The Battle To Avoid The Drop

Who Will Stay In The Premier League?

The nail in Queen’s Park Rangers’s Premier League coffin had been hit into place long before Manchester City scored their sixth goal at The Etihad on Sunday, but David Silva’s goal made it a formality. They joined Burnley in seeing the trapdoor open under them, with the Lancashire club themselves relegated after their 1-0 loss away to Hull City.

With two down, then, the only question that remains unanswered is which team will be joining them both in the Championship next season?

The Candidates

Hull are currently occupying the relegation hot-seat with 34 points and two games remaining. That means that the most points that Hull can finish on is 40, making West Brom safe on 41 points. Aston Villa, on 38 points, are just one win away from safety, whilst Leicester have 37 points meaning a win wouldn’t make them mathematically safe, but their goal difference of -13 being better than Hull’s -16 – albeit only slightly better.

Sunderland and Newcastle are both sitting on 36 points, with the former having a game in hand, though that comes against Arsenal who are still chasing 2nd place in the league, so it’s far from a simple victory for the Mackems.

Football is not an easy sport to predict. Millions of pounds are gambled week in, week out on the results of football matches and those doing the gambling end up losing out more often than not. For that reason alone there could be any number of variations in match results between now and the end of the season that could see any of the above claiming the third and final relegation spot.

The only way we can even try to predict the last team to get relegated is to have a look at each team’s remaining fixtures and the amount of points they are then likely to finish on.

Aston Villa

The Midlands club had a miserable start to the season, picking up just three victories in between August and the start of December. Under Paul Lambert the Villains found Premier League life to be something of a chore, with a relegation battle being sadly all too predictable.

Then in February the misery all became a little bit too much for Villa’s owner Randy Lerner to take, so he bit the bullet, pulled the trigger and moved Lambert on. He replaced with self-proclaimed wunderkind Tim Sherwood, a man who isn’t shy of letting everyone know how good he is.
It turned out to be a surprisingly good move, as Sherwood moved Villa’s win percentage from 29.57% under Lambert to a perfectly respectable 50%. Lambert’s Aston Villa scored 12 goals in 25 games. Sherwood’s has scored 18 goals. The Londoner has also taken Villa to an FA Cup final where they’ll face Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal team at Wembley.

Southampton away is the first of Aston Villa’s remaining fixtures, and Villa fans might feel reasonably confident heading into the game. The two teams drew 1-1 at Villa Park and, despite Southampton being one of the unsuspected successes of the season, the South Coast club haven’t won a match since the 11th of April and have struggled against other relegation threatened clubs. They’ve conceded four goals in their last two games against Leicester and Sunderland and don’t seem the same team since they lost Fraser Forster to injury back in March.

Our Prediction: A score draw

Then in the last game of the season Villa go up against already relegated Burnley at Villa park. The game at Turf Moor ended 1-1, with Burnley requiring a last gasp Danny Ings penalty to secure them the point.

It’s difficult to imagine Burnley being fired up for what will be a dead rubber game for them, and with Villa potentially needing all three points if they fail to beat Southampton expect them to be all guns blazing.

Our Prediction: A Villa win

Final Points Tally: 42 – SAFE

Leicester City

By Whassuo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Whassuo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sitting second in the form table, Leicester have taken more points than Premier League champions Chelsea in the last six games. Scoring 12 goals and conceding just 5, Nigel Pearson won April’s manager of the month award. Two of Leicester’s wins came against relegation rivals in Burnley and Newcastle, and their remaining fixtures see them take on two more in Sunderland and QPR.

The Sunderland game is at the Stadium Of Light, and whilst Leicester are second in the form table, Sunderland are a perfectly respectable sixth. Their home form hasn’t been great, with three losses and a draw, especially considering two of those losses have been to rivals in QPR and Aston Villa.

Leicester’s last six away performances haven’t been barn-burning experiences, though, with three losses and a draw. That said, their losses have been against Arsenal, Manchester City and Spurs – hardly poor teams in their own right. Victories against Burnley and West Brom are more the level they’ll be facing in Sunderland, so Foxes fans won’t be overly concerned. They drew 0-0 earlier in the season, but Leicester’s strikers seem to have found their shooting boots since then.

Our Prediction: A score draw

 If Sunderland are likely to put up a fight against Leicester, a home game against QPR on the final day of the season will be exactly what the East Midlands club would have wanted to see. Though the game ended 3-2 at Loftus Road, QPR have only won once in their last 12 games home and away. They’ve lost four of their last six away games, including that 6-0 hammering by Man City.

Our Prediction: A Leicester win

Final Points Tally: 41 – SAFE

Sunderland

By Новикова Юлия (http://www.soccer.ru/gallery/43398) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Новикова Юлия (http://www.soccer.ru/gallery/43398) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Mackems are the only team with a game in hand heading into the final weeks of the season, so on the one hand their fans will feel reasonably confident of being able to stay up. On the other hand, however, their game in hand is against Arsenal, they have to take on relegation rivals Leicester and then they’re playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

The Leicester game has already been discussed, and our suspicion is that it will end in a score draw. It won’t be an easy game for them, though, as both teams will surely be going hell for leather to get the points that will secure their survival.

After putting everything in to their game against Leicester, Sunderland will then have just three days to prepare for a game against Arsenal down in London. Leicester are second in the form table because Arsenal are first, being unbeaten in their last six games picking up five victories.

