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The title race is done and has been for some time, the scrap for the Champions League is alive but we’re old-fashioned and can’t get massively excited about who finishes fifth.
Thus, the biggest thing to get excited about for the rest of the Premier League season is the relegation battle.
“For me this is the most interesting part of the Premier League,” said Michael Cox on the latest edition of the Totally Football Show, “because unusually these sides at the bottom are very strong. If you look at Norwich: they’re six points off survival, but they seem like a good side, with Pukki, Cantwell, Buendia, their full-backs overlapping. If they’re 20th, I think it says a lot about the standard of teams at the bottom.”
So who’s going to survive? Aston Villa are first up: having been involved in the last game before lockdown, they’ll play the first two, as they host Sheffield United on Wednesday evening. How does Michael feel about their prospects of staying up?
“Not particularly positive I must say. Having John McGinn is a big plus, clearly the strongest part of their side is him and Grealish, particularly when they play a 4-3-3, they work really well together.
“I worry for Villa though. I think they’ve got too many weaknesses in defence to stay up. They’ve conceded the most goals in the league by quite a distance.”
Duncan Alexander chipped in with some numbers to back up Michael’s Villa-related pessimism: “Villa have got the worst xG against them in the Premier League this season, they’ve conceded more long-range goals than any other team, and Pepe Reina – who’s had a variable lockdown – hasn’t been in his own penalty area for 15% of the goals he’s conceded for the club. Call me old fashioned, but I like goalkeepers in their own penalty area.”
If Michael and Duncan are worried about Villa, who was Daniel Storey worried about?
“I’m worried for Bournemouth. I’m sure I’m not the only one, but I quite like Bournemouth. They’re an optimistic club with an optimistic manager who play football ‘the right way’. But they’re an optimistic side who aren’t scoring enough goals and aren’t creating enough chances. They’ve always been leaky at the back in the Premier League, it feels like a case of chickens coming home to roost this season.
“They didn’t sell Ryan Fraser when he clearly would like to move on, they lost David Brooks to injury, and though we might see him back now, the damage has already been done with that. They still have to play five games against teams in the top eight, which I think will just be too much for them.”
“You could make a similar argument for West Ham,” said Duncan Alexander. “Their first three games back are against Wolves, Tottenham and Chelsea, then they’ve got Manchester United in the penultimate game, so that could tell.”
So who’s going down?
“My suspicion are the three teams in the relegation zone at the moment will be there at the end of the campaign,” said Michael Cox.
“Brighton and West Ham have pretty deep squads and are probably better suited to a lot of games in a short time. Watford weren’t great before the break, but under Pearson they’re a very different side to under the two previous managers, and I fancy them to get out of danger.
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