We have reached the stage in the Premier league season where teams have started to run out of games to determine their fate. Due to various postponements this season, the amount of games that each club has played varies from 25 to 28. Those with 28 games played only have ten league games remaining and it really is starting to feel like crunch time in what looks to be the most dramatic relegation battle in recent seasons. It is generally accepted that any one of seven clubs could face the drop, with Brighton in 13th place the cut off point.
Newcastle United have made a remarkable turnaround under Eddie Howe and are now unbeaten in nine league games, but they are not out of the woods just yet. The following post discusses the seven sides who find themselves in danger of playing Championship football next season and assesses their chances of beating the drop.
Current position: 14th
Games remaining: 11
As alluded to, Newcastle United have undergone a dramatic turnaround since the appointment of Eddie Howe as manager and the subsequent signings which the newly-rich club have been able to make. The Magpies have gone nine league games without tasting defeat and have began to navigate themselves clear of their relegation rivals.
However, they are still within touching distance of a number of the teams below them and, if their form takes a nosedive, they could still find themselves desperately seeking to pick up points in the last few weeks of the season. The most important factor in their unbeaten run has been that, in that sequence, they have picked up ten points out of a possible 12 over their relegation rivals. So, not only have they improved their own fortunes but they have dented those of the teams they have now leapfrogged.
The new signings have been a huge factor in the results. In their 2-1 victory over Southampton in their most recent game, their two goals were scored by two January recruits in the shape of Chris Wood and Bruno Guimarães. The second goal was assisted by another new signing, boyhood Geordie Dan Burn. Burn was not signed for his creative abilities, though, and has been a rock at the heart of the Newcastle defence since his arrival from Brighton. Kieran Trippier has missed the last few games through injury but has also had a significant impact for the St James’ Park club, scoring in consecutive wins over Everton and Aston Villa in early February.
The key to getting clear of relegation is to put a run together and find a level of consistency. Under Howe, Newcastle have done just that. As a result, they are on the brink of safety and should pick up enough points over the next few weeks to allow themselves to breathe a little easier come the end of the season.
Their run of fixtures is not the kindest, however. They still have to play Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Wolves, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Arsenal. If their form does plummet and they find themselves starting to slip back down the table then the away game against Burnley in the final game of the season could be huge.
Current position: 15th
Games remaining: 10
After a strong start to their debut Premier League campaign, Brentford find themselves very much embroiled in a relegation battle. They have played as many games as anyone in the league, and Burnley and Everton below them could both overtake them if they manage to win their games in hand.
The Bees were on a torrid run of eight league games without victory prior to beating Norwich City at Carrow Road in their last game. Ivan Toney netted a hat-trick in his first start since January 22nd and his return couldn’t have come at a more crucial time for Thomas Frank’s men. The treble took Toney’s tally for the season to nine goals in the league and they have really struggled without their talisman leading the line.
Brentford play a number of their relegation rivals between now and the end of the season and they desperately need the win over Norwich to be a turning point for their form. Last season’s play-off winners’ last three games of the season are Southampton at home, Everton away, and Leeds United at home. There is a very strong chance they will go into these final fixtures needing to pick up points and they are likely to prove decisive in their quest to extend their stay in the top flight.
If Toney stays fit then Brentford have a chance.
Current position: 16th
Games remaining: 10
Leeds United cut ties with widely-adored boss Marcelo Bielsa in February, following consecutive 6-0 and 4-0 defeats to Liverpool and Tottenham respectively. Bielsa had overseen a complete culture shift at Elland Road and had finally returned the mammoth club to the Premier League, but his refusal to alter his ways and tighten up his side meant that they were seemingly on the express route back to the Championship.
Bielsa’s high-intensity, man-marking principles made his side an incredibly exciting watch but, with teams having had a season to work them out and rotten luck with injuries, they couldn’t stop leaking goals. In fact, they have conceded the most of any team in the top flight so far this season, letting in 64 goals. Patrick Bamford scored 17 league goals last season but has only managed to get on the pitch seven times in the league this season due to injury troubles. This has been a huge loss for Leeds, who don’t have a recognised replacement. Another feature of Bielsa is that he likes to have a small, tight-knit, squad. The trouble with this has been that when, like this season, injuries hit, there are little options to replace them with.
American manager Jesse Marsch was the man tasked with replacing Bielsa and steering Leeds to safety. The former RB Leipzig boss has overseen two games so far, both ending in defeat. There were signs of promise in the new manager’s first game, with Leeds ultimately losing 1-0 to Leicester City, but the 3-0 defeat at home to Aston Villa made for grim viewing.
Marsch will have to get his ideas across quickly whilst also adapting to a new league. In truth, due to a shortage of players, it will be difficult to overhaul the style in the short time left of the season and he must instead make tweaks to the work that has gone before. Bamford’s return to fitness could be huge but he will have to hit the ground running to take the burden off of star-man Raphinha.
The Yorkshire club have a great chance to turn the tide this weekend when they welcome Norwich to Elland Road. The Leeds fans will be a huge factor and if they can get them on-side early on it could make things difficult for anyone facing them between now and the end of the season.
Current position: 17th
Games remaining: 13
A matter of weeks ago it seemed unthinkable that Everton could genuinely be relegated. They were a side that appeared, on the face of it, to be badly underperforming under a manager that the Everton faithful were never going to take to, but a side with too much quality to go down. It was widely assumed that a new manager would come in and they would undergo a resurgence to find themselves comfortably in mid-table by the end of the season. In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Following Everton’s 5-0 hammering away at an indifferent Spurs side, the penny dropped that Everton are in real danger. They have games in hand, yes, but they have an extremely difficult fixture list remaining. The next two games are huge: Wolves and then Newcastle at home. If they come away from those two games with a minimum of four points then things start to look more positive. If they fail to get positive outcomes then the fans could really turn.
