The Premier League Owl predicts the outcome of the relegation dogfight in the English Premier League.
Barring something unforeseen happening to West Ham, only the bottom five six teams really remain in the relegation picture: Southampton, Sunderland, Aston Villa, Wigan, Reading, and Queens Park Rangers.
Remaining fixtures: Manchester United (h), Chelsea (a), Newcastle (a), Everton (h), Aston Villa (a), Stoke (h), Southampton (h), Tottenham (a).
Win-less over the last 7 games, and with only two victories in the whole of 2013, it just doesn’t look very good for Martin O’Neil or his Sunderland team. As discussed here, O’Neil will struggle to hold onto his job regardless of whether his side stay in the Premier League or not.
Identifying the cause of the malaise at The Stadium of Light is no easy task, because theoretically Sunderland have all the components available to have secured their top-flight status long before now: ability, experience, goals. There’s an intangible disconnect between the manager and players at the moment, and that’s really the only way of explaining how individuals like Stephane Sessegnon, Adam Johnson, and Steven Fletcher are dwelling in the nether regions of the division.
With Fletcher stuck in the treatment room for the next 6 weeks, and Sunderland’s survival resting on the shoulders on Danny Graham, it’s difficult to see those remaining eight games yielding anything more than 5 points. They beat Southampton, draw with Stoke and Everton, but lose the other five.
They’re better than all the other sides around them, but they’ve now put themselves at the mercy of an unforgiving fixture list.
Projected points: 36 (relegated).
Remaining fixtures: Chelsea (h), Reading (a), West Ham (h), Swansea (a), WBA (h), Tottenham (a), Sunderland (a), Stoke (h)
We will never know whether this side would have survived with Nigel Adkins in charge, and fortunately that question may not be relevant.
Whilst the club have only won twice under Manuel Pochettino, those victories came against Manchester City and Liverpool, and clearly demonstrated what this set of players is capable of. The win against Liverpool ten days ago came off the back of a resilient point up at Carrow Road, and the defensive frailty which so restricted their progress in 2012 looks to be a distant memory. Marry that enhanced security with the inventive, vibrant football being played at the other end of the pitch, and there’s every reason to believe that they’ll keep their place in the division.
Chelsea at home at the weekend will obviously be a test, and a repeat of the FA Cup tie in which they were soundly beaten, but the fixture list is still kind to them, with the games against West Ham, West Brom, and Reading all being extremely winnable. That would, theoretically, be enough to elevate them to the magical 40-point mark and Premier League safety.
Projected points: 43
Remaining fixtures: Liverpool (h), Stoke (a), Fulham (h), Manchester United (a), Sunderland (h), Norwich (a), Chelsea (h), Wigan (a).
Take the Manchester United game out of that sequence, and all of those games hold the promise of points.
The win over QPR at Villa Park was clearly enormously important, and had Paul Lambert’s side lost that game there would be no telling how damaging it might have been to this young side. Winning high-pressure games is a real tonic for low morale, and there’s no reason why – on the back of that – these players shouldn’t be confident of turning over a flimsy Liverpool side at the weekend.
Fulham, Stoke and Norwich are all clubs who are assured of their status now, and so theoretically should represent easier games. Five points from an available nine across those fixtures should elevate Villa beyond the drop zone, and the game with Sunderland at home could be an opportunity to both seal their own survival, and to position another club above the trapdoor in their place.
Projected points: 41
Remaining fixtures: Norwich (h), QPR (a), Manchester City (a), West Ham (a), Tottenham (h), WBA (a), Swansea (h), Arsenal (a), Aston Villa (h).
Wigan are the busiest of all the endangered teams, and have the complication of an FA Cup semi-final to deal with. A trip to Wembley, as we’ve all seen before, can be a poisoned chalice which disrupts the mental focus of a squad, and Roberto Martinez must emphasis the importance of prioritising their league campaign. A cup win is a nice day out and potentially a marketable DVD, but relegation is a future-altering catastrophe.
Norwich at home is a must win this weekend, especially considering the feverish desperation that will await them at Loftus Road the week after. Wigan’s form is decent, and they’ve won four of the last five in all competitions: if that be maintained, and they can emerge from difficult and essentially futile trips to The Etihad and The Emirates with their confidence undented, then they will have a chance of pulling off another escape act.
Two things are almost certain: one, that Wigan’s survival – given their remaining fixtures – will depend on what others around them are able to do, and two, that they will have to beat Villa at home on the last day of the season.
Projected points: 37
Remaining fixtures: Arsenal (a), Southampton (h), Liverpool (h), Norwich (a), QPR (h), Fulham (a), Manchester City (h), West Ham (a).
There was a lot of sympathy for Brian McDermott when he was removed from his position, primarily because the side he was managing has never really been equipped for this level. McDermott may now be gone, and Nigel Adkins installed in his place, but that Reading have at least been competitive against relegation is miraculous – they’re a Championship side, and Anton Zingarevich has done little to change that.
Still, seven points at this stage of the season is a chasm, and if they are to avoid the drop they will need to knock over an illustrious side or two on their way – be it Liverpool, Manchester City, or Arsenal – and pick up an unexpected win on the road. Norwich, QPR, and Southampton are all games tha can be won, but even taking nine points across those fixtures will leave them short.
Projected points: 29 (relegated)
Remaining fixtures: Fulham (a), Wigan (h), Everton (a), Stoke (h), Reading (a), Arsenal (h), Newcastle (h), Liverpool (a).
There is absolutely no margin for error now for Harry Redknapp. At the very least, QPR must win all of their remaining home games – and they are all winnable. Wigan and Stoke are vulnerable on the road, whilst neither Arsenal nor Newcastle truly have the backbone to be certain of points at Loftus Road.
That’s the good news.
Unfortunately, twelve points won’t be enough to keep them in the Premier League, and so Redknapp and his players will know that they’ll probably have to take 5 points from their four away fixtures. Reading away is winnable, and drawing at Craven Cottage, Goodison Park, and Anfield may just be good enough to see them survive. It’s possible but not probable.
Winning two of their three games in March has lent some respectability to Rangers’ situation, but QPR are destined to run out of time and games – if the season was a month longer, then they would probably have the leeway to escape. Expect the supporters’ anger to turn back on Mark Hughes before too long, rightly so, because the mess he made of this squad is almost unforgivable.
Projected points: 36 (relegated)
Sport Is Everything. The Premier League Owl.
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