Belfast Telegraph

The Punter: Manchester United look good value to shut the noisy neighbours up this time

Punters got their fingers burnt on Brazil in the Olympic football when the so-called ‘good things' were given a Mexican goodbye wave in the final.

Now it's back to more serious matters and the Premier League title race which begins this weekend.

However, don't expect anything new in terms of where the trophy will rest come next May.

It'll be in Manchester once again but whether the sky blue ribbons remain or are replaced by red is another matter.

Chelsea, unlucky to lose 3-2 to City in the Community Shield on Sunday, provide the only realistic threat with the rest once more set to make up the numbers. Only Arsenal have managed to break the dominant trio in 10 years and that was back in 2004.

Stats show that the teams with the biggest wage bills — attracting the best players — emerge as champions and the favourites have not been out of the first two in the last eight seasons.

City carry the mantle this time but only a few seconds of added time and goal difference separated them from the Red Devils last season and twice during the campaign United traded as low as 1/50.

Sir Alex Ferguson was not a happy man after that incomparable end to a season and no doubt will be doing all in his power to remove that memory. Hence him snapping up Arsenal's Robin van Persie - United were 5/2 on to be champions before Fergie landed the striker.

To all intents and purposes United threw the title away last season and the sensational finish when it was all in the balance right into the dying seconds showed just how close it was despite the Red Devils losing twice to City, scoring fewer goals and conceding more.

Their points total of 89 was the highest not to win the title since 1995.

But with Nemanja Vidic coming back into the heart of the defence, the signing of midfielders Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund and Crewe's talented youngster Nick Powell, plus the anticipated arrival of van Persie, it must make for a stronger United than last time.

The departure of Didier Drogba from Chelsea is a blow to the Blues but expect Fernando Torres to take over the goal-scoring mantle now that his confidence has been restored.

With the others, including Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool, destined to play only minor roles once again, it looks a predictable three-horse race and, in that, 5/2 is the right call for United compared to City's 5/4 and Chelsea's 5/1.

Equally, if United are going to be up there, as they will, 6/5 for more than 81 points seems another bet to cash in on as is Chelsea at 5/6 without the Manchester clubs.

RVP was top goalscorer at 10/1 last season and is the same price for a repeat. A tempting each way bet.

Belfast Telegraph

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