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Premier League half-time verdict

Our football team have returned to the Premier League clubs they previewed before the season started to offer their half-time verdict.

Last Updated: 11/01/14 at 15:17 Post Comment

Manchester City: Backed to end the season with plenty of silverware

Manchester City: Backed to end the season with plenty of silverware

Our team of writers have returned to the Barclays Premier League clubs they previewed before the season started to offer their half-time verdict.

We produced a team-by-team guide to the 20 top-flight sides before the campaign got under way with a predicted finish offered for every club.

The season has just passed the halfway mark with every side having played 20 games and our team offer a best bet for every club from Sky Bet's range of football markets.

Read on to check out what the Sportinglife.com experts have to say...

ARSENAL

Sky Bet's odds Winner 9/2 from 10/1 before the season started, top-four finish 1/8 from 8/13.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Ben Coley

A few days after our pre-season verdicts went live, all was lost at Arsenal. Aston Villa had left the Emirates with three points, all deserved from a display of counter-attacking quality against a Gunners side lacking in all areas of the pitch.

Then things changed. Arsenal secured four important wins, two in the Champions League alongside one at Fulham and a vital 1-0 victory over Spurs, before the deadline-day signing of Mesut Ozil grabbed headlines the world over. It was a statement, the like of which has been lacking from the red half of north London for close to a decade. It said that Arsenal were ready to take on the big boys in the transfer market.

Ozil, of course, hasn't yet produced his absolute best for Arsenal - that's despite leading the way in the assists charts - but it's hard to understate the impact he's had at the Emirates. Aaron Ramsey has found a level beyond imagination, Mathieu Flamini has helped orchestrate both attack and defence, Olivier Giroud has found goals easy to come by, and it's possible to argue that none of these would've happened had Arsene Wenger opted to keep his cheque book in his pocket and allow the Ozil opportunity to pass by. The Germany international gave Arsenal the lift they so badly needed.

It hasn't all gone to plan. For all that they've sat atop the table for most of the season so far, Arsenal have lost away to both Manchester sides and were humiliated - although they're not the only ones - by City recently, losing 6-3 in a performance which represented a huge step backwards. But now, for the first time in years, you feel that the Gunners have it within them to respond. Per Mertesacker has grown into his role as the team's defensive chief both in his performances and his stature, and behind him Wojciech Szczesny is finally delivering on his own promises with some important displays.

So, what's to come? Well, there's no doubt to me that Arsenal are not the best team in the division and they certainly don't have the depth of City or Chelsea, so their position in the outright betting looks about right. At this stage, a realistic projection would be second or third; first would be a remarkable achievement, fourth an underwhelming outcome. But our pre-season advice that they'll secure a top-four finish without much fuss looks better now and I fully expect them to be inside the top three.

Remember; while they've lost to both Manchester sides that's two of their toughest away games out of the way, and Arsenal tend to do reasonably well at Anfield while they've nothing to fear from Spurs at present. In a perverse way, the fact that they're due to meet Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League is a blessing; lose as expected and their threadbare squad will have fewer games to focus on; win and even the walking wounded will be up for the fight with confidence pulsing through the squad.

What we can say for certain is that, as we leave behind the midway point in the season, Arsenal are genuine title contenders. It's been a while.

Bet worth considering: Arsenal to win the league without Chelsea, Man City and Man United at 4/11


Click here for Sky Bet's Arsenal specials


ASTON VILLA

Sky Bet's odds Top-four finish no offers from 150/1 before the season started, relegation 8/1 from 7/1.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Chris Hammer

I originally forecast Aston Villa to continue their improvement under Paul Lambert and achieve a top-half finish of ninth this season so at half-time (ish) you could say they are pretty much on track.

Although it's obviously not uncommon for a mid-table side at Christmas to be dragged back into a relegation dog-fight, Villa have shown enough promise so far to suggest they have just a bit too much quality for all that.

That said, they ideally need star striker Christian Benteke, who has endured a barren spell since netting in the 2-1 defeat to Newcastle back in September, to rediscover his goal-scoring consistency if they are to make sure of safety early enough to launch a more convincing push on the top 10.

The Belgium international scored twice in the season-opening 3-1 victory at Arsenal and also in the highly-controversial 2-1 defeat at Chelsea just four days later, with both performances sparking real optimism amongst the Villa faithful.

