The English Premier League kicks off on Saturday August 15 with much anticipation.
First, if you’re going to bet soccer, get as many outs as you can that offer “Asian Handicap” prices. The Asian Handicap works like the North American line offerings we’re used to (Man United -1.5 goals, etc.), but is presented with less juice than the European-style bets where punters just pick a winner or back the draw. Many of the larger clearinghouses offer five-cent lines (favorite -110, dog +105 etc.).
Two teams we’ll be going against early in the season are Burnley and Portsmouth. Burnley won the promotional playoff to qualify for EPL this year and have done shockingly little to improve their club. While competent in the lower division last year, Burnley only had a goal difference of +12 and has not added an impact player in the offseason. Burnley are going straight back down.
Portsmouth faces a serious financial crisis and has had to slash payroll. If the club doesn’t get sold quickly, more players will be sold before month’s end. Unlike in North American sports, most soccer players get bought and sold between clubs. Very few players are ever traded. Good teams in bad times either rip themselves apart, or the court appointed receiver does it for them.
Worth watching for different reasons this season are Chelsea and Manchester City. Both have tried to spend their way to glory. Chelsea is six years into the experiment under oligarch Roman Abramovich. The “Bank of Russia” team has had EPL success, but has never won the Champions League – the only trophy Abramovich craves.
The ongoing world economic crisis has hit Abramovich hard, forcing Chelsea to be quiet in offseason’s player market. New manager Ancelotti will try to get this star-studded group to play like a team—good luck with that.
Manchester City has passed between billionaires in recent years, but unlike Chelsea they’ve continued to buy and dump players. This year’s major arrivals include Roque Santa Cruz, Gareth Barry, Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez and Kolo Toure. If you’re totally sick of seeing old faces win the league, City are available at +1200 or so, but this team needs time to gel and the right price is more like +2500 or more.
Aston Villa will not win the league this year but will be worth betting week-to-week until the market catches on. Barry has moved on to City but Stewart Downing’s arrived and Martin O’Neill has a great mix of veterans and youth that has looked good in the preseason. A top-four finish is within reach this time if the team plays up to its potential.
Right, so who is going to win the whole thing?
Chelsea at +200 doesn’t interest me. There are too many dramas surrounding this group, and if the Champions League run materializes in the spring, the EPL will be sacrificed.
Liverpool are on offer at +350, but they proved to have little depth last year. Now nine-times European Champions Real Madrid have pillaged their defense, buying Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso. Arsenal (+800) was not good enough last year and have not improved their team.
Our pick, then, in Man United to repeat. Grab them between +225 and +250. Sure, Real Madrid has bought Man United’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, for a cool $130 million. Fear not. Man United are deep and have the money to go out and buy whatever piece they feel is missing – now, or during the winter transfer window. Sir Alex Ferguson is still the best manager in English soccer, and any price better than +200 is worth jumping on—particularly on credit.
Let’s have ourselves a very profitable season.