Who Will Survive The Premier League Drop?
Who Will Survive The Drop When The Premier League Resumes?
Premier League chiefs sparked hope and excitement among fans when they declared their intention to finish the 2019/20 campaign. The season was suspended until at least 30 April in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus, but all 20 clubs said they are keen to complete the season. It is interesting to learn that the clubs faced with relegation want the show to go on, as they scrapping the season might save them from the drop. But who will survive once play resumes? And who might benefit from the lengthy delay. These are the teams that will battle for survival when play resumes:
Norwich – 21 Points
The Canaries are rooted to the foot of the table after losing 18 of their 29 games thus far. Daniel Farke’s men have the joint worst attacking record in the league, and they are overly reliant on Teemu Pukki and Todd Cantwell. Their worst spell of the season coincided with a long goal drought for Pukki, exposing their lack of alternatives up front. Norwich are four points adrift of 19th placed Aston Villa, while they must make up a six-point deficit on Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham. They were the clear favourites for relegation before play was suspended.
However, their form provided a glimmer of optimism for fans: they had just beaten high-flying Leicester and knocked Spurs out of the FA Cup before losing 1-0 to Sheff Utd. The timing of the suspension was unkind to Norwich, but it could allow Farke’s injury ravaged squad to regroup ahead of the season resuming. If they play like they did in the opening weeks of the campaign, they could yet beat the drop.
Aston Villa – 25 Points
The decision to postpone the Premier League season came at the perfect time for Aston Villa. They were in freefall after losing four games on the bounce and slumping to 19th in the standings. This suspension gives them an opportunity to analyse what went wrong and plot a path to survival. Dean Smith’s men looked perfectly capable of beating the drop in January, but then they were struck by long-term injuries to goalkeeper Tom Heaton and striker Wesley. Pepe Reina came in as a stopgap replacement for Heaton, but the former Liverpool stopper has struggled, while Villa clearly missed Wesley’s presence up front.
Both men could now conceivably return to help their team battle against relegation. Their injuries were described as season ending, but the season will now surely be extended long into the summer if it is to be completed. Wesley and Heaton were not included in Aston Villa’s revised 25-man squad at the beginning of February, so they are technically ineligible, but the club could ask for special dispensation.
Captain Jack Grealish has been the star man this season, and fans will look to him to drag his team to safety. Villa have the worst defensive record in the division, but they have frequently thrilled going forwards, so they will provide formidable opposition to their relegation rivals. They are just two points behind Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham, and they have a game in hand.
Bournemouth – 27 Points
The Cherries might also be grateful for the timing of the suspension. Their small squad was utterly besieged by injuries throughout the winter, making it difficult for Eddie Howe to field 11 fully fit players. The results have been awful. Bournemouth took just one point from four games before play was called off, leaving them imperilled. Yet they have been in trouble before during their five-year spell in the top flight, and they have always found a way to saunter up the table.
Howe has a number of quality players at his disposal. Nathan Aké is a superb defender. Despite a bad goal drought this season, Callum Wilson is a very dangerous striker. Ryan Fraser, Harry Wilson and Josh King are all fine players when on song, and Bournemouth have been known to blow many opponents away with the quality of their attacking play. They could be a lot more impressive if key players like David Brooks return from injury. However, they could become exposed once again if the Premier League decides to pack a number of games into a short space of time when play resumes.
Watford – 27 Points
The Hornets looked dead and buried when Nigel Pearson took over as manager in December. They had managed just eight points from 14 games. Yet the former Leicester boss totally galvanised the squad. He made Watford much tougher at the back, and he also benefited from Troy Deeney’s return. The captain gave them a much-needed focal point up front, winding up opponents in his inimitable fashion, and Pearson managed to transform Watford’s midfield.
The results improved drastically, and the Hornets shot up the table. Their form fizzled out slightly in February, but then they pulled off the most stunning result of the season. Watford hosted unbeaten league leaders Liverpool on February 29, and beat them 3-0. Ismaila Sarr was unplayable. He banged in a brace and Deeney added a third to complete the rout. Pearson’s men had just 29% of the possession, but their aggressive, smash-and-grab tactics left Liverpool totally bamboozled. Watford lost 1-0 to Crystal Palace before play was suspended, leaving them above Bournemouth and the dreaded dotted line on goal difference, but they will have belief in their ability to beat the drop.
Brighton – 29 Points
Brighton are the only Premier League team without a victory under their belts in 2020, so the suspension came at an opportune moment for them. They took a huge gamble by axing popular manager Chris Hughton in the summer and replacing him with the untested Graham Potter. The results have been mixed. Brighton now play a more attractive brand of football. They are a lot less reliant on the ageing legs of Glenn Murray. However, they have not looked quite as solid at the back, and they appear to have lost that ability to grind out victories at the Amex.
The break gives the Seagulls a chance to take stock of their situation. Potter must make them more resilient at the back and more ruthless up front, and he might be grateful to have some time and space to plot a return to winning ways. Brighton were just two points clear of West Ham, Watford and Bournemouth when the season was temporarily postponed, and they were about to go into a potentially nightmarish run of fixtures. Clashes against Arsenal, Leicester, Man Utd, Liverpool and Man City all loomed. If the season continues, Potter must find a way to beat Norwich, Southampton, Newcastle and Burnley. Brighton’s survival depends upon it.