The relegation dogfight.

That old familiar saying “Goals Wins Games” has been around for as long as i can remember in football. Although i do agree somewhat that this is true, it is more about finding the balance between attacking and defending that will decide the fate of the bottom 6. Bournemouth currently have the title of lowest scoring team in the league with a paltry 20 goals after 23 games but they are in good company with only Aston Villa breaking the mould in the lower half of the table having 29 goals (More than Everton and Southampton) but their deficiencies are more of a defensive variety having shipped 44 goals, a total only surpassed by the leagues lowest team in Norwich.

Last season we seen Fulham/Huddersfield/Cardiff all go down with indeed the worst records for goals conceded and scored. So it could be forgiven for thinking that could be the case this time – well it might well be at the end of the 38 games, but for now there are a few teams that can climb out of this statzone and save their bacon. So lets delve in and try to predict the drop.

First off i think Norwich are doomed to relegation, 1 win ,3 draws and 3 losses in their last 7 games means they are cut adrift of the chasing pack already by 6 points. Not that they are playing badly to be fair to them as they seem to be in with a sniff of gaining points in most games i’ve seen them play in, just they seem to find a way to throw those points away in some form or fashion. With the industrious Teemu Pukki in their team they always have had chances, play a brave style of football but in essence that is their undoing as they concede by trying to play from the back too much. Coupled with the fact that he is their top scored with 9 goals, there simply is not enough goals in the rest of the team to compete. Fair play to them though for sticking to their guns this season and for sticking with their Manager – that win yesterday was a great sign that they still fight for the cause.
Verdict : Playing hard for their manager but not enough quality in the side. Relegation.

Watford have found form with 4 wins in 6 games. Pearson is like a magician to have pulled what looked like mission impossible into mission probable. Looking at Watford they are a hugely intimidating team built with some real athletes. Is there a bigger team in the Premier League? Pearson really has them fighting hard and with the foundation of hard work by their midfield enforcers Doucouré and Capoue it allows their flare player Deulofeu to really shine in games. He is as important to the Watford cause as Zaha is to Palace. Deeneys return has galvanized them and although their scoring record so far in the Premier League is poor they have enough games left to change that.
Verdict : Perfect timing on the manager swap – Survive!

Bournemouth are in real danger this season of going down and the next 3 games will be a huge indication if they have the belly for a fight when they play Brighton/Villa. Eddie Howe has been brilliant in the past few years and has been linked with a few bigger clubs at times but this will be the test that will dictate if that interest was justified. They play a great brand of football that’s pleasing on the eye but they are beginning to suffer for their en-devour like last week when Watford pressed them high up the pitch and they broke under the pressure. Irish Keeper Mark Travers had a day he’ll not want to remember as he was rushed into clearing a ball that ended up in the back of his net after two phases. Of course their biggest problem is the goal drought of their striker Callum Wilson. At one stage Wilson was being touted as the next english striker to emerge but with a return of 6 goals this season he is showing the signs of panic in front of goal. When last season Wilsons partner Josh King was picking up the slack but with a paltry 3 goals this term its clear to see the Cherries problems. Dom Solanke was signed for reasonable money last summer but with 1 goal to his name he
is going the way of Jordan Ibe! Injuries to key players like Nathan Ake were a big reason they have suffered as their bench simply doesn’t have the capability of matching that on the field – so Eddie Howe will hope that he can keep a clean bill of health now that the busy Xmas period is over. They need to target 6 points from 9 in their next games but you get the feeling that the Villa game will be key. If they can take 3 points in that home game this season could turn for them. They have the kindest run of games on paper over the next few weeks but this will be a huge mental test for them to be in the relegation zone looking upwards. Having lost to Norwich this weekend their game versus Villa on Feb 1st becomes all the more important. Lose that and it could be the beginning of the end.
Verdict : Eddie Howes men still playing attractive football with no cutting edge. Relegation.

