Last season West Ham, Watford and Norwich were the teams in relegation spots in the Premier League after 25 fixtures with 24, 23, and 18 points each. As you all know, the last two went down and Bournemouth (26 points after 25 matches) finished in the 18th position. This season, West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield United seemed to be condemned to play in the Championship next year. They have 17 and 11 points while Newcastle, which are right in the limit, have 26.
The level and the outcomes on both teams make us think that there is just a spot to be decided yet. This way, the candidates in the race to avoid relegation are Fulham, Newcastle, Brighton and Burnley. Let´s review every team´s current situation.
The ‘Cottagers’ strengthened themselves in the summer market and they formed a very different team compared to last season. This happened mostly because of the poor outcomes at the start, which proved that the squad´s level was low. This way, only Harrison Reed was a starter in the last game who belonged to the squad last season. This is why it was predicted that it would take time for the team to work out.
Scott Parker´s players have improved their record in the last few weeks (only a loose in the last seven matches). Their most recent wins against Everton and Sheffield United have turned into an important boost both in the table and also mentally, as they have put Fulham only three points away from escaping relegation. However, they are still the closest candidates to these spots.
André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Ademola Lookman and Ola Aina are among the key players. This last one is both a threat defensively and offensively. On the other hand, Zambo Anguissa is the compass in the midfield and he leads the tackles and steals (57 and 44). At the same time, Lookman is their main player forward: he is top of the shooting attempts´table in the team (52), also the biggest assistant, along with Mitrović and Zambo Anguissa, with three goal passes and the second scorer (four goals).
Newscatle United FC:
Steve Bruce is in the constant talk of the ‘Magpies’. Even though they managed to finish mid-table last season, the team´s performing level this year is disappointing everyone. The roster that the board of directors (led by Mike Ashley) formed last summer excited the fans and made them dreamed of a calmed season in the Premier League. Nothing far from reality, the team´s playing style is ineffective and slacker.
The Englishman´s coach´s Newcastle is characterized by being solid defensively. For the attack, Bruce trusts players like Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almirón, and Callum Wilson. It is obvious that the tactical work on the offensive phase is poor, but the issue that has put the ‘Magpies’ close to relegation is their fragility in the back: the coach´s virtue, inherited by Rafa Benítez, has been degraded.
The continuous injuries in defense and the attack have added ballast to the playing issues. Fabian Schär and Wilson are out of the starting XI for this reason (they are key players in their system). For all these reasons, the tension at St James´ Park keeps increasing and the coach´s job is being questioned. Their short distance with Fulham make them to be in a delicate situation where a simple results´crisis could complicate them in the race to avoid relegation.
BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION FC:
Graham Potter´s team has a serious problem at scoring, which has made them to be very close to the relegation positions. Their stats are tremendous: 7th team in the league with the highest xG (expected goals regarding on the quality of their chances created). According to that data, they should have 37,85 goals and they have only scored 26. In addition, according to the xPTS (expected points), they should be in the 5th spot with 41,62 points. In reality, they have 26 points.
It is not strange to see matches where Brighton dominate and have several scoring opportunities, but they usually end up rather drawing or loosing. In fact, in their last matchup against Crystal Palace, the ‘Seagulls’ had five shooting attempts in target and 25 shots in total; meanwhile, the ‘Eagles’ shot in target twice and three overall. The final score was another defeat for Brighton (1-2) and the winner goal was scored in the last minute.
Such an attractive playing style club is clearly missing a killer in the box. They need someone who can finish the multiple chances they create. However, in order for them to have this as a must-do task in the next market, they first have to stay in the Premier League. Brighton´s guarantee is their system, but they can´t afford to many looses until the end of the season.
Sean Dyche has pulled off to keep a club with few resources compared to their competitors four seasons and a half in the Premier League. They tend to have one of the worst rosters in the league and this year is not an exception. Burnley barely strengthened themselves in summer: Dale Stephens and Josh Brownhill were the only signs for the first team. However, this last one has become a key piece in the midfield.
They still have a prudent distance towards relegation, but problems could arise anytime. There are two main factors that will play a huge role on achieving the goal: Nick Pope and the strikers (Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood y Jay Rodríguez). The Englishman coach´s system is mostly based on their doble striker´s performing. They are the ones who receive the long balls from their teammates and they offer options to the second line as well, apart from finishing by their own, thanks to their self-sufficiency.
The loose of these two strikers because of an injury would result in an attacking crisis. However, the ‘Clarets´goalkeeper is as crucial as them, or even more. Pope is the fourth keeper in the league with the best goals conceded ratio every 90 minutes (1.04). He is also the fourth with the most clean sheets (nine) and the best at saves percentage (80,5%). He is the savior of his team and he has earned many points through his performances. No doubt that an absence on him would be another reason to worry for Sean Dyce.
Translated by Guillermo Bermejo.