The magic is back!
Ed Chamberlin looks ahead to a big weekend of sport as the new football season kicks off!
Last Updated: 17/08/12 5:36pm
It's Britain's greatest ever summer of sport and it's not over yet. The Olympics were like nothing we will ever experience again but the vintage sequence of sports events continues with the crucial Test match at Lord's and the Premier League kicking off this weekend.
Football has taken plenty of knocks of late, and has its issues, but it's great to have it back. Let's hope it picks up where it left off with that magical ending at the Etihad Stadium in May and that is where I will be again to start our season on Sky Sports with a Super Sunday double header - Wigan v Chelsea and Manchester City v Southampton - all live from 1pm on Sky Sports 1HD and also available in Sky 3D.
The Premier League Champions have never lost their opening game of the following season (W16 D3) and what a tough task this is for Southampton in their first top division game for seven years, three months and four days. Sky Bet don't fancy the Saints' chances at 14/1.
Chelsea have a fierce record on the opening day of a season having won nine of their last ten opening fixtures, only dropping points in AVB's first game in charge last season. On the final day of the 2009/2010 campaign Chelsea beat Wigan 8-0, which is their biggest ever League win and equalled Wigan's worst ever defeat. Sky Bet have Wigan at 11/2 to pull of another surprise which they made a habit of at the end of last season, with Chelsea at 4/9.
Sky Bet have Manchester City as firm favourites at 13/10 to retain their title and they are going to be very difficult to beat. With a title in the bag they no longer have that pressure to deal with and have a psychological monkey off their back.
They also have by far the best spine in the league - Hart, Kompany, Yaya Toure and Aguero - plus Carlos Tevez, who looked unrecognisable both physically and mentally in the Community Shield last weekend. I'm expecting Tevez to make a major impact on the first few weeks of the Premier League season.
Yet value seekers may prefer to back the side that finished level on points with them last season, yet are a much bigger price at 2/1. They were 12/5 until news broke of Robin van Persie's signing on Wednesday evening with Manchester City instantly easing from 6/5 to 13/10, which shows the importance of his imminent arrival. Van Persie has also shortened dramatically from 10/1 to 6/1 to win the Golden Boot.
You'd expect Manchester United to improve on last season with his fire power and if their injury problems ease. The return of Nemanja Vidic is massive for them and this is a big season for Tom Cleverley in midfield. The worry for United is the lack of a 'powerhouse' central midfielder which can be exposed at the top level and proved decisive in both meetings with City. What United would give for a Yaya Toure.
One team guaranteed to improve is Chelsea as they were so poor for so long last season and have added so much quality. The question for them now is how difficult it will be for Roberto di Matteo to add the required style to the steel that brought them success last season.
Oscar and Hazard will surely take time to adjust to the pace and physicality of the Premier League and they will also have to balance the demands of the Super Cup, World Club Cup as well as all the domestic competitions and Champions League. Despite all this, Chelsea are definite 'runners' this season and look certainties at 8/11 on Sky Bet's "Premier League Without Manchester" market.
I do think it's hard and dangerous to have a strong opinion on the title until the end of the month. The Premier League winners could be decided off the field in the next two weeks.
There is still so much to be decided in this transfer window and so many questions still to answer. Will City make some marquee signings? Where will Luka Modric be on September 1? Tottenham, Newcastle and Liverpool could all be busy and will Arsenal buy again after van Persie's departure.
There's no need to dive in to the market pre-season as Sky Bet update the title odds every day so I suggest sitting tight. It's going to be a fascinating 14 days and it will all unfold on Sky Sports News HD.
There are a mass of other markets to choose from and football punters have never had so much choice and variety. My main fancy at this stage is Aston Villa to finish in the top half of the table at 11/8. They endured a horrible campaign which ended with fears of relegation and a 16th place finish but I expect it to be a very different story this time around.
