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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Arsenal, Valencia and the Surprise Relegation Candidates Across Europe’s ‘Big Five’

Relegation odds Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue Un, Serie A
Mikel Arteta and Arsenal still find themselves within range of the drop. Peter Powell/EPA.

More than 70 years and two World Wars have passed since Arsenal last played outside England’s top flight, but the Gunners find themselves in ‘dark horse’ territory to be relegated in 2021.

They aren’t the only established European power whose underwhelming efforts so far this season have failed to fire them to the anticipated heights. The second half of the campaign is routinely seen as the time to make up for such mistakes, but not all will succeed in their quest.

Amongst the surprise candidates for the drop are former domestic champions, household names and clubs who have never been relegated. Many will consider this New Year period their chance to turn a fresh page, perhaps turning around their fortunes and rendering our perspectives completely delusional mere weeks from now. Nonetheless, we break down the odds (some more valuable than others) across Europe’s five major leagues entering 2021.

Outright title odds indicated in parentheses, courtesy of Unibet (correct as of Jan. 1, 2021).

Premier League Relegation Odds

Arsenal (+10000)

‘Arsenal relegation’ reads like something you’d find trending on Twitter any given summer, a movement by opposing fans expressly for the purpose of tormenting the club’s online supporters. Except if they’re not careful, what would usually be laughed off with relative ease could soon become a risk all too real for the north Londoners.

Three consecutive wins over the festive season have eased jeering from rivals after a seven-game winless league run, but Mikel Arteta will be far from content having started 2021 in 13th:

Arsenal’s +10000 relegation odds—up from +3000 pre-Christmas—indicate the sportsbooks are more confident of their survival. However, the combination of an often divided-looking lineup and an inexperienced coach means the seemingly impossible cannot be ruled out.

Newcastle United (+400)

Many fans will be content seeing the back-end of 2020, not least those at St. James’ Park. Between futile takeover bids, cup disappointments and an ongoing debate over Steve Bruce’s future, Newcastle United will hope survival isn’t as good as it gets for 2021’s prospects:

Concern is understandable given the club’s transfer spend of around $130 million over the past two years hasn’t yielded the desired results, either via results or at last improved performance.

The Magpies ended last year going five games without a win, although a 0-0 send-off draw against leaders Liverpool offered hope that Bruce’s confined methods can lead to reward.

Brighton & Hove Albion (+350)

It’s been discussed at length how away teams have generally fared far better with fans cut off from games as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but Brighton & Hove Albion have taken that to the extreme. Even counting fixtures before COVID-19 took hold, the Seagulls won a single home game across 2020, with the vast bulk of their points this season coming on the road.

It provokes an interesting debate of style over substance, with Brighton seemingly at increased risk of relegation despite the general agreement their style of play is far improved under Graham Potter:

There’s no rule stipulating good home form as a prerequisite for survival, but then Brighton’s nine points from their first eight road games this season doesn’t exactly scream ‘BEWARE,’ either.

La Liga Relegation Odds

Valencia (+350)

All but four of Valencia’s 101 seasons to date have been spent in the first tier of Spanish soccer, but a build-up of poor decisions at board level may lead to one of the most shocking relegations in 2021.

After an exodus of prominent players over the summer, Los Che’s downward spiral into relegation candidacy could have even been foretold, much like commentator Andy West did back in August:

The decision to appoint Javi Gracia head coach in July has not worked out as planned after winning only three of their first 16 league games this term. The former Malaga and Osasuna boss spoke to Marca (via Football Espana) in October and indicated he was only at the club due to “contractual obligations,” having been told to pay $3.6 million if he wanted to leave.

One of La Liga’s mainstays of the modern era and six-time top-flight champions—as recently as 2004—the Bats find themselves flying without a radar and in need of drastic intervention.

Athletic Club (+2000)

Soccer purists may rally behind Athletic Club, one of La Liga’s three founding members to have never been relegated, alongside the more obvious duo of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Los Leones had a less than harmonic start to the season and ended 2020 with one win from their last seven, only three points separating them from the bottom three.

Despite their standing as one of Spain’s most established clubs, Athletic’s legacy is at risk of a major blow, particularly if away form carries on its current course (six points from the first 27 available). Their hire of former Valencia boss Marcelino could return them to that standing.

If the new manager can’t do the trick, Athletic may even find themselves in the surreal position of playing a Copa del Rey final in the same season they’re relegated, with the club still waiting to play their 2019-20 decider against Basque rivals Real Sociedad.

Levante (+1100)

Only four teams in La Liga earned more points than Levante in December (Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Celta Vigo), a sharp improvement after Paco Lopez’s side won once in their first 10 games.

But—and this is outside-the-box thinking in sports—what if that form proved temporary?

There’s plenty to like about this Levante team, don’t get us wrong. Most promising about the recent upturn is their newly discovered ability to score goals more than once at a time, a change sparked in large part thanks to star forward Jose Luis Morales:

Los Granotas look to be on the way up, but Levante—who were promoted to La Liga in 2017—aren’t far enough from their torrid start to make their +1100 relegation odds anything less than tempting.

