With the Premier League title race being so tightly contested between the two Manchester clubs, and the chase for the fourth and final spot for Champions League looking equally enthralling, one could be forgiven for forgetting about the relegation battle being fought at the foot of the table. People might argue it is too early to be talking about a relegation battle with 9 games left and 27 points still up for grabs. But the nature of the Premier Division is such that, even a team looking comfortable in mid-table currently might suddenly be sucked into a relegation fight if they have a poor 2 or 3 weeks.
A quick glance at the bottom half of the table will suggest that the bottom 5 teams will be the ones scrapping for every point on offer, and ultimately survival come the end of the season. The five teams – Wolves, QPR, Blackburn, Bolton and Wigan — are separated by only 6 or less points. Aston Villa at 15th place are 5 points clear of Blackburn at 16th with a game in hand.
Bottom half of the table (as of March 23, 2012):
|West Bromwich Albion|
|Queens Park Rangers|
The league table does not lie. The current teams which are in the bottom 5 are there because they deserve to be. All of them have lacked consistency this season and have been woeful at times. Out of the combined 144 games these 5 clubs have played this season, they have managed to win a total only 29 games combined. In these games the teams have managed to score 160 goals this term which is a decent return, but a good team starts from the back and this is where the problems begin for each of the 5 teams. They have conceded a massive total of 284 goals combined.
Here is an analysis of the survival chances for each of the 5 teams in the relegation danger zone:
Their season so far – The unrest and uncertainty surrounding Blackburn Rovers has been well documented. Currently under the new ownership of Indian poultry giants Venky’s, Blackburn Rovers look like a club in real crisis. The new owner’s decision to sack respected manager Sam Allardyce in December 2010 and appoint Steve Kean had not gone down too well with the fans. The decision to sack such an established manager in the English game when Rover’s were lying a respectable 13th in the league was widely criticized by respected figures such as Sir Alex Ferguson. After such a shaky start, the Indian owners would have hoped for a better future but things have gone from bad to worse.
Steve Kean was able to keep Blackburn in the Premier League with an amazing 3-2 victory away to Wolves in the last game of the season. But this season the club has been surrounded by a lot of negativity. It has been a very difficult situation for Steve Kean who has faced the full wrath of the club’s own fans. With fans organizing mass protests against Kean and the Venky’s for their running of the football club. and results on the pitch being very poor, Kean has been victim of some vicious abuse. You can’t help but feel sorry for Kean. He is trying to remain defiant and fighting everyday in order to win over the fans. But the only way he may be able to win over the fans is by winning games on the football pitch which just has not happened in a consistent manner. The Venky’s have reaffirmed their faith in Kean despite coming under a lot of criticism and the club’s fans have become disgruntled by this. When The Venky’s took over Blackburn, big names such as David Beckham and Ronaldinho were linked to the club but with the caliber of signings Kean has made over the summer and winter transfer windows, the funds that seemed to be abundant when The Venky’s took over are just not there.
The one thing you can surely see when you go and watch a Blackburn game (other than an angry mob fans) is goals. In the 29 games Blackburn have been involved in this season, there has been 102 goals. But the bad news for Blackburn is that they have conceded 60 of them which makes them the team with the second worst defensive record in the league this season. However, having scored 42 goals, it shows that the team knows their way to goal. Their season has been erratic to say the least. They have had some extraordinary results as they beat Arsenal 4-3 albeit against an Arsenal side which was heavily depleted. And Rovers even recorded a more impressive 3-2 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford. But a 7-1 reverse to Arsenal and consistent losses against lesser teams have left the team spending most of their time in the relegation zone. Finally, they are starting to pick up some form and are just 5 points clear of the relegation zone after a very long time near the bottom.
