With the resumption of the Premier League season on the horizon, it’s looking increasingly more likely that clubs in the lower reaches of the table will have to face up to the danger of relegation.
Despite the caveat of having no fans, a full season of Premier League fixtures are set to be played leaving little argument against relegation for three teams. So with the danger of the drop still present, which teams are in the most trouble?
Norwich, of course, are currently the most threatened side. They sit bottom of the table with 21 points, six points adrift of 17th. It’s a large gap, but one that is still just about bridgeable. Despite facing Chelsea and Manchester City towards the end of the campaign, the Canaries’ run-in overall makes more positive reading.
They face Southampton, Brighton, Watford and West Ham during their first six games back. Positive results in these matches could well turn the relegation battle on its head, and a recent victory against Leicester shortly before the lockdown will give Norwich hope of conjuring some form.
In 19th, four points above Norwich, sit fellow promoted side Aston Villa. Since reaching the League Cup final, the Villains have lost all four of their Premier League matches – most recently 4-0 against Leicester.
Villa have a game in hand against Sheffield United, which is scheduled to be the first fixture back for the Premier League. A win would see Villa move up to 16th, but this will be a tough task against an excellent Sheffield United side who dispatched the Villains 2-0 earlier in the season.
The run-in for Villa doesn’t gave any easier after that either, with matches against Chelsea, Wolves, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal to follow. Their season then finishes with what could well end up being a final day relegation decider against West Ham.
Bournemouth lie in 18th with 27 points, joint with Watford and West Ham above them. The Cherries arguably face the toughest run of fixtures, with Wolves, Manchester United, Tottenham, Leicester and Manchester City all on the horizon.
In fact, Bournemouth will not be facing any teams below them in the table. The lowest placed sides they face are Southampton and Newcastle – seven and eight points respectively ahead of the Cherries and both look to be clear of any real relegation trouble.
The Cherries not only face difficult opposition, but have no opportunity to directly gain any ground on their relegation rivals.
Watford and West Ham – the two other teams on 27 points – face each other in a relegation crunch match scheduled for mid July. The Hammers also have another key match scheduled a few days earlier against Norwich, as well as their final day showdown with Aston Villa.
Results in games against their relegation rivals could well see the Hammers safe. Add to this the fact that David Moyes seems to have struck upon a cohesive and powerful combination up front with Sebastian Haller, Michael Antonio and Jarrod Bowen (they were very unfortunate not to get a result against Arsenal before the lockdown), and things are looking relatively positive for West Ham.
Watford, meanwhile, face some tricky fixtures against Leicester, Chelsea and Manchester City before Arsenal on the final day of the season. Their run in, however, doesn’t quite match the desolate landscape of Bournemouth’s with opportunities to gain points against their relegation rivals still available to the Hornets.
Brighton sit in 15th with 29 points and despite a two point cushion above the relegation zone, they are by no means out of the woods. Like Bournemouth, they lack matches against sides in the relegation battle. The only team below them Albion face is Norwich who are already eight points adrift of Brighton, so it’s possible the match could be of little direct consequence.
With six draws and only four defeats since the start of 2020, Brighton are proving tough to beat but are also massively struggling to carve out wins. They are winless since the 28th December 2019 and will need to be picking up all three points when they can to avoid slipping further into the relegation battle.
One thing that should also be considered is the lack of fans, and how this might affect results. It was previously a topic open to debate but the fact that home advantage seems to have gone out the window in the Bundesliga seems to indicate it does have a large influence.
Frankfurt boss Adi Hutter even commented the other week saying:
“teams with a high level of technical quality in particular are less dependent on support”, while also noting how a lack of fans can adversely affects sides lower in the division.
At a glance, Aston Villa look to benefit the most from having a crowd behind them with a swing of 0.78 points per game (PPG) more at home than away. This would make sense given the raucous reputation of Villa Park and the Holt End. Villa’s home PPG swing is the third highest in the division behind Manchester United (0.79) and Everton (0.99).
While Villa’s is the most stark, all the teams in the midst of the relegation fight have a swing of at least 0.5 PPG more at home barring West Ham with 0.27. This also makes sense given their questionable choice of new stadium.
This would indicate that West Ham are less reliant on home support, so are less likely to be as affected by the lack of fans. Given this along with their bolstered frontline, the Hammers stand a good chance of staying up.
Things don’t look so good for the Villains though, with a lack of fans looking like it could possibly be more of an issue for them. This coupled with their tough run of games could spell trouble for Villa.
Bournemouth also face a tricky run of fixtures but more importantly, do not face any teams around them so have little chance to make up ground on their rivals. They could also be set to slip further into the relegation quagmire.
Watford will hope to draw upon Nigel Pearson’s experience from his great escape with Leicester in 2015, as well as looking to talented players such as Abdoulaye Doucoure and Ismaila Sarr. Gerard Deulofeu, however, is still likely to be out for the remaining fixtures.
Brighton and Norwich are both tricky to predict. Brighton have had a long and slow slide down the table, and it’s difficult to see where it might stop or how far down it will take them.
Norwich look like they might be dead and buried, but a good run of results in the games they have against their rivals could seriously shake things up for the Canaries.
What is certain is that there is still much to play for at the bottom of the Premier League.