It's not yet the end of July and yet here we are again, about to embark upon another ten months of kicking and screaming courtesy of the only round ball game that really counts (with obvs apols to fans of other, less count-y, round ball games).
I loves me footy and, though this is a racing page every other day in the year, this day it pulls on its studded boots and increasingly tight (must have shrunk in the wash, can't be any other reason...) shorts to deliver a half-cooked notion or three on the upcoming season. As is now the formula, before looking forward we must cast an eye astern and see what emerged from the wake of last season's footer foray.
Last Season: Meh...
For the first time in published history - fully six seasons, so not that much really - I changed it up. Stepping away from the tried and trusted perm trixie of seven bets, I (we, if you followed me in) went down the yankee path. That meant four picks in different markets, any double securing a payout, as opposed to four picks across three markets theretofore. These were those:
- Premier League Relegation: Crystal Palace at 7/4 (12th, started well, never in danger)
- Championship Top Six finish: Bournemouth at 11/8 (2nd, never in doubt)
- League One Promotion: Ipswich at 5/2 (11th, never nearer)
- League Two Promotion: Exeter City at 10/3 (2nd, pretty much always thereabouts)
This was over early. Ipswich did what I needed Palace to do, and Palace what I needed from Ipswich. Vieira conjured a better than fine effort from a newish squad, while Paul Cook paid the price for not being able to make a congruent picture from all the jigsaw pieces he'd aggregated during the summer; he was seeking new opportunities by early December - and so, alas, were we.
The Cherries / Grecians double returned 10.26 of 11 points staked which, on a bet largely over by the end of August, felt like a massive win in a way!
Last year's post is here, if you want to review.
I quite liked the broader spread of the yankee bet last season and will stick with that, for all that what follows is far more risky and, as a consequence, more likely to return a big fat bagel. Win or lose, I'm happy to take the chance. A yankee (11 bets, doubles, trebles and a fourfold) it is, then, across the four divisions. Same stakes as last year - which are/were slightly smaller than the perm trixie - because, naturally, an extra leg involves a higher degree of risk (and potential reward). And these longer prices involve a further layer of greater risk.
Anyway, that's the preamble done and dusted, so these are the picks...
Premier League Dual Forecast
I've got the Premier League relegation market consistently wrong for years now and, in the end, I have to concede that it's trickier than I usually have it. This season, I expect Cherries will struggle badly, especially if they don't get on and do some transfer business. Sigh. But they're too short, so instead I'm taking an acceptably short price about the Man City / Liverpool dual forecast. Either order, first and second.
Yes, I know it's pretty uninspired; and I accept the wheels will fall off at some point; and yes, I'm aware that teams around them, notably Spurs, have bolstered well. But they were a full six wins above Chelsea last term, and seven above Tottingham. The gap may be eroded, I don't see it being wholly bridged. 8/11 amounts to something of a banker in the context of what follows and, as you'll see, we may need that to secure at least the prospect of a double and a bit of the dough back next May.
The hardest division in the land, and Burnley could get relegated if things go poorly. But, despite being unfashionable and despite biffing one of the top English managers late last campaign, they have a bit of a chance. Squad depth, parachute payments and the sort of gritty playing style that can keep them in the hunt are attributes well suited to Championship football. While the loss of Ben Mee, Nick Pope and James Tarkowski - as well as exciting prospect Nathan Collins - makes them notably weaker defensively, they've netted £25m from the ins and outs, and moved bundles off the wage bill including many of the squad veterans.
In come Josh Cullen, a strong central midfielder from Anderlecht (via West Ham and Charlton); highly touted Man City youth 'keeper, Arijanet Muric (nope, me neither); a couple of promising centre halves in Conrad 'CJ' Egan-Riley (another City youth project) and Luke McNally; and a couple of loan signings from the top end of the Prem. They probably need more legs up top - just Vydra, Ashley Barnes and Jay Rodriguez currently - but a team with the likes of Lowton, Taylor, Westwood, Cork, and Cornet and McNeil if they can retain them - has a very strong looking spine.
