Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Fight for Safety: Bottom Half of The Premier League Table

As the Premier League pauses for the international break, it is worth looking to see how the fight to avoid relegation stands and how teams in the bottom half of the table are faring as the league season prepares to enter the final stretch.


Leeds United – Leeds has impressed in its first year in the Premier League since the 2003/2004 season. The aggressive attacking style of Marco Bielsa is entertaining and bears both high risk and high reward. There is nothing indecisive in Leeds’s results. The Whites have won just two fewer matches than Chelsea but only Newcastle, West Brom and Sheffield United have more losses than Leeds. Patrick Bamford (14 goals) and Rafinha have been star quality for a club which currently sits 11th in the table and seems recovered from a recent stretch where they lost four of five matches. More than half of Leeds’s remaining matches will feature opponents currently below them in the table so Leeds should enjoy a smooth finish to a successful season.

Crystal Palace – Crystal Palace, currently 12th in the table, is on track for an 8th consecutive season in the Premier League finishing between 10th and 15th. The Eagles, currently 11 points removed from the relegation zone, should be safe despite a difficult run-in. A pedestrian style of play built on disciplined defense, hope, and a bit of Wilfried Zaha has delivered results if not excitement. Zaha’s desire to play for a bigger club is a constant worry for Crystal Palace and numerous players and 73-year-old manager Roy Hodgson are out of contract this summer. Hodgson’s teams have been grindingly efficient, though some fans would like some flair.

Wolverhampton Wanderers – Wolves have taken a step back this season for several reasons.  Somewhat embarrassingly, Diogo Jota left Wolves and became a star for bigger club Liverpool. Raul Jimenez suffered a season ending injury in December. Expensive youngster Fabio Silva is nowhere close to being able to replace Jota or Jimenez at this point in his career. A top half finish may not be completely out of the question though as Wolves are six points from 10th place Aston Villa and five of Wolves’ last nine matches are against clubs in the bottom six.

Southampton – No club has suffered as steep a decline this season as Southampton. Sitting as high as third in the table as of mid-December, the Saints have done little but sin since then in falling to their current 14th position. The club has lost 10 of its last 12 matches, one of which was a 9-0 thrashing by Manchester United. Fortunately, the Saints enjoy a favorable schedule for the run-in where they face 3 clubs below them and have winnable games against two other bottom half teams. Shockingly, helped by favorable draws, the Saints are also in the FA Cup semifinals against Leicester.

Burnley – Sean Dyche and his players exemplify grit and determination as no other team does more with less than Burnley. Virtually devoid of any form of attack, the Clarets engage each opponent in a slogging defensive match with the Clarets squeezing just enough results to stay safe.  There was concern earlier this year that luck had run out for the Clarets as the club wallowed in the relegation zone through week 10, but Dyche and his charges have righted the ship and Burnley are now seven points clear of danger, having just lost once in their last eight matches. New ownership is under scrutiny to see if additional investment in the squad will be made and whether Sean Dyche, the club’s most valuable asset will be retained.

Brighton and Hove Albion   The amount of praise accorded Brighton manager Graham Potter by pundits would seem disproportionate to the Seagulls’ actual achievement. Potter has installed a free flowing, possession-based attack which, while pleasing to the eye, often fails to produce goals in the final third.  Part of this is not Potter’s fault, of course, as the team’s attacking talent must be questioned. Still, Potter’s project has not progressed, and the Seagulls have disappointingly been part of the relegation discussion this year.  A much needed 3-0 pounding of listless Newcastle improves survival chances but a daunting run-in awaits where Sheffield United is the only remaining opponent currently below Brighton in the table.

Newcastle United – The Magpies were fortunate to amass points earlier in the season when forward Callum Wilson was one of the Premier League’s leading scorers. As Wilson’s performance cooled and he later fell to injury, Newcastle faltered.  Attacking failures have been  exacerbated by additional injuries to players such as Miguel Almiron.  Newcastle, currently two points above the relegation zone, is just hoping to hang on and fight off Fulham for the final safe position in the table.  Newcastle goes to Fulham on the final day of the season in what could be the determining match.  Other key matches include Burnley on April 11 and Sheffield United in the penultimate match before the finale with Fulham.

Currently Subject to Relegation:

Fulham  – Fulham has injected interest into the relegation battle by closing the gap with struggling Newcastle from ten points in early February to a current two-point deficit.  The Cottagers, however, will rue having drawn so many games this season. Fulham has only one more win this season than Sheffield United.  If just one of their league joint high 11 draws could have been moved into the win column, the Cottagers would be ahead of Newcastle on goal differential. The Cottagers’ best chance for victories in the final stretch fall in their final four matches where three of the opponents will be Burnley, Southampton, and Newcastle. The finale versus Newcastle could well decide Fulham’s’ fate.

West Brom   West Brom fans must give credit to ownership for trying. At signs of trouble earlier this season, ownership hired as manager the never relegated “sultan of survival,” Sam Allardyce, and made several moves in the winter transfer window to avoid relegation. Unfortunately, the West Brom roster is still not Premier League quality and the club looks to be going down. West Brom is currently ten points from safety and six of its remaining matches are against teams in the top half of the table.  The Baggies’ leaky defense has allowed 57 goals in 29 matches, six more goals than the next most generous squad.  

Sheffield United – While West Brom is league worst in defense, Sheffield United is the league’s worst attacking side. The Blades have amassed only 16 goals through 29 matches this season. A surprisingly successful debut season in the Premier League last year, helped by manager Chris Wilder’s innovative ploy of overlapping center backs, gave a sense of overconfidence to ownership heading into this season. Appropriate investment in the roster was not made, the league adjusted to Wilder’s tactics, and performance plummeted. Wilder has been dismissed and, with recent elimination from the FA Cup, Sheffield United has nothing to play for.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave a comment: