The Premier League has seen some of the best relegation battles in Europe over the past few years, and this year’s could be one of the best. There are still at least five teams who are facing the drop, but who’s going down?
Of all the teams down towards the bottom of the table, Leicester look like the ones that are in the most trouble. They are 6 points adrift of safety, and even though they have a game in hand, this is against Chelsea. The Foxes have won only 5 games all season, but they have some big games coming up. They still have to play West Brom and Newcastle, along with fellow relegation contenders Burnley, Sunderland and QPR. But Leicester fans shouldn’t feel too confident. By the level of performance that they have produced over the past few months, it looks unlikely that they can win many. The lack of goals being scored could turn out to be a real problem, with record signing Andrej Kramaric not fulfilling his promise, while Leonardo Ulloa’s early goal scoring form has dried up. It looks unlikely that they will stay up.
At the start of the season, Burnley were favourites to be relegated. Now after 31 games, they sit 19th in the league, but not without hope. They are only 2 points from safety and have put in some good performances recently. Their season is likely to rest on the results from their final five games. These are all winnable games, with among them relegation rivals Leicester, Hull and Aston Villa. If they can continue to defend like they have done in their two most recent home matches against Man City and Tottenham, it will all come down to if they can put the ball in the net. They are the league’s lowest scorers, but if Danny Ings can provide the goals that he did to fire them to promotion last season, they could survive.
For QPR, the defensive side of their game has been a real problem this year. They have conceded more goals that anyone else in the league, shipping 58. Steven Caulker has played like an experienced and composed centre-back some weeks, while looking like a Sunday League defender the next week, and Rio Ferdinand has shown while Man Utd let him go. They have lost the most number of games in the league this season, 20, and it is not the goal scoring that lets them down. None of the other teams in the relegation battle have scored anyone near their 38 goals, but they still sit 18th. The strike partnership of Bobby Zamora and 17-goal Charlie Austin has thrived with the support of Niko Kranjcar and Matty Phillips from midfield. But even if these four hit top four, if the R’s don’t sort out their defence, they are heading back to the Championship.
For a team who have spent the amount of money they have on players, Hull’s performance has been very disappointing this season. They are only two points above the relegation zone and still have to play Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and Man Utd. Other teams have much easier games. The problem for Hull all season has been the lack of goals that the strikers have provided. Nikica Jelavic has not scored the goals that he managed in his early time at Everton and Abel Hernandez has failed to live up to his early season promise. Steve Bruce has instead turned to January signing Dame N’Doye for goals, and he has scored 3 in his first seven league games. He will no doubt be key for the Tigers in their survival bid, but he will need a strike partner.
- Aston Villa
Tim Sherwood has undoubtedly changed Aston Villa’s season. Before he replaced Paul Lambert as manager, Villa looked likely to go down. There were no goals being scored and it looked like they had forgotten how to win. But since then things have changed. Sherwood has partnered Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor upfront and the pair have thrived. Against a weak Sunderland defence they looked unplayable and Benteke’s hat-trick against QPR was a throwback to his early form when he joined the Villains. With them three points clear of the relegation zone, if Benteke and Agbonlahor can keep firing, they should be able to stay up.
A few weeks ago things couldn’t get any worse for Sunderland. They had just conceded their forth goal against Aston Villa and the crowd were pouring out of the ground. Gus Poyet sat motionless. Two days later he was out the door and Dick Advocaat was in. Against Newcastle, everything had changed. The Stadium of Light was rocking and this was reflected by the performance of the players. If this can continue, the fans could cheer Sunderland to safety. They will also hope that Jermain Defoe’s stunning volley will give him the confidence to go on the sort of scoring run that he was able to produce before his move to Toronto, as that will be crucial in their survival bid.
Every team in the bottom six are in danger of going down, but every one of them will also feel that they have a good chance of staying up. But in the Premier League anything can happen, so you can’t rule anything out just yet.