The Premier League run-in: The relegation battle
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Congratulations, Liverpool. Your tenacity, hunger and unrelenting dominance since August has been matched by none, resulting in what has been possibly the most one-sided title race in Premier League history; the same cannot be said for this year’s relegation scrap, where six teams find themselves in peril of the dreaded drop-zone.

In the wake of circumstances nobody could have predicted, surviving the remainder of this year’s Premier League campaign will pose both a physical and mental test unlike anything these sides have ever experienced before. Below is a comprehensive breakdown of this year’s relegation battle, with analysis of each team’s past statistics and remaining fixtures.

Norwich City

Though lauded by many as the ‘best bottom team’ in Premier League history, Norwich City’s current top-flight campaign is shaping up to be a brief one. Daniel Farke’s men have wowed audiences with their fluid, high-intensity style of play, but have failed to grind out important results against their fellow bottom-half outfits, and find themselves at the foot of the table on 21 points from 29 games.

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Despite their reputation as a free-flowing, attacking side, Norwich have registered a league-low 25 goals this season. The performances of Teemu Pukki (11 Goals, three assists), Todd Cantwell (6G, 2A) and Emi Buendia (7A) will be pivotal in Norwich’s quest for winning results – as a trio they have contributed 68% of Norwich’s total goals and 71% of assists. Defensively, Farke has taken a gamble on youth, with Ben Godfrey, Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis all having played over 1500 minutes from a possible 2610. However, their lack of experience has not provided the Canaries with much-needed stability, reflected in Norwich’s 52 goals conceded this season – the second-highest in the league.  

Run-In: Southampton (H), Everton (H), Arsenal (A), Brighton (H), Watford (A), West Ham (H), Chelsea (A), Burnley (H), Man City (A).

A 2-1 friendly triumph over Tottenham Hotspur gives the Canaries positive momentum going into Friday’s home tie against Southampton, though failure to win here will likely be a final nail in the coffin for Farke’s side. Home victories against the likes of Brighton, West Ham and Burnley will be crucial, as their road run-in (Arsenal, Watford, Chelsea, Manchester City) does not look to yield many points on paper.

With great prospects, great coaching and a well-defined philosophy, Norwich have all the fundamentals for an exciting footballing project. However, further investment and development is needed to consolidate them as Premier League mainstays. Their season has not gone without its fairy-tale moments (hello, Manchester City), but ultimately the Canaries need a miracle to stand any chance of survival.

Prediction: 20th

Aston Villa

Impressive at times but agonisingly inconsistent, Aston Villa have more often than not showed a lack of determination and tactical nous as a collective. The mid-season hiatus may prove to be a blessing in disguise for Dean Smith, whose side had found themselves on a slippery slope to certain relegation, having lost four league games on the bounce.

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Run-In: Sheffield Utd (H), Chelsea (H), Newcastle (A), Wolves (H), Liverpool (A), Man Utd (H), Crystal Palace (H), Everton (A), Arsenal (H), West Ham (A)

Villa’s run-in is a tricky one, with six top-half clubs left to play from ten games. They are yet to win against any of the Premier League’s ‘Big 6’ clubs, and have only won against one top-half club all season (Everton). A tactical rethink is certainly needed for these fixtures – no Premier League team has conceded more goals than Villa (56) this season. The long-term absences of reliable stopper Tom Heaton and £22m target man Wesley impose further constraints on Smith’s tactical preparations.

The form of talisman Jack Grealish (7G, 6A) will be vital for Villa’s survival. The skipper leads Villa’s squad for both goals and assists and his leadership role in the team cannot be understated. Additionally, the return of box-to-box phenom John McGinn will be a huge boost for the Villans, whose boundless energy and technical acumen can help both defensively and in the final third.

The odds are stacked against Villa, who face a plethora of difficult fixtures to round off the season. Team fitness and work rate will be crucial in order to press tougher sides, and Villa possess the leadership figures both on and off the pitch to bleed a hard-working mentality into the rest of the squad. However, with all factors considered it seems likely we will see the Villans defeated once and for all.

Prediction: 19th

West Ham United

Despite having a squad arguably worthy of Europa League football, West Ham, in true West Ham fashion, somehow find themselves fighting for their lives. A series of injuries and defensive disasters in autumn swiftly derailed any hopes of Europe, resulting in the sacking of Manuel Pellegrini and inevitable reappointment of David Moyes. Although performances have improved, the team is yet to turn a corner results-wise with time running out. If there’s anyone that can defy the sentiment of ‘too good to go down’, it's the Hammers.

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Back-to-back friendly wins against QPR and Crystal Palace will be a huge boost for Moyes and the squad, who have only won once in their last nine Premier League matches. Sebastian Haller (7G, 1A), Declan Rice, Issa Diop and Michail Antonio represent a strong physical core ideal for Moyes’ direct, physical playing style. This approach has yielded impressive results against Bournemouth (4-0) and Southampton (3-1) in recent months.

Run-In: Wolves (H), Spurs (A), Chelsea (H), Newcastle (A), Burnley (H), Norwich (A), Watford (H), Man Utd (A), Aston Villa (H).

A trio of tough games against Wolves, Tottenham and Chelsea welcome Moyes’ boys back to action. Grinding out a few points here would be huge for the Hammers’ morale, who then go on to face Newcastle, Burnley, Norwich and Watford. The Hammers should look to seal their safety before a final-day showdown with Aston Villa, who will likely be fighting tooth and nail to stay up.

