The Premier League relegation battle
The Premier League has now entered the second half of the season and the looming threat of relegation is now ever-present for a handful of clubs, as with every week they edge closer to Championship football next season. Watford, Burnley, Newcastle and Norwich are involved in a fight for survival in the Premier League this season as they continue to drift away from the rest of the league. One of these teams will avoid the three relegation places come the end of the season; which side is best placed to achieve the coveted position of 17th in the Premier League?
Only three sides have ever survived relegation when sitting bottom of the Premier League on Christmas Day since 1992. Norwich will want to add their name to this list as, similarly to them, West Brom in 2004-05, Sunderland in 2012-13 and Leicester in 2014-15 all had ten points at this stage of the season.
Norwich have invested £54 million in transfers this summer, while the sacking of Daniel Farke and the hiring of Dean Smith demonstrated the club’s ambition and determination to stay in the Premier League this season. However, their fight to stay up has been hampered by poor performances and poor results, a worrying consistency under both managers to this point in the season. Smith will look to rediscover his initial form of gaining five points in his first three games in charge as their form since the Tottenham Hotspur game has been reminiscent of their time under Farke.
The Canaries have placed their fate and hopes on the ability of Smith to keep them in the Premier League as he has done previously with Aston Villa. Norwich will have little to no money to invest in their squad, one that is not able to compete at this standard as witnessed this season, in the January transfer window. Smith will need to find some defensive solidity to fix the league’s joint-worst side for goals conceded and hope that his side start converting their chances to grind out some results by the end of the season due to their abysmal goal return, with only eight in 19 matches. Norwich have a seemingly impossible task to survive, however that was also said about West Brom, Sunderland and Leicester.
The side that sits in the much-desired 17th spot currently sat two points above the relegation zone, but there is nothing confirmed regarding safety at this point of the season for Watford.
Watford spent £27 million on incoming players during the summer to help strengthen their squad, not a major investment on players when compared to other top division sides, but it is still an investment that is yet to bear fruit when looking at their results this season.
The club needs to invest over the January transfer window to help bolster the squad and improve the quality. They haven’t been strong defensively and will need a centre-back and left-back given the problems they have had in these areas, with players like Adam Masina, Danny Rose and Francisco Sierralta struggling to meet the required standard of the Premier League.
Watford have decided to move for an experienced manager with the hiring of Claudio Ranieri to replace Xisco Munoz in their bid to remain within the league. Since hiring Ranieri, they have only won two matches and have not looked like winning many games in his 11-game reign so far. Ranieri needs to address this form immediately as Watford will play each of the bottom three this month in the hope of opening a gap to secure their safety. By the end of January, Watford will look to have secured their Premier League safety, otherwise, we could see them getting dragged deeper into a relegation dogfight.
The club that finished 17th last season to confirm their safety in the league, and since their promotion to the league again for the 2016/17 season, have looked quite comfortable within the division. However, this year there seems to be more alarm bells ringing in regards to their status as a Premier League club than ever before.
Burnley are the only side of the four not to replace their manager at this point and will place trust in Sean Dyche to stave off relegation. Dyche is the best option as a manager to keep the side in the league with the faith and trust of the players and fans in his ability to play a style that will eventually grind out results.
Burnley’s attack has been their problem, with their defence being quite average, with less than half the teams in the league having conceded fewer goals. The need to address their lack of goals is the key to Dyche keeping Burnley in the league, and this could come in the form of a creative player. Proven goal scorers Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood and Matteo Vydra will score goals if the chances are created, and with their top scorer this season (Maxwel Cornet) away on International duty, they desperately need a replacement; John Swift of Reading being a good option for the role.
Burnley will look to a set of difficult fixtures over the next few weeks and hope to come out of this period still in a fight for safety. Dyche, fans and the squad will be confident of securing safety if they are within touching distance of that 17th spot following the Liverpool fixture in mid-February.
The newly acquired side of the Saudi Public Investment Fund will look to this month as vital to their Premier League safety, on and off the pitch. The club are currently second bottom of the league and are fighting to avoid relegation for the 7th time in their history.
The hiring of Eddie Howe to replace Steve Bruce was the first step in fighting relegation. However, this decision has not seen a dramatic change in their fortunes as Howe aims to change their style of play, resulting in Newcastle achieving six of their 11 points this season. Howe will look to gain some winning results throughout the month of January to kickstart a positive run before their difficult end to the season come April.
The Newcastle management and owners will invest in a number of signings to achieve this and to secure their top division status. They will hope that their business this January will be more fruitful than the last time they were entrenched in a relegation fight under Steve McClaren. The four signings did not change the fortunes that season, as the club got relegated under Rafael Benitez.
The club are going about their transfer business quite meticulously so far in January to avoid repeating past mistakes. The signing of Kieran Trippier and the rumours of Luca Digne and Sven Botman display a key drive to establish a strong base at defence in which to attack and to aid the need to improve their incredibly fragile backline. The need to strengthen in attack isn’t as important but, following the injury to Callum Wilson, another striker would be beneficial.
When the end of January and the closure of the transfer window comes around, we will understand how Newcastle are shaping up in their fight against relegation with their refreshed squad and following the important fixtures against Watford and Leeds.
The clubs involved in the Premier League relegation battle will look at the three-point gap between 17th and 20th to provide hope for all. However, being realistic Norwich will struggle to survive and will have to play levels above their ability and hope that the other clubs continue to drop points. Watford require clever investment and better performances defensively to provide them with any chance of staying in the division. Newcastle need to invest correctly and improve upon their poor performances under Howe to avoid relegation from the Premier League. An improvement in their attacking play and to hope that their defensive luck will become more fortuitous could see Burnley stay up.
The favourites for many to survive due to the suspected heavy investment will be Newcastle. However, Burnley have done the job done under Dyche before and this experience could propel them towards safety come the end of the season.
Written by Brendan McGilligan| Feature Image taken by Stephen Pond/Getty Images |
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