Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Top 4

The top four poses an exciting dilemma this season, as the uncertainty of last term looks set to continue. By my reckoning, the top two spots should be filled by the Manchester boys, leaving only two places up for grabs. As I mentioned yesterday, Chelsea look stronger this year and look a good bet for 3rd place and currently sit at 1.79 to finish in the top 3. However they did finish in 6th place last year, and determination to defend their European crown may cause domestic aims to be ignored just like last time, meaning that anything could happen in there. But this really only leaves room for one other team from either Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Newcastle to take the holy grail that is a place in Europe's top competition. Other teams could be in the mix, Newcastle surprised us all last year, but with such competition this year, it is unlikely any other team will be able to mount a serious challenge. Incidentally, if you fancy the Manchester clubs to dominate up top, they're available on the straight forecast at 3.9 (City/United) and 5.5 (United/City), both of which are likely to trade lower throughout the season, therefore representing good value.


For the first time in a while the Gunners have experienced a respectable amount of Summer investment, and will look to push on from the 3rd place they scraped last season. We might have to wait until the end of August before seeing what Arsenal's squad looks like however, as the Van Persie saga draws on and rumours about Song's sale are escalating. Despite the excellent signing of Santi Cazorla, and the still-to-be-tested signings of Podolski and Giroud, Van Persie's departure will leave Arsenal very thin on the ground at the top. One of their main downfalls last season was their reliance upon their captain, as the woeful Chamakh was the next best thing for them. Losing 30-goal Van Persie will be a huge loss and with Podolski and Cazorla preferring to play on the wings, it leaves only the untested Giroud as a recognised striker of any quality. Should Song depart as well, they will be in real trouble, having been Arsenal's second best player last season. Injuries will need to be kind to the team, particularly at the back where the squad is its most bare, but with Wilshere, Walcott and Oxlaide-Chamberlain all currently ruled out, it appears to have continued with a familiar trend.

Overall, I expect Arsenal to be one of the leading teams in the hunt for fourth spot, but 1.68 represents little value at the moment. I am confident that that price will trade a lot higher during the campaign as teams in and around that spot tend to be pretty inconsistent. For now though, a lay of Arsenal to finish in the top 3 looks good at 2.9.


Spurs flirted with the title for a while last season before stumbling to a 4th place finish, which unusually put them into the Europa League only. Villas Boas has stepped in and the market doesn't seem to know quite what to think about this, with a fair degree of uncertainty surrounding the man who was sacked from Chelsea in less than a year. It is my opinion though, that he will be a lot more effective in a club which he has full control over, and we have seen his true potential from his time at Porto. He will bring stability to the team and his attacking style should suit Spurs who have an abundance of attacking talent. That being said, the loss of Luka Modric will come as a huge blow (should it happen), and he will need to be properly replaced if Spurs are going to truly challenge for the top 4. Sigurdsson is a good buy and should do well, but he is not in the same league as Modric, and I expect Levy to go shopping before September 1st. They are also desperately missing a striker and, should they end up with only Defoe, their attacking threat will be significantly reduced and I would question their ability to challenge the top 4 at all.

They do, however, still possess a strong base to the team, and the signing of Vertonghen will provide stability to the back 4. Having hung on to Bale and Van Der Vaart, their starting 11 would still be one of the most powerful in the league if they were able to bring in a classy striker. They also have the advantage of not being in the Champions League, unlike Chelsea and Arsenal, so may benefit from having a fitter squad towards the end of the season (it is unlikely they will go all out in the Europa League). Overall, it is a waiting game with Spurs, as their transfer activity looks far from done. They are currently odds of 3 to finish top 4 which looks big, but should they bring in some big players, expect that price to tumble.


It will be almost like second-season-syndrome for Newcastle after their remarkable climb to 5th place last sesason. So far they have only spent £1million on new faces after a pretty expensive January presumably used up a lot of their funds. In terms of a starting 11, Newcastle's team is strong in most areas, and the likes of Coloccini and Cabaye would walk into United or Chelsea's team. In terms of their squad however, they haven't strengthened when others around them have, and they will struggle with the extra burden of Europe to contend with. Realistically, the top 4 looks out of their reach and the market seems to have realised that with their odds at 15. Although they are big odds I would be wary about taking them on for a trade as I'm unsure if they will be able to continue their form from last season. The top 6 looks like a more realistic target and the odds of 4 look very appealing for a back to lay trade.


There are some who think they will be in the mix at the top, and others who think that they will fall behind Everton yet again. I buy neither. They will be better drilled and play a lot nicer football, but ultimately their squad is not good enough to find its way into the top 4. Even with the apparent addition of Nuri Sahin on loan (apparently it will be announced tomorrow), I still don't think that their squad has the strength and depth. Not yet, anyway. I believe in Rodgers as a manager and he has a decent core in the Liverpool squad, but it will take time and I can't see it working immediately. Their attacking options look particularly bare, with the Suarez the only goalscoring striker available. Coral go 11/8 that he will be their top scorer, and that looks like a price worth taking. Despite missing as many as he could manage last season and only netting 11 league goals, the closest to him was Bellamy on 6 goals, and he is meant to be leaving this summer. Another thing is that Rodger's side is unlikely to be blessed with goals. Swansea saw the least amount of games where both teams score (14/38), and Anfield saw the least amount of goals of all the stadia in England. Put simply: Liverpool's boring style is set to get even more boring, so backing under 2.5 goals in most games looks a good shout, though I doubt you'll get much value. Lucas returning for the Reds is a huge bonus as he really started to show promising form before his injury, but it will only help to bolster an already pretty sturdy defence and I think attack will be their main problem throughout. 3.35 looks a good price to lay Liverpool at for the top 4, and I wouldn't be surprised if it traded a lot higher than that very soon.


The teams in the mix for the top 4 will chop and change drastically throughout the season, as each of these teams have proved themselves to be unreliable and inconsistent. None of them have a big enough squad to maintain form for the whole year, particularly with cup competitions and Europe to deal with also, so there will definitely be a big opening for some trading throughout. If anyone takes an early lead in the table I would advise laying them quickly.

On a side note, I have just heard the news about Van Persie to United. So that leaves us with Van Persie, Rooney, Kagawa and Valencia vs Aguero, Tevez, Silva and Yaya vs Torres, Hazard, Mata and Oscar. Wow. We are in for a treat. From the top 7, only Spurs have strengthened their defence, so we may see some goals...

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