The race to avoid relegation from the Premier League is desperate and unusual as anyone involved could still opt out.
At times it felt like some clubs were at the bottom of the Premier League table want to to be relegated. Everton were thoroughly rancid losing 5-0 at Tottenham Hotspur, while Norwich’s resistance against Chelsea lasted exactly three minutes. Watford were three against Wolves halfway through the first half. And then there were Leeds, whose rebound from the new manager seems to have consisted only of not looking completely terrible against Leicester before getting absolutely hustled by Aston Villa.
Three clubs are set to fall at the end of the season, and the gap between them and the rest means it remains difficult to see past Norwich City and Watford occupy those last two spots. One or the other team could taking a sudden swerve of two or three straight wins to slip out of the relegation places fairly quickly has been the unusual look of the bottom of the Premier League table. But if three have to go, it’s hard to see past these being two of them.
The third relegation spot is currently occupied by Burnley, who have quickly become the Jekylls and Hydes of the bottom half. Their last two games, at home to Leicester City and Chelsea, weren’t exactly encouraging, but they came after impressive wins at Brighton and at home to Spurs, and a draw at Crystal Palace. If Burnley continue in the vein of their last two games, they are unlikely to survive the cup. But Sean Dyche have already proven they are capable of picking up points out of nowhere, despite still having only three league wins all season. One of those three came against Brentford, their next opponents.
Brentford sit on the outer periphery of the relegation fight after an impressive win at Norwich. Ivan Toney scored a hat-trick in this game and his return, coupled with the influence of Christian Eriksen, should give them that little bit of extra quality they need to be able to clear themselves completely. With 27 points from 28 games, they already have an average above the likely total that will be needed to avoid relegation. Another run like the one that ended in victory at Norwich could set them back down, but now it looks like they will do enough to get clear.
Then there are Everton and Leeds United. Goodison Park is a nervous place on several fronts. The club were quick to cut ties with Alisher Usmanov – and Usmanov was never a shareholder of Everton either. The club’s shareholding has always been in the name of Farhad Moshiri. Moshiri was said to be is worth £2billion itself, but if he has significant business interests in Russia, it is quite possible that he is already not nearly as rich as before. Penalties will not be only affect the oligarchs. Moshiri is unlikely to be sanctioned himself, but it’s all happening amid what increasingly looks like a battle to avoid relegation that will last until the end of the season will hardly help the mood behind the scenes.
But Leeds United are just as bad, as evidenced by their pitiful performance at home to Aston Villa. The crowd at Elland Road supported the team, but Leeds supporters spoke loudly about the effects of the decision to sack Marcelo Bielsa; it’s not hard to see how angry fans could turn on new manager Jesse Marsch if he doesn’t start delivering results soon. Another problem Leeds have is that they have played three more games than Everton and two more games than Burnley. They have played the same number of games as Brentford, but are four points behind them. Should Everton and Burnley win either of their respective games in hand, Leeds would be in the drop zone.
Everyone knows their injury situation has been horrible, and the Aston Villa game saw the return of Patrick Bamford after a long layoff. There is reason to say that Leeds can only improve from their current position as they welcome more and more players, but all the shortcomings that were present in Bielsa’s last games were exposed against Villa. and Leeds haven’t won in the league in almost two months. This is the relegation form.
There really seems to be little between Everton and Leeds. They were both spotted defending with a dangerously high line, leaving huge swaths of ground for opponents to exploit during the break. It’s worth mentioning again that Spurs didn’t even play particularly well against Everton but still won 5-0. And while Everton have three games in hand over Leeds, evidence for much of this season has indicated they won’t be able to take advantage of that, when they also have a particularly tough run-in. which includes West Ham, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal in their last eight Premier League games. At present, only the FA Cup offers them any relief from what has been a miserable campaign.
The truth is that the race to avoid the drop is still relatively tight because there have been so many teams – at least a quarter of the entire Premier League – who have had such poor seasons. Even Norwich and Watford, whose obituaries have already been written and measured for their coffins, could still rise, like zombies, from the grave and climb above the dotted line. Three clubs must fall. We already know that several others will breathe a huge sigh of relief, as they will surely already know how easily it could have been them.