The majority of the headlines after Watford’s superb 3-0 win over Liverpool on Saturday evening centered around the fact that they had ended Jurgen Klopp’s side incredible forty-four game unbeaten run in the premiership. Yet after a winless five game stretch, the three points gained by Nigel’s Pearson’s outfit should be a story of its own. As after West Ham’s crucial victory earlier in the day, Watford needed the points badly, as unlikely it seemed that they would gain them as proceedings kicked off at Vicarage Road on a chilly late winter afternoon.
That already famous win has now propelled Watford out of the bottom three for the time being, though they, West Ham and Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth are now only separated by goal difference, as all three sides currently lie on twenty-seven points. While Aston Villa, who have a Carabao Cup Final to worry about, are two points back on twenty-five. What is even more intriguing though is the classic case of out-of-form sides being dragged into the relegation dogfight, with Brighton and to a lesser extent Newcastle falling into that category. With Southampton and Crystal Palace also still needing to pick up a couple of victories at least to ensure their premiership status for another year.
So let’s cut to the chase, who is going to go down then? The answer seems about as clear as a Mississippi swamp on a particularly foggy day. The problem with predicting (bar Norwich who even after Friday’s win look pretty doomed) who will play in The Championship next season is that the teams suffering relegation headaches are doing so for a reason. All have suffered awful runs of form that have impaired their ability to compete for the mid-table positions that would see them free of potential relegation anxiety.
Take West Ham for example who even after replacing Manuel Pellegrini with former manager David Moyes, have been struggling for any sort of form all season. Despite a very productive summer window, the likes of Haller and Fornals haven’t reached the heights expected despite finding form in recent games. While increasingly heavy pressure on the club’s owners has mirrored another poor season on the pitch for a side who threatened to become a regular top six contender a few seasons back. Yesterday’s massive win versus Southampton was The Hammer’s first in eight games and a barrage of tough fixtures await them in the next month. Though they will hope the improving form of their summer signings and January’s addition Jarrod Bowen could yet save their premiership status. Which after the amount of money spent in the last year is a must for a club with still lofty ambitions.
While Aston Villa, similarly to West Ham, dipped pretty heavily into the transfer kitty last summer, in truth without the contribution and leadership of hometown talisman Jack Grealish they could be in even more trouble than they already are. While of course a taxing deep cup run can always effect league form. While Bournemouth ,despite an upshoot of form in January, endured their worst run of form under Eddie Howe which saw them pick up just four points in twelve outings throughout the winter months. Injuries certainly played their part in that barren run however Howe will have to pull off something special if he is to maintain Bournemouth’s premier league status as their run-in until the end of the season is particularly unkind.
After a promising start to life under Graham Potter, Brighton have struggled to pick up points in 2020 and are winless this calender year. Perhaps crucially only picking up two points from three recent home games versus Villa, Watford and Crystal Palace. Potter and his team are learning that becoming draw merchants does not pull you away from trouble as they currently lie just one point from danger. And the talented Potter will have to get his team winning games soon if he is to build his Brighton legacy in the top flight.
And of course what of the Liverpool invincible season ruining Watford? After a real manager bounce under Nigel Pearson, Saturday’s win was Watford’s first in six so their unexpected three points actually came at a perfect time for them )and not just Arsenal fans!) With the likes of Sarr, Deeney and Doucoure et al (Deulofeu suffering what looked a bad injury was Saturday’s only blight) Watford have plenty of goals in them yet they conceded eight goals in their previous four games before Saturday’s win so will have to sure up the back to ensure survival. However naturally from a mental point of view, that huge win over what looked like an untouchable Liverpool side should give them a real psychological boost going into what look like a generally favourable set of fixtures.
As unpredictable as this group of struggling teams are though it would be foolish to look at form or fixtures as primary indicators of possible survival. It may well come down to the six pointer affairs they play versus each other and simply just being slightly better than those around them or at least not quite as bad. Whoever goes down and whoever survives, with five teams within three points of each other it looks like the battle for premiership survival will go right until the wire, unlike the title race this season!
If you enjoyed this article or any others on thesixyardring feel free to like/share/RT them or alternatively mention them to friends as you all wonder if all this relegation battle stuff is good for the blood pressure.