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The Premier League relegation zone is currently too tight to call, but I will make an attempt at deciphering it. With just nine points separating 10th from bottom, it is set to be the closest relegation battle in Premier League history. Here’s a run down of the teams struggling near the bottom.
Despite the fact they play nice football under Gus Poyet. Sunderland are littered with too many mistakes to stay in the Premier League. Lee Cattermole’s sloppy back-pass to Gabriel Agbonlahor for the only goal in the defeat to Aston Villa on New Years Day showed that well.
Furthermore, their form against teams at the bottom has been pretty poor. They haven’t beaten any of the other four sides currently occupying the bottom half of the league. If they are to stay up, this month will be critical. They have some winnable games against Fulham, Southampton and Stoke City. If they fail to win the maximum points from the month. It is difficult to see them staying in the Premier League.
The League Cup could also pose to be a hindrance. Now that they are in Semi-Finals, Poyet may gamble like Alex McLeish at Birmingham City a few years and go all out for a chance at silverware.
Injuries are ultimately costing West Ham currently, on New Years Day they were forced to play with four full-backs in defence. Also they only have two fit strikers in Carlton Cole and Madibo Maiga, both of which are far from the quality needed to score them goals to keep them in the Premier League.
Johnny Hetinga’s recent rejection of the club may be points to a lack of appeal in the club. Which could be problematic when looking for players to fill the void in the January transfer market. With one player already rejecting them outright, Allardyce may panic buy in the market.
Like Sunderland, the League Cup could take it out of them. Without a trophy since 1980 and Sam Allardyce without a major honor in his managerial career. A League Cup win could prove too tantilising for West Ham.
Before the start of the season, everybody had written Crystal Palace off. So to be talking about them staying up is credit to Tony Pulis for the job he has done so far at Selhurst Park.
Crystal Palace do have the pull of London in the transfer market as Tony Pulis has pointed out.
“It is one of the great cities, if not the greatest city in the world. It is nice to come here and work. London, hopefully, is attractive,”
Palace have become more gritty under Pulis, since the start of December they have only conceded seven goals. However, they also have only scored seven goals.
What has been said about Palace is that they may get away with winning against the teams around them. They have only lost to one of the other bottom four sides as they went down 4-1 to Fulham at home.
The end of this month could be crucial for Palace. Stoke and Hull both visit Selhurst Park in a set of games that Crystal Palace would expect to take some points. If they manage to go a run, anything is possible for the Eagles.
Currently it’s hard to judge Cardiff City. If Ole Gunnar Solkjaer is given the backing that Vincent Tan has promised, it’s hard to see them being in much trouble come May. But, if Tan is constantly putting the pressure on him to deliver instant success as he did with Mackay. It’s difficult to see Cardiff City being able to progress under the iron-fist of the owner.
Over the course of the season, there has been flashes that Cardiff can compete with the very best such as their results against both Manchester clubs. However, it has been games like the 2-2 draw with Sunderland that have suggested that Cardiff will pay the price for some shoddy defending at times.
February is the month they need to get it right. They play Norwich, Swansea, Aston Villa and Hull, all games could be must-win on the day. In late January, they travel to both Manchester clubs in the space of two weeks. So winning may be the only alternative if they want to close the gap on the teams in the top half of the league.
Fulham seem like an accident waiting to happen. Against Hull City they completely capitulated as they lost 6-0, however against West Ham they managed to grind out a 2-1 win. That was perhaps because West Ham are one of the only sides more broken than Fulham.
The January transfer market will be key to their survival, if Berbatov leaves like papers have suggested Fulham don’t have a prayer. Despite all the negatives comments surronding the Bulgarian, he has delivered a fair few times this season for the London club.
Fulham probably have the kindest end to the season. In their final three games they face Hull, Stoke and Crystal Palace. All games that they will go into believing they can win. If they take some of the spirit shown in 2007-08, they will comfortably stay up. Whether they still have that battling spirit is questionable.
Norwich for all their star signings have been one of the most uninspiring teams in the Premier League. Injuries to Ricky Van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper earlier in the season has dragged them into a relegation battle that they could easily lose.
The Christmas period provided an excellent chance for them to get points on to the board, but they failed to pick up a single win. Two draws and a defeat to Fulham, Sunderland and Crystal Palace may seem like an absolute failure come May if they get relegated.
If they haven’t picked up around 40 points by mid April it is easy to see Norwich as goners in the relegation battle if they are in the bottom three. In their final four games of the season they play Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. All games were it is conceivable to see them picking up a total of zero points.