There are a dozen Premier League clubs who could be looking over their shoulders during 2012/13 and news.bwin.com/en/ assesses the chances of relegation for Reading, Southampton, Norwich City, Wigan Athletic, Swansea City, West Ham United, West Bromwich Albion, Queens Park Rangers, Stoke City, Aston Villa, Fulham and Sunderland.
Relegation odds: evens
Last year’s Championship winners have been installed as the even-money favourites for relegation, but Reading have enough about them to secure a second season of Premier League football.
The Royals stormed to the second-tier title under the astute tutelage of Brian McDermott and the former youth-team coach can steer his side to safety to emulate Steve Coppell, who also managed to keep Reading in the top flight in their first season as a Premier League club.
McDermott has bought very well in the transfer window: Chris Gunter and Adrian Mariappa were much sought after, while the purchase of Pavel Pogrebnyak from under the noses of Fulham looks smart after his seven goals in 12 games for the Cottagers last term.
Reading will be fearless – they won 13 games on the road last term – as well as tight defensively (they had the best record in the Championship last term and kept more clean sheets than anyone) and having improved every area of their team, they should be fine.
Verdict: Bottom eight
Relegation odds: 6/5
Southampton have emulated Norwich City in achieving back-to-back promotions from League One to the Premier League, but unlike the Canaries, they might find staying in the top flight too much of an ask.
Nigel Adkins has done a tremendous job at St. Mary’s, turning the club around and ending their seven-year hiatus from the top flight. The former Scunthorpe physio likes to play a positive, expansive style and his relentless optimism means his team are very much built in his mould.
But while there will be no doubting Saints’ attacking prowess – they were the Championship’s top goal-getters last term – defensive concerns are too big to ignore and the given the way Southampton play, better sides will expose their gaps and the step up in class might be a bit too much for a squad that, in the main, hasn’t tasted top-flight football.
The Saints struggled away from home against the better teams last term, winning just two of their 11 fixtures against the other sides in the top half, and a tough start doesn’t help either, with Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Everton up in their first six games. If the Saints are stuck in the bottom three by October, it could be a struggle to get out.
Relegation odds: 7/4
Chris Hughton has a deservedly fine managerial reputation given his previous work under difficult circumstances at Newcastle and Birmingham, but he may be unable to stop Norwich City dropping into the Championship.
Paul Lambert was the man who took the Canaries from the third tier to 12th in the Premier League, but his defection to Aston Villa may prove to be a shrewd move as it is going to be difficult for Norwich to keep up this level of over-achievement by relying on predominantly Championship-level performers.
And even among the many great things that happened under Lambert last year, there were warning signs that this season will prove more problematic. No team who survived conceded more than Norwich’s 66 goals, while City were the only team not to keep an away clean sheet.
Results had already started to tail off towards the end of last season, with the Canaries winning only three of their last 13 games – a run which featured seven losses – and with Hughton again dipping into the Football League for signings unproven at the top level, the former Tottenham defender might find this a challenging job too far.
Relegation odds: 7/4
Roberto Martinez has proved himself to be the master of the great escape since taking over at Wigan in 2009 and the Spanish manager should once again do enough to ensure the division’s smallest club stay at the top table for another year.
The former Swansea boss inspired a miraculous recovery from a seemingly impossible position last term, a change in formation prompting a scarcely believable run of results that saw the Latics win seven of their last nine matches – including victories over Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool – to ease their way to safety.
This after eight defeats on the bounce saw Wigan marooned in the bottom three from October, which goes to show how remarkable the turnaround was. Wigan will always have it hard given their budget and the fact their best players always seem to move on every summer (Victor Moses looks set to leave before the window shuts) but Martinez always finds a way out and he can do so again this time, especially with the signing of Arouna Kone, which has slipped under the radar but could finally give Wigan the goal threat that their build up play often deserves.
Much of this depends on Martinez remaining at the club and the possibility that we will be prised away cannot be discounted. But if the Spaniard stays put, so too should Wigan.
Verdict: Bottom eight
Relegation odds: 2/1
This season represents a step into the unknown for Swansea, who have decided to entrust the difficult second season in the Premier League to a man with no previous experience of English football.
Of course, chairman Huw Jenkins had little choice but to let Brendan Rodgers, the man who steered the Swans into the top flight and kept them there in such stylish fashion, leave for Liverpool but in replacing the Northern Irishman with Michael Laudrup, Jenkins appears to have gambled with Swansea’s Premier League future.
Laudrup arrives at a tough time, unable to call upon last year’s loan stars Gylfi Sigurdsson and Steven Caulker and powerless to stop Joe Allen from joining Rodgers at Anfield. Scott Sinclair and others could also be on the way out before the end of the month and it makes the job at the Liberty Stadium a tough one for the Dane, who comes to South Wales with a mixed managerial record.
