Southampton, Stoke, West Brom: The Premier League relegation battle – Part 3
The wrong end of the Premier League table is the tightest it has ever been at this stage of the season. With 10 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.
Over the past few seasons, Southampton have become a part of the upper-mid-table furniture. On the face of it, then, it seems strange to see them fighting for their survival – but, on the evidence of the last year, it’s been coming.
In simple terms, Saints have let too many of their key, important players leave; players who haven’t been adequately replaced. Sadio Mane, Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Graziano Pelle and recently Virgil van Dijk are just a few of the names on the endless list of key members of the squad that have left St. Mary’s for pastures new.
There’s only so long this process can carry on before it comes back to bite a club – has that time now come?
Southampton have struggled for consistency up front this season, with under-pressure manager Mauricio Pellegrino too often shuffling his pack. To emphasise the severity, injury-hit Charlie Austin leads the way on six goals despite completing 90 minutes only twice all season.
One win in 15 isn’t good enough, though, and it’s a run that Pellegrino will need to stop otherwise Southampton may find themselves in deep, deep trouble.
Key man: James Ward-Prowse
So underwhelming as Saints’ season has been, you can’t imagine there will be too many serious contenders for their ‘Player of the Season’ award.
One player though who seems very aware of their current situation is James Ward-Prowse. In a side that is lacking quality and confidence, the English youngster often plays above his years.
With three goals and two assists in his last six games, he’s trying his best to set an example.
It’s strange: Southampton seem to have slipped away from the top-half almost unnoticed. It’s certainly not customary to see them down there, struggling to survive.
Years of being a ‘selling club’, though, is taking its toll. But this may well turn out to be the wake-up call that the board needed. The club seem to have taken their current status for granted for too long and it’ll be a slog to the line.
That being said, there’s enough quality and experience in the side to keep them afloat.
Relegation probability: 4/10
Who do you think of when you hear the words ‘mid-table side’? Stoke City, of course…
In fact, the Potters are so neutrally buoyant in the Premier League they haven’t finished higher than 9th or lower than 14th since being promoted to the top-flight in the 2007/08 season.
That stat could be about to change for the worse though as the Staffordshire club stare relegation right down the barrel.
Stoke’s season got off a to a terrible start: managing only five wins from their opening 22 league fixtures.
Pressure from fans on the club to take action on Mark Hughes gradually increased and he was eventually shown the door after an embarrassing FA Cup exit to League 2 Coventry City.
Replaced – to mixed reception – by Paul Lambert, Stoke are still languishing some way off the pace despite a renewed sense of hope.
With the worst away record in the division, the Potters still have to visit Arsenal and Liverpool, in addition to hosting Manchester City and Spurs at the bet365 – it’s not looking great, is it?
Key man: Xherdan Shaqiri
Despite being inconsistent this campaign, you can’t help but feel for the Swiss – he’s trying his best to keep Stoke up having scored in three consecutive games.
With seven goals and six assists to his name, Shaqiri leads his club in both statistic columns. With an out-of-form Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and temperamental Mame Biram Diouf for company, he’s currently on his own.
If Stoke end up relegated this season, much of the blame will likely be put on the hesitation of the board for not getting rid of Hughes sooner.
The appointment of Lambert had an aura of ‘anyone will do’ about it and, to this point, his arrival hasn’t had much of a positive impact.
With Stoke’s squad boasting an abundance of seasoned veterans in Joe Allen, Geoff Cameron and Charlie Adam, it’s hard to say how they ended up where they are. It’s an aging group, however, and , if they aren’t careful, Stoke might start to resemble the beginning of the nightmare that Sunderland now find themselves in.
Tough fixtures, lack of belief and fight… time is running out.
Relegation probability: 6/10
West Bromwich Albion
What a nightmare the Baggies are having: the fewest wins in the division, second-fewest goals scored in the division and alcohol-induced games of ‘Steal the Taxi’ on the continent.
To say their current record is abysmal would be a huge understatement. West Brom won their first two games of the season but have only won once in the league since – that’s one win in 26.
Problems started to mount at the Hawthorns when fans became increasingly enraged with Tony Pulis and his ‘negative’ style of football, feeling it was holding the club back. To remedy the situation, the club took action and brought in Alan Pardew to replace Pulis at the end of November.
Ironically, Pardew’s tenure has been even worse than that of his predecessor. He’s only managed one win in 16 attempts and his situation has only been made worse by the club being embroiled in recent off-field drama.
With the gap to safety now at seven points and games against Manchester United, Liverpool and Spurs to come – they need to do it soon. They look doomed.
Key man: Jonny Evans
Not that anyone in this side deserves to be named a ‘key man’, Evans’ experience and leadership ability is about to be put to a severe test.
Fresh from his well-publicised escapades in Spain with some of his teammates, Baggies fans are rightfully questioning his professionalism and ability to take charge of the shambles his team find themselves in.
If there is but a slender of hope still left of surviving, Evans is one of those who needs to stand up and be counted.
Looking at the players at West Brom on paper, seeing them seven points adrift at the foot of the table makes little sense. It goes to show how valuable belief, togetherness and endeavour are in this league.
They’re on a truly awful run and the gamble to bring in injury-prone Daniel Sturridge doesn’t look to be paying off, either.
Pardew looks lost, the team look beaten, and games are running out. They look doomed.
Relegation probability: 8/10
The final say
Without doubt this season is shaping up to bring one of the finest, tightest relegation battles we have seen for some time.
With only 10 games left, six points now separate 11th to 19th in the table. Many of the sides in the scrap have to play one another and most have to play at least two of the top six still. The next few matches could be crucial to the end-of-season picture.
Having looked at each team in the bottom half over these last three parts – taking into account their season so far, current form and upcoming matches – Brighton, Huddersfield and West Brom are the three sides that may well be sent to the Championship on May 13th… but it could all change.
Do you agree with this outcome? Who do you think will be relegated this season? Let us know in the comments below.