Premier League Relegation Scrap: Who Will Survive and Who Faces the Drop?
Saturday, 3 March, 2018 - 08:45
Clockwise from top left: Gareth Barry and his West Brom team-mates are struggling; Xherdan Shaqiri has found form for Stoke; Southampton have one league win since late November; Wilfried Zaha’s fitness will be key for Crystal Palace. Composite: AMA/Getty Images; Offside/Getty Images; Reuters
London - Guardian Sport
West Brom look to be a write-off even though their fixture list seems relatively favourable. Their form is deteriorating rather than improving, and the injury to Daniel Sturridge is an unfortunate, if foreseeable, blow. Stoke, by contrast, are improving, seemingly energised by Paul Lambert, some astute January signings and an in-form Xherdan Shaqiri. The fear is all that is too little, too late, especially with a difficult run-in. Crystal Palace will survive if Wilfried Zaha returns to fitness soon. Southampton are extremely wasteful and often quite boring, but have enough class to stay up. Haplessness clings to West Ham like a foul smell but they will probably linger, too, thanks to their firepower. Huddersfield have found a second wind, as well as a much-needed schemer (Alex Pritchard). Brighton’s home form should see them right, although their run-in is tough. Newcastle and Watford can pull out big results in times of need. Swansea, meanwhile, have found a method and spirit under their new manager but their squad remains weak and their resurgence looks set to peter out like a bad Carlos Carvalhal analogy.
Relegated West Brom, Swansea, Stoke
West Brom are one of the season’s mysteries given the apparent quality of their squad. But as they continue to unravel it is hard to spy recovery. The identity of the other two condemned to the drop may well go down to the final day. Swansea’s meeting with Stoke on that afternoon already looks critical, particularly with Paul Lambert’s side now confronting an awkward run of fixtures. Even if Stoke scramble just above the cut-off before the trip to Wales, that game against Carvalhal’s improved side may determine which team succumbs. Southampton must hope they are clear by the time Manchester City visit on the last day – that said, Pep Guardiola’s team will surely already be champions and may have the distraction of a European Cup final – although that may be asking too much after one league win since 26 November. Crystal Palace’s predicament can be summed up in 12 names – Zaha, Dann, Puncheon, Kelly, Sakho, Sako, Schlupp, Wickham, Speroni, Ward, Cabaye, Loftus-Cheek – and they need the majority of those walking wounded restored to fitness. What would be remarkable, but feels plausible, is the survival of all three promoted clubs. This correspondent’s game-by-game predictions had each finishing with 38 points, one clear of Stoke in 18th and three of Southampton in 19th.
Relegated West Brom, Southampton, Stoke
This weekend could leave a few teams feeling peculiar but, with 10 games left, everybody from ninth-placed Everton and below has cause for concern. West Brom look doomed and there remain serious concerns for Stoke (can they plug their leaky defence?) and Swansea (can they discover an attacking edge to build upon their miserly tally of 21 league goals?) Stoke’s trip to Southampton on Saturday is a proverbial six-pointer, with both teams painfully unconvincing. Mauricio Pellegrino has won only five Premier League matches all season (two of which came against West Brom) and the worry for Crystal Palace is that their dire start could still come back to bite them. With Hodgson’s side out of sorts – with one win from their past six – and matches against Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool this month, they have every right to be worried. Bournemouth, Brighton and Huddersfield can strike fear into the Premier League’s elite but tend to self-destruct, while Newcastle and West Ham need to discover some consistency to steer clear of the drop.
Relegated West Brom, Stoke, Crystal Palace
This season’s relegation battle is so hard to call, not least because half the clubs are involved and a couple of wins can change the picture dramatically. That said, West Brom are the one team at risk of being cut adrift. Their squad is talented enough to survive, yet results suggest otherwise; they have won only once in 26 league matches, and that form points to relegation. In terms of the teams most likely to stay up, Bournemouth have goals in their squad and need two wins to hit the 38-point mark that I expect to be enough. Brighton are a point behind Bournemouth, defend well and are strong at home, which suggests Chris Hughton’s team will be OK. Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernández should help to get West Ham over the line. That leaves two from Huddersfield, Newcastle, Southampton, Crystal Palace, Swansea and Stoke. Shaqiri can be a gamechanger for Stoke and Zaha is a similar player for Palace. Swansea have some momentum and winnable home games, while Rafael Benítez seems to have galvanised Newcastle. Huddersfield have adapted brilliantly and exceeded expectations, yet they could slide into trouble. As for Southampton, their run-in looks particularly tricky and their home form is miserable.
Relegated West Brom, Southampton, Huddersfield
Incredibly fine margins will separate survivors from the doomed. Much hinges on injuries – will Swansea’s Alfie Mawson and Palace’s Zaha stay fit, can Newcastle’s Islam Slimani and West Brom’s Sturridge get fit? Sheer luck (an awkward deflection sometimes changes entire narratives) plays a part but mental resilience matters greatly. Newcastle arguably have a weaker squad than their fellow strugglers but, in Benítez, they possess a world-class manager and, galvanised by Jamaal Lascelles’s captaincy, their togetherness can be catalytic. If Newcastle should survive – just – West Brom will surely pay the price for sacking Tony Pulis at the wrong time and Stoke for some high-risk player recruitment. Southampton, too, look vulnerable. If their FA Cup run may prove a debilitating distraction, they lack the experience of fighting recent relegation battles which could serve Crystal Palace and Swansea well. Pardew’s appointment has backfired at the Hawthorns but Carvalhal’s hiring by Swansea looks an astute move and David Wagner’s blend of innovation and inspiration promises to, against all odds, ensure safety for Huddersfield. Ditto Hughton’s calm competence at Brighton. While Crystal Palace and West Ham have the most gifted squads, Bournemouth are unconvincing but should cling on – if only for this season.
Relegated West Brom, Stoke, Southampton
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