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Same old Premier League. Or is it?

Posted 18th June 2009

It might still only be the first half of summer, but it is already time to look ahead to the new football season. All the close-season traditions are in place, including the annual Cristiano Ronaldo transfer saga and wildly optimistic shopping list of Tottenham Hotspur. However, the real reason we know the new season is around the corner is that the 2009/10 fixture list has been released. This is the prompt for punters to start looking at the Premier League markets. They also have a familiar look about them – the winner's market is dominated by the ‘big four' and the relegation favourites are a newly-promoted team.

However, whilst it would be a surprise if the current respective favourites (Manchester United and Burnley) are not protagonists at contrasting ends of the tables next May, there is a degree of uncertainty that confronts those wanting to make early Premier League bets.

For perhaps the first time this decade, a fifth team is credited with a reasonable chance of lifting the league trophy. Manchester City, currently on offer at 28, are for the first time grouped with the ‘probable winners' rather than ‘highly unlikely, but possible winners' (Tottenham, Aston Villa and Everton).

The promise of new signings by the club's billionaire owners means City will get plenty of support, although whether the all-star squad that starts the season can be moulded into genuine title challengers immediately by Mark Hughes is questionable. City have nonetheless given punters something to think about.

An inflated bank balance has also had an effect on Manchester's other club. United, big transfer market hitters already, have £80m burning a hole in their pocket thanks to Ronaldo's imminent departure.

However, in contrast to City, the fact United have these funds has seen them drift in the winner's market. Ronaldo has been so crucial to their recent success that his departure is seen as decisive, regardless of the identity of the inevitable new signings; United are still favourites, but only narrow ones.

There is also uncertainty in the relegation markets. The three promoted clubs are expected to struggle, as are Hull City, Stoke City and Wigan Athletic. Six other teams are currently trading at 14.5 or less to be relegated. The plight this season of Newcastle United and Middlesbrough has reminded punters that few established top flight clubs are safe.