Bundesliga Relegation Odds

Hertha Berlin (+3000)

Life at Hertha Berlin got off to a bright enough start for Bruno Labbadia, who was hired during the coronavirus suspension and staved off any talk of relegation to secure a 10th-place finish. Fast-forward to 2021 and his side began the year three points off the bottom three, begging the question how they can still be priced as high as +3000 in places to see the drop.

Die Alte Dame (The Old Lady) won more games during their first eight games under Labbadia (four) than they have in the next 15 (three). Any suggestions of beginner’s luck gain credence considering Hertha have made a lot of positive moves in the transfer market of late, though the Bundesliga table may fool in that regard.

Freiburg (+1400)

Germany’s winter break came at an inopportune moment for Freiburg, whose return of 11 points from their last five games of 2020 ended up as the best of any Bundesliga outfit.

Anyone who missed a sizeable middle portion of 2020 could be fooled into thinking Freiburg should be automatic contenders for Europe given their propensity for patches of winning form:

Inconsistencies aside, Freiburg have shown enough to keep their neck above, but there’s a fragile nature to their form as well. Of their four top-flight wins to date this season, three came against teams who currently make up the Bundesliga’s bottom five.

Christian Streich is a cult figure in Freiburg and by far the longest-serving active Bundesliga coach at nine years. It’s under his charge that Breisgau-Brasilianer returned to European competition, been relegated and back again, and a bad patch lasting slightly too long could be all it takes for history to repeat in the same year they move to the new SC-Stadion.

Cologne (+400)

There are far less obvious relegation dark horses to pick than those promoted in recent years. The Billy Goats horned their way to 14th last season following their return to Germany’s biggest stage, and the struggle to match a higher level of opponent has once again been apparent this term.

Cologne are only one point better off than Arminia Bielefeld and yet considerably higher in the bookmakers’ stakes, listed as +400 picks to drop back down come May.

Scoring goals has unsurprisingly been the club’s greatest plight after last season’s top scorer, Jhon Cordoba, was sold to Hertha in the summer; the three teams below them being the only ones to muster fewer than their 13 goals after 13 games.

Serie A Relegation Odds

Fiorentina (+2000)

For a team that lost just three of their final 12 games after Serie A resumed last season, Fiorentina have resembled a team at the heart of a conspiracy to not win points they’re owed this campaign.

It’s maddening while making perfect sense in this of all seasons that the only team to beat Juventus is also one struggling to stay outside the relegation places. Podcaster Nima Tavallaey Roodsari summarised Fiorentina’s woes following their 3-0 Christmas win over the Bianconeri, which ended an eight-game search for a league victory:

La Viola’s squad is undoubtedly one that should survive and under the guidance of a revered figure like Cesare Prandelli no less, yet their +2000 relegation price looks hard to ignore.

Torino (+125)

A nine-year stay among Italy’s elite is at serious risk of ending for Torino, who ended 2020 exactly the opposite of where they’d like to be: last in the Serie A standings.

Il Toro have in fact scored as many times as eighth-place Lazio, but the leakiest back line in the league (32 goals) has displayed an unenviable knack for throwing away leads this season:

Torino only scraped top-flight survival by two places and a handful of points last term; their fortune may not be enough to pull off the same achievement come 2021.

Parma (+175)

Parma’s rise back to Italy’s upper crust was fast and furious, ascending from Serie D to the first tier in 2018 following three consecutive promotions. Two seasons into their top-flight stay, however, and it’s apparent the Gialloblu may struggle to keep the pace.

No man is an island, but the end of Dejan Kulusevski’s loan from Juventus has rocked Parma in the creativity department, with no team scoring fewer than their 13 goals after the first 14 games this season.

For a team whose stingy record—particularly at home—has been such a strength in recent years, Parma no longer look the same underdog. They’re also led by a coach who’s still relatively inexperienced in Fabio Liverati, with no successful record to speak of in Serie A.

Ligue 1 Relegation Odds

Nice (+30000)

What a difference five months can make. Nice were one of the biggest beneficiaries of the 2019-20 Ligue 1 campaign being called early, only too happy to take their fifth-place finish and UEFA Europa League soccer this season.

Les Aiglons have shown shades of that same team this term, but never long enough to sustain any kind of charge anywhere the top six. A woeful run of form saw Nice return one win in 11 outings across all competitions, during which the club bade farewell to Patrick Vieira, despite last season’s impressive results:

Ten points separated Nice from the bottom three at year’s start, what many may consider enough to rule out relegation thoughts. However, their +30000 odds may look overpriced sooner rather than later if current form continues.

Saint-Etienne (+900)

Claude Puel has managed some of the biggest brands in French soccer, so Saint-Etienne spirits soared when the club showed an instant spike in results following his appointment. Les Verts took 17 points from a possible 21 in Puel’s first seven games at the helm, but productivity dived to eight points from a possible 42 in their last 14 games of the season to finish 17th.

Consistency has looked improved this time around if we choose to ignore a streak of seven straight Ligue 1 losses between September and November.

Saint-Etienne’s +900 odds are indicative of a team who may not consider relegation realistic, but one win from the team’s last 14 league games suggests there’s value to be had.

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