There may still be around three months – and 13 games – still to be played of this season but the race to escape the bottom three in the Premier League is well and truly on.
Although Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth seem to be flirting with the possibility of a relegation scrap they will probably avoid that tension and leave it to the sides that occupy the bottom six positions as we enter the second half of February.
There are many clubs that have gone straight back down after promotion and two of the six enter into that category – Middlesbrough and Hull – but will they carry on that unwanted tradition this season?
Incredibly last year’s champions, Leicester, are looking nervously over their shoulders as the season enters the home straight. But a relatively kind run-in combined with a couple of points advantage at this stage should see them limp over the line to safety (and who knows, they could even still win the Champions League!).
Although the magic 40 points mark is actually a bit of an illusion – safety is nearly always guaranteed by making it to 37 points – Swansea are the only club who look like getting anywhere near that total. An upturn in fortune and form since the arrival of Paul Clement means that the Welsh side should be safe for another year.
If you are looking for further statistics to strengthen the case for any of the bottom six staying up then it is interesting to note that only one side has ever been relegated with a goal difference better than -14 in 20 years. Looking at the current league table there is one club that is looking relatively good on that front – Middlesbrough. Although there is a fair way to go their goal difference of just -8 could well be what keeps them up.
Being bottom of the Premier League at Christmas is a well-known omen of impending doom. Only three times since the Premier League began have the cellar dwellers escaped the drop. A crumb of comfort for Hull City is that two of those teams have performed that death-defying escapade in the last three seasons. But if Hull do manage to stay up it is more likely to be thanks to the arrival of new manager Marco Silva.
Hull also have the unenviable task of having to beat the odds on sides promoted via the play offs being relegated the next season. Since play offs were introduced as a means of promotion to the Premier League, 61% of those clubs have fallen back into the second tier after only season in the top flight. It is safe to say that it is not looking good for the Tigers.
Crystal Palace may have enlisted the skills of relegation escape master Sam Allardyce but their alarming drop in form has seen them plummet towards the lower reaches of the league with only Sunderland’s habitual positioning keeping them off the bottom. And it looks unlikely that either of these sides have enough to escape the drop.
Sunderland rely too heavily on the goals of Jermain Defoe whereas Palace are one of the teams that have experienced that very reliance fairly recently. Both of these clubs are simply not playing very good football and no compendium of obscure facts and statistics can change that. It looks like both of them will be attempting the immediate return from the Championship next season.
So, we’re tipping Hull, Palace and Sunderland to go down and hope that enough of their top players stick around for the battle to reclaim top flight status. For Swansea, Leicester and Middlesbrough it will be more a case of hoping that this season ends on a positive note and turns out to be a momentary blip in their Premier League life.