With 12 games gone, the Premier League table is beginning to take a realistic shape.
Manchester City, it seems, have already won the league and the ‘big six’ are establishing the usual gap between themselves and the rest.
Okay, so Manchester United currently sit behind Bournemouth and Watford on goal difference, but it would be nothing short of a major shock if either were to keep up their early season form and replace United in the top six come May.
While the growing chasm between the ‘big six’ and the other 14 Premier League clubs has been well documented, the gap between the bottom four and the rest of the league has been largely unexplored.
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The standard of those sides threatened with relegation seems to be regressing and the current bottom four – Southampton, Huddersfield, Cardiff and Fulham – appear to be among the worst teams the Premier League has seen, even at such an early stage.
But what do the statistics say? Is this bottom four really any worse than those previous? On first glance, it would appear that this is statistically one of the worst bottom fours in Premier League history.
Collectively, the current bottom four have picked up 28 points, which is the lowest cumulative points return at this stage of the season in Premier League history.
Individually, the clubs look just as poor and it makes for bleak reading.
Fulham have been great disappointments. Already boasting the likes of Ryan Sessegnon and Tom Cairney, the Cottagers added a number of eye-catching summer acquisitions such as Andre Schurrle, Jean Michel Seri and Andre Zambo Anguissa to their ranks.
Coupled with the permanent signing of Aleksander Mitrovic from Newcastle, these promising signings led many to believe that Fulham would be a lot further up the table than their current position of 20th.
Fulham’s defending has been nothing short of shambolic and they have thus far failed to keep a clean sheet.
Their concession of 31 goals from 12 games is the worst record in the Premier League since the turn of the century, and the second worst of all time.
Only the Barnsley side of 1997/1998 had a worse record than Fulham, when they conceded 35 goals after 12 games. Barnsley were duly relegated and conceded a huge 82 goals that season.
Even the Derby team of 2007/08, by common consensus the worst Premier League team ever, had a better defensive record than Fulham and had actually picked up more points after 12 games.
At the same stage of the 2007/08 season, the Rams had picked up six points and conceded 26 goals.
They would incidentally finish the season with just 11 points, conceding 89 goals in the process, the most ever conceded in a 38-game season.
Fulham have not won a league game since they beat a beleaguered Burnley side in August and now have lost six on the spin. They do not seem to know their best 11 and the new summer signings are yet to click.
A defeat at the hands of relegation rivals Southampton after the international break will have Fulham staring further into the abyss and have manager Slavisa Jokanovic looking nervously over his shoulder.
Huddersfield’s position shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Terriers have punched above their weight for the last two seasons and have already exceeded most people’s expectations. It was a huge shock when they achieved promotion in 2017 and even bigger one when they survived last season, but a lack of fire power accompanied both of those seasons and continues to do so.
While they have been solid defensively to an extent, Huddersfield have so far only managed six goals from 12 games this season, failing to score in six games.
Perhaps most worryingly, no striker has contributed a goal for Huddersfield this season, and their defence is simply not good enough to bail them out.
Alex Pritchard became the first Huddersfield player to score at home since August, and they have only managed to score twice at the Kirklees Stadium since the start of the season.
Their win at home to Fulham at the start of the month prevented Huddersfield from going one worse than the infamous Derby side of 2007/08, but the Championship beckons for the Terriers.
Cardiff’s predicament comes as a surprise to absolutely nobody. On paper, their squad should never have come close to promotion last season and their summer signings left a lot to be desired. Josh Murphy and Bobby Reid had good seasons in the Championship last year, but were unknown quantities in the Premier League.
The Bluebirds also lack creativity in midfield and a potent striker, and their survival would always hinge on accumulating a number of hard fought 1-0 wins, similar to Burnley in recent seasons.
However, defensively their record rivals that of Fulham’s and they have shipped 25 goals from 12 games.
Their two wins so far at home to Fulham and Brighton have papered over the cracks somewhat and the Bluebirds can count themselves lucky to have eight points.
An early dismissal, coupled with a controversial late Sol Bamba winner, paved the way for their win over Brighton, while they beat a Fulham team that doesn’t know how to defend as already alluded to.
Then there is the issue that Neil Warnock is not a Premier League manager. Never has been. Never will be. Four times now he has managed a team in the top tier of English football, and since the three previous occasions have been close to unmitigated disasters, there is little evidence to suggest that he has what it takes to keep Cardiff in the Premier League.
Arguably his only successful Premier League stint was when he kept QPR up in 2012 by the skin of their teeth. Warnock, however, was sacked just months into the following season.
The only thing keeping Warnock’s job safe is the fact that nobody expects Cardiff to stay up.
Warnock’s temperament has always been an issue and it will be interesting to see just how many opposition managers and officials he has a go at before Cardiff’s stint in the Premier League comes to an end.
Make no mistake about it, Southampton are in real trouble. What was once a promising squad is now filled with dud signings and academy players who are currently failing to meet their potential.
The team is a far cry from the Pochettino team of 2013/14, or the Ronald Koeman team of 2014/15 and gone are the likes of Virgil Van Dijk, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and many more exciting talents.
Despite receiving hefty transfer fees for almost all of their most prized possessions, investment has been poor.
Stuart Armstrong, not even a regular in the Celtic starting line-up, was brought in to bolster their midfield after the loss of Dusan Tadic and Jannick Vestergaard of Borussia Monchengladbach was brought in to replace Virgil Van Dijk. Neither have been able to match the contribution of their predecessor, while the likes of Nathan Redmond and Manolo Gabbiadini have been misfiring, and that is putting it mildly.
Like Huddersfield, The Siants have failed to score in six of their 12 Premier League games and look short of a creative midfielder and a goalscorer.
In Mark Hughes, Southampton have a manager that is no longer cut out for the Premier League.
Hughes has the worst win percentage of any Southampton manager who has taken charge of at least 20 games and he looks likely to get his p45 soon. Being an excuse merchant, it will no doubt be someone else’s fault when Sparky does eventually get the sack, but the sooner Southampton are rid of him the better.
It is difficult to look past any of the bottom four for relegation candidates, but history tells us that a team currently outside the bottom four will be dragged into a dogfight and relegated.
Only five times since the millennium have all three relegated clubs resided in the bottom four after 12 games, with at least one team being dragged from a position of relative comfort into the bottom three on 164 occasions since 2000 (Middlesbrough were relegated in 2009 despite being 8th after 11 games).
So, there is nothing final about the current table, however, current form suggests that not many teams outside the bottom four (Burnley, Newcastle and Crystal Palace aside perhaps) will be looking nervously over their shoulders.PaddyPower.com has all the latest football punts