After the weirdness (and, at times, tedium) of last season's concertinaed behind-closed-doors matches-every-day affair, the delayed Euro 2020 tournament has acted as a palate cleanser ahead of the return to something closely resembling normality in the upcoming 2021/22 football season.
The regular reader (thanks mum) will know this is my one-time foray into my other passion, footy, and she also knows I like to frame a bet within this virtual page. More on that in a moment but first, as is customary, how did last season's effort go?
Last Season: Nearly...
The shape of the bet has been unwavering: a perm trixie (four picks, doubles and trebles) comprised of a team for Premier League relegation, a team for Championship or League 1 promotion, and two teams for League 2 promotion (where there are three auto spots and playoff positions down to seventh).
After a total blowout in 2019/20 - it certainly won't be the last of those! - we almost got the lot last term, though it was very much a case of a first fence faller meaning we never actually had the chance of the full ticket. Here's why:
- Aston Villa 15/8 to be relegated from EPL (11th, comfortably stayed up)
- Peterborough 7/2 for League 1 promotion (2nd, automatic promotion)
- Cheltenham 3/1 for League 2 promotion (winners)
- Bolton 5/4 for League 2 promotion (3rd, automatic promotion)
The problem with this perm trixie was that Villa started in electric fashion and were all but safe by Christmas meaning the jackpot dream was sunk. That said, Bolton looked doomed early and we were hanging on for a (good-priced, in truth) double courtesy of Posh and Chelto. They got their jobs done relatively comfortably and a searing late charge from the Trotters meant we had two doubles and a healthy profit.
Last year's post is here, if you want to review.
For the first time in these annual previews, I'm going to slightly change things up. Win or lose, I won't regret it because the shape of League Two this year is almost unplayable such is its competitiveness, on looks at least. So, instead, I'm going to risk a yankee (11 bets, doubles, trebles and a fourfold) across the four divisions. I'll be smaller staking it compared with previous years because, naturally, an extra leg involves a higher degree of risk (and potential reward).
It is also the case that nobody really knows how reliable last season's form will be given the genuinely unique nature of the truncated campaign and playing without fans, as well as financial implications left, right and sideways.
With more caveats in situ than a dyslexic tie seller, then, here we go...
Premier League Relegation
This looks competitive with at least two of the promoted sides fancied to swerve the trap door; and there are some weak-looking sides who have flirted with the drop in recent seasons. All of Newcastle, Burnley and Crystal Palace look vulnerable, which immediately suggests this may be hotly contested.
Burnley are tenacious and might benefit from getting fans back at Turf Moor more than the other pair, while Newcastle have a bit of class with the likes of Saint-Maximin and goals in Wilson.
Palace have a wantaway talisman who hugely over-performed on his career scoring tallies last year in Wilf Zaha. More than that, they have a big name manager completely unproven in the Premier League in Patrick Vieira. The Frenchman did well enough in New York and Nice, and obviously understands the EPL dynamic, but he's inherited a moderate squad in need of significant bolstering. The level of player turnover at Selhurst Park is borderline alarming, old heads replaced with young potential.
Their 14th position last season owed much to over-producing from their chances (41 goals scored versus an expectation closer to 35), and a reversion to the norm - where Blunteke and Zaha produce single-figure output - looks likely. The talented Eze is out until 2022 and, while I was impressed with Michael Olise at Reading last term, it's asking a chunk for him to hit the ground running in the big league.
It feels like a recipe for a very difficult season for Palace, all the more so if Zaha finally gets his wish to move away.
Championship Top Six
I'm going to get whacked for this, no doubt, but my team, Bournemouth, have a decent chance of promotion making odds against for a top six finish look pretty fair. I don't generally call Cherries geese swans so, while the expected loss of the classy Arnie Danjuma will be a blow, it is strongly mitigated by a fit again Junior Stanislas and David Brooks looking in great shape. Of course, they are two regular sick notes, and Dom Solanke's work for the team has been more of an asset than his finishing; but the sale of Sam Surridge means new manager Scott Parker will almost certainly be in for a striker.
The south coast outfit are very strong in midfield, with the likes of Jefferson Lerma, Ben Pearson, Brooks, Stanislas, and the soon-returning Lewis Cook bolstered by emerging talent Gavin Kilkenny. Even if the brilliant Lerma departs there is still a lot in the engine room.
Defensively, things are more concerning, especially with Parker's high intensity high press looking like we'll be a 'both teams to score' sort of outfit. Leif Davis has been signed at left back, Steve Cook is a fantastic (and grossly under-rated) player - but is injured currently, Adam Smith has signed on again having been linked with the top division, and Lloyd Kelly continues to develop. In sticks, Mark Travers may have an opportunity to assume the number one position. But there's very little in reserve: additions are undoubtedly needed.
For all that, Cherries have bundles of quality and a failure to make the top six would be seen as a very poor season.
