The 2014-15 Premier League season kicks off on Sunday, August 16, and while a host of clubs will be vying for the title, the battle against relegation will be just as intense.
Fulham, Cardiff and Norwich pulled the short straw last season, but as not one of these teams was able to win one of their final four matches, their relegation was well deserved.
Two of the three newly promoted clubs are favoured by the oddsmakers to go down to the Championship at the end of the 2014-15 campaign, but betting sites are predicting a very tight race at the bottom of the standings.
Let's have a look at the full relegation odds for the upcoming season, courtesy of Oddschecker:
|Aston Villa||3||Manchester United||1000-1|
|West Ham||5||Manchester City||2000-1|
The New Clubs: Leicester City, Burnley, Queens Park Rangers
QPR made their return to the Premier League in timely fashion, and they'll be joined by two clubs who greatly impressed during the 2013-14 Championship season.
Leicester in particular excited the fans with fresh, attacking football, finishing the season with an impressive 102 points to secure the title. The team is unbeaten in pre-season so far, and assistant manager Craig Shakespeare thinks his team will be ready for their opening tie, as he told the Leicester Mercury:
I think all the players are starting to get there and we still have over a week to go. We will still be working them hard and everyone will be ready for the first game of the season against Everton. This week has been the start of it for me. We have had the trips away and the exhibition match against Everton in Thailand, and then came home games at Walsall and Preston.
We feel we are slowly getting better and getting to the tempo we need to do.
The Foxes added a number of talented players during the summer transfer window, opting to sign free agents rather than make big moves in the market. Matthew Upson will bring Premier League experience to a squad sorely lacking in that department, and that inexperience will be the biggest threat to Leicester's survival chances.
The squad isn't particularly deep, either, and should the injury bug hit, the Foxes' season could get derailed in a hurry.
Burnley face similar problems. The Clarets finished the 2013-14 season with the best defensive record in the Championship and scored plenty of goals through Danny Ings and Sam Vokes. The latter saw his season cut short with an ACL tear, per the club's official website, while the former's future at the club is still unclear.
Lukas Jutkiewicz has looked like a sensational pickup during pre-season, however, and if he can continue this form, it should help the team's ability to score at the Premier League level a great deal.
QPR chose to take a different route in the market, adding experienced veterans such as Rio Ferdinand and players with a Premier League pedigree such as Steven Caulker. The Hoops have been in this situation before—Harry Redknapp knows what to expect at the highest level.
They may have more experience on the biggest stage of English football, but both Leicester and Burnley showed more promise and quality during the 2013-14 season.
The Rest of the Pack: West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Hull City
The Baggies came dangerously close to relegation last year, a key 1-0 win over West Ham proving to be the difference. The club responded to those struggles by investing heavily in the market, but a pre-season loss to Nottingham Forest won't inspire much confidence.
The club broke their transfer record to bring Brown Ideye into the fold , and via the BBC's John Bennett, manager Alan Irvine took a big gamble on the Nigerian:
Do the Baggies look much stronger than the squad that was fielded last season? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
Crystal Palace enjoyed a comfortable Premier League season in 2013-14, but the oddsmakers didn't seem to care, ranking them as the fifth team most likely do go down.
Ex-Palace defender Matt Lawrence told TalkSPORT he expects a similar performance in 2014-15:
I still think they could do with another centre forward and maybe another centre midfielder as well. Whether that happens, who knows.
I'm sure Tony Pulis isn't massively happy with the fact he's only brought in three signings this transfer window, I'm sure he wants others. But he did so well with the squad he had, I'm sure he's not that bothered and I think Palace will have a very good season.
I'm not saying they're going to finish top 10 or anything like that but I think they will avoid relegation relatively easily.
The Glaziers didn't massively improve their squad, but they didn't lose many key contributors either. Tony Pulis is very good at bringing out the best in any squad, and expect that trend to continue for Crystal Palace.
Aston Villa had a tremendously disappointing season last year, but they should be boosted by the return of Christian Benteke at some point in 2014. The Belgian striker is a tremendous force when healthy, and he'll be out to prove he's still every bit as fast and strong as he was before.
Villa are more than just Benteke, however, and they've made a number of smart, low risk-high reward signings to boost their squad. While pundits aren't expecting a great season for the club, they should be able to avoid relegation in 2014-15.
Hull City were given a favourable draw for the Europa League in Belgian side Lokeren, but the added strain of European football could greatly damage their chances of staying up in the Premier League.
The addition of Robert Snodgrass could do wonders for the club's hopes, however, and if Tom Ince can make good on the enormous expectations, Hull City could surprise a few.
West Brom didn't look convincing at all towards the end of last season, and if the transfer of Ideye doesn't pan out the way the club is hoping, the Baggies simply didn't add enough quality over the summer to change their outlook.
They will be joined by two of the three new teams, and with experience on their side, QPR manage to just edge ahead of Leicester and Burnley in the standings.
Relegated: Leicester, West Brom, Burnley