Everton have the hardest-looking run-in, Jesse Marsch has to organise Leeds and next 10 days could shape Brentford’s fate
Last modified on Fri 4 Mar 2022 05.23 GMT
Seven teams will be fearing the drop from the Premier League. Those who survive will need moments of quality, to utilise their experience and potentially a little bit of luck to ensure they do not finish in the bottom three.
Newcastle have shown how quickly things can turn thanks to an unbeaten run of seven games, including four wins, which has lifted them to 14th. They have been aided by new signings, especially Kieran Trippier, who has scored twice to help secure six vital points. The full-back’s ability from dead-ball situations is priceless at the lower end of the table and Newcastle will miss him as he recovers from a foot injury. Most teams battling relegation struggle to create chances, so having someone who can settle a match with a free-kick or send in inch-perfect crosses from set pieces is a huge asset. But momentum is key in football and the fact Newcastle now have it should see them to safety.
At the opposite end of the form spectrum are Brentford, who have not won in eight matches. In that period they have scored only four times and I fear they will struggle to find the goals required to keep their heads above water. They have crucial games coming up against Norwich on Saturday and Burnley a week later, and if they fail to win either they will be in a very difficult position. They started the season impressively, winning three of their opening seven fixtures, but have won as many in their next 20 matches. Looking at their game against Burnley, I would back Sean Dyche’s side to win because they have the greater experience in relegation battles and know how to get out of it.
Experience in these situations can be the difference, although the reason Burnley are used to survival fights is they have failed to improve their squad in recent years. Last season they finished 17th but they have not corrected their faults. They sold Chris Wood to Newcastle in January and replaced him with the impressive Wout Weghorst, but a club in their sixth consecutive Premier League season should have two strikers of that standard. When they lose one of their starting XI things fall apart for Burnley because of a lack of strength in depth, and that cannot be the case for a team looking to succeed. They are helped by a strong defensive foundation, giving them the best goal difference in the bottom seven, which could be crucial.
Burnley blew the chance to leapfrog 17th-placed Everton on Tuesday, losing at home to Leicester. Everton rightly feel aggrieved over missing out on a penalty against Manchester City and potentially a well-earned point but they should not require extra motivation – their main motivation should be the table. They are a Jekyll and Hyde team at the moment; I see what Frank Lampard is trying to do and I really enjoyed their performance against Manchester City after a poor result at Southampton. I think Abdoulaye Doucouré coming back on Saturday and the change of shape was really good, they defended well for long periods and it was just a mistake that cost them a goal. I think they have the hardest run-in of those in trouble, meaning they will need to be more Dr Jekyll than Mr Hyde.
Leeds will be hoping to enjoy a new-manager bounce after replacing Marcelo Bielsa with Jesse Marsch. Bielsa did amazing things and the club have taken what will have been a difficult decision for them, considering his achievements. Marsch’s key task will be to make the team more organised – he will try to focus on making the defence more solid.
They have the league’s worst defensive record and the team who concede the most almost always go down. They have quality players who will get goals but have missed Patrick Bamford, Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips, so if Marsch can have them available it will help take them to safety.
Those sitting in 14th to 18th have a great advantage over the bottom two, Norwich and Watford, who don’t look capable of getting out of trouble, realistically leaving one relegation spot available. Watford have brought in Roy Hodgson to change the dynamic within the side and – true to his style – he has made them better defensively.
They are more organised and have corrected some of the problems they suffered under Xisco Muñoz and Claudio Ranieri. The Watford fans will just wish the club’s hierarchy had acted sooner to bring in the former England manager. Hodgson has made them hard to beat but that may not be enough for a side with only 19 points from 26 games.
Norwich have similarly seen an improvement since replacing Daniel Farke with Dean Smith but still look likely to start next season back in the Championship. I watched them lose to Southampton and they were 1-0 behind for a long period but could not change gears to pressure the opposition. I was really disappointed in them, given they were bottom and in need of a result. Their problem will always be a lack of goals: they have scored 15 in 26 matches and only two players have more than one goal.
A number of the bottom seven still have to face each other, meaning there are plenty of interesting games to come and the points required to stay up will probably be in the mid-30s. The destiny of the relegation spots could go down to the final kick.
Abdoulaye Doucouré’s team was corrected to Everton from his former club Watford in the main picture caption on this story on 3 March 2022


By faress

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