Premier League's relegation battle as thrilling as title race

BY foxsports • April 1, 2011

The title race has come down to three horses: Manchester United, Arsenal and a resurgent Chelsea. But there’s an equally thrilling battle taking place at the other end of the table, with eight teams trying to avoid being one of three teams sent down to the Championship. With only eight weeks remaining, these teams face a series of must-win games and so-called "six-pointers."

We handicap the eight challengers and offer our predictions for the final two months of the season.

ASTON VILLA

 

VERDICT: Staying up. Just.

BIRMINGHAM

Dire. After a shock win in the Carling Cup final, the Blues have gone into a tailspin, with just one win in their last five Premier League games. January pickups Obafemi Martins and David Bentley have helped Ally McLeish’s side, but they don’t have the pieces to run out the remainder of the season. The Blues have been tough to beat at home right enough - even with the gaffes Ben Foster keeps making in goal - but they face two genuine six-pointers and three meetings with big clubs Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool in their season run-out.

 

VERDICT: Likely to go down.

BLACKBURN

Currently winless in six games and truly dreadful on the road, Rovers may sack their second manager of the season before the final bell sounds. Steve Kean has never settled in after the shock sacking of Sam Allardyce as manager, and ownership’s meddling seems to have contributed to a general sense of decline: it’s currently difficult to believe - as Venky’s Chicken apparently does - that Rovers can be a world-class team. Picked up several quality players in January, including American Jermaine Jones, but look very thin top to bottom.

 

VERDICT: On the bubble.

BLACKPOOL

The romantic story of the season, Blackpool are the team no one wants to see go down. They’re in trouble, however, mired in a deep slump that has seen them win just once in their last ten matches. It’s perhaps inevitable for a side that has been playing like a poor man’s Arsenal: thrilling - even reckless - attacking football that has often proved costly. Ian Holloway has sure gotten a lot out of his charges - Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell have been heroes for them up top, and Richard Kingson is arguably 'keeper of the year - but their cavalier nature has cost them dearly in the back. The Seasiders have to right the ship soon: they have four tough games coming up, playing Arsenal, Bolton, Tottenham and Manchester United to close out their season.

 

VERDICT: Staying up.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION

Call it the curse of the "W’s": Every Premiership team at the end of the alphabet is also at the foot of the ladder. Now, much-traveled manager Roy Hodgson has to try to rescue a team that has little talent. WBA have only won one game since Roy took over in early February — but they haven’t lost any, either, and their six-pointer over Birmingham may prove critical. They held Arsenal to a shock 2-2 draw most recently, and next face Hodgson’s former club, Liverpool, in a critical match for both teams. Super-sub Carlos Vela (on loan from Arsenal) has made an immediate impact, and Peter Odemwingie may be the hottest striker in the depths this year, but credit the much-maligned Hodgson for installing some immediate defensive grit.

 

VERDICT: On the bubble.

WEST HAM UNITED

 

VERDICT: Staying up by the skin of their teeth.

WIGAN

Got a massive win two weeks ago over Birmingham thanks to Maynor Figueroa, but they need wins and help to clamber out of dead last. Wigan’s problem is simple: they cannot beat teams of quality and have generally been held fast or downed by the poorer sides. The Latics have gotten yeoman 'keeping from Ali Al Habsi this season - keeping them from far worse scorelines - but they are punchless in midfield and require great games from middling players (Tom Cleverly, Hugo Rodallega, Charles N’Zogbia) to get anything accomplished. Roberto Martinez, who is reportedly close to the sack, is doing the best with what he has. He doesn’t have much.

 

VERDICT: Likely to go down.

WOLVERHAMPTON

Wanderers took a major hit this week with the news that top scorer Kevin Doyle may be lost for the remainder of the season after tearing a knee ligament in the Irish Republic’s 2-1 win over Macedonia in a Euro 2012 qualifier. It’s just the latest big blow: Ronald Zubar was lost for the year after back surgery. Wolves struggle to win on the road and are not getting much help from the other key players on the roster. Matt Jarvis, rewarded with a shock England call-up, has been a standout, but after that, things get very thin. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake has been erratic, and Steven Hunt has never regained his touch. Wolves try hard, but they fall apart after about 45 minutes, and nothing Mick McCarthy has tried so far has worked.

 

VERDICT: Likely to go down.

Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.


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