Hawkeye Sidekick

Opinion: English Premier League Relegation Battle Thoughts

Relegation dogfight is too close to call

The English Premier League when suspended back in March was as good as over. Liverpool miles ahead of the chasing pack but the more interesting subplot in the top flight league was the battle to avoid the drop. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at where we are in the relegation battle and tries to identify which clubs are most vulnerable.

Points Target

It is always a tricky question to ask at the start of a football season. How many points is required to stay up in a season? You don’t want to ask the question but for some clubs, it is the first question to be asked.

The proverbial forty points is the template. There have been occasions where teams have been relegated with a points haul well over forty points. I recall Oldham Athletic pulled off a miraculous escape and Crystal Palace succumbed with a points haul of well over forty points.

This season though, the forty point relegation barrier will not be breached. The points range of 36-38 should pretty much suffice given the bottom three teams fixture list so in this piece, I am excluding the likes of Crystal Palace, Everton and Burnley from the list as they are already reached or about to reach this milestone.

Who goes down?

The relegation battle is intriguing. Norwich City are cast slightly adrift but have shown good form in the weeks leading up to the season pause. Their last ten games has yielded 0.9 points per game. The problem is the defensively and ability to keep clean sheets. Tim Krul has been heroic but defensive lapses and attacking pace has exposed the side on numerous occasions. Pukki and the attacking play of Cantwell have provided excellent attacking threat but unless the side are able to keep goals out at the other end, this looks forlorn for them despite a decent fixture run in with several fixtures against teams in the bottom half. I like Norwich City but their stay in the EPL looks doomed.

Aston Villa. A club with great tradition but the season has been a mixed bag. An excellent Carabao Cup run but the league form since Christmas has been disappointing with some big losses along the way. The squad transfer policy has not worked and put Dean Smith under massive pressure. The deal to bring Danny Drinkwater into the club has created negativity and Smith’s judgement has been called into question. The side will depend on the brilliance of Jack Grealish to create chances but like Norwich City, it is the defensive vulnerabilities which are the key issues. No central defensive partnership for Tyrone Mings to develop upon this season. The goalkeeping situation has seen Heaton and Reina look exposed at regular times. Home form will be paramount. They have a chance and have a game in hand over their rivals. Villa Park must be a fortress. The squad have massive creativity and with set piece specialists in Hourihane, Targett and McGinn should aid Grealish and his ability to run games further up the park.

Bournemouth. The South Coast club started the season so well but lack of form and crucial injuries to key players have seen a slide down the table. Brooks return is huge for the club. He will provide attacking creativity and provide chances for Joshua King and Callum Wilson. The issue like the other teams at the bottom has been the defensive side of play. Goalkeeping indecision, uncertainty in the defensive positions, lapses in set piece defending have contributed to this position. Eddie Howe is a good manager but he knows that his side are up against it with a daunting run in facing Manchester City, Tottenham, Leicester and Manchester United. The home game against Crystal Palace is season defining. A must win, otherwise the like-able Cherries will be for the drop.

Watford who are out of the bottom three on goals difference have a run in filled with sides in the bottom half. The side are an enigma; they have put both Manchester United and Liverpool to the sword this season at Vicarage Road but these performances have been the exception to the rule. Nigel Pearson’s man management will be huge down the stretch here. Troy Deeney’s return from injury is a big plus for the side and I think they have enough quality to stave off relegation. It is a wake up call for the club who have not shown any significant indication of a long term strategic plan; the managerial merry go round at the club has not helped matters one bit. The key fixture for Watford could be their road trip fixture to West Ham United; a six pointer fixture.

West Ham United. The club are precariously positioned in the league standings as well as financially. EFL Championship would be a financial disaster for the club and the management of the London Stadium continuing to create headaches. David Moyes has been parachuted in to rescue the club’s season yet again. The side have responded so far but self inflicted wounds are never too far away. David Martin’s howler before the league was delayed in March a classic illustration. The attacking side looks strong and Felipe Anderson will need to step up to the plate. A big run in of fixtures with Wolves, United, City, Tottenham and Chelsea to negotiate and then four fixtures against teams in the bottom half. No room for error and it would not be a stretch to predict the Hammers’ demise.

Brighton. The South Coast club have been pleasing on the eye this season but Graham Potter’s attacking goal ratio has meant that they are thrust deep into a relegation battle. Potter’s ethos to pass from the back has meant reduced playing time for the likes of Shane Duffy whose potency in the set piece has been missed. Neal Maupay is now the main main but his goals return has been somewhat of a let down so does Glenn Murray come back to provide a timely boost with some crucial goals in the run in. The fixture list looks horrendous; five fixtures against top six opponents but the four others are teams who may be out of relegation trouble by the time the side meets them. Norwich, Southampton, Newcastle United and Burnley are must win or at least get something from. Precariously positioned. Chris Hughton’s stewardship last season and negotiating this relegation scrap will be compared if things go pear shaped at the AMEX Stadium.

Southampton. A superb run of results from Christmas onwards has propelled the side on the verge of safety. The form of Danny Ings and his goals paramount. Ings is the fulcrum of the side with his goals providing the side with a genuine goalscoring opportunity. The defensive side of the team has improved since that Leicester City home thumping but the side are not safe yet and need to register a win early preferably against Norwich City (Away) to confirm their stay in the division. The squad will change dramatically come the season end as players will need to look for pastures new with the club manager apparently irking some senior players with his training methods.

Newcastle United. The job that Steve Bruce has done here given the boardroom turmoil has been superb. The side are on thirty-five points and are realistically one win away from staying up. The squad depth is a concern but as long as Shelvey is fit, they have a midfielder who will create. The opening home fixture against Sheffield United a classic opportunity to secure that much coveted win. The ownership change if it goes through will herald an exciting new era for the club; the resources to invest in the squad and stadium and surrounds will have other EPL clubs on notice. Exciting times but first need to secure top flight safety.

Predictions:

15. Watford (good form continues under Pearson)

16. Aston Villa (win against Man. United provides momentum)

17. Bournemouth (great escape on the last day of the season)

18. West Ham (last day season heartache)

19. Brighton (fixture list brutal; cast adrift)

20. Norwich City (cast adrift, never makes up ground)