West Ham are the one team that you would have thought too good to go down! But football is a cruel game if you do not have your house in order and the hammers are struggling to find form. Again scoring goals seems to be a chore and the home ground has been a nightmare for them since moving. Haller is disappointing and when you look at their midfield it reeks of players under-performing in the Hammers Jersey. Players like Anderson, Yarmolenko and Lanzini are all players that would be good additions to most midtable sides but for West Ham they’ve been anonymous. It’s been years since West Ham had a proper out and out striker that would bag you 15+ goals a season. Marko Arnautović left for money and even he was only scoring 11 goals a year. It’s incredible that Arsenal/Chelsea/Spurs have always had a recognisable striker its a wonder why the poor mans London Club cannot attract one to their all new stadium. David Moyes might
be a safe pair of hands but there is not enough to suggest that they can get to the magic 40 points in the next 16 games.
Verdict : Lucky that their have some really poor teams around them. Survive by the smallest of margins.

Burnley would have had 5 losses in 6 games if they had not stopped the rot with an unlikely win against Leicester this weekend. Another team with a clear lack of goals and now with Barnes out with a hernia issue they are reliant on Woods to come to the rescue! I like the look of Jay Rodrigues and i wonder if he can step up to the mark as Sean Dyches insistence of playing with two strikers each game. For Burnley, it all comes down to sticking to the plan. It’s not attractive to watch and has one of the lowest possession percentages in the league – but they will not care one bit if they secure their place once more in the Premier League. they are a stable club with a stable manager and if they stick to their guns they should have enough in the tank to get over the line. Home form will be key with most of their wins on their own turf so far this season.
Verdict : When push comes to shove they will have enough battling qualities to earn their safety. Survival!

Brighton are one to watch from an Irish perspective with Duffy and Connolly in their ranks but under new management the former seems to be coming up short for once in his life. Potter seems to prefer Webster instead of Duffy which is a great shame for Ireland as we need him playing regularly and in the Premier League. Connolly is only new to the scene and since his brace versus Spurs back in October he has been in and out of the side but the manager seems to favour attacking options. With Murray, Maupay and Connolly all vying for two spots on the team it seems as if he will be given chances to impress this season. Brighton have been more of an attacking outfit than under previous manager Chris Hughton and in the early phase of the league they picked up generous points with impressive home wins taking the scalps of Spurs, Everton and Arsenal. However form is important in this league and now is not the time for them to be lacking when it matters most. Hovering a mere 3 points above the relegation is not ideal and although they haven’t struggled too much this season – 1 win in the last 6 games is the stuff of relegation candidates. How would they react to suddenly dropping into the relegation zone after being safe for so long. They play Bournemouth, West Ham and Watford in the next 3 games and this will define their season.
Verdict : With plenty of attacking options they should have enough in the tank to reach for safety. Survival.

Aston Villa are trying to secure another striker in the transfer window and it’s exactly what they need to survive. With Watford, Bournemouth and Southampton to play in their next few games it is a case of no or never for them. Wesley has been a huge disappointment since signing from Brugge and the fact that Grealish is now on 9 goals shows that he is the real driving force behind the team. However their real issues are in defence having conceded 45 goals this term joint worst record only shared with Norwich. Villa are a team that like to play from the back but seem to be too nervous to do this and get caught out far too many times to keep trying it. It’s a huge adjustment in the Premier League when you come up from the Championship and they just don’t seem to be learning fast enough. It was interesting to watch their game against Brighton on the weekend where they seemed to play Grealish in a more forward position which paid off. Perhaps with the lack of goals in the team that could be an option to play him as a 10. Watford are next up and having been beaten by them 3 nill a few weeks ago, it was noticeable that Watford targeted Grealish in that game for some rough treatment. Perhaps playing him further forward would be less destructive if he turns over possession. With Bouremouth and Southampton on the cards over the coming weeks i actually think they’d be better off not going through in the Carabao Cup against Leicester as their reward to play a City side that knocked 6 past them recently might be a poisoned chalice.
Verdict : Badly need some recruits in the window in defence and attack. Not enough firepower. Relegation.

So there we go. I’m predicting the bottom 3 to be as it is at the end of the season. Not that it would surprise me to see Villa pop in and out a few times between now and the seasons end. We watch with anticipation.

Leave a Reply