Last week I took a look at the market for a top three finish in the Premier League. This time I’m going to look at what is essentially the opposite market: the race to not finish in the bottom three.
As with the top three market, there are two teams at the wrong end of the table whose relegation is not up for debate. Huddersfield Town and Fulham have been deemed as lost causes by the best bookmakers, as there are no prices available for them to be relegated.
But there’s an intriguing tussle ahead for the realistic contenders for the ill-wanted 18th spot in the table.
The bookies view this as more clear-cut than the battle at the top of the table, but there are valid reasons why some of the less fancied relegation candidates should remain worried for a while longer yet.
The clear favourites are Cardiff City. After 30 games, Neil Warnock’s side are in the relegation zone with 28 points. BetHard price them as 20/67 to be relegated, which equates to around a 68% chance that they will be returning to the Championship at the first time of asking.
However, they’re only two points adrift of Burnley, who they face in match week 34. The Clarets are 7/2 to go down, giving them a relegation probability of approximately 19%.
The only other side with more than a 3% chance of being relegated is Southampton. They are available at 12/1, which is interesting considering they’re level on points with Burnley.
The Saints take on Brighton when league football resumes following the forthcoming international break, so the relegation chances of both will shift depending on the outcome of that vital encounter.
Chris Hughton’s team are currently 32/1 for the drop, so aren’t deemed in serious danger at present.
The underlying statistics paint a different picture though. Looking at Five Thirty Eight’s expected goal data, it should be Brighton who are third bottom at present, with nine points fewer than they have in reality.
Our three main relegation contenders have all taken no more than two points more than they’ve deserved. Will their better performances earn them enough points to stay up?
It doesn’t look that way.
Using the expected goal data, we can predict the outcome of the remaining fixtures to see how the final standings might look. Unfortunately for Cardiff, the forecast suggests they’ll finish further adrift of safety than they are now.
The Bluebirds are predicted to finish on 34 points, with Burnley on 38, Southampton on 40 and Brighton on 42.
The difficulty of Cardiff’s run-in is the root cause of their slim survival hopes. The website soccerstats.com analyses a team’s run-in by looking at the average points-per-game records of the clubs they still have to face.
By taking account of future opponents’ home or away form depending on where the fixture takes place, it can give an indication of how testing the remaining matches will be.
On this measure, the average points-per-game for future opponents of a Premier League side is 1.40. Unfortunately for Cardiff, their figure is 1.75, comfortably the highest in the division. Burnley’s is 1.48, while Southampton clock in at 1.36.
In more simple terms, just look at how many fixtures each side has remaining against clubs in the top six. Where Southampton have just one – at home to Liverpool – Cardiff have four, meaning half of their remaining matches are against top teams.
However, they’re not alone, as Brighton also have to face four of the top six before 2018/19 comes to a close.
And where Cardiff have an even split of home and away games against the big boys, Brighton have to travel to three of them. Depending on how the title race is poised on the final day of the season, hosting Manchester City is not how the Seagulls would want to end the season either.
What makes things even more interesting for Brighton is that they also have to face Cardiff and Southampton, two relegation rivals. They are at home for both matches, but if they were to lose both then it would leave them in a very sticky situation.
Albion are also the only relegation threatened side still in the FA Cup. As they are 10/19 with Sportnation.bet to advance from their quarter-final with Millwall, Brighton could easily be facing a trip to Wembley for a semi-final and some significant fixture pile up over the remaining weeks of the season.
Cardiff were red hot favourites to go down at the start of the season, and sadly for them their price has only shortened since then.
It’s very hard to make a compelling case for another team to take the third relegation slot, though the intriguing nature of Brighton’s run-in, combined with their poor underlying form, leaves me thinking they could yet prove to be a very profitable option here.
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