But despite a couple of other impressive wins against Manchester City and Southampton, Lambert's men haven't quite got back to that level.

All in all, they should remain in the relative comfort of mid-table but probably won't stop looking over their shoulder unless they can finally string a run of wins together.

Bet worth considering: Aston Villa to be the top Midlands club (v Stoke and West Brom) at 11/8


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CARDIFF CITY

Sky Bet's odds Relegation 11/8 from 7/4 before the season started.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - David John

I predicted at the start of the season that Cardiff would finish in 15th place after their promotion from the Championship and they sit just below that position as we pass halfway.

The have looked capable of holding their own sufficiently to retain their status in the top-flight but there are now more questions to answer with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer taking the reins.

We thought there could be the odd surprise result from them and it did not take long as they beat Manchester City 3-2 in an August thriller but a distinct lack of goals - they are among the lowest scorers - could damage their prospects long-term.

Record signing Andreas Cornelius was expected to be have an influence in that area and it looks increasingly like he will be a longer-term project, but midfielders Gary Medel and Jordon Mutch have both caught the eye with Premier League-quality displays.How the Solskjaer/Tan relationship plays out will be key for the remainder of the season so suggesting a bet is tricky.

Bet worth considering: It makes sense to adopt a watching brief


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CHELSEA

Sky Bet's odds Winner 7/2 from 9/4 before the season started, top-four finish 1/8 from 1/12.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - David John

The strategy seems to be on track so far for Jose Mourinho after his return to Stamford Bridge and it would naturally have been quite a shock if Chelsea were not within a few points of the summit heading into 2014.

There has been the odd surprise reverse along the way with defeats at Newcastle and Stoke in the Premier League but it is fair to say that they are in position to make their presence felt in the second half of the campaign.

Oscar and Eden Hazard have continued their progress while veteran campaigners John Terry, Petr Cech and Frank Lampard continue to give Chelsea that extra bit of backbone and experience so important heading down the stretch.

The one issue for Mourinho has been the limited contribution from his front-line with Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto'o and Demba Ba failing to make anywhere near the sort of impact you would expect. The issue has been made that bit more ticklish with on-loan Romelu Lukaku banging in the goals on Merseyside for Everton.

In general, it has been a satisfactory platform for Chelsea to build on and it would take a brave man to bet on them not having a major say in the destination of the title next May.

Bet worth considering: Chelsea to win the Premier League at 7/2


Click here for Sky Bet's Chelsea specials


CRYSTAL PALACE

Sky Bet's odds Relegation 4/7 from 8/15 before the season started.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - David John

Palace are fighting for their Premier League lives, as expected, but the battle is without Ian Holloway, who gallantly fell on his sword in October in a move he felt would benefit the team in the long term.

Results have started to turn a little under new boss Tony Pulis and the fact they were not a huge number of points of adrift and have enough time to get back on course does give them some cause for optimism.

There still remains a worry in terms of quality and depth to the squad so any lengthy injuries or suspensions would really scupper any chance of survival.

Striker Marouane Chamakh became a bit of a laughing stock at Arsenal but he seems to have thrived on the love shown to him at Selhurst Park in recent times. He has been a pleasant surprise this season and his performances in the coming months will be vital.

However, the overriding feeling is that Palace remain one of the three most likely teams to be relegated.

Bet worth considering: Palace to finish bottom at 2/1


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EVERTON

Sky Bet's odds Winner 66/1 from 300/1 before the season started, top-four finish 4/1 from 22/1.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Andy Schooler

The doom-mongers were out in force regarding Everton back in August, although we were far from convinced that the Toffees would plummet.

That has proved to be a correct assessment but neither the pessimist nor the optimist could have predicted such a spectacular transfer deadline day for the club. The arrivals of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy (not to mention more than £25million) more than compensated for the loss of Marouane Fellaini and the injured Darron Gibson, while Romelu Lukaku has returned serious goal threat to the Everton attack.

They've looked completely at home playing Roberto Martinez's possession football, winning plenty of plaudits for their style, but most importantly they've retained the resilience which was so much part of the David Moyes era. To date, they have lost just two games - one of those at Manchester City where it's more than possible every team will be defeated this season. Goodison retains its fortress status - just one league defeat there in 2013 - and such is the way the Blues have been playing that even losing Leighton Baines in the transfer window would not be seen as the huge blow it would have been in the summer.

