With 12 games of the Premier League season remaining, two of the teams promoted from the Championship last summer are outside of the relegation zone – and second-bottom Huddersfield Town (only in the relegation zone on goal difference) are hardly cut adrift without a hope of surviving.
In fact, this year’s battle to avoid the drop could well be one of the most closely-fought in recent memory. Just seven points separate bottom of the table West Brom and West Ham – in 12th.
The gap from the Baggies up to Burnley in the heady heights of seventh is only 16 points. To put that into context, the gap from sixth-placed Arsenal to runaway leaders Manchester City seems gargantuan, at 24 points, with the Gunners on 45 and City on 69.
Although Sean Dyche’s side are more likely to be dragged into a relegation dogfight than a battle for the title, let’s just assume that the sides below them inside the top 10 – Leicester, Bournemouth and Everton are safe. Let’s also rule out rule out Watford in 11th.
This is only the eighth time in 26 seasons that all three promoted sides have hit double figures after 10 games.
All three – Brighton and Hove Albion, Newcastle United and Huddersfield – showed encouraging signs early on.
David Wagner’s Terriers lost just once in their opening six games. After going three games without a win, Chris Hughton’s Seagulls have won four and lost just three of their last nine. Newcastle won three straight games after losing their opening two while Rafa Benitez has overseen just two defeats in their last eight.
Believe it or not, if Brighton (13th), Newcastle (16th) and Huddersfield all managed to beat the drop this season, it would not be the first time that has happened in the Premier League era. In fact, it wouldn’t even be the second. Of the Premier League’s 25 seasons, all three promoted teams have stayed up the following campaign twice – Fulham, Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn in 2001/02 and QPR, Norwich and Swansea as recently as 2011/12.
And, you have to go back 20 years to find the last (and only) time all three went down – Bolton, Barnsley and Crystal Palace, in 1997/98.
Here, Matt Jones assesses the nine teams who could all still go down:
WEST HAM (12th)
The Hammers have found their way of late, their recent defeat to Brighton a first loss in their last six games. They’ve finally seemed to have settled in their new home of the London Stadium and have scored more goals than any of the teams below them (32). The big worry for David Moyes is the alarming rate in which they’re conceding. The 46 goals they’ve let in is level with Huddersfield and only worsened by Stoke (52).
Survival rating: 8/10
The Seagulls are flying high in 13th, something that seemed unlikely as they started the season poorly, losing four of their opening seven games. Of all the teams to come up they looked the most ill-equipped to survive. But they’re resilient and have conceded less goals (35) than any of their rivals, while Glenn Murray (eight) is 15th in the league’s individual scoring charts.
Survival rating: 7/10
CRYSTAL PALACE (14th)
A horrendous start to the season saw the Eagles plummet down the table as they lost their first seven successive games. A 5-0 hammering at Manchester City on September 23 saw them become the first side in English professional football history to lose their first six games without scoring a single goal. They’ve only lost twice in the last 15 though and have quality – Yohan Cabaye, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha – in abundance.
Survival rating: 8/10
Shorn of their star names after years of perhaps over-achievement, peddling their riches has finally turned Saints into paupers this season. Unbeaten in their last four but patience is already wearing thin with Mauricio Pellegrino who replaced the pragmatic Claude Puel midway in the summer. Lost rejuvenated Charlie Austin to a long-term injury while Manolo Gabbiadini has struggled in front of goal, but should have enough quality, especially in midfield, to survive.
Survival rating: 5/10
Have arguably the most talented manager of all the teams in the lower half of the table in charge, but the discord that exists between Rafa Benitez and owner Mike Ashley shows no signs of dissipating. You can’t help but feeling the Spaniard is managing with one hand tied behind his back. A losing run of eight games in nine at the end of 2017 saw them spiral downwards. The biggest concern is do the players have the stomach for a battle?
Survival rating: 4/10
The club has been run farcically behind the scenes for a few seasons now. It spoke volumes Wilfried Bony was brought back despite the fact he hadn’t undergone a pre-season, pinning their goalscoring hopes on teenage Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham and having no time to bring in any players after selling Gylfi Sigurdsson in the final throws of August. Carlos Carvalhal, in fairness, has started to turn things around as the Swans have climbed out of the bottom three. But 19 goals is equaled only by Huddersfield.
Survival rating: 4/10
STOKE CITY (18th)
Mark Hughes was finally sacked after a humiliating FA Cup defeat to Coventry at the start of January, but Stoke fans would hardly have been inspired by the choice of replacement in Paul Lambert. Have lost nine of their last 14 but have form for beating the sides around them. Only West Ham (32) and Southampton (28) have scored more goals (26), but the Potters have worryingly conceded 32, six more than anyone else.
Survival rating: 2/10
Nicknamed the Terriers which is appropriate as after an encouraging start to life in the big time, they have been dragged by the leash into the relegation mire. The worry for David Wagner is they’ve scored the joint least amount of goals (19) and have shipped 46 – only Stoke have conceded more, with the worst goal difference of the bottom nine teams (-27). You know they’ll scrap, but will it be enough?
Survival rating: 3/10
WEST BROM (20th)
The Baggies have been on a rapid sloping trajectory since the end of last season, with long-serving Tony Pulis sacked in November. Alan Pardew came in but his appointment hasn’t had the desired effect of bouncing the Baggies back up the table as they sit bottom. Amazingly, West Brom have only won three times all season, twice as few as anyone except Southampton (five). Worryingly, they’ve won just four of their last 36 Premier League games.
