After last weekend’s round of Premier League fixtures more teams have been dragged into the relegation dogfight. Newcastle, Sunderland and West Ham now have a fight on their hands if they are to retain their top flight status. Until recently these clubs must have felt that they were safe in mid table but a recent run of poor form and improved performances by the bottom five has put the pressure on.
Only seven points now separate Newcastle in 13th place and Wigan in 18th. With so many points still to play for there could be a significant change in league positions for some. Despite some pundits predictions that there would only be four of five teams involved, it now appears that more teams will be looking over their shoulders than they expected.
The pressure is certainly starting to show as the financial stakes for Premier League survival are now much higher with a lucrative £5.5 billion broadcasting deal to be shared between the clubs next season.
There are many factors influencing results, a lack of confidence, a run of injuries, tactical mistakes and managerial changes can all contribute towards the downward spiral.
Wigan’s involvement in the FA Cup and Newcastle’s in the Europa League which could have an impact on their league form. Some people will argue that continued involvement will be detrimental, but others can make a case that success breeds success and a winning team will be more confident going into their final league games.
The bottom eight teams have now played 30 games apart from West Ham and Wigan who have only played 29.
Premier League Table at 22/03/13
Pos P GD Pts
13 Newcastle 30 -11 33
14 West Ham 29 -11 33
15 Sunderland 30 -9 31
16 Soton 30 -10 31
17 Aston Villa 30 -25 30
18 Wigan 29 -21 27
19 Reading 30 -22 23
20 QPR 30 -22 23
Newcastle – Man City A, Fulham H, Sunderland H, West Brom A, Liverpool H, West Ham A, QPR A, Arsenal H
West Ham – West Brom H, Liverpool A, Southampton A, Man Utd H, Wigan H, Man City A, Newcastle H, Everton A, Reading H
Sunderland – Man Utd H, Chelsea A, Newcastle A, Everton H, Aston Villa A, Stoke H, Southampton H, Spurs A
Southampton – Chelsea H, Reading A, West Ham H, Swansea A, West Brom H, Spurs A, Sunderland A, Stoke H
Aston Villa – Liverpool H, Stoke A, Fulham H, Man Utd A, Sunderland H, Norwich A, Chelsea H, Wigan A
Wigan – Norwich H, QPR A, Man City A, West Ham A, Spurs H, West Brom A, Swansea H, Arsenal A, Aston Villa H
Reading – Arsenal A, Southampton H, Liverpool H, Norwich A, QPR H, Fulham A, Man City H, West Ham A
QPR – Fulham A, Wigan H, Everton A, Stoke H, Reading A, Arsenal H, Newcastle H, Liverpool A
Having looked at the teams involved and scrutinised the remaining fixtures I am going to stick my neck out and make some predictions.
Prospects for survival
The Magpies have had a mixed season with some very good results and some unexpected defeats. They have come through one major injury crisis by recruiting from France in the transfer window but they still have several key men sidelined. They have made it to the quarter finals of the Europa League and have a chance to progress further if they can overcome Benfica.
Both the quarter finals and semi finals are two-legged affairs and if they get through to the final they would have an extra five games to play, which could impact on their league form. However, getting beyond the Portuguese league leaders will be a difficult task so it may not become an issue.
If they can keep the majority of their squad fit, they should have enough quality to maintain their Premier League status and even push higher into mid table. Prediction mid table safety.
West Ham United
The Hammers looked comfortable in mid table but a run of only three wins from fourteen league games has seen them slip down the league. Manager Sam Allardyce will point to injuries to key players such as skipper Kevin Nolan, midfielder Mark Noble and recent signing Joe Cole and suggest that their return should lead to an upturn in results.
Looking at their forthcoming fixtures I think they may still slip a little further, but they should accumulate just enough points to survive in a precarious 17th spot.
Sunderland performed poorly against Norwich in their last home fixture and they have not won for seven games. O’Neil has admitted that his players are lacking in confidence following their poor run of form.
On paper their next four fixtures look particularly difficult as they face Manchester United, Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton. The remaining four fixtures are against two other relegation threatened clubs Aston Villa and Southampton who will be battling for survival, plus Spurs and Stoke.
