With the Premier League season now nearing the halfway point, the title race looks to be shaping to be another thrilling finale with three clubs realistically in the running. , both Manchester clubs are hot on their heels, with defending champions City now looking over their shoulders at a rejuvenated United side. But the title race could yet be overshadowed by the fight to stay in the league.
If it’s exciting at the top of the table, it’s no different at the bottom, with as many as ten clubs preparing for a possible relegation battle during the second half of the campaign. While those clubs promoted to the Premier League from the Championship at the end of last season find themselves, somewhat predictably, in and around the bottom three, there is a case to say any team up to 12th at the moment could be in the relegation mix come the final few weeks of the season. Let’s have a closer look at which clubs are most likely to be heading for a relegation dogfight, and who looks best equipped for the fight ahead.
Whether it’s the low morale, a lack of goals or the fact there appears to be an internal civil war occurring at the club, Leicester City are bottom of the Premier League and already looking at a gap growing between themselves and safety. Nigel Pearson might have been the hero of Leicester last year after , and even more so after the club destroyed Manchester United 5-3 earlier this season, but the Foxes manager’s position looks increasingly fragile as his side continue to lose.
Depending on what the club can do in the January transfer window, it would be hard to see how Leicester are going to be able to climb clear of the bottom three. Leonardo Ulloa might have started the season in explosive form, but the former Brighton man’s form has dropped in recent months and the goals have dried up. That said, though, the Argentinian forward’s six league goals are still some way ahead of the next leading scorer in the squad with two goals. Chris Wood, David Nugent and Jamie Vardy might have been prolific in the lower leagues, but neither has managed to get going yet this year and have managed just three goals between them all season.
While the lack of goals has been a real issue for Pearson’s men this season, there isn’t an area of this team that is currently looking comfortable in the top flight. As well as adding some goals to this squad in the transfer window, Leicester will be well aware of the importance of bolstering a defence that has conceded more goals than all but one other club in the league. Kasper Schmeichel, aside, the Leicester defence has looked unstable since the beginning of the season, and players like Wes Morgan, Ritchie De Laet and Paul Konchesky have done nothing to prove they can cut it in the Premier League.
No matter how much Steve Bruce might deny it, it appears to a lot of onlookers that Hull City might be struggling from second season syndrome. After an impressive in their first season back in the Premier League, Hull are now facing the possibility of slipping back into the Championship at the end of season. This campaign might have started well enough, with wins against Crystal Palace and QPR as well as draws against Arsenal and Liverpool, but no win since the beginning of October has left Bruce’s men in a very precarious position heading into the second half
of the campaign.
The loss of Robert Snodgrass through injury right at the start of the season might not have helped Hull’s hopes this season, but a lot of “experts” had claimed there was still more than enough talent in this squad to avoid relegation this season. High-profile signings Abel Hernandez and started the season in encouraging form but the two forwards have looked way off the pace during Hull’s recent troubles, and Tigers fans will be rightly wondering whether the duo are going to be up for the fight come the final few weeks of the season.
With the likes of Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore, Curtis Davies, Micheal Dawson and Nikica Jelavic at his disposal, Bruce knows he has proven Premier League players in his team and players who have the ability to help turn the Tigers season around. But those players are going to need help and the club will know that doing business in January could be critical to the Tigers chances of avoiding the drop this season and further consolidating their place back in the top flight.
Many people’s favourites for relegation at the start of the season, Burnley has sprung more than one surprise this and the North West club are looking in with a decent shot of survival this year. It might have taken until November 8th before they managed to pick up their first win, but Burnley followed up their with a 2-0 win against Stoke, draws against Aston Villa and Newcastle before an impressive 2-0 victory over Southampton. While a 2-0 defeat to QPR in early December was a mark on a very promising run, Sean Dyche will be feeling encouraged by the shape his team are in as they prepare for the second half of the campaign.
As it stands, Burnley’s refusal to break the bank in order to survive in the Premier League has been admirable but it remains to be seen whether that policy will need to change if the club are going to ever establish themselves in the top flight. It is unlikely Dyche will be spending significant funds in the January transfer window, and the club’s relegation rivals will know they could steal a march on Burnley when it comes to bolstering their squads ahead of the second half of the season.
