The A-League’s saga to get its three Victorian clubs out of coronavirus-hit Melbourne is poised to reach its conclusion.
With Project Restart now in full effect, with all current Premier League teams back in training, it is looking more and more likely that the season will in fact be completed in the coming weeks or months.
Despite opposition to the restart from the likes of Watford captain Troy Deeney, the Premier League season will begin once again with an extensive relegation scrap brewing.
Norwich City sit comfortably in 20th position with a four-point gap between them and Aston Villa, however only four points separates 19th-placed Villa and 15th-placed Brighton and Hove Albion.
The relegation battle has seen twists and turns all season. Watford, currently on their third permanent manager of the season, managed to escape the relegation zone prior to the season’s postponement. Despite early-season form that saw them in sit seventh after match week 11, Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth have plummeted down the table and now sit in the relegation places.
Due to the unpredictable nature of the relegation battle this season, it is hard to predict which teams will come out of the blocks fast once the season returns and which teams will be playing Championship football next season. However, this is the exact purpose of this article: to determine who stays up, and who goes down.
Each of the six teams still engaged in the Premier League relegation battle will be assessed and determined as to whether they will be donning the Premier League badge on the sleeve of their shirt next season.
After a stellar 2018-19 season, which saw them lift the Championship title while playing scintillating football and easily outscoring all the other second-division clubs, Norwich are in danger of relegation. Daniel Farke’s philosophy was always to come up and play entertaining football, rather than the more traditional defensive approach taken by promoted clubs in recent years. They also backed the team that took them up, only spending £1.5 million (A$2.8 million) on summer recruitment, the lowest in the division.
Despite a promising start to the league season, which saw talismanic striker Teemu Pukki score six goals in his first five games and the side secure a historic 3-2 win over Manchester City at Carrow Road, the wheels have well and truly fallen off for Farke’s outfit. After a 2-0 loss to Watford on November 8, they have been rock bottom of the Premier League for over 200 days. They are also the equal lowest-scoring team in the league with 25, with Pukki being directly involved in 14 of them.
Withstanding a great escape, which has been done before by the likes of Leicester in 2014-15, Norwich look doomed to play Championship football next season. Despite looking to come up and play attractive attacking football in the Premier League, the squad have ultimately failed to live up to the hype, with Teemu Pukki and Todd Cantwell the only players who can truly hold their heads high after this dismal campaign.
Villa are another team that came up from the Championship in the 2018-19 season, however instead through the play-offs rather than automatic promotion, beating Frank Lampard’s Derby County in the play-off final. They enjoyed a stellar second half of that campaign under the tutelage of Dean Smith, which ended with promotion to the Premier League. Despite spending a record £130 million (A$240 million) on transfers, they were unable to retain their most important player last season in the form of on-loan Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham.
The Villans have had a turbulent season, which currently leaves them in 19th position coming off the back of four consecutive defeats. They have also conceded the most amount of goals in the league at 56. They have, however, scored the 13th most goals in the league, with a large part of that down to the exploits of mercurial captain Jack Grealish, who has directly contributed to almost 40 per cent of the team’s goals, predominantly from midfield. He has been a shining light in this campaign for Villa and will be crucial if they are in fact to stay up.
Villa, unlike Norwich before them, do have a real potential of escaping the relegation zone not through a sturdy defence, but from the attacking firepower they possess in the form of Grealish. However, they are met with an extremely difficult fixture list that contains the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, Wolves, Arsenal and Manchester United. Due to level of opposition they will come up against once the season restarts, it is hard to argue that they will pick up points at a faster rate than the other relegation battlers.
West Ham are the first team in this article that wasn’t playing Championship football last season. They achieved a tenth-place finish in the 2018-19 Premier League season and started the current season in good form, ending match week seven in fifth place. However, a rapid turn in results saw Manuel Pellegrini sacked, and David Moyes was brought back to the London Stadium dugout. A relegation battle ensued.