Blackburn has some very talented players in Junior Hoilett, Steven N’Zonzi, Martin Olsson, Yakubu and Scott Dann but the rest of the squad seem to lack the quality to produce consistent performances on a regular basis. Even Hoilett blows hot and cold too often and Dann has not played up to his potential this term. The Rovers defensive line looks awfully weak. The likes of Gael Givet, Grant Hanley and Scott Dann have looked out of sorts. Their attacking line-up looks more promising as Hoilett, Pedersen, Formica, Rochina and even holding midfielder N’Zonzi have weighed in with some very important goals and assists. But the man they have to thank the most for keeping Blackburn afloat and with a big chance of surviving has to be Yakubu Aiyegbeni. His 14 goals have proven to be vital and he has certainly been the star player for Rovers this season.
Their key player in the battle against relegation – Yakubu Aiyegbeni. The Nigerian has been one of the star strikers in the Premier League this season. Discarded by Everton, he has grasped the opportunity to prove himself in the top flight again with both hands. Blackburn has been heavily reliant on Yakubu’s goals and he has sometimes won points for Rovers single-handedly. He has scored braces against Arsenal and Manchester United. He has even managed to score 4 goals in a game against a mean Swansea City defense. Even Steve Kean would not have expected such a return from the striker but he will surely be ecstatic with his form this season. Kean will be desperately hoping that Yakubu keeps his scoring boots on from now until the end of the season to help save Blackburn from the ignominy of relegation.
Chances of survival – Blackburn has the second worst defence in the league and the sixth best scoring record in the league this term. It is easy to see where their problems lie. If Steve Kean can somehow tighten the screws in the defense, with the loss of Christopher Samba and Ryan Nelson, and if Yakubu can maintain his impressive scoring run, then there is every possibility that Blackburn will move up the table. But improving a defence which has been playing very poorly the whole season will be no easy task.
Kean needs results and fast. The pressure on him keeps on growing from the fans and if the results do not improve anytime soon the owners will have to bow to public pressure and replace Kean with someone more capable. They have done exceptionally well in the month of March remaining unbeaten, picking up two vital victories in the process. In April, they will be facing Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham. They also have to face the likes of Norwich City and Swansea City who have had an excellent season. If they can sustain their recent form and pick up some unlikely points against these teams in April, there is every possibility that they will stay up.
Their season so far – When Owen Coyle was appointed the manager of Bolton on January 2010, replacing the unpopular Gary Megson, the feel good factor had returned back to Reebok Stadium. Coyle took up the reins at the Reebok Stadium with a burgeoning reputation as one of the most promising young managers in the English game. He had the initial backing of the fans as well, due to his association with the club as a player, helping the club win promotion to the top flight back in 1995. In his first season back at the club as a manager, he achieved the goal of keeping Bolton in the Premier League with a 14th placed finish. The following season he further enhanced his reputation by guiding Bolton to another 14th placed finish, only 3 points off 8th placed Fulham, playing some attractive football in the process which endeared him to the fans. But, this season he must be wondering where it has all gone wrong for him. His reputation has taken a battering with Bolton performing woefully, especially at home. Most people think the only thing that is preventing him from getting the sack is his good rapport with the fans and the good relations he enjoys with club chairman Phil Gartside.
Bolton’s season has been dismal to date. The club has the worst home record in the league and the second leakiest defense. Coyle has not been helped by the club’s precarious financial situation. The funds that he has received however have not been used wisely, as the signing of David N’Gog for £4 million would testify. The signings of Darren Pratley and Nigel Reo-Coker have hardly been inspiring even though they came in for free. Their cause has not been helped by long term injuries to Stuart Holden and Chung-Yong Lee, arguably the players of the season for Bolton last season. But the biggest loss undoubtedly has been the loss of full-time England international defender Gary Cahill to Chelsea this January.
There have been some promising signs this season as Bolton have recorded some impressive victories — 4-0 away to Q.P.R, 5-1 against Stoke City and 3-1 against Liverpool. Unfortunately, other than those impressive performances, Bolton has been very poor. They have not been able to replicate such performances on regular basis. At home, they have managed to record only 3 victories much to the frustration of the fans. Zat Knight and David Wheater have been very shaky in defence and it almost seems impossible for them to shut out opposition strikers for 90 minutes. Their long serving goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen looks a shadow of the player he was a few seasons ago, making uncharacteristic errors and has recently been ousted by the young and inexperienced stopper Adam Bogdan. The problems lie up front as well as Kevin Davies and David N’Gog have contributed only 4 goals combined while Ivan Klasnic has been decent, scoring 8 goals but he always seems to have persistent injury problem and cannot get a good run of games. Martin Petrov and Chris Eagles have looked solid but are too inconsistent on the wings. However, new loan signing Ryo Miyaichi looks exciting and has performed very well in recent matches.