Norwich and Watford were four wins behind Burnley in the Premier League last season and don't look any stronger. That said, if Sarr and Dennis can a) stay fit and b) remain at the club, the Hornets could have plenty of goals in their ranks.
Loads of 'usual suspects' in this ultra-trappy section, including West Brom, who were utterly dreadful in the second half of last season; Middlesbrough, expected to be weakened by departures; and an aging but robust looking Sheffield United. And Huddersfield are probably over-priced at 14/1 for promotion. But I'm backing Burnley's bouncebackability in a brown or bust scenario.
League One Promotion
A long time admirer of Sunderland's ability to make the market and clunk, I was disappointed (in that regard, at least) to see them go up via the playoffs in May. My pick last year was Ipswich, and they have the feel of 'the new Sunderland' for all that they're likely to be better equipped than twelve months ago as a result of far less player turnover. They're at the head of the market and a likely 'runner', as are Sheffield Wednesday, who look worthy favourites but unexciting at 6/4 for the promotion gig.
Instead, I've plumped for Bolton who are as big as 9/2 in a place and 4/1 generally. A steady enough beginning to the 2021/22 campaign meant a struggle to get competitive in their first spin back at League One after a short stint in the professional basement. They've been a box office club to follow in recent times, from their inability to fulfil fixtures pre-pandemic to a glut of high-scoring tallies in the first half of 2022, mainly courtesy of left winger Afolayan and striker Bakayoko, they've rarely been out of the news. More soap opera will surely follow this season and, win or lose, it'll be a fun ride cheering the Trotters in their quest for Championship football.
League Two Promotion
League Two is an unpredictable division again this term and, in a break from the approach thus far - where I've wanted to be with a team who showed plenty in part two of the last season - here I'm rolling with one that had an awesome middle but didn't quite finish the job. Taking out the first 15 matches of last term, Mansfield would have won the division; but of course one cannot do that, the winner having accrued the most points across 46 games, not 31. Still, that's testament to the direction of travel at the Nottinghamshire club, and if they can add a few more goals to a resolute rearguard they will make the top seven - for a playoff spot - and potentially an automatic promotion placing in the top three. They were weak in the latter part of the 21/22 campaign so probably need a deeper squad before the window closes at the end of August.
The betting is roughly 7/1 the field but a tell tale sign is that a couple of the co-favourites are former Conference sides Salford and Stockport, the latter recently promoted; so, while those teams have achieved the double jump in recent times (Doncaster and Crawley as two examples), I can't think of one in the last ten years or so. Leyton Orient might go well again and, at 9/2 in a place (4/1 general) they'd be playable; but I'm hoping the Stags can add some firepower to challenge for top honours.
The 2022/23 Wager
I'm sticking with the yankee, and it's been a bit of a mess trying to get on with the top priced doubles and trebles; in fact, I made a rick when taking two points under top price by mistake with one segment of the bet. A slightly poorer value, but far more straightforward, alternative is to strike any copycat plays with Hills, who are top price overall. My breakdown - it almost caused me one trying to get them placed - is in the images below.
As I hope I've mentioned throughout, it's an ambitious play, a fact underscored by a possible return of just shy of £10,000 for an all correct set of tickets!
But for a season's worth of entertainment for £2.75 if you want a 25p slice of the action, or whatever stake suits your budget and your gullibility/conviction* (*delete as applicable) in my selections. At the 50p end of the spectrum, you'd still be cheering an unlikely - but possible - £100 payoff, and we ought to get at least some sort of run for our shekels.
Where we follow the racing action day to day - each contest distinct from pretty much all others, a snapshot opportunity for profit and loss - our team(s) do battle through forty-odd related skirmishes and need to keep it together better than the rest in that light. It's a different kind of bet - capital tied up, joy/despair locked in - for the long haul. And I can't wait to see how it plays out.