The former Barcelona star worked wonders at Getafe but fared less well at Spartak Moscow and how quickly Laudrup gets to grips with the Premier League could well determine the Swans’ fate.
Stylistically, though, Laudrup is a good fit, continuing in the same vein as Rodgers, Paulo Sousa and Roberto Martinez before him and he has made some clever buys, not least goal-grabbing midfielder Michu from Rayo Vallecano. With a top goalkeeper in Michael Vorm and a decent poacher in Danny Graham, not to mention a strong recent record on their own patch – Swansea have lost just 13 home matches in four seasons – Laudrup should just about be able to keep a Welsh presence in the top flight next year.
Verdict: Bottom eight
Relegation odds: 11/5
West Ham might have won promotion from the Championship at the first time of asking but all is not well at Upton Park and at 11/5, there is value in West Ham making an immediate return to the second tier.
The Hammers and Sam Allardyce look set for divorce sooner rather than later, with the fans unhappy about the style of play imposed by Big Sam on a club that prides itself on entertaining, attacking football and this uneasy relationship will not help the Irons get results, especially at home, where the atmosphere can quickly turn poisonous.
That was the case last year as West Ham failed to win 12 of their home matches and had to be promoted through the play-offs, despite being expected to romp to the title, and the squad doesn’t appear strong enough at either end of the pitch to survive against top-class opposition.
The defence looks weak with James Collins, James Tomkins and Joey O’Brien not good enough at this level, while behind them Jussi Jaaskelainen was finished years ago and is now a liability between the sticks.
At the top end, Allardyce boasts a plethora of strikers but none of them convince: Carlton Cole, Sam Baldock, Nicky Maynard, Ricardo Vaz Te, Frederic Piquionne and Modibo Maiga are either untried or have proven themselves to be unreliable at Premier League level, and despite some sound midfield additions I envisage a year of struggle for West Ham.
It won’t take much for the fans to really turn on Allardyce and a bad start could leave them in a perilous position, and at 11/5 for relegation, West Ham are a tempting bet.
West Bromwich Albion
Relegation odds: 7/2
At what point does a team go from ‘surprise strugglers’ to ‘everyone’s tip for relegation’? It is a question that West Brom fans might be asking themselves.
The appointment of Steve Clarke took many by surprise, not least of all because Baggies chairman Jeremy Peace, a man normally so risk averse, seems to have taken a chance by replacing the vastly experienced Roy Hodgson with a man who has never held a managerial post.
It has left people falling over themselves to tip West Brom for relegation, which on the one hand is understandable: Clarke is an unknown quantity and his dour demeanour in front of the cameras hardly inspires confidence he can motivate a group of players to perform above themselves.
But I think fear of the drop for Albion is an exaggerated one. The squad inherited by the former Chelsea assistant has plenty of talent and top-flight experience, as well as a solid goal threat in Peter Odemwingie, Shane Long and new boys Markus Rosenberg and Romelu Lukaku.
Peace is also a factor here. The way he ruthlessly sacked Roberto di Matteo in February 2011 the moment he thought West Brom looked like slipping into trouble suggests he doesn’t mind making tough decisions and there is every chance that if Clarke is not working out, Peace will make the necessary call.
Whether it comes to that is hard to tell, but I don’t think the Baggies will be bouncing back to the Championship come May.
Verdict: Bottom eight
Queens Park Rangers
Relegation odds: 9/2
Queens Park Rangers survived by the skin of their teeth last term after a season of turmoil and struggle, but every indication suggests that life will be much more comfortable for the west Londoners this campaign.
Rangers stayed up on the last day of the season despite losing to Manchester City in dramatic circumstances, but there will be no repeat of those palpitations this time around as manager Mark Hughes stamps his authority at Loftus Road.
The former Blackburn boss took over mid-season from Neil Warnock, who looked out of his depth despite delivering promotion for the Hoops, and the Welshman managed to sort out Rangers’ home form, winning five on the bounce to lead the club to safety.
And given the transfer business conducted by Hughes over the summer, QPR fans can expect a season looking up at the top half rather than the bottom three. Ji-Sung Park, Fabio, Junior Hoilett, Rob Green and Andrew Johnson are all upgrades on what was already there and with Hughes’ solid track record, QPR will keep themselves away from the relegation issue.
Relegation odds: 6/1
Stoke City begin their fifth consecutive year as a Premier League club, but there is a sense that the Potters could find this year the most challenging yet.
