Last season was a shock, to put it mildly. Leicester City, marooned at the base of the table for much of the previous season, won the league with room to breathe, ten points clear of their nearest rival, Arsenal.
On the first day of the season, Ladbrokes were offering odds of 5,000-11 on Leicester to win the Premier League, and a probability of 0.02% of the Foxes winning the title.
Understandably, the bookmakers are a lot more conservative going into the 2016/7 season with the highest odds a mere 1,500-1 given to the likes of Hull City and West Bromwich Albion by Bet365, with many, including Ladbrokes, Coral and William Hill not offering over 1,000-1 for any team.
Interestingly, the 14th place team in last season’s standings, the same position Leicester finished the season prior, are the rank outsiders across the bookies.
Amazingly, Leicester, after their heroics, are only given 16-1 to be relegated this season and 30-1 to win the league by 888Sport. Meaning the bookies think Leicester are almost twice as likely to be relegated as retaining their championship.
However, the larger question is whether the ‘big clubs’ can reassert their dominance after the ‘blip’ of having a team with the total budget of one or two of their signings massively surpass them.
The fact that three of the biggest clubs of recent years have changed their managers, and three of the biggest names in football, means in all likelihood that a lot of money will be splashed about before the season begins.
Pep Guardiola has left the demolishing functionality of Bayern Munich to have a crack at European dominance with a Manchester City side that never looked close to winning the league. Although they have won the league twice in the last five years, they are a team in need of an overhaul.
Guardiola has already bought Borussia Dortmund midfielder İlkay Gündoğan and striker Nolito from Celta Vigo to give Sergio Aguero a hand upfront. Aguero is already seen as favourite for next season’s Golden Boot with SkyBet and a host of other bookies offering 7-2 odds.
On the other side of Manchester, the ‘Special One’ Jose Mourinho has finally got the job that he had sought for a long time. Manchester United, after failing in the post-Alex Ferguson era with David Moyes and the Louis van Gaal, have given the hot seat to the Portuguese manager.
Mourinho has spent little time splashing the cash, and although he bought Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free, he has spent over £55 million on center back Eric Bailly from Villarreal and attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Borussia Dortmund.
It is highly unlikely that either Manchester clubs have finished their spending either.
Chelsea’s manager Antonio Conte was supposedly too busy with the Italian national team at the European Championships to spend too much time dealing with his new club. However, he still found some time to purchase Marseille striker Michy Batshuayi for £33 million.
The two North London teams who battled it out for the places below Leicester have yet to flash the cash, with both teams modestly bringing in only one player a piece, Southampton’s Victor Wanyama will team up again with Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs and Swiss hard-man midfielder Granit Xhaka joining The Gunners from Borussia Monchengladbach.
For Arsene Wenger in particular, this is a crucial season. The longest serving manager in the Premier League has one more year left of his contract to make it to 20 years at the helm. Many Arsenal fans were disappointed at another season where they blew a championship they led at the turn of the year.
Some Arsenal fans are already readying themselves for further disappointment, especially after Jamie Vardy decided to spurn the option of moving to The Emirates in favour of another season at the Foxes.
Liverpool have moved up the betting odds after an interesting first season from manager Jürgen Klopp. While they were agonizingly close to an Europa League victory, they didn’t really threaten to challenge for the league. However, many commentators feel that there was enough in the first season to claim that Liverpool are an improving side, even if they have only added Southampton winger Sadio Mane for £34 million and Mainz goalkeeper Loris Karius to give greater competition to Simon Mignolet.
Across Stanley Park, Everton, who underachieved last season under Roberto Martinez, have replaced him with Ronald Koeman who steered his Southampton side to a very creditable sixth place finish.
Koeman has already started the business of reshaping his squad by letting such senior players as Tim Howard, Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman leave. However, apart from plucking some names out of the lower leagues, the Dutch manager hasn’t made any big signings.
As for the three promoted teams, few interesting signings have been made, with the possible exception of Middlesborough signing defensive midfielder Marten de Roon from Serie A side Atalanta. SkyBet offers 14-1 on all three being relegated together at the end of the season.
Last season was a nightmare for most of the top teams in England, showed up that a team with much fewer resources can outstrip them where it matters. Leicester are now the paradigm for any underdog in football to believe that they too can achieve the impossible.
During this summer’s European Championships, some were starting to think that Iceland, a nation with a population equivalent to Leicester, could follow in their footsteps. However, apart from knocking out England they were not able to reach such heights.
Nevertheless, the fans left us with enduring images of their ‘Viking chant’ and Paddy Power are offering odds on which Premier League fans will mimic the chant first, with Hull City fans favourite at 6-4 and West Brom rank outsiders at 25-1.
Not quite sure how they calculated that spread….