West Ham will want to avoid a repeat of the 2002/03 season, when their immensely talented squad was sent down on 42 points – a relegation points record that still stands to this day. Logically, they have a good enough squad to win home ties against the likes Burnley, Watford and Villa, grind out a couple of draws against the big teams, and hit the coveted 40-point mark. Unfortunately, logic and West Ham United do not go hand-in-hand, so we’ll just have to wait and see. For prediction’s sake, they’ll stay up.  

Prediction: 16th

Watford

The managerial carousel at Vicarage Road may have finally settled on a chosen one. Prior to Nigel Pearson’s arrival in December, Watford looked like sure-fire relegation fodder, having won only once from 17 league games. Since then, they look a completely different side; the Hornets pack a sting on the counter and defend intelligently, averaging 1.38 points per game, as well as embarrassing the rampant Liverpool 3-0 in February.

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Watford will sorely miss tricky winger Gerard Deulofeu (4G, 5A), who misses the rest of the season with a knee injury. The La Masia graduate leads Watford’s squad for key passes (45), and his absence places further responsibility on Roberto Pereyra and youngster Ismaila Sarr to create chances on the break. Daryl Janmaat and Isaac Success are also ruled out.

Run-In: Leicester (H), Burnley (A), Southampton (H), Chelsea (A), Norwich (H), Newcastle (H), West Ham (A), Man City (H), Arsenal (A).

Pearson will be encouraged by his side’s 2-0 friendly win over Brentford last week, which welcomed a wealth of players back from injury. A tricky home tie to Leicester awaits on Saturday, followed by an encouraging run of bottom-half sides to pick up points against. Manchester City and Arsenal are a daunting pair of final fixtures, but Pearson’s side have proven they can beat the best – there could well be another upset on the cards.

Watford currently sit level with Bournemouth on the cusp of relegation, but with most of the bigger teams out of the way and 5 home ties left to play, their odds of staying up are favourable. Of course, this is not for certain; pre-hiatus losses to Crystal Palace and Aston Villa raise questions as to whether the Hornets are capable of ‘getting the job done’ against weaker sides. It may go down to the wire, but on paper Watford look to live another day at the top.

Prediction: 15th

Brighton & Hove Albion

2019/20 has been a transitional season for Brighton, who, last summer, sacked manager Chris Hughton in favour of the younger, more progressive Graham Potter. Though this shift in philosophy has brought more exciting, aesthetically pleasing football to the Amex, this has often come at the expense of cold, hard results; the Seagulls sit in 16th place, needing four wins to secure safety.

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Statistically speaking, Brighton are solid at the back, with their 40 goals conceded on par with that of Burnley and Tottenham. At the other end, they have often lacked a clinical edge and rarely compromise their playing philosophies to nick results – they have drawn 11 matches this season, the second-highest in the league. Wins will be crucial in the league’s remaining fixtures, and Potter may have to consider taking more risks on the pitch, as his team has failed to win in their last nine fixtures.

Run-In: Arsenal (H), Leicester (A), Man Utd (H), Norwich (A), Liverpool (H), Man City (H), Southampton (A), Newcastle (H), Burnley (A)

Brighton are yet to face a slew of big teams, with Arsenal, Leicester, Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City still left to play this campaign. Their two-point cushion over the other five relegation candidates is a huge advantage, but they need to make it count by picking up some wins against Norwich, Southampton, Newcastle and Burnley.

If Brighton continue to play as they did pre-hiatus, they will inevitably find themselves slipping into the drop zone. They could be cutting it very close this year with a run of tough fixtures, but their early-season performances have more than likely done enough to earn them another season in the top-flight.

Prediction: 17th

Bournemouth

Ah, plucky old Bournemouth. What was a strong start to the season was swiftly overshadowed by a drastic dip in form, having collected just two wins and a draw from their last 10 matches following an injury crisis. Eddie Howe’s men currently sit on 27 points alongside Watford and West Ham, however an inferior goal difference means they occupy a relegation spot.

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Howe has taken a far more pragmatic management approach this season, forgoing his notorious possession-based approach in favour of a more pragmatic, counter-attacking style; this season the Cherries have only registered above 50% possession in eight of their matches, with all seven of their victories occurring when their share of the ball is 45% or less. They have been rather tactically inconsistent, alternating between 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 formations in order to nullify opponent threats. These tactical switches have not helped Howe’s side settle into form, and it could be beneficial for them to choose a system to stick to for the remaining nine games.

Run-In: Crystal Palace (H), Wolves (A), Newcastle (H), Man Utd (A), Spurs (H), Leicester (H), Man City (A), Southampton (H), Everton (A).

Bournemouth’s run-in is, without a doubt, the toughest of the relegation pack. Following a favourable home tie against Crystal Palace, Howe’s men are awaited by Wolves, Manchester United, Tottenham, Leicester, Manchester City and Everton. Needing around 12 points to seal safety, they simply have to win against the likes of Palace, Southampton and Newcastle at home, and upset some of the big boys on the road –  much easier said than done, of course.

Bournemouth are capable of turning the style on against any team on their day, but plenty of those days will be needed to steer clear of relegation. With a healthy squad and the prodigal Howe at the helm, anything is possible; however, with relegation rivals boasting easier fixtures, this task may prove to be a step too far. Between themselves, Brighton, Watford and West Ham, Bournemouth's Premier League future looks the bleakest.

Prediction: 18th

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