Premier League relegation battle

With just three game weeks left, the Premier League still has one final relegation place left ready to doom a side to a season in the second tier. Relegation can be very damaging for a club in a number of ways: their best players leave, and finances are severely impacted by decreased revenues, which can lead to a sustained drop off in performances and results in the long term. Nottingham Forrest, once a giant of the English game and twice European Champions in the 1980s, were relegated in 1999 and have yet to return to the glitz and glamor of the English topflight. Derby County came up in 2007 only to go straight back down, and their efforts since have led to overspending that has sent them into bankruptcy and now a relegation to the third tier. Portsmouth ran into financial troubles when they were relegated in 2010 and dropped all the way into League Two, the fourth tier of the English professional pyramid. Such are the possible consequences of relegation for Everton, Burnley, and Leeds if they are to go down this season. As things stand, Leeds and Burnley sit on 34 points having played 35 matches, while Everton have 35 points having played a game less. Leeds occupy the final relegation place on goal difference alone. This week, I’ll look at each side’s remaining fixtures and attempt to predict who will go down alongside the already relegated clubs Norwich City and Watford.  

Leeds are in this relegation scrap on the basis of one major factor: they have a porous defense. Only Norwich, 13 points lower down, have conceded more than their 74 goals with 75 allowed. This is the reason for Leeds’ awful goal difference of -34, which sees them essentially a point back of Burnley. They will need to end the season on more points than one of the other two sides, as remaining tied will see them relegated on goal difference as the first tie breaker.  

Leeds have three matches remaining, against the likes of Chelsea, Brighton, and Brentford. Beginning with the Chelsea match, this one is tough to predict. Normally, Chelsea would wipe the floor with the defensively hapless Leeds. However, they have slipped into a poor run of form in recent weeks, allowing for the possibility of a scrappy Leeds performance with the relegation-threatened side taking a point or even three. However, Chelsea does still have the incentive of securing their Champions League place. I’m predicting a wild 2-2 draw. Brighton, on the other hand, are  flying high and dreaming of a top-half finish after beating Manchester United 4-0. Given their solid defense, heavy possession statistics, and poor finishing, I think Brighton will walk out with a 2-1 win with Raphinha scoring early on the counter for Leeds before two Brighton team goals in the second half secures a win. Finally, the Brentford fixture is also tough. They are a bottom half side and rightly so based on their performances, but the match takes place at Brentford, which is a tough place to go. Big teams like Arsenal have gone to the Community Stadium and lost, and they are generally a tough side to break down. I think Brentford, already safe, will be a bit off the pace they normally defend at, and Leeds will scrape a 2-1 win to give themselves hope.  

Burnley only still have a chance at this point in the season for reasoning opposite to that in favor of Leeds: they are one of the best defensive sides in the league. Sean Dyche may be gone now, but his DNA is still all over the club’s bread and butter rigid 4-4-2 formation. In Maxwell Cornet and Wout Weghorst, they have just about enough goal threat to scrape some 1-0 wins and 1-1 draws. Their remaining matches are against Tottenham, Villa, and Newcastle. The Spurs game is an easy one: Tottenham will run out 3-0 winners as they seek a Champions League place, with Antonio Conte’s fluid football seeing Tottenham wear down the Burnley backline. The Villa game is tricker, as they have just played Villa this week and lost 3-1. However, by the second-to-last game week, Villa will be safely in mid-table while Burnley will still have reason to play. Given manager Mike Jackson will have seen Steven Gerrard’s tactics by then, I see no reason a resilient Burnley won’t be able to secure a 1-1 draw. Their final match against Newcastle will be tougher. Newcastle have nothing left to play for, and as we saw in their recent 5-0 loss to Manchester City, they are very open at the back at times. I am going to predict a bold 2-0 win for Burnley against their former striker Chris Wood, and that they save their skin on the last day.  

Everton being in this relegation fight is a tragedy for them in and of itself. After years of mismanagement (see my previous week’s article), one of the biggest sides in the league is dangerously close to going down. However, I think they will stay up. They are horrendous on the road, but their form in recent weeks has seen them win three of their last five matches. They still need to play four matches, but against a favorable schedule. Their next three opponents are Watford, Brentford, and Crystal Palace. Watford are already down, Brentford are  essentially safe and I have predicted them to slump in the final few weeks, and Palace’s form has been poor recently. I think Everton will take a 4-0 win from Watford, the momentum of which will carry them to a tight 2-1 victory at home to Brentford, by which point they’ll essentially be safe. The Palace game will allow them to play more freely without as much pressure, though perhaps the relaxation will hurt them; I foresee a 1-1 draw. Finally, their last match comes against Arsenal who will still be fighting for a Champions League place, so the Everton will slump to a 3-0 loss. Still, two wins will be more than enough, especially with a draw to help. Everton will be safe.