No team is yet a cast iron certainty to drop out of the Premier League but this weekend sees fixtures that could add considerably to the chances of survival, for at least two of the bottom seven, or otherwise.
Leicester would obviously seem to be in most danger at present as bottom club, but they are also three points adrift from the safety of 17th place. They have badly missed Kasper Schmeichel but their major problem has been too many of their squad players are not up to Premier League standard. I saw them a number of times last season as they swept imperiously through the Championship and they were clearly the best team in that division. However the top flight is not just one step up, it’s a few more besides.
This weekend the Foxes are away to Manchester United before hosting Crystal Palace and then away to Arsenal. A most daunting trio of fixtures which, when fulfilled, could signpost either survival or Championship football come August.
Of the rest of the bottom seven I think Aston Villa are in the most precarious position. The team cannot ‘buy a goal’. For goodness’ sake, they have only scored 11 in 22 games. Anyone can do the simple maths of that return and the only reason they haven’t disappeared out of sight is that, paradoxically, they have the best defence in the lower half of the table. Unfortunately defences do not win games and that defence will be sorely tested in the next two games, against Arsenal and Chelsea.
QPR have the worst away record having lost every one of their games on the road so far this season, so they won’t relish this weekend’s trip to play Stoke City. Then they face Southampton at Loftus Road, which may yet prove the team’s saving grace, and while they still have Sunderland and Aston Villa within touching distance they may just escape. After the Saints game Rangers face a pivotal fixture at Sunderland.
Hull City’s drop down the table into the relegation zone doesn’t augur well for their top flight future. They, like five other teams in the bottom seven, score less than a goal a game. Their play is unattractive, which is OK if they pick up points, but the Tigers are not and they face Newcastle, then Manchester City before another pivotal relegation date, with Aston Villa. Steve Bruce will be pulling his hair out trying to get someone in before the transfer window closes, especially to score goals. But who is going to want to join a club that looks in freefall.
Burnley are potentially the club that I can see joining Villa and Leicester as the relegated trio. However, despite conceding 36 goals, the second highest in the league, Burnley have shown that they have plenty of fight and now that Sam Vokes is back to partner Danny Ings, they might just convert that fight into enough league points to survive. The Clarets have winnable games against Sunderland and West Brom before they face Manchester United. Seven points from those fixtures will give Sean Dyche’s side belief they can stay up.
Sunderland is the biggest enigma in the relegation battle. The team’s 11 draws out of their 22 league games, 50%, may be the Black Cat’s undoing. If the team had only converted five of those draws into victories, Sunderland would be sitting comfortably in the top ten. A leaky defence that has surrendered 33 goals doesn’t help. If Jermaine Defoe cannot help convert single point returns into three they, not Burnley, may be playing in the second tier next season.
West Bromwich Albion have the best goal difference of the bottom seven clubs and the impetus given by the arrival of Tony Pulis suggests that he will maintain his record of never being relegated as a manager. A word of caution though, 20 goals in 22 games is not enough. Neither is a reliance on Saido Berahino for those goals.
Such is the nature of football that any team may be capable of stringing together a run of wins. Conversely the same can be said of a run of defeats. So, unless a six or seven point gaps suddenly manifests as the games run out, hope will spring eternal until the mathematics say otherwise.