WITH nine league games left to play this season, the battle to avoid relegation from the Premier League is heating up.
Aston Villa’s disastrous season has seen them collect just 16 points, and they are now almost certain to be playing Championship football next season but with just one point separating 17th placed Sunderland and 19th placed Newcastle, the race is on to determine which of the bottom clubs will secure top-flight football.
A recent run of good results have lifted 16th placed Swansea nine points clear of the danger zone with 33 points, and while there are a number of clubs who are yet to reach the elusive 40-point total that in the past has often ensured survival, the disappointing totals of the bottom four clubs suggests that three of them will not be playing in the Premier League next term.
Swansea, the Premier League’s only Welsh team, have won four of the last eight league games. After a fantastic first month, the Swans endured a tough winter that saw them slide down the table but recent good form has given fans hope ahead of the final few games.
Their 1-0 win at home to Norwich on Saturday was an example of how far the team has come since the departure of former manager Garry Monk. The team looked assured as they took on strugglers Norwich and while both teams fought hard for the three points, Swansea raised their game in the second half.
The Swans now sit in 16th position, level on points with Crystal Palace and just seven points behind 10th placed Chelsea.
As we draw closer to the end of the season, The Cardiffian takes a look at the contenders for the drop and predicts how the table will look at the end of the season.
This year has been one to forget for Villa fans. The club has flirted with relegation in recent years and haven’t managed to finish higher than 15th since the 2010/11 season. This year they have managed just three wins and are currently eight points adrift at the bottom of the table, meaning relegation is almost guaranteed.
While their run-in is not the most challenging of the bottom clubs, their form has been dismal in recent weeks and matches against Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United are unlikely to yield many points for the Birmingham club. A change in manager has done little to turn results around and Remi Garde has managed just three wins in all competitions since taking over from Tim Sherwood at the beginning of November.
Villa’s poor performance does not appear to have shocked many football fans. The summer departures of star man Christian Benteke and club captain Fabian Delph did not give the side a good foundation for the season and new signings have not lived up to expectations. Recent performances suggest the club is resigned to relegation having conceded 15 goals in their last four league games.
Barring a miracle, Aston Villa look certain for the drop.
VERDICT: GOING DOWN
Like Villa, Newcastle have also struggled in the last few years and this year has been no exception. When Steve McClaren was appointed in June things appeared to be looking up and the squad was boosted with the summer signings of Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrović and Chancel Mbemba.
But Newcastle got off to a terrible start, failing to win any league games until mid-October. A cruciate ligament injury to goalkeeper Tim Krul ruled the stopper out for the season and McClaren’s view at the time that the ‘injury could cost Newcastle 20 points’ appears to have rung true with the club having kept just one clean sheet since the start of 2016.
While performances have improved, Newcastle’s dismal start to the season has left them in a precarious position and they will need to start winning soon to have any chance of survival. On the bright side, many of Newcastle’s remaining games are against teams in the bottom half of the table, and matches against Sunderland, Norwich and Aston Villa are must-win games for the Northeast club. The Magpies also have a game in hand over their relegation rivals, but that’s against Manchester City.
Business in the January transfer window enhanced the odds of Newcastle staying up after they spent £28.5million – the highest January spending across Europe – on several new acquisitions including Premier League-proven Andros Townsend and Jonjo Shelvey.
McClaren’s future at the club has been cast into doubt over the past few days and the club could well appoint a new manager to increase their chances of staying up. A change might work, but numerous other manager and team changes over the past few years have not helped in the long term.
VERDICT: GOING DOWN
The 1-0 defeat at Swansea last weekend was a big blow for Norwich, who are currently on a winless run that has seen them pick up just one point out of a possible 27 and they have fallen from a relatively safe mid-table position right into the relegation mix.
Manager Alex Neil was realistic in the post-match press conference after the Swansea defeat, stating that he believed the relegation battle was now between four teams.
He added: We’ve got to stay positive and we’ve got to believe we can win these remaining games. The other teams may determine our fate.”
The Canaries only re-joined the top flight at the beginning of the season and a run of positive results over the Christmas period gave fans hope that they could beat the drop.
But Norwich has found it increasingly difficult to pick up points and they will need to improve for the final few games. While the squad have not underperformed, there have been few standout stars for the Canaries and if they do manage to stay in the Premier League they will have to bring in some new faces capable of coping with the demands of the top flight.
Norwich’s relegation run-in is tough with the Canaries facing Man United, Arsenal and Everton in their final three games. Fans will be left hoping the team can find some of it’s earlier form to get some much-needed points on the board.
VERDICT: GOING DOWN
A point at Southampton last weekend was enough to take Sunderland out of the relegation zone, but boss Sam Allardyce admits that his team “are still one of the favourites to get relegated”.
With strikers like Jermain Defoe in the side, Sunderland have not struggled to find the net and have the joint-highest goals tally of any of the teams in the bottom 13. Their major problem has been conceding, and Virgil van Dijk’s late goal on Saturday stopped the Black Cats ending a 15-game run without a clean sheet.
The appointment of Sam Allardyce was a positive step for Sunderland given his top-flight experience, but their performances have lacked conviction and a big clear-out is due this summer whether the club avoids the drop or not. Despite some of their unimpressive
Despite some of their unimpressive performances, Sunderland has started picking up points and are arguably in the best form out of the bottom four sides at the moment, but they will need to keep this up to ensure safety in May.
The dismissal of Dick Advocaat was a welcome decision for Sunderland fans, who have seen their team struggle in the league all season. Allardyce’s appointment has not brought a quick change in fortune, but the side now appears to be picking up points.
The issue surrounding disgraced former star Adam Johnson cannot be allowed to unsettle the team with big games against Leicester, Arsenal, and relegation contenders Newcastle ahead.
VERDICT: STAYING UP
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