Oh, what a long and tiresome international break this is. Bring those Premier League weekends and Champions League midweek evenings back please, and do it quickly. Lucky enough, I haven’t heard of any major injuries for Premier League players on international duty, so that’s a good thing. There is now some light at the end of the tunnel: GW-32 kicks off in six days. It’s good to be back!
Now, as the top half of the table already has its champion and most probably a runner-up, I only see two questions down there:
- Will Chelsea make it back into the Top 4 and qualify for the Champions League? Only five points separate the Blues from their bitter rival Tottenham Hotspur, and after they meet each other on April Fools’ Day, the Blues skate one of the easiest calendars in the whole League.
- Will Burnley overtake Arsenal for the 6th spot and therefore qualify for the European football next season (I’m sorry Gunner fans, but when else will I have a chance to ask)?
For me, it’s in the bottom ten of the Premier League that the real spirit of football will be residing for the last seven game weeks. Only eight points separate Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth (10th place) and now Mark Hughes’s Southampton (18th and in the relegation zone).
Which three teams are heading to a “championship” that nobody wants? Back before the season even started, our staff did a risky prediction article that might be good for a few laughs today. Let’s see how things compare now that we’re down to brass tacks...
Current points & position: 36 points and 10th spot
Fixtures: The Cherries are just four points shy of the League’s should-survive target of 40 points. Two home games against direct competitors Crystal Palace and Swansea plus two away games against inconsistent Watford and drowning Southampton should be enough to get them over the line.
Coach: Eddie Howe — one of the best young English managers, who does a phenomenal job with the available resources
Squad: In-form Junior Stanislas and always-promising Jordan Ibe; electric, but fragile Josh King, reliable veteran Asmir Begovic in goal, young Dutch centre-back Nathan Ake, pushing for England’s World Cup spot, midfielder Lewis Cook, and early-season favourite Charlie Daniels. I see enough desire and squad depth for the Cherries to stay up.
Leadership: It is coming from their bench, as I see the coaching talent making a difference this season. The team has a strong mentality, managing to claw back into numerous games after trailing this season.
Current points & position: 36 points and 11th spot (lower than Bournemouth by goal difference)
Fixtures: Out of the seven remaining games, Watford have four winnable home games against direct competitors, giving them one of the mildest calendars at the bottom of the table.
Coach: Javi Gracia — can’t say anything good about this guy, while his latest endeavour with Rubin Kazan didn’t bring any noteworthy memories.
Squad: A very talented front line of Gerard Deulofeu, Richarlison, Roberto Pereyra and Andre Carrillo is capable of opening up any defense when in the mood (hello Chelsea, Liverpool). The central midfield stalwart Abdoulaye Doucoure, with seven goals and three assists, will be in high demand over the summer. Explosive, but fragile attacker Okaka and bad boy Troy Deeney are always tough to play against.
Leadership: Honestly, don’t see much of it, and that’s probably the reason that the Hornets are still insecure at the end of March.
Current points & position: 34 points and 12th spot
Fixtures: This Albion is just six points from the 40 target, but it has one of the nastiest calendars ahead. With a game in hand, it’s now or never in the next two home games against Leicester and Huddersfield. Wins will be vital to lift the spirits until the final mild game away at Crystal Palace. They finish the season against all four of the Top 4 plus a trip to fortress Burnley.
Coach: Chris Hughton
Squad: The Seagulls have a midfield maestro in the German Pascal Gross who is enjoying a strong season with five goals and eight assists. Can’t believe my words, but yes, they have a solid attacking duo too in Glenn Murray and PSV recruit Jurgen Locadia. Plus, the Gulls have their latest transfer, Leonardo Ulloa from Leicester, who can’t break into the starting eleven here either. Jose Izquierdo just made his return to the Colombian national team and should be up for a strong end of the season. Mathew Ryan has been solid this season, while the defensive duo of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk have formed a rather strong partnership, despite the latter being the league’s own-goal top scorer. You can’t question his attitude though.
Leadership: From the coach to the fans and all around the pitch in general. Chris Hughton has done a remarkable job so far with the squad he got. The Seagulls deserve to stay in the top flight.
Current points & position: 32 points and 13th spot
Fixtures: An evenly-distributed calendar with what looks like a fight against relegation until the final game day. They have a game in hand and four home games: Huddersfield, West Brom (must win), Arsenal and Chelsea. The latter two London clubs have been inconsistent at times, so home points are possible from them. Away from home, the Geordies can nick points from the unimpressive Everton and unmotivated (by GW37) Watford.
