Racing Post's expert jury: Our tipsters' best bets for each league
Who will stay up in the Premier League and who will claim the Golden Boot?
We asked our top team of writers for a number of predictions ahead of the 2021-22 new football season and this is how they answered...
Would you rather be a backer or layer of Man City to win the Premier League?
Liam Flin: I would have to be a layer - there is simply too much competition to be that confident in City. Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane are superb additions for United, Chelsea are progressing nicely and it is dangerous to dismiss a fully-fit Liverpool side.
Henry Hardwicke: I'd rather be a backer and even more so if they sign Harry Kane. It's almost taken for granted just how good Pep Guardiola's side are. Liverpool and Chelsea have excellent managers, but their squads still look a little light in comparison. Manchester United have the players, but they don't have a top-level gaffer.
Mark Langdon: I'd rather bet in the without market! If they land their transfer targets it will be difficult to get past City, but it's also a long time to tie up funds for an odds-on shot. I like Chelsea in the betting without City.
James Milton: A layer, because of the improvement expected from Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool. City were streets ahead of the rest last season and will look even more formidable if they land their top transfer targets. However, the pursuit of the Champions League is developing into an obsession for Pep and his players and their domestic rivals are stronger this term.
Kevin Pullein: Layer. Last season City showed more of their best than their worst. This season they would probably need even more of their best to win. They could find it. But for me, a more appealing back at the odds is a return to consistently high form for Liverpool.
Ian Wilkerson: While City look the most likely winners, they are a bit skinny for me so I would probably be a layer. Liverpool gave up the ghost early last year when their injury issues kicked in. I’d expect them to make a stronger challenge and I feel Chelsea can get even closer.
Will the big six be the top six come the end of the season?
Liam Flin: That has not been the case in each of the last two seasons so I highly doubt it. Arsenal have turned their attention to youth but it could be some time before they reap the rewards, Tottenham are in transition and Leicester look too strong to finish outside the top six.
Henry Hardwicke: Arsenal finished eighth last term and have work to do and, at the other end of Seven Sisters Road, Tottenham look vulnerable. I don't fancy Leicester or West Ham and I think there could be room for a shock. Leeds may improve again but, at 40-1, Brentford look worth chancing.
Mark Langdon: There isn't much between Leicester, Arsenal and Tottenham but at the prices I would rather back the Foxes to at least split them unless the north London duo get busy in the market.
James Milton: No. Leicester have narrowly missed out on the top four in the last two seasons despite some bad luck with injuries. They have bulked up their squad well over the summer and should fancy their chances of finishing above Arsenal and Tottenham, both of whom have the capacity to self-destruct. And if Harry Kane leaves then Aston Villa, Leeds or West Ham could also overhaul Spurs.
Kevin Pullein: They should fill all of the top four places and one or two of the next couple. Arsenal or Tottenham seem most likely to miss out if anyone does. Leicester, fifth in the past two seasons, may have the best chance of getting among them.
Ian Wilkerson: Leicester and West Ham both broke into the top six last season and others should be encouraged by that. Tottenham and Arsenal are both in transition and they have plenty of work to do to justify their billing as big-six clubs, particularly if their star strikers depart.
Who do you fancy to win the Premier League Golden Boot?
Liam Flin: It is a pretty top-heavy market with Harry Kane leading the way but even if he signs for City, goals are usually spread around the attack at the Etihad and Raheem Sterling could be a decent outside selection following a confidence-boosting Euro 2020 campaign, in which he fired three goals.
Henry Hardwicke: Harry Kane is the current favourite and his price is only going one way if he gets a move to chance-creating machines Man City. At bigger prices, Brentford’s Ivan Toney scored 24 goals in 32 League One starts for Peterborough two years ago and 31 in 45 in the Championship last term and could make the step up again.
Mark Langdon: So much revolves around Kane's future so at this stage I'd only be aiming for big prices. Cavani, De Bruyne and Havertz between 40-1 and 66-1 could all be worth an interest.
James Milton: Kane and Mohamed Salah have been incredibly consistent in this market for the past few seasons but I can't resist an each-way play on Edinson Cavani. He turns 35 in February so will not start every week for Manchester United but he scored 17 goals in 21 starts and 18 substitute appearances in all competitions last term and should get even better service with Jadon Sancho at the club.
