Liverpool FC: Christmas Crack Me Up Challenge
For all of the hype at the start of the season regarding the challenge for the Premier League title, it has been largely uneventful. Thanks to Pep Guardiola’s brilliance with Manchester City, they have had the championship sewn up for months with no real competition.
It might be stale at the top of the Premier League, but that could not be further from the truth near the bottom. And by bottom, any team who falls between 11th and 20th are in real danger of being relegated this season.
For some reason or another, the Premier League’s mid-table has now been sucked into this relegation dog fight, and it promises to take centre stage as the season enters the crucial point in terms of survival.
At the time of writing this, the difference between 11th and 20th, rock bottom, is 10 points. It was seven before Watford’s incredibly important win against Chelsea occurred, but there is no reason why the Hornets cannot be sucked back into the carnage with a patch of poor form.
From 12th to 20th, that margin of 10 slips down into seven points. Two wins and a draw, and results going their way, and West Brom can rise an enormous eight places.
This is why the relegation scrap has taken everyone by surprise. No one envisaged such a competitive edge to the Premier League’s bottom half, especially with only 12 games left to play.
What makes it so incredibly exciting is the unpredictability of what could occur. Every team has their own story of why they are down there – stubborn ownership, poor recruitment, lack of hunger – but the sense of the unknown is what is drawing fans in.
The three promoted teams from the Championship: Newcastle, Huddersfield and Brighton were all tipped to go back down due to their squads not being anywhere near good enough, let alone their experience in handling a relegation scrap.
However, at this moment in time, two out of the three are clear of the relegation zone. While that can easily change given how the table can shift dramatically in one weekend, both Brighton and Newcastle have done incredibly well in avoiding its grasp so far.
Newcastle, in particular, have done exceedingly well when you think they are stuck with Mike Ashley, an owner who does not want to be there, prohibiting the team in bolstering their team for the better. There were a number of players the Magpies were close to bringing in throughout the two transfer windows, but Ashley vetoed them due to financial reasons.
Rafa Benitez has done a stellar job in keeping morale high and getting the very best out of, quite simply, a Championship squad. If any other manager had taken charge of this Newcastle side, their fortunes would be significantly different and we could have seen a repeat of the 2008-09 Derby County season in the top flight.
Potential Premier League heavyweights Stoke and West Brom are in tangible danger of dropping down into the Championship. A change of managers has occurred at both clubs, but it might not well be enough to save themselves.
Alan Pardew might have improved the overall performances of the team, but the losing mentality has seemingly been ingrained into the club’s players. They have won one Premier League game in their last 24 – a frightening record for a team that is trying to escape relegation.
The Baggies’ other two wins this season came in the two opening rounds of the league, before teams had the chance to bring in more recruits and settle into the season. Since then, West Brom’s form has plummeted and they remain on the ropes fighting for their survival.
One of the surprises of the season has been Southampton’s dwindling form that has seen them become immersed in this battle. They might be losing their key players every summer to Liverpool, but it was expected that a top half finish was not out of reach after the arrival of new boss Mauricio Pellegrino.
Instead, Southampton’s only consistency has been through their inconsistency. They have struggled for wins and have drawn 11 games – the joint-most amount in the division. Saints remain just two points clear of going down into the Championship, which would be detrimental to their team given the amount of players that would demand to be sold. It is likely to be an exodus.
That can be said for most Premier League teams who have enjoyed a relative amount of success in staying in the league. The longer you are in England’s top flight, the more money you are receiving year on year, and therefore the more disposable cash you have to bring in high profile players.
If that team is then losing out on the money through being relegated, an exodus is likely to occur and it will be very difficult to come straight back up. Luckily for Newcastle, they had the resources and a very loyal fan base, but not every club is blessed with such fortunes.
Over the next few months it is going to be fascinating to witness an unprecedented relegation fight that is likely to go to the wire. We have truly never seen such a scrap.
19th: West Brom
Huddersfield to finish bottom 3/1
Relegation treble: Brighton/West Brom/Huddersfield 16/1