with Nick Pulford
Liverpool Football Club, hang your heads in shame. As if the English Premier League standings did not show the club in a poor enough light, another table was published recently that emphasised the depth of underperformance from their expensively assembled squad.
An English newspaper compared the cost of each match day squad for the 20 Premier League teams with points gained, producing a table based on average points won per million pounds spent, and Liverpool were third bottom. In fact, all the big clubs (bar relatively thrifty Arsenal) were in the bottom five - huge-spenders Manchester City were bottom and immediately above them were Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United.
The table emphasised the financial advantage enjoyed by the big clubs and an interesting conclusion to be drawn from the figures was that, Arsenal apart, they do not appear to use the money as wisely as they might. Sure, they win the trophies - and, in the end, that may be all that matters to them - but they pay a high price for each point gained.
At the other end of the spectrum, over-achieving Blackpool were way out in front at the top of the table, with the top five completed by Bolton, West Brom, Blackburn and Birmingham. Those clubs are clearly battling against the odds, and in several cases they are winning this season.
Liverpool were one of the clubs who could not look at the table and be proud of themselves. The cost of Liverpool's match day squad was more than ?00 million (HK$1.2 billion), yet they have the same number of points this season as Blackpool, whose squad cost a fraction of that price. Blackpool, just to ram home the point, won 2-1 when they visited in October.
There is no disguising that Roy Hodgson is not getting the best out of his squad. Even allowing for the fact that most of the squad were not bought by him and he is still getting the feel of Anfield, he should be doing better with the players at his disposal. Ten of the 11 players who started last week's defeat at Tottenham are experienced internationals, with around 340 caps between them.
The stats read badly. Liverpool are only 10th in the table, with more defeats than wins and with the lowest goals scored among top-half teams. Nineteen points from their first 15 games represents their worst start since the inaugural Premier League season in 1992/93.
Liverpool went on to finish sixth that season, which shows all is not lost yet and at least a top six remains well within their compass. There is no doubt Liverpool's players are capable of much better, as long as Hodgson can get it out of them.
Having laid out the case for the prosecution, now it is time to mount a defence of Liverpool, because seeing things from only one viewpoint is rarely a good policy in football betting.
The most hopeful sign, especially as they are at home to Aston Villa on Monday night, is that they have won their last four at Anfield, including a 2-0 victory over Chelsea and a Steven Gerrard-inspired 3-1 win over Napoli (currently fourth in Serie A).
Qualification for the knockout stage of the Europa League, with a game to spare, should also boost confidence, even though that was achieved mostly by players who don't usually figure in the Premier League.
And the strength of the opposition has to be taken into account too. In Villa, Liverpool are facing a team that has sunk even further than them - from sixth last season to 15th at the moment (compared with Liverpool's drop from seventh to 10th).
While a major doubt about Hodgson's managerial style revolves around his away record, Liverpool remain strong at home. This season they have won three out of four at Anfield against teams currently below them in the table (the failure was the Blackpool defeat) and last season, from a higher position, they had 11 wins and two draws from 13 at home in that category.
Hodgson also had an excellent home record with Fulham and there is mounting evidence that his team set-up is best suited to home games. With Villa struggling on the road - five defeats out of seven with the second-lowest goals scored and the third-highest goals against - this is a good chance for Liverpool to move closer to a position that would justify their heavy spending.
Consequently, even with longer-term doubts about how Liverpool will fare under Hodgson, they rate a good bet for Monday.
The other potential bets that catch the eye in the Premier League are Blackburn and Sunderland for home wins and Stoke and Newcastle for away victories at decent odds.
The bottom two - Wolves and West Ham - are the respective visitors to Blackburn and Sunderland, who are both unbeaten at home to bottom-half teams since the start of last season. Blackburn's win rate is better, but Sunderland's solid overall record this season makes them a good chance too.
Stoke are unbeaten in four, including a 3-0 win at West Brom in their last away game, and they have yet to lose to Wigan in four Premier League meetings.
Newcastle's only away defeats have been against teams currently in the top six and they have a better chance than the odds suggest of taking something at West Brom. Both Newcastle and Stoke should be considered on the handicap at least.
Shortlist: Liverpool, Coventry, Leeds, Watford, Villarreal, Real Sociedad, Wolfsburg, Swansea, Atletico Madrid
Top five bets
1 Liverpool home win
Good bet to spoil Gerard Houllier's return to Anfield
2 Coventry home win
Can continue their revival against poor-travellers Middlesbrough
3 Villarreal home win
Ten wins and a draw out of 11 at home in all competitions
4 Sociedad home win
Decent value to come out on top in Basque derby
5 Atletico Madrid away win
Hosts Levante have lost four out of five against top-eight sides