One week ago, it seemed that the Premier League relegation battle was over. Fulham and Bolton both look destined for the drop after devastating losses against Sunderland (1-3) and Aston Villa (4-0) respectively. But incredibly, everything changed yesterday when Fulham recorded their first away win in 33 matches, while Bolton picked up a vital three points at home after defeating West Ham.
Yesterday, the Cottagers performed so well at the Madejski Stadium that the final result could have easily been 4-0 to Fulham (the side hit the crossbar three times). Brian McBride and Jimmy Bullard were pivotal for Fulham while Reading continued their sorry run of form and are playing like a team that’s already relegated. Even at home, the Royals looked miserable especially at the back, which has been their downfall all season.
Now all of a sudden, the race to avoid relegation is back on. The five teams fighting to avoid the second- and third-from bottom positions are:
- Fulham (27 points),
- Bolton (29 points),
- Birmingham (31 points),
- Reading (32 points), and
- Wigan (34 points).
Roy Keane insists that his Sunderland team is still in the relegation dogfight, but EPL Talk believes the Black Cats will be safe. Currently they’re on 36 points as well as Middlesbrough (36 pts) and Newcastle (39 pts).
So, here are the remaining fixtures for each of the five clubs trying to avoid the drop:
- Fulham: Liverpool (h), Man City (a), Birmingham (h) and Portsmouth (a).
- Bolton: Middlesbrough (a), Spurs (a), Sunderland (h) and Chelsea (a).
- Birmingham: Aston Villa (a), Liverpool (h), Fulham (a) and Blackburn (h).
- Reading: Arsenal (a), Wigan (a), Spurs (h) and Derby (a).
- Wigan: Chelsea (a), Spurs (h), Reading (h), Aston Villa (a) and Man United (h).
As you can see, each of the clubs have their own difficult tasks. Fulham have the most number of points to make up but face opposing sides that all have something to play for (Eriksson for his job, if you believe the papers). However, Fulham’s emphatic away win against Reading may have come at the right time especially if they’re able to replicate a home win against Liverpool as they did near the end of last season.
In its remaining games, Bolton face four of the toughest sides to get victories against. Plus, only one of those matches is at the Reebok Stadium. If Chelsea is still in the running to win the Premier League title, then Bolton may be toast on the last day of the season when they travel to Stamford Bridge.
Birmingham don’t have any easy fixtures either. They play away in the Birmingham derby next week against Aston Villa. Plus, like Fulham, all four remaining matches are against sides that still have something to play for.
Reading has the prospect of playing the easiest match on the last day of the season when they face Derby at Pride Park. However, they’ll have a tough time winning three points in any of their other remaining matches.
Wigan has the luxury of more matches at home than any of the other relegation candidates. That being said, they face Man United on the last day of the season. Depending if the title is wrapped up by that day, the final match of the season could be against a Man United B-side (if Fergie wants to rest players) or it could be against a Manchester United side needing to win to lift the trophy.
There are so many different factors that could have an impact on the relegation drop. One major factor is what impact the Champions League will have on Liverpool, Man United and Chelsea — and, more importantly in this case, whether those sides will rest players before or after crucial European matches. Depending on the timing of the matches, some Premier League opposition may have unfair advantages. For example, will Liverpool rest some key players in the match away at Birmingham on April 26 when Rafa Benitez knows that his Liverpool side will be playing Chelsea four days later in the second-leg of the Champions League semi-final? You bet he will.
Trying to predict which two Premier League clubs will get relegated alongside Derby is no easy task. So, play the Premier League predictor on the BBC Sport website and tell us which two clubs ended up alongside Derby. Just click the comments button below.
Using the Premier League predictor, here’s how the relegation drop-zone looks at the end of the season according to EPL Talk: