Club By Club Premier League Preview: Relegation Candidates

Which Premier League clubs will be relegated? Which Premier League clubs will survive? Today we conclude our club by club Premier League previews as Michael Cox takes a close look at this season's relegation candidates.

Turf Moor

Aston Villa

Villa Park seems a distinctly unhappy place nowadays – having been flying high under Martin O’Neill a few years ago with some talented young Englishmen, Villa have reverted to being boring, uninspiring bottom-half fodder. Paul Lambert’s first campaign was fascinating as he attempted to blood a number of young players, but the second season was one of stagnation, and Lambert finds himself under pressure before the campaign has even started.

Lambert was best as a serial formation switcher at Norwich, but at Villa Park finds himself in a trickier position – he’s supposed to be building for the long-term, which generally means finding a more consistent formula and allowing players to become accustomed to specific roles. So far he’s done neither particularly well, and his signings have also been questionable. Many of last summer’s buys – Aleksandar Tonev, Nicklas Helenius, Jores Okore – made absolutely no impact, for various reasons.

This time around, the approach seems to have changed. Philippe Senderos, Joe Cole and Kieran Richardson are all experienced players, and both Cole and Richardson offer versatility so should be capable of playing in various systems. The arrivals haven’t excited the fans, however, the mood around the club seems particularly low, and Lambert probably isn’t the man to lift it.

Roy Keane seems a dangerous choice as his assistant, considering how many managers have been replaced by their assistants in the past couple of seasons. Five games without a win, and Keane will surely step up.

Last Word

With Aston Villa, it’s difficult to find anything to be positive about, aside from the belief there will be three worse teams in the division.

Aston Villa Odds For 2014/2015

 Best OddsImplied ProbabilityBookmaker
Top 10 EPL Finish 4.33  23.1% Bet at bet365
To Stay Up 1.25  80.0% Bet at Coral
Relegation 4.25  23.5% Bet at Unibet
Finish Bottom 19.0  5.3% Bet at Bwin
FA Cup 67.0  1.5% Bet at Coral
League Cup 51.0  2.0% Bet at Coral

 

Hull City

Last season was perhaps the most famous in Hull’s history. A narrow FA Cup defeat at Arsenal was a cruel way to end the campaign, but Steve Bruce should nevertheless be proud for steering an average group of players to that stage, and Premier League survival.

Hull were generally well organised throughout the campaign, and in January they added the previously missing goal threat with the additions of Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long – a classic big man/little man combination. With Tom Huddlestone spraying passes out wide and the wing-backs galloping forward to provide crosses, everything worked quite nicely.

Bruce has bolstered his squad in preparation for a season where Hull will compete on four fronts because of their Europa League participation, although in truth, he’s done more than that. The signings of Tom Ince and Robert Snodgrass suggest Hull will play with wide midfielders this season – with Jake Livermore, HuddlestoneHUHUL, Long and Jelavic sure starters, this probably means a 4-4-2 system. There’s a danger this will deprive Hull of one of their greatest qualities – the fact they played a different system to most, usually 3-5-2, which caused opponents problems.

It’s tough not to be concerned about the impact of the Europa League on Hull’s survival chances – there’s clear evidence it affects league form. With ‘second season syndrome’ also a worry, Hull will probably finish lower than you’d expect based upon their starting XI, which actually looks quite exciting.

Last Word

This could be a difficult campaign for Hull – they need new signings to adjust immediately and offer big contributions throughout the season. Expect a relegation fight.

Hull City Odds For 2014/2015

 Best OddsImplied ProbabilityBookmaker
Top 10 EPL Finish 5.0  20.0% Bet at Ladbrokes
To Stay Up 1.36  73.5% Bet at Betfred
Relegation 4.50  22.2% Bet at bet365
Finish Bottom 15.0  6.7% Bet at Bwin
FA Cup 81.0  1.2% Bet at William Hill
League Cup 51.0  2.0% Bet at bet365

 

West Brom

West Brom’s move for Alan Irvine must be one of the most underwhelming managerial appointments of recent years. He’s been sacked from two League One clubs in his managerial career so far, and serving as a trusty assistant to David Moyes sounds less promising these days.

Irvine has concentrated on strengthening at the back, recruiting a number of defensive players. Joleon Lescott, Andre Wisdom, Sebastien Pocognoli, Chris Baird, Christian Gamboa and Jason Davidson have all joined the club, and Irvine has suggested that West Brom could play a 5-3-2 system this season, ‘at least as an option’. That shape probably makes sense considering the departure of Morgan Amalfitano leaves West Brom without quality wingers, and the likes of Gamboa and Davidson are excellent at flying forward as wing-backs.

West Brom continue to have great grit in the centre of the pitch with Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu, but further forward it’s difficult to get too excited. Brown Ideye is a huge gamble at £10m – he simply doesn’t appear of that standard – while Stephane Sessegnon and Victor Anichebe are highly unpredictable players.

Last season was essentially as bad as it could get for West Brom without being an absolute disaster – 17th in the league and out of both cups in the third round. It will only take a minor drop in performance to result in relegation.

Last Word

In truth, it’s very hard to predict West Brom’s season considering Irvine’s lack of managerial experience, but the signs don’t look promising. Expect to see West Brom in the relegation zone as Irvine departs – a new boss might save them.

