After winning the Premier League by an 18-point margin last season, it would be reasonable to have expected maiden Premier League champions Liverpool to be the bookmakers’ favourites to retain their title heading into the 2020/21 campaign.
The Citizens became the first side to retain the Premier League title in a decade in the 2018/19 campaign, narrowly holding off a formidable Liverpool challenge in the highest-quality title race in English football history.
However, after losing former captain Vincent Kompany to Anderlecht, and Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane for the majority of the season to injury, Pep Guardiola’s side looked considerably weaker in defence and a little less varied in attack last season.
They only lost six league games across their two title-winning campaigns, yet left the pitch with nothing on nine occasions last season.
Clearly the bookmakers are confident that this was an anomaly and expect them to return closer to the form which saw them average 99 points across two seasons.
I’m not so sure.
Kompany, Sane and David Silva were a huge part of those sides and have since departed.
Fernandinho (35) and Sergio Aguero (32) are another year older, and I’m not overly convinced by the signings of Nathan Aké or Ferran Torres.
Everyone knows City, at their best, are the best side in the league.
They have the best player, too, in Kevin de Bruyne, and if they sign a centre-back of Kalidou Koulibaly’s quality, they’d probably just about be worthy favourites given their squad depth in a congested season.
However, I do think the margin with which they frequently dispatch sides skews people’s thinking a little, especially in the age of expected goals (xG), which bookmakers now lean heavily on when pricing various markets.
You don’t receive extra points for winning 5-0. At odds-on, they don’t represent value to me in the outright betting.
A side that does is reigning champions Liverpool at 9/4 (bet365), who are being written off prematurely after fairly inconsistent form and performances after winning the title.
Admittedly, I do have reservations about a Jurgen Klopp side without fans in the ground.
Liverpool’s record at Anfield under the German has been phenomenal; April 2017 was the last time they lost there in the league, taking 55 points from a possible 57 last season. They will inevitably lose a little of their instrumental intensity without the famous Anfield atmosphere roaring them on.
Those reservations aside, Liverpool still have comfortably the most complete starting XI in my view.
They have the best goalkeeper, the best full-backs, the best centre-back, and the best wide forwards.
There’s room for more creativity in midfield, which could come in the shape of Naby Keita or the hotly-linked Thiago Alcantara, and Roberto Firmino needs to improve his consistency, especially in front of goal.
However, put simply: they’re the known quantity of the pack. Any side who finishes above Liverpool will win the league in my view.
One side which has spent over £200m this summer in an attempt to do exactly that is Chelsea, who are best-priced 11/1 (William Hill) to win their first title since 2017.
Frank Lampard’s side have brought in Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell, Hakim Ziyech, Kai Haverz and Timo Werner, with goalkeeper Edouard Mendy thought to be close to signing, too.
I can’t profess to know much about Mendy, but the confirmed signings are all players I rate very highly indeed and will considerably improve Chelsea’s first XI.
Werner in particular is a player I expect to make an instant impact for the Blues.
The 24-year-old scored 88 league goals in four seasons with RB Leipzig and is capable of leading the line or drifting inside from the left. Havertz may take a little longer to adapt to the physicality and speed of the Premier League given his more languid style, but technically he’s a phenomenal player and as the most expensive of the bunch is clearly a player Lampard rates very highly.
Ziyech will provide a good option from the right-flank, Chilwell is a guaranteed upgrade on Marcos Alonso and Emerson Palmieri at left-back, and Silva will add invaluable experience and quality at the back providing he isn’t asked to play too high up the pitch as he nears his 36th birthday.
A younger defender along with a more proven goalkeeper than Mendy (if he does sign) would have had me fully convinced Chelsea would challenge for the title. Regardless, I still think they can and 11/1 therefore looks a very generous price.
Manchester United ended last season like a train to seal a Champions League spot, but have drifted to as long as 20/1 (Betway) in recent weeks to win their first title since 2013.
Perhaps this is because Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side’s only summer signing so far has been midfielder Donny van de Beek for Ajax for around £40m.
The Dutchman is a player I really like: intelligent, box-to-box, and proficient in front of goal, with 28 goals in his last three league campaigns.
However, I’m not sure a midfielder who comes alive in attacking areas is exactly what they needed to take them to the next level.
Fred, Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay generally shared the holding midfield role last season and while they’re all decent players, none are close to being top-level.
A ball-winner and another top centre-back is what United are lacking in my view and that doesn’t look to have changed.
While their front four is arguably as good as any in the league, and they’ll be an exciting watch again for sure, I think it could be another season of steady progress and consolidation in the top four at Old Trafford.
The bookmakers clearly don’t expect the title to head to North London with Arsenal and Tottenham considered long-shots at 33/1 (various) and 60/1 (Betfair) respectively.
Both sides will be looking to build on promising post-lockdown form under Mikel Arteta and José Mourinho, but fourth place will surely be their ceiling when it comes to realistic pre-season aims.
New boys Leeds United are priced at 225/1 (Paddy Power) to become the first side to win the English top-flight directly after promotion since Nottingham Forest in 1978. Marcelo Bielsa’s side could trouble the top-half but top spot is a stretch.
Leicester City, meanwhile, are 250/1 (Betway) to do, well, a Leicester.
Brendan Rodgers’ side were Liverpool’s nearest challenger at times last season but fell away dramatically in the second-half of the campaign.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (250/1, Betway) and Everton (300/1, Betfred) are also considered rank outsiders.