The Premier League is back after a three-month hiatus. Games will be played behind closed doors, mimicking the Bundesliga’s ‘ghost games’ approach to completing the season. When the season restarts, champions-elect Liverpool will claim the title. However, the relegation issue at the opposite end of the table is far less certain. After much deliberation over the restart, three teams will officially go down. At this time, there are six leading candidates.
Norwich City: 21 Points, GD-21
Remaining Games: Southampton H, Everton H, Arsenal A, Brighton H, Watford A, West Ham H, Chelsea A, Burnley H, Manchester City A.
Norwich have won plenty of admirers for their football this season, but nowhere near enough points. They currently sit bottom of the table; six points from safety.
Reasons to be fearful: For all Norwich’s solid play, 21 points from 29 games tells the story of their season. With the traditional 40-point safety mark a pipe dream, Norwich need other teams to lose almost as much as they need to win. Defensively, they’ve been leaky for much of the season. Clean sheets are required if Norwich are to mount a great escape.
Reasons to be cheerful: Daniel Farke’s side can create chances with Todd Cantwell and Emiliano Buendia enjoying strong campaigns from midfield. In addition, Teemu Pukki has scored 11 goals in the league. Their pre-lockdown win over Leicester and FA Cup run shows Farke hasn’t lost the dressing room. Norwich’s promotion run was fueled by late goals and Farke’s side won’t be throwing the towel in any time soon.
Key Game: Southampton (H): With games running out and a tough schedule to finish the season, Norwich need to close the gap before they’re too far adrift.
Aston Villa: 25 Points, GD-22
Remaining Games: Sheffield United H, Chelsea H, Newcastle A, Wolves H, Liverpool A, Manchester United H, Crystal Palace H, Everton A, Arsenal H, West Ham A
The season for Villa was is in danger of unraveling before the lockdown, with long-term injuries to Tom Heaton, John McGinn and Wesley severely weakening the spine of Dean Smith’s team.
Reasons to be fearful: Villa’s defense lead the league in goals conceded and errors leading to goals, their comedy of errors in a thrashing at Leicester proving a particular low. January signings Danny Drinkwater, Pepe Reina and Mbwana Samatta are struggling to fill the void left by Villa’s injury list and Smith doesn’t seem to know his best formation.
Reasons to be cheerful: Jack Grealish has been impressive since promotion, leading the team in both goals and assists with an England call-up rumored. The influential McGinn is back from injury, and Villa’s League Cup run means they have a game in hand and six of their remaining games are at home.
Key Game: West Ham (A): It’s easy to envisage Villa’s last day of the season visit to West Ham as a relegation playoff.
Bournemouth: 27 Points, GD-18
Remaining Games: Crystal Palace H, Wolves A, Newcastle H, Manchester United A, Tottenham H, Leicester H, Manchester City A, Southampton H, Everton A
It has been by far the toughest season of Eddie Howe’s management career with his Bournemouth side in serious relegation trouble for the first time. This comes after a run of seven defeats in their eight games.
Reasons to be fearful: The questionable transfer record of Howe has come home to roost this season with Dominic Solanke a flop too far. Elsewhere, injuries to David Brooks and Josh King have limited Howe’s options in attack. Meanwhile, Ryan Fraser has suffered an alarming regression after a standout campaign last season.
Reasons to be cheerful: Improved performances against Chelsea and Liverpool showed there is fight in the team. The injuries have eased with Brooks, Lloyd Kelly and Chris Mepham all back in training,
Key Game: Crystal Palace (H): With a tough run in June and no games left against their relegation rivals, Bournemouth need to a win their next game.
West Ham: 27 points, GD -15
Remaining Games: Wolves H, Tottenham A, Chelsea H, Newcastle A, Burnley H, Norwich A, Watford H, Manchester United A, Aston Villa H
West Ham were supposed to challenge for Europe this season, but instead, they’re in the mire with record-signing Sebastien Haller proving a dud. Meanwhile, fans continue to protest against the new stadium and clashes with the club’s unpopular owners are never far from the surface.
Reasons to be fearful: It’s hard to see any long-term plan at a club who flips from David Moyes to Manual Pelligrini back to Moyes. The London Stadium has proved a poor substitute for the hostile atmosphere of Upton Park. The rotating cast of goalkeepers all look like dropping a clanger behind a defense that hasn’t recorded a clean sheet since December 14th. Meanwhile, many of West Ham’s expensive purchases are bystanders in the club’s survival fight.
Reasons to be cheerful: Jarrod Bowen, the deadline day buy from Hull has provided some much-needed incision up front. Moyes may have dropped some of the club’s big names, but his West Ham look a sturdier side than the version we saw earlier in the season. The fixture list is starting to look easier, and their rivals failed to pull away from the Hammers while they faced Liverpool and City.
Key Game: Watford (H): If West Ham are to avoid a last day relegation playoff with Villa, they’ll need to beat Watford at home.
Watford: 27 Points, -17 GD
Remaining Games: Leicester H, Burnley A, Southampton H, Chelsea A, Norwich H, Newcastle H, West Ham A, Manchester City H, Arsenal A
The Hornets suffered a dreadful start to the season and quickly dismissed Javi Garcia and then Quique Sanchez Flores. Nigel Pearson has mounted a rescue bid and pulled the club out of the bottom three.
Reasons to be fearful: For all their improvement, Watford were in a particularly deep hole. The loss in March to Crystal Palace highlighted the problem.
Reasons to be cheerful: Pearson has worked a minor miracle with a team that had just one win to their name when he took charge in December. Victories over Manchester United and previously unbeaten Liverpool are a world away from their form in the autumn. Goalkeeper Ben Foster is in strong form, while Troy Deeney looks re-energized since Pearson has arrived.
Key Game: Norwich (H): Watford will fancy their chances of taking close to nine points at home against Southampton, Newcastle and crucially bottom club Norwich. Win this one and they will be could put some daylight between themselves and the bottom three.
Brighton: 29 Points, -8 GD
Remaining Games: Arsenal H, Leicester A, Manchester United H, Norwich A, Liverpool H, Manchester City H, Southampton A, Newcastle H, Burnley A
Graham Potter has brought a more attractive brand of football to the Amex Stadium, but Brighton are again struggling to stay clear of danger. It looks like Potter will need to better last season’s 36 point total to keep Brighton afloat.
Reasons to be fearful: Brighton have struggled to find a prolific goal scorer to replace Glenn Murray. Neal Maupay has scored eight goals, but has proven to be one of the league’s least efficient strikers at converting chances into goals. The next month is a tough schedule for Brighton with their next four home games against Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool.
Reason to be cheerful: Lewis Dunk leads the best defense among the bottom six, conceding just 40 to date. Brighton aren’t losing many and they have the creativity in the side to carve out chances to pick up more points, if the strikers can put them away. Their goal difference is worth an extra point, and coming from 3-1 down to draw at West Ham illustrated a strong team spirit.
Key Game: Newcastle (H): Relegation threatened teams must pick up the wins at home, and after the tough schedule in June, Newcastle will be the visitors for the penultimate game of the season with three points likely needed to keep Brighton out of the bottom three.
Predicted Final Bottom Six: 20. Norwich, 19. Aston Villa, 18. Bournemouth, 17. Brighton. 16. West Ham, 15. Watford.
Featured Image: Talksport