Martinez spoke of Champions League football the day he was unveiled at Goodison. It seemed fanciful at the time but halfway through the season, a top-four finish is far from out of the question.

Bet worth considering: Everton to finish above Liverpool at 21/10


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FULHAM

Sky Bet's odds Relegation 15/8 from 6/1 before the season started.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Ben Linfoot

At the start of the season I predicted mid-table mediocrity for Fulham and a final finishing position of 13th.

However, though they are only two points off that position at halfway, the only way is down for the Cottagers.

After citing Dimitar Berbatov's goals as the main reason for ignoring Fulham as relegation candidates, the Bulgarian has chipped in with just four and could be moving on in the transfer window.

The dismissal of Martin Jol and the subsequent appointment of Rene Meulensteen (and recently Ray Wilkins as his assistant) doesn't enhance their prospects of survival and they have the look of a team on the slide.

The Fulham defence has been the worst in the division in the first half of the season and if they don't shore things up at the back they'll be heading to the Sky Bet Championship.

Though they were 8/1 to go down at the start of the campaign, 15/8 about them get relegated now isn't a bad bet.

Bet worth considering: Fulham to be relegated at 15/8


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HULL CITY

Sky Bet's odds Relegation 5/1 from 4/6 before the season started.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Chris Hammer

Having previously predicted Hull would be sunk without a trace along with Crystal Palace this season, the Tigers are so far proving me wrong as they continue to show they have the battling quality and character to compete at this level.

Steve Bruce's men are currently seven points clear of the drop zone in mid-table but one bad run during the winter months and their situation will likely change dramatically.

Hull's supporters won't need reminding of their debut Premier League campaign when they got off to a flying start only to be dragged back into the mire. Despite just about surviving that year, their poor run continued into the following season and they were relegated.

We pointed out their blunt strikeforce as a major area of concern at the start of the season and, despite the goals flowing in the recent 6-0 victory over Fulham, their resilient rear-guard has been overworked this season to keep their heads above water.

For this reason I feel their current predicament presents a false sense of security so it could prove to be a wise investment to back them for an instant return to the Sky Bet Championship at 5/1.

Bet worth considering: Hull to be relegated at 5/1


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LIVERPOOL

Sky Bet's odds Winner 8/1 from 33/1 before the season started, top-four finish 4/5 from 9/4.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Ben Linfoot

Luis Suarez. The key man for Liverpool and the reason Brendan Rodgers' team could qualify for the Champions League.

Back in August I suggested the Reds would finish sixth, but that was when it was looking highly likely Suarez would be moving on and without him a top-four finish would be an impossible dream for the Merseysiders.

But the Uruguayan stayed and has blasted in 20 goals since returning from his suspension, propelling Liverpool to the top of the league on Christmas day.

Two defeats at Manchester City and Chelsea over the festive period didn't dampen enthusiasm about the Reds' prospects for Champions League qualification, and, now they've played seven of the top eight away from home, a title challenge isn't out of the question.

Still, they don't have the strength in depth to compete with Man City and Chelsea just yet, but they could well finish best of the rest.

Bet worth considering: Liverpool to finish in the top four at 4/5


Click here for Sky Bet's Liverpool specials


MANCHESTER CITY

Sky Bet's odds Winner 10/11 from 9/4 before the season started, top-four finish 1/33 from 1/12.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Ben Coley

At the time of writing, City are nine-games unbeaten in the Premier League since a hard-to-fathom defeat at Sunderland. At home, they're 10-from-10 with just six conceded and they look like proving hard to stop in the title race.

Manuel Pellegrini is succeeding where Roberto Mancini failed towards the latter half of his tenure. City seem a happy, unified club, and while there remain areas to improve they do look to be doing exactly that.

We shouldn't be surprised by any of this, of course. In my opinion City have the league's best defender in Vincent Kompany, best midfielder in Yaya Toure, and joint-best striker in Sergio Aguero. Goalkeeping issues aside, there are no weaknesses especially with Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo having adapted superbly to life in England.

