With twelve league games to go the relegation scrap is probably, as usual, more intriguing than the top of the table where effectively a two horse race has opened up once again.
So let’s have a look at what’s ahead for the bottom ten and analyse who is likely to survive for another crack at battling relegation next season.
It used to be Swindon, then it was Sunderland and now it’s Derby: possibly the worst team ever to play in the Premiership. Billy Davies got the boot but Paul Jewell has not been able to arrest the slide and Derby have technically – if not mathetmatically – been relegated since August. Jewell has scrambled to bring some experienced players to his squad – Laurent Robert, Hossam Ghaly, Robbie Savage, Roy “Foot Behind the Line” Carroll, Alan Stubbs and Danny Mills – but it looks to be too little, too late. The display at home to Tottenham was improved but their brittle confidence was shattered by Robbie Keane’s opener.
Remaining games: Wigan (a), Sunderland (h), Chelsea (a), Man U (h), Middlesbrough (a), Fulham (h), Everton (a), Aston Villa (h), West Ham (a), Arsenal (h), Blackburn (a), Reading (h)
They could pick up wins against Sunderland, Fulham and Reading – perhaps shock Villa as the likes of Savage and Stubbs rouse those around them. But more likely they will come up short, possibly only adding 9 points to the paltry 9 they have at the moment. Derby will still finish bottom.
Predicted final points total: 18
Roy Hodgson’s Fulham are not much different to Lawrie Sanchez’s. I think the loss of Michael Brown, Franck Queuedrue, Pape Bouba Diop and Zat Knight have hamstrung them from the start of the season and with half the Northern Ireland squad proving not to be up to scratch Hodgson was always going to be up against it. Having said that he hasn’t exactly called in the cavalry with only Jari Litmanen, who turns 37 in 9 days, having any true class. Erik Nevland, Eddie Johnson and Leon Andreasen are not names that inspire great confidence and Fulham are going to find it hard to survive. Their two shining lights are Jimmy Bullard, back from a long term injury, and the local legend, Brian McBride.
Remaining games: West Ham (h), Man U (h), Blackburn (a), Everton (h), Newcastle (a), Derby (a), Sunderland (h), Reading (a), Liverpool (h), Man City (a), Birmingham (h), Portsmouth (a)
There are several winnable games though. West Ham are inconsistent, Everton are dogged but win a lot of 1-0 games that could easily be 0-1 on another day and Newcastle, Derby, Sunderland, Reading and Birmingham are six-pointers that might inspire Danny Murphy to heights not seen since he was Houllier’s golden boy in the early part of the century. I think we can add 14 to their current total – it won’t be enough.
Predicted final points total: 33
It might be overly-dramatic to put all the blame on Steve Sidwell’s defection in the summer but Reading are a shadow of the club they were twelve months ago. Even if they won every one of their remaining games now they’d only surpass last season’s points total by one win. Steve Coppell didn’t shake up his squad too much this year with only two players arriving in the transfer window: fellow midfielders Marek Matejovsky of the Czech Republic and Malian Jimmy Kebe.
Yeah, exactly. Coppell is an aimable guy but perhaps his seeming laissez-faire approach to management is not what The Royals need right now.
Remaining games: Aston Villa (h), Middlesbrough (a), Man City (h), Liverpool (a), Birmingham (h), Blackburn (h), Newcastle (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Wigan (a), Tottenham (h), Derby (a)
I think Reading can win all their home games to be honest but even if they won four of them and took draws in the other two this would allow them to get stuffed at Liverpool and Arsenal and pick up some away points at Wigan, Newcastle and Derby. I’m plumping for five wins and three draws in their last dozen matches.
Predicted final points total: 40
I always felt this whole McLeish to Birmingham thing was going to be a disaster: yet another example of international manager/Scottish league manager in over his head in the Premiership. His big move in the transfer window was to bring in James McFadden, a reasonable but limited player who was a fair bit overpriced. The squad is not hugely impressive. Forssell is a good player but rarely fit, Queudrue is pretty solid, Kapo has his moments and, well, there you go. The team are slightly better than the sum of their parts but not by much.
Remaining games: Arsenal (h), Tottenham (h), Portsmouth (a), Newcastle (h), Reading (a), Man City (h), Wigan (a), Everton (h), Aston Villa (a), Liverpool (h), Fulham (a), Blackburn (h)
Their home form han’t been good with just three wins in nine games but seven of their last dozen games are at home so there are opportunities to upset some teams further up the table such as Spurs, Newcastle, Man City and Everton. Liverpool are also prone to losing to inferior opposition in away games towards the end of the season when they have little to play for and Benitez has started rotating ball boys in his side. I think they’ll win four and pick up maybe four draws…
Predicted final points total: 38
The appointment and subsequent sacking of Chris Hutchings by Wigan was more predictable than a Cesc Fabregas yellow card. It led to the board offering former manager Paul Jewell some obscene amount of money to return but he decided to choose an easier challenge for less money. In came Steve Bruce – somewhat surprisingly released by a bored Birmingham, um, board – to kind of steady the ship. He’s taken a big punt on Marlon King of Watford for £5m (yeah that DJ Campbell thing really worked out) and has brought in a solid pro in Erik Edman, formerly of Spurs. The squad is actually not bad – Jason Koumas, Michael Brown, Antoine Sibierski, Kevin Kilbane, Paul Scharner, Mario Melchiot and Emile Heskey are all decent players and the side probably shouldn’t be where they are.
Remaining games: Derby (h), Man City (a), Arsenal (h), Bolton (h), Blackburn (a), Portsmouth (a), Birmingham (h), Chelsea (a), Tottenham (h), Reading (h), Aston Villa (a), Man U (h)
They have some really tough games – probably the toughest of the bottom five – and they will have to win against those around them such as Derby, Birmingham, Reading and Bolton. But they should win all of those games and I can see them pulling something out of the bag against Spurs, Portsmouth and Blackburn. And – if Man U are safely in first or second place on the last day and Wigan need a win to stay up – who knows…
Predicted final points total: 40
Part two tomorrow: Bolton, Sunderland, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Tottenham