EPL: The Battle for Relegation
With the weekend off for the teams in the English Premier League, given the fixtures of the FA lined up to the hilt, sleep will still be lost in the bottom half of the league. Starting January, mostly after the end of the January transfer window, the finger over the panic button starts quivering for the teams facing relegation. Usually, the battle restricts itself to the last five teams, but may occasionally even spread till the 13th place, with a very real risk of losing grip.
This time around, post the last round of matches, the bottom five teams are Newcastle, Aston Villa, Reading, Wigan Athletic and Queens Park Rangers, in that order. Newcastle currently stand at 21 points, two points shy of Southampton at 15th place, both having played 23 matches each. Newcastle’s goal difference stands at -13, which is better than the rest of the teams in the tub, and may account for a better shot at surviving their horrible drop in form. Also, Newcastle have gone ballistic in the January transfer window, buying as many as 5 new players, curiously all French, to cement the squad and plug gaps left by the outgoing Demba Ba.
Relatively safe at 14th are the Londoners Fulham. Under Newcastle are Aston Villa, at 20 points. Both these teams meet each other next week, in a midweek Premier League match-up which could decide the path for the future for both these outfits. Villa also suffer from the lowest goal difference in the Premier League, with -25. But currently, the battle is between the remaining three clubs, Reading, Wigan Athletic and Queens Park rangers, even though, mathematically, close to 6 teams are perilously close to each other and a win here or a loss there can quickly turn the tables. Let’s take a look at what these teams have to offer, starting with the bottom of the list, Queens Park Rangers.
Queens Park Rangers
Position – 20th
Points – 15
GD – (19)
Last 5 games – LLWDD
Prediction – Packing their bags soon, will appreciate the golden parachute
A total of 2 wins from 23 matches is not characteristic of a team in a league considered the crème de la crème of football leagues. That coupled with the measly number of goals scored – 18 – paints a gloomy picture for the team from Loftus Road. Queens Park Rangers looked good to hit the ground running when their purchases earlier in the year pointed to a credible finish. Starting with Julio Cesar, Park Ji Sung to their latest signing Loic Remy, snatched from under the noses of Newcastle United. The changes included Harry Redknapp, who has proven his worth in the past with tremendous records with Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspurs. But something has failed to click, and it clearly will not change immediately after the January transfers end. With an extremely dim outlook, we can almost certainly state that QPR will head to the Championship.
Position – 19th
Points – 19
GD – (18)
Last 5 games – LWLDL
Prediction – Have a bleak chance, will need to pip Reading, Newcastle and Aston Villa if they want to steer clear
Wigan have won 5 of their fixtures, drawn 4 and lost the rest. Although Reading have won a game less, they are still above them given their greater number of draws. Wigan haven’t convinced anyone this season and have a very few reasons to hold ground in the Premier League. Promoted at the same time with West Ham United, they managed to finish 10th and 11th respectively, in their first season at the top in 2005, which was certainly a commendable feat. But that has been their highest finish ever, and they have acted as a feeder team of sorts to the remaining clubs, notably the move of Antonio Valencia to Manchester United in 2009. Even today, James McCarthy is on the radar for a few clubs including Arsenal, who believe the midfielder deserves a better team. Given the slide down, McCarthy would be wise to pick another club, and safe at least himself from relegation, if not the club and Roberto Martinez.
Position – 18th
Points – 19
GD – (15)
Last 5 games – DWLWW
Prediction – Should stick around for another year, but will most likely force the sacrifice of Aston Villa
Top of the last three is not as comfortable as it may seem, but they do certainly have the best shot at jumping to the other side of the red line. Reading have won 4 games and drawn 7, three of the wins coming in the last 5 matches, which has signaled a resurgence of sorts for the club. Buoyed by commendable performances by midfielder Nicky Shorey, defender Adrian Mariappa and forward Pavel Pogrebnyak, Reading have pulled up their socks. Brian McDermott has a long way to go though, as the team’s promotion to the Premier League has been their brightest spot yet, which is now a little low for a long-term target. McDermott is no newcomer to such situations, and has been quite effective in the past, bagging the LMA Championship Manager of the Year in 2011-12. If Reading do manage to scrape some points and propel themselves to the next season, either Newcastle or Aston Villa will have to bite the bullet.