The Premier League title race may be over, but the battle for survival is hotly contested with five teams scrapping for their Premier League status. I will look at how each time has found themselves facing relegation and what a drop down to the Championship could mean for them.
With the COVID-19 pandemic having huge effects on all clubs, relegation could cause overwhelming financial ramifications meaning that Premier League survival is more important than ever; dropping down to the Championship could have long term effects on some of the teams at the bottom.
To avoid these catastrophic consequences which could cripple a relegated team, many of the clubs towards the bottom of the Premier League called for the ‘null and void’ option during the lockdown period.
However, these pleas were countered with the resumption of the season behind closed doors meaning teams have to battle for survival without the support of their respective fan bases. This puts a different spin on the relegation battle which could add to the number of surprises and upsets.
20th- Norwich City, 21 points
Norwich sit bottom of the league, 6 points from safety meaning it is very unlikely that they’ll be playing Premier League football next season. However, their season hasn’t been disastrous and they’ve played some good football at times and will have the mindset that they can rebuild in the Championship and come back stronger under the stewardship of Daniel Farke.
Photo: Norwich City
Their main problem is that they have little money to spend and only spent around £6 million in the summer transfer window, meaning Farke wasn’t able to bring in many players to help their survival campaign.
However, they started the season brightly and beat Manchester City at Carrow Road with Teemu Pukki starting the campaign in frightening form. He combined nicely with the exciting Todd Cantwell who has probably been Norwich’s stand out player this season along with Emi Buendia.
Cantwell has racked up 6 goals and 3 assists this season while he completes 82% of his passes and helps the team defensively with 3 tackles per game. While Buendia hasn’t scored yet this season, he has completed 8 assists and contributes to an incredible 5 tackles per game which is unique for a right midfielder.
Pukki’s goals have dried up recently and Norwich have struggled defensively all season meaning they find themselves in 20th. While their defence is made up of the talented youngsters Ben Godfrey, Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis, their lack of experience has shown and they have shipped 56 goals.
Norwich are set to gain considerable funds this summer from the probable sales of Cantwell, Buendia, Aarons, Lewis and Godfrey meaning that they will be in a good position to rebuild in the Championship. Farke is likely to stay on despite the relegation, and can build a team capable of promotion, meaning that relegation is by no means disastrous for Norwich City.
Photo: Joe Giddens / PA
They are used to working with a small budget so they will adapt to the COVID-19 market nicely and they are also no strangers to relegation followed by promotion so they will have a plan in place to repeat a season of Championship success with the aim of breaking into the Premier League and staying there in the future.
19th- Bournemouth, 27 points
The narrative surrounding Eddie Howe’s excellence is drying up this season due to Bournemouth’s position in the relegation zone with 7 games to go.
For the past few seasons, Howe hasn’t spent wisely on many occasions and has proven to operate ineffectively with a Premier League budget. This is epitomised by the £50 million spent on the underperforming trio of Dominic Solanke, Lloyd Kelly and Arnaut Danjuma in recent times which paired with the poor form of key men Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser this season has culminated in a team worthy of relegation.
Photo: Bournemouth Echo
Furthermore, injuries to David Brooks and Lewis Cook have limited the Cherries’ creativity and the once-potent Callum Wilson has lacked service, shown through his 8 goals and 1 assist this season, contrasting to last season’s 14 goals and 10 assists.
This is mirrored in Fraser’s form, who has scored just 1 goal while contributing to 4 assists compared to his 7 goals and 14 assists last season. It’s therefore clear that Bournemouth’s attack is struggling and Fraser’s contract expires on the 30th June and he is clearly desperate to leave the South Coast after rejecting a new contract and an extension.
Bournemouth’s defence has also been shaky with Steve Cook seemingly aging out and Chris Mepham not adapting to the Premier League at the speed which many had hoped he would. Nathan Aké is probably the Cherries’ best player, although it has been a tough season for him and Bournemouth have conceded 50 goals.
It is a phenomenal achievement for Bournemouth to have spent 5 years in the Premier League as they are a small club with a small budget and tiny stadium. However, being the size they are, it’s unlikely that they’d gain promotion quickly as a rebuild capable of promotion may take some time and the financial downgrade of relegation will surely have a greater impact on the Cherries than the likes of Aston Villa and West Ham.