Their key player in the battle against relegation – Mark Davies. Bolton’s star man has undoubtedly been Mark Davies. Davies has been the engine and creative force in a poor Bolton midfield. Even though he has been able to score only three goals this season, most of the creative work for Bolton has been done by him. He covers a lot of grass and is not afraid to get stuck in. His performance against Liverpool was exemplary and his goal against Wigan showed that this boy has a bit of quality that Bolton so badly need. Owen Coyle will be hoping for some more performances of such class. Bolton will need him fit from now until the end of the season. Fans will be hoping his level of performance will be more consistent and the manager will be able to use him efficiently.
Chances of survival – As mentioned earlier their defence needs to improve rapidly and with the loss of Gary Cahill it looks more difficult. U.S. International Tim Ream has been brought in to re-enforce the backline but he is still inexperienced in the Premier League despite a promising start. Their midfield and attacking line also lacks quality. Mark Davies looks a good player and young Ryo Myiaichi has added that much needed spark in attack. Martin Petrov and Chris Eagles need to be more consistent. David N’Gog has never looked good enough for the Premier League and Kevin Davies does not have the legs anymore. Other attacking options are Ivan Klasnic who is very prone to injury and young Marvin Sordell who is still learning his trade in the top flight. Bolton fans should be worried, with the lack of quality and depth within the squad.
However, Owen Coyle is a good manager and has been known to get the best out of his players. He has not been able to do that this season very effectively but if he can inspire his players. Bolton seem like a different squad, as they showed with wins over Stoke and Liverpool, playing attractive football. Unfortunately these kinds of performances have been few and far between this season and they have mostly looked uninspiring. The first priority for Coyle will be to improve his defense and keep it tight at the back. It would have been a tough ask for any manager to keep Bolton up with the squad that they have and the long term injuries suffered by their key players. March will be a big month in deciding whether they survive this season. They face three of their direct relegation threatened rivals in QPR, Blackburn and Wolves this month. Having already beaten QPR under controversial circumstances earlier in the season, it is vital that they garner as many points from the other two games in order to stand a chance of survival and pull away from the relegation zone. The devastating collapse of young midfielder Fabrice Muamba recently against Tottenham in the F.A. Cup Quarterfinal tie will certainly have left everyone associated closely to Wanderers in a state of shock, and whether they can fully recover mentally and concentrate on the job in hand will be a huge question. But such an event will have had made the team grow closer. If Coyle can somehow inspire his players to get the required results on the pitch and retain their Premier League status, it will be a fairy tale ending to what has been a tumultuous season and a wonderful gift for Muamba as well.
Queens Park Rangers
Their season so far – Queens Park Rangers, promoted to the Premier League after winning the Championship, would have expected a tough season ahead in the Premier League. So it has proven to be as currently they lie just above the relegation zone only on goal difference. What make their season look worse is the fact that other two teams that have been promoted (Norwich and Swansea City) this season have made a fantastic start to life in the Premier League. There are many obvious reasons that have affected QPR’s season. The change in the ownership of the club with Tony Fernandes taking over in the boardroom and the weeks of uncertainty leading up to the change, is the most obvious one.
After starting the season reasonably well under Neil Warnock, QPR lost their way after failing to win in 7 games consecutively. Neil Warnock was shown the door. Established manager Mark Hughes was named the manager to replace him. There is a sense of optimism at Loftus Road with the appointment of Hughes. Mark Hughes has signed six players in the January transfer window with marquee signings of Bobby Zamora, Djibril Cisse and Taye Taiwo among them.
