The Premier League is witnessing one of the most bizarre seasons it has ever had. Playing in front of empty stadiums week in week out with stringent rules, uncertain fixtures, things weren’t as easy as it was before. With the financial recession leaving clubs to find every option to maximize revenue generation, sustaining good form is vital for every club. However, to the surprise of all, the Premier League has bore witness to some interesting sets of results and triumphs unlike any other leagues this season.
Notably, the rise of Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton showed how certain clubs have managed to nullify the disadvantages of this season. Meanwhile, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs have failed to find steady form throughout the season, with Arsenal, in particular, experiencing the worst run of form in their recent history. To add more flavour to the mix, many midtable clubs have managed to outsmart their counterparts to achieve a higher success rate early on in the season. With the season gearing up for a grand climax, a shroud of mystery still lies over how the premier league table will look at the end of the season.
As with the form, Manchester City look incredibly solid as they sit top of the table, with a 14 point lead over Manchester United. Leicester City have also managed to keep up with the Manchester sides, with Chelsea trailing them closely behind.
West Ham, Liverpool and Everton are also in a close contention to seal a spot in Europe next season. With Liverpool failing miserably, alongside Spurs and Arsenal, the race for Champions League football next season will be a tough one to predict.
But as the season reaches a steep turn before a final run, the race for Premier League football next season is gathering more attention ever than before. Take for instance, how the league table looked like at the same time period last season. Aston Villa, West Ham, Bournemouth and Norwich City were all playing cat and mouse chase at the wrong end of the table. However, it was Watford who were fated to be relegated alongside Norwich and Bournemouth.
Newcastle United and Southampton
Newcastle and Southampton in particular, are currently in such a state of collapse, with both teams struggling to make points count. Southampton, in particular, have only managed to win twice in their last 17 matches. Newcastle, on the other hand, have been struggling since the start of the new year, and haven’t won a game since Feb 9th. 3 draws in quick succession against West Brom, Aston Villa and Wolves means, they are now 17th in the table. Not to mention, they are only 2 points clear of Fulham, after failing to defeat relegation threatened Brighton on Matchday 29. The result brings huge pressure on Steve Bruce, who has been widely criticized for the team’s recent poor displays.
Ryan Fraser’s failure to settle down, Covid-19 induced pressure on the team, a lack of a proper voice in the dressing room have all impacted on their season. It is also interesting to see that Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is still backing Steve Bruce despite failures on and off the pitch for the Magpies. Steve Bruce, on the other hand, was pretty much vocal about the poor performances, stating his team’s misfortunes were associated with the Covid-19 outbreak.
On the other hand, several players have also shown a dislike to his approach, with Matt Richie it has recently been reported to have engaged in a war of words with Steve Bruce. The long-standing tension between 21-year-old Sean Longstaff and Steve Bruce has also impacted the morale of the club. Unsuccessful in their last 6 matches, the absence of Callum Wilson and poor form in front of goal have all played a significant factor in their recent poor run of results.
Newcastle’s lack of faith in giving game time to youngsters like Elliot Anderson, Sean Longstaff, Matty Longstaff and Tom Allan has also deeply impacted the morale of an injury-prone bench. Also, the absence of a creative force in attack has been a constant problem for the Magpies this season. With Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron unavailable, Steve Bruce is forced to play Matt Richie upfront with little success in recent weeks. Shifting to a defensive style also had limited success, as they have only managed 1 clean sheet since the start of the new year. With only 7 wins so far this season, it is still unclear how Steve Bruce will stay clear of the Baggies and possible relegation.
Southampton currently sit 14th in the table but have only managed a single victory in their last 7 matches. It is also worth saying, they topped the premier league table briefly during this season but failed to maintain the same form ever since. Even more to say, their humiliating 9-0 defeat at Manchester United also had a significant impact on the club morally as well. Saints coach Ralph Hasenhuttl has also stated he will “try to be as self-critical as possible” about their current form. Despite Southampton’s poor performances, Hasenhuttl continues to have plenty of backing from the board and fans.
It is also interesting to look at how a turn of events changes the course of a season. Going back to November 2020, when Southampton sat top of the Premier League and now fast forward four months, the Saints are sitting at the wrong end of the table. Not to mention they have also gone a record 6 games without a win. They have only managed just 4 wins in their last 21 matches ever since topping the league. A continued slump in the form changed their high pressing football into a more defensive approach in recent games. The major crisis Saints have faced in recent weeks is the mounting injury concerns in the first team as well.
Losing star striker Danny Ings to injury at Sheffield United is the latest on a list of growing injury concerns for Hassenhutl. However, the return of absentees Kyle Walker-Peters, Takumi Minamino and Ibrahima Diallo has also brought hope for Saints. Even without these injury concerns, there were signs of struggle in the Saints game-play. Ings who was brilliant at the start of the season has only managed to score just twice in his last 11 games. Elsewhere, they hold the third-worst defensive record in the league, with 51 goals conceded so far. Manchester City, Spurs, Leeds and Manchester United have also ripped Saints defence apart this season, which looks more open in the absence of Walker-Peters.
