The 2022/23 English Premier League is almost upon us as football fever ramps up with the FIFA World Cup on the horizon. WILL EVANS runs the rule over the EPL’s contenders, smokies and likely also-rans.

Manchester City have the opportunity to become just the second club after Manchester United (1998/99-2000/2001 and 2006/07-2008/09) to win three straight titles. They’re red-hot favourites to do so – but Liverpool, who stymied City’s three-peat bid by winning the 2019/20 competition – will be hellbent on regaining supremacy after being pipped by a point last season.

Meanwhile, AFC Bournemouth, Nottingham Forest and Fulham are the new faces this season, winning promotion from the Championship. Burnley, Watford and Norwich City were relegated from the EPL in May.

The big guns

After two seasons with Leicester City and West Ham United interloping – and Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur struggling – the EPL’s ‘Big Six’ finished in the top six positions last season.

Manchester City are a phenomenally short $1.57 to lift the Premier League trophy once again. The departure of Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho, among others has been countered by the acquisition of brilliant young Norwegian striker Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund and midfielder Kalvin Phillips from Leeds.

But Liverpool ($3.25), who won the FA Cup, reached the Champions League final and finished just a point shy of City after going unbeaten in their last 19 league games, shape as a massive hurdle. Jurgen Klopp retains a stable roster superstar-wise, with Sadio Mane’s exit more than made up for by the arrival of prolific Benfica striker Darwin Nunez.

Liverpool landed the first blow against Man City with a 3-1 victory in last weekend’s Community Shield – with Nunez scoring the late sealer and man-of-the-match honours.

Way back on the third line of title betting at $14 is Chelsea, who finished a clear third last season but never really threatened the front-runners. Sterling will boost the offensive threat for Thomas Tuchel’s line-up and Romelu Lukaku’s loan to Inter Milan should ensure a smoother ride for all involved at Stamford Bridge.

Tottenham returned to the top four in 2021/22 after two subpar campaigns, despite some early-season ructions around Harry Kane. The skipper and the marvellous Son-Heung min eventually combined for 40 goals and will drive Spurs’ bid for higher honours again, while Richarlison is a big addition. They’re $15 to end a 15-year title drought.

Manchester United ($26) squeaked into the top six after losing five of their last eight games and drawing with a stack of also-rans throughout the campaign. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer finally got the chop and ex-Ajax gaffer Erik ten Hag has been tasked with turning the Red Devils’ fortunes around. He’ll be striving to do that without Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Edinson Cavani’s services, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s future remains in the balance. Christian Eriksen’s arrival should have a positive effect.

Arsenal ($34) stumbled late to cough up a Champions League spot and finish fifth last season. But it was the Gunners’ best campaign in terms of wins in six years. Gabriel Jesus is a worthy replacement up front for Lyon-bound Alexandre Lacazette, but $2.80 for a Top 4 finish suggests Mikael Arteta has some work to do to return Arsenal to their Arsene Wenger-era levels.

The middle field

Newcastle United – $101 for the title, $9.50 for the Top 4 and $3.25 for the Top 6 – are rated by far the best chance of breaking the ‘Big Six’ stranglehold on the Premier League ladder’s upper reaches.

The Magpies were in relegation danger last season until their billionaire owners took over and Eddie Howe took the coaching reins. They won 12 of their last 18 games to finish 11th, and have added Lille centre-back Sven Botman, Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope and Aston Villa defender Matt Targett.

The next most realistic Top 6 chances according to pre-season odds are: West Ham ($5.00), who lost a bit of ground on their breakout 2020/21 campaign; Leicester ($5.50), who fell away alarmingly last season and only finished eighth with a late surge; and Aston Villa ($6.00), who came 14th last season but have added Brazilian duo Phillipe Coutinho and Diego Carlos.

Recent seasons have produced several promotion bolters. Newcastle came 10th upon their 2017/18 return. Wolverhampton surged to seventh in 2018/19 after making the leap from the Championship. Sheffield United were in the Top 6 with nine weeks of the 2019/20 season left before fading to ninth. Fast finishing Leeds United landed ninth with 18 wins in 2020/21. More modestly last season, 13th-placed Brentford was the pick of the promoted clubs with 13 wins.

Nottingham Forest and Fulham, both $8.50 for a Top 10 finish, are regarded as the best chances to join that trend. Forest will be everyone’s sentimental favourites as they return to the EPL for the first time since the 1998/99 season.

The relegation contenders

The market indicates the three promoted teams are the most likely to suffer the drop back to the Championship at the end of the season.

AFC Bournemouth are just $1.45 to be relegated and are the $2.88 favourites to finish last. Notts Forest and Fulham are both $2.10 to land in the bottom three.

Brentford are next on the relegation block at $3.30 despite last season’s spirited efforts.

Meanwhile, two of the 2021/22 campaign’s biggest sliders – Leeds United ($3.30) and Everton ($4.50) – are tipped to feature far closer to the relegation battle than regain their former status as fringe Top 6 contenders.

Both high-profile sides were fortunate to avoid the drop last season in a dramatic scramble. Everton had not finished lower than 12th in their previous 17 campaigns but came 16th with their equal-lowest points total since the Premier League started. Richarlison’s exit only compounds the Toffee’s fall from grace.

Leeds only avoided relegation via a last-gasp win on the final day of the season combined with Burnley’s loss. Their line-up looks considerably weaker with Kalvin Phillips (Man City) and Rapinha (Barcelona) transferring out.