We’re approaching crunch time in the 2019-20 Premier League season, and the fight for survival looks tight with everyone from Newcastle United in 14th, down to basement-club Norwich City, in a legitimate fight for survival.
So, of the seven teams involved, who’s got the hardest fixtures, who’s the key player that could get them out of a pickle, and, crucially, who do we think is destined for the drop?
Current position: 14th
Fixture difficulty (1= easy, 5= extremely difficult): 2
Key player: Martin Dubravka – They say a good goalkeeper can be worth 10-15 points a season, and Dubravka has backed that up with some fine displays of late. Despite being at fault for the Crystal Palace winner at the weekend, his saves from Gary Cahill and Scott Dann were superb, and he’s kept Newcastle in games on his own at times.
Verdict: Newcastle’s problem is that they don’t score enough goals and that could yet see them sucked into the battle at the bottom. Joelinton’s signing for £40 million has been an unmitigated disaster, and (unsurprisingly) Andy Carroll has barely featured since arriving on a free last summer. However, they’re relatively solid, can grind out some unexpected results, and have some winnable matches on the horizon. Staying up.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Current position: 15th
Fixture difficulty: 4
Key player: Lewis Dunk – Brighton’s defence is the second-best (behind Palace) in the bottom half of the table, and that relative solidarity may yet get them over the finish line, with the experienced Dunk still a key component of the team’s backline.
Verdict: A tough run of games awaits the Seagulls, and while they’ve been beaten only twice in their last seven, they’ve not won a Premier League match in 2020. They face Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City at home before the season’s out, and may need a surprise win from one of those clashes to secure their survival. It’s going to be close.
Current position: 16th
Fixture difficulty: 4
Key player: Callum Wilson – While Bournemouth’s defensive performance this term has been similar to the teams in and around them, their tally of 26 goals is the second-worst in the division and they’re on course to fall well short of the 56 they netted last time around. Wilson, who for once has not been dogged by injury, only has seven strikes to his name, but if he can start firing in these closing weeks then that could be the difference.
Verdict: It’s been a really difficult season for Bournemouth, who haven’t been the attacking force of previous years, not helped by the poor form of key men such as Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson. With a tricky run awaiting them between now and the end of the campaign, home clashes against Palace, Newcastle and Southampton will be pivotal. However, they often manage to string a few results together when their backs are against the wall, and don’t back against them taking the odd point off the big boys.
Current position: 17th
Fixture difficulty: 5
Key player: Jack Grealish – Among the best players outside of Liverpool and Manchester City in the Premier League this term, Grealish has shone despite Villa’s struggles, and the moments of magic in those quick feet may prove decisive, although he needs his team-mates to start shouldering some of the creative burden.
Verdict: They’re hovering about the relegation zone right now, but Villa’s run-in is arguably the worst that any relegation threatened team faces. There appears to be a worrying lack of confidence in the side at the moment, a problem which may be exacerbated if Manchester City hand them an expected drubbing in the League Cup final on Sunday, and they leak chances against every side they come up against. John McGinn’s imminent return is a boost, but this could go to the wire, and they will likely need to beat at least one of the big boys, something they’ve failed to do all season, to avoid the drop.
West Ham United
Current position: 18th
Fixture difficulty: 2
Key player: Lukasz Fabianski – A nightmare showing at Liverpool on Monday gifted the Reds another three points on their march to the title, but doesn’t undermine how important Fabianski is to the Hammers. Being without him from October to the end of December saw them win only twice in the league, costing Manuel Pellegrini his job.
Verdict: A spirited display against Liverpool didn’t yield any points, but will have encouraged manager David Moyes after a difficult run. West Ham’s final 11 games are reasonably presentable, facing Southampton, Burnley, Watford and Villa at home, as well as Norwich away, so there’s plenty of opportunity to pull clear of trouble. Providing they can harness the energy they showed at Anfield earlier this week on a consistent basis, they should be fine.
Current position: 19th
Fixture difficulty: 3
Key player: Abdoulaye Doucoure – Playing in a slightly more advanced role than in previous seasons, Doucoure has chipped in with four goals in the league, making him Watford’s joint-second-highest scorer. A few more key contributions will be required to halt their recent slump and guide the Hornets away from trouble.
Verdict: A blistering start under Nigel Pearson has given way to another spell of poor form, leaving Watford back in the relegation zone. Their final matches are a mixed bag; they’ll face the current top four, ending the campaign with Manchester City at home and Arsenal away, but have home games against Southampton, Norwich and Newcastle dotted amongst those tougher clashes. Could go down to the wire.
Current position: 20th
Fixture difficulty: 2
Key player: Todd Cantwell – A bright spark in the Norwich midfield, Cantwell’s shown an eye for goal throughout a tough season, notching six and assisting another two. The 21-year-old is definitely one for the future and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Canaries forced to fend off bids this summer, particularly if they fail to avoid relegation.
Verdict: Injuries, lack of squad depth, naivety, defensive frailty; you can point to any number of reasons why Norwich are cut adrift at the bottom. Barring a miracle, they look doomed to return to the Championship next term, despite a relatively favourable run-in. The Canaries are a well-run club and the building blocks are there for them to make a push for promotion again in 2020-21, but it’s incredibly hard to see them getting out of this predicament.