Bournemouth, Watford, West Ham, Newcastle: The Premier League relegation battle – Part 1
The wrong end of the Premier League table is the tightest it has ever been at this stage of the season. With 11 games to go, which teams are still in danger of the drop?
On only two occasions since the 2007/08 campaign has there been fewer than 10 points separating 10th to 20th in the Premier League at this stage of the season.
Take slackers West Brom out of the equation and you have the closest-packed bottom half in top-flight history – never has there been only six points between 10th and 19th.
As we round the final bend of the season, more managers than ever before are looking nervously over their shoulders.
Being relegated this season has almost been touted as ‘criminal’ given the on-paper strength of sides in the division. However, it’s proving tougher than ever to predict who’ll come up short.
In the first part of our relegation round-up, let’s begin on the south coast…
Bournemouth are one of those sides that give the impression they’ve been in the league a lot longer than they actually have.
The Cherries are in fact only in their third season in the Premier League after their well-documented meteoric rise through the pyramid.
Eddie Howe guided the club to a 9th-place finish last season on the back of an inaugural campaign that saw them nearly return immediately to the Championship.
18 months on, however, Bournemouth are trying to prove they’re in this for the long run.
‘Ups-and-downs’ describes Bournemouth’s season perfectly. Opening with five defeats in six and an eight-game winless run soon after didn’t make for great reading and put them in the bottom three at Christmas.
Results since then have been far better and included impressive victories at Stamford Bridge and at home to Arsenal.
Key man: Callum Wilson
Two injury-hit seasons have limited Wilson’s ability to make an impact. However it’s clear that Bournemouth miss him when he’s not around.
He leads the way in the Cherries’ scoring charts with seven strikes despite missing the first nine games.
An under-performing Joshua King and a side-lined Jermain Defoe will mean keeping Wilson fit will be the number one priority.
With only three of Bournemouth’s last remaining games coming against the current top six, they’ll fancy their chances of avoiding the drop this time around.
Relegation probability: 3/10
The Hornets have been on a dismal run of late which has seen them pick up only two wins in their last 14 league games – one which rather uncharacteristically being a 4-1 hammering of current champions Chelsea.
Watford came flying out of the traps at the beginning of the season and found themselves in the top four after the first eight games; a stark contrast to a 17th-place finish only months before.
Their bright start ironically became the beginning of their current downfall. Then-manager Marco Silva was heavily courted by a struggling Everton – an ‘unfair’ approach that the club later attributed to the loss of form.
A porous defence has seen Watford concede 47 goals so far, high enough for third place in the ‘against’ column. If Javi Gracia is to keep the club up, it’s a statistic that needs addressing.
Key man: Richarlison
Goals from midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure have been a welcome addition for Watford but it’s the creativity and production from Richarlison which gives them the most threat.
The Brazilian is without an assist in his six games and needs to find his spark again but, when on form, he stands out as Watford’s go-to provider.
Four of Watford’s last games involve trips to Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester United. If they’re to survive, they must ensure to pick up points elsewhere.
Relegation probability: 4/10
West Ham United
It’s been a Jekyll-and-Hyde season so far for the Hammers. Two wins from their opening 11 games culminating in a 4-1 hammering at home to Liverpool cost Slaven Bilic his job at the helm.
The appointment of David Moyes initially brought a mixed reception, which wasn’t helped by three defeats in his first four games in charge.
Since then, however, the Scot has got the east London club firing again. Despite not being clear of danger just yet, the Hammers will be buoyed by the fact that they have lost only two of their last 12.
With attacking reinforcements to come back from injury, West Ham are slowly but surely dragging themselves up the table.
Key man: Marko Arnautovic
He took an awfully long time to get going – 16 games, in fact – but the Austrian is now justifying his price tag.
Following his £22 million summer move from Stoke City, Arnautovic was without a goal or assist until a comprehensive victory over Chelsea.
Since then, he’s been pivotal in turning the Hammers’ fortunes around with seven goals and four assists in his last eight games.
Despite facing five of the current top six in their remaining games, the momentum is definitely with Moyes’ side so expect them to be clear of any trouble come May.
Relegation probability: 3/10
Newcastle returned to the top-flight after an impressive – albeit expected – season in the Championship at the first time of asking, again.
There was many a question mark raised about the lack of investment in the playing staff over the summer and whether the same mistakes which led to relegation would be repeated once more.
A horrific run from the end of October until Christmas saw the Toon pick up a woeful four points from 33 available – a shame considering a bright start had them in the top seven after nine games.
That terrible blip has landed Newcastle in a potential mess but shrewd January signings in Leicester City’s Islam Slimani, Slovenian international goalkeeper Martin Dubravka and out-of-favour Chelsea left-sider Kenedy have added some much-needed cards to Rafael Benitez’s hand.
A run that includes only one defeat in seven games and a victory over Manchester United, there is a renewed sense of optimism around Tyneside, a true belief that this side can survive the drop.
Key man: Jamaal Lascelles
A centre-half who personifies the ‘lead by example’ requisite in a club captain, Lascelles has grabbed Newcastle by the scruff of the neck this season and has played a huge part in stabilising their season.
Lascelles seems to have a connection with the Geordie faithful and is becoming a cult hero at the club.
Without the Englishman in the side, Newcastle conceded 14 goals in five games, compared to 22 goals in the 22 games he has featured.
Trips to Spurs and Liverpool, and home ties with Arsenal and Chelsea are still to come for Newcastle but it’s fixtures with teams around them where they really must pick the points up.
Goal scoring has been a slight concern this season, with Joselu leading the charge with only four strikes. If they can find rhythm at the right end of the pitch, then they should be okay.
Relegation probability: 4/10