Danny Ings and Ashley Barnes were both prolific in the Championship but struggled to adapt to life in the Premier League at first. The duo have started scoring in recent games, however, and the two strikers could hold the key to Burnley’s survival this season. Injury to either, however, could have really dire consequences on the club’s chances of avoiding the drop and Dyche will know signing a new striker in January could make all the difference come May.
After achieving a near-miracle by surviving the drop last season, Crystal Palace’s plans this year were dramatically rocked by the . The return of Neil Warnock as manager might not have gone down well with all areas of the Palace fan-base but the veteran coach has proved some of his doubters wrong during his time so far. Currently just outside the bottom three, Palace are still many people’s favourites to finish at the bottom of the league this season and it could be an important January transfer window for the club.
The disruption of Pulis’ departure in the summer played a part in a patched-together final few weeks of the transfer window and Warnock will be desperate to strengthen his squad with some new faces as soon as possible. While Palace fans will be hoping they aren’t about to see Warnock hand the likes of Paddy Kenny, Michael Brown and Michael Tonge one last hurrah in the big league, a couple of clever acquisitions in January could be all this squad needs to start climbing clear of the
bottom three places.
High on Warnock’s list in January will be strikers. Despite the presence of Marouane Chamakh, Andrew Johnson, Dwight Gayle, Fraizer Campbell and Kevin Doyle, Palace have found goals hard to come by in recent months and finding a goalscorer will be right up there on the manager’s agenda. The truth is that Palace could do with strengthening all areas of their squad in January if they are going to be confident of putting some more distance between themselves and the bottom three.
While this QPR squad might look a lot different to the one that was relegated in fairly embarrassing circumstances a couple of years ago, that’s not to say it is a better one in terms of talent. To the relief of a lot of fans, a lot of those players who were at the club purely for financial reasons during their last stay in the Premier League have moved on. But there is a feeling that there are still players at the club who are more focused on collecting a pay cheque rather than putting their bodies on the line in order to keep QPR in the league.
One player who couldn’t be accused of taking it easy this season has been Charlie Austin. The striker has scored goals throughout the lower leagues but there were still plenty of doubters who claimed Austin wouldn’t be able to score in the top tier of English football. If he hadn’t convinced those critics he could score regularly in this league after bagging eight before QPR’s game against West Brom, will have certainly gone some way to proving just how good he is.
While Harry Redknapp will be chomping at the bit to get into the January transfer window and start picking up some deals, the QPR gaffer will be aware that holding onto Austin could be crucial to any hopes the club have of avoiding the drop. As well as finishing January with Austin still in his squad, Redknapp will also know that he needs to come out of the first month of 2015 with some points away from home. Heading into the New Year without a single away point to their name, QPR’s terrible form away from home will be the main reason the club go down if they do end up relegated at the end of the season.
After such a close encounter with relegation last season, West Brom fans would have been hoping for a much more relaxing campaign this year. As we near the halfway point in the season, though, the signs are pointing towards another battle against the drop between now and May for the Baggies. The decision to sack Steve Clarke wasn’t welcomed by a large portion of the West Brom fans, and the appointment of the previously untested Alan Irvine didn’t go that far to allaying fears that this could be a tough year.
While the Baggies defence has looked solid enough this season, there is a case that strengthening in midfield and attack will be critical to the club’s hopes of picking up some wins in the New Year. But despite the relative success of the defence this year, Irvine is rumoured to still be looking at add more numbers to his back-line in January, in the transfer window.
But there’s little doubt adding goals to this squad is more important than anything else when it comes to the New Year. Aside from Saido Berahino, no other player in the West Brom squad has managed to pass the three-goal mark this season, and Irvine can’t ignore the need for a goalscorer if he is going to have any hope of keeping his job until the end of the campaign. And it isn’t as though Berahino has been prolific in recent weeks, and Irvine won’t be able to rely on the youngster to score the 20+ goals West Brom may well need to ensure they finish outside the bottom three. The 21-year-old broke into the senior England squad earlier this season after a sensational start to the campaign, but the goals haven’t come as easy to Berahino since the end of October and the striker’s return to form can’t come soon enough for Baggies fans.