Last week we covered the top of the table, but with the Premier League season fast approaching we must also broach the subject of which teams might be getting relegated in 2012/13.
The obvious teams to assess first are the promoted sides, and Reading are priced up as favourites for the drop at 2.10. The Royals absolutely romped home in the Championship last year after going on the most remarkable of runs in the second half of the season. Since then, they have also had some major investment from the Russian Zingarevich family and Brian McDermott has used those funds to sign some of the better players from the Football League.
Chris Gunter and Adrian Mariappa will add pace to the defence, and can be expected to impress more on their second spell in the top flight than either of them did in their first. Garath McCleary should provide goals from midfield, but Pavel Pogrebnyak is a gamble: although his brief spell at Fulham was fruitful, his Stuttgart record was appalling. His signing smacks of the chairman wanting to bring in a Russian, whether or not the manager wanted one. McDermott himself, meanwhile, is untested at this level, and the miracles he worked in the spring won’t necessarily translate up to the next tier.
Southampton are 2.25 for the drop, despite Nigel Adkins spending £10million already. Jay Rodriguez is very raw for his transfer fee, but he shouldn’t be burdened with too much goalscoring responsibility thanks to Scouse netfinder Rickie Lambert, who is finally getting his crack at the top flight. Steven Davis could prove to be one of the bargains of the summer in midfield but defensively there are still questions, despite the addition of Crystal Palace’s Nathaniel Clyne.
The final new arrival is West Ham but they are considered fairly likely to stay up (they're at 3.50 to get relegated on our market). Sam Allardyce’s been-around-the-block nous and a strong playing squad mean that other sides are fancied as more likely to go down than the Hammers.
One of those sides is Wigan Athletic. The big fear at the DW Stadium must surely be that Roberto Martinez would finally get offered a job good enough to tempt him away and that this would leave the Latics in the mire. After the Spaniard has spent so long getting the side to play in his image, would another manager be able to come in and make their mark on the side without disastrous consequences?
Level on odds with Wigan are Norwich City, who have already played out the former’s biggest fear. While Norwich have had an entire summer to allow Chris Hughton to do what he wishes with the club, there can be no underestimating the phenomenal work that Paul Lambert did for the Canaries last year. He bought higher-level Championship players (a good omen for Reading in some respects) and moulded them into a cohesive but tactically-flexible unit. Everybody knew their role and they had a manager who was possibly the most impressive and successful tactician of the 2011/12 campaign.
The Scot had his charges equally adept in a number of different shapes, whether it be a three-, four- or five-man defence, or a midfield diamond. His reactive team would play to exploit the weaknesses of their opponents and Hughton simply won’t do this. While he is an amiable chap and a respected coach, Hughton failed to get an incredibly strong Birmingham squad promoted last year, and his only success of note is winning the Championship with the strongest second-tier squad of all time. This year will be a nightmare for Norwich, and 2.50 for them relegated is good value.
Of the other sides that may merit consideration, Swansea are perhaps the most interesting. While QPR have spent wild sums to attempt to pull away into mid-table and Villa have signed up Lambert, Swansea chose to gamble on a perceived continuity, with Michael Laudrup filling Brendan Rodgers' shoes at the Liberty Stadium.
Michael Laudrup’s side is likely to be expected to function almost identically to his predecessors, and continue the work of Martinez and Sousa before him. The Dane will no doubt try to do just that, but despite making a couple of smart signings in Michu and De Guzman, Laudrup’s up-and-down managerial record means that things might be a bit tricky at times for the Swans.
They are 3.50 to be relegated, but there are also a whole host of special bets available on how and what the Dane will do. Looking at his managerial career, there seems little value in backing him to be sent to the stands at 6.50 – thanks to his cool and calm temperament – nor for him to sign two or more Danes this summer (3.80) following his comments about trimming the squad size.
If any odds tempt, it will be those of him not being Swansea manager on 1st June 2013. Laudrup has a history of resigning from posts – at Brondby after failing to agree on a new contract, at Mallorca due to disagreements, and at Getafe after only 11 months despite his relative success there. He was also sacked after seven horrible months at Spartak Moscow. Whether it’s resignation or sacking, 2.30 for him not to last a year is the most tempting of the our specials on the Denmark legend.
Ed’s 3 to go down: