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Assessing the early relegation favourites

Whilst the top of the Premier League has seen Manchester City establish themselves as clear frontrunners for the title, at the opposite end of the table who look set for a season of struggle? Michael Cox gives us the rundown on the bookies perceived relegation favourites and looks at their chances of escaping the dreaded drop.

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Burnley – 4/6

While favourites for the drop, Burnley aren’t a particularly bad side. As their narrow, unfortunate 1-0 defeat to Arsenal demonstrated, they’re well-organised defensively, refusing to allow the opposition space in behind, and they’ll become a good counter-attacking side once again when Andre Gray returns from his suspension. Their 2-0 victory over Watford shows they’re good from set-pieces, and Steven Defour has proved very useful in an energetic midfield role.

Are Burnley likely to go down? Just about. Does 4/6 represent good value? Not quite. Burnley are capable of keeping clean sheets, and could pick up some victories over the next couple of months.

Sunderland – 8/11

We’ve been here so many times with Sunderland, although this time around they really seem in a right state. They’ve used 27 players already this season in just seven games, with no cohesion obvious from any particular part of the side. They usually rely on (a) a managerial change and (b) a derby against Newcastle to prompt their sudden improvement, but their managerial change came before the season, and Newcastle aren’t in the division.

But both David Moyes, in his Everton days, and Sunderland, over the last three seasons, have a habit of starting poorly then suddenly improving. 8/11, again, doesn’t seem particularly tempting.

Hull – 5/6

At the end of the campaign, we’ll look back at Hull’s start to the campaign and wonder how on earth they managed to record back-to-back victories over Leicester and Swansea. With a threadbare squad, players out of position and a caretaker manager, those two wins made little sense. Their recent performances, a 4-1 loss to Arsenal, a 5-1 defeat to Liverpool and a 2-0 loss to Chelsea, are more in keeping with Hull’s true level of ability.

In fairness, those two heavy defeats to Arsenal and Liverpool came after Hull were reduced to ten men, and overall their defensive organisation has been decent this season. But there’s a distinct lack of quality going forward, with Robert Snodgrass and Adama Diomande likely to provide only occasional moments of magic. They’re surely destined for the drop, and 5/6 looks good.

Swansea – 2/1

Take a look at Swansea’s squad, and you might be surprised by how much midfield quality they have. With Leon Britton, Ki Sung-Yeung, Jack Cork, Gylfi Sigurdsson and sudden goalscoring machine Leroy Fer to choose from, Swansea are very much capable of dominating games.

Their defending so far this season has been poor, but Bob Bradley is a good organiser and should get them drilled properly on the training ground. With Fernando Llorente a top-class forward capable of exploding suddenly into a prolific Premier League striker, Swansea should be a lot higher than 2/1 for the drop.

Middlesbrough – 3/1

Middlesbrough came up with plenty of promise, boasting an exciting attacking quartet and a manager capable of organising his defence well. But there’s been just one victory so far, away in the derby at Sunderland, with the backline looking surprisingly shaky. Left-back George Friend, excellent in the Championship, hasn’t fared well.

Some players, like Adam Forshaw and Christhian Stuani, have performed impressively. But Middlesbrough haven’t boasted great attacking cohesion, and while they’re likely to survive this season, 3/1 is probably slightly generous.

Stoke – 11/4

Five goals in seven games isn’t good. 16 conceded in seven games is even worse. A point at Old Trafford was a fine result, but Stoke massively rode their luck in the opening stages and could have been soundly defeated. Wilfried Bony looks very poor upfront, while Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic haven’t been on top form either. Top-class players rarely go through prolonged period of poor football and both might improve – but both are the kind of players liable to moody spells, and their decline could be more serious.

This is a talented side. But at the moment they’re neither relying upon their old-school defensive organisation or the flair from the last couple of seasons. 11/4 is very tempting for a side yet to win a game.

Elsewhere – West Ham have been atrocious so far, but Slaven Bilic hasn’t become a bad manager overnight and they should improve, meaning 9/2 isn’t very tempting. Tony Pulis is highly unlikely to take West Brom down, so it’s surprising that they’re considered around as likely to be relegated as Watford, who have been decent so far but could be a flash in the pan. 6/1 seems better for the latter. Bournemouth (9) seems a little overpriced but should be fine, while Crystal Palace (20) and everyone above them won’t even have to think about relegation this season.

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October 14th, 2016 by Michael Cox

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