Whilst the Premier League title race has been a bit of a damp squib this season, the race for survival has been one of the most memorable in recent times.
With only three weeks of the season remaining the relegation fate of none of the teams embattled in the dogfight at the foot of the table has yet been sealed. After a brave fightback, West Brom’s draw with Liverpool ultimately counts for very little. Barring a miracle, they will be relegated next weekend and will likely finish bottom. Caretaker manager Darren Moore has got the doomed Baggies fighting for every ball but their win at Old Trafford and the draw this weekend is ultimately too little, too late.
Would they have had more of a chance had they gotten rid of prolific LMA failure Alan Pardew six weeks earlier? Quite possibly. There’s a distinct lack of quality in the team but they have only recently started to play with any belief which is a key ingredient to a relegation battle.
Stoke City’s last two games have caused what is likely terminal damage to their decade long Premier League stay. A costly late goal by Andy Carroll at the London Stadium last Monday night really dented their hopes of staying up and they backed that up with another 1-1 draw at home to Burnley on Sunday.
Both of those games were approaching must win territory for the Potters and with just three games to go, the four point gap they have between themselves and safety is increasingly distant. A daunting trip to Anfield is up next, but the visitors might find themselves able to take advantage of a Liverpool team in between their Champions League semi-final legs with Roma. Liverpool will look to win the game in pursuit of a top four finish but they will likely have a watchful eye on their trip to Italy.
Stoke are a team well stocked with some very good players, but Mark Hughes’ dreadful start to the season has left Paul Lambert’s side needing at least two wins from their last three games. A daunting task with no margin for error.
Southampton, like Stoke, shouldn’t be in the position that they are but have found no traction since Mark Hughes came in and the only solace that the Saints have is that they have a game in hand. The gap is four points but Southampton have a better goal difference than the three teams above them.
You feel that Saturday’s match with Bournemouth will define things for the Saints â€“ they must surely defeat their local rivals to have any kind of chance of survival. Things looked much rosier for them an hour into their last home league game with Chelsea only for them to bomb a 2-0 lead. Southampton were the late season survival experts in the 1990s until they finally went down but they will need a serious swing in their favour currently to avoid the drop. Like Stoke, four points with as many games left isn’t insurmountable but given a last day tangle with champions Manchester City who will likely be seeking 100 points and possibly 100 goals, they won’t want anything hinging on that.
I’m pretty sure that the bottom three now will be the bottom three come the 13th May, but Swansea City are in a perilous position. They turned up for a 5-0 hiding at Manchester City with no real purpose or intent to try and get a result and nor did they look like taking a respectable 2-0 loss either. It leaves Swansea as the worst of the rest. They have taken three points from the last eighteen. Not form indicative of a team hoping to stay up and their goal difference took a kicking on Sunday as well.
Whilst currently holding a four point gap, Swansea’s last two games are Southampton and Stoke City at the Liberty Stadium. If they are still in reach of the trailing pack by then, anything is possible in what will become effectively a shootout for survival.
West Ham have a tricky run in, but they probably just about have enough points on the board. The same goes for Crystal Palace and they have an easier run in. What is going for both London clubs is their goal difference. Goal difference is just about the only way Huddersfield Town will be dragged in as it is the second worst in the division. Which is unsurprising given their paltry return of 29 goals for the season. They have games with Everton, Manchester City, Chelsea and are the opponents for what could be Arsene Wenger’s last match as Arsenal manager.
Fortunately for the Terriers, that last gasp Tom Ince winner against Watford last week was probably the result they needed to secure their survival. It will take a Herculean effort from those below in the table to catch them now but there will likely be little change for them in their remaining matches.
It is a close battle with the exception of West Brom and even they aren’t mathematically gone just yet. My tip is for the situation to be unchanged. I think Stoke have too much to do and Southampton are on the crest of a slump that will take them down.
By Danel Thomas – follow Daniel on Twitter @TLW1DAN