Away form is the one and only concern if you're on City, or considering them at 10/11. They've lost at Cardiff, Aston Villa, Chelsea and Sunderland and have a win rate of just 40 per cent on their travels, versus 100 per cent at home. However, recent signs are encouraging with wins at Swansea and Fulham; their Champions League victory at Bayern might have been the catalyst for this.

The key for City will be balancing their commitments. At the time of writing they're in four competitions and while they have a squad big enough to cope, there will be times where they have to win ugly and that hasn't always been a strength. That being said, I don't really have too many concerns to be honest and I'll be surprised if they don't at least do the League Cup-Premier League double.

The latter will probably depend on how they end the season. City travel to Arsenal, Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Everton for their four final away games and even the trip to Selhurst Park could prove tricky in the middle of a busy run of games. They also have another Manchester derby to contend with at Old Trafford and it's away from home where their season will be defined.

Expect them to find the answers.

Bet worth considering: Manchester City to win the FA Cup, League Cup and Premier League at 14/1


Click here for Sky Bet's Man City specials


MANCHESTER UNITED

Sky Bet's odds Winner 25/1 from 13/5 before the season started, top-four finish 5/4 from 1/12.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Ben Linfoot

Things aren't working out for David Moyes and 8/11 about Manchester United winning nothing this season should be snapped up.

The league has gone, they have no chance in the Champions League and Sunday's defeat to Swansea means they're out of the FA Cup. The only reason they are such a big price to end the season trophy-less is because they are in the semi-finals of the League Cup, but Manchester City look likely to beat them in that final.

It was always going to be difficult for Moyes taking over from Sir Alex Ferguson, but his inexperience of managing a top European club has exposed more of his flaws than was expected.

I went for third in my predictions pre-season, but the lack of decent business in the August transfer window was the catalyst for a poor start and it's hard to envisage them finishing that high now.

If they don't get the chequebook out this January, United are faced with the very real possibility that they won't even qualify for Europe this campaign.

Bet worth considering: Manchester United to fail to win a trophy at 4/7


Click here for Sky Bet's Man United specials


NEWCASTLE UNITED

Sky Bet's odds Winner 1000/1 after being the same price before the season started, top-four finish 40/1 from 100/1.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Andy Schooler

Remember Joe Kinnear?

Much of the summer was spent talking about him but on-the-field efforts mean it's largely forgotten that he's Newcastle's director of football.

As ever at St James' Park, if you can keep focus on the football and what is often a circus off the pitch, the battle is half won and so Alan Pardew and his players should take a bow for their efforts so far.

Loic Remy has shown what he did at QPR last season was no flash in the pan, while Yohan Cabaye has been kept and is delivering in his playmaker role. Newcastle fans will be hoping there's not a repeat of his head being turned in this current transfer window. A good platform has been laid - much to my surprise.

Of course, at a club like Newcastle it can all go downhill fast but perhaps it's worth thinking otherwise for once. After the Magpies it was only two years ago that they sat in a similar halfway position only to be told they had no chance of maintaining their form until May, yet that season they went into the final game still with a chance of a top-four spot.

They currently sit eighth and with supposedly better teams stuttering around them, the chance of them climbing higher may not be as big as the odds suggest.

Bet worth considering: Newcastle to finish in the top six at 14/1


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NORWICH CITY

Sky Bet's odds Relegation 11/4 after being the same price before the season started.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Chris Hammer

There was no shortage of optimism from Canaries supporters back in August that their side could mount a realistic assault on the top half - and we bought into that belief with our pre-season prediction of 10th.

Chris Hughton's men have hovered worryingly around the relegation zone for much of the first half of this campaign while their confidence has been severely dented by some heavy defeats against the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool.

Goals have been in short supply which wasn't expected following the summer arrivals of Ricky van Wolfswinkel, from Sporting Lisbon, and ex-Celtic striker Gary Hooper, but this could be about to change.

The young Dutchman's measly tally of one goal is down to the fact he's only managed eight appearances due largely to injuries, meaning he's yet to forge a proper partnership with Hooper, who is now eventually finding his feet in England's top-flight with five goals since the beginning of November.

With van Wolfswinkel coming back to full fitness, we should start to witness a more dangerous Norwich side than the rather toothless one we've seen so far, while a lot also rests on the impressive Holland international Leroy Fer continuing his fine form.