Survival rating: 2/10
Cesar Azpilicueta insists he and his Chelsea team-mates are not letting down under-fire manager Antonio Conte.
The Blues were thrashed 4-1 at Watford on Monday night as pressure on Conte’s position intensified.
Eden Hazard looked to have rescued a point for the visitors, who had Tiemoue Bakayoko sent off in the first half, after Troy Deeney had put Watford ahead from the penalty spot. But the Hornets scored three in the last six minutes to wrap up a comprehensive victory and leave Conte’s future in the balance.
Chelsea sit 19 points adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester City and one one point clear of Tottenham in fifth. The manner of
defeat at Vicarage Road is bad enough in isolation but, coupled with the fact Bournemouth won 3-0 at Stamford Bridge last week, there is clearly an issue with the form of the reigning champions.
But Azpilicueta declared after the game that the players were still fighting for their manager. Asked if he felt like the players were letting Conte down, the Spain international replied: “No. I think if you see the training sessions, we all fight hard.
“We are the first to be disappointed with the way the last two games went. That’s really hard. We are getting penalised in the bad
moments we are having in the game.
“It’s not a long period, but in this league, which is so tough, you get punished as soon as you drop a bit. We are here altogether. We are all disappointed with the result.
“I know that there has been speculation all the time in the five to six years I have been here. As a player, what I want is to come back to the training pitch as soon as possible, to work hard and to get into Monday’s game, to get the three points and to get our confidence back.”
By the time Chelsea kick off at home to West Brom next Monday they could be outside the top four – something Azpilicueta admits would be a bitter pill to swallow.
“It will be difficult if that happens because we were in a very good position, we were fighting for second,” he added.
“But after two defeats we have dropped. The gap (to the teams behind) is getting closer and closer.
“We have to know that on Monday we might start out of the top four but we have it in our hands to get back into it.”
After Hazard’s sublime equaliser it appeared as though Chelsea could even leave Hertfordshire with all three points – only for Watford to respond in scintillating fashion.
Daryl Janmaat scored a well-taken individual effort to restore their lead before Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra sealed the win as new head coach Javi Gracia oversaw victory in his first home game.
“It is a massive win,” Janmaat told the club’s official website. “We needed three points. We did well, we pressed them really well. We had the belief we could win because we had a lot of energy, more than them, and that was the key.”
Antonio Conte‘s position as Chelsea head coach is under scrutiny after the reigning Premier League champions lost 4-1 at Watford on Monday, following last Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat at home to Bournemouth.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at what has gone wrong for Conte’s Blues this season.
Complaining helps no-one
A positive attitude can be infectious, but a negative one is perhaps more so. Conte set the tone last summer by complaining continually about the size of his squad, transfers and the congested fixture list, with his side back in the Champions League after a season’s absence from Europe.
That grumbling grates after a while, and may be doing so for those above him (owner Roman Abramovich and director Marina Granovskaia, in particular) and below (the players and playing staff).
When Conte signed a new contract, that should have been a sign of commitment. In fact, last summer’s deal had the opposite effect. The three-year deal Conte began in July 2016 was not extended, merely improved.
That suggested Conte and Chelsea were thinking short term and that their relationship was not all rosy, perhaps even strained.
John Terry may have had limited on-field impact in Conte’s first season, but the leadership he brought and team spirit he helped to foster are absent this term after his move to Aston Villa.
Chelsea have two wins (over Brighton and Newcastle) from 10 matches in 2018, not including the penalty shootout success over Norwich in the FA Cup. Injuries have contributed to the need to rotate players, but numerous hamstring issues led some to question whether Conte’s training methods are culpable.
It will get tougher for the Blues, with a Champions League last-16 tie against Barcelona either side of Premier League fixtures with Manchester United and runaway leaders Manchester City.
The league match with West Brom and FA Cup tie with Hull may offer temporary respite but must also bring vast improvement ahead of the visit of Lionel Messi and co.
The Costa conundrum
It had long been decided that Diego Costa would leave Chelsea at the end of last season. The striker’s January 2017 flirtation with the Chinese Super League was the last straw after four transfer requests in his three seasons. Two of those campaigns ended with titles.
Alvaro Morata was brought in as a direct replacement for £58million from Real Madrid and started well. But, as Conte had been at pains to point out, this was Morata’s first season as the main striker. Once the fixture list became more congested, Morata began to struggle with fitness, form and discipline.
He is not the only one, though, as even Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante have found consistent performances hard to come by.
Arguably a bigger loss than Costa has been Nemanja Matic, who was sold to Manchester United to accommodate the arrival from Monaco of Tiemoue Bakayoko.
Matic was the midfield shield that allowed Chelsea to flourish last season in Conte’s favoured 3-4-3 formation. Without the Serbian, the Blues are not the same team. Chopping and changing the back three, plus David Luiz’s apparent fallout with Conte, has not helped defensive solidity.
Andreas Christensen has done well in place of Luiz, but even the reliable Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill have been off form at times. Bakayoko and fellow new signing Antonio Rudiger have not had the desired impact defensively.
Provided by Press Association Sport