West Brom Odds For 2014/2015

 Best OddsImplied ProbabilityBookmaker
Top 10 EPL Finish 5.0  20.0% Bet at bet365
To Stay Up 1.36  73.5% Bet at Ladbrokes
Relegation 3.60  27.8% Bet at Coral
Finish Bottom 11.0  9.1% Bet at Bwin
FA Cup 67.0  1.5% Bet at Ladbrokes
League Cup 51.0  2.0% Bet at bet365

 

QPR

Queens Park Rangers have an extremely impressive XI on paper – but that was the case two years ago, when they were relegated having started the season at 5/1 for the drop. The talent was there, but the cohesion and harmony in the dressing room was not, and it was no surprise when relegation was confirmed with a pitiful goalless draw at Reading, which sent both sides down.

Harry Redknapp took charge midway through that campaign, but is in place from the outset this time. He seems likely to change formation, discarding last season’s 4-4-2 / 4-2-3-1 and switching to a three-man defence, which could suit the squad nicely. Steven Caulker and Rio Ferdinand offer quality at the back, probably alongside Richard Dunne, while Mauricio Isla would be a superb signing on the right, and Armand Traore and Yun Suk-young are both suited to a wing-back role on the left.

Question marks remain higher up the pitch, largely because QPR don’t know whether they’ll be able to count upon the services of Adel Taarabt and Loic Remy, who have returned from loan spells at Milan and Newcastle respectively, but are angling for a permanent transfer. If they remain – and are motivated – QPR have two players good enough to play for Champions League clubs.

If not, QPR are light going forward, and it will be up to Redknapp to perform some classic wheeler-dealing to give his side enough quality in the final third, as Charlie Austin probably won’t cut it.

Last Word

With plenty of transfers still to come, QPR are unpredictable – but they should escape relegation with relative ease.

QPR Odds For 2014/2015

 Best OddsImplied ProbabilityBookmaker
Top 10 EPL Finish 7.0  14.3% Bet at Ladbrokes
To Stay Up 1.44  69.4% Bet at Ladbrokes
Relegation 3.0  33.3% Bet at William Hill
Finish Bottom 8.0  12.5% Bet at Bwin
FA Cup 81.0  1.2% Bet at Ladbrokes
League Cup 67.0  1.5% Bet at bet365

 

Leicester City

It’s been a while since Leicester City have been in the top division, and their side still feels distinctly second-tier. Even the new arrivals, like Brighton’s Leonardo Ulloa, Aston Villa’s Marc Albrighton and Charlton’s Ben Hamer are players who should fighting for promotion to the Premier League, rather than fighting against relegation from it.

Nevertheless, Nigel Pearson developed a good side at Leicester last season, managing a highly impressive 102 points. They played quick, direct but attractive football, usually in a 4-4-2 system, and seem likely to replicate that style in the Premier League. Ulloa looks a very dangerous player, while David Nugent is capable of outstanding finishes, and might finally prove himself at the top level.

Foxes fans will be nervously looking at their difficult opening to the campaign, however, and if Leicester get off to a bad start it might be difficult to recover. There’s no doubt that many of these players will need time to adjust to the Premier League – the lack of top-level experience is quite noticeable – and it feels like Pearson needs a couple of solid, dependable players accustomed to a relegation fight. Expect a couple more signings before deadline day.

Still, Leicester should be entertaining, and the likes of Swansea and Norwich have proved that continuing with an approach that proved successful in the Championship can work in the top division too. Ultimately, it depends on individuals stepping up and performing.

Last Word

Leicester are capable of staying up, although 13/5 (3.60) for them to be relegated looks good value.

Leicester City Odds For 2014/2015

 Best OddsImplied ProbabilityBookmaker
Top 10 EPL Finish 5.5  18.2% Bet at bet365
To Stay Up 1.36  73.5% Bet at Ladbrokes
Relegation 3.60  27.8% Bet at Coral
Finish Bottom 8.0  12.5% Bet at Titanbet
FA Cup 67.0  1.5% Bet at Ladbrokes
League Cup 67.0  1.5% Bet at bet365

 

Burnley

Sean Dyche is a very promising manager – a big personality but also a keen tactician, and he had Burnley playing wonderful football last season. They played out from the back, they pressed from the front, and the partnership of Danny Ings and Sam Vokes rightly received plenty of media acclaim.

Dyche stuck to a very consistent starting XI, and his probable side for this season appears almost identical to last season. Unfortunately, Vokes’ long-term injury rules him out for a few months, so Lucas Jutkiewicz should start after arriving from Middlesbrough, but in truth that’s a downgrade in terms of raw quality, and it’s a great shame that such a successful strike partnership has been broken up.

Burnley really need a couple of new arrivals, both to provide more outright quality and to allow Dyche to rotate his squad here and there – it will be tough to play a high-energy pressing game over 38 Premier League matches, especially because Burnley will spend longer without the ball this season. A couple of injuries to key players, meanwhile, and this XI looks completely out of their depth in the Premier League.

Still, Dyche is a tactically intelligent coach who demands simple, straightforward and positive football, and that might be the best approach for picking up results against other relegation battlers. Whether Burnley have the quality to pinch points from the big sides seems doubtful, although Turf Moor could prove a tricky away ground.

Last Word

Odds-on for relegation and favourites to finish last, no-one is giving Burnley much of a chance – but Dyche gets the best out of this group of players, and they have the potential to stay up.

Burnley Odds For 2014/2015

 Best OddsImplied ProbabilityBookmaker
Top 10 EPL Finish 13.0  7.7% Bet at bet365
To Stay Up 2.38  42.0% Bet at William Hill
Relegation 1.62  61.7% Bet at Ladbrokes
Finish Bottom 3.20  31.3% Bet at Ladbrokes
FA Cup 81.0  1.2% Bet at Ladbrokes
League Cup 81.0  1.2% Bet at bet365

 

 

Read part 1 of Michael's Premier League club previews - The Contenders.
Read part 2 of Michael's Premier League club previews - The Midtable.

 

 

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