By this stage of the season the bottom end of the Premier League is usually far more interesting than the top. That doesn’t make it any more fun for the supporters of the clubs fighting the drop.
By this stage of the season you can normally expect at least one of the bottom places to be all but down. Since the escapology of recent seasons bets don’t seem quite so certain. When I last wrote about the state of the league, after 23 matches (2 February), six teams stood below a point per game – the level that has normally guaranteed safety.
Since then Leicester City and Middlesbrough have sacked their managers – one just in time and one perhaps a little late. Leicester have taken 15 points from seven games – the kind of form that, er, wins you the league. The contrast of five wins in a row since Ranieri’s departure and the five straight defeats before must hurt the Italian almost more than being sacked. Those who bemoaned the lack of loyalty and gratitude to Ranieri from the Leicester board shouldn’t have been surprised. Nigel Pearson was offed in Ranieri’s favour after ‘doomed’ Leicester stayed up in 2014-15 having taken 22 points from his last nine matches in charge.
The pre-Christmas switch to the Artful Drop-Dodger, Sam Allardyce, finally came good for Crystal Palace at the end of February with a four win run that has lifted them to 31 points while Swansea City, on their third manager this term have managed to add seven points in eight games.
The authors of the excellent book ‘The Numbers Game’, Chris Anderson and David Sally, point out that the initial lift that can be gained from a change of manager peters out after eight to ten games and substantive improvements then take longer to come through – the optimum time to drop the pilot being 8 games into the season. Not always true, of course, but Swansea’s switch to the unproven Paul Clement, promising at first, has not yet yielded enough to put them safe. Around the same time Hull City brought in Marco Silva on the back of a 79% win ratio at Olympiacos and has engineered four home wins and a draw (13 points) in the last eight.
Middlesborough, by contrast, have grubbed a mere two points from a possible 21, have no manager and seemingly no plan either. Grumpy Aitor Karanka has been gone more than three weeks with the janitor left in charge – janitors are notorious unsuccessful at avoiding relegation.
That leaves the only team in the bottom six not to have fired their boss during the season, Sunderland. With four points in seven games and five in the last ten, one might have expected the panic button to be pushed on Wearside – not least because it has been the pattern for a club that has had nine managers during their ten year stay in the top tier.
OK, so who is staying up?
Last season at this point and over the remaining games it panned out like this:
Sunderland and Newcastle both finished the season strongly, but for Newcastle it wasn’t enough. This season even Sunderland’s 13 point haul would not get themselves or Middlesbrough to a point per game. On that basis they both now look doomed.*
For the final place Palace, despite a tough run-in, should keep their heads above water and you have to imagine there is enough in the tank at West Ham for the couple of wins they need, which leaves Swansea and Hull. If you had asked me last week I would have said Swansea would just have the edge, but now I think that Hull’s home form will be enough. That’s because of the effect of playing already relegate teams on the run in.
To explain, I have all season expected Sunderland to pick up form and have enough to survive, however that now looks extremely unlikely. To reach 38 points would now require a performance equivalent to Leicester’s 2015 miracle. And while Leicester’s last eight included only Chelsea from the top six, Sunderland must face Manchester United at home, Arsenal and Chelsea away. Were Sunderland to make a last dash for safety they needed to get something, preferably a win, at Leicester last Monday. As things stand they could well be relegated before facing Hull away and Swansea in their final home game. In my book this makes things a little easier for Hull, so I’m now projecting Swansea for the drop with the table finishing like this:
Premier League Relegation run in predictions:
from 8 April round of matches**
Palace 31 + 8pts
Arsenal H (L), Leicester H (W), Liverpool A (D), Spurs H (L) Bournemouth H (W), M City A (L), Hull H (D), M Utd A (L)
Swansea 28 + 7pts
West Ham A (D), Watford A (D), Stoke H (W), M Utd A (L), Everton H (L), Sunderland A (D) WBA H (D)
Hull 30 + 7 pts
M City A (L), Stoke A (L), Watford H (W), Southampton A (L), Sounderland H (W), Palace A (D), Spurs H (L)
Middlesborough 23 + 5pts
Burnley H (W), Arsenal H (L), Bournemouth A (D), Sunderland H (L), M City H (L), Chelsea A (L), Southampton H (D), Liverpool A (L)
Sunderland 20 pts + 8 pts
M Utd H (L), West Ham H (D), Arsenal A (L), Middlesborough A (W), Bournemouth H (W), Hull A (L), Swansea H (D), Chelsea A (0)
** I had started this predictathon sadness last weekend before the midweek round of matches. I correctly guessed that Swansea would lose to Spurs and Hull would beat ‘Boro. I wrongly backed Sunderland to get a point at Leicester and Palace to do the same at Southampton. Since then I have revised things very slightly including my view that Hull will scrape home.
These will, of course, like all predictions prove to be bollocks, but they are based on a logic and current form – let’s see what happens.
* Readers know my sympathies, but the plight of the makems gives me no pleasure. I found it far easier to be maliciously partisan when I lived outside the region. Far too many good people who I like up hear are daft enough to support them. These days I’d like to see both teams playing derbies in the top tier – so long as we finish above them. What’s more, it’s an open secret that the business is in difficulties and relegation may do far more damage than they can sustain – and that would be extremely bad for the region. Finally, it’s perhaps sentimental, but I’d really like to have seen them stay up to bring another smile to young Bradley Lowery’s face.