This is a short piece on the final part of the battle against relegation being played out in Premier League stadiums up and down the country.
There are 11 clubs who are still looking over their shoulder from Swansea (10th) downwards. The Swans are only 4pts from the drop zone but then there are 7 clubs between them and the dreaded bottom three. Just 7pts separate ‘the accused’ and so they are all in the dock with a realistic chance of ‘going down’ or a stay of execution.
I looked at the remaining fixtures for each team and the current league positions for their opponents. Then I added up those positions to try and work out which teams had the easier or tougher finish. The lower the score, the more you will come up against teams from top half of the table. I also looked at the difference between opponents at home and away. As the season draws to an end I think you would rather come up against another relegation-threatened team at home rather than away. You may also sacrifice a defeat away to a top half club, in return for a win against a rival.
This analysis throws up a number of observations.
· West Ham has most games against top sides.
· Hull has most games against bottom sides.
· All but one of Palace’s home games are against top sides.
· Palace plays all but one of their games against sides around them, away from home.
· Sunderland has most home games against sides in bottom 12, yet nearly all their away games are against top 7 sides
Looking at the fixtures in the last few matches also throws up some interesting points;
On the Final Day, there will be three fixtures which may be relegation play-offs.
Fulham v Crystal Palace; West Brom v Stoke; Sunderland v Swansea;
Fulham’s final 3 matches are Hull (h), Stoke (a), Palace (h)
Norwich’s final 4 games are Liverpool (h), Man Utd (a), Chelsea (a), Arsenal (h)
None of Aston Villa’s final 3 games are against sides lower than 11th
I have worked through the fixtures and made my predictions of the results I expect and in my opinion I cannot see Cardiff or Fulham winning another match for the rest of the season. That may reflect their current form and of course does not allow for some desperate, frantic performances which may see last minute goals turning games. But this may also reflect a rather unusual feature of this season. With so many clubs in danger of dropping back to The Championship, I feel it is more likely those clubs just around mid-table are going to provide a much sterner test and be keener for the points than maybe would be the case in an ‘ordinary’ season.
So that’s two of the relegation places sorted. The other one looks to be between West Ham, West Brom, Crystal Palace, Norwich and Swansea. The game between Swansea and Norwich at the end of March could be crucial. At this stage I can see a draw, but if Swansea can win they may just stave off the drop. For West Ham to avoid the drop their home games against Norwich and Crystal Palace could be crucial. Right now I can see them drawing both, but again that could be after Norwich’s battling draw against Man City yesterday, whereas had I been working this out a few days ago I could see a West Ham win.
How Swansea fare is also uncertain given they have just ditched their manager and replaced him with a man who, not only has little playing experience in the Premier League, but no managerial experience at any level. Personally, I can only see them winning one more game and a final day trip to Sunderland may not save them. Swansea has three key games at home with Palace, West Brom and Norwich visiting and they may only win one of them, but to win two out of three may just keep them up.
West Brom could ultimately fill that third spot and mainly because of their choice, and timing of managerial change. Pepe Mel is still to register a win but visits to The Hawthorns of Cardiff and Fulham should produce that and maybe their squad has enough fight left in them to pull off a result when West Ham visit. Their final match is at home to Stoke, who should be safe by then and may be less concerned with the points than their hosts.
What is very difficult to predict is the freak result. There will be some, but where is almost impossible to work out. Chelsea and Liverpool are in such good form, although Liverpool still has the ability to produce a poor performance against a side from the bottom half. Norwich, Palace, West Ham, Cardiff and Fulham all host Liverpool and any of them could produce a strong enough performance to bring 3pts. At this stage of the season, I cannot see Man City or Chelsea slipping up against any of the clubs down the bottom but with European and domestic cup fixtures to negotiate then who knows.
Of course my prediction could well be weighted towards the fact I cannot see what any club gains by changing a manager in the second half of the season, albeit Clarke and Jol were binned before mid-December. There are a few instances of managers actually making enough of a difference to keep teams up but these are few and far between, but nonetheless enough to convince Chairmen of the need for a change. It seems more likely to me that Crystal Palace and Sunderland may well have timed it better to make changes. Swansea may only stay up on goal difference and the fact that the outgoing manager had already stashed away enough points in the bag before his dismissal.
My relegation prediction: Fulham, Cardiff and West Brom