Should you invest in football?
Getting a handle on the new Premiership season has been difficult. The brief interlude between the end of the World Cup and the resumption of domestic hostilities was characterised more by rumours of transfer activity than solid news.
Manchester City have predictably spent heavily, but where should punters put their money?
Carlo Ancelotti may have been outsmarted by José Mourinho in the Champions League, but he got most other things right during his first season at Stamford Bridge. The squad's core remains the same and the team will be boosted by Michael Essien's return to fitness.
Pre-season performances were moderate and Chelsea may be a slow-starter this season. Come next May, however, Chelsea is still the likeliest winner but a top price of 33-20 with Bodog is rotten value.
There may be trouble ahead at Old Trafford with the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Edwin van de Sar almost at pensionable age and the next generation failing to inspire the same confidence.
Admittedly their new Mexican striker Javier Hernández caught the eye on the pre-season US tour and his total number of goals is worth a buy on the spreads.
But with skipper Rio Ferdinand a continual injury worry and so much depending on the form and fitness of Wayne Rooney, I doubt Man U will reclaim the title. Betfair has them at 5-2.
The Gunners are a bit like a talented but frustrating racehorse that you keep backing because you don't want them to finally win something when your money isn't down.
But Cesc Fàbregas will still be there after 1 September, and I feel odds of 7-1 with Victor Chandler, and 15-1 with the Tote with a 10-point start, are worthwhile.
Arsène Wenger's team was bitterly disappointing against the other top sides last winter, but Robin van Persie's injury came at a desperate moment for them – and then they were without Fàbregas for the run-in.
Wenger has brought in the tall centre-back Laurent Koscielny over the summer, along with the former Bordeaux striker Marouanne Chamakh and, like Hernández, his total goals are worth a buy on the spreads.
There is also a belief that the Aussie keeper Mark Schwarzer will be joining from Fulham and that would be almost as welcome as the return of Jack Wilshere, who was on loan to Bolton and looks like a future star at both club and national level.
City's relentless expansion is being compared to Chelsea's take-off under Roman Abramovich. The Citizens are 11-2 for the title – but I'd rather be a layer than a backer.
Roberto Mancini's big summer signings – David Silva and Yaya Touré – are good but not as shrewd as some of José Mourinho's acquisitions. The jury is still out on whether Mancini has the Special One's ability to blend his expensive purchases into a coherent team.
City were involved in a lot of dull draws last season, only winning 11 of the 21 games they played under the Italian's guidance.
The premature sacking of Mark Hughes is a reminder of the pressure that Mancini will be under if results go against him, and he's a best-priced 8-1 to be the first gaffer to get the chop with Coral.
The same firm is offering a skinny 4-7 that City finish in the top four, but the likes of Spurs and Everton offer much better value.
Roy Hodgson did a fine job at Fulham, and if there really is about to be a change of ownership at Anfield and if Fernando Torres is fully fit and motivated, the Reds will surely finish higher than last season's woeful seventh place.
The problem is that the opposition is getting stronger too, and the signing of Chelsea discard Joe Cole for an inflated sum is hardly the arrival of the cavalry.
A big injection of funds from China could be a game-breaker, but odds of 7-4 with Chandler that Liverpool reclaim a top four slot look short enough to me, though you might get lucky backing them on the handicap at 16-1 with VC with a 14-point start.
With great team spirit and no little ability at White Hart Lane, I see no reason why their Champions League participation should seriously derail their Premiership momentum.
I backed Spurs to secure a top-four finish at 9-2 last December, and I'm going for a repeat at 3-1 with Coral. It's entirely possible that City, Liverpool and even United will be in a scrap for the other place, but don't rule out a challenge from Everton at 8-1 with Coral.
The Toffees made stealthy progress last season and their manager David Moyes (not a bad bet to be Manchester United's next manager at 63-10 on Betfair) has built up a strong if unspectacular squad.
At the other end of the table, I think Newcastle are overpriced to be relegated at 4-1 with Ladbrokes.
Their reviled owner Mike Ashley has scarcely spent a penny on new players this summer and his manager Chris Hughton, as short as 5-2 for the sack race with Chandler, faces an unenviable task.
This article was originally published in Money Observer - Moneywise's sister publication - in September 2010