Southampton in contrast to Newcastle have easier fixtures in the coming weeks. They face Burnley, West Brom and Crystal Palace in their next three fixtures. Newcastle on the other hand face Spurs and Burnley followed by three tough matches against West Ham, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Fulham, Burnley and West Brom are definitely in the conversation when we are discussing the relegation battle this season. We could easily omit Sheffield United from this conversation as they have largely fallen out of this picture already. With just 4 wins so far this season, they are 14 points behind the safety zone with little hope for any miracle to work in their favour.
Fulham, on the other hand, were pretty decent and awful at the same time this season. They have managed sensational victories against Liverpool and Everton but failed to replicate the same success against struggling teams like Newcastle and Burnley. Fulham have also beaten Leicester City and taken additional points off Spurs, Liverpool, and West Ham. This lack of consistency is what makes Scott Parker’s team an unexpected phenomena this season.
Promoted alongside West Brom the Cottagers were excellent throughout the season. However, their failure in front of goal has been a constant problem which Scott Parker has failed to address in recent games. Not to mention, the last time they have managed more than 2 goals this season was way back in September. However, they still hold the best defensive record in the lower half of the table. Scott Parker should be credited for their quality in defence.
Joachim Andersen and Tosin Adarabioyo pairing up at the back has been a major positive for Fulham this season. Under Parker’s guidance, Fulham have stood firm defensively as a unit against any opposition throughout this season. Even two of the goals conceded in their latest outing against Manchester City was a product of individual errors rather than a collective one. However, they are also pretty toothless going forward despite the presence of high-quality attackers in Mitrovic, Bobby Decordova-Reid, Ivan Cavaleiro and Lookman.
Talking about their form, they were at one point, 8 points above the relegation zone before they went on and had a series of disappointing draws against the likes of Palace and Burnley. This left them back on the edge of the relegation zone, with several key injuries reported in the first team. Fulham captain, Tom Cairney it is also reported is out for the rest of the season with a calf injury. Slovakian goalkeeper Marek Rodak and attacker Bobby Decordova-Reid are also unavailable for the upcoming games.
The latest match saw them lose against Leeds United who managed a 2-1 victory over a disappointing Fulham side at Craven Cottage. The result means they stay 18th in the table, two points adrift Newcastle who have played one game less. Fulham also have one of the toughest runs of fixtures against the likes of Villa, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United in the coming weekends.
Burnley and Brighton
Both teams have a major stake in surviving this season. Both are also placed 15th and 16th in the table respectively. For Brighton, it is their 4th relegation struggle in the last 4 years since their promotion. Graham Potter’s team have somehow managed to stay put in the last four years, thanks to a timely recovery at the end of every season. Like Fulham, they too are a good side to watch, but fail miserably when we are talking about scoring goals.
Their brilliant attacking unit has also managed victories against the like of Liverpool and Aston Villa this season. The problem has been the shot conversion rate, which shows a whole different story about Brighton. Injury to Tariq Lamptey has also been a great blow for the Seagulls especially given his good start to the season. With tough fixtures ahead against Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea right around the corner, Brighton will hope to do better than what they did last time around. In their most recent outing, they managed to dominate the game against Newcastle United at home with a 3-0 win. The result leaves them safely 6 points clear of the relegation zone.
Burnley on the other hand, under Sean Dyche, are far safer than all the other teams in the bottom half. After a poor start to the season and an injury-prone campaign, Burnley seem to be finally picking up points. An impressive victory against Everton and a series of draws against Arsenal and Leicester City has taken them 7 points clear of the drop zone.
Their goal droughts in recent campaigns have been a serious problem that Sean Dyche is trying to address. Burnley’s injury problems have also begun to ease, with Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Robbie Brady returning followed by Matej Vydra to first team action. However, they miss striker Ashley Barnes, when goals are hard to come by for this Burnley side.
West Brom is the final name on the list, and probably be the least expected club to survive this relegation battle. However, as it stands, Sam Allardyce needs a lot more than his experience in rescuing this club from potential relegation. With a series of draws against fellow strugglers in the bottom half, West Brom continue to struggle in getting decent performance in recent games. To add more pressure, they were defeated 1-0 by Crystal Palace on matchday 29. The result leaving them 10 points below the safety zone.
Fo the Baggies they have the worst possible defensive record as well as an attack that doesn’t score many goals. West Brom must consider themselves fortunate not to be at the bottom of the table. Managing just 20 goals so far this campaign followed by the worst defensive performance it is highly unlikely to see them improving during the rest of this campaign.
With fixtures against Chelsea, Leicester, Aston Villa, Arsenal, Liverpool and West Ham to come, Sam Allardyce is probably staring at the prospect of the first top-flight relegation of his managerial career.