Nobody is safe in this division- well, unless your name is Man City, Liverpool, Man Utd, Arsenal, Spurs or Chelsea. It is a hallmark of the modern financial disparity in football that we can comfortably speak of such crisp boundaries. Gone is the ‘mid table’, gone is the ‘too good to go down’, gone is the ‘too big a club to go down’- just ask a Newcastle fan. Across the continent Europe’s elite are speeding in front in their domestic leagues, spearheaded by some corrupt country in the Middle East. A league inside a league, but who will fall short ?
Huddersfield and Cardiff
Let’s be frank, Huddersfield and Cardiff make a mockery of the Premier League at times. It is built up to be this competition of razor-thin margins, fiery duels and astronomically high stakes yet one simply can not comprehend why Keneth Zohore and Sergio Aguero are sharing the same pitch.
Perhaps even more mind-boggling is the idea that Huddersfield have won 11 points this year, and you wouldn’t bet against that total remaining the same for the rest of the season. In fairness, The Terriers performed well at times under David Wagner this season yet their lack of a competent striker has cost them myriad points, as well as their over-reliance on Aaron Mooy for any real attacking guile. Wagner will remain a club legend for not only leading Huddersfield into the Premier League, but keeping them their for another for season. It was, in my opinion, the most underrated feat in the history of the Premier League. A return to the Championship is no embarrassment. Cardiff, on the other hand, have just won their first consecutive Premier League matches since 1962 and look increasingly likely to stay up against the odds. They are annoying, awkward, tedious and, even worse, managed by Neil Warnock. Yet you find yourselves rooting for the villains. Cardiff have a direct yet versatile set up but it is their fighting spirit that has won them matches this season- The Bluebirds have won 6 points in the final 10 minutes this season. Their fight is admirable, but I think the quality of sides around them like Southampton and Newcastle will shine through.
Current Position: 17th, 24 points
My prediction: 18th
Current Position: 20th, 11 points
My prediction: 20th
Fulham have squandered a massive opportunity. Alexander Mitrovic, Ryan Sessegnon and Andre Schurrle looked set to tear the division up, but harsh reality bit, chewed and spat out The Cottagers. Slaviša Jokanović’s expansive, pressing football left Fulham extremely open for a team who, although possessing an abnormal amount of individual quality for a side just rising from the Championship, were still not ready to go toe to toe with the elite.
Their brittle defence and goalkeeper compounded their woes as supporters began to lose patience with Jokanovic. Ranieri was brought in to bring a bit of defensive stability and has done so to a minor extent, but failed his most important job : bringing in a defender. Want to know who came instead ? A 32 year old Ryan Babel. Baffling. Transfer dealings and tactics aside, certain players have not stepped up when the going gets tough. Sessegnon has struggled with the step-up in quality, Schurrle goes anonymous too often and Jean-Michael Seri just seems despondent at times. However fans of the Premier League are well aware that Ranieri loves a miracle, their remaining fixtures don’t look too foreboding ( yet to play Cardiff at home and Newcastle at home ) and the minimum points total to stay up has been decreasing since the 2015/16 season so never say never. But for me, in a relegation scrap, you can’t be shipping in the amount of goals Fulham are for a feasible chance of staying up ( 2.2 goals a game ).
Current position: 19th, 17 points
My prediction: 19th
Burnley are back being Burnley again. Stout defending, winning 2nd balls and Ashley Barnes being a fox in the box conceived the Royal Dyche (a pub in Lancashire), and the Europa League looked to have destroyed it. There was this malaise around Turf Moor at the start of the season. Part of it was the hangover from the failed European qualifiers, where the disruption of a pre-season break really took its toll on the small Burnley squad. Although it was also a mental distraction. For whatever reason, Dyche’s men were straying away from their core values. After 15 games they were 19th with a mere 9 points, plagued by this melancholy. Burnley weren’t going down without a fight though, and, with a wave of that envied claret and blue wand, Dyche had found a way for Burnley to get their mojo back. It started as the festive period began to draw to an eventful close, with 3 emphatic victories against West Ham and relegation rivals Fulham and Huddersfield. Tom Heaton returned to the side, pushing Joe Hart on to the bench and has put in some solid performances while Wood and Barnes look to be rekindling their fiery partnership of old. It’s a credit to the man-management skills of Dyche to pull Burnley out of that abyss. Burnley are also an example of how the 4-4-2 can still cut the mustard- they just abuse crosses into the penalty area and rarely have less than five men behind the ball due to the positional discipline of the full backs. Burnley will marginally survive, despite still having to play five of the big six.
Current position: 15th, 25 points
My prediction: 17th
There comes a point where lambasting Mike Ashley only gets you so far. You have to concentrate on what matters the most at this moment time, and that is making sure Newcastle remain in the Premier League. Not only for TV rights and commercial money, but to hold on to that magical Spaniard, Rafa Benitez. It is through his tactical guile that Newcastle are not in the relegation zone- though they are only 1 point above it. And that, in itself, is a real concern. For all their positives results recently, the threat of relegation still hangs cripplingly heavy for the Toon army.
The problem is that Newcastle are just a bunch of cheap misfits, dumped in by Ashley to temporarily subdue fan rancour.
Christian Atsu, Mohamed Diamé and Ki Sung-Yeung are all respectable players, but chuck them together in a midfield and you can say goodbye to three points. Pundits moan when Benitez sets up in a 5-3-2 formation against the top six but what are you expecting him to do ? Run a gegenpress with Matt Ritchie, Ayoze Perez and Kenedy ? Newcastle have a favourable fixture list and desperately need six points in their next two games ( Huddersfield and Burnley at home ). Whatever happens, it may not be enough for Benitez to put pen to paper.
Current position: 16th, 25 points
My prediction: 16th
Eagles, Seagulls and Saints
Southampton: Impressive start to the Premier League for the Alpine Klopp, Ralph Hassenhüttl. Has been a breath of fresh air after the tediousness of Hughes. A couple of poor results recently that they shouldn’t read into too much- they have been desperately unlucky. Southampton fans are back on their feet again with his captivating, high-intensity pressing game- The Saints will stay up. In the summer, Hassenhüttl will most likely look to bring in personnel to fit his favoured 4-2-2-2 system from RB Leipzig.
Current position: 18th, 24 points
My prediction: 14th
Crystal Palace: Roy Hodgson has proved this season that he is not just your archetypal ‘English, 4-4-2, long ball, emergency man’. Palace have played some fine football this year but have just lacked a cutting edge to their attacks at times.
Christian Benteke is a lost cause. The man has been struggling for confidence for years now, he needs to get out of the Premier League to rethink his career. Meanwhile, Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been one of the breakthrough stars of the season.
Current position: 13th, 27 points
My prediction: 13th
Brighton: There has been a lot of talk about Brighton at the moment, suggesting that they are in some sort of crisis. It’s true, they are only 3 points above the relegation zone and have a terrible away form- The Seagulls have only won 7 points on the road this season. But Brighton have a fantastic squad with a lot of quality players and the lucid Chris Hughton will no doubt be a calming influence if things get heated. Though looking at the direction of the club panoramically, their recruitment must improve. Brighton have spent over £130m in the past two years on average foreign players like Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Jürgen Locadia and José Izquierdo and Brighton are certainly not the wealthiest of clubs. Doubtless, the quota on foreign players enforced by Brexit will help a club like Brighton move to a more sustainable model and grant more opportunities for young English players to develop at the highest level.
Current position: 14th, 27 points
My prediction: 15th