The Premier League relegation fight: Why each contender will survive, and why they won’t…
The absurd fight to avoid relegation from the Premier League has at last attained an air of, if not serenity, then at least sanity.
The nine-team scrap that was brewing (and really thanks to Sir Frank of Lampard it was actually a 10-team scrap; Chelsea’s run of seven points from nine against Leeds, Leicester and Everton back in March were all vital six-pointers in hindsight) has now been whittled down to five with Palace and Wolves having achieved escape velocity and Bournemouth and West Ham now in mathematical peril only.
That leaves us with Everton, Leicester, Leeds, Nottingham Forest and poor old Southampton left trying to dodge the bottom three places when the music stops. They’ve all played the same number of games which helps keep things neat as well. So here are the reasons why each of them can do it, and the reasons why each of them may not.
Currently: 16th, P35 Pts 33 GD -31
Why they’ll stay up: Current owners of the box seats after crowning a gloriously daft day of Vintage Our League Bank Holiday Barclays with a frantic 4-3 win over Southampton. A three-point cushion over teams who are, by definition, quite shit is not to be sniffed at with just three games to go. Forest might even survive without securing another point. Having wisely stuck with Steve Cooper, Forest now have the unexpected advantage – having spent the summer necessarily and the winter unnecessarily stockpiling new players – of being the team with consistency of personnel for the final push. In Morgan Gibbs-White they possess a potent talisman who is demonstrably dragging his team-mates along with him; arguably only Leicester among the stragglers boast similar.
Why they’ll go down: They might stay up without further points but probably won’t. And that’s a bit of a problem because their remaining fixtures aren’t great. Forest will need to hope Chelsea and Palace are on the beach with the flip-flops out for their two remaining away games, while things will be even harder for their solitary remaining City Ground date: Arsenal are definitely not on the beach. Having comfortably the worst goal difference of the four teams with realistic survival hopes is also sub-optimal, especially with any one of their remaining games having the potential for heavy defeat.
Currently: 17th, P35 Pts 32 GD -21
Why they’ll stay up: Must, by definition, now be the most confident of the quintet after that entirely ludicrous 5-1 victory at a Brighton team that came into that game with a legitimate shot at Champions League football next season. Where, precisely, that particular Everton side had been hiding all season is a mystery but it was a reminder that for all the incompetence of the Lampard Days and the probably necessary grimly practical nature of much of their games under Sean Dyche, this remains an underachieving squad.
If it clicks like that in a couple of their remaining games, then safety is well within range. Sunday’s game against a Champions League-distracted Man City is as close to a free hit as you can get at this stage of a relegation scrap, but the other two games are kind: you want to be playing teams with nothing to play for at this stage of the season and Everton close out against two such teams in Wolves and Bournemouth. The goal-difference swing from that Brighton win is not to be sniffed at, either: it’s brought Leicester back within range on that front and with four teams separated by three points with three games to go the potential for that to matter is obviously large. Final and most obvious reason: Dyche.
Why they’ll go down: Playing City between Champions League semi-final games against Real Madrid isn’t the worst, but the timing is also a bit cruel in denying Everton the easier shot at building on that Brighton win that either Wolves or Bournemouth would provide. Despite the Brighton madness Everton are still the lowest scorers of the four main players and if they lose to City as logic dictates they should then they probably do need a win somewhere in those last two games.
Neither Wolves nor Bournemouth could be described as watertight at the back but that only makes the inevitable goalless draws that send Everton down all the more Everton. You wasted all the goals at Brighton, you fools!
Currently: 18th, P35 Pts 30 GD -15
Why they’ll stay up: Because they have no business being there, honestly. That is not a relegation squad. Even when they were a bit shit last season they ended up eighth. Above Brighton, for goodness’ sake. This season’s drop-off has been utterly calamitous but on paper they are simply far, far better than any of this other dross around them. If it comes down to the final day, then Leicester should be able to beat a West Ham side that will potentially have at least one eye on the Europa Conference final.
Teams also tend to get relegated because they are incapable of scoring goals, and that is not a problem Leicester have. They’ve scored more goals this season than everyone else in the bottom half, and also more than Europe-chasing Aston Villa. As any fool knows, no team is too good to go down, but this Leicester team really ought to be too good to go down.
Why they’ll go down: Being obviously the best team down there is arguably more weakness than strength at this point. If you’re the best team on paper, then questions have to be asked about why you remain so stubbornly among the shittest on grass. The failure to take more than draws from two very winnable games against fellow battlers Leeds and Everton didn’t look good, and the performance at Fulham on Monday was a shambles.
The new-look management team aren’t really to blame for the mess in which Leicester find themselves, but nor have Dean Smith and co ever really looked like they’re truly confident of knowing how or if they might do anything about it. Leicester’s next two games are against Liverpool and Newcastle; right now it appears more likely that the West Ham game is an irrelevance than an opportunity.
Currently: 19th, P35 Pts 30 GD -25
Why they’ll stay up: Big Sam, pints of wine and sheer bravado. It’s usually futile at this stage to try and take anything from performances rather than results, but given the new manager and nature of the opposition, Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Manchester City is actually quite good. On the most basic, practical level they avoided any further goal-difference catastrophe, which really could matter, and the second-half performance showed Allardyce’s Leeds could well have enough about them to do the necessary. They might also be running into Newcastle at a decent time this weekend given the way Arsenal shithoused them out of their comfort zone, while playing West Ham straight after the second leg of their Conference semi-final is probably a decent result for Leeds either way.
And while Spurs are a tiny bit less Spurs now that they’re running on Maseball and good vibes rather than abject misery they are still Spurs and look distinctly vulnerable to a Big Samming. Essentially, a closing run of games that looked really daunting when Leeds started shipping five and six on the regular does now, for a variety of reasons, look less terrible.
Why they’ll go down: Etihad encouragement notwithstanding, they are in the worst form of anyone down there. Forest have won two of their last three, Everton just spanked Brighton and even Leicester only have to back one defeat and two draws for their last win. Leeds haven’t won any of their last six and have taken 5-1, 6-1 and 4-1 losses in that run, with their solitary point coming in a home game against Leicester that really did need winning.
They have the worst starting position of the live contenders for this three-game shoot-out and a still-daunting fixture list against three teams any one of whom remain capable on their day of inflicting more goal-difference carnage if Big Sam can’t get his message across in such a short space of time. Conceding two goals at the Etihad was fine; the fact it merely maintained their average goals conceded per game for the season is not. Having a defence conspicuously worse than Leicester, Forest or Southampton is not a great look.
Currently: 20th, P35 Pts 24 GD -33
Why they’ll stay up: Um… er… Everyone else might get a 10-point deduction for some reason? Stranger things have happened, although admittedly we can’t think of any right now off the top of our heads.
Why they’ll go down: Because they have been very obviously the worst team in the Premier League this season. Even with the assorted struggles of so many other teams, Southampton have rarely looked anything but likely relegation candidates and even three very unlikely wins from three remaining games would give them only the slenderest chance of survival. They are where they are, adrift even of the undignified scrap unfolding above them. It’s very funny after 35 games to have secured precisely half your Premier League points total from games against Leicester and Chelsea, but it does mean you are going to get relegated.
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