Coach: Rafael Benitez
Squad: Chelsea loanee Robert Kenedy is finally living up to his potential, so he can make it happen for Newcastle. He is supported by the hard-working but rather straight-forward Matt Ritchie. Christian Atsu is capable of wonders, while Jonjo Shelvey is a wonder himself. What makes him a star player in one game and a liability in the next? New signing Martin Dubravka has been reliable since his transfer, while the back four have finally started to show some consistency. Dwight Gayle and Islam Slimani are capable of scoring, but only if fit (looking in the Algerian’s direction).
Leadership: It looks like Benitez is simply trying to justify his reputation of a top coach and keep the rather mediocre Toon side up. The owner Mike Ashley is hated by every Newcastle fan, and the atmosphere is unfortunately similar to that in West Ham (just no crowd troubles so far). It’s a ticking bomb, as the team needs a breath of fresh air.
Current points & position: 31 points and 14th spot
Fixtures: A game in hand and three winnable home matches against Everton, Stoke and Southampton. Is this sufficient for the much-needed points? On top they have two realistic games away to Bournemouth and virtually finished West Brom. Knowing Chelsea’s style this season, I won’t be surprised to see Swansea take something when the Londoners visit in GW 36 too.
Coach: Carlos Carvahal
Squad: They are a lively group with English hopeful Tammy Abraham and brothers Ayew in attack plus rejuvenated Ki in midfield. Lukasz Fabianski should finally get into a Top 10 team after this season, as his heroics are one of reasons that the Swans still have a chance to stay up. Alfie Mawson and Mike van der Hoorn turned the corner after Paul Clement’s sacking and are rock solid in defence.
Leadership: Strong everywhere, from the coach to the team and fans at home. Carvahal is somehow managing to turn things around with his positive attitude. I wish him success.
Current points & position: 31 points and 15th spot
Fixtures: They have their next four games to stay up: two away games against Brighton and Newcastle plus two home games against Everton and Watford right after. They need nine points (or at least both home wins and a point or two away) to have a good chance. If they don’t by than, they will face bad odds of survival versus Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea in their last three games of the frustrating season.
Coach: David Wagner
Squad: On paper, and as per our early-season article, they are the weakest team. They have been proving us wrong so far though. Aaron Mooy, Alex Pritchard, Rajiv van La Parra and Tom Ince provide good service. Jonas Lost has been solid in his first season in the top flight and should be in demand over summer. But it is in finishing that they have been weak. You are bound for relegation when your trio of attackers has a paltry 11 goals combined. Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre need to convert more of their chances for Huddersfield have a any chance to stay up.
Leadership: Strong home support, energetic coach and united team. They have the spirit to stay up, but need to start scoring.
Current points & position: 30 points and 16th spot
Fixtures: After Liverpool’s visit this week, Palace will not face any Top 6 team, making the best calendar of the whole relegation-threatened group. With home games against West Brom, Leicester and Brighton, they should be one point from the 40 mark and able to eek out one more in their remaining three away games to Stoke, Bournemouth and Watford. They will stay up.
Coach: Roy Hodgson
Squad: Inspirational Zaha (if fit), consistent penalty-taker Luka Milivojevic, finally fit Sakho, almost returning Chelsea’s starlet Loftus-Cheek, and persistent Alex Sorloth with Christian Benteke are a strong group to push for safety. Not to mention reliable Andros Townsend, James McArthur and Patrick van Aanholt.
Leadership: Roy’s experience and calmness make me feel that he is the right person to lead them to safety. They have some seasoned professionals in Mamadou Sakho, Johann Cabaye, Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend and Christian Benteke, whose skills and pedigree should be enough to stay up.
Current points & position: 30 points and 17th spot
Fixtures: Calendar is tough, but the Hammers have a game in hand and three winnable home matches: Southampton, Stoke and Everton. They have two more home games, but don’t expect any points from them, as both Manchester super clubs will be paying a visit. If the home crowd unites behind the players, I see the Hammers staying up this season.
Coach: David Moyes
Squad: The Austrian Marko Arnautovic is in the form of his life and should be the player to make or break their season. Lanzini played for Argentina in the recent friendly and should get back in a good mood. Add the hard-working Michail Antonio, club captain Mark Noble and Portuguese signing from Inter Milan Joao Mario. In the back, they have the experience of Patrice Evra and Pablo Zabaleta, with former Juventus defender Angelo Ogbonna and Welsh veteran James Collins in the heart of defence.
Leadership: Well, the club in general is in jeopardy, but they have the squad and leaders to stay up. I rate Arnautovic highly, while he has a talented group around him in Lanzini, Antonio, Noble and Chicharito.