Furthermore, it’s likely that Howe would decide to leave Bournemouth after a long and successful tenure in the South Coast, meaning a potential Championship rebuild would be harder and in the hands of a new face. Relegation would therefore hit AFC Bournemouth hard and I think they’d struggle to gain promotion in the near future as a result.
18th- Aston Villa, 27 points
Despite spending around £140 million in the summer, Aston Villa have struggled in the Premier League this season after gaining promotion through the play offs. Dean Smith has heavily relied on the magic of Jack Grealish especially in the 2nd half of the season after injuries to their key players: Wesley, Tom Heaton and John McGinn.
Their situation mirrors that of Norwich through their poor defence but obvious collection of exciting players. Grealish is by far their best player and is set to be on the end of bids north of £50 million this summer. The Englishman has scored 7 goals and provided 7 assists this season while operating both centrally and off the left wing.
Villa find themselves in 19th place due to their disappointing defensive record, highlighted by the 59 goals they have conceded. Tyrone Mings has been solid but lacks the company of a strong partner and full back pairing as well as a good keeper behind him (due to Heaton’s ACL injury).
However, the Villans are still able to escape relegation and are just a point off 16th-placed Watford despite being winless in 8 games. They have an incredibly tough run though with United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton lying in their wake and are odds on to go down.
Villa will likely lose McGinn, Grealish and Mings for cut-rate prices should they go down, meaning that the club hierarchy will have to rebuild the spine of the team under financial strain. They’ll be desperate to escape the drop and could face severe financial difficulties should they go down after spending so much money last summer.
Smith is also likely to face the sack and relegation will most likely cause a period of turmoil in North-East Birmingham that could result in an extended period in the Championship reflective of the 3 seasons that the ex-European Cup winners spent between 2016 and 2019.
The Villa faithful will be praying for some more standout performances from Grealish if they stand any chance of survival and will face a mass exodus and restructuring of the club that could cause long term damage should they go down after putting so many resources into the Birmingham outfit in an attempt to ensure their Premier League survival.
17th- Watford, 28 points
Watford are just a point above the relegation zone but would probably be worse off if it weren’t for the appointment of Nigel Pearson in December. Although the Hornets’ poor run of form has continued into the New Year, Pearson’s side has shown signs of fight that suggests that they will be playing Premier League football next year.
This fighting spirit was epitomised by their 3-0 thrashing of the champions, Liverpool and it sets them apart from some of the other teams who face relegation. However, their season started very poorly and Javi Gracia was sacked after just 4 games as they sat bottom of the table on just 1 point.
In his place, club owner Gino Pozzo decided to re-employ Quique Sánchez Flores, who was previously sacked in 2018 in the hope of reinvigorating Watford’s season. However the Spaniard lasted less than 3 months after a continuation of the poor results which included an 8-0 defeat to Manchester City.
Pearson was appointed at the start of December and has experience in saving struggling teams from relegation; he was the mastermind behind Leicester’s ‘Great Escape’ in 2015. Watford’s main issue in the past few seasons has been the constant managerial changes.
Last season, Gracia led the Hornets to an FA Cup final and 11th-place finish but was deemed not good enough after 4 poor games this season. Sánchez Flores was then appointed and looked to implement a totally different system and style of play, causing further confusion for the players who didn’t have time to adapt before he too saw the door. Tom Cleverley highlighted this after a defeat to Wolves earlier in the season:
“There are similarities in their approach in that they come with the Spanish background, but clear differences with how he wants us to play.”
Over the Christmas period, Pearson’s experience started to show and they enjoyed a string of positive results, levitating them off the bottom of the table. Ismaïlia Sarr (who they signed from Rennes for £30 million in the summer) has gotten more game time and started to adapt to the Premier League while Abdoulaye Doucouré and Etienne Capoue have started to find some of their 2018/19 form. However, the Hornets have won just 1 of their last 9 games and are very much still part of a relegation battle.
Photo: 2018 Getty Images
It is certainly not unlikely that they’ll go down although if they could manage to keep hold of Pearson, they may be able to thrive in the Championship next season. The Englishman has lots of experience and knows how to adequately organise a defence.
