.

The only real value is in taking a punt in the top half finish market as opposed to the bottom half.

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Crystal Palace are 4/1 for a top 10 under new boss Patrick Vieira – although he’s got everything to prove at Selhurst Park.

Newcastle and Burnley are both 11/2 and only just above the three promoted sides in the betting. They’ve both got decent squads and experienced managers but you just can’t see them putting too many runs together and both look to be lacking that spark of excitement.

Fans returning may help but neither teams fills you with confidence.

Watford and Norwich have recent Premier League experience but you never trust the Hornets not to go chopping and changing managers while Norwich have lost Buendia and could even lose Cantwell.

Both are 12/1 but fellow newcomers Brentford are just half that price at 6/1 and there’s a real buzz (get it) about the Bees, their goal-scoring machine Ivan Toney and their likeable manager Thomas Frank.

They may be in for a rude awakening or they could have a glorious arrival to match Wolves and Leeds. There’s certainly more enthusiasm about the place than at more established clubs so at the price may be worth a speculative punt to then sit back and enjoy the ride.

Back Brentford for a top-half finish @ 7.06/1