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Premier League preview: The relegation candidates

As the Premier League’s big hitters return from their sun-lavished escapes in Dubai and Miami Beach after a month of sipping the odd light beer and treating themselves to an occasional ice cream on the sea front, the realisation also returns: it’s time for pre-season.

Although punishment-gluten Joey Barton says he loves this time of year, the feeling is that he’s alone in that thought. Hill runs, interval sprints, weight sessions. Repeated. Repeated. Repeated. Day on day for six weeks. The hard times, though, are all worth it, for us spectators at least, as the scent of Premier League football returns.

With each new season comes optimism but also a sense of dread. The newly promoted sides have spent the past weeks celebrating their achievement of joining the elite, but now, with the opening of the transfer window, they may start to realise their squad is looking a bit thin, or lacking in top-flight class. That feeling, though, is not exclusive to the newly promoted teams. Relegated Wigan Athletic finished last season with 36 points, only six points fewer than 13th place Stoke City, so a number of clubs will be looking to improve on last year’s campaign.

The fight for Premier League survival begins now.

As is always the way, the promoted sides are the favourites for the drop. Play-off winners Crystal Palace are 8/15 in most places but Coral will give you the best price at 4/7. The last time Ian Holloway was in the Premier League, with Blackpool, they had an excellent start but gave way in the second half of the season – alongside the unwanted speculation on Charlie Adam’s future – and were eventually relegated. Palace have already lost their big star in Wilfried Zaha but have an equally exciting youngster in Jonathan Williams who may, with an impressive start to the season, encourage some more established sides to start looking at him a bit closer. So it remains to be seen if Holloway can divert the attention from his key players so as not to derail their bid for survival this year. Palace are also in the unfortunate situation of being without last season’s top goalscorer Glenn Murray until possibly Christmas, and with little cash to bring in a replacement they may struggle for goals early on. They have however secured the services of Plymouth’s Dwight Gayle for an undisclosed fee.

Steve Bruce’s Hull City are 4/6 with most bookies but can be found at 7/10 with Ladbrokes. Bruce has already added experienced defender Maynor Figueroa and ex-Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor to his side but still faces an uphill battle to keep the Tigers up. Their top scorer last season was midfielder Robert Koren with nine, so the acquisition of a forward will be vital to their hopes. The last time Hull were in the Premier League was after a meteoric rise – the third fastest from the bottom division of the football league to the top flight – and they lasted two seasons under Phil Brown before dropping back into the Championship. The headset-wearer wasn’t kept on at the KC Stadium, and after three years the club are back under the guidance of Bruce who has top-level experience from his days at Birmingham City, Wigan and Sunderland.

Championship winners Cardiff City, embarking on their first season in the Premier League and their first in the top flight since 1960, are third favourites for the drop at 6/4, with their best price 7/4 with Bet365. The Bluebirds’ fans went through a huge test of resolve last season when their Malaysian owners opted to change the colour of their home kits from the traditional blue to red, a symbol of luck in Asia. It seemed to pay off on the pitch however as their long run of play-off failures came to an end with automatic promotion secured. Cardiff had lost in the play-off semi -finals the two previous seasons, while they lost the final in 2010. The squad, which has been heavily made up of loan signings in recent years, will need strengthening, but with the experience of the likes of Craig Bellamy there already, Malky Mackay will hope he can steer them to safety.

According to the bookies the other sides that should be wary of relegation include Norwich City, best priced at 11/4 (Ladbrokes), Stoke City 10/3 (various), Sunderland 11/2 (various) and Fulham 7/1 (Paddy Power).

In the last ten seasons only the 2011/2012 season saw all three promoted teams (QPR, Norwich and Swansea) avoid relegation, although QPR were relegated last season. Four seasons have seen two of the promoted sides relegated straight back down, while five seasons have seen just one of the promoted sides head straight back into the second tier. Only five clubs have been relegated in their second season in the top flight in the last ten years, which dilutes the theory of ‘second-season syndrome’, although you could back Southampton or West Ham for the drop, with both around 10/1 (various).

We reckon the best value can be found in the double relegation markets, with Crystal Palace and Cardiff 3/1, and Hull City and Cardiff 10/3, both at Bet Victor. An Aston Villa and Sunderland double at 66/1 is also rather tempting.

Bruce Archer
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