League One Promotion
No big surprise pick here - as if the first two were - as I agree with seemingly every pundit on the planet that the combination of an excellent manager, a decent squad from last season, ambitious signings and money in the kitty from new owners makes Ipswich Town look good value to get promoted to the Championship.
Paul Cook is the man in the hot seat, stepping in for the final two months of the last campaign: long enough to run the rule over his inheritance and establish where funds required investing. Cook decided an overhaul was necessary and no fewer than 15 players have since left the club (as well as two loanees), while eleven have come in (including one of the loanees).
Macauley Bonne gets support up top from Joe Pigott (20 goals in 45 league games for AFC Wimbledon last season) and Conor Chaplin, who registered a lot of minutes - if not a lot of goals - for Barnsley in his most recent campaign. Rekeem Harper has been recruited in centre midfield: I don't know much about him but he has 44 games in the Championship to his name, including 18 last term, so this is an easier grade.
A goalkeeper, Vaclav Hladky, and plenty of defensive cover have also been added. The worry, as with Bolton last season, is that it often takes time for large influxes to gel. The Tractor Boys have been notably fast starters in the last two seasons but faltered towards the finish; it's just possible this will see the converse transpire and, if they're within eight points at Christmas, they'll be a runner.
As usual, Sunderland help make the market and, as usual, I want to be against them. They'll get the job done one of these years but, boy, are they expensive to follow.
League Two Promotion
I normally like to take two for promotion from this division given the three automatic places and the playoffs keeping us engaged down to seventh place. But this season League Two looks inscrutable. Salford, and their famous ownership, head the lists with double-figure odds available about any other you like. In truth, I don't especially like any other, a faintly credible case possible for at least a dozen teams.
Having toyed with Tranmere Rovers, I eventually plumped for the consistency of Exeter City. Perennial play-off participants prior to uncharacteristically falling three points short last season, manager Matt Taylor is one of the most ensconced in the division. Taylor has retained most of last term's playing squad, with the primary exceptions of Randell Williams who has gone up a couple of divisions and a couple of hundred miles, to Hull; and Ryan Bowman, 14 goals last time around, to Shrewsbury.
He's brought in bundles of experience - the likes of 'keeper Scott Brown (36), Jonathan Grounds (33), and Timothee Dieng (29) - as well as some promising youngsters, such as Aston Villa youth product Callum Rowe and former MK Don, Sam Nombe.
It doesn't look a world-beating squad, but with captain Matt Jay capable of reprising his 20-goal season, and plenty of quantity if perhaps not top quality in support, they ought again to be in there pitching.
The 2021/22 Wager
As mentioned, I'm breaking with perm trixie tradition and instead playing a yankee to slightly smaller stakes. It's asking a lot to hit all four, or even three, but a double will recoup much of the stakes and a treble with three doubles will well reward the ambition. Catching the lot will be good times.
Betway don't let me wager horses with them but they'll happily take my footy punts, and they are the best price - just - on this quirky quartet. The acca with them amounts to 99/1 with the same play paying 96/1 with bet365.
It's a season's worth of entertainment for £5.50 if you want a 50p slice of the action, or whatever stake suits your budget and your gullibility/conviction* (*delete as applicable) in my selections.
Other interesting bets
I have no special in on football (or racing, for that matter) but I do think that Man City are a bit of value even at 4/6. Much has been made of their slow start last season, but less of their middling finish with the silverware already in the bag. Specifically, they lost at home to Leeds and Chelsea and away at Brighton. They also struggled to get past Newcastle in that run.
Even without signing one or both of Harry Kane and Jack Grealish, they're standout contenders and two-thirds of your stake is more than I'd personally want to lay. I've stuck them in a chunky double with an unspecified horse racing special market!
Aston Villa to be relegated is no back number. The play is predicated on Jack strutting elsewhere, so much of Villa's goodness emerging from his boot and brain double act. SkyBet are 9/1 which, even allowing for the volume of drop contenders, is mildly appealing.
Burnley or Palace to score the fewest goals at 6/1 and 15/2 respectively is also attractive inasmuch as non-scoring football teams can be attractive.
And in the top scorer market, dutching 10/3 Kane and 9/2 Salah at better than 11/8 combined will be hard to beat. If Harry goes to City, the play looks stronger for him; while if Kane stays at the Lane, Mo's prospects are improved.
It's quite hard to make a case for the rest who are either too profligate (Werner, Sterling, Mane) or too old (Vardy, Cavani) or too irregular a starter (Jesus). If Aubameyang stays at Arsenal and stays fit, it wouldn't take a huge leap of faith to see him back near the top of the charts. But he'll be 33 at some point during the season so teetering on the brink of the 'too old' category.
I love a finisher from a promoted Championship side in this market, and Ivan Toney is a 50/1 sore thumb in that context. He has snaffled 55 goals over his previous two seasons, in League One and the Championship, granted, but he will be the focal point through which all Brentford work flows. And he takes the pens. He's got some quality, too.
So that's where I've splurged my footy cash. Who do you fancy for the season ahead? Leave a comment below with your best bets.