With the title long being sealed by Liverpool and confirmed back on 25 June, all of the attention will now be at the wrong end of the table.uessing which teams will suffer the dreaded drop at the most disruptive and damaging time imaginable.
With Norwich already as good as gone, any two of Brighton, Bournemouth, Watford,West Ham and Aston Villa will join them by the end of July. That said, Brighton are perhaps just five more points away from safety going into the final month of 2019/20.
In fact, such is the inconsistency of the teams below the Seagulls, that itself may be an overestimation. In turn, we have four realistic contenders for a relegation dogfight.
Aston Villa – 33 played, 1 points (3 goals) adrift.
It is not over by any means, but Villa have looked extremely nervy since the restart, taking just two points from the first dozen available.
Even without a physical home crowd, only home games can apparently save them now. Thus, from a Villa perspective, it is alarming to regard just how slowly Villa typically start their home games. Prior to their 2-1 home defeat to Chelsea, Villa had been outscored on a 3:1 ratio across the whole season if counting only the first 30 minutes of home games.
To get the confidence necessary for survival, Villa need to grind out a result after taking an early lead. That is how many relegation battles of years past have been won, but to do so, a proven goalscorer must come to the fore.
With world events denying Mbwana Samatta the opportunity to settle at Villa, the task of keeping the club afloat falls firmly on Jack Grealish. Going into July, the Birmingham-born midfielder is Villa’s top league scorer – albeit with just seven goals.
He is still yet to hit his prime, and cannot do it all on his own. Additionally, while Grealish would ideally remain a one-club man, he knows that he is very likely to remain a Premier League player regardless of Villa’s fate. How that may affect his morale and motivation, as he privately despairs at the shambles around him, remains to be seen.
Verdict: 19th (relegated)
Bournemouth – 33 played, 1 point (4 goals) adrift.
Bournemouth have enjoyed the ride, punching above their weight for five years – far longer than anybody expected. Sadly, the game is finally up, and this is reflected in current Premier League fixed odds surrounding the relegation battle.
Ahead of their crucial home match against Newcastle on 1 July, Bournemouth had won just three of their previous 20 league fixtures, with a shameful 75% loss rate in that sequence. Their comeback fixture against Crystal Palace (a 2-0 defeat) was a textbook example of just how diluted the edge provided by ‘home advantage’ now is.
Candidly, the Cherries were dreadful from start to finish, allowing Palace to break them down, pick them off and dominate every blade of grass.
Though it has seldom been Bournemouth’s strong suit under Eddie Howe, the defence has sunk to new lows in recent weeks. Prior to taking on Wolves, Howe’s men had conceded at least two goals in five straight league matches, and the defeat at Molineux made it 14 league games (and the whole of 2020 to that point) without a clean sheet.
Like Villa, Bournemouth also lament a habit of starting poorly at home, with just four half-time leads at the Vitality Stadium across the 2019/20 campaign. This too exacerbates the sense of doom around Dorset, as does a dismal record of just one win from seven home league matches entered as betting favourites going into July.
With the exit-bound Ryan Fraser a shadow of what he was in 2018/19, the task of saving Bournemouth falls to Joshua King, with the Cherries taking eight points from the previous 12 available across his last four goalscoring league appearances.
Verdict: 18th (relegated)
Watford – 33 played, 1 point (3 goals) above
Watford entered their fixture against Southampton just one point above the relegation zone. While shock wins against Liverpool and Manchester United have boosted the esteem in which Watford are held, their home record as pre-match favourites – with just one win in seven such games – is a dismal one.
By the same point, Watford had been in front at half-time in just two of 15 home league games. Their reliance on the first goal is as much a positive as it is a potential negative, with every one of Watford’s league wins this season coming after an opening goal.
West Ham – 33 played, 4 points (8 goals) above
With a dreadful return of eight defeats from the 11 matches that followed their 4-0 defeat of Bournemouth on New Year’s Day, the Hammers look like firm relegation candidates. There are no heroes or leaders on the pitch, and even men like Mark Noble have struggled to make a real impact this term.
In true David Moyes fashion, West Ham have relied on a defensive setup from the off, which translated to a clean sheet up to the hour mark in all post-restart games held in June. However, even that base game plan has backfired, with West Ham going into their clash against Chelsea having conceded five unanswered goals after the 60-minute milestone across their three preceding defeats.
The only thing going for West Ham is Moyes’ experience of negotiating relegation battles, such as the one they faced in 2017/18.