Predicting the Premier League relegation battle

Predicting the Premier League relegation battle

It’s squeaky bum time. That part of the year where fans of clubs towards the bottom of the Premier League table start to scare easily.

Just the merest notion of trips to Burton or Fleetwood next season send shivers down their spine. And not the good kind. The cold chills of relegation are never enjoyable.

This year, the battle looks set to be fierce. And long. There’s every chance the outcome will not have been decided by the time the final round of games kick-off on the last day of the season.

In fact, there’s an argument to make that the fight to avoid the drop is infinitely more interesting than the one-horse parade to the title currently being ridden by Chelsea and a so-called race for fourth which could still be rendered regardless by a freak combination of results in Europe.

So, who’s staying up and who’s going down?

First off, Sunderland are spent. David Moyes’ haphazard and wildly inappropriate remarks to BBC reporter Vicki Sparks have only briefly detracted attention from what’s happening on the pitch, where the Black Cats have proven to be woefully substandard.

Relying purely on the goals of one man in his mid-30s is the modern footballing equivalent of Napoleon reckoning his armies could brave the Russian winter armed only with meagre blankets and stale bread.

Ill-prepared, ill-equipped and ill-considered, the entire campaign was a total disaster. The Stadium of Light has been a football mortuary all season, its lingering embers only kept burning by Jermain Defoe and the very public and very touching show of support for brave cancer sufferer Bradley Lowery.

Sunderland will start next season in the Championship. It seems, now, that Middlesbrough will join them. The north east is not enjoying its finest hour.

Parting ways with Aitor Karanka was like pushing a steaming dog mess under the nearest armchair. Out of sight, out of mind… but the stench lives on.

Boro hit the target with the regularity of a drunken archer and, despite a methodical approach to defending, it’s too easy to beat them with a single goal.

Middlesbrough will start next season in the Championship.

And so one more place is ‘up for grabs’. It’s increasingly looking like a four-way fight to the death.

Swansea slipped into the bottom four on Wednesday after surrendering a lead in spectacular fashion at home to Spurs. The Welsh club haven’t won in four but their run-in is kind.

Home games against Stoke, Everton and West Brom mingled in with trips to West Ham, Watford, Manchester United and Sunderland.

With 28 points now, Paul Clement’s team will need at least three wins to give themselves a chance. Usually 40 points is the benchmark for survival, though form suggests that won’t be the case this season.

The visit to the London Stadium to play the Hammers this weekend is crucial. Slaven Bilic’s side are slipping dangerously quickly down towards the scrap. The Croatian might have got the public backing of his board but realistically he’s living on borrowed time. And that IOU will not extend to the Championship.

West Ham need two wins from games against the Swans, Sunderland, Everton, Stoke, Tottenham, Liverpool and Burnley.

And then there are the two clubs caught between – Hull and Crystal Palace.

Palace hauled themselves away from danger with four straight wins, including a remarkable success at Stamford Bridge, and Sam Allardyce knows a thing or two about survival training.

But their fixture list is filled with booby traps. Arsenal, Leicester, Liverpool, Tottenham, Burnley, Manchester City, Hull and Manchester United. Shudder.

Pick three wins from that lot. Go on, I dare you.

In fact, the clash with Hull on the penultimate day of the season could turn out to be critical.

The Tigers have looked sharper under Marco Silva and coming from behind to beat Middlesbrough in midweek left them two points above the drop with seven to play.

Home matches against Watford and Sunderland offer a terrific opportunity to bank more crucial points. Then comes that trip to Palace. Ninety make-or-break minutes at Selhurst Park.

That game, on May 13, will decide which of the two teams ends up in tier two next term. I’d bet an overnight stay in Burton on it.

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