After winning its first English league soccer championship in 44 years, Manchester City will only have to wait 12 months to take the trophy again, according to U.K. bookmakers.
City is the 5-4 favorite with William Hill Plc and Ladbrokes Plc to retain its Premier League title, meaning a successful $4 bet will bring in $5 plus the original stake. Manchester United is the 9-4 second choice ahead of European champion Chelsea, 5-1, at William Hill.
City’s favoritism going into this weekend’s opening round of games comes even after record 19-time champion United added more new players than its neighbor in the offseason. United signed midfielders Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell, and has agreed on a fee with Arsenal for Dutch striker Robin van Persie, who led the Premier League with 30 goals last season.
William Hill’s Rupert Adams said United’s deal for Van Persie wasn’t enough to make it the betting favorite over City because of the striker’s history.
“Last year was fantastic, but it was his first injury-free season and he’s very prone to injury,” Adams said in a telephone interview. “We’re factoring in half a season’s worth of good play rather than a season’s worth.”
Adams added that City’s forwards, who include Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko, are a more formidable unit than United’s, even with the addition of Van Persie.
“Squad-wise, and certainly striker-wise, they look stronger,” he said of City.
The Premier League, soccer’s richest domestic competition, starts its 21st season in two days with seven games. The following day, Manchester City begins its title defense against newly promoted Southampton, with Manchester United completing the opening round at Everton on Aug. 20.
City won the championship on the final day of last season by scoring two goals in stoppage time, the second coming in the closing seconds from Aguero, to beat Queens Park Rangers and deny United its 20th title on goal difference. City manager Roberto Mancini said his team will now be the target.
“We know that we cannot rest on that success,” the Italian said before last weekend’s Community Shield win against Chelsea. “We must forget that we won the title. Every team will want to beat us and now we must work harder than ever before.”
Although owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan has spent more than $1 billion since buying the club in 2008, City has so far only added midfielder Jack Rodwell, 21, from Everton for a fee U.K. newspaper reports said was about 15 million pounds ($23.5 million).
United signed Japan midfielder Kagawa, 23, from German champion Borussia Dortmund for an undisclosed fee and added England under-19 international Powell, 18, from Crewe. Newspapers including the Daily Telegraph said the combined fee for both players was 21 million pounds.
Arsenal remains the bookmakers’ fourth pick with 12-1 odds, the same it had before the Van Persie agreement with United.
William Hill’s Adams said the Gunners prepared for the striker’s departure by adding Germany striker Lukas Podolski, 27, Olivier Giroud, the top scorer in France’s elite league last season, and Spain midfielder Santi Cazorla.
The Daily Mirror also reported today that United striker Javier Hernandez could move to Arsenal, which would give the Gunners another boost, according to Adams.
“If that’s the case, we potentially see them as good,” he said. “It’s been no secret that RVP was going, it was just a question of where to. They’ve covered it already.”
Two other teams are expected by bookmakers to battle for a Champions League place and both have new managers. Brendan Rodgers moves to Liverpool after leading Swansea to 11th-place in its Premier League debut season, while Andre Villas-Boas takes over at Tottenham after being fired eight months into his Chelsea tenure amid player discord.
“He was very unlucky in his short spell at Chelsea,” Adams said of Villas-Boas, 34. “He’ll now be able to mold a squad much easier without basically a player revolt. He’s a very good coach and will do extremely well.”
The fight at the bottom of the standings to avoid relegation to the second-tier Championship may be tight.
Reading is the even-money favorite to go straight back down a division, followed by Norwich (5-4) and Southampton (11-8). Wigan, which used a late run to avoid the drop last season, Swansea and promoted West Ham will also battle to stay up, according to William Hill.
Adams said the relegation fight will be wide open and he wouldn’t be surprised if all three newcomers survive, just as QPR, Norwich and Swansea did last season.
“I don’t think the Premiership sides are expecting the ability and the drive and desire of many of these Championship sides when they arrive,” Adams said. “I’m pretty sure one will at least stay up and it’s just a question of how many.”
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce said promoted clubs have to be at their very best to remain in the top flight.
“In the Championship last season, we could have been at 80 percent and still won a game,” he said on the club’s website. “We’ll have to be 100 percent every game to win in the Premier League.”
ODDS TO WIN PREMIER LEAGUE TITLE ================================ William Hill Ladbrokes Manchester City 5-4 5-4 Manchester United 9-4 2-1 Chelsea 5-1 9-2 Arsenal 12-1 12-1 Liverpool 16-1 16-1 Tottenham 25-1 25-1 Newcastle 150-1 150-1 Everton 250-1 250-1 Sunderland 1,000-1 1,000-1 Aston Villa 2,000-1 2,000-1 Fulham 2,000-1 750-1 QPR 2,500-1 2,000-1 Stoke 2,500-1 3,000-1 West Brom 2,500-1 3,000-1 Swansea 2,500-1 4,000-1 West Ham 5,000-1 3,000-1 Wigan 5,000-1 3,000-1 Southampton 5,000-1 3,500-1 Norwich 5,000-1 5,000-1 Reading 7,500-1 5,000-1