Current points & position: 28 points and 18th spot
Fixtures: Still in the Cup and with a game in hand in Premier League. However the calendar is very challenging: three tough away games in the next four weeks, namely West Ham, Arsenal and Leicester with a visit from Chelsea in between. The only remaining home games then will be against Bournemouth and probably crowned champion City, but it can come too late. They will end the season with another two away games in the last three rounds against spirited Swans and Everton. Worrying times.
Coach: Mark Hughes
Squad: The English international keeper Fraser Forster lost his place in an attempt to concede less, but I can’t say it really worked out. Ryan Bertrand and Cedric Soares haven’t been recognizable this season, with only five assists to the Englishmen’s names. Charlie Austin is coming back from injury, but has no time to find form. Manolo Gabbiadini seems to be only capable of a rare goal to kill the clean sheet points of other team’s defenders and goalies that I pick. The latest signing Guido Carrillo isn’t living up to the expectations, while the promising Lemina, Boufal and Ward-Prowse have been inconsistent this season. Dusan Tadic is the only bright and consistent spot I see in this team.
Leadership: Poor, very poor. Southampton has been faceless this season. Saints now appoint a new coach who made another Premier League side faceless and got fired just 2.5 months ago. They have experienced players, but will they step up? I’m making my verdict at the end of the article.
Current points & position: 27 points and 19th spot
Fixtures: After the next two games against Arsenal and Tottenham, the Potters can potentially find themselves in an almost fatal situation. It doesn’t get easier afterwards, with their only two winnable games coming in the last two rounds: at home against Crystal Palace and away to Swansea. It may be too little too late by then.
Coach: Paul Lambert
Squad: Xhedran Shaqiri has been the only bright spot of this team, but he can’t make it alone. Defense is shipping goals by the train-load. Jack Butland is desperately trying to compensate for his teammates and establish himself to be the England’s starting goalkeeper, but is full of surprises himself. Aging Peter Crouch isn’t scoring, but neither are his partners Biram Diouf and, oh my, Saido Berahino.
Leadership: Close to none. I can’t see why Paul Lambert was tasked to save them from the drop, as they lost any playing style they tried to have during Mark Hughes’ tenure. He keeps tinkering with the squad with no success so far. If no miracles happen from the likes of Peter Crouch and Joe Allen, the Potters won’t be able to avoid the drop.
Current points & position: 20 points and 20th spot (easy to remember)
Fixtures: Knowing the team’s away form, they only have four home games left, and those are against Burnley, Swansea, Liverpool and Spurs. As the latter two aren’t realistic, it is make or break for this team in the next two game weeks, as those are indeed the home matches against the high-flying Clarets and the Swans. Can’t see them winning those either, so I feel for the Baggies’ fans.
Coach: Alan Pardew
Squad: Judging by names, the Baggies should be in the middle of the table. Looking at their form, attitude and simple luck in the past few game weeks — they deserve the spot they are in now. Salomon Rondon keeps working his socks off, but he can’t finish his efforts alone. Jay Rodriguez’s star is slowly fading, and no one will remember him pushing for the England spot just two seasons ago. Fragile Daniel Sturridge’s transfer flopped when the obviously talented Englishmen found himself injured once more.
Ben Foster is doing his best, but you can’t win without scoring. Jonny Evans and Gareth Barry can’t lead this team after what happened in the Baggies camp in Spain. What do you make of your midfield, when Chris Brunt is your most creative player? Last but not least, the Polish star Grzegorz Krychowiak, on loan from PSG, can’t rediscover his form and looks like an overpaid player with a fancy hairstyle.
Leadership: sorry, but n/a
West Bromwich are doomed and will go down - 20th spot.
I don’t fancy Stoke’s chances, and their calendar (namely next five games) is just a disaster - 19th spot.
In my view, it’s between Huddersfield, Newcastle and Southampton for the 18th:
- Huddersfield have only their next four games to realistically hope for some points. Two home wins will be a must, and they probably need one or two draws away against their direct rivals Newcastle and Brighton.
- Newcastle have a game in hand and a kinder calendar. Not to mention that they have a more talented squad, capable of securing Premier League status.
- Southampton haven’t had any specific pattern this season, being poor both home and away. They have only one winnable home game (against Bournemouth) and five challenging away trips (with two of them against Arsenal and Leicester City). Additionally, they have Mark Hughes at the helm now, who (I’m sorry for some dark humour) now has a chance for a historical achievement to relegate two teams in the same season, after managing Stoke for half a season.
After typing the above, it is the Saints for me to be relegated. Southampton - 18th spot.
Picking the bottom would be too easy, so tell us who will be the bubble-boys who just miss the cut in 18th:
For whom does your bell toll: Who will finish in *18th* ?
This poll is closed
Why did you vote as you did? What will sink the doomed and/or redeem the saved? Let us know what you think in the comments below!
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