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This season has been incredible and the relegation fight is as exciting as the title race, with eleven teams being involved for large chunks of the season. Now the bottom seven are in immediate danger as they sit below 30 points, but West Ham, Hull, Stoke and Aston Villa will still want a couple of wins to secure their Premier League status. There will be plenty of twist and turns before the end of the season, but these sides will have to enter free fall to be playing Championship football next season.
Swansea have been a revelation since arriving in the Premier League, winning the Capital One Cup and playing European football in the past year, but the latter has caused them problems this season. The pile up of games has resulted in the side suffering from injuries with Michu missing the majority of the season. Garry Monk’s appointment as temporary boss has seen an improvement in the performances at the Liberty Stadium, so they will be optimistic about their chances of staying up. They are five points away from the drop zone, while they have played two more matches than Sunderland in 18th. Wilfried Bony has started to score goals, and if he continues to find the net consistently, the Ivorian should be able to fire the Swans to safety.
The Canaries have always been floating just above the relegation zone all season as Chris Hughton continues to get results when it looks like he is going to lose his job. The latest example of this was their 1-0 win at home against Spurs, playing very well in the process, but the inconsistency was evident when they followed it up with a 4-1 loss at Aston Villa. They appeared to be a side lacking confidence at Villa Park, which is incredible given they had just beaten one of the best sides in the division. Their run in looks very tough and they need to start picking up points very soon. Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel need to start scoring very soon, but their lack of goals could prove to be Norwich’s downfall.
Crystal Palace have been superb since Tony Pulis took the job, with the defence becoming very resolute. They very rarely lose to rivals in the bottom half, which leaves them in a good position to push themselves up to safety. Their main concern is their lack of goals as they have scored only 19 goals, which is the joint lowest in the league. They looked certainties to go down before Pulis was appointed, but since then they have looked a lot better than the majority of sides in the bottom half, so it looks likely that Palace will stay up for the first time in Premier League history. If they do manage to stay up, Tony Pulis should be considered as a candidate for manager of the year.
West Brom have become a stable club in the Premier League since returning in 2010 after years of being a yo-yo club, but they are in serious threat of returning to the second tier. Their head coach, Pepe Mel, is already under pressure after only a small period in charge with Keith Downing lined up as a replacement. Their Achilles heel has been the amount of draws they have been part of, they have drawn 13 matches, more than any other side in the division by some distance. Incredibly they have only won four matches, which they need to improve on very soon. The Baggies are able to score goals with 31 this season, more than any other side in the bottom six.
Like Palace, Sunderland also looked certainties for relegation at one point in the season, but Gus Poyet has revitalised their season with their cup runs playing a huge part in boosting morale. They were unlucky in the Capital One Cup final as they played very well, but their focus has to be on staying in the division. Their fate is still in their own hands as they have two games in hand over most of their rivals, but some fear their cup runs could eventually result in the Black Cats returning to the second tier.
Poyet has introduced a more aesthetically pleasing style of football, with Ki, Adam Johnson and Fabio Borini becoming very important players for the North East side. They have a tough run in with trips to Anfield, Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane and Old Trafford on the agenda, but home games against Crystal Palace, West Ham, Cardiff and Swansea give them plenty of chances to get points on the board.
Cardiff started the season very well, but the managerial change did them no favours. Malky Mackay did a very good job at the club, but he was replaced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and both the club and the Norwegian will regret that decision in the summer as the Welsh side look very likely to go down. The former Manchester United striker could have waited and received a better job, but he wanted to manage in England badly.
He now faces a huge task in the final ten matches with a side that has only picked up four points from the last nine matches. With matches against Fulham, West Brom, Crystal Palace, Stoke and Sunderland coming up, they have a chance, but they will need to win all five of these matches and that looks a very tough task. Wilfried Zaha and Frazier Campbell will be key for Solskjaer’s men.
Fulham are bottom of the league, but they are only four points from safety. The appointment of Felix Magath has raised eyebrows, but the German is a very talented coach who knows how to pick up points, albeit with unorthodox methods. Their performance at West Brom showed signs that they could survive, while they matched Chelsea for the first half of their match this last weekend.
They have by far the weakest defence in the league, conceding 62 goals this season, but Magath has already started work on stopping the constant leaking of goals. They have matches against Cardiff, Aston Villa, Norwich, Hull, Stoke and Crystal Palace before the end of the season, all of which are winnable games for Fulham. Lewis Holtby and Kostas Mitroglou could play a key role in keeping their new side in the Premier League.
I think West Brom, Sunderland and Cardiff will be the sides that fall out of the Premier League this season. The Baggies appear to be incapable of winning matches and they need to at least double their tally of four before the end of the season to secure their top flight status. I don’t see that happening. The suspension of Nicolas Anelka and the sale of Shane Long will come back to haunt West Brom, while they will also regret the appointment of Pepe Mel. Sunderland will suffer as a result of their cup runs.
They will be three matches behind some of their rivals and the need to play them in quick succession will cause Poyet’s men to make mistakes. Also the poor form of Jozy Altidore and Steven Fletcher will cost the side points. Cardiff just lack goals and Solskjaer’s inexperience will prove costly. Also they are leaking goals all over the place and you can’t afford to do that in the relegation fight. Although many consider Fulham certainties to suffer relegation, I’ve seen enough about Magath to suggest he can turn it around and there is always one side that comes back from the death.