How the “race to the bottom” plays out.
We’re well into the second half of the Premier League season and the title race is heating up – as is the race to avoid relegation. And whether teams are going to survive for another season in the Premier League, or succumb to the drop down to the Championship, becomes clearer with each game.
For those at the bottom, they are scratching and clawing in an effort to stay up in the Premier League. They employ many tactics – sacking managers (shout out to Huddersfield Town), spending money on new players in the January transfer window, changes in front-office personnel and formations and, simply, just playing as hard as they can. You’ll never see a more motivated squad as one threatened with relegation.
Those teams facing the drop have a tendency of not only taking down the big boys – and altering the premier league title race while they’re at it – they also provide some of the most passionate and fascinating games of the season.
These happen against fellow bottom-dwellers in what is know as a 6-point relegation match.
What? I thought you could only get three points for a win?
This is technically true – only three points for a win – but if you’re in the relegation zone, a victory against a fellow bottom three team means not only three points for you, your opponents don’t get three points. It also means they need to get 6-points (or 4, but that’s not the point of this article) from the few remaining games to ensure they finish above you. A draw generally does nothing for a team in this situation. It’s a very important victory and we will hopefully be treated to a few of these games in the closing weeks of the season.
Who is threatened with relegation?
In the 2018/19 season, there are a number of Premier League teams on the cusp of becoming former-Premier League teams next year.
This is a team in all sorts of bother. Injuries to key players, a lack of investment, a lack of goals and a recently departed manager, means sophomore Huddersfield is unlikely to make it a third consecutive year in the Premier League. Not even a new manager bounce seems likely.
Fulham employed the “sack the manager” tactic earlier in season, which had an immediate effect – a 3-2 win over fellow strugglers Southampton – but that proved to be a false dawn, as the Claudio Ranieri-led squad has won only one game since. That happened to be a 6-pointer against Huddersfield. The Cottagers have recently brought in Ryan Babel and Callum Chambers (on loan) who provide more energy and threat in front of goal, but it’s going to be a difficult for newly promoted Fulham to avoid falling straight back down to the Championship.
If you look up “dysfunctional” in the dictionary, you’re going to read about the dumpster fire that is St James’ Park. First off there’s the owner who has made it very clear his only interests are meat pies, beer and selling the club. There are currently no offers on the table for the club, so investment is suffering. The manager, Rafa Benitez – an excellent “gaffer” – seems out ideas and the squad looks listless. The fans are turning against management and it’s all a bit of a mess in the North East. If they survive, it will be because of the ineptitude of another club at the other end of Britain.
Cardiff has looked nothing other than terrible this season. There has been plenty of bad luck, for sure, including the tragic plane crash involving Cardiff’s record signing, Emiliano Sala, but the club’s troubles are indisputably down to one man: manager, Neil Warnock. Sure, he holds the promotion record, with eight sides promoted up to the first league over his career, but his record in the Premier League features sackings, disputes and outright hostility. He’s a polarising figure, who hasn’t had a win percentage over .500 in the top flight. Not good enough for a team in the relegation zone and he probably isn’t the man to keep Cardiff City up.
It’s hard to make sense of what happened at Burnley this season. If you remember, they qualified for the Europa Cup this year (finishing 7th in the league last year), only to be dumped out in the qualifying rounds (by top Greece side, Olympiakos, to be fair). Did that loss take the wind out of their sails? Results have been inconsistent and few and far between all season. Their six wins have come against fellow strugglers. Manager Sean Dyche has his hands full in keeping this underperforming squad up, with arguably the hardest run home of any squad, playing Manchester City, Everton and Arsenal in their final three games.
Surely the Eagles won’t go down … will they? They seem to be making some positive steps in opting to buy and loan players during the transfer window, so as to sure-up their relatively safe position. Forward Bakary Sako has returned to the club on loan from West Brom, and there have been several other inquiries. Expect a transfer deadline day flurry of activity from Selhurst Park, which should be enough for Roy Hodgson’s squad to remain in the top division this year, and for their hedge fund backers to see a return on investment.
The Saints look safe for now under new coach Ralph Hasenhüttl, but there are plenty of games for this prediction to be proven wrong.
6-pointer games to watch out for
These six-pointer games could be potentially pivotal for squads angling for survival. They are well worth the watch for the neutral supporter, as you will never see games played and supported as passionately as these. There will be blood, sweat, and yes, tears.
Note: Dates are in the American MM/DD/YY format. Home teams are listed first. Dates subject to change.
Burnley vs Cardiff City 4/13/19
Newcastle vs Southampton 4/20/19
Fulham vs Cardiff City 4/27/19
Cardiff City vs Crystal Palace 5/4/19
Southampton vs Huddersfield 5/12/19