Hughes, however, has had a very tough start to life at QPR, winning just two games in ten. He is desperately hoping that his newly assembled team will be able to gel and put some points in the bag as soon as possible. The squad on paper looks very strong with the likes of Shaun Wright Phillips, Adel Taarabt, Joey Barton, along with new acquisition Zamora, Cisse and Taiwo all in their books. But the players have yet to settle down and some critics argue that these players are past their prime. Veteran Heidar Helguson has been their top scorer much to the surprise of everyone. Their best player in the Championship last year, Moroccan Adel Taarabt, has found it hard to adapt to life in the Premier League. In midfield, the trio of Barton, Faurlin and Derry has performed fairly well this season but like any other team struggling at the deep end of the Premier League table, QPR have found it hard to get a string of good results together.
Their key player in the battle against relegation– Bobby Zamora. Recent arrival Bobby Zamora has been one of the most in-form strikers in the Premier League for the last few seasons. Having come back from a broken leg which he suffered last season, his performances for Fulham in the first half of this season were fairly impressive. But he never really enjoyed a good relationship with manager Martin Jol. So it was no surprise that Mark Hughes came calling when he found out that the striker was available. Such is the faith that Hughes has in Zamora’s quality that he was tempted to shell out £6 million for a striker in his early thirties. Zamora is a quality striker. Even if his goal scoring record is not that great, he creates a lot of chances for his teammates. His experience will prove vital in QPR’s battle against relegation. If Zamora can come up with some goals and assists that will help QPR maintain their Premier League status, the £6 million spend on him will be money well spent.
Chances of survival – With a new manager in place and revamped team, it will take some time for results to come. Unfortunately for QPR, time is exactly what they are against. They need immediate results in order to move up the table.
They arguably have a squad with more quality than any of their main relegation rivals. In the likes the Shaun Wright-Phillips, Adel Taarabt, Bobby Zamora, Jamie Mackie, Taye Taiwo and Joey Barton, they have quality their relegation rivals Bolton, Wigan, Wolves and Blackburn can only dream of. But this team looks good only on paper at the moment. Recent results show that only having big name players will hardly do the job on the pitch. New signings are yet to settle in and get used to the style of play. Even the manager, who is new, has so far failed to transmit the ideas he has to the players. This team is more than capable of moving up the table but only if the new players can adapt to their new surroundings. The recent comeback victory against Liverpool would have done them a world of good but there is still a lot of work to be done. Therefore, Mark Hughes will need to find a formula to make this team gel and if they do there is every chance Loftus Road fans will be treated to Premier League football next season.
Their season so far – Roberto Martinez is one of the most likeable managers in the English game today. He is well respected in the game and has done some fantastic work with limited budgets at Swansea City before moving on to Wigan. At Wigan Athletic he has done a fairly decent job considering the finances at his disposal. In his first season at the club, he managed to save Wigan from the drop with a 16th placed finish. In his second season at the club he again managed to retain Wigan’s Premier League status, avoiding the drop with another 16th placed finish with final day drama. Again this season Wigan are fighting to avoid the drop but are currently in last place in the Premier League.
Keeping Wigan in the Premier League is no easy feat and Martinez has done a commendable job of it but the problem for Wigan fans is that the club has hardly made any progress in terms of moving up the table since 2009. Every season the club is embroiled in a relegation battle. They have not been able to use the retention of their Premier League as a springboard to greater things the following season. The squad looks mediocre at best. This season, it is the same story as the last two seasons. They have spent most of their time at the foot of the table.
This campaign has been very frustrating for the fans. Wigan is trying to play attractive football but due to the lack of quality within the squad they have not been able to implement such a style effectively. Franco di Santo and Jordi Gomez with 4 goals each have been the club’s top scorers so far this season. This shows the plight of the Wigan players in front of goal. In total they managed to score only 25 goals this term which is the lowest among the 20 teams in the division. Their defensive record is also one of the worst in the league having already conceded 54 goals this season. With such stats it is not difficult to see why they are near the bottom of the table. The midfield also lacks creative spark. Watson and McArthur have looked very ordinary in midfield. Victor Moses has looked good but has only shown flashes of what he can do.
