Aston Villa still not safe from Premier League relegation
Never mind 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, the Premier League has its own formation this season – it’s called 7-2-11.
The seven are the big boys at the top fighting for either the Premiership title outright or at least a Champions League place in the top four.
The two, Newcastle and Southampton, are neither here nor there, too far adrift of a top four challenge and yet with enough points on the board already not to be concerned about relegation issues.
And then there are the other 11, from Hull in tenth place down to Crystal Palace propping up the table. With just over half the season completed, there are only six points covering this lot and not one of them can feel remotely safe from the drop.
Palace (8/15), Fulham (evens) and Cardiff (11/10) are currently Coral’s three favourites to go down. The Eagles are also 6/4 favourites to finish bottom with Fulham and Cardiff both on 9/2.
But it can all change dramatically in one weekend. Sunderland (13/10 to go down) and West Ham (9/4) are still right in the mire despite welcome away victories last Saturday, while Norwich (11/4), Hull (13/2), Aston Villa (13/2), West Brom (15/2), Stoke (8/1) and even Swansea (16/1) can in no way afford to be smug.
Looking at the fixture list, I would rather be a Sunderland fan than a Villa fan at the moment, despite Coral’s odds and their relative positions in the table.
Yes, there are six points between them, but while Sunderland have some winnable home games upcoming, Villa face two daunting trips to Merseyside in their next three fixtures to face high-flying Liverpool and Everton.
And it doesn’t get any easier for Paul Lambert’s men in March when they visit both Manchester City and United and play Chelsea at home. Certainly I wouldn’t want to be rushing out to back Villa at 1/12 to stay up, but then again I wouldn’t be confident about nailing my colours to the mast of any of the others on the list either.
Things should in theory even themselves out in terms of fixtures for the second half of the season, but the momentum gained from a run of comparatively winnable games can be crucial..
And if survival is to depend ultimately on points taken at home, the Black Cats do appear to have an advantage over their rivals-in-peril with only one of their remaining nine games at the Stadium of Light against one of the elite seven (Everton).
Crystal Palace are another side who will be hoping to build up a head of steam in the next few weeks with home fixtures against Stoke, Hull and West Brom.
Fulham, West Ham and especially Cardiff (who now face successive away trips to City and United) won’t be looking forward to the next month with quite the same level of optimism.
Really, everything could look so different by mid-February. Watch this space.