There was one result that stood out from the list of Premier League matches that took place this weekend. Chelsea 2-1 Spurs and Man United 1-1 West Ham will undoubtedly grab headlines, but it was the game between Swansea and Crystal Palace which most people took notice of.
Swansea, who have started the season appallingly, found themselves bottom of the Premier League table going in to this game having amassed only 6 points and one win in their opening 12 league games. Italian boss Guidolin was replaced with Bob Bradley in the hope that the American would turn around the fortunes of the Welsh club, but had been unsuccessful so far.
Crystal Palace were also in desperate need of the win going in to this game, with the London club losing all of their last 5 league games.
By 5pm Saturday, the fans at the game saw a total of 9 goals, with the match ending 5-4 to Swansea. Palace, who have now lost 6 of their last 6 Premier League games, were 3-1 down at one stage, but managed to fight back and get their selves in to a 4-3 lead until the last 5 minutes until Spaniard Fernando Llorente turned the game around and secured all 3 points for Swansea.
After watching the highlights, three things struck me;
- That was some of the worst defending I have ever seen in a Premier League match
- The relegation battle this season is going to be one of the closest seen in recent years.
- Palace boss Alan Pardew is now in serious danger of losing his job.
I saw a league table which was released a couple of weeks ago that listed the teams in terms of points per game amassed in 2016 in the Premier League, Championship, League One and League Two. Guess who was bottom of that list? Crystal Palace. In the whole of 2016, they have taken a measly 0.73 points per league match, making them comfortably the worst team in the country. They have only won 5 of their 31 league games this year, with three of them coming in a row in September.
It is the second point that I want to go in to a little bit more detail about in this blog. At the time of writing this, there are only 5 points separating Stoke in 11th (16 points) and Hull in the final relegation spot (11 points). Even Sunderland and Swansea, who are 19th and 20th and are on 8 and 9 points respectively, have shown signs of improvement over the last few weeks.
While it can be argued that teams such as current champions (!) Leicester and West Ham will eventually pick up their form and play their way out of trouble, there are a core of roughly 5-6 teams which I believe will all be in the mix in May to avoid the drop. Sunderland, Hull, Swansea, Crystal Palace, Burnley and Middlesbrough in my opinion are those teams.
Who will escape the drop, though? Well, the recent record-breaking TV deal has meant that Premier League clubs can now afford to sign and keep players of a level in which they would never have been able to before – for example – Burnley spending £9m on midfielder Jeff Hendrick from Derby, West Ham and Watford rejecting £30m+ bids from Chinese clubs for Ighalo and Payet, Middlesbrough signing ex-Valencia and Man City striker Alvaro Negredo and Swansea breaking their transfer record to sign Spaniard Borja Baston. This ultimately means that the quality throughout the league has become much better in recent seasons and the “smaller” teams are now putting up a real fight against the traditionally bigger teams – look at Burnley’s win against Liverpool as an example this season where, in previous years, they’d have lost it.
However, as history has proved time and time again, big money and big players don’t always guarantee success. I point to the “project” at QPR a few seasons back, where players such as Loic Remy, Chris Samba and Rio Ferdinand (among many more), all on huge wages, were unable to save the club from the drop.
I like the look of Middlesbrough and the way that Aitor Karanka is trying to do things – they seem to have a good mix of experience and youth and with players such as center back Ben Gibson – who is reportedly being monitored by Chelsea – they should have enough to steer clear. They didn’t appear to blow their transfer/wage budgets all at once, either. The same can be said about Burnley – I am a fan of Sean Dyche and the way he has managed to get them promoted on a small budget. They have signed well over the summer and appear to have a clear playing style which they will adhere to all season, However, the recent heavy defeat to West Brom proved the point that there are going to be many ups and downs for them this season and their home form will be critical.
I cannot see where or how Hull are going to string together a run of results which will see them survive this season – the fan base is starting to turn against boss Mike Phelan and the thread-bare squad which started well are now beginning to show their weaknesses. For me, they are one of my three to go down.
Sunderland are a strange one – the perennial relegation scrappers earned two crucially important victories against Bournemouth and Hull before the international break, but succumbed to a disappointing but expected 2-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday. Jurgen Klopp called Moyes’ side “the most defensive team he has ever faced as a manager” and, to be honest, he’s right – upon watching the highlights, Jermain Defoe was the most advanced player all game and he was pretty much just outside the penalty area of his own box. I think that this may be one relegation battle too far for Sunderland, who like Aston Villa before them, may need a relegation to clear out the dead wood and start again in the Championship with a team that can get promoted and consolidate in the Premier League.
The Third team to avoid the drop is too close to call at this stage. If Crystal Palace decide to stay with Pardew, I have serious doubts as to whether he can turn this current dire form around, even with £30m striker Christian Benteke in the side. How long do the owners wait before they pull the trigger? Christmas? If the current form continues, it might be too late, even with half a season to go.
That leaves Swansea. The loss of Andre Ayew in the summer to West Ham was a huge blow and it does not look as if the signing of Borja Baston is going to be the much-needed replacement for Wilfried Bony they have been seeking for a while now. They do have some class in their team which they will be pinning their hopes on – Gylfi Sigurdsson has a massive part to play in making sure that their 6 year stay in the Premier League doesn’t come to an end, but I am not sure it’ll be enough.
With revenue at an all-time high for Premier League clubs (the club who finish bottom of the Premier League receive more prize money than the winner of the Bundesliga); clubs will do anything to ensure they avoid the drop. This means sackings, panic buys and more. It’s going to be exciting and it’s going to be very, very close.
Premier League Gameweek 13 Results
Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham
Swansea 5-4 Crystal Palace
Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland
Leicester 2-2 Middlesbrough
Hull 1-1 West Brom
Burnley 1-2 Man City
Southampton 1-0 Everton
Man United 1-1 West Ham
Arsenal 3-1 Bournemouth
Watford 0-1 Stoke