London (AFP) – The Premier League title may be Manchester City’s to lose but down at the bottom the relegation battle looks set to go to the wire.
The dogfight to avoid the drop has serious financial consequences.
Clubs dropping out of the elite take an immediate £60 million ($84 million). Although they receive a £40 million parachute payment when they drop into the Championship, it falls well short of the £100 million Premier League clubs receive each year.
The relegated club’s losses in revenue can reach as much as £70-80 million once sponsorship deals and fans coming through the turnstiles in normal non-coronavirus times are taken into account.
Third-from-bottom Fulham look the only side of those in the relegation places capable of escaping the drop.
Newcastle’s 2-0 loss to Chelsea on Monday makes them favourites to replace Fulham if the latter can extricate themselves from the relegation spots.
A fine 2-0 away to high-flying Everton on Sunday showed Fulham have both the fight in them and the quality to do so.
The bottom two, though, are floundering.
Sam Allardyce’s record of being the fireman clubs turn to save them from relegation looks set to be spoiled with his West Brom side 12 points adrift of fourth-from-bottom Newcastle, two months after he replaced Slaven Bilic.
Sheffield United, who had mounted a mini-revival albeit from a very low starting point, are 14 points off safety with 14 games remaining after they slumped to a 3-0 defeat to West Ham on Monday.
“It is a massive step back,” conceded United manager Chris Wilder.
Fulham, though, could be breathing down the neck of Newcastle when the Magpies travel to Manchester United on Sunday.
The London club can move to within a point of Newcastle if they beat Burnley on Wednesday and Sheffield United on Saturday.
The likelihood of Newcastle coming away with anything from Old Trafford is improbable given they have lost six of their last seven away matches.
– ‘Making a fist of it’ –
Fulham’s win over Everton — their first in 12 games — may have come as a surprise to many, but not to their young manager Scott Parker.
“This is a confident team,” said the 40-year-old former England midfielder.
“You don’t play football like we play football, these players don’t move the ball like they move the ball, if they didn’t have confidence.”
Fulham’s biggest problem has been failing to convert draws into victories — they have finished all square in nine of their 23 matches this term.
“I don’t really concentrate on the league table and what teams are doing around us,” said Parker.
“Our sole focus is to come in every day and improve. We need to win matches, I know that. We’ve drawn a lot of games.”
West Brom are the only one of the strugglers to have replaced their manager this season.
Parker even got away with boldly criticising vice-chairman Tony Khan’s apology to fans via Twitter for the team’s performance in a 3-0 defeat by Aston Villa last September.
It appears Steve Bruce too enjoys the confidence of unpopular Newcastle owner Mike Ashley.
Bruce believes too much of the focus on who might drop into the bottom three is on Newcastle.
“There are that many teams involved, it has been an unbelievable year,” said Bruce.
“Everyone is making a fist of it down below and there are six, seven teams looking over their shoulder.”
Bruce may be a touch optimistic when he refers to half a dozen teams nervously looking over their shoulders.
One of them, Southampton, are on a club record losing streak of six successive league matches, including a 9-0 humiliation against Manchester United, but are still 11 points better off than Fulham.
Which leaves Newcastle as the hare being chased by the Fulham fox.
Bruce though believes his side will not be caught.
“If we continue like we have done recently we will be OK,” he said.
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