Kevin Pullein: Last season was the first time in 20 that the Golden Boot winner played for a team who finished lower than fifth. The winners scored between 19 and 32 goals, with the average being 26. This season? Maybe Mohamed Salah despite missing time at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Ian Wilkerson: The familiar candidates are all at the top and only injuries will surely prevent Harry Kane and Mo Salah having big seasons. However, Kane could leave a big void at Tottenham and Heung-Min Son could represent some each-way value having reached double figures in each of the last five seasons.
Which top-flight manager could be the first to leave?
Liam Flin: It did not go down well with some Villa fans when I suggested Dean Smith could win the sack race in 2019-20 but after a solid campaign last term and pretty significant investment the last two seasons, pressure could mount on the former Brentford man if Villa fail to meet inflated expectations.
Henry Hardwicke: Steve Parish is a level-headed chairman but Patrick Vieira has a lot to prove at Crystal Palace and Mikel Arteta is in need of a strong start at Arsenal. However, sack-happy Watford are back in the Premier League and with a squad short of quality, Xisco Munoz looks vulnerable.
Mark Langdon: Expectations are rising at Aston Villa which should always be a concern for managers. Dean Smith looks to have an easy start - Watford, Newcastle and Brentford - but that will only ramp up the pressure if victories don't follow.
James Milton: Patrick Vieira has been given a hospital pass at Crystal Palace. Roy Hodgson did well to keep the Eagles out of relegation trouble last season but the squad has stagnated and they have to play seven of last season's top eight before the end of October. Palace sacked Frank de Boer after four league games in 2017-18 and Vieira could find himself under early pressure.
Kevin Pullein: Managers are sacked if the team do not fulfil expectations, if only for a short while. This can happen to any team. Only one outcome would surprise me: Pep Guardiola. Expectations may be unreasonably high for a big-priced David Moyes at West Ham and Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea.
Ian Wilkerson: History suggests that Xisco will want to make some early headway at Watford but I don’t think Ralph Hasenhuttl will be particularly comfortable. Southampton dropped dramatically in the second half of the season and, with his third anniversary coming up at St Mary’s, some might see it as time for a change.
How many of the promoted trio will stay up?
Liam Flin: I'm going to make a bold claim and say all three. Brentford are such a well-run club with exciting attacking talents like Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo while Norwich have also been recruiting well and Watford have a deep squad with plenty of Premier League experience.
Henry Hardwicke: Brentford should move well clear of relegation danger, but Norwich and Watford could be in trouble. The Canaries look likely to struggle for goals, as they did in the Premier League two seasons ago, and Watford's squad doesn't look good enough at the moment.
Mark Langdon: I don't think any of the three are good bets to go down and and I'd be reasonably confident in at least two surviving. Brentford have been a PL team in waiting and Norwich were good champions last season, while Watford's owners know the transfer market inside-out.
James Milton: Two – Norwich and Brentford. Both are well-managed clubs with excellent recruitment strategies. Norwich will have learned from their 2019-20 relegation and romped to the Championship title while Brentford have arguably been equipped to take the step up for two or three seasons. Watford are likely to struggle for goals so their yo-yo existence may well continue.
Kevin Pullein: One or two. That was the right answer in 21 of the past 25 seasons. Automatically promoted teams were more likely to stay up than playoff winners. The survival rate was 64 per cent for champions, 60 per cent for runners-up and 44 per cent for playoff winners.
Ian Wilkerson: All three of Norwich, Watford and Brentford should have a fighting chance and they will rely on the ethos that got them there rather than throw money at it. They’ll be up against the usual drop candidates and one or two of them could go, but it’s difficult to say which ones.
Give us one player to watch in any league this season?
Liam Flin: He may take time to get going but Norwich City's summer acquisition of Milot Rashica excited me and I'm not even a Canaries fan. He struggled a little last term but can be an explosive player in the final third capable of playing on the flank or through the centre. His pace could be key on the counter-attack too.
Henry Hardwicke: Nicolas Pepe had a slow start to his Arsenal career, but was starting to look much more like a club-record signing at the end last season. The Ivorian scored eight goals in his final 11 games – a good return considering he only started in eight of them. The Gunners need a big season from Pepe and they may get one.
