The relegation race in the Premier League is wide open. More than two-thirds of the way through the season, the entire bottom half of the Premier League table is within five points of the bottom three. That leaves the potential for a wild finish as teams scratch and claw to avoid a fate worse than death, dropping into the Championship and losing the revenue that comes from that fat Premier League contract.
The bottom 10 break down into four categories:
Bournemouth – 11th Place (32 Points), +2500 to be relegated
The only thing Eddie Howe’s team has going for it is that there are nine teams between them and the bottom of the table. With 16 points from their last nine games (a robust 68-point pace), including wins over Chelsea and Arsenal, they’ve put a little bit of space between themselves and true danger. They’re likely to need it.
According to understat.com the Cherries have run hot on both the attacking and defending side of the ball, scoring 33 goals against just under 27 expected goals and conceding 43 against almost 48 expected. Howe likes to play an expansive style of soccer, demanding that his team take risks in possession and build attacks from the back. But their goal scoring has been built more on the kind of unexpectedly sharp finishing that tends to regress than systematically creating a lot of dangerous attacking chances. If they start playing more like their underlying numbers suggest they should, they’ll fade down the stretch, and it will be the cushion they’ve built up that keeps them safe.
Brighton and Hove Albion – 12th Place (31 Points), +500 to be relegated
Newly promoted Brighton are doing everything right. They don’t have the splashy wins against big-name opponents that Bournemouth does, but they’ve made a habit of winning at home and drawing on the road against the rest of the league, which should be more than enough to keep their heads above the bottom three. Over their last four they’ve drawn away to Southampton and Stoke and won at home against West Ham and Swansea. It’s solid and respectable work, which is backed up by their expected goals, which are right in line with the 26 they’ve scored and the 37 they’ve conceded. Nothing flashy, but enough to keep them around 12th, safe with a little room to spare.
West Ham – 13th Place (30 Points), +800 to be relegated
They may be in 13th place, but at only three points clear of the relegation zone, West Ham don’t have a lot of room to work with. Somewhat unexpectedly, especially given that the traditionally conservative David Moyes took over the club Nov. 7, they’ve played a wide-open style of soccer this season both scoring and conceding six more goals than expected goals predicts (35 vs. 29 and 50 vs. 44). That puts them more or less right where they should be.
The rest of this season is a good news-bad news situation for West Ham. The bad news is that several teams below them in the standings have been playing better than the Hammers over the first 28 games of the season, and should their fortunes turn around, West Ham might find themselves in hot water. The good news is that since Moyes took over, West Ham have been playing somewhat better. Over the 17 games Moyes has been in charge, West Ham are 11th in the table with 21 points, after taking only nine from their first 11 matches. Of the teams behind them, only Crystal Palace has accrued more points over that span. If the pragmatic Scotsman can keep his team playing at this solid pace, they’ll likely be fine. It’ll take a drop in form combined with a few teams below them getting hot to really put the Hammers in danger.
Huddersfield 14th Place (30 points), +200 to get relegated
Newly promoted Huddersfield play a unique, if somewhat conservative, style that should do just enough to see them avoid relegation. They combine an aggressive counterpress (harrying teams immediately upon losing the ball to slow down their transition to attack) with a conservative positional defense, dropping very deep to protect their own goal. A handful of serious drubbings at the hands of the top teams in the league has inflated Huddersfield’s goals conceded to 48, the third worst in the league, but looking at expected goals shows a much more average 38, 11th best.
For Huddersfield to stay in the Premier League they’ll have to rely on that defense, because their attack is performing at relegation levels. They’ve scored only 25 goals, fourth worst in the league, which is in line with their expected goals, the third-lowest total in the league. If Huddersfield’s defense starts to leak, their attack isn’t going to save them.
Too Good to Go Down (Unless They Aren’t)
Newcastle – 15th (29 Points), +400 to get relegated
Southampton – 16th (27 Points), +350 to get relegated
Crystal Palace – 17th (27 Points), +225 to get relegated
All three of these teams seem like they’re too good to be in this position. If they were performing up to the standards predicted by expected goals, all three would be challenging the top half of the table, rather than scraping and clawing in a relegation battle. But, here we are.
Newcastle has been the least impressive of the three. Manager Rafa Benitez has a long track record of building teams that stay tight and compact while trying to spring counterattacks. It’s not ambitious, but it’s usually effective. The problem this year is that the team simply hasn’t turned enough uninspiring performances into three-point results (including last weekend, when they blew a two-goal lead to draw with Bournemouth 2-2). In such a tight field, another win or two would have them closer to 12th, where they belong.
Southampton’s slide into a relegation battle has been a surprise to everybody. They’ve consistently been a midtable performer and one of the top-run clubs in the Premier League. This year they’re running mildly unlucky on both sides of the ball, scoring 29 goals when expected goals predicts 31.5 and conceding 41 goals when expected goals predicts 38. With all the teams bunched so close together, sometimes that’s all it takes to fall into the thick of the fray. Saints have enough talent to survive, but it doesn’t take a lot of bad luck to sink you when you’re this close to the edge.
As for Crystal Palace, the problem is glaringly obvious. They’ve scored 25 goals. Expected goals indicates they should have scored 40. Despite that, since Roy Hodgson took over the goalless and pointsless team four games into the season, they’ve playing at a midtable pace. Keep that up and they should be fine.
Taking on Water
Swansea – 18th (27 Points), +125 to be relegated
While Crystal Palace and Southampton are unlucky to have only 27 points, Swansea’s 27 points actually flatter them. They’ve scored the fewest goals in the league with 21, a number that’s in line with their expected goals (although Burnley has an even lower expected goal total). On defense they’ve conceded 41 goals, which isn’t bad (only nine teams have conceded fewer), but expected goals predicts Swansea should have conceded 45 goals from the chances they faced, the third-worst total in the league. It’s quite possible Swansea could play better over the final stretch of the season and not see their results improve at all. That’s a big problem for a team facing relegation. It also hurts Swansea that the teams immediately above are better than their records. Swansea’s best hope is probably that their defensive luck holds while Huddersfield’s falters. It’s possible, and since the point differentials are small, Swansea are still very much alive, but things need to start going right soon.
Stoke – 19th (26 Points), -125 to be relegated
Stoke are an abysmal defensive side. They’ve conceded 54 goals, four more than anybody else in the league. Their expected goals only has them conceding 47, but that’s still second-worst in the league, narrowly behind Bournemouth.
Firing manager Mark Hughes hasn’t given the Potters any bounce, either. They have one win, against Huddersfield, in six matches since he was replaced by Paul Lambert. The next month is crucial for Stoke’s chances to stay afloat. They have a huge trip Saturday to Southampton, but if they don’t win there, things could get awfully bleak awfully fast. Their next four opponents are Manchester City, Everton, Arsenal and Tottenham. The schedule eases up after that, but it might be too late to save Stoke.
West Bromwich Albion – 20th (20 Points), -1000 to be relegated
On Nov. 19 West Brom were in 17th place, just above the relegation zone. The disappointing start, 10 points from their first 12 games, cost manager Tony Pulis his job. Since replacing Pulis with Alan Pardew, West Brom has taken 10 points from their next 16 games. They’re now dead last, six points from 19th and eight points from safety. Sometimes the manager isn’t the problem.
Relegation odds provided by BetOnline and current as of 5 p.m. ET on 2/27.