With the Premier League taking a backseat to the FA Cup this weekend, we asked Squawka to delve into the stats to see where the value in the relegation betting is. Joe Baker assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the clubs who will be battling to avoid the drop this season…
Just six points separate bottom team Cardiff City and 10th placed Aston Villa – a mere two straight defeats could see a club drop from the comfy heights of mid-table into the heat of the relegation zone.
You can have to go back five years to find a relegation battle comparable to the one being currently fought. During 2008/09, the gap between 10th and bottom was even slimmer than today, with just five points separating Fulham and West Bromwich Albion; the Cottagers went on to pull their socks up and finish 21 points clear of the doomed WBA – Villa take note.
The current bottom half of the Premier League table – just six points separate 10th and the foot of the table.
The Betfair relegation market mirrors the unusual nature of this year’s relegation battle, with 11 sides priced at 11.5or shorter to be playing Championship football next season, with five of those trading at 2.66 or less. It is those clubs we had a look at.
Crystal Palace @ 1.99
Despite Palace’s recent rejuvenation under new management, the south London club still find themselves as the bookies’ favourite for relegation – but have no doubt, the Pulis effect is certainly beginning to encompass a previously despondent dressing room.
Throughout seven years of Premier League management with Stoke City, Pulis has never been relegated into the Championship, a record that the Welshman is proud of and certainly looking to protect – though keeping Palace in a Premier League as competitive as it is today could be his toughest task yet.
Under Pulis, Palace have improved both offensively and defensively, scoring 0.12 more goals and conceding 0.75 fewer goals per game than during Ian Holloway’s Premier League reign. The impressive defensive performances of players such as Joel Ward and Mile Jedinak have been, and will continue to be vital to Palace’s hopes – the former has the highest rate for tackles won in the Premier League, with an impressive 72%. Jedinak may have an inferior tackle win percentage to Ward, but he has still managed to complete just six less than his team-mate – this combative spirit through the spine of the Palace side will be invaluable for success in the dogfight ahead.
Two Crystal Palace players feature in the top three for tackles made in the Premier League.
Cardiff City @ 2.00
The Welsh side impressed early on in their first Premier League campaign, taking points off Manchester City, Manchester United and more importantly, their bitter rivals Swansea.
However, since Cardiff’s derby victory, they have won once in 12 games, scoring in just five of those outings – the Bluebirds are in freefall.
The appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has yet to make the desired impact, as the Norwegian is still without his first Premier League win – losing to fellow relegation rivals West Ham in one of his two fixtures to date.
It is the sheer lack of goals that will worry Solskjaer, as his side currently manage just 0.77 goals per game and rely heavily on the contributions of Frasier Campbell andJordan Mutch, who have scored 52.9% of the club’s league goals this season. Relying so heavily on just two individuals is indeed a cause for concern – perhaps £7.5m Andreas Cornelius can step up and find the net for the first time, but he would first need the opportunity.
However, Cardiff’s forwards could argue that it is the service that has been lacking, as no Premier League side has created less chances that the Bluebirds (163). It is widely believed that Wilfred Zaha is to be loaned to Cardiff; such a signing would add excitement, flair and pace to Cardiff’s attack – three elements which have been badly lacking to date.
Positives stem from summer signing Gary Medel, who continues to impress with his tenacity and ability and orchestrate play from the middle of the park. However, the back-line which he has been tasked to protect must improve, as only Fulham have conceded more goals (48) than Cardiff’s 38.
A la Crystal Palace, Cardiff’s top priority must be to tighten up the rear-guard and become hard to beat if they are to avoid the plunge.
Fulham @ 2.18
It is hard to believe that a side with a frontline lead byDimitar Berbatov finds itself embroiled in this year’s relegation scrap. But that is the case – and Fulham players need to wake up and realise this.
Berbatov is somewhat of a talisman for Fulham, but he hasn’t been performing – there have been tricks, flicks and nonchalant penalty kicks, but with just four goals in 17 games, the Bulgarian isn’t impressing where it really matters. Transfer speculation may well be proving a distraction, but for now, what better way is there to put yourself in the shop window than to light up the second half of the Premier League season, and drag Fulham out of trouble in the process?
Not wanting to be too harsh on Berbatov, Fulham’s defensive contingent must also take a good hard look at themselves; as mentioned earlier, no Premier League team has conceded more than Fulham’s 48 goals, averaging out as2.18 goals conceded per game – 22 goals out of the 48 have been shipped under Meulensteen’s short eight game reign. Ominous.