With the Premier League well and truly underway, it is looking like the title challenge is between Manchester City and whoever can catch them. In the lower reaches of the league, though, there is much more to play for with every team in the bottom half of the table finding themselves within three points of the dreaded relegation spots.
RealSport look at four of the teams who could be most at risk of going down at the end of the season.
Last week saw the biggest upset of the season so far as Roy Hodgson managed to turn around bottom-of-the-table Crystal Palace over the international break to beat last season’s champions Chelsea at Selhurst Park.
Yet in spite of this impressive result, the odds are certainly stacked against the London club as they seek to climb off the bottom of the table and into the relative safety of the mid-table. Taking the much-vaunted ’40 points for safety’ as the benchmark, the former England manager has to squeeze another 37 points out of Palace’s remaining 30 fixtures: a feat that Palace have only achieved on a couple of occasions over the last five years.
Viewed in terms of the season so far, Palace have only managed a measly 0.38 points per game so far this season. To stay in the highest division in English football, they will need to be ticking along at around 1.23 points per game which represents a complete up-turn in their form.
Of course, the Crystal Palace squad is filled with enough talent for the club to ‘do a Leicester’ in 2014/15 when Nigel Pearson’s team won 7 of their last 9 fixtures to stay safely in the division (before going on to win the league in the following season – but Palace shouldn’t get ahead of themselves). However, even if Hodgson can engineer a complete turn-around of the club, they still find themselves faced with a huge task.
Likelihood of Relegation: 9/10
When Bournemouth finished ninth in their second season in the Premier League season, little did Eddie Howe know that his world would come crashing down around him so quickly. Crashing down around him it did, though, and eight games into the season, the young manager with Roy-of-the-Rovers-good-looks finds himself at a club who are sitting in the relegation spots with only four points to their name.
How this fall from grace happened, no one is entirely sure. In their eight Premier League games so far, Bournemouth have faced Manchester City, Arsenal and Spurs – all teams against whom a loss doesn’t exactly signal the need for immediate panic. It is some of the other teams that they have faced that will cause a little more consternation in the boardroom. If losing to West Brom and Watford in the opening games of the season is pardonable, then a loss to an Everton in free-fall certainly isn’t. That result was followed by scoreless draw at home against equally beleaguered Leicester City who have since sacked their manager Craig Shakespeare. Something, it seems, it rotten in the stadium of Bournemouth.
Eddie Howe has also failed to address vestigial defensive frailties from last season. Already this season, his team is conceding an impressive 14.8 shots on goal in the Premier League – something that is unlikely to lead the South Coast club out of the relegation zone.
It is also true that Howe’s decisions regarding personnel have frustrated fans of the Cherries. Howe seems to have a preference for Andrew Surman and Harry Arter over Lewis Cook – the captain of the World-Cup-winning England under-19s – in central midfield. Despite going on to lose the game, Bournemouth looked much more solid with Cook in the team for the fixture against Tottenham – a match in which Spurs laboured to a 1-0 win.
With a change of tactics and Howe dipping into his squad for alternative options, the Bouremouth could yet escape the drop. But until he does so, the Cherries look set to continue on their downward trajectory.
Likelihood of Relegation: 7/10
Brighton & Hove Albion
It seems highly unlikely that one of the three teams promoted from the Championship this season won’t go down and, of those three, it is Brighton & Hove Albion who seem the most likely to go down.
Playing an impressive brand of team-focussed football in the previous season, Brighton have continued where they left off and will be happy with their current place in the Premier League table where they sit comfortably in 14th place. That said, the only teams in the top six that they have faced so far are Manchester City – who beat them comfortably enough in their first fixture of the season – and Arsenal who, despite finding themselves under pressure, eased past the Premier League’s newest addition. Before the halfway point of the season in 11 games time, then, they still have to pit themselves against Manchester United, Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea.
No one doubts Chris Hughton’s credentials as a manager. However, his squad lacks the quality and depth to be able to beat the sorts of teams they need to be beating to stay in the Premier League. Overly-reliant on Pascal Gross for attacking success, they risk losing any goal-scoring threat should he succumb to injury at any point. While the neutrals will be hoping they survive, this season might be a bridge too far for the Albion.
Likelihood of Relegation: 6/10
Two clubs who are surprise stragglers at the bottom half of the Premier League are Everton and Leicester City. As for Everton, their problem seem to be bourn more from their spending splurge over the summer months bringing in an entirely new raft of players into the club who have yet to bed properly into the team. You would expect that with time – and potentially a new manager – they will eventually avoid the drop.
Leicester City on the other hand are an entirely different kettle of fish. When speaking of ‘yo-yo club’ it is usual to mean clubs who drop up and down between two divisions. Leicester, bizarrely enough, appear to be a yo-yo club in the Premier League itself. Narrowly avoiding the drop after their return to the Premier League in 2014/15, the next season they went on to win the competition the following season. Last year, not wanting to lose their place in the spotlight, they yo-yoed within the course of the season itself, dropping into the relegation zone before replacing Claudio Ranieri with Craig Shakespeare and climbing back into the safety of the mid-table.
Without a manager again, it is hard to know what will happen to them now. Despite the fact that they have quality in abundance thanks to the prize money and TV revenues that came their way in the wake of their Premier League and subsequent Champions League success, there are enough good players in their squad for their fans not to worry.
But at the same time, there are worrying problems in midfield with N’Golo Kante gone, Matty James injured and Adrien Silva ineligible to play for his new club. There is also the issue of the new manager. Whilst the club have relied on the so-called ‘new manager bounce’ to survive in the past, studies have shown that no such phenomena exists. Whoever is brought in will have to save the club through their tactical and organisational nous, then, rather than through their mere novelty. If it goes wrong, though, Leicester City could sneak into the final relegation spot quite easily.
Likelihood of Relegation: 4/10
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