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    Sputnik Intelligent Punter's Guide to the New Football Season (Part Two)

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    Neil Clark
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    The new English Premiership season kicks off on Friday evening, when Manchester United take on Leicester. How will the division pan out this year - and what are the best bets?

    A few key stats are worth bearing in mind before heading to the bookies. Unlike the Championship (previewed by me here last week), market leaders have an excellent record.

    READ MORE: The Sputnik Intelligent Punter's Guide to the New Football Season (Part One)

    Only once this century (Chelsea in 2015/6), has the favorite failed to finish in the first three. The favorite or the second favorite has won the Premiership in 12 of the last 14 seasons.  The most spectacular exception was, of course, Leicester City's 5000-1 win in 2015/6. While it pays to focus on the top two on the betting for 'win' purposes, there is sometimes good each-way value about placed teams.

    Tottenham have been placed at odds of 150-1 and 10-1 twice in the last three years, while Liverpool were 33-1 shots when runners-up in 2013-4. Turning our attention to relegation, in 20 of the last 23 seasons at least one of the relegated teams had been promoted the previous season. Last year, all three promoted teams managed to survive, but the stats indicate that we're likely to lose at least one this year. Teams that only narrowly avoided relegation in May have a relatively high chance of being relegated the following season, so keep that in mind too when looking for your three for the drop.

    READ MORE: The Champions League Has Made European Football Too Predictable

    It's also worth looking at whether a team is on a downward trajectory, standing still, or has forward momentum. The relegation of Stoke City, who had been in the Premiershipship since 2008, and looked a well-established top-flight side, surprised quite a few people, but the club had been regressing, results-wise, since they beat Everton 4-3 at Goodison Park on Boxing Day 2015,  and the same can be said about Swansea City, in decline since they beat Manchester United in August 2015. The other team to be relegated last season, West Brom, had also ended the 2016-7 season in poor form, so the clues about what was to come were definitely there. 

    READ MORE: How Will England Fare in the World Cup?— And a Premier League Review

    Now let's take a closer look at the 20 Premiership teams and their prospects, in alphabetical order.

    A.F.C. BOURNEMOUTH. Best odds: 2000-1. Prediction: Bottom half

    Eddie Howe's men have finished 16th, 9th and 12th in their three seasons in the top flight but looked to be in a spot of bother last season after a poor start and defensive weaknesses (61 goals conceded) need to be addressed. That said, they will always score goals, and the likelihood is that once again the Cherries will have too much about them to be relegated.    

    ARSENAL. Best Odds: 25-1. Prediction: Top four challengers.

    Arsene Wenger has gone after 21 years in the hot-seat, to be replaced by ex-Sevilla and PSG boss Unai Emery. The defense has been strengthened and pre-season included an eye-catching 5-1 win over PSG. They were runners-up in the Premiership as recently as 2016, so you could make a case for having a small each-way flutter on them at current odds as gatecrashers into the top three usually come from sides that finished in the top six the previous season (Arsenal were sixth in 2017/8).

    BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION. Best odds: 2000-1. Prediction: Mid-table

    Strong home form helped the Seagulls maintain their newly-won top-flight status last season, and with the squad having been strengthened, there can be further improvement this term, provided a more positive approach is adopted by manager Chris Hughton away from home. 

    BURNLEY. Best odds: 2000-1. Prediction: Bottom half

    Sean Dyche guided the Lancashire team to their highest top-flight placing since the mid-70s last year, but things will be tougher this season, as there is the added distraction of Europa League football to contend with. It would be a great achievement to improve on, or even match, last season's seventh-placed position, and some regression in the league table looks inevitable. That said, given the team's organization, defensive solidity and work-ethic,  relegation should be avoided.

    CARDIFF CITY. Best odds: 3000-1. Prediction: Relegated

    The Bluebirds only lasted one season when they were last promoted to the top flight and it is likely to be a similar story again. Neil Warnock's battling team won't lie down and die in front of anyone, but while they could claim some surprise scalps in the opening months, when confidence will be high, they probably won't have enough quality over a 38-game season to maintain their status.

    CHELSEA. Best odds: 20-1. Prediction: Top four challengers

    The Blues in recent years have followed one disappointing League season with a good one, so don't rule out improvement on last season's fifth position under new boss Maurizio Sarri. The squad, after all, is still full of talent, and its been augmented by the signing of Jorginho from Sarri's old club Napoli.   

    CRYSTAL PALACE. Best odds: 1000-1. Prediction: Top half.

    Manager Roy Hodgson pulled off an amazing recovery act after Palace had endured a nightmare start. They were the eighth best team in the division in the second half of the season and put in some excellent performances. Much depends on whether they can hold on to key man Wilfried Zaha, but if they do, a top half finish- or even at top eight finish, can be achieved. 

    EVERTON. Best odds: 300-1. Prediction: Top half

    Big Sam Allardyce guided the Toffees away from the relegation zone to the heights of 8th place, but that wasn't enough for him to keep his job and he's been replaced by Marco Silva. While the quality of the football is likely to be better, the new manager will find it tough to take Everton any higher, though if his previous appointments in England are anything to go by, the best results will come early on.   

    FULHAM. Best odds: 1000-1. Prediction: Top-half.

