The Premier League relegation battle: who’s facing the drop?
Just like “game of two halves”, “Peter Crouch has good touch for a big man” and “Arsenal like to walk the ball into the net”, the idea of needing 40 points to stay in the league is a tired cliche of the English game.
Famously, 40 wasn’t enough to save West Ham in 2003. In recent years, clubs have been aiming for 38 to stay up - it could well take as little as 35 to keep the class of 2020 afloat.
This weekend, seven of the bottom eight face each other. It might not take 40 points this season, but the scramble for two or three more wins is beginning to get a little more desperate down there.
Last five matches: LWDDW
Things were touch and go at Goodison Park for a while this season. Everton had a joyless start to their campaign with lowlights including a last-gasp turnaround to lose 3-2 away to Brighton - in a game they were winning 2-1 - and a 5-2 pummelling away to neighbours Liverpool.
Life without Idrissa Gueye has taken some adjusting, but since booting Marco Silva from the hotseat, the only match that the Toffees have lost was away to Manchester City - hardly shameful.
With 33 points now, Carlo Ancelotti’s lot have all but maintained their 90-year stay in the top flight. A dramatic 3-2 comeback against Watford definitely helped matters and now Everton could be looking towards a top seven position. Amazing work has been done at the club recently, considering how recently the Toffees looked rudderless.
Last five matches: LLWWD
Another steady and unspectacular season, Sean Dyche’s Burnley looked to be slipping into down the table after some concerning results. The Clarets have been roundly trounced to the likes of Sheffield United, Manchester City and Tottenham this season, with their home form fluctuating wildly.
Lately though, it looks like the tide might have turned. Unexpected victories over Manchester United and Leicester mean that Burnley probably have enough wind in their sails to stay clear of the bottom now and push on for a top-half finish.
A draw against Arsenal at the weekend was a solid performance that Dyche will be disappointed not to have grabbed victory from. It showed that Burnley won't be dragged into the fight this year.
Last five matches: LDWDD
Newcastle fans feared the worst at the start of the season. With Rafa Benitez out of the picture, new boss Steve Bruce lost Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon from the squad too. That’s 23 goals that the Magpies had to find from somewhere.
They’ve done admirably though. Wins against Tottenham and Chelsea have been the obvious standout results but the only clubs around the bottom that Newcastle have lost to are Burnley, Norwich and Aston Villa.
The Toon Army still aren’t out of the woods yet but they’ve had a good season at home and are yet to host Burnley, Villa and West Ham. You’d be brave to bet against them now.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Last five matches: DLDLD
Brighton narrowly missed the drop last season and this year has been about rebuilding the side. The Seagulls received plaudits early on for new coach Graham Potter’s expansive playing style and the the tactical flexibility that the side have used in switching systems and overpowering the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham.
But the honeymoon period is over now and Brighton have just two wins since the start of November. If they’re going to remain in the division, they’ll probably have to win three or four more matches, which right now, isn’t a guarantee.
Brighton's games against last season's top six, helpfully for them, are at home. Liverpool, Man United and Arsenal all travel to the Amex, with Crystal Palace facing them on February 29. They may have to score a few more on the road if they're going to secure safety - Burnley and Norwich look like their best bets.
Glenn Murray's first goal of the season this weekend was extremely welcome. Brighton could do with the veteran adding a few more this season, because with fellow south coasters Bournemouth level on points, things are looking a little precarious.
Last five matches: LLLWW
It’s usually a given that Bournemouth will score enough goals to stay up - it’s keeping them out that’s the problem.
This season, the Cherries have combined both issues for one depressing campaign in which strikers Josh King, Callum Wilson and Dominic Solanke have scored just eight goals between them. Despite wins against Man United, Chelsea and rivals Southampton, the Cherries have looked lost - before beating Brighton recently they’d picked up four points since the start of November.
The atmosphere at the Vitality this weekend, however, was electric - the ten-man Cherries had just enough in the tank to see themselves over the line against fellow strugglers Aston Villa, marking back-to-back wins. It looks like the fight has started, and with home fixtures coming up against Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Leicester, Eddie Howe will be hoping the crowd help roar them to safety.
