The battle to avoid relegation in the Premiership is heating up, and just three points separate West Ham in 12th and Huddersfield in 19th. We have never seen such a tight, agonisingly tense or topsy-turvy survival scrap since the Premiership began in the 1990s. The table shifts dramatically each week as teams pull off shock results and others slump to defeat in games they were expected to win.
More than half of them have sacked their managers and brought in a new coach in a desperate final roll of the dice, and some squads have been galvanised, while others are struggling for confidence. It is positively nail-biting for the teams’ fans, but fascinating and exhilarating in equal measures for the neutrals.
Huddersfield started the season brightly and enjoyed some excellent results, including a famous win over Man Utd, but they are in dreadful form and look doomed. They have lost five straight games and have not won since mid-December, so they are understandably the favourites to go down, priced at 8/13 with Bet Victor, Boyle Sports and Betfair. They are the smallest club to play Premiership football since Barnsley in the 1990s, and it was always going to be difficult for them to stay up.
Bottom club West Brom are also 8/13 with several bookies, including Sky Bet, Betway and 888 Sport. Experienced Premiership bosses Sam Allardyce and David Moyes sparked an upturn in results at Everton and West Ham when they were parachuted in to save the day, but Alan Pardew has not had quite the same impact at WBA. However, this is a team that recently beat Liverpool and Everton, so it would be extremely risky to take such short odds on them going down.
The real value lies elsewhere in the relegation fight. Swansea looked dead and buried when Carlos Carvalhal took over, but they have now climbed out of the drop zone following amazing wins against Liverpool and Arsenal and a draw away at Leicester.
They just shattered their transfer record to bring Andre Ayew back to the club and pair him up front with brother Jordan, so they may well pull off another great escape. They are third-favourites at 11/8 with Sky Bet. Stoke are currently 18th, behind Swansea on goal difference alone, and they have the attacking threat from Xherdan Shaqiri, Joe Allen and Peter Crouch to get them out of trouble, despite being 13/8 fourth-favourites with Coral to go down.
Huddersfield, Stoke and Swansea are all on 24 points, Newcastle have 25, Southampton have 26, and three clubs – Crystal Palace, West Ham and Brighton – are all on 27. Any of them could go down. Watford will be buoyed by their 4-1 win over Chelsea last time out, but they looked in trouble before that and could get sucked back in. It is the closest relegation battle in memory and the odds will jump all over the place with every passing weekend.
So where does the value lie? Surely not on West Brom at 8/13. Brighton are 10/3 with Bet Victor to go straight back to the Championship and that looks interesting, as they lack pace and spark up front and have scored just 21 goals in 25 league games this season. Newcastle, another promoted club, are now 21/10 with Bet Stars and they look to be in real trouble. Rafa Benitez is an excellent manager, but he has not been backed in the transfer market and is trying to keep Championship quality players in the Premiership, but sliding down the table.
The Magpies are just one point above the drop zone and in horrible form, so their fans will be extremely nervous. However, you never see all three promoted teams go back down, so an established Premiership club is certain to tumble. West Brom and Swansea certainly have their limitations and it could well be them. But there are options that offer far greater value.
Southampton look too good to go down, but Crystal Palace could get sucked back into the scrap. They were rejuvenated under Roy Hodgson when he replaced Frank De Boer, but have taken only two points from their last three games and look intriguing at 9/1 with Unibet. Moyes made West Ham much harder to play against, but they too have taken just two points from three games and are in a perilous position again, one win above the drop zone. It will all make for a fascinating denouement to the season, but right now a pair of promoted clubs offer intrigue in this market. Many will consider lumping on free-falling Huddersfield at 8/13, and 21/10 on a struggling Newcastle looks really tempting.