Don’t Look Down Now: Premier League Relegation Battles


“You’re going to the Championship!”

In most places hearing those words would be a cause for celebration, with thoughts of champagne bottles popping and travel agents booking visits to Disneyland not too far off in the distance.

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Not so much for English football, where the oddly named Championship is actually the second rung of the ladder, one level below the Premier League and one level above the equally name-challenged League One.

It is a significant drop for any club in terms of potential profits (particularly with the new television deal on the horizon), and will only be made more difficult by the scavenging vultures who will absolutely jump at the chance to pry away any player of value.

The quality of football is actually quite competitive and is a more strenuous league schedule with 24 clubs each playing 46 matches. Each year the top two clubs receive promotion, while the third through sixth clubs play-off for the third promotion slot.

Being dropped into a league where every club is scratching and clawing to be in the top six positions just for the chance to join the Premier League and its riches is not what we might call an easy landing.

With two months to go in the season, several clubs will have to manage the competitive demands of ensuring survival while also planning for the summer transfer window and whatever league they will be playing in come fall. Players and managers will be tested. The definition of success will vary depending on circumstances.

Let’s take a look at who’s involved in the Premier League relegation battle to stay up, what’s gone wrong, and what are some reasonable expectations for the rest of the season:

I. The Dead Certain To Drop

Leicester City: Let’s not beat around the bush. Leicester are bad. Like gross stinky swamp bad. That’s not being flippant. They are not good at the things that generally lead to success, such as taking more shots than they allow, which usually leads to not scoring more goals than they allow (last time I checked, the best way to win was to do this).

Michael Caley’s projections have Leicester as near locks to be relegated.

There isn’t much to be said with regards to the outlook for the Foxes, as they are not a particularly young squad (Transfermarkt lists their average age as 28.8 years old), they haven’t been unlucky, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them drop into the Championship and remain down for quite some time. While they had been the previous season’s champions, it’s hard to imagine them being upbeat after such a terrible season.

II. The Scrappers

Aston Villa: Tim Sherwood hasn’t quite proven to be the boost that his charismatic personality suggested. Two league matches into the ‘Tactics Tim’ era have resulted in two losses. Same as it ever was, to paraphrase the Talking Heads.

So, what can we reasonably expect for the rest of the season? Goals. A lot of them. In both nets. Hopefully at the right time to allow for some points for Villa. Much has been said about Aston Villa’s shyness around goal this season, but it’s probably been driven by extremely bad luck. 13 league goals is dire, but they should have scored twice that (which is still not top half of the table quality). Getting some of that luck to run the other way would help.

If Villa go down, it’s likely to be for a couple seasons, as it would be unlikely for them to hold onto their top players, with demand for Ron Vlaar, Christian Benteke, Fabian Delph, and others likely to deplete the club.

If, by some minor miracle, Villa stay up, it will be incumbent on Tom Fox to bring in some fresh players to boost the squad.

Burnley: Wearing claret and blue doesn’t seem to be good for chances of survival in the Premier League (see Aston Villa, above).

Burnley is your classic case of a yo-yo club. They’ve got a healthy mix of proven veterans and some young talented players. If they go down, the sun will come up in the morning, and they will regroup and plan for another Championship campaign.

How they fare with the imminent departure of Danny Ings (who is getting looks from the England national team and unlikely to remain at Burnley beyond this season) is the big question. And it is on Ings’ back that this homestretch will depend. With a potent offense, and some shoring up on defense (where they’ve been somewhat unlucky), it’s not unreasonable to see them in the mix for the safety of seventeenth place.

Queen’s Park Rangers: On paper QPR should be better. But, they are not. Like Villa, QPR have scored fewer goals than expected goals models would have suggested. On paper, QPR is filled with big names, but we’ve read this script before and it didn’t end well.

The most grating trait that they possess is the presumption that cash heals all. Like a poor man’s Chelsea, QPR have acquired big names in the hopes that it leads to success, which in this case is to stay up. They barely won promotion last season, having to qualify through the play-off, which demonstrates just how difficult the Championship can be. Whether they stay up or are relegated, the main task will be to find a permanent manager. And, of course, many more signings.

III. The Very Nervous

Sunderland: I’m not going to address that thing that you probably read elsewhere. From a football point of view, Sunderland are just barely above the scrappers and a couple good results from those chasing below could quickly change the standings.

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Sunderland are no strangers to relegation and promotion, and this ongoing struggle is somewhat in their DNA at this point. I think the combination of Jermain Defoe, Connor Wickham, Steven Fletcher, and Danny Graham should at least get some goals.

Hull City: Hull are not nearly as good as where they are on the table, but that may not matter. They have banked enough points to ensure that it’s going to take three of the four teams behind them passing before they’re in the drop zone. If that’s what having one of the worst expected goals ratios gets you, maybe we need to rethink advanced stats.

IV. Final Predictions

If you had to ask me who I think is going down (other than Leicester, obviously), I’d hold back the tears and say that I’m looking forward to subscribing to beIn Sports because they carry the Championship, and I’ll have lots of opportunities to watch Aston Villa play in exotic locales such as Huddersfield. And I guess the Second City Derby versus Birmingham City will have its appeal (as will the chance to play Wolverhampton).

The last spot will probably go to QPR because they seem to have a near inability to draw a game, losing valuable points along the way, which is something that Burnley, Sunderland and Hull are all much better at.