Paul Lambert will bring a feel good factor back to the squad and the Holte End. He has added decent signings to some of the best young talent in the country plus will have Darren Bent back scoring goals and may even have Stiliyan Petrov returning to give everyone a massive lift.
Villa under Lambert will be all about team spirit and organisation, with a sprinkling of quality too, and I expect them to return to where their fans feel they belong - the top eight - this season.
It seems like an age ago that Martin Tyler produced his iconic "Aguerooooooo" commentary on that extraordinary final day and I can't wait to get started and return to the home of the champions on Sunday.
Like so many sports events, this brilliant Test series between the world's top two, has been dwarfed by London 2012 and what a shame this week's showdown at Lord's has been over-shadowed by Kevin Pietersen-gate.
I was lucky enough to go to the Olympic athletics last week with Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook to see Usain Bolt in action. Both cricketers were in great spirits despite what must have been a tough couple of weeks.
However, they have a massive task to try and level the series on a flat Lord's pitch against a bang in form South African batting line-up. Sky Bet have the tourists at 6/4 and I'm surprised they are not even shorter.
The dodgy weather forecast means the draw is short at 11/8, while England are presumably friendless at 11/4 after everything that's happened on and off the field, with a significantly weakened batting line-up after the dropping of their best player.
Vuelta a Espana
Cycling is in fashion at the moment and the next three weeks in Spain, the final Grand Tour of the season, will get far more attention than normal. Can Great Britain's golden spell continue or will cycling's fallen star return in triumph in his home Tour?
The Vuelta, which starts in Pamplona on Saturday, presents Chris Froome with his big chance to shine and step out of Bradley Wiggins' shadow. After his obvious frustration in this race last year and in Le Tour last month, Froome will finally have Team Sky working for him this time and is a 7/2 chance with Sky Bet to win the red (not yellow!) jersey.
Froome is a magnificent rider and the route will suit him but surely it's asking to much to expect a rider to peak for the Tour de France, bury himself working for Mark Cavendish in the Olympic road race, win a medal in the time-trial, then still have the legs for a gruelling three week Tour?
Alberto Contador will hog the headlines as he returns from his two-year drugs ban. Contador at his best would win this in a hack canter but it's anyone's guess what form he is in after so long out of the sport.
He won't lack for motivation but will he have the necessary race sharpness? I wouldn't want to back him at 8/13 to find out.
The route looks made for speedy climber and looks tailor made for Joaquim Rodriguez. He will have a strong Katusha team, that includes two-time winner Denis Menchov, working for him and doesn't have too many time-trial kilometres to endure.
He will thrive on the plethora of category one and two climbs that litter the route and the ten uphill finishes, which will provide a great spectacle.
Rodriguez missed out on the Giro d'Italia title by only 16 seconds and crucially will have fresh legs after missing the Tour de France and Olympics. He looks a great bet at 10/1 with Sky Bet.
Racing is another sport that has the chance to re-emerge from the Olympic shadows over the next few days. There's an excellent card at Newbury on Saturday and then all eyes will focus on York next week for the Ebor meeting. On Wednesday, for the first time, I reckon Frankel may get the press coverage his brilliance deserves. He may be the greatest racehorse we've ever seen but he's not yet captured the imagination of the general sports fan and press. His stroll in the Sussex Stakes barely featured on the sports agenda on the day Team GB struck gold in the rowing and Bradley Wiggins produced his heroics at Hampton Court.
The lack of a serious rival - a la Denman v Kauto Star - does not help but next week he has the sporting limelight to himself and hopefully his step up to ten furlongs will strike a chord and capture sports fans' imaginations, meaning Frankel becomes a back page story. Even better would be another stunning performance that might get him featured on Thursday's back AND front pages. It's the least this superstar deserves.
My bet of the week is Princess Highway in the Yorkshire Oaks. She was brilliant in the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot before getting stuck in the mud in the Irish Oaks at the Curragh. Assuming the ground is good or faster at York next week I can see Princess Highway showing her brilliance once again.