Who Will Stay Up In The Premier League?
15 Games Remaining: Who Stays, Who Goes?
With the final stretch of the 2018/19 Premier League season approaching, the identity of the teams that are most vulnerable to the drop are already well-known.
From a Huddersfield Town perspective, the outlook appears very bleak indeed. Few can dispute that the Terriers deserve to be in the basement, and for those unwilling to give the now-departed David Wagner more time, Jan Siewert’s arrival at the John Smith’s Stadium has probably come too late.
A Gulf Too Far For Siewert?
Premier League history shows that teams which are ten points adrift at this stage don’t survive very often, and – at present – the Premier League Relegation Index suggests that Huddersfield will most likely remain unmoved and still be bottom of the pile come May. Of course, survival from even bleaker positions is not unthinkable, and there are precedents for far more improbable escapes.
However, Siewert will undoubtedly find managing a Premier League team a truly daunting experience. It will serve as a stark point of contrast to managing a Dortmund youth team shouldering nothing in the way of expectation, and if Huddersfield are to avoid the drop, then the fixtures that await them between 23rd February and 6th April will be the telling ones.
Four wins is likely to be the minimum needed from that sequence, but with goals still in short supply, all signs point to more misery. Brutal as that opinion may be, Huddersfield are not alone in their gloom...
Fulham in Deep Trouble
Sitting just three points above Huddersfield prior to January’s final round of Premier League fixtures, Fulham are hardly any better off.
Unable to work the same magic he did at Leicester, Claudio Ranieri has recently seen Fulham return to their old ways in defence, with the Cottagers dropping full points after scoring first in their two league games prior to the side’s upcoming home game against Brighton. During the club’s first tenure in the Premier League (2001-2014), the relegation-threatened Fulham sides of old were often reliant on good home form to stay up – but this time around, Craven Cottage is not the fortress it needs to be.
Fulham will approach their potentially crucial home fixture with Brighton on the back of just one home league win in five. It's well within their remit to take full points off the Seagulls, who typically don’t travel well, but it should be noted that Fulham have only managed five points (from a possible twelve) across the last four home league games in which they have scored first, indicating that Ranieri’s men are (mostly) unable to grind out wins in the manner that unlikely relegation survivors typically do.
Resilient Bluebirds Have Fighting Chance
Calling the third team to finish below the dotted line is a much more difficult task. However, assuming that Arsenal do not have an ‘off-day’ when they entertain Cardiff on 29 January, Cardiff will enter February in the bottom three. In previous Premier League seasons, exactly two-thirds of the last 21 teams that have occupied the bottom three on the morning of 1st February have ended up relegated. In terms of pure mathematics then, Cardiff have approximately a 66.7% chance of being relegated this spring.
Senegalese hitman Oumar Niasse has joined on loan from Everton with a reputation for being hard working and energetic, but his ability to score opportunistic goals seldom hides the fact that he often performs way below Premier League quality. In addition, he is likely to lack match sharpness after finding himself locked out of Marco Silva’s Everton plans.
Alarmingly, Cardiff’s recognised strikers are averaging just one league goal every 13 matches, and so it stands to reason that they will be most people’s pick to complete the trio of relegated sides.
Saints Full of Promise, Burnley Most Vulnerable of Outsiders
If taking wider Premier League history into account, entering February with fewer than 26 points is asking for trouble, and four more teams are destined to be in this situation: Crystal Palace, Southampton, Burnley and Newcastle.
All have to be considered real candidates for relegation, but of the quartet, Southampton currently command the lowest spread value in the Premier League relegation markets on Sporting Index – indicating that they are considered the team least likely to drop.
There can be no doubt that this is down to one man, and Ralph Hasenhuttl appears to have transformed Southampton from a timid, tired outfit to one that plays with a much greater sense of urgency. Subsequently, they will host fellow relegation fighters Crystal Palace on 30th January in good spirit, seeking to complete a first run of three Premier League wins in succession since the spring of 2016.
Though it was Newcastle that entered the final round of January league matches just one place above the drop, it is Burnley (with a current relegation spread of 18-21) that seem the likeliest alternate pick to Cardiff to complete the relegation three. Whilst Sean Dyche’s men have taken seven points from the first nine available this calendar year, a brutal run of fixtures awaits them in the short term which could be telling.
Successive trips to Manchester over the next week promise to derail Burnley’s progress after a miserable end to 2018, and with the Clarets also yet to visit Anfield and Stamford Bridge – before ending the season with a home match against Arsenal – it is easy to see the reasoning behind their placing in the Relegation Outright Market.