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The Battle to avoid the EPL Trapdoor

Modified 12 Jan 2013, 14:00 IST

Title races in the English Premier League are often nail-biting, adrenaline-boosting affairs that are not for the faint-hearted. But so are the events that transpire at the other end of the table.

Every year, three unfortunate teams get relegated from the Premier League. What makes this ignominious incident even more heart-wrenching is that teams don’t know whether they are relegated right until the final whistle is blown on the last day of the season when all 19 league games kick off at the same time but finish mere moments from each other.

Blackpool, who played such effervescent football when they came to the EPL two years ago, were relegated at Old Trafford. Ian Evatt’s own goal on the last day of the season handed them a defeat when only a draw would have sufficed.

Going down with them were Birmingham City, who had won the League Cup that season; and although they would play in Europe next season, they would strangely be playing domestic football in the Championship.

Bolton’s relegation and Queens Park Rangers’ survival last season would be consigned to a mere footnote because of the manner in which Manchester City won their maiden EPL title after pipping Manchester United to it just because they had scored eight more goals.

Here are the top five relegation candidates for this season of the EPL and what they must do to get themselves out of the predicament they are in:

Queens Park Rangers:

Wigan Athletic v Queens Park Rangers - Premier League

Despite heavy investment in the squad this summer, the London club find themselves firmly rooted to the bottom of the table. With just 13 points from 21 games – the lowest ever total for a bottom side in the history of the EPL – new QPR man Harry Redknapp has his work cut out for him.

It is a story that reads slightly better when one realises that Mark Hughes’ tenure saw no wins in eight games, leading to his prompt dismissal despite backing from owner Tony Fernandes all season. However, the Rangers have earned themselves two very vital wins under new management. After picking up three points against Wigan, Sunderland and Aston Villa, an Adel Taarabt-inspired performance saw them pick up three points against Fulham at home before a memorable 0-1 upset of European Champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.


How do they avoid the trapdoor?

Rangers have too many players on their books who do not reflect the inflated wages they earn. The talent the squad possesses is undeniable, but they need to start pulling their weight and clicking together as a cohesive unit in order to grind out results.

Knowing Redknapp, he will try to bolster his already large squad with a few new faces in January with the tabloids already linking both Nwankwo Kanu and David Beckham with a move to Loftus Road. Tal Ben Haim has Premier League experience and will seek to bolster the R’s back line.

But should Harry continue to eke out results the way he has, QPR just might avoid the drop zone.

Next five League fixtures: Tottenham (H), West Ham (A), Manchester City (H), Norwich (H), Swansea (A)


Southampton v Reading - Premier League

It really is sad to see a club as talented as Southampton languish just above the relegation zone. Their Cinderella run under manager Nigel Adkins, which saw them earn promotion from both League One and the Football Championship – both at the first time of asking – has won them admirers throughout the footballing world.

But admiration can only take a club so far. With 18 points from 20 games, the Saints may be out of the red, but there is a very good chance of them falling back into it.

Several members of their squad are certainly very skilled in the Championship, but whether they possess the quality to make it in the world’s most competitive league is another question entirely.

How do they avoid the trapdoor?

What Southampton need to do is close games out effectively. That requires a certain mental toughness that only someone who has been there and done that can provide; something not quite present at St. Mary’s at the moment.

Their 3-2 defeat at home to Manchester United says it all. Leading twice in the game, the Saints ultimately gave way when Robin van Persie‘s hat trick left them empty-handed after ninety minutes.

But as their recent draws with Arsenal and Stoke will testify, their season looks to be on the up and if they continue to play the way they have of late, they should be safe.

Next five league fixtures: Aston Villa (A), Chelsea (A), Everton (H), Manchester United (A), Wigan Athletic (A)


Manchester City v Reading - Premier League

With their fixture against Arsenal imminent last year, several Reading players questioned their owner John Madejski over the investment that he had put into the squad in the summer.

