Premier League relegation fight: Can any of the bottom three still survive?

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: David Moyes, Manager of Sunderland looks on from the tunnel prior to the Premier League match between Sunderland and Burnley at Stadium of Light on March 18, 2017 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: David Moyes, Manager of Sunderland looks on from the tunnel prior to the Premier League match between Sunderland and Burnley at Stadium of Light on March 18, 2017 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images) /

Premier League relegation can be a costly experience. Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull City currently sit in the relegation zone. Will any of those teams still manage to survive?

Surviving Premier League relegation has always been lucrative, considering that teams staying afloat can retain nearly £100 million for the next season, as per Total Sportek. Still, not everyone can avoid the drop.

Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull City currently occupy the bottom three relegation positions. What has gone wrong for those teams this season? And what are each team’s prospects for survival? Are any of them doomed at this point?


There is pretty much no hope left for this Sunderland side. Drawing with Burnley – the worst away team in the Premier League this season – was likely the last straw.

Stats don’t lie (most of the time). As per WhoScored, Sunderland are 19th in the Premier League for shots per game, 19th in chances created per game, last in crosses per game, 17th in aerial duels won per game and 2nd in shots allowed per game. All indicators of how poorly functioned the Black Cats has been throughout the season.

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Sunderland has always been the team wanting to absorb opponents’ offensive pressure, and then countering. But the counter attack has been nothing but a flicker. Yet, when Sunderland decided to press high, like against Manchester City, the defensive line remained too deep. As such, the Citizens’ midfielders could penetrate through the open space like a hot knife cutting through butter.

David Moyes’ game plan for the team has been nothing but predictable: sending the ball to Adnan Januzaj, to then try and deliver to Jermaine Defoe/any other available strikers. Scoring 14 goals in 28 matches has been a major individual accomplishment for the 34-year-old Englishman.

Yet, the whole remaining team has only scored 10 goals combined throughout the season. Sunderland fans should start praying for Defoe’s health after his England national call-up. Whilst at it, pray for David Moyes to somehow pull a miracle, too, instead of scrambling for more ”Britishness in the middle of the pitch”.

Moyes has made nothing but head-scratching decisions throughout the entire season. Can’t create chances? Bench Wahbi Khazri due to his inability to work hard and retain possession. And then, drop Didier Ndong for Jack Rodwell in the midfield due to him not being British enough.

The final evidence about how clueless and inept Moyes has been this season is Sunderland’s abysmal set pieces offense. Moyes’ team have not scored a single set-piece goal throughout the entire season. The second-worst team is Southampton and they have at least scored three.

One solution for Sunderland at this moment is to get a new manager for the yearly 17th place redemption, as it has been for the last 10 seasons. But realizing that David Moyes still potentially has three years left at Sunderland could drag the Black Cats’ future into an endless abyss.

Once you are relegated, it’s hard to find a way back to the Premier League. Look at Aston Villa and Norwich City. Or many other failed attempts at returning to England’s top flight.

Only a miracle can save the Black Cats now. They are the number one relegation candidate at the moment, and deservingly so.

Predicted finish: 20th


Even the sixth-best defense in the Premier League has not been enough to bail Middlesbrough out of a relegation fight. Likely because that is balanced out by Boro being the worst in the Premier League (even worse than Sunderland!) in attacking metrics.

Aitor Karanka’s tactics were conservative and rigid. They literally ‘parked the bus’ every game. The team’s only (wasteful) attacking hope being Adama Traore. The La Masia graduate is a top-five dribbler in Europe (based on successful dribbles per game) – but could only create 0.6 key passes per match.

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That is such an abysmal number for a high usage player who was given the freedom to roam the field. However, Traore is only one example of Karanka’s stubbornness. Playing two strikers was never the Basque manager’s tactic choice.

As a result, the workmanlike and rigid tactics discouraged Alvaro Negredo and other offensive options. After Karanka’s reign was ended in order to salvage Middlesbrough’s Premier League life, Steve Agnew now needs to instil confidence and more fluidity to the attack system.

Adding Gestede, together with Negredo, would be a simple long-ball emergency plan. Boro have already been better at attacking and holding possession, considering how they performed against Manchester United. Still, the only goal scored was due to Smalling’s mistake.

The team has been used to sitting back and playing unorganized offense for two third of the season after all. Regardless, Middlesbrough has better players in comparison to other relegation candidates, like Sunderland or Hull.

The mission now is to gel everyone together, and actually try to win instead of grinding out draws.

Prediction: 19th

Hull City

Hull City’s season has been brutal. Half of the Tigers’ squad was ruled out because of injury in the earlier part of the season, as well as rumors of players departing the club. They ended the first 19 matches with 13 points, sitting in 19th position.

The January transfer window was also a hectic period. Two of the team’s best players (Robert Snodgrass and Jake Livermore) left for around £20 million. In terms of arrivals, eight players in various positions were brought in to the squad.

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To reinforce the defence, Andrea Ranocchia and Omar Elabdellaoui joined the club. Whilst the midfield improved on both creativity and hustle, with Alfred N’Diaye, Markus Henriksen, Lazar Markovic, Kamil Grosicki and Evandro all joining. Oumar Niasse arrived to boost the striker position.

Since then, Hull have won two, drew two and lost three games – mostly because of the change in tactics and playing style. Most of Hull’s opponents in that period, except for Burnley and Swansea, were all tough opponents, too.

Marco Silva is a bit like Aitor Karanka, with his rigid team structure. But the Tigers transition very swiftly from defense to offense. The most recent goals scored by Hull have been reliant on the pace and wide overlap of Elabdellaoui, with Grosicki/Markovic.

One prime example of it is the 2-0 win against Liverpool with tons of lethal counter-attacking movements. On the left side, Sam Clucas would stay deep to quickly transition with the central midfielders if needed, turning the formation into a narrow 4-4-2.

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Still more time is needed to properly judge how Hull City will play in the remaining fixtures. However, with the relatively easier schedule ahead, the Tigers are the most likely candidate to avoid relegation if the current cohesiveness and chemistry can be retained.

Prediction: 17th