In part one, we look at the Season Match Bets for Manchester United v Arsenal, Aston Villa v Wolves, Brentford v Fulham and Fulham v Nottingham Forest.
The top four is certainly not a closed shop, but Arsenal and Manchester United find themselves on the outside looking in.
While either Liverpool or Manchester City finishing outside of the top four is virtually unthinkable, Arsenal and United will be eyeing up one of the other two spots.
The project under Mikel Arteta continues, now with a dependable striker in Gabriel Jesus, and young players like Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli all gaining more experience by the day.
Fabio Vieira is also a shrewd signing, and the Gunners have plenty of attacking options, as they have to contend with European football – missing from last year’s schedule.
But – and while pre-season friendlies must be taken with a pinch of salt – all of the noises coming out of Manchester United’s camp right now are positive. Players seem to be taking to Erik ten Hag’s methods, and despite an underwhelming transfer window, United fans can look forward to a push for the top four.
That said, the size of the rebuilding job at Old Trafford can’t be underestimated, and while we’ll likely see improvement in the Red Devils, consistency may be their biggest downfall in the next 12 months.
Aston Villa have strengthened very well over the summer transfer window, and may have even done the best business in the Premier League. Boubacar Kamara and Diego Carlos are excellent additions from the continent, both of whom have traded European football for the Premier League.
They’ve also signed Philippe Coutinho on a permanent deal and may even threaten the European places under Steven Gerrard.
The Villans did suffer a dip in form towards the end of the season, though that came with little to play for, and if they can stay in the hunt for European football, landing a top-seven place certainly isn’t beyond them.
Wolves meanwhile, are unlikely to repeat last season’s efforts. They’ve lost Romain Saiss at the back, and their lack of firepower will likely see them struggle for a top-half finish.
It’s also hard to see Jose Sa being as influential between the sticks as he was last season. Emiliano Martinez and Illan Meslier – amongst the top keepers in terms of goals prevented in 2020/21 – were amongst the most porous stoppers last term with regression hitting both.
Should the same happen to Wolves, a relegation battle looks much more likely than a top-half finish.
After an impressive maiden campaign, Brentford will be aiming for Premier League survival once more. Ivan Toney’s goals will again be crucial, having bagged 12 last season, but the loss of Christian Eriksen will be felt by Thomas Frank.
They look less equipped for survival than many clubs who’ll likely be down there next May, but the club has punched above its weight for a number of years, and with owner Matthew Benham’s ‘Moneyball’ philosophy, the club may well upset the odds again this season.
Fulham, too, will be bidding for survival and will be keen to shake off their ‘yo-yo club’ reputation. 2017/18 was the last time the Cottagers spent consecutive seasons in the same tier, being promoted or relegated in each of their last five seasons.
But Marco Silva’s managerial reputation continues to grow; while his side did drop off at the end of the campaign, they were amongst the most dominant teams to have featured in the second tier, often scoring at will, particularly during their run against Reading, Bristol City and Birmingham, scoring 19 goals, as well as the 7-0 thrashings of Blackburn and Luton.
It goes without saying the Premier League presents a very different challenge, but this looks to be a Fulham side much better prepared than the one who went down two years ago.
Fabio Carvalho’s loss will certainly hurt, but Joao Palhinha will add steel to the midfield, with Andreas Pereira adding creativity, and with the goals of Aleksandar Mitrovic, the Cottagers may find themselves well clear of the bottom three by the end of the season.
It's been a case of better late than never for Nottingham Forest in the transfer window. They lost Brice Samba and were unable to retain Djed Spence, but Dean Henderson is an excellent replacement, and Taiwo Awoniyi, who scored 15 Bundesliga goals last season, gives Steve Cooper’s men, who are still riding the crest of a wave, a chance of survival.
The squad is starting to take shape with a number of arrivals in recent weeks, with Neco Williams and Giulian Biancone replacing Spence, with Omar Richards, Harry Toffolo and Moussa Niakhate further bolstering the back-line.
It would be some achievement for Cooper to take a side from bottom of the Championship to Premier League survival in less than two years, but you wouldn’t put it past him.