With most teams in the world’s most-watched football league having played eighteen or nineteen games, we have officially arrived at the halfway point of the season. We now have a pretty good idea of who’s going to be in contention for the title at the end of the season and who’s going to spend the rest of the campaign battling against the dreaded drop. The title will be decided between Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and perhaps Leicester City, Tottenham, and Everton at a push. That’s not what we’re here to talk about today, though. We want to focus our attention at the bottom of the division instead.
Relegation from the Premier League has unthinkable consequences for teams that suffer it – doubly so in the face of the pandemic, which has stripped away the revenue that clubs would usually be making from ticket sales. Being in the Premier League is like winning from top game providers like Red Tiger every week of the year. So long as you’re there and spinning the reels, you know that the games at an online slots website will probably come good for you eventually. That’s how casinos work – you have to be at the table to win big. When you’re relegated from the Premier League, the most lucrative of the online slots are no longer available to you. The bets you make still cost you just as much, but the rewards aren’t as great. Staying up is an absolute must.
Even with that grim reality at the back of their minds, three clubs will go down from the Premier League when the season comes to an end in May. Let’s see if we can work out who they might be.
We’ll get this one out of the way quickly. Sheffield United are done. They’ve taken five points from their first nineteen games and are on course to become statistically the worst Premier League side in history. To avoid that fate, they have to beat Derby County’s record low points tally of eleven from the 2007-2008 season, and they don’t look capable of doing it. They look a million miles away from the overachieving side that spent most of last season in the top half of the table, and it isn’t easy to see why. The reasons don’t ultimately matter, though. To all intents and purposes, they’re already relegated, and they’ll start next season in the Championship.
West Bromwich Albion
West Bromwich Albion looked to be in the same boat as Sheffield United until they fired Slaven Bilic and replaced him with Sam Allardyce. “Big Sam,” as he likes to be known, has a strong track record of getting teams at the bottom of the table out of trouble. If the experienced coach can achieve that at West Brom, it will probably rank as the greatest achievement of his long career. Eleven points after eighteen games isn’t a great haul, but two wins would put them back in the running for survival if the teams around them continue losing games. They’re in trouble, but they’re not down and out yet.
Fulham were most bookies’ favorites for the drop before the season began, and their slow start to the campaign didn’t do much to dispel that idea. They’ve rallied a little since then, but they’re still trapped in the relegation zone and looking at a four-point gap to the teams above them. Fulham are capable of winning games, but the question they’re yet to answer is whether they’re capable of winning more games than the teams they need to overtake in order to survive. They play pretty football, but they lack firepower. Smart investments need to be made before the end of the transfer window if they’re going to make the bookies look like fools. All eyes will be on chairman Tony Khan in the hope that he’s not too distracted by his American wrestling company to do the necessary work.
Burnley have been defying gravity in the Premier League for several seasons, and that run might finally be coming to an end. Sean Dyche’s reward for improbably keeping his team in the top flight each year always seems to be having his best players sold out from underneath him each summer and insufficient money being invested in replacements. The 2021 Burnley squad is weaker than the 2020 Burnley squad, and the board appears to be unambitious. This long-term strategy of buy cheap and sell high was always likely to end in tears one day, and that day might come in May this year. If they survive, it’ll be a reflection of the weakness of other teams rather than the strength of Burnley.
Brighton is another club run on a shoestring budget and another club that’s been punching above its weight in recent years. Graham Potter has never shown any sign of being the right coach to take the club to the next level, and he may ultimately be the coach that takes them down instead. An attack led by Danny Welbeck is unlikely to strike fear into the hearts of any other Premier League side, and things don’t look much better at the back. They’ve already taken a couple of heavy beatings this season, and there could be more on the way. This is another club that ought to be seriously considering making big acquisition moves during the transfer window.
All is not well at St. James’ Park. That’s a sentence that’s been written many times in the past, but the situation at the moment appears to be especially dire. The club is in freefall, the fans are on Steve Bruce’s back, and the club’s chairman Mike Ashley, reviled by the fans, is unlikely to spend any more money on major player acquisitions while he’s actively trying to sell the club. Responding to one of the club’s many recent defeats, Bruce went on a bizarre post-match rant in which he promised that he would “do it his way” from that moment on. Given the fact that he was appointed in July 2019, that begs the question of what he’s been doing for the past year and a half. They have a small points cushion that will keep them out of trouble in the short term, but the team doesn’t look like it could beat an egg at the moment, and the fans deserve better. If this implosion continues, they could easily go down.
Only three of these six teams can go down. We’ve already allocated one place to Sheffield United, so that leaves two. Our prediction is that Sam Allardyce will get West Bromwich Albion over the line; it will be Fulham and Brighton that eventually take the plunge. That doesn’t excuse the three teams who’ll stay up, though – all six of these sides need major overhauls.