Written by @JamesWootton95
With the hectic winter period now over for Premier League sides, teams are now beginning to focus on the latter stage of the season. With the title all but wrapped up, eyes will now be drawn to the race for the Champions League places and the relegation battle. With just five points currently separating 10th to 18th, it looks to be one of the more exciting battles of recent seasons, with any one of those sides in serious danger of dropping out of the world’s most famous league.
The bottom three is currently made up of Stoke - who are level with Southampton but have an inferior goal difference - West Brom, who haven’t won a single Premier League game since August, and Swansea who - like West Brom - are four points adrift from safety.
Stoke’s embarrassing defeat to League 2 side Coventry in the FA cup last weekend was the final straw for the owners as they sacked former manager Mark Hughes straight afterwards. But could this be a turning point in their season? Swansea’s recent appointment of Carlos Carvalhal proved to be an immediate success after capturing a vital away victory at Watford in his first game in charge.
One club whose managerial change hasn’t worked out as well is Alan Pardew’ appointment at West Brom. After a great start to the season, gaining six points out of six, including a hard-fought victory at surprise high-flyers Burnley, the Baggies have gone on a 20-game winless streak. They still somehow only find themselves just four points away from safety however, so at this stage it wouldn’t be classed as a real miracle if they were able to turn things around.
Southampton are one of the sides who many didn’t expect to be in the position that they are currently in. After finishing 8th and reaching a cup final last season, to be outside of the relegation zone only on goal difference with over half of the season played, it’s a worrying time for Saints. They have kept the faith with manager Mauricio Pellegrino so far, but with striker Charlie Austin getting injured just as he was hitting goal scoring form, the lack of goals could see a long second half of the season for the south-coast side.
Speaking of south-coast sides, Bournemouth have struggled to break away from the pack at the bottom this season. Eddie Howe’s side have been inconsistent results-wise but have always remained a constant threat during games. West Ham have had a similar problem this season, but have recently picked themselves up and out of imminent trouble with a stand out victory against Chelsea, as well as a hard-fought draw at Wembley against Tottenham.
Although Crystal Palace are currently in the mix at the bottom, their revival under Roy Hodgson has been nothing short of extraordinary. After losing their first seven straight league matches, many has assigned Palace to the drop, but after that streak they have only lost three of their last 15 matches. If their current form continues, they will remain a Premier League side next season.
The three promoted sides have surprised many this season, with neither Newcastle, Brighton or Huddersfield spending much time in the drop zone at all. Newcastle have recently been in the headlines for their lack of ambition at home to Man City, and with no win at home in six games, they could find themselves in the bottom three for the second time in three seasons. Brighton’s solid defensive unit has meant they have conceded the least amount out of the sides in the bottom half, but their attacking prowess needs to be improved upon. January could be a key time for the Seagulls, and if they were to bring in a real goal scorer, it would be hard to see them in the drop zone in May. Meanwhile, Huddersfield have only lost three games at home all season which has been key to their success so far. David Wagner’s men have deserved the plaudits after their surprise promotion to the top flight for the first time in 45 years, and if they can continue their good home form, they should be strong enough to survive.
Watford may be positioned in the top half of the table, but they don’t escape the struggling pack as only five points separate them and the bottom three. A downturn in fortunes for Marco Silva’s men resulting in a loss of form from earlier on in the season could mean a sting in the tail. Any January business could cause a buzz amongst Hornet fans however, and could propel them to safety without any major scares.
With so many clubs in contention of being relegated this season, the January transfer window will be huge for everyone involved, and with eight of the bottom ten teams facing each other this weekend, the dog fight for survival has well and truly begun.