Going into the season, I predicted that Norwich, Swansea, and Wigan would go down. To me this was eminently reasonable. Wigan should have gone down the year before and made no additions to the squad, while Swansea and Norwich were relatively weak teams to make it up from the Championship. Wigan are right there at the bottom, but Norwich and Swansea look like they'll stay up, Swansea's win today over Wigan all but sealing the deal. In fact, it's probably more likely that one of them will make the top half than one being relegated. The question is, why are these teams performing so well, against my (and just about everyone else's) expectations?
Swansea's explanation is simple: they are really good at home. They average 1.62 points per game at home. That's good enough for Europe a lot of years. On the road, they average .69 points per game. That's relegation material. What's funny is that their stats are pretty similar home and away, except for Opponents' Finish Rate. When Swansea play at home, only 14% of Opponents' shots on goal hit the back of the net. When Swansea play on the road, 32% of Opponents' shots on goal find the net. I really don't know what is causing this vast disparity. My guess would be that Swansea's location has something to do with it. Wales is a tough trek for all the other Premier League teams and it's not unreasonable to assume their opponents may not be at their sharpest when they play them. I'm really hoping City don't take next week's game at Swansea for granted.
Okay, so home form is saving Swansea. What about Norwich? Why are they staying up? To be honest, I have no freaking idea. Their is no obvious home-road disparity. They have a negative goal difference. They have the ball only 44% of the time, and while they do create chances with the possession they have at a decent clip, their defensive efficiency is terrible. I've only seen Norwich play a few times, but I haven't seen much in the way of outstanding individual talent. Grant Holt's career year is about the only thing I can come up with, as Norwich do have a pretty good FR, but you could give me a dozen possible explanations and I wouldn't know what to believe. Norwich are this year's anti-West Ham: I have no idea why they are as good as they are.
Gambling Picks: Having already struck gold with West Brom 3/1 over Chelsea (I called it, I swear! Check my Facebook page!), I'm going for Sunderland over Newcastle tomorrow. Sunderland was one of my dark horses at the start of the season, so it's nice to see them realize their potential under Martin O'Neill. I think people may be selling them short because of last week's result at West Brom, but I expect a bounce back. 12/5 are pretty good odds too.
What to watch: Duh. ManUre and Tottenham. However, if you live in America and are in need of sleep, I would pass over the Tyne-Wear derby and just wake up for Fulham-Wolves. Wolves are actually the most exciting team in the league, mainly because they allow tons of shots on goal and Fulham are 4th. It should be fast-paced football, which neither Newcastle or Sunderland provide.