Like Southampton, Reading came up from the Championship last season, winning it under current manager Brian McDermott. Like the Saints, Reading also seem to have too many players who are worthy for the Championship but fall short when it comes to playing in the Premier League.

Manager Brian McDermott has striven to do the best he can with the players at his disposal. Unfortunately, they seem to have delivered at the wrong time and place.

The Royals scored two goals in quick succession against Arsenal. Credible, but they scored them after they’d conceded four and Theo Walcott’s fifth soon afterwards sealed the game. Against Manchester City, they showed great tenacity in silencing the City attack for more than ninety minutes, but Gareth Barry’s late late goal was to deprive them of a deserved point.

How do they avoid the trapdoor?

What is necessary is investment by the owner. Several members of the squad lack Premier League experience, which is demonstrated on the field in the form of naivete that ultimately tends to deliver the wrong kind of results. Reading have the worst away record in the league.

Kaspars Gorkss is the one name that comes to mind, Danny Guthrie is another, but several of Reading’s recruits such as Jimmy Kebe and Chris Gunter, both of whom are no doubt talented, are green when it comes to playing in the English top-flight.

Serious investment this winter, coupled with an upturn in form the solution for Reading to climb out of the relegation zone as the months wear on. That already seems to be in motion with the signings of Stephen Kelly, Daniel Carrico and Hope Akpan.

Next five league fixtures: West Bromwich Albion (H), Newcastle (A), Chelsea (H), Sunderland (H), Stoke (A)

Wigan Athletic

Wigan Athletic v Manchester United - Premier League

Relegation battles seem to be enmeshed in the DNA of Wigan Athletic. So too, however, does survival.

The Latics have flirted with relegation ever since they came to the Premier League in 2005.

However, despite facing relegation every year, the club seem to be in the up as far as the bigger picture is concerned. For the first time since they were purchased by billionaire sports tycoon Dave Whelan, Wigan announced an operating profit of £4.7 million last year.

Wigan always have had topsy-turvy seasons, but manager Roberto Martinez, who made his name in England with the JJB Arena outfit, is the right man to lead them forward. He personifies the rise Wigan have made in the last fifteen or so years.

How do they avoid the trapdoor?

Last season’s late surge saw them beat Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United in the second half of the season in their quest to prolong their stay in the EPL.

The year before that, both Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers were beaten as Wigan once again beat the trapdoor.

Wigan have a quality side, and taking their game up another notch should see them safe yet again. Both Angelo Henriquez and Roger Espinoza will add depth to the Greater Manchester side.

Next five league fixtures: Fulham (A), Sunderland (H), Stoke (A), Southampton (H), Chelsea (A)

Aston Villa

Aston Villa v Wigan Athletic - Premier League

Maybe it’s just me, but a lot of Premier League clubs are actively investing in Championship talent this season. This could mean one of two things: either players in the Championship are of very high stock, which is true, or the global economic crisis is finally hitting the Barclays Premier League.

Either way, this season has blown more cold than hot for Paul Lambert’s side. Finding themselves just a point clear of the bottom three with 19 from 21 games, the Villans could be in for a repeat of last season’s performance under Alex McLeish where they finished sixteenth.

Nearly all the players that Lambert has invested in come from the Championship or below. Kieron Westwood, Jordan Bowery and Joe Bennett came in. All of them are quality players, but questions remain over whether they can adapt to the EPL’s unforgiving nature.

How do they avoid relegation?

Villa seem to be looking at the bigger picture, investing in youth and securing their long-term status in the Premier League before kicking on upward. Experience is present in the form of newcomers Ron Vlaar, Brett Holman and Karim El-Ahmadi (loan), all of whom came from the Dutch Eredivisie.

New signing Christian Benteke seems determined to be banging in the goals, and with Andreas Weimann ably lending him support, with a couple of experienced faces this winter, Villa could move away from relegation and into relative mid-table safety.

Next five league fixtures: Southampton (H), West Bromwich Albion (A), Newcastle (H), Everton (A), West Ham (H)

Published 12 Jan 2013, 13:59 IST
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