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Needle in a haystack: value hard to come by as unpredictable Premier League creates more questions than answers

West Ham rate the bet of the weekend on the handicap with most of the match odds looking too skinny about the favourites and there is not too much interest in any of the outsiders

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 4:32pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 10:27pm

One interesting aspect of the early exchanges in the English Premier League is that the old adage ‘any team can beat any other team’ may be more true than usual this season.

In most of the recent campaigns, five or more teams have been winless after four matches – often an early indicator of season-long struggle – but this time only three teams are in that position.

Two of them, Southampton and Stoke, finished in the top nine last season and their difficulties might not last too long, which adds to the feeling that this will be a highly competitive division packed with twists and turns.

More than half of the favourites failed to win in the first four rounds of games and punters may have to tread carefully when it comes to looking for bankers.

Even with the big six teams already massing towards the top of the table, there have been upsets – Chelsea held by Swansea, Liverpool beaten at Burnley – but it is among the bulk of the division where punters will have to stay particularly alive to the ups and downs of form.

Take this example: Swansea won at Burnley in week one, but then lost at home to Hull, who in turn drew at Burnley.

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And two of those teams, Swansea and Burnley, have taken points off big six teams.

The true form of some teams may be hidden by the vagaries of the fixture list. Watford, for example, had lost two of their first three games before they went to West Ham and won 4-2 last weekend, but both of those defeats had been against Chelsea and Arsenal.

Perhaps, when it comes to playing the non-elite, Watford really are as dangerous as they looked against West Ham.

Southampton, too, could be capable of showing better form. Their two defeats have been against Manchester United and Arsenal, so like Watford they are unbeaten against teams outside the big six, and arguably they have suffered bad luck too, with three of their six goals conceded having come from penalties.

Saturday’s home match against Swansea may well tell us much more about where Southampton are heading under new manager Claude Puel.

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Another of the lesser clubs who have lost only to a big six team are Hull City, which suggests their good start may have substance as well as the surprise factor.

The Tigers were expected to struggle after a summer of turmoil, but caretaker manager Mike Phelan has welded them into a strong unit with a low three goals against.

It could still go badly wrong for Hull and they face another big six team on Saturday night when they host Arsenal, but they have earned the benefit of the doubt about their prospects for now.

Everton have shown the expected improvement under Ronald Koeman but West Ham – similarly placed to challenge for the top six or even the top four – are one of the surprise slow starters in 17th place.

That should start to change on Saturday when the Hammers travel to West Brom, their easiest task on the road so far.

Their first two away games were against Chelsea and Manchester City, which leaves only last week’s home defeat by Watford as a below-par performance.

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Having been knocked out of the Europa League before the group stage – as they were last season – West Ham can concentrate on their domestic form and star player Dimitri Payet can inspire them back to last season’s heights now that he is fully fit.

The Hammers rate the bet of the weekend in the Premier League on the handicap. Last season they lost only three out of 15 on the road with Payet in the starting line-up and one of the standout performances was the 3-0 win at West Brom late in the campaign.

West Brom do not appear any better now and are heavily reliant on keeping a clean sheet, with no win in their last 11 games when conceding – seven of which have ended in defeat.

They have lost both games this season in which they failed to shut out the opposition and have not scored more than once in a match since March 1, which gives West Ham a big chance with Payet directing their attack.

Most of the other match odds look too skinny about the favourites and there is not too much interest in any of the outsiders, although Watford could cause problems at home to Manchester United if they can reproduce last week’s form.

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Shortlist

Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday, Schalke, Torino, Bilbao

Best Bet

West Ham on handicap

Strong chance at West Brom

Fulham on handicap

Unbeaten in four games on the road

Huddersfield home win

Yet to drop a point at home

Leipzig on handicap

Can continue good start in Bundesliga

Roma on handicap

Only away loss in 2016 was against Juventus

Big number

7

Premier League games without a clean sheet for Manchester City