Martin O’Neil has struggled to revive the fortunes of the Black Cats and the absence of his long-term assistant John Robertson seems to have limited his effectiveness. If their current form continues and the lower placed teams continue to pick up points Sunderland could be one of the three teams to go down. Prediction 18th.
I’m a fan of Nigel Adkins and believe he was treated dreadfully by Southampton’s Chairman Nicola Cortese. The Saints were in a reasonable position to stay up when Adkins was sacked and their position has not improved significantly since new manager Mauricio Pochettino took over the reins. They are currently in 16th spot with eight games remaining.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances of his arrival I have been impressed with Pochettino’s tactics since he took over. They are one of the best sides I have seen at the DW Stadium this season and Wigan were lucky to snatch a late point against them. Southampton play a high line and press their opponents all over the pitch.
Their narrow defeat against Manchester United and wins against Manchester City and Liverpool show that the style of play can be very effective. With the highest scoring Englishman, 13 goal Ricky Lambert leading the line, I think they can go on to finish comfortably in mid table.
It’s been a difficult season for manager Paul Lambert, when he took over a Villa Park I’m sure he expected to have some challenges following his move from Norwich, but nothing on the scale of the relegation battle he now faces.
His team has been near the bottom of the league for most of the season and suffered a particularly desperate Christmas period when they conceded a total of 15 goals in the matches against Chelsea, Spurs and Wigan. Their league problems were also compounded by their failure to overcome Division 2 Bradford City in a two leg League Cup semi final.
One of Villa’s problems has been the naive defending from their young back line and they will have to eradicate the regular mistakes if they are to survive. Going forward Villa can be a threat with attacking players such as Andreas Weimann, Gabby Agbonlahor and Charles N’Zogbia. But Villa’s most important player is Christian Benteke and if the prolific striker remains fit I think they will have enough to beat the drop. Prediction 15th.
Wigan’s progress this season has been marred by a series of injuries to key defenders, Antolin Alcaraz has been out for most of the season and has only just returned to the side, Ivan Ramis is out for the rest of the season and Gary Caldwell, Adrian Lopez and Emmerson Boyce have all had spells out.
To compound this further, midfielders Ben Watson, Ryo Miyaichi and James McArthur have had long spells out and top scorer Arouna Kone has been away on African Nations Cup duty with the Ivory Coast. It is fair to say that all clubs suffer from injuries at some point during a season but Wigan seemed to have suffered more than most.
With nine league games remaining it does appear as though the Latics are now hitting some good form. A superb 3-0 win at Everton in the FA Cup was followed by a hard-fought 2-1 win at home to Newcastle. Next up are Norwich at home and then QPR away, and four points from these fixtures should put them in a good position going into the FA Cup semi final.
Roberto Martinez is one of the calmest managers around and his experience in previous relegation battles should be invaluable. Looking at the remaining fixtures, if they can keep everyone fit, they will gain enough points to be playing Premier League football again next season. Prediction 16th.
Reading’s decision to sack manager Brian McDermott with only nine games remaining does seem a strange one as McDermott always had a difficult job trying to keep the Royals up with ostensibly a Championship squad. Caretaker manager Eamonn Dolan’s first game was a creditable 1-0 defeat away at Manchester United.
Reading had been in negotiations with Brighton manager Gus Poyet, but the former Chelsea player has turned down the opportunity to take charge at the Madejski Stadium. Whoever does takeover the role will require a miraculous run of results to turn things around. Prediction 20th.
Queens Park Rangers have been at the bottom of the table for most of the season and have won just four of their 30 matches this campaign. They are seven points from safety and their manager Harry Redknapp admits his team have a mountain to climb if they are to beat the drop. He has said recently that they require five wins from their remaining eight games to survive.
Despite both previous manager Mark Hughes and Redknapp spending heavily in the transfer market the results have been poor. They have some expensive and highly paid players in the ranks but the side hasn’t gelled sufficiently well. I can see the Hoops picking up some more wins before the end of the season, but it won’t be enough to keep them up. Prediction 19th.