Another turbulent Premier league season is slowly grinding to a halt and although the Manchester United vs. Liverpool match is the highlight of the forthcoming weekend, the relegation battle should certainly not be overlooked.
The title race is definitely the phrase on people’s mouths and should Liverpool grab the opportunity to pull back precious points on the quintuple hopefuls, then the closing weeks will surely have most fans on the edge of their seats. However, if by this time next week United’s lead at the top has been extended over Benitez’s squad, it will be another dismal end to a promising season for the Reds. Chelsea would then become the only force in front of Ferguson’s charge, and we all know how they’ve looked against Sir Alex since Mourinho left the manager post.
So what do we have to look forward to at that point? How about one of the most hotly contested relegation scraps in some time? Going into the weekend games at least 10 clubs sit squarely in the Premier League drop picture.
But who are the chosen few that have the best chance of falling off the Premier League cliff? Whilst that picture won’t be clear for another month, the seven clubs below are a good start to any relegation debate.
So back to the relegation battle. Is it possible that Newcastle United could be relegated from England’s top division? Surely not. They have a great squad and one that should be challenging for honours further up the table. Aside from Manchester United and possibly Chelsea, some of the talent in their line-up is quality enough to fit into most of the division’s first eleven. But is that the problem. Are there too many egos’ corrupting the club? A strike-force of Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins should strike fear into the eyes of the opposition, but a combined total of 14 league goals between them has limited Newcastle’s ambitions. Owen has again been riddled with injuries and the cursed striker can’t find his way into Capello’s England squad either. This hasn’t helped his confidence.
However, the main problem is the leaky defence. For the remaining 10 fixtures, they need to shut up tight and move forward starting from the back. The performance in the defeat to Manchester United was a vast improvement from their previous outings and the passion and confidence needs to stay. The key is adapting to a dogged style — effectively to fight for their lives. This weekend is big for the Toon Army against fellow relegation battlers, Hull City.
Hull began life in the Premier League superbly. Their performances were top notch and everyone was raving over Phil Brown and Giovanni’s stunning strikes. Since hitting the 26 mark in league points, results have been hard to come by. The injury-time winner against Fulham was absolutely crucial and has pushed a bit of day-light between themselves and the chasing pack.
Five points though, is in no way safe. Apparently achieving around 40 points keeps a team safe. Brown will be looking at this weekend’s fixture as a stepping stone to that mark and future games at home to Portsmouth and away to Middlesbrough could give them that sacred safety. In times of trouble stick together and battle to the death. That’s all they can do and I would certainly prefer Hull’s position to that of Portsmouth.
An F.A cup victory and a tremendous start in the league. Six months ago, Portsmouth fans were in heaven. Harry Redknapp was hailed a hero and a squad boasting players of Jermaine Defoe’s credentials was looking to challenge for a European finish. Then, Ramos was sacked from Tottenham and a day later Harry was named as the new manager. A kick in the shin for the summer transfers that arrived at the Southern coast eager to experience the Houdini magic.
Since November they have mustered up a grand total of…six points. Hardly relegation surviving form. The victory over Manchester City was a real surprise from a team lacking any form of bite. Still, there are some key games for Paul Hart’s team in the coming weeks including Middlesbrough, Hull City and West Bromwich Albion. Tony Adams sacking could be said as harsh, but was he really inspiring an already lacklustre team? Unfortunately in today’s game a few bad results could mean the end of your reign. However, the change has not achieved much in the way of results and last year’s success is now a distant memory.
West Bromwich Albion
Bottom of the league and going nowhere fast — looks like doom and gloom for the desperate West Brom. Six points off safety is not the end of the world, but it is when the performances of late have been simply dire. Their last win was back on the 17th of January and to be honest one hasn’t looked like coming since. The dogged display so needed in the relegation battle is not there and instead West Brom have adopted a ”roll over and be beaten” strategy.
I can’t see where the performances will spring from and the only possible saviour is that they have four or five games against teams around them in the league. These simply have to be wins. None the less West Brom achieved the seemingly impossible a few years ago under Bryan Robson. Bottom at Christmas and without a hope; they were able to scrape out by the skin of the teeth. I am expecting no such repeat though this time around.
Stoke City have built a name for themselves, however, not one I’m sure they would agree with. ”One man army” is what many football fans have dubbed them but in truth Stoke are far from that. Rory Delap has obviously been the pinnacle of their attacking play with his long range throw-ins, but there always has to be players in the team to finish off the moves.
The strike-force of Fuller and Beattie have notched up 12 between them and crucial goals they have been. However, it’s the defensive play that deserves the most credit and one man in particular has saved Stoke on various occasions. If it were not for Thomas Sorensen, the club would be in serious jeopardy right about now. Countless times the Dane has rescued his side including both 0-0 draws against Liverpool. Stoke are in a precarious position, one point off relegation and the battling team need to continue clutching results. A couple of good results including the draw against Aston Villa and the win against Bolton will have given them an air of confidence and this must be kept in order to avoid the drop.
Regardless of what anyone says, Gareth Southgate has done a tremendous job at The Riverside. With little resources, he has bought well and to keep Stuart Downing was a huge success. However, despite this his side lie 19th in the league and face a battle for survival. A 4-0 drubbing to Tottenham and an F.A cup loss to Everton were their last outings but there is potential for a fight back, especially with the 2-0 defeat of Liverpool in recent history.
12 years ago Middlesbrough were descending to the second flight of English football and star man Juninho was in tears. Over a decade later, will the Premier League be waving farewell to Boro once more? The next five games are crucial. To stay up, you need to beat teams around you and that is exactly what Southgate’s squad must do. Portsmouth, Stoke and Hull are very winnable matches and should these results go Middlesbrough’s way, they will be nearly there.
The final team with a feasible chance of hitting the relegation zone. The turning point of the current season being the change in management. Paul Ince will one day be back in top flight management, but it was simply too early for him to take on a team in serious change. Mark Hughes achieved wonders in his time at the club and Ince’s job would always be difficult. Since his departure, Allardyce has begun to install his method of play into the side.
The win at Fulham was massive and it has pushed Rovers into safety territory. Unfortunate not for a penalty at Old Trafford, Blackburn stormed on, beating Hull and taking a point from in-form Everton. Out of the relegation candidates, they have hit the best form. Another favourable advantage for them is playing West Brom at home on the final day of the season. If the league goes down to the wire, that’s the team everyone would want to play on current form.
So after all the talk of the possible relegation sufferers, who has the best chance of hitting rock bottom? Well my favourites are:
West Brom — Not enough spite about them. Struggling with performances and bottom of the league. No one wants to be there.
Stoke City — Another of the promotion boys I’m expecting to go. The team have been grinding out results of late but in reality the quality is not there.
Portsmouth — I don’t like to admit it but Portsmouth’s chance of survival look slim. Despite a win against Manchester City, they have struggled to find any consistency and results are hard to come by.