Why Middlesbrough need a miracle to stay up

ANALYSIS

Unlike many Premier League finales, this season's finish promises to be an exciting one - at both ends of the table. Chelsea and Tottenham are battling for top spot, with four more teams battling for the remaining Champions League places.

At the bottom, things are also very competitive with teams having either four or five league games remaining to guarantee their safety. Although they are one of the teams with an extra game to play, Sunderland are 12 points behind Hull City, meaning they are most likely to go down.

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In addition, Sunderland have the fewest unique goalscorers in the Top 5 European Leagues (seven) alongside Caen and Sampdoria. Jermain Defoe has scored 54 per cent of Sunderland’s goals – the highest single player share of any team in Europe. This reliance on one player has proved detrimental as they have been dismal in front of goal, winning just five of their 33 matches so far.

Just above them sit Middlesbrough, who have also won just five games and have played one more match than Sunderland. Of all the teams in the bottom five, Middlesbrough face the most difficult challenge to stay in the top flight. Their most recent win came on Wednesday as they defeated Sunderland to move six points clear of their relegation rivals.

Alvaro Negredo Middlesbrough Premier League

However, they will need to do a lot more to climb any further up the table and, looking at their fixture list, they will need a miracle to avoid playing in the Championship next season. Steve Agnew's side face Manchester City, Chelsea, Southampton and Liverpool in their final four games, needing at least six points to guarantee safety.

Middlesbrough have the toughest run-in of the bottom five teams – with their opponents averaging an Expected Goal Difference of +0.65. Expected Goal Difference (xGD) is a team’s Expected Goals for minus their Expected Goals against. This is calculated using Opta's Expected Goals (xG) model, which measures how likely a particular shot is to be scored based on distance to the goal, angle to the goal, assist type, whether or not it was headed and a variety of other factors. The model assigns an xG value between 0 and 1 that reflects how likely the shot is to be scored. So, for example, 0.3 xG means a shot will typically be scored 30% of the time. A positive value for xGD indicates a side creates better chance than they concede, and vice versa.

GFX Bottom Five No Goals

Even six points from those four games would only take them level with Hull City, who have a much easier run-in than Middlesbrough. Hull's fixture list includes a home game against bottom side Sunderland, while the average xG of the remaining opponents for Burnley (-0.19), Sunderland (-0.17), Swansea (+0.02) and Hull (+0.03) is much more favourable than Boro's.

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Middlesbrough have failed to score in 16 of their matches this season, with top scorer Alvaro Negredo being less than impressive up front with just eight goals to his name. January signing Rudy Gestede has failed to have any impact since moving from Aston Villa, notching just one solitary goal since his transfer.

Gestede was playing in the Championship up until three months ago and, with Middlesbrough's horrible final schedule, will likely find himself back in the second tier again next season.

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