With Aston Villa very much on their knees at the moment at the foot of the table, only the most optimistic fan will give them any chance of survival. The question is who’s going to drop with them? Half a dozen teams are in serious danger of falling out of the top flight alongside Villa and with a new bumper television rights package coming into force next season there has never been a worse time to lose that cherished Premier League status.
Chelsea’s improvement under interim head coach Guus Hiddink suggests they will finish in the top half, while Everton and Watford should have little fear of the drop.
With Aston Villa needing more than a miracle to escape relegation, you may be better off heading off to the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival then backing a claret and blue mission impossible. But who will join them is an intriguing battle between Sunderland, Newcastle United, Norwich City, Bournemouth and Swansea City.
Sunderland have survived by the skin of their teeth in the last few years and if anyone can keep the Black Cats up, it is wily manager Sam Allardyce, who has never been relegated from the Premier League.
A recent bit of good form (including a victory over United) and some impressive January signings have given some optimism to Sunderland fans in the last few weeks. Wahbi Khazri, who Garde was chasing in the early part of the January window has proven to be a good buy by Sunderland and has given them more cutting edge with a goal and two assists in three appearances for the Black Cats.
Jermain Defoe is likely to be crucial and the former England international will need to keep up his recent hot streak if his team is to bridge the gap to 17th place and safety.
Steve McClaren has been given £80 million worth of new players over two transfer windows and the Magpies will hope they are enough to jump the remaining fences and pull away from danger. However their defence is still a worry and a 5-1 thumping by Chelsea won’t help confidence.
Big money deals for Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend add Premier League experience to a squad lacking determination and character, while the loan signing of Seydou Doumbia from Roma should provide the necessary firepower to secure survival.
However, while you have to feel sorry for Newcastle’s long-suffering supporters, we do have a running beef with them when it comes to relegation matters. The fact they are the last visitors to Villa Park in this Premier League season will give them a real opportunity to rub some salt into our wounds.
The only way it’s going to work out ok for Villa supporters on the day is if, a) Newcastle are already relegated or b) they need something from the game to survive and we stop them. If the last scenario happens, then the last Premier League game at Villa Park could at least be some fun.
Norwich also invested heavily in January in a bid to avoid the drop, with Alex Neil bringing in new players, including Timm Klose, Steven Naismith and Matt Jarvis, to strengthen his side.
The Canaries have had some fantastic results this season – including a 2-1 win at Old Trafford – but have also hit a bad patch of form at the wrong time, including a 2-0 defeat to Villa.
If I’m honest, I’d be surprised if they don’t drop back down to the Championship.
Bournemouth prioritised goals in the January window, bringing striker Lewis Grabban back to the club after an unsuccessful spell at Norwich and breaking the club’s record to sign Benik Afobe, who scored two goals in his first three appearances after signing from Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Juan Iturbe – once dubbed the new Lionel Messi – has also arrived on loan, but Eddie Howe still faces a huge challenge to keep Bournemouth in the top flight. The big question is will the tire towards the end of the season?
On the other hand, the Cherries are proof that the standard of the Premier League isn’t that good and there’s not a lot of team spirit about, because by having bags of it themselves they’ve beaten teams this season full of players with better reputations and wages.
Garry Monk paid for Swansea’s poor autumn, although his sacking was perhaps a little on the harsh side. Interim manager Alan Curtis and now new boss Francesco Guidolin have at least got them above the relegation zone, but they’re very much in the mix. They’ll need Andre Ayew to carry the can with more goals to give them a chance of survival scoring regularly after being shifted from the wing to a striking role.
Swansea had a quiet transfer window but brought in powerful midfielder Leroy Fer on loan from Queens Park Rangers on deadline day. However, Fer has been relegated from the Premier League two years running – not a great omen.
The Outside Chance
Crystal Palace could be a potential outside bet on relegation. Despite starting the season in the top 6 a recent run of 5 straight defeats has led to some fans starting to panic. A recent win over Tottenham in the FA cup will be a great boost to confidence, but Palace need to start getting wins in the league to make sure they don’t get involved in the relegation dog fight.
Villa fans may be better off saving their money this season or waiting until next season and seeing the odds to bounce straight back to the Premier League (or indeed for staying in the Championship). In the meantime, it’s probably makes more sense betting on Cheltenham Gold Cup 2016, the crown jewels of the jump racing season instead.