Tony Pulis has taken Stoke to places they could have only dreamed of when he was appointed in 2006 – most notably the FA Cup final and the Europa League – but there have to be concerns that this is a season too far.
That will happen one day, because Stoke just don’t score enough goals. The Britannia outfit scored just 36 times last term, to go with 44, 36 and 38 in their previous Premier League campaigns, and one day they will come unstuck and not be able to dig out enough results to preserve their top-flight status.
But will this be the year? Stoke have been stagnant in the transfer market, which is unusual for a club normally backed so well by owner Peter Coates and their dismal away form – just 13 victories since winning promotion in 2008 – is unlikely to improve.
Of course, the Britannia remains a tough place to go and there is no reason for that to change, even if Rory Delap can no longer be relied upon for long throws.
Stoke could well do just enough, but it might be much too close for comfort compared to previous seasons and at 6/1, they are the value outside punt.
Verdict: Bottom eight
Relegation odds: 6/1
Aston Villa have flirted with the drop over the last couple of seasons, but any fears of relegation to the Championship should be eased by the arrival of Paul Lambert as manager.
The Villans have been far too close to the bottom three for their fans’ liking ever since Martin O’Neill quit on the eve of the 2010/11 season and his successors, Gerard Houllier and Alex McLeish, regressed the club to the point that last season Villa won just 38 points, one less than the amount that relegated McLeish’s Birmingham side the season before.
Dour, negative football was served up alongside the lack of results and as McLeish deservedly got the boot, Lambert was the fans’ unanimous choice to replace him. The Holte End got their wish and for the first time in eons, Villa Park seems like a happy place.
Lambert’s track record is the principal reason: a Champions League winner with Borussia Dortmund as a player, his work at Norwich in taking the club from League One to Premier League mid-table was remarkable.
That isn’t to say Lambert has an easy job, because he doesn’t. Villa have a largely average squad with a couple of stellar names and young talents, and it will take some time before the club are competing on the same level as they were under O’Neill. But thankfully for Villa fans, they also won’t be competing on the same level they were under McLeish.
Relegation odds: 10/1
Craven Cottage has been the home to Premier League football since 2001 and there is little chance that will not be case come next August.
Fulham are a well-established, more than adequate top-flight side and have been for some time. Any analysis of the club suggests nothing is going to change over the next nine months.
Since Roy Hodgson saved them from relegation after the ill-fated reign of Lawrie Sanchez in 2008 (the Cottagers’ only true flirtation with the Championship in 11 years), Fulham have gone from strength to strength under Hodgson, Mark Hughes and now Martin Jol and are every inch the mid-table team.
Jol was just a point short of matching Fulham’s best-ever Premier League points tally of 52 last season and a similar campaign is on the cards, even if Clint Dempsey moves on, as anticipated. But with Mladen Petric, the new signing from Hamburg, ready to share the goalscoring burden, Dempsey may not be missed too much as Jol looks set to stick with a tried and tested squad that mixes defensive solidity (11 clean sheets last year was more than Chelsea) with a bit of flair in the shape of Bryan Ruiz and Moussa Dembele.
And even if the latter is prised away alongside Dempsey – Real Madrid are reportedly admirers of the the Belgian’s talents – Jol has enough to force a third consecutive top-ten finish.
Relegation odds: 11/1
Relegation fears were rife on Wearside last season until Steve Bruce was sacked in December, but with Martin O’Neill at the helm, the Stadium of Light faithful will be looking up rather than down during 2012/13.
O’Neill, though hardly perfect, is a clear upgrade on Bruce, who endured a torrid time of it last season, and the former Celtic manager clearly has the unswerving support of the Black Cats support as he attempts to build on last season’s 13th-placed finish.
It was a season of two halves for O’Neill, who took 22 points from his first 12 league games in charge, but just 11 from his last dozen as Sunderland’s season disappointingly petered out with a whimper.
The FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Everton was largely responsible for that, but O’Neill must now renew his efforts ahead of the new campaign. Quite what Sunderland can achieve this season is unclear, particularly as they are short of strikers after last year’s top scorer Nicklas Bendtner returned to parent club Arsenal, but they won’t be anywhere near the relegation issue.
O’Neill is a fine motivator and has some young, exciting talent at his disposal, not to mention a reliable back four. The Northern Irishman has always tended to leave his transfer business until the last minute, so some activity is still expected (especially on Wolves’ Steven Fletcher) and Sunderland will have a happy season in mid-table.
Verdict: Bottom eight
Recommended bet #1: Southampton to be relegated @ 6/5
Recommended bet #2: Norwich to be relegated @ 7/5
Recommended bet #3: West Ham to be relegated @ 11/5
Outside punt: Stoke to be relegated @ 6/1
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