Arsene Wenger is determined to prove that he still has what it takes to win the league with Arsenal, so don’t expect the Gunners to take their foot off the gas any time soon. Chelsea may already have been crowned champions, but Arsenal can still finish second on 82 points.

Our Prediction: An Arsenal win

If you’re Dick Advocaat then there’s no question that you’re reasonably happy with Sunderland’s response since you took over from Gus Poyet. But there’s also no doubt that the last team you want to have to face on the final day of the season is Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Some managers might look at the fact that they’ve won the league with games to spare as an opportunity to play with their starting line-ups, or maybe to experiment with the formations they like to use. Some managers aren’t Jose Mourinho.

The last game of the season being at Stamford Bridge means that Chelsea will be presented with the Premier League trophy, so don’t expect them to give their home supporters anything other than a win to take into next season. That might be fun for the Chelsea fans, but it doesn’t give the Black Cats much to feel hopeful about at all.

Our Prediction: A Chelsea win

Final Points Tally: 37 – IN TROUBLE

Newcastle United

John Carver might have been being serious recently when he announced that he thinks himself to be “the best coach in the Premier League”. But the man who took over from Alan Pardew at the end of 2014 has led the Geordies to just 10 points from a possible 51.

It has dragged Newcastle right into the relegation dog-fight, and whilst you have to feel they’ll have enough to escape it, their recent form doesn’t look good at all. They sit bottom of the form table, having lost five of their last six in total, and managing just one draw in their last six away from home.

The first of their remaining games is away to Queen’s Park Rangers and they won the reverse fixture 1-0 at St. James’s Park, so they’ll have to be feeling reasonably confident.

That said, the QPR fans will be hoping for at least a little bit of encouragement to take into the Championship next season, to say nothing of the fact that there’s no guarantee they’ll even be in the Championship at all given the current investigations into their recent breaching of the Financial Fair Play rules.

Charlie Austin has been in inspired form this season, having scored 17 goals so far. Newcastle’s defence is in absolutely tatters and there’s no way they’ll be wanting to face Austin if he’s got his shooting boots on. They’ve conceded 14 goals in their last six away from home.

This is probably the toughest of the remaining fixtures to predict, and a lot of it will depend on whether or not John Carver can get QPR fired up for the game. Similarly Chris Ramsey has stated recently that he feels he needs to do well in order for other black managers to be given a chance, so he’ll still feel he has a lot to prove.

Our Prediction: A QPR win

If, as predicted, Newcastle can’t get anything out of the QPR game then their last game of the season against West Ham will be absolutely huge.

Don’t think the fact that it’s a home game means Newcastle are a shoe-in for the points, however, as West Ham boss Sam Allardyce will feel he has a lot to prove. Big Sam was sacked by Newcastle after just 8 months in charge back in 2008, and he still feels that his reputation was damaged because of it.

That said, West Ham have drawn two and lost four of their last six games away from home, scoring just three and conceding ten. The Newcastle fans might be pouring most of their ire towards the owner Mike Ashley at the moment, but expect them to get right behind the team heading into the final 45 minutes of the 2014-2015 season.

Our Prediction: A Newcastle win

Final Points Tally: 39 – SAFE

Hull City

By Ronnie Macdonald [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Ronnie Macdonald [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The team based in the East Riding of Yorkshire have had an up and down season, with arguments about name changes and fights against owners dominating most of the headlines. They’ve also struggled to maintain any sort of real form throughout the season and seem to have avoided being too serious a contender for the drop more because of how bad other teams are, rather than how well they’ve been playing themselves.

The fact that they currently occupy the final relegation place won’t be filling the team with hope or joy, and nor will their remaining fixtures. First up is an away trip to face Spurs at White Heart Lane.

The London club aren’t in a great vein of form themselves, though, and are actually 16th in the form table compared to Hull’s 13th, so there might be a degree of hope for the Tigers yet. Spurs have won just one of their last six games home and away, though they have had a slightly better run of results if you look at just their last six home games, having won three and drawn one.

With Hull having won just one of their last six away games, conspiring to lose three, don’t expect Steve Bruce’s side to pull off too big a miracle at the Lane.

Our Prediction: A Spurs win

If they lose to Spurs, as we think they will, then they’ll head into the last game of the season desperately needing a win against Bruce’s old club Manchester United.

United’s form has dropped off in recent games, with the Red Devils having lost three of their last six games. They’ve also lost three of their last six games away from home and are unlikely to catch their neighbours Man City. They have got fourth place guaranteed, though, so it’s entirely possibly that Louis Van Gaal might look to give some of his United youngsters a run out.

Steve Bruce has never beaten Manchester United as a manager, and the reverse fixture at Old Trafford ended in a 3-0 win for the hosts. If you’re a Hull fan I wouldn’t be holding out much hope of the gaffer turning around that particularly nightmare any time soon. The Tigers might just have enough with a partisan crowd behind them to avoid a defeat, but don’t expect much more than that.

Our Prediction: A bore draw

Final Points Tally: 35 – RELEGATED 

As we said at the start, there’s never anything guaranteed in football and it’s entirely possible that not one of our predictions will come good between now and the end of the season.

But looking at the fixtures and the form guide, you have to feel that Newcastle fans should be feeling panicked, but can breathe a sigh of relief when they look at the Hull fixtures.

The Tigers might yet offer one final roar, but it seems more than likely that it might get stifled as the trap door opens and they slip back down into the Championship.