    Back in the top flight after four years absence, the Cottagers had a terrific second half of last season in the Championship (acquiring ten more points in the second half of the campaign than anyone else), and that momentum can stand them in good stead as they seek to consolidate their position. An attack-minded team with plenty of talent in offensive positions, they should be an entertaining addition to the Premiership and could surprise a few people with how well they do.  

    HUDDERSFIELD TOWN. Best odds 2000-1. Prediction: Relegated.

    Coach David Wagner performed a minor miracle in keeping the Terriers up last season, with just 28 goals scored. Survival was achieved in the main through resolute defending, and a safety-first approach, but just three wins were recorded in the second half of the season, which doesn't augur well for this campaign. While relegation is no certainty, given Wagner's tactical prowess, it's still a very likely scenario.

    LEICESTER CITY. Best odds 500-1. Prediction: Bottom half.

    The shock 5000-1 winners in 2016, the Foxes improved on their 2016/7 twelfth place, to finish ninth last season. But that doesn't tell the whole story as Claude Puel's team won just five of their last 19 matches and finished well down the 2nd half of season league table.  While new players have been added, the influential Riyad Mahrez, who scored 12 goals in the league last season, has gone, and the percentage call is to back them to drop out of the top ten.

    LIVERPOOL. Best odds: 4-1. Prediction: Runners-up.

    Jurgen Klopp's men have seen sustained market support following some major activity in the transfer market, but even if they do improve on last season's showing- which is highly likely- it's worth remembering they still have 25 points to make up on Man City. The Reds can beat anyone on their day (as they showed with three wins against Man City last season), but turning draws against non-top-six teams into wins is going to be absolutely crucial if they are to put in a sustained title challenge.   

    MANCHESTER CITY. Best odds; 4-6. Prediction: Champions. 

    Won the title doing handstands last season, breaking quite a few records in the process. No team has retained the Premiership title since Alex Ferguson's Man Utd in 2009, which is a negative stat to overcome; but even if there is some regression from last season's incredibly high levels of performance, their rivals still have between 19 and 37 points to make up, which could prove to be 'Mission Impossible'.  

    MANCHESTER UNITED. Best odds: 12-1. Prediction: Top four challengers

    You could say the Red Devils represent a bit of each-way value seeing how much they've been on the slide in the markets due to fears that manager Jose Mourinho is losing the plot, once again in his third season at a club. But last year's runners-up have still got a very strong squad, (no matter what Mourinho says), and it would have to be some implosion to see them drop out of top-four contention.

    NEWCASTLE UNITED. Best odds: 750-1.  Prediction: Mid-table

    It was a strange first season back in the Premiership for the Magpies: a good start, followed by a worrying mid-season slump and then a strong finish. So much depends on whether manager Rafael Benitez stays- if he does, Newcastle can comfortably maintain a mid-table position, or even push a bit higher; if he goes, then it could be decidedly tricky.

    SOUTHAMPTON. Best odds: 1000-1, Prediction: Strugglers, possible relegation.

    Despite a late rally to avoid relegation, the Saints fit the profile of a team in danger of the drop: they only finished one place ahead of the bottom three last season and they have been in decline since challenging for a top six place a few seasons back. Another tough season looks on the cards. 

    TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR. Best odds: 20-1. Prediction: Top six.

    Have we seen 'Peak Tottenham'? They've done really well to finish third, second and third the last three seasons but still have no silverware to show for their at times exhilarating football and the concern now is that with Man City looking as strong as ever, and Liverpool getting out their chequebook, their chance of winning the title may have gone.  They may even go backwards a little this season as they've failed to add to their squad.

    WATFORD. Best odds: 2000-1. Prediction: Strugglers, possible relegation.

    Eighth in late November after a vibrant start, their form in the second half of the season dropped off alarmingly, with no away wins and just one goal away from Vicarage Road in their last nineteen games. New players have been brought in, but overall they have the profile of a team who are likely to struggle and a battle against relegation could well be on the cards.

    WEST HAM UNITED. Best odds:  500-1. Prediction: Top half.

    There's renewed optimism in East London with the arrival of ex-Man City title-winning boss Pelligrini and some exciting signings, which include record £40m buy Felipe Anderson from Lazio. If they were still playing at Upton Park, you'd be tipping them to challenge for the top six, but their record at the London Stadium (six defeats and a negative goal difference last season) tempers enthusiasm. That said, they look likely to improve on last season's 13th position.

    WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS. Best odds: 250-1. Prediction: Mid-table

    Last season's runaway Championship winners should have enough about them to comfortably hold their own in the top flight, especially as they've strengthened again this summer.  A top ten position may be attainable, but it's more likely they'll finish a few places off that.

    Conclusion: Manchester City is going to be hard to dislodge as Champions, though the title race looks sure to be closer than last season, with Liverpool, in particular, likely to put in a stronger challenge. Arsenal and Chelsea, both under new managers, could improve on last season's showings and Man Utd, despite the concerns over Mourinho, won't be too far away either.  West Ham, Crystal Palace (provided they keep Zaha), and Brighton, could improve on last year's placings, but Leicester and Burnley could regress. Newly promoted Wolves and Fulham should survive, but Cardiff looks in real danger of the drop along with Huddersfield, while Watford and Southampton are other likely strugglers.

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    The views and opinions expressed by Neil Clark are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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