Moyes’ side currently sit 16th in the league, only outside of the relegation zone on goal difference. After attracting players like Sebastien Haller, Felipe Anderson and Pablo Fornals on big contracts, there would be huge financial implications if the Hammers were to lose their Premier League status this season. However, the Irons faithful will be banking on the star quality within the club to drag them away from the relegation zone.
Although West Ham sit in a very precarious position, the quality within the squad should save the club from the depths of relegation. It is easy to say they are too big to go down, which in the past hasn’t necessarily been the case especially with the Hammers, but the club simply has much more quality across the park compared to the other relegation battlers, and that should secure their survival.
Brighton and Hove Albion
Brighton were similarly engaged in a relegation battle last season with former manager Chris Hughton ultimately guiding the Seagulls to safety. But this wasn’t enough to save his job, as he was sacked at the end of last season, with the Brighton board instead deciding to take a risk on the unproven Premier League newbie Graham Potter. Potter looked to integrate a possession style of football on the south coast – a very contrasting style to Hughton’s.
Potter’s side this season has implemented a possession style, averaging 54 per cent, but the actual results on the pitch have been quite mixed. They currently sit in 15th, but they’re only two points away from the clutches of the relegation zone. They also have a particular issue in terms of goal-scorers at the club, with Neal Maupay the only Brighton player with more than three goals in the league this season.
Brighton do however have the most favourable fixture list compared to the other relegation battlers, with only two of their last six opponents residing in the top half of the table. With the possession football they employ, it can be assumed that they’ll dominate a majority of their future opponents and potentially accumulate more points than the clubs looking to beat the drop. Considering this, they should be safe from relegation this season.
Watford had an abysmal start to the season. After guiding the Hornets to an 11th-place finish and an FA Cup final, in which they were humbled 6-0 by Manchester City, manager Javi Gracia was sacked after a collecting just two points from the opening four fixtures. However, it went from bad to worse under returning manager Quique Sanchez Flores as they suffered an 8-0 defeat in his first game back, and occupied 20th position for nine of the ten games he was in charge, before he too was sacked by trigger-happy Watford owner Gino Pozzo.
They then appointed the experienced Nigel Pearson, who has steadied the ship during his tenure so far in the dugout, guiding the Hornets out of the relegation places for the first time since the opening match week. But they are far from being out of the woods, as they are currently sitting outside the relegation places only on goal difference. If they are to escape playing in the Championship next season, the form of French midfield duo Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue as well as flair wingers Gerard Deulofeu and Ismaila Sarr will be paramount after the season’s resumption.
Nigel Pearson has a real job on his hands attempting to keep this Watford side up, but he has escaped the clutches of relegation once already with Leicester City in 2014-15 and he can do it again with the Hornets. They also experience a favourable fixture list, with games against Burnley, Norwich, Newcastle and West Ham pivotal to saving their season and in doing so their Premier League status. But if there is a man to do it, it is Nigel Pearson.
And finally, to the plucky underdogs on the south coast, Bournemouth. The job that Eddie Howe has done with the Cherries is astonishing considering the size of the club, as he led them from the depths of League One all the way to the promised land of the Premier League. They enjoyed mid-table mediocrity last season, finishing 14th and 11 points clear of the relegation zone, however this season has painted a very different story.
After match week 11 this season, Howe’s men sat pretty in seventh, although they have been in free-fall ever since, currently occupying 18th position only on goal difference. A common downfall in Howe’s style is the leaky defence, which again hasn’t done them any favours, shipping 47 so far this season, the fifth worst in the league. But unlike previous seasons, they have only scored 29 goals at this stage, 27 less than what they finished with last season.
A long-term injury to David Brooks, a dip in form of Ryan Fraser and an injury to Callum Wilson are all factors in Bournemouth’s demise, although fingers must be pointed at their poor recruitment in recent years, with outlandish fees being payed on the likes of Jordon Ibe and Dominic Solanke, and it is this poor recruitment that will ultimately lead to their relegation this season. Eddie Howe has done a fantastic job of keeping the fairy tale alive for this long, but like all dreams, this one must end eventually, and in the case of Bournemouth that dream ends playing Championship football next season.