Mark Langdon: The easy answer is Pedri but I think Dortmund have a star in Jadon Sancho replacement Donyell Malen. The Eredivisie gets a bad rep but Luis Suarez, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Robin van Persie and Memphis Depay haven't turned out too badly.
James Milton: It will be interesting to see whether Dominik Szoboszlai lives up to expectations at RB Leipzig. He signed from Salzburg in January but is yet to make his competitive debut due to the injury that ruled him out of Hungary's Euro 2020 campaign. The attacking midfielder played under new coach Jesse Marsch in Austria and could light up the Bundesliga once he gets back to full fitness.
Kevin Pullein: I am going to skip this one. My experience is that the players who break through and surprise us were not highlighted in advance by anyone, even the most knowledgeable observers. This applies to new signings and academy graduates.
Ian Wilkerson: It’s always interesting to see how strikers get on moving up in class and I’m intrigued to see whether Brentford’s Ivan Toney steps up. Having finally got his chance after years in the lower leagues, he should be inspired by the effect Ollie Watkins had at Aston Villa last year, so he could flourish.
Do you expect home advantage to return to normal this season?
Liam Flin: I do not think it will have a massive impact on how the season pans out but if we see any difference it could be in the newly promoted sides, who typically feed off the energy of their fanbase when the odds are stacked against them.
Henry Hardwicke: Yes. Supporters play a significant part in the outcome of home games and it’s hard to see a team of Liverpool’s stature losing six straight matches at Anfield again. The Premier League has VAR, but referees in the lower divisions will continue to be influenced by the crowd.
Mark Langdon: Yes, I will be reverting to pre-Covid pricing for home advantage as long as crowds are allowed.
James Milton: It should do, although the return of supporters could mean more pressure for home teams, allowing smart counter-attacking sides such as Leicester and Aston Villa to continue their fine away records. I certainly don't expect to see Liverpool suffer six straight defeats at Anfield or Manchester United stay unbeaten on the road for the whole league season again.
Kevin Pullein: Yes – as long as large crowds are allowed throughout the season. This is what most people want but it is not guaranteed. The effect of playing in empty stadiums was mixed, varying from competition to competition and season to season. Typically, ground advantage was roughly halved.
Ian Wilkerson: Roughly the same percentage of home wins are recorded in the Premier League as the Scottish Third Division and I think home advantage is down to familiarity of routine as much as anything else. The use of VAR in the top flight could reduce the effect of crowds on referees, so there might not be much of a difference.
Give us your title-winners Yankee for England's top four leagues?
Liam Flin: Man United, Sheffield United, Ipswich, Exeter. Recruitment has been excellent from the Red Devils while the Blades have a promotion specialist in the dugout in Slavisa Jokanovic and a solid squad. Ipswich have plugged some problematic areas in the transfer window and Exeter can finally make up for those past playoff heartaches.
Henry Hardwicke: Manchester City should see off their Premier League challengers. West Brom look best placed of the market leaders in the Championship, but Blackburn could prove to be better value. Ipswich are poor favourites in League One so I’ll take Sunderland to edge out Portsmouth. In League Two, Forest Green look a fair bet at 14-1.
Mark Langdon: This is the worst Championship for many years so I'll take a chance on smart recruiters Luton at 50-1 but League One looks brilliant and the continuity of Charlton could help them. Complete the life-changer with Man City and League Two master Derek Adams at Bradford.
James Milton: Chelsea look the most progressive threat to champions City in the Premier League and Valerien Ismael is a smart appointment for West Brom in the Championship (although QPR could go well at a big price). Portsmouth should make the frame in League One and Derek Adams, who masterminded Morecambe's shock League Two promotion last term, can help new-look Bradford kick on.
Kevin Pullein: Liverpool, Cardiff, Charlton and Tranmere. In the EFL I am looking for teams who would not stick out if they went up. The next names on my lists were Middlesbrough in the Championship, Ipswich, Milton Keynes Dons and Portsmouth in League One, Bradford, Carlisle and Port Vale in League Two.
Ian Wilkerson: Chelsea, Bournemouth, Charlton, Forest Green. I'm particularly keen on the Addicks this year. Their prolonged off-the-field problems look to be behind them and they have an excellent manager in Nigel Adkins, who fits the club mould. Some optimism around The Valley could be justified.
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