Sports betting: Chelsea ahead in the value stakes

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The Independent Online
It will not quite cost bookmakers pounds 15m if Newcastle finally manage to secure the Premiership title next May but, following the arrival of Alan Shearer, punters have been backing the Tynesiders with single-minded determination. As a result, Coral now quote Newcastle as clear favourites ahead of Manchester United, and at the best prices available, the two most likely Premiership champions start the season as 2-1 joint-favourites.

But while Kevin Keegan seems to believe that Shearer is the last vital piece of the puzzle, backers might do well to consider just where Newcastle's most obvious deficiencies were to be found last season. Scoring goals was rarely a problem. Keeping them out certainly was - as it was at Wembley yesterday - yet very little attention has been paid to shoring up the Magpies' defence, and at just 2-1 at the start of a 38-match season, any value has long since disappeared.

Manchester United too make little appeal at such short odds. Liverpool remain essentially the side which could not win last year, while Arsenal, top-priced at 14-1, have not made a single big signing over the summer and, with an ageing side, could suffer a disappointing season indeed.

A more attractive, each-way alternative must be Chelsea at 20-1, with big-money signings throughout the side. Without doubt, 5-1 for a place in the first three is far more appealing than short odds about the market leaders.

In the First Division of the Nationwide League, Manchester City were deservedly relegated three months ago, and, with the obvious exception of Georgi Kinkladze, remain an ageing and deeply limited side. A much better bet here are Wolves (10-1, Tote) in their first full season under Mark McGhee.

Luck tends to play as big a part as talent in the lower divisions, and short prices are well worth avoiding. Two sides with a measure of ability and ambition, at decent odds, are Bristol City (25-1, Coral) in the Second Division, and Colchester United (14-1 generally) in the basement.

FA PREMIERSHIP: Best prices (C = Coral, H = Hills, L = Ladbrokes, T = Tote, wa = widely available): 2-1 Man Utd (C); Newcastle (L, T). 7-2 Liverpool (H, L). 16-1 Arsenal (L). 20-1 Chelsea (wa). 25-1 Aston Villa (H). 28- 1 Everton (H, T); Tottenham (C, H). 33-1 Blackburn (wa). 50-1 Middlesbrough (C, L). 66-1 Leeds (H, L); Nottm Forest (wa). 125-1 West Ham (T). 150-1 Sheff Wed (T). 250-1 Coventry (H); Derby (wa); Southampton (wa); Sunderland (H, L); Wimbledon (H, T). 500-1 Leicester (wa). NATIONWIDE LEAGUE FIRST DIVISION: 3-1 Man City (wa). 15-2 Sheff Utd (T). 8-1 Birmingham (H, L). 9-1 QPR (H, T). 10-1 Wolves (T); Crystal Palace (wa). 14-1 Bolton (L). 16-1 West Brom (H, L). 20-1 Ipswich (H, T). 28-1 Norwich (L). 33-1 Barnsley (wa); Charlton (L); Huddersfield (L); Stoke (L); Swindon (L). 40-1 Port Vale (H, T). 50-1 Bradford (L); Oxford (T); Oldham (wa); Tranmere (L). 66-1 Grimsby (wa); Portsmouth (H, L). 80-1 Reading (L); Southend (L).