Who will be relegated from the Premier League?
The relegation race is, simultaneously, hotting up and cooling down. The crunch is coming, the jaws of the Championship are opening ever wider, looking to gulp down another three sides, but fewer and fewer teams are in real danger.
With Southampton on 28 points after 32 games, the mathematical safety point is 46 points, and only the top seven meet this (the ‘Top 6’ plus Burnley – side note, by this time next year will Arsenal still be included in the ‘Top 6’?)
However, it’s unbelievably unlikely that a team fighting relegation will win every single of their remaining games. Even teams who’ve completed a Great Escape drop a couple of points here and there.
To use an idea that I put forward on these pages last year, a ‘realistic’ safety mark is one that is two points-per-game ahead of where an 18th place is – in the current climate, 40 points.
That would envelop Leicester (43 points) and Everton (41) too into the warm and loving embrace of another guaranteed year in the Premier League, and is far more in line with who we intuitively think is in danger of going down.
Southampton’s form over the next ten days – with a confusingly spread platter of Premier League games, about one-and-a-half gameweeks’ worth – is key.
If the Saints lose their next game, which is a tough one at home to Chelsea, the ‘realistically’ safe mark goes down to 38 – the number of points that Newcastle and Bournemouth currently have and just one ahead of where Watford is.
Brighton could reach 38 too with a win in their next game on Saturday, away to a Crystal Palace side who will always show some form of vulnerability.
Suddenly, after a season where it looked as if twelve or thirteen teams were genuine relegation contenders, the field is down to seven.
And if West Ham wins their next game, against 19th-place Stoke on Monday night, they’ll be just one point off ‘realistic’ safety and would require a meltdown the size of London Stadium to slip into the red.
That would, to be fair, still leave a feisty slug-fest at the bottom of the table. Swansea and Huddersfield both have 32 points, though the Swans have a game in hand; Palace has 31; and then Southampton on 28 with a game in hand over their fellow bottom three-ers; Stoke on 27 points; and West Brom seemingly resigned to their fate already on 21.
In fact, taking the rule of ‘realistic safety’, West Brom are already down, ten points behind 17th-place Palace with five games to go, but with a worse goal difference than the Eagles.
Let’s swill the fixture schedule and read its tea leaves, which don’t make particularly nice reading for Huddersfield or Stoke.
The Terriers have a deathly run-in and will want to make sure they maximize the number of points they get from their next two games, home ties against Watford and Everton.
This is because after that they face City at the Etihad, Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, before finishing the season at home to Arsenal in what could (but is unlikely to be, given he’s had better opportunities to leave and hasn’t done) Arsene Wenger’s last game at the club.
Meanwhile, Stoke will play three of their last five matches away from home, one of which is against Liverpool. Their solace will be that two of Southampton’s three remaining home games will be against Chelsea and City.
Stoke’s final two games also have potential to be hugely influential. On the final day, they travel to Swansea, while the penultimate fixture sees them hosting Crystal Palace.
Two of Swansea, Huddersfield, Crystal Palace, Southampton, and Stoke will join likely-already-relegated West Brom in the Championship next year. Fixture schedule probably tips Huddersfield and Stoke to be the unlucky ones, but unpredictable things happen all the time.
An intense relegation battle will certainly ensue as football clubs scramble to avoid the drop zone. It’s also the perfect opportunity to place your bets on upcoming matches. Lock in your betting picks now through Skype Betting!