When deciding upon my Fantasy Football team ahead of the new season - by the way you can read some good columns about FF right here at betting.betfair - I start by looking at which teams have easy or hard fixtures in the first couple of months. My next step is to go through each team with a kind early fixture list and make a note of players that might be of interest to make my shortlist.

By the time I'd gone through Stoke's squad, no-one had made it, probably the first time that's ever happened.

Big names out the door

Jon Walters, a mainstay for the Republic of Ireland side with his aggression, ability to play in different roles and reliability from the penalty spot has moved on to Burnley, where he's likely to be an important player for the Clarets.

Then there's Marko Arnautovic. A frustrating performer who can blow hot and cold - much like a Riyad Mahrez or a Ross Barkley - but undoubtedly a player with the X-factor. With huge upper body strength, vision and natural talent he can create as well as destroy. It's hard to turn down an offer of around £20 million from West Ham when you're Stoke, the player didn't cost much to start with and is happy to move on for bigger wages at a club in the capital with a higher profile. But he's left a big gap nonetheless.

Glenn Whelan has also signed for Aston Villa, though that's arguably less of a major loss.

Add to that the fact that Wilfried Bony, a player who has been out of sorts for the last three years or so but still has huge potential won't be returning for a second stint and the question Stoke fans will be asking themselves is: when will it end? Or perhaps: we can see who's going out... but who exactly is coming in?

Signings have been thin on the ground

At the moment the list is limited to Kurt Zouma, an excellent defender albeit one who's hardly played for a year and Josh Hyman, who joined from Hull having made just five senior appearances his whole career.

Now, I'm not suggesting that a side who doesn't have any players making my Fantasy Football team is destined for relegation. Bournemouth and Burnley players didn't make my team at any stage last season either and ended up being just fine.

And to stretch the argument to another sport- Northamptonshire's T20 side is the ultimate band of misfits where the only 'star' at all is once-England man Ben Duckett- yet they've won two of the last four editions of the T20 Blast. All good examples of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

But what I am saying is that in the absence of any stars beyond the mercurial Shaqiri and the reliable Joe Allen, I'm not sure the remainder of the squad is any great shakes. How long can Peter Crouch, Darren Fletcher and to a lesser extent Ryan Shawcross and Glen Johnson be expected to carry on performing at this level?

Will Jack Butland and Saido Beharino ever return to the form of two years ago? Mark Hughes claims that he's on the lookout for replacements but despite some glitzy names joining the Potters over the past few years, moving a top-class player to the city of Stoke isn't the easiest of tasks in football.

Personally, I can't see the likes of Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain making the move there. Let's wait and see. 

Odds don't reflect Stoke's chances of staying up

The point though, as illustrated very eloquently by Ed Hawkins (in this case about cricket but it can extend to any sport) isn't so much: will Stoke be relegated? But rather: should Stoke be 7.40 to be relegated? The answer must be no.

Though the three seasons between 2013 and 2016 saw consecutive ninth-placed finishes, Stoke slid to 13th last year. They look like a team that's regressing and those high-profile exits may just be the turning point.

The field

Brighton (2.36) were highly impressive last season and in Chris Hughton possess a manager who knows this league well. Newcastle (5.10) were promoted with a squad already packed with Premier League quality players and under Rafael Benitez should be OK.

I'm not sure Huddersfield have the resources (1.68) to avoid the drop but that is clearly reflected in the odds.

Two squads that look a little light on player quality but thick on managerial quality are Watford (3.05) and Swansea (3.20).

The big advantage player-wise with these two's chances though being that they boast fine goalkeepers (Heurelho Gomes, Lukasz Fabianski) and powerful centre forwards to lead the line (Troy Deeney, Fernando Llorente), which is always a good start.

I like Palace's carefully-assembled squad (6.80) and though West Brom (7.20) will rarely be pretty to watch, you'd fancy them to get to that magical 38-40 point mark sooner or later.

So Stoke are certainly the value here for me. And if you are going to back them, now is the time to do so. With their first six fixtures including an away trip to Everton and home fixtures against Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal, a sluggish start may mean that quote of 7.40 may be as big as they get for the drop all season.

Recommended Bet
Back Stoke to be relegated @ 7.4

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