Three more wins should do it. Bournemouth will want to be safe before neighbours Southampton visit on the penultimate day of the season.
Last five matches: WLDWL
The odds were stacked against Aston Villa before the season even began. Yes, they spent big last summer, but with so many of the squad that achieved promotion leaving, they had lots of holes to fill.
Dean Smith hasn’t done a bad job - before this weekend, Villa had scored more than anyone in the bottom half of the table, despite a recent striking crisis that forced Jack Grealish up front against Man City.
Villa still need three or four wins to avoid an immediate return to the Championship. It’s a tall task, but with new signing Mbwana netting at the weekend - Villa's first headed goal all season - Smith will be cautiously optimistic. Villa perhaps need players other than Jack Grealish to chip in with creativity.
A final day showdown with West Ham could basically become a play-off for survival. Elsewhere, the Villains will hope that Villa Park can raise the decibel level high enough when they host Crystal Palace and Wolves - both winnable games - as well as clashes against Chelsea and Man United, which they may well fancy themselves in, given the erratic form of the opposition this season.
West Ham United
Last five matches: LDLLD
At the start of October, West Ham were 5th in the league and looking forward to a sparkling season. What’s happened since has been nothing short of disastrous.
Now led by David Moyes, the Hammers look devoid of creativity and goal threat, aside from a 4-0 drubbing of fellow drop-fighters Bournemouth and a 3-3 thriller against Brighton this weekend. The mood around the London Stadium is perhaps the lowest it’s been since the club moved into the ground - thanks to protests against the owners - but this weekend proved that they do still at least have some fire within them, even if they shipped three goals.
They're going to need such fight, given how bleak the near future looks. West Ham face City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Wolves, Spurs and Chelsea in six of the next eight matches. They’re going to have to sit tight though, as Newcastle, Burnley, Norwich, Watford and Villa are all coming up from April onwards.
If Moyes could get a win or two in the next month or so, the confidence could just be enough to generate some momentum, going into the crunch clashes later on. It’s arguably the toughest fixture list of anyone fighting relegation, but at least this weekend was a step, of sorts, in the right direction.
Last five matches: WWDLL
It’s been a season of contrasts for Watford. They didn’t win a match until November - Javi Gracia was replaced by Quique Sanchez Flores and he faired just as badly back at Vicarage Road.
Since employing Nigel Pearson and going back to basics, the Hornets have picked up 14 points. The collapses against Aston Villa and Tranmere in the FA Cup, however, followed by a disastrous surrender against Everton have reignited fears that Watford aren’t as safe as they thought.
Like Villa and Bournemouth, Watford may have to win another four or five games to secure survival. There are plenty of winnable games coming up, but Pearson’s side will want to hit their target going into the six-pointer against West Ham during the first week of May - especially as their final two matches see them hosting Man City and travelling to Arsenal.
The question is, have Watford already peaked with Pearson, and with recent leads slipping, are they now devoid of that confidence that carried them through the winter?
Last five matches: DLWLD
Norwich’s season started with a 4-1 thrashing at Anfield on a Friday night and has struggled to get going since then. They beat City and earned draws against Arsenal and Spurs, but too often, the Canaries have struggled to overcome the sides nearest to them.
If Norwich are to stay up, it will take a miracle. Their commitment to passing football has been admirable but got them into trouble a number of times throughout their campaign - it seems like the board haven’t lost faith in Daniel Farke either, with the German being given the January window to strengthen.
Norwich will have to win at least six games to survive. Home games against Southampton, Everton, Brighton, West Ham, Burnley would all have to turn in their favour, which would then make the trip to Watford in April a key date to determine their fate. At least a draw against Newcastle was a creditable clean sheet on which to build on defensively.
Norwich could well be relegated by that point, though. Their final away trip in the Premier League for a while would see them go to Etihad on the final day of the season. Perhaps Farke could give his fans a day to remember and a historic double over last season’s champions?
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