Southampton, Stoke and Sunderland's poor starts won't define their seasons, claims Michael Lintorn...
"Mark Hughes has closed each of his eight completed Premier League seasons in the top half."
Four games into the campaign, the top of the table is already looking pretty much as expected, with Manchester City top, each of the Big Six occupying a top-seven berth and the sole intruders being an Everton team that were top-eight regulars not long ago anyway.
Things are a lot less predictable lower down, with three of last season's top seven in the bottom five and the relegation zone being occupied by red-and-white trio Southampton, Sunderland and Stoke, who have earned just four points from a possible 36 between them. All of them are capable of vast improvement though...
Back Southampton for a top-half finish @ 1.865/6
There is a reason why the Saints remain odds on to place tenth or higher despite pocketing just two of their first available 12 points and that is that they are better than they have demonstrated so far, with trips to Manchester United and Arsenal hardly helping their progress.
The south coast side had a mere 24 points after 20 games last term and built on that to claim a first ever top-six Premier League finish, while coach Claude Puel has regularly struggled initially before eventually shining in his career. On the two occasions in the past four years that his Nice squad placed fourth in Ligue 1, they won only one of their opening five encounters.
Back Stoke for a top-half finish @ 4.84/1
The reasons for backing Stoke to climb back into the top ten between now and May are similar to those mentioned for Southampton, with the biggest difference being that they are a much weightier price.
Mark Hughes has closed each of his eight completed Premier League seasons in the top half, guiding a Stoke side that never ranked so highly in any of Tony Pulis' five admired years as their boss post promotion to three successive ninth-place finishes.
One point from four matches is clearly unacceptable, yet their schedule was brutal, visiting promoted Middlesbrough in week one before taking on heavyweight trio Manchester City, Everton and Tottenham. Still, they only had three points after six outings in 2015/16 and rallied admirably.
Lay Sunderland to be relegated @ 2.47/5
The Black Cats find themselves in the disturbingly familiar territory of being joint-bottom, collecting a single point from David Moyes' first four league contests in charge.
Last September, Betting.Betfair published nine reasons why they wouldn't go down, ultimately being vindicated, and there should be even more factors to add to the 2016/17 edition of that list.
On the evidence of his career, Moyes is an upgrade on Stadium of Light success Sam Allardyce, even if he hasn't shown it yet, while a primary issue is concentration, with points being surrendered in the final six minutes of two of their opening four fixtures. Once they fix that fault, the rest should follow.