Bet worth considering: Norwich to finish in the top half at 10/1


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SOUTHAMPTON

Sky Bet's odds Top-four finish 100/1 from 150/1 before the season started, relegation 150/1 from 8/1.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - David John

It is fair to say the Saints have been excellent over the first half of the season as Mauricio Pochettino has continued the good work he started when appointed following the sacking of Nigel Adkins.

His squad of players may not contain any massive stars but he has them all singing from the same hymn sheet and that counts for a such a lot as you try to establish yourself in the Premier League for any period of time.

Our early theory was that Jay Rodriguez could emerge as a real star on the south coast after being given a chance by Pochettino and he's lived up to that billing, winning an England cap in the process.

He is currently their top scorer, ahead of Rickie Lambert, while defensively Southampton have been even more impressive with the success they had being built on a very strong foundation at the back.

Pochettino seems extremely good at formulating a gameplan and gets his tactics right against an opponent more often than not. Although rival teams might be getting wiser in terms of his approach, they are fancied to remain one step ahead.

Bet worth considering: Southampton to finish in the top six at 25/1


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STOKE CITY

Sky Bet's odds Relegation 7/1 from 3/1 before the season started.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Ben Coley

Understandably, there was pre-season concern in some quarters for Stoke and their bid to remain in the Premier League for what would be a seventh successive season. However, at 12th in the division it's been a case of 'same old, same old' under Mark Hughes, who has done well to keep things running smoothly since the surprise departure of Tony Pulis.

As we've grown accustomed to, the Britannia Stadium remains something of a fortress. Stoke have won more home games than any other side in the bottom half of the Premier League and they've lost just once - only behemoths Chelsea and Manchester City remain unbeaten in front of their own fans.

While this home comfort exists, Stoke will continue to drop anchor somewhere in the middle of the Premier League table. Their ability to avoid defeat is now something engrained in the club and hasn't left with their manager, who is now showcasing his skills at Crystal Palace. He's never going to be a particularly popular manager outside of the club, but Hughes deserves great credit here for the simple fact that, bar one or two more patient attacks, you wouldn't know anything had changed off the field at Stoke.

What's to come? Well, Stoke have had a relatively kind run of fixtures and face a difficult January, starting on Sunday when the host Liverpool. If they come through the month unscathed they can look towards the top half, but in reality if they finish where they are currently it'll be a job well done.

As for a bet to consider, I'm afraid I'd have to disagree with my esteemed colleague Chris Hammer on the top Midlands club market. Villa lead Stoke by a point with West Brom a further point back and while Stoke undeniably have some tricky games to come, their home form makes them look value at 2/1.

Bet worth considering: Stoke to be the top Midlands club (v Aston Villa and West Brom) at 2/1


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SUNDERLAND

Sky Bet's odds Relegation 4/6 from 5/1 before the season started.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Ben Linfoot

It's hard to think of one worse team in the Premier League than Sunderland, never mind three, and they remain a good bet to go down.

I anticipated a season of struggle for them pre-season, with a poor squad and Paolo Di Canio in charge and said relegation looked a good bet at 5/1.

Now they have a poor squad with Gus Poyet in charge, are bottom of the league and odds of 4/6 sit beside their name in Sky Bet's relegation market.

Perhaps they played the sacking card too early, with Cardiff, Crystal Palace and who knows, possibly West Ham, waiting a tad longer to get rid of the managers they started the season with.

A frustrating side, they can pop up with a great result against the best sides in the league. Wins over Manchester City and Everton show that.

But do they have the fight for a scrap? From what I've seen (admittedly as little as I can possibly get away with) the answer is an emphatic no.

Bet worth considering: Sunderland to finish bottom at 9/4


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SWANSEA CITY

Sky Bet's odds Relegation 16/1 from 7/1 before the season started.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Nick Hext

I'm feeling pretty happy with my predictions for Swansea. Continuing in the Europa League until after Christmas is a target that's been achieved and a mid-table finish looks set to be the end result in the Premier League.

Napoli is the glamour tie waiting on the continent in 2014 but in domestic matters there is still reason to be happy with the off-season recruits despite a real mixed bag of results.

Jonjo Shelvey has impressed since his summer move from Liverpool and further progress can be expected from the midfielder for the rest of the campaign.