Furthermore, Watford have a plethora of youngsters who can be used in their side in the Championship to propel them towards promotion. Ben Wilmot has impressed on loan this season at Swansea City while Domingos Quina looks ready to make an impression on the first team; the Championship is his perfect opportunity.
Their most exciting youngster is probably João Pedro who joined the Hertfordshire outfit from Fluminense for £4 million in January. He is still just 18 and scored 4 goals and contributed to 2 assists in 25 Brazilian Serie A appearances last season.
Finally, Cucho Hernández looks like a great prospect; in the 2017/18 season he scored 16 goals for Huesca in La Liga 2 while on loan from Watford. He has since been loaned to Mallorca and at just 21, a spell in the Championship could be perfect for his development.
The Premier League relegation battle is certainly very tight and with Norwich seemingly destined for the drop, there are four teams fighting to avoid the last two spots. Anything can happen and relegation will have a greater impact on some teams than others, but we’re certainly in for an exciting and unpredictable last 7 games.
16th- West Ham United, 30 points
The issues at West Ham run deeper than one poor season on the pitch. The owners, David Gold and David Sullivan, have failed to implement a strategy capable of propelling the Hammers to the European places despite promising to guide the East London outfit to a Champions League finish upon their relocation to Stratford’s Olympic Stadium in 2016.
The pair (who are now vastly despised by the majority of Hammers fans) took the club away from the beloved Boleyn Ground for a rented ‘bowl’ surrounded by a vast running track which sucks in tourists and repels those who have spent years following the team.
On top of this, Gold and Sullivan, who are 83 and 71 years old respectively, have taken a key role in the footballing side of operations throughout their disappointing tenure in East London. During Slaven Bilić’s management, Sullivan ignored his requests, opting to sign players he thought would improve the team, leading to a lack of on-field identity.
Then on the back of David Moyes’ first 6-month spell in charge, the pair decided to get rid of him despite keeping the Hammers in the Premier League. Now, two years later, after employing Manuel Pellegrini and admittedly backing him in the transfer market (with the help of a technical director) Moyes is once again at the helm (despite being previously branded ‘not good enough’) after Pellegrini’s failure in East London.
So what’s gone wrong this season? The Hammers started the season brightly under Pellegrini after signing Pablo Fornals and Sébastien Haller in the summer for a combined £70 million. They enjoyed victories over Manchester United and Watford where they showed exactly why Pellegrini had been brought to East London, by playing free-flowing, exciting attacking football. By the end of September, they were in 5th place and looked on course to finish in the top 10 at least.
However, the whole ethos surrounding the club was quickly turned on its head by December due to a barren run of form, signaled by their singular victory between the end of September and start of the Christmas period. Pellegrini was consequently sacked by New Year’s Eve and the owners went straight back to Moyes without hesitation.
In his opening press conference, Moyes stated that “winning is what I do” but since his arrival, the Hammers have only won three times in 13 games. Crucial relegation six-pointers against Watford, Norwich and Aston Villa await, and if they fail to get the results, their 8-year spell in England’s top flight will come to an end, putting a massive dent in Moyes’s already-damaged reputation.
While Declan Rice has stood out all season and comfortably shown why he is valued so highly, the likes of Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini and Aaron Cresswell have been shadows of their former selves while the injury to Lukasz Fabianski, over the long Christmas period added a sense of permeability to the Hammers’ back line. Haller and Fornals have failed to hit the ground running and West Ham look in serious danger of relegation under the unsteady hand of David Moyes.
Should they go down, West Ham would have the biggest stadium in Championship history and their 2020/21 campaign would most likely coincide with mass protests and campaigns against the ownership which may trigger a sale. However it’s also likely that Gold and Sullivan will only attempt to sell while the Hammers are comfortably in the Premier League to maximise their profit, hinting at a longer stay.
Relegation would also trigger a mass exodus as few players are likely to take the 50% wage cut that relegation entails and see themselves as ‘above’ the Championship. This would mean a total rebuild is necessary and West Ham may find it hard to gain promotion in a season; it will take longer due to the huge restructuring project that would occur.
By: George Grieve
Featured Image: @GabFoligno