Their key player in the battle against relegation – Victor Moses. The former England Under-21 international and now Nigeria International has a lot of talent and quality. But he can run at defenders at pace and is a constant threat down the wings. He has the potential to be a very good player and has already proved himself in the Championship with Crystal Palace. He shows glimpses of brilliance at times. Unfortunately for Wigan, such glimpses are not produced by him on a consistent basis. Much like Theo Walcott, his decision making is horrendous and he always seems to take the wrong option. He takes unnecessary shots and his deliveries into the box are well below par. If Martinez can somehow find a way to finely polish Moses into a gem, it can only benefit Wigan’s survival cause. Moses himself should try to mature into more of a team player. If this can be done, goals will certainly flow for Wigan and unlikely as it may seem Wigan may write another escape story.
Chances of survival – Wigan has struggled to score goals and has looked very shaky at the back. It is hard to see with strikers such as Franco di Santo and out-of-sorts Hugo Rodallega where the goals are going to come from and even if they do score, the defense does not look strong enough to be able to hold onto any kind of lead. In Figueroa, Alcaraz and Caldwell they have some established defenders but the open style of play Martinez wants the team to play leaves them vulnerable to concede goals. Ali Al-Habsi has been one of the few consistent performers in the league for them so far. Victor Moses has the spark but can be very frustrating with his awful decision making. Jordi Gomez and Ben Watson are decent players but they are no Xavi or Iniesta, and to expect them to play beautiful passing football in the rigorous hustle and bustle of the Premier League would be foolish.
Credit should be given to Martinez for trying to play attractive football but the squad is not good enough to win matches by playing only beautiful football and they need grind out results more often. Their fixture list is not looking kind as they still have to face Liverpool and Newcastle. In April they face Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United back to back. Trying to play attractive football just will not work for Wigan as they are not good enough to do so. Martinez really needs to adopt a more Stoke City like approach in order to progess further in the league. They need to scrap for every point on offer especially against the teams in mid table. Martinez has done well for Wigan but this is the time he really needs to change his philosophy and try win games even if it means by playing ugly. Another 16th placed finish will do for the fans this time around but even that is looking improbable at the moment.
Their season so far – Life is not easy for a Wolverhampton Wanderers fan. The final day drama of last season’s relegation battle will testify to this. Requiring a win to be sure of safety, they faced their fellow relegation battlers Blackburn at Molineux. Fans would have expected the team to perform and get the required result in order to extend their stay in the Premier League. But the events which followed could not have been predicted by anyone. To the astonishment of the home fans, Wolves found themselves three down at half-time. Things were starting to look bleak, as results elsewhere were going against them. Birmingham City was drawing against Tottenham which meant that it things stayed the same at end of 90 minutes, Wolves would get relegated to the Championship. But things changed and how. Wolves pulled one back from Jamie O’Hara. Then in the 87th minute of the game, Stephen Hunt scored what proved to be Wolves’ most important goal of the season. The score was still 3-2 in favour of Blackburn but by virtue of a better goal difference than Birmingham, Wolves would be safe. This compelled Birmingham to push players forward and eventually they lost out to Tottenham 2-1 at the end. As the final whistle blew, euphoric players and home fans celebrated as if they had won the league.
That joyous moment now looks like a distant memory now. The man who led Wolves to their great escape, Mick McCarthy, has recently been shown the door. The team is struggling for form and they cannot put up consistent performances much to the frustration of the fans. Their team looks poorer than they looked last year. Luckily for them there are 4 teams who have been equally as bad and they still have a big chance of escaping relegation. Under Mick McCarthy, they started season in a bright fashion as in August they picked up 7 points from a possible 9 and won their League Cup tie as well, finishing the month as joint league leaders. But, things started to turn ugly for them as they have made a tremendous slide down the table. Mick McCarthy was given the boot eventually when his team suffered an embarrassing 5-1 home loss against West Bromwich Albion. Now, assistant manager Terry Connor has been promoted to the role of head coach from now until the end of the season.
