Football: Chelsea must be Premiership value

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The Independent Online
CHELSEA ARE the value bet to win the Premiership. Everyone knows about the widening gap between the Premiership and the First Division, but another class chasm opened up last term as Manchester United, winners with 79 points, Arsenal (second on 78) and Chelsea (third on 75) finished eight points clear of Leeds (fourth).

Manchester United, following last season's treble, are a best-priced 11-10 with Coral and William Hill. However Sir Alex Ferguson's squad illustrated on Sunday that they are far from invincible and they represent terrible value. United won the Premiership by a single point last term and frankly failed to win the European Cup with authority.

United beat only Brondby - they drew all four games with Barcelona and Bayern Munich - in the Champions' League. And the Red Devils then had the good luck to meet Internazionale and Juventus in the quarter- and semi-finals at a time when both Italian clubs were enduring domestic seasons so moderate that both ultimately failed to qualify for the Uefa Cup, let alone the Champions' League. Moreover, let's face it, for 80 of the 90 minutes of the European Cup final against Bayern Munich, United were strictly second best.

With Mark Bosnich, their only summer signing of note, United go into the new season with a squad no stronger than the one that which rode its luck with such distinction last term and, with a tougher fixture list this time, they simply have to be opposed.

Arsenal are in pole position to take advantage. However, despite Sunday's Charity Shield victory over United, their legendary back four has reached its sell-by date and, although if anyone can instantly reassemble their defence, it is Arsene Wenger, the Gunners look a poor bet, although Davor Suker, at 20-1 with Coral and Stanley, is a fair bet to be top Premiership goalscorer.

With Leeds facing a mountain to climb and Liverpool rebuilding, it has to be Chelsea. Gianluca Vialli's team, deprived too long last term of the services of Gustavo Poyet, their influential Uruguayan attacking midfielder, still amassed a total which would have won some Premierships. And Didier Deschamps and Chris Sutton are sound signings.

Ipswich look the best bet to win the First Division. Third to Sunderland and Bradford last term, five points clear of fourth-placed Birmingham City, the East Anglian outfit failed to make their superiority count in the play-offs, but look better value than Blackburn, who take a drop in class, but have some rebuilding to do. Preston have sound credentials in the Second Division. Fifth last term, the Lancashire side make more appeal than Gillingham, Wigan or Bournemouth. Swansea should go close in the Third Division. Seventh last season, they make more appeal than Rotherham or Leyton Orient.

Falkirk, outclassed by Hibernian last term, can win the Scottish First Division, Clyde can take the Scottish Second Division while Brechin can edge out East Fife, unlucky to be relegated last term, in the Scottish Third Division.

n Suggested bets: pounds 1 on Chelsea to win the Premiership (4-1 with Stanley and the Tote); pounds 1 on Davor Suker to be Premiership top scorer (20-1 with Coral and Stanley); pounds 1 on Ipswich to win the First Division 14-1 with Stanley); pounds 1 on Preston to win the Second Division (10-1 with Ladbrokes); pounds 1 on Swansea to win the Third Division (7-1 with Ladbrokes and the Tote); pounds 1 on Falkirk to win the Scottish First Division (100-30 with Stanley); pounds 1 on Clyde to win the Scottish Second Division (6-1 with Coral, Ladbrokes and the Tote); pounds 1 on Brechin to win the Scottish Third Division (9-2 with William Hill and Ladbrokes). (pounds 8 staked).