Some big clubs are at the wrong end of the table, while those expected to struggle are exceeding expectations. Mike Norman attempts to unravel the relegation puzzle and find some value in a wide open market...
"It's not beyond the realms of possibility to think that Pellegrino's men might not get more than six or seven points between now and the New Year, and if that's the case, then sitting on 20 points after 21 games of the season will certainly mean you're in a relegation battle."
Top flight football has arrived at its final international break of 2017 - you won't hear me complaining about that - which means now is probably as good a time as any to take another look at some of the key markets in the Premier League.
Manchester City have become the earliest title winners in history - as so many would have us believe - but at the other end of the table the fight to avoid the drop looks like being one of the biggest, and possibly most rewarding, puzzles to solve.
One of the main reasons for that is because every club in the Premier League barring the 'big six' could realistically still be a relegation candidate, as evidenced by all 14 of those clubs currently trading at [25.0] or lower in the Relegation market.
Another factor as to why this market looks intriguing right now is because the four clubs that headed the market at the start of the season, that's Huddersfield (matched at a low of [1.6]), Brighton ([1.93]), Burnley ([2.0]), and Watford ([2.6]), have all enjoyed terrific starts and all currently occupy a berth in the top half of the table.
I doubt for one second that they'll all stay there, but whether they offer any value to drop into the bottom three in 27 games' time is another matter all together.
What constitutes a typical relegation candidate?
In a nutshell, and rather obviously, a team that doesn't score regularly while conceding far too frequently. Last season was a perfect example, and one that has often been repeated down the years.
Hull conceded more goals - by some margin too - than any other club in the division, while at the other end of the pitch only two clubs scored fewer than the Tigers. Needless to say Hull went down.
The two clubs that scored fewer were Middlesbrough and Sunderland; both were also relegated, the Black Cats also having the third worst defensive record in the Premier League. Boro had a decent defensive record admittedly, but they won less games than any team because of their inability to stick the ball in the back of the net.
But is this going to be a typical season?
There's absolutely no obvious reason why it won't be because the bottom line is, if you don't score goals then you don't win games, and if you can't stop conceding then you lose games, lots of them.
The problem we have currently is that most of the teams showing the same traits as last season's relegated clubs have potential to improve, the likes of West Ham, Everton, and Stoke for example, and perhaps to a lesser extent Crystal Palace.
Chief among those potential improvers is Everton, currently trading at [12.0] to go down and still without a permanent manager.
But while the Toffees come out pretty badly in the goals stakes (only six clubs have scored fewer, while only one has conceded more) you feel that whoever comes in to take over at Goodison Park - Sam Allardyce is the strong favourite on the Exchange - will be able to improve this talented squad at both ends of the pitch. They'll surely score more goals, and it's impossible not to see them tightening up at the back. They won't go down.
The one club to have conceded more than Everton's 22 goals this term is West Ham (23), and they have also just sacked their manager, bringing in David Moyes to replace Slaven Bilic.
Ben McAleer thinks that's a bad move, and I take his point, but odds of just [3.3] about the Hammers going down make little appeal. They have goalscorers in their side, plenty of them in fact, but more than that - as Ben also explains - it looks like the West Ham players had lost belief in Bilic.
They might not have much belief in Moyes either in time, but often a change in manager can work wonders for a team that just lost faith in their previous boss rather than being a team not good enough survive.
That tag, as things stand, is hanging deservedly around the necks of Crystal Palace players. The Eagles, who survived only narrowly thanks to some miraculous results under Allardyce last season, were awful during the first month, resulting in Frank de Boer losing his job and Roy Hodgson replacing him.
Palace have been only marginally better under the former England boss, but they currently sit rock bottom of the table, are six points adrift of safety, have scored just four goals in 11 games, and they have the joint second worst defensive record. They are trading at [1.79] to go down, and that's very fair.
There's a theme to the three clubs with a poor defensive record mentioned above; they've all sacked their boss. Mark Hughes take note!
Stoke, like Everton and Palace, have conceded 22 goals this term, and the gut feeling is that things are becoming a bit stale under their current boss. Hughes was rumoured to be just a few more defeats away from the axe prior to his team winning at in-form Watford and drawing with Leicester, so it wouldn't take much for him to become under huge pressure again.
The Potters are [8.6] to go down, and that's probably worth at least a 'saver' investment.
So who are the favourites for the drop?
Along with Palace and West Ham, the other clubs fancied to be at the wrong end of the table come next April/May are Swansea, [1.62], Huddersfield, [3.3], West Brom, [3.9], Bournemouth, [4.4], and Brighton, [4.9].
A case can be made for most, both for and against, but the two teams that I like are the Swans and the Seagulls, but not to go down.
Surely Swansea are worth a lay at that price given how early it is in the season and how many teams can potentially be relegated - and I make it any of the 14 non-big six clubs apart from Leicester, [25.0], Watford, [19.5], and Burnley [11.5] - while Brighton just look to be an extremely well organised team that won't concede bundles of goals.
Admittedly the Swans haven't set the world alight in front of goal so far this term, and their home form is a huge concern, but they don't concede many either - just 13 this term.
It can go one of two ways of course; Paul Clement's men will either keep defending okay and start finding the net themselves, or they'll continue to struggle in front of goal and start conceding more. At this stage of the season it's worth chancing the former and laying them at [1.63] to go down.
And is there any value out there?
Yes, and it lies with Southampton, who at this stage look a huge price in the Relegation market at [16.0].
The Saints' home form is a massive concern, and it immediately draws your attention. Mauricio Pellegrino's men have won just two of their last 13 at St Mary's, and those victories came against fellow strugglers West Ham and West Brom, while alarmingly, of those last 13 games played on home soil Southampton have failed to score a single goal in 10 of them.
Away from home the Saints have recorded just one win, and that came against rock-bottom Palace, meaning that their three league wins this term - all achieved by just a single goal may I add - were against the clubs currently sitting 16th, 18th, and 20th in the table.
But it's Southampton's upcoming fixtures that really make those relegation odds appeal. Five of their next six away games are at Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Man United, while their next three home games are against an Everton team likely to have a new manager, a Leicester side hitting form, and Arsenal.
It's not beyond the realms of possibility to think that Pellegrino's men might not get more than six or seven points between now and the New Year, and if that's the case, then sitting on 20 points after 21 games of the season will certainly mean you're in a relegation battle.
I'd be amazed if Southampton don't trade considerably shorter than their current price of [16.0] to go down at some point in the next few months.
And finally, we have to mention Newcastle, who are trading at [9.8] to be relegated, which considering they are currently lower in the table than the two clubs they were promoted with, yet are around twice the price of Brighton and three times the price of Huddersfield, makes them an automatic selection on that basis alone.
You always feel that the Magpies are never more than a defeat or two away from a crisis, and that a poor run of form - they've now lost two on the spin and are away to Man United next - will have Rafa Benitez heading towards the exit door.
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