Bettors got a taste of how the three favourites for the Premier League title are shaping up, with Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United all in action on Wednesday.
13/8 favourites Chelsea and 5/1 contenders Man City both lost in Germany, Carlo Ancelotti’s side going down 2-1 to Hamburg and Roberto Mancini’s big spenders defeated 3-1 by Borussia Dortmund, while Man United, priced 2/1, thumped a League of Ireland XI 7-1 in Dublin.
Each title challenger now takes to the field just once more before the season starts for real.
Chelsea and United face off in the Community Shield on Sunday, with the Double winners 8/13 favourites to lift the season’s first trophy, while last year’s Premier League runners-up are 6/5.
City take on Valencia at the City of Manchester Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 7.00pm).
While friendly results count for naught, Chelsea’s defeat was their third in as many matches and, worryingly for backers, Carlo Ancelotti has conceded that his side will start the campaign with many of their key players, including John Terry and Frank Lampard, below their best.
“There are some players in good condition and others who need to have more time to be fit,” said Ancelotti. “We did mistakes so we have to show more concentration in the game.”
United’s win was their fourth this summer and with six different names getting on the scoresheet, boss Sir Alex Ferguson must be happy.
Michael Owen’s goal was a delightful dink over the keeper and came as a reminder of how clinical the 30-year-old’s finishing can be. The former Liverpool star is 100/1 to finish the league’s top scorer, a feat he managed in 1998/99.
Javier Hernandez’s strike was his third in three games and his price to win the Golden Boot has come in from 40/1 to 28/1.
Yaya Toure and Aleksander Kolarov were both involved in City’s loss at the Westfalenstadion, their fourth in five games, with the ex-Barca man impressing considerably more than the Serbian, who conceded a penalty with a handball.
David Silva and Jerome Boateng are expected to play against Valencia but the question of how well they gel with new team-mates is one that has yet to be answered.
23-goal Carlos Tevez should also return to the City fold on Saturday. The Argentina forward hasn’t played since his country’s defeat to Germany at the World Cup but is an 11/1 shot to claim the Premier League Golden Boot.