24 games gone and only 14 to go, and the entire bottom half (from Stoke in 11th to Fulham at the very bottom) are separated by just six points. The equivalent value of two wins dividing ten teams. This is going to be the tightest relegation scrap in years and it’s almost impossible to identify three teams who can be considered weaker or in a weaker position to survive.
Many of the clubs involved have pushed the panic button well before now and decided to make managerial changes in the hope to pull clear of danger. Looking at the table now and comparing those clubs’ respective positions prior to those managerial changes and it’s difficult to make a case to suggest that they’ve worked. Inevitably, with most new appointments nowadays, there are honeymoon periods where the team in question starts to pick up results. However, with so many teams replacing their managers, these honeymoon periods are cancelling each other out and no single team has been able to make any real progress up the league table. Gus Poyet and Tony Pulis have started to mastermind revivals for both Sunderland and Crystal Palace respectively but both clubs still sit precariously just over the dotted line. In most other seasons, the consistency they’ve shown recently would’ve have been enough to climb several places. Such is the nature of this year’s Premier League. It’s virtually impossible to call. With the table as it is right now, the clubs with new men in charge don’t really have any sort of edge or advantage over those who kept the faith with theirs.
Therefore, with the hiring and firing that has taken place over the course of the season not being so decisive in the grand scheme of things, what is more likely to decide which clubs sink and which clubs swim are the results of the many “six-pointers” which will inevitably occur in the remaining months. With half of the league battling for the same thing (survival), many of the remaining fixtures will be of huge significance. Nearly every week there will be clashes between two teams that are in the bottom half and due to how close these teams are in terms of points, each of these will be like a cup final. Every team will know how important taking three points over a key relegation rival would be. On the other hand, they’ll also be very wary of the costliness of defeat. This weekend sees Crystal Palace meet West Brom (17th vs 16th), Sunderland V Hull (14th vs 13th) and of course, the Welsh derby which sees Swansea (now without Michael Laudrup) against Cardiff (who won for the first time under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last week).
As a result, I believe that to survive this year requires more of a stroke of luck than anything else. All the teams involved have got roughly the exact same chances of staying up, whether they’ve changed manager or not. Whoever manages to accumulate the most and the least points from the many “cup finals” that lie ahead is impossible to call. All I can say for certain is that the table will be just as close at the end in May as it is now. It’s also looking very likely that the last day of the season will be very exciting (or nerve-shredding if , like me, your team is embroiled in it) and that no one will be relegated for certain before game number 38 and that only two or three of the ten teams in the bottom half will be safe heading into game 38. Here’s hoping that by the time the music stops, your team still has a chair to sit on.