Wilfried Bony is now starting to make headlines after scoring the winner in the 2-1 victory at Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup so don't be surprised if he joins Michu in getting a bit of attention as the months tick by.

Manager Michael Laudrup will continue to be linked with other jobs but the departures of Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers didn't throw the Swans off track so it won't be the end of the party if the great Dane does depart.

For now though all is well at the Liberty Stadium after the famous win at Old Trafford. The 33/1 in the FA Cup outright is worth consideration after the success in the Capital One Cup last season.

Bet worth considering: Swansea to win the FA Cup at 33/1


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TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Sky Bet's odds Winner 50/1 from 33/1 before the season started, top-four finish 3/1 from 15/8.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Chris Hammer

When writing my pre-season verdict for Spurs, I started off by saying that "much of Spurs' hopes this season rest on the future of Gareth Bale".

But he left. Andre Villas-Boas splashed the cash. Spurs made a good start. Then they started struggling. And AVB got the sack.

There's debate as to whether or not Villas-Boas had the final say on all those summer signings, which some argue were rushed and somewhat desperate following such a star player's departure, but quite frankly that's now irrelevant.

Tim Sherwood must get them working together and fulfilling the potential which made someone think they were worth playing all those millions for.

While the jury is still out on the likes of Roberto Soldado, Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli, this is clearly not a side which should be embarrassingly thumped by 6-0 and 5-0 scorelines, even if the opponents are title-challenging duo Manchester City and Liverpool.

There's enough quality in the camp to turn their season around and although they lie eighth in the standings, they are just two points off fourth.

I wouldn't be that surprised if they clawed back the deficit by May but this of course relies on those ahead of them slipping up and Manchester United not mounting a challenge of their own.

Bet worth considering: Spurs to finish in the top four at 3/1


Click here for Sky Bet's Tottenham specials


WEST BROMWICH ALBION

Sky Bet's odds Relegation 8/1 after being 8/1 before the season started.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Andy Schooler

Living up to expectations would be my half-time assessment.

As suggested back in August, the 22 league goals that Romelu Lukaku and Peter Odemwingie scored between them last season have not been forthcoming from other sources and the Baggies have subsequently struggled.

Despite having been able to raise their performance for games against the elite - they've drawn with Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton and Manchester United - wins against the teams they are looking to finish above, such as Cardiff, Norwich and Stoke, have proved difficult to come by.

With West Brom having slipped dangerously close to the relegation zone, Steve Clarke was axed, a decision which shocked some. However, if you know their 2013 league record at the time stood at P34 W7 D10 L17 it's not really a big surprise.

The appointment of their new coach is vital and will play a big part in how the second half of the season goes. In 2011, the Baggies board got the appointment right with Roy Hodgson leading them to safety.

It will also be a big transfer window for the club with a goalscorer certainly required.

I remain unconvinced that West Brom 'will be OK', a line you'll hear more of in the coming weeks.

Bet worth considering: West Brom to be relegated at 8/1 (if you are not already on at a bigger price)


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WEST HAM UNITED

Sky Bet's odds Relegation 13/8 from 8/1 before the season started.

The Sportinglife.com half-time verdict - Nick Hext

My season preview for West Ham started with the line 'Sam Allardyce knows what he's doing' and I still hold that opinion, despite the growing voices of others.

The Hammers are right among the strugglers but we have seen from the post-Allardyce eras at Bolton, Blackburn and Newcastle that letting Big Sam leave isn't the wisest decision.

We all know a lack of goals has been the main problem for the Upton Park club and clearly that comes down to the absence of Andy Carroll. The towering forward has not played since his move south from Liverpool was made permanent and the likes of Modibo Maiga, Carlton Cole and Mladen Petric are nowhere near the required quality.

You can be sure a new striker was top of the Christmas list to Santa from all connected with the Hammers and ultimately you feel the rest of the campaign will be defined by whether more goals arrive.

A pre-season prediction of eighth is quite clearly not going to happen but I don't think it would be wise to follow public expectations and dispense with Allardyce's services - he's the 1/4 leader in the next manager to go market.

There have plenty of rumours linking Southampton striker Rickie Lambert with a move to Upton Park in January and 3/1 that he does complete the switch is worth looking at.

Bet worth considering: Rickie Lambert to join West Ham in January at 3/1


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