Wolves has a decent attacking line but their defending on occasions has been atrocious. The games against West Bromwich, Fulham and Manchester United are some good examples of how bad their defending can get. It is no surprise that they have the worst defensive record in the league. Wayne Hennessey is a very good young keeper but one who is guilty of concentration lapses at critical moments of the game. He plays out of his skin sometimes, saving Wolves time and again, but due to some loss in concentration he is also susceptible to making goalkeeping gaffes which have cost Wolves some valuable points. Roger Johnson, Christophe Berra, Richard Stearman and Stephen Ward (who looks more interested in attacking than defending) have not been good enough and have managed to keep only 2 clean sheets until now. Their attacking line looks more promising though as in Jamie O’Hara, Stephen Hunt, Matt Jarvis and Kevin Doyle they have players who can create and score goals. Unfortunately, like any other team struggling at the foot of the table they have failed to find consistency and at times these players go missing at crucial moments. The only player who looks consistent has been Steven Fletcher and his 10 goals this term have proven to be very important strikes.
Their key player in the battle against relegation – Steven Fletcher. It will be no surprise, if Wolves eventually manage to stay in the Premier League it will be down to Steven Fletcher’s goals. His goals have proven vital and the points they have managed to put up on the table have been largely down to his contribution in front of goal. With the defense unlikely to improve anytime soon, Fletcher will need to put up more match winning performances. It is a huge burden on the shoulders of this young balding striker but fans will be hoping he will be able to continue his rich vein of form. His job of scoring goals can be made easier by the teammates around him. Matt Jarvis can deliver from the wings and Jaime O’Hara can also create a couple of chances. With the in-form Kevin Doyle, Fletcher has a good striking partner and if he can set up some goals for Doyle it will relieve a lot of pressure on himself to score goals. But, Doyle has not been clinical enough in front of goal and Jarvis and O’Hara have not been able to put consistent performances this season. At the end of the day it is expected that Fletcher will have to be one who will drag Wolves from the danger zone to safety this season.
Chances of survival – With the experienced manager Steve Bruce available in the market, the appointment of Terry Connor has been widely criticized. Connor is not a familiar name with general football fans and it is looking increasing unlikely that Wolves will be able to salvage their season. Their performances have largely been uninspiring and fans have also become disgruntled. Now at the foot of the table having been mauled by Fulham and Manchester United, things are starting to look very bleak. The defense needs to improve rapidly and goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey will have to work on his concentration in order to keep more clean sheets. Things look better in the attacking front but they have been heavily reliant on Steven Fletcher. Other players such as Jarvis, O’Hara, Hunt and Doyle need to weigh in with more goals.
Connor is well respected in Wolves’ circles but the fans will be skeptical of whether a man who has no previous Premier League experience will be able to guide Wolves to safety. Connor has made the worst possible start to his life as a Wolves manager, having earned only one point from the 4 games he has managed, conceding a total of 14 goals in the process and scoring only 2. But, you never know in football. Connor knows the club very well and Wolves look a decent side on paper. If he can improve the defensive line and get the likes of Matt Jarvis, Stephen Hunt and Kevin Doyle playing at a consistent level along with Steven Fletcher, there is a slight hint of possibility that they might play Premier League football next season but things do not look promising at the moment.
The relegation battle may not be as glamorous at the Premier League title chase but the teams that are currently involved at foot of the table will fight tooth and nail to be able to hold on to their Premier League status. It’s no secret on how important staying in the Premier League has become nowadays due to the financial incentives involved with the TV rights. Things can change very quickly in football but the 5 teams that have involved at the moment will most probably be the ones there at the end of the season. All of the 5 mentioned teams have been awful but if I had to put my money on who will down this season I would go with Blackburn, Wigan and Wolves. But relegation battles are never straightforward and we can expect many twists and turns in the coming weeks. This is what makes the Premier League relegation dogfight so wonderful, for me at least.
Who do you think will be the three teams that will get relegated this season?
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