EPL Underdogs Are So Far Defying The Early Relegation Odds
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It’s early days in the Premier League but already its reputation for competitiveness has thrown up two headline-grabbing instances of underdogs defying the odds.
Sheffield United and Norwich City delivered the feel-good stories of last weekend.
Both newly-promoted and both fancied by many for an instant return to the Championship, they have at least shown they have the capability to make a fight of it.
Chris Wilder fist pumped the air at an ecstatic Bramall Lane after the defeat of Crystal Palace and it signals that the Blades have arrived back in the big time organised, unafraid and unwilling to accept anything like the fate some have predicted for them.
Teemu Puki, who was a free transfer signing, shows off the match ball at Carrow Road after firing the campaign's second hat-trick in as many weeks and ignites an instant phone-in debate about whether strikers always have to cost a fortune – in the process piling on the gloom for which Newcastle's fans have been braced all summer.
These have been among the most striking images of the early weeks of the campaign. Along with those pictures of Steve Bruce's crumpled and furrowed brow after the 3-1 defeat by Norwich.
Yes, there's trouble already on Tyneside. The Toon are the new favourites for the drop, just as so many of their disgruntled supporters feared they would be after the unpopular departure of former manager Rafael Benitez.
Only priced equal-eighth to go down at 9/2 (+450) with Ladbrokes in June – along with Bournemouth – they are now rated at Evens with Bet365, William Hill and Betfair.
The Premier League is so big, so intense and so popular these days that even the smaller clubs like Sheffield United and Norwich make news on a level unthinkable a decade ago, even if it’s the big boys like Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp who still claim more of the attention.
Premier League Wealth
In the most recent world football money league published by accountants Deloitte last January, no fewer than 13 of the top 30 richest clubs were Premier League sides.
Newcastle, for all the perennial doom and gloom surrounding them were 19th – which perhaps helps explain why their followers are so critical of the owner, Mike Ashley.
Even Brighton got in at 29th – above 10-times European finalists Benfica. It’s worth remembering all this and noting just how far the headlines made by the lesser outfits travel in this ever-expanding football era.
That was during what was only Brighton's their second season in the top flight after a 34-year absence. See what the Premier League's financial might can do for any smaller outfit which makes it to the Promised Land?
A few years in such company and Sheffield United and Norwich might be surpassing Benfica in the money league, too. It’s astonishing, really.
Okay, the Blades haven't had the toughest start the competition could throw up. A 1-1 draw at Bournemouth on the opening day was highly creditable after a 12-year absence, however.
United's first visitors, Palace, look vulnerable already and after the Blades’ 1-0 win last Sunday, they have yet to score despite earning a point at home to Everton on the opening weekend.
The odds-makers are not sentimentalists. Wilder's team remain second favourites across the board for relegation. But from 4/6 (-150) for the big slide with Ladbrokes in June, they are now 11/10 (+110) with the same outfit.
BetVictor have them at 5/4 (+125). It is a shift that illustrates how the club has quickly established an identity and a sense of mission in the Premier League, led by a fanatical boyhood supporter of the club in Wilder.
The defeat in Yorkshire underlined potential problems for Palace, with star-man Wilfried Zaha's future still unsettled. Back in pre-season, Ladbrokes had them a wide 5/1 (+500) for relegation. Now it’s half that at 5/2 (+250).
Norwich, meanwhile, were hammered 4-0 in their opening game at Anfield. No surprise, really. However, City's German coach Daniel Farke insisted that his team will not abandon the attractive footballing principles which delivered the Championship title in May.
Those principles exploited Newcastle's disarray ruthlessly last Friday. From 10/11 (-110) second favourites for the drop with Ladbrokes during the close season, the Canaries are now priced third across the board – at 6/4 (+150) with the same outfit along with Coral and Betway.
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Pukki Driving The Canaries
The Finnish striker Teemu Pukki, who hit 29 Championship goals last season, is already on the way to becoming one of those strikers whose transition to the top tier does not diminish their instincts and ruthlessness whatsoever.
There are some early tremors at Aston Villa – beaten by Tottenham and at home by Bournemouth. The fear is that they may face a tough season despite their big spending – just like Fulham in 2018-19.
In their Premier League outright betting, William Hill, Betfair and BetVictor now rate Dean Smith's team at 7/4 (+175) to finish in the bottom three – third favourites across the board.
Burnley are now more widely fancied to survive at a longer price of 9/4 (+225) to go down.
Meanwhile, Watford, who spent much of last season in the top half of the table, are propping them all up without a point or a goal after two fixtures – but still retain the sportsbooks’ faith that they will come good again under Spanish coach Javi Garcia.
Across the board, they are only ninth in the reckoning for the drop. The price is 4/1 (+400) with both Betfred and Betway.
Southampton have had it tough so far. They were beaten 3-0 at Burnley and 2-1 at home by Liverpool. There is some faith that they will survive, though - at 4/1 (+400) to be relegated.
Brighton's impressive start began with a 3-0 thumping of Watford, followed by a 1-1 draw at home against big-spending West Ham.
They are 10/3 (+333) with Ladbrokes and Paddy Power, now widely rated as the eighth-least likely side to drop.