JUST ONE OF the top-five clubs will be in action this weekend, as the Premier League footballers gradually return following the mid-season break.
And with the title race effectively settled anyway, and three out of a possible four leading teams appearing highly likely to secure Champions League football, interest naturally turns to the other end of the table and the relegation battle.
It’s been a weird season. Liverpool claiming 73 out of a possible 75 points has been one big reason as to why the rest of the table has an unusual look at this stage.
With 13 games to go, just three points separate Watford in 19th and Brighton in 15th. There is a further five-point gap between the Seagulls and Arsenal in 10th.
For simplicity’s sake though, let’s call it a six-team relegation battle for now, and assume Arsenal, Burnley, Newcastle, Southampton and Crystal Palace will secure the nine or 10 points necessary that should ensure their safety.
Saturday evening’s clash between Brighton and Watford is a classic ‘six-pointer,’ while Bournemouth and West Ham will hope rather than expect to get something in their respective Sunday clashes with top-six opposition.
To get a clearer picture though of each team’s fate, it is necessary to look at their fixture lists in full and go from there…
Current position: 15th
Remaining fixtures: Watford (h), Sheffield United (a), Crystal Palace (h), Wolves (a), Arsenal (h), Leicester (a), Man United (h), Norwich (a), Liverpool (h), Man City (h), Southampton (a), Newcastle (h), Burnley (a).
Assessment: A team who, while not exactly being terrible, have been frustratingly inconsistent. An impressive 3-0 win over Tottenham in October suggested they would be fine, but they’ve had a poor time of late, with only one win in their last 10 matches. Despite getting them promoted and securing their safety for two seasons on the trot, Chris Hughton was sacked in the summer. Graham Potter has tried to stamp his influence on proceedings, encouraging a more expansive brand of football with mixed results. Yet if things don’t turn around soon, they may well look back at the Hughton decision as a bad one come the end of the season.
Current position: 16th
Remaining fixtures: Sheffield United (a), Burnley (a), Chelsea (h), Liverpool (a), Crystal Palace (h), Wolves (a), Newcastle (h), Man United (a), Tottenham (h), Leicester (h), Man City (a), Southampton (h), Everton (a).
Assessment: Eddie Howe has done a magnificent job overall at Bournemouth, taking them from the lower leagues and guiding them to the point where they are now in their fifth consecutive season in the top flight. However, it has threatened to unravel of late, with the club currently 16th, two points above the relegation zone. Following a respectable start, a gloomy period between 9 November and 18 January saw them pick up just four points from 12 games. However, they have shown signs of life recently, with back-to-back league wins over Brighton and Aston Villa. They will need to maintain that sort of form as the season approaches its climax if they are to get out of trouble. The likes of Josh King, who Man United tried to sign on deadline day and joint-top scorer, Callum Wilson, will likely be crucial if they are to survive.
Current position: 17th
Remaining fixtures: Tottenham (h), Southampton (a), Sheffield United (h), Leicester (a), Chelsea (h), Newcastle (a), Wolves (h), Liverpool (a), Man United (h), Crystal Palace (h), Everton (a), Arsenal (h), West Ham (a).
Assessment: Villa have picked up points mainly against the league’s weaker teams, so won’t be expecting much from matches with Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Man United. They spent big in the summer, with virtually a new 11 arriving, while Tyrone Mings and Wesley alone cost £42,000,000. You consequently get the sense they weren’t budgeting with possible relegation in mind, but there has been some dreadful performances, with December a particularly damaging month, as they picked up four points out of a possible 21. It looks likely to be touch and go as to whether they survive. In Jack Grealish, who is their top scorer with nine goals this season, they possess one of the league’s outstanding individual talents. However, quality is patently lacking elsewhere and if they are to avoid the drop, it could well come down to the last day and a potentially pivotal clash with West Ham.
Current position: 18th
Remaining fixtures: Man City (a), Liverpool (a), Southampton (h), Arsenal (a), Wolves (h), Tottenham (a), Chelsea (h), Newcastle (a), Burnley (h), Norwich (a), Watford (h), Man United (a), Aston Villa (h)
Assessment: After last season’s 10th-place finish, not many would have tipped West Ham for relegation. The Hammers weren’t shy in terms of spending money in the summer, with the likes of Pablo Fornals (£24m) and Sébastien Haller (£45m) arriving, while Jarrod Bowen (£22m) came in from Hull on January deadline day. None of the summer signings have proved unqualified successes as of yet, with the club’s ominous form costing Manuel Pellegrini his job, and David Moyes took over the job on 29 December. The former Man United boss started with a 4-0 win over Bournemouth, but has seen his side pick up two draws and suffer three losses in the league since then. The squad possesses some talented players like Issa Diop, Declan Rice, Manuel Lanzini and Felipe Anderson, but their form has dipped alarmingly after a promising start that saw them lose just one of their opening seven games. Moyes already steered them to safety in a similar situation during the 2017-18 season, and Hammers fans will be hoping he can repeat that feat over the coming months. He might even be offered an extended stay at the club if he does so, unlike last time.
Current position: 19th
Remaining fixtures: Brighton (a), Man United (a), Liverpool (h), Crystal Palace (a), Leicester (h), Burnley (a), Southampton (h), Chelsea (a), Norwich (h), Newcastle (h), West Ham (a), Man City (h), Arsenal (a).