The other factor in this for Everton is their unfamiliarity with being in this position. Brentford and Leeds may have anticipated being in a relegation battle, while for Watford, Norwich, Burnley, and Newcastle it’s a reasonably well-trodden path. However, for Everton it is relatively uncharted territory. With the £500 million spent under the current owners their fans would be well within their rights to have expectations of pursuing European football, so to be facing a daunting relegation battle leaves a bitter taste in the mouths.
Current position: 18th
Games remaining: 12
Burnley find themselves in the bottom three and without their most prolific striker for the past three seasons, after Newcastle signed Chris Wood in January. However, if there is one thing that you can be sure of it is that Sean Dyche and his players won’t panic.
The Clarets have games in hand on a number of sides above them and if those unplayed games are won they will leapfrog others around them. They are a vastly experienced side who know what it takes to win games in the Premier League and they have arguably signed an upgrade on Wood in Dutchman Wout Weghorst. The obvious concern when hinging your survival hopes on a player unproven in England is whether they settle, but Weghorst has shown how effective he can be already. Maxwel Cornet’s absence throughout January due to the Africa Cup of Nations was also sorely felt, but now that the Ivorian has returned he should be an important player in the run-in.
The problem for Dyche’s men hasn’t been defensively, they have conceded the eighth lowest amount of goals in the league, but in the final third. Dyche himself has argued that they are not playing badly, or any worse than previous seasons, they just haven’t been able to finish their chances. The fact that only Norwich have scored less than Burnley’s 22 league goals this season supports these claims. They are also a side that pride themselves on their hard-work and physical approach, but this has become increasingly difficult, with the vast majority of their battle-hardened squad now over 30.
Burnley won’t allow themselves to get carried away when they win, but they also won’t get too low when they lose. The players will remain confident that they can pick up enough points to secure a sixth consecutive season in the top flight. It would come as no surprise to see them pull it off.
Current position: 19th
Games remaining: 10
As we have become accustomed to, Watford have changed managers twice this season. Firstly, Xisco Munoz was sacked after just seven league games, with the Hornets sat four points clear of relegation. The Spaniard can be forgiven for feeling hard done by, especially when you consider the struggles his successors have endured.
Claudio Ranieri came in and struggled to make any impact at all, lasting 13 league games. The man tasked with saving Watford was the calm influence of Roy Hodgson. At 74 years of age, Hodgson has plenty of experience to draw on, but even he has struggled to get a tune out of this Watford side.
In truth, the squad they have built is a complete mismatch of players. It appears like a group that have been thrown together and their performances reflect that. Premier League journeyman combined with unknown entities with a sprinkling of quality from Ismaila Sarr. Of the summer signings, only Emmanuel Dennis has really made a significant impact. The Nigerian looks bright most weeks and his output has been impressive given Watford’s woes, with nine goals and five assists in his first season in England.
It is a team of underperforming players who know that it is invariably the manager who shoulders the blame for their failures. Having said that, it cannot be easy for the squad to constantly adapt to the managerial uncertainty that surrounds Vicarage Road.
Under Hodgson, they have only won one out of six league games, but they did manage a draw away at Manchester United. They have made slight improvements, but it is difficult to envisage them picking up enough points to beat the drop.
The beacon of hope for Watford is that they play four of their relegation rivals in their last ten games. The bad news is that they end the season with a trip to Stamford Bridge to face the European and World champions.
Current position: 20th
Games remaining: 10
Norwich City didn’t win a league game until the tenth attempt, which was surprisingly the point at which they decided to part company with manager Daniel Farke. Despite being just over a quarter of the way through the season at the time, it looked like it was set to be another Premier League relegation from the Canaries.
Dean Smith was appointed following Farke’s exit and his arrival breathed some life into the side. A win over Southampton in his first game was followed by draws against Wolves and Newcastle, which seemed to be the start of a revival. Norwich’s business model is to not overspend once they get to the top flight and risk their financial future which, while admirable, does mean the squad lacks quality.
Many would have written Norwich off weeks ago, and with good reason too, but they are far from consigned to the fate of relegation. They remain bottom of the league and have no games in hand over their relegation rivals, but they are currently five points from safety with 30 points to play for.
Unfortunately, there is no hiding from the fact that the are punching above their weight playing Premier League football. They have conceded 61 league goals, which is the second worst record in the league, but more worrying is that they have managed to find the net a dismal 17 times in 28 matches.
Stranger things have happened, but Dean Smith will have to pull a real rabbit out of the hat to keep the yo-yo club in the top flight for a second consecutive season.
So, who will be relegated?
Taking everything into account, Norwich and Watford are most likely to take up two of the three relegation spots. The final spot is more debatable, though.
New Leeds United boss Jesse Marsch has very little time to improve his side’s fortunes and no experience of a relegation battle in a top league. This, coupled with the defensive issues and injuries he has adopted, mean that Leeds are in real danger of suffering from second season syndrome.
The three-time champions of England have failed to win in nine league games and have lost five in a row. Their inability to keep things tight defensively will prove to be their downfall and prevent them from gaining the odd point against superior teams, as those around them might.
For the reasons listed, it is predicted that Leeds will join Watford and Norwich in the Championship next season.