An assessment of the favourites from the Premier League this season.

It is the middle of October in which the Premier League table begins to take shape and from what we have seen so far, things have not necessarily gone how it had been anticipated. Teams like West Ham and Swansea have had better than expected starts, while QPR and Aston Villa fans will be nervous about the season ahead after a worrying opening to the season. Only a handful of teams can be sure of another season in the top flight and I will assess the chances of the remaining sides remaining a Premier League by May 2013.

Aston Villa

Paul Lambert’s side have had an extremely difficult start to the season. A worrying lack of goals, coupled with an inconsistent defensive unit has meant that The Villains are currently hovering above the relegation zone. With attacking options such as Darren Bent, Gabriel Agbonlahor and new Belgian signing Christian Benteke, one can only imagine that Villa are soon to find their shooting boots, even if their defence continues to leak goals. They should be fine, although the supporters would have been hoping for a lot more at the beginning of the season. Verdict: Lower mid-table finish.

Norwich

Another team with a new manager, although expectations in Norfolk are realistic. The aim this season, and for every season, is avoiding relegation. This is looking like an extremely tough task, even at this early stage of the season. Shipping four goals away at Chelsea, five at home to Liverpool and another five on the opening day of the season at Fulham have meant a headache for Chris Houghton in the early stages of his Norwich career. If they can plug the gaping holes at the back, as they did in the impressive 1-0 home win over Arsenal, then they have a chance of a third season at England’s top table. But that is a big if and that’s why I believe it’s going to be a big struggle for the Canaries this season. Verdict: Relegation favourites.

QPR

Mark Hughes’ statement after the final day of last season that QPR would never be involved in another relegation scrap whilst he was in charge now looks to be a very rash one. Bottom of the league, no wins and a worryingly leaky defence have led to some Rangers’ fans calling for Hughes’ head. After heavy investment in the squad over the summer, an air of optimism swept across Loftus Road, optimism quickly extinguished after the 5-0 home mauling at the hands of Swansea. If the squad begins to gel, the top half is a genuine possibility, but in their current state, QPR will just be happy surviving for another year. Verdict: Dicing with the drop.

                        There haven't been many moments to cheer about at Loftus Road this season.

Reading

The pre-season favourites for the drop are currently justifying their tag. Also with no wins to their name, the squad looks extremely short in almost every position. Despite winning last season’s Championship, the Premier League is a big step up, one which they don’t look well equipped to make. Brian Mcdermott is a well-respected manager and with players like Pavel Pogrebnyak and Danny Guthrie, they have Premier League experience and they could follow in the footsteps of Hull and Swansea and survive against the odds. Heart and desire will help them pick up points, but it would be a big surprise if they managed to survive this season. Verdict: Relegation favourites.

Southampton

It is very difficult to predict which Southampton is going to turn up, the one which overwhelmed Aston Villa 4-1 at St Mary’s, or the one which limply surrendered the same scoreline at West Ham. Nigel Adkins has firepower at his disposal with the prolific Rickie Lambert and £12 million signing of Gaston Ramirez and there is no question that The Saints are going to score goals. But with 24 goals conceded at the other end, you get the feeling that there will be a dark cloud hanging over the south coast for the remainder of the season. Verdict: Dicing with the drop.

Stoke City

Stoke City have cemented their place in England’s top division over the past few years and I expect them to do the same this season. If you look at the squad that Tony Pulis has assembled, it would be hard to argue that they are going to face a tough season. With Peter Crouch up front and a solid defence, including the increasingly impressive Ryan Shawcross, I don’t anticipate any problems for the Potters this term. Verdict: Comfortably mid-table.

Sunderland

Similarly to Stoke, Martin O’Neill’s Black Cats should have a relatively trouble-free season. The big money acquisitions of Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson should give Sunderland a platform to push for the top half of the league. Whether they can convert that talent into points remains to be seen, but if they begin to pick up results at the Stadium of Light, there is no reason why they cannot push for the top half, and possibly a good cup run. Verdict: Comfortably mid-table

Swansea

After an extremely impressive first season at the top level, it has been a summer of change at the Liberty Stadium. Michael Laudrup has come in and has subtly altered the way that the Swans play, without rocking the boat too much. A large Spanish contingent have bought flair to the side and on the basis of the 5-0 thumping of QPR on the opening day, they should be fine. But a slight wobble in recent weeks has shown that things aren’t always comfortable in the Premier League. I believe Swansea will be fine, but they are likely to looking down rather than up the table for much of the season. Verdict: Lower mid table.

                            Michael Laudrup has had a steady start to his career in South Wales.

West Ham

After victory at Wembley in May to secure an immediate return to the Premier League, Sam Allardyce has gone about building a team that can compete in the top division. After a very encouraging start to the season, Hammers fans’ expectations will be rising all the time, but with a difficult spell of fixtures coming up, those expectations may just be watered down slightly. With Andy Carroll up front and a wealth of good midfielders, West Ham should be good enough to secure a second season at the top level. Verdict: Lower mid table.

Wigan

The perennial relegation strugglers are going to be there or thereabouts again this season after somehow escaping once again last year. Despite a lack of investment, Roberto Martinez has worked wonders with his squad. A leaky defence has always proved troublesome for Wigan, and if Arouna Kone and Franco Di Santo fail to bang goals in at the other end, this could be the end of their stay in the league. It all depends on the quality of the sides around them as to whether they are going to have enough to stay up. Verdict: Dicing with the drop.