While the title run in is of course intriguing, we must not forget the battle to avoid relegation is also quite interesting.
The consensus among the public is that Sunderland and Middlesbrough will be playing in the championship next year and its either Hull City or Swansea City that will be joining them. I agree insofar as I also believe Sunderland and Middlesbrough will succumb to relegation in the coming weeks but I also think that Burnley could be brought into a relegation dogfight before the season ends.
Sunderland’s season looked bleak from the very start and the players were hardly boosted when they heard their manager publicly claiming that they will be in a relegation battle at the end of the season. Has that had something to do with the lacklustre performances throughout the season? While it’s not something which would encourage or inspire the players, I don’t think it’s a major reason in why they are in the position they currently find themselves – rock bottom with 21 points from 33 games. Their problem has been that they have been leaking goals left, right and centre, (A lot of the time due to terrible individual mistakes) offer very little creativity in midfield and are overly reliant on the ageless Jermain Defoe to hit the back of the net. If he was playing with players of his own calibre Defoe would have bagged far more goals than he has this season but the quality of service just hasn’t been there. The big question for Sunderland is whether they can keep hold of him and promising goalkeeper Jordan Pickford over the summer because the black cats will be in the championship next season no doubt about it.
While Middlesbrough were newcomers to the premier league this year, I must say I’m surprised with their current position. I personally thought with the quality of players such as Victor Valdes, Gaston Ramirez, Alvaro Negredo and Stewart Downing in their ranks that they would have hit the magical 40-point mark by now. Surprisingly, it’s the goal department that has also proved Middlesbrough’s nemesis even with the trio of attacking players mentioned above. Middlesbrough have scored the least amount of goals in the whole league and that ultimately is why they’ll be back in the championship next season. On the plus side, their defence, particularly Ben Gibson, has impressed this season with some fine resolute performances. (Middlesbrough have only conceded one more goal than West Brom and Liverpool so far this season).
Who goes down with Sunderland and Middlesbrough is going to be one of Swansea, Hull or Burnley. Hull have enjoyed a good run of form, particularly at home, since Marco Silva has taken over the reins at the KCOM stadium. I think Hull will avoid the drop as I see them coming away from St. Mary’s this weekend with at least a point as Southampton have effectively nothing to play for so won’t be overly motivated you would imagine. Next weekend they have Sunderland at home and I fancy them to pick up three points in that game.
Burnley lie just three points better off than Hull and that’s why I included them in this relegation scrap, albeit that I don’t think they will actually be relegated but I fear that if they’re not careful they may fall into a false sense of security in thinking that they’re safe. A few tough games lie waiting so Burnley need to lift their recent performance levels to ensure premier league football next season.
So, in my opinion its Swansea who will be in the championship next season along with Sunderland and Middlesbrough, which would be a shame as they have been a great asset to the premier league in the last few seasons. I can’t but think that Swansea have brought this on themselves after the sacking of Garry Monk which I felt was a terrible decision, something which is proving to be the case as he has revitalised Leeds United since he was appointed there. What a wonderful twist of fate it would be if Monk can lead Leeds through the play-offs and back to where a club of their stature belong while Swansea suffer the pain of relegation and an uncertain future. Ultimately for Swansea when you concede the most goals in the premier league the writing is on the wall. It would be a shame the see the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente plying their trade in the second tier of English football but that looks increasingly like how it will eventually pan out.