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Saturday, 18 January 2014

Going Down - but which three sides will be exiting the Premier League?


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The Premier League title race is the tightest it has ever been, but the battle to beat the drop is just as intense. Just six points separate Hull City in 10th place and basement boys Crystal Palace and any one of 10 teams could be relegated this season.

But which three clubs will be digging out the guide to the Championship once more come the end of the season?

Here we take a look at each club's chances of retaining their Premier League status.

Hull City

The Tigers have just completed the signing of Nikica Jelavic from Everton and West Brom's Shane Long. Steve Bruce has assembled a fine squad at the KC Stadium and the Tigers have given everyone a run for their money this season. Defensively they have been sound and with Jelavic and Long arriving they will pose a real attacking threat. The only issue that could derail their season involves the owner's threat of walking away if the FA doesn't allow him to change their name. 

Hull have only won two Premier League games since the start of December, but could ease their relegation fears with back-to-back games against fellow strugglers Norwich City and Crystal Palace.

LAmbertAston Villa

At last. Paul Lambert's men showed some fight in the final 20 minutes in their last league outing against Arsenal and they will be hoping to carry that through until the end of the season. The Villains have been terrible at home for a number of months now and that must change if they are to avoid being dragged in to a relegation scrap. Lambert will be hoping the arrival of Grant Holt can stop the rot. 

Like Hull, Villa have only won twice since the start of December. Their next four games are away to Liverpool, home to West Brom, away to Everton and home to Aston Villa. Big, big games.

Stoke City

The Potters have changed their style of play quite drastically under Mark Hughes, but they are still in a battle to beat the drop. Stoke are trying to move away from the Tony Pulis era by getting the ball down and playing it on the deck. The loan signing of Assaidi has been an inspired one and Hughes is trying to make that deal a permanent one. Stephen Ireland has also become a fully pledged Potter this month. Stoke are an established Premier League side now and should be able to rack up enough points to stay up.

They too have only won twice since December, but they can move away from danger with victories over Crystal Palace and Sunderland.

Swansea City

Michael Laudrup's men enjoyed an unforgettable 2013, winning their first cup in their history, but the rewards of playing in the Europa League have weighed them down in the league. The Swans are just three points off the drop zone and injuries to Michu and Nathan Dyer have not helped their cause. They continue to play their brand of possession football though and should have enough about them to avoid becoming embroiled in a relegation dogfight. However, there's always one club that slips from mid-table into the drop zone. Will Swansea be that team?

The Swans have managed just one win since the start of December and face Spurs, Fulham, West Ham, Cardiff and Stoke in the run up to Valentine's Day. They could either be out of trouble or right in the thick of it come then.

Pepe melWest Brom

The Baggies were glad to see the back of 2013. Despite recording their highest Premier League finish under Steve Clarke, the Albion only managed seven league wins during the whole of the calendar year - including one at Old Trafford - so something had to change. Former Real Betis manager Pepe Mel has been tasked with turning the Baggies' fortunes around and chariman Jeremy Peace will be hoping the new boss can spark life into his players. The Hawthorns has established itself as a Premier League ground in recent seasons, but that is under threat. Appointing a manager with no experience of the Premier League is always a risk, but Peace will point to Pochettino and Southampton last season.

With only two league wins since November, the Baggies are in dire need of a boost. They face Everton this weekend before visiting Villa Park and then welcoming Liverpool. Three massive games for Pepe Mel. 

Norwich City

Chris Hughton's neck has been doing the okey cokey with the noose all season, but will he end the campaign with his Canaries still in the top flight or in the bottom three. Tuesday night's FA Cup defeat could prove to be a blessing for the Carrow Road side as it will allow Hughton to focus solely on the task at hand - keep Norwich City up. They have enough decent players to get them out of trouble and the fans will be right behind them every step of the way, but  they must start turning defeats into draws and draws into wins.

Just one win since December tells its own story, but two home games on the bounce against Hull City and Newcastle could paint a different light on this picture.

Fulham

Rene Meulesteen was picking up a  Premier League winner's medal in May. In four months' time he could be guiding Fulham in to the Championship. The Cottagers possess the worst defensive record in the league and Dimitar Berbatov has been linked with a move to league leaders Arsenal. The Cottagers have been a regular feature in the top flight over the past decade, but that record is under serious threat. They have the worst goal difference in the division and lost the same number of games as basement boys Crystal Palace. It doesn't look good for Meulesteen.

Fulham have only drawn one game all season in the league. They must start picking up points wherever they can to beat the drop. Their next five games look daunting. Away to both Arsenal and Swansea before hosting Southampton, they then travel to Old Trafford before playing high-flying Liverpool. 

Big samWest Ham

Sam Allardyce has been under intense pressure this past week but those three points at Cardiff, combined with the return of his main man Andy Carroll, could prove to be the turning point in their season. The Hammers have a number of game changers at the club but if they can all get back to full fitness and stop earning red cards they should be fine. 

That victory at Cardiff was their first since December and they have a few tricky games coming up too. Their run-in starts with Newcastle at home, Chelsea away, Swansea at home and away to Villa. 

Cardiff City

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has big boots to fill in Malky Mackay, but Manchester United's baby-faced assassin is up for the job. Vincent Tan knows he is under scrutiny from the fans following his controversial axing of Mckay. This gamble must pay off for the Bluebirds. Solskjaer is a great man and will get his players united. It may be tough, but I think the Bluebirds will have enough about them to stay up.

Cardiff will be getting to know Manchester hotels quite well with trips to City and United in the league and an FA Cup tie at Bolton sandwiched in between coming up. They then have some more winnable games in front of them against Norwich, Swansea, Aston Villa and Hull. 

Sunderland

The Great Escape is on for the Black Cats. Under Paolo Di Canio the future looked bleak, but Gus Poyet has given everyone on Wearside a glimmer of light. They are off the foot of the table, just one point from safety and 90 minutes away from an appearance at Wembley. Poyet has lifted the spirits at the Stadium of Light and they fancy their chances of beating the drop. Just one defeat in six has got the Sunderland fans dreaming.

Two homes games against Southampton and Stoke separate their Capital One Cup visit to Manchester United, before taking on Newcastle in a tense Tyne-Wear derby. If they can win all four then Wearside will be bouncing. The momentum is definitely with the Black Cats.

Crystal Palace

Tony Pulis has had an incredible response from the players at Selhust Park. Palace looked down and out under Ian Holloway, but the transformation under the former Stoke boss has been remarkable. They are the league's lowest scorers though, having only hit the net 13 times, and Pulis will demand more from his marksmen. Defensively though they are one of the harder teams to beat. Pulis has never been relegated as a manager and he will not accept anything other than 100 per cent from his boys. But will it be good enough?

Palace's resolute defence has kept their survival hopes alive and they could be boosted with victories from their next two home games against Stoke and Hull. 

So who will go down?

Well, if I were a betting man, I wouldn't touch this market with a bargepole! Any one of 10 teams could be relegated and anything can happen between now and May. But, if I had to pick three teams right now it would be Norwich, Fulham and West Brom.

Do you agree? We'd love to hear from you.

 

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