With the suspension of all Premier League fixtures until April 30 at the earliest, does this enforced postponement help or hinder the five teams currently vulnerable to relegation once the games resume?
Norwich City (currently 20th)
With Norwich City being rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table with 21 points and a sizeable six points shy of 17th-placed Watford, it appears unlikely that the enforced break from Premier League football and the later return to action will make their chances of pulling off this unlikely endeavour any more probable.
Norwich City had been in a poor run of form, having lost three of their last five games and only securing one win in the process, albeit against third-placed Leicester. In spite of this remarkable coup at Carrow Road, their next nine games would mean they would have to make the killing of Premier giants – largely away from home – a common occurance if they were to alleviate their current six point deficit. Considering their remaining fixtures include the likes of Man City, Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea, this eventuality looks rather unlikely when looking at the league standings alone.
Yet the beating of these aforementioned top half teams is not imperative to securing survival, considering Norwich have a total of five remaining fixtures with opposition in the bottom half of the league. These fixtures include facing teams who have surely secured Premier League status for next year, such as Southampton and Burnley, and those who have been making headway to join them, namely West Ham and Watford. While the form of their survival rivals could be argued to be largely irreverent considering the extended break from action, Norwich’s position perhaps makes the picture look bleaker than it really is. Daniel Farke’s squad will ultimately have to find it within themselves to regularly conjure up some inspired performance, considering Norwich have no players returning from injury to give them a much needed boost on the final run in.
Aston Villa (currently 19th)
The enforced break from Premier League action could not have come at a better time for 19th-placed Aston Villa. While on 25 points and two shy of the much desired 17th place, Villa had been in horrendous form, securing just three points from the last available fifteen. They last picked up points on January 21 and have lost to fellow strugglers Bournemouth and Southampton. While Dean Smith’s side put on a spirited display in the Carabao Cup final, narrowly losing to the holders Manchester City, this shouldn’t gloss over the reality that they have severely struggled to keep anything close to resembling a clean sheet, with Villa conceding a league-highest 56 goals so far this season.
While this break gives the players and management staff alike some much needed time to reflect on tactics, strategy and their overall game plan moving forward, Villa will have to hit the ground running when the Premier League resumes, with tough fixtures against Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Chelsea, Wolves and Sheffield United all on the horizon, before their final match against West Ham which looks likely to be season-defining. Like Norwich, Villa also face difficult opposition in the bottom half of the table, including Crystal Palace at Villa Park, not to mention their trip to Newcastle, where they’ll face off against their former manager Steve Bruce.
Manager Dean Smith will likely be retaining his job past Villa’s next game of Chelsea, a decision which will no doubt divide the fanbase. The entire fanbase will be more than jubilant, though, to see the return of Scottish central-midfielder John McGinn in games such as those against Sheffield United and Newcastle, which he would have initially been ruled out for due to his fractured ankle. While Aston Villa will be without the experienced England goalkeeper Tom Heaton and young Brazilian striker Wesley, Villa fans will be hoping that the return of McGinn – who has 9 goals and 12 assists for the club – will be enough to inspire Villa’s previous dire form at this crucial stage of the season.
Bournemouth (currently 18th)
A.F.C. Bournemouth – in 18th place and with 27 points to their name – are in with a fighting chance of avoiding relegation this season; they’re only in the bottom three due to their inferior goal difference compared to Watford and West Ham.
The enforced break from Premier League presents both positives and negatives for the Cherries when looking at their last five games and upcoming nine. Whilst Eddie Howe’s men were hardly on an unstoppbale run of form, their last two games before the break have nevertheless seen them draw to Chelsea at home and narrowly lose to high-flying Liverpool at Anfield, demonstrating their potential to inflict damage on any team in the league. This is a mentality they will want to continue in their forthcoming fixtures, which includes Man City, Tottenham, Leicester and Everton. These fixtures and past performances can only lead us to the conclusion that Bournemouth’s destiny is firmly in their own hands.
Eddie Howe will be without the attacking flair of Welsh starlet David Brooks, as well as the experience of left-back Charlie Daniels, whenever the season resumes. The losses of these two players shouldn’t be perceived as too devastating considering they have been unavailable for the entire season, and have been successfully been replaced by Diego Rico and Ryan Fraser.
Watford (currently 17th)
After an abysmal start to the season, Nigel Pearson has guided Watford to 17th place on 27 points. While the job of avoiding relegation is far from complete, the Hornets can take reassurance that if they have been able to make it this far, they are more than capable of finishing the job.
Whilst Watford’s form has been equal to Bournemouth’s in only winning one out of their last five games, their emphatic 3-0 victory over the then-unbeaten Liverpool 3-0 at Vicarage Road demonstrates the quality of the team during this period compared to others around them. While the acknowledgement of this result would understandably lead many to the conclude that the postponement of the season was nothing but a bad thing for a red-hot Watford, their following loss to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park brought them back down to reality and reflected that their survival was not a done-and-dusted affair. This is especially the case when looking at Watford’s remaining fixtures, which consist of the likes of Man City, Leicester, Arsenal and Chelsea. Yet Watford also have fixtures which could be described as ‘winnable’, including those against Norwich, Newcastle and Southampton, which shows that, like Bournemouth, Watford’s future is largely in their own hands.
Their task has nonetheless been made more difficult by the losses of Daryl Janmaat and Gerard Deulofeu to injury. While the break will allow Pearson time to mitigate this problem, Deulofeu’s absence may prove costly, in light of his 15 goals and 10 assists he has contributed in 65 Premier league games for the Hornets. It would be foolish to argue that Watford will not miss the individual skill and quality of the Spaniard when the fixtures resume.
West Ham United (currently 16th)
The postponement of the Premier League has undoubtedly come at the worst time for West Ham United. Whilst languishing in 16th and on the same points as 18th placed Bournemouth, the appointment of David Moyes as manager and addition of winger Jarrod Bowen has given the underperforming Hammers a much needed boost.
West Ham have similarly lost their last three league games, at the hands of Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal. Conversely, when facing teams in the bottom half of the table like Southampton and Brighton, the Hammers have secured a win and a high-scoring draw respectively. This highlights that West Ham are competing at a level that it to be expected of them – particularly important when glancing at their remaining fixtures of Newcastle, Norwich, Watford and Aston Villa, which shows that West Ham probably have enough to stay up if they carry on in this solid vein of form. However, when considering the negative impact that this break could have on fitness and team cohesion, coupled with their next three fixtures of Spurs, Chelsea and Wolves, it’s clear that a couple of bad results could undo all of their prior hard work and make their battle for survival an insurmountable task.
On paper, West Ham currently have a nearly fully fit squad that could quite easily compete at a European level. However, with their players’ European reputation often not translating into Premier League success, Moyes has got to make sure that the likes of Felipe Anderson, Sébastien Haller and Pablo Fournals more consistently exhibit the form they have shown flashes of over the last 29 games, in order to save the club from the drop.
Brighton (currently 15th)
Brighton (in theory) should be the least concerned about the Premier League’s suspension or the possibility of them being relegated from the league. This largely owes to the fact that they are 15th in the table, they lead two teams that both trail them by two points, and still largely have the same squad of players that comfortably survived relegation last year.
Brighton are without a win in five games. It’s clear that the appointment of Graham Potter and signing the likes of Neal Maupay was meant to make Brighton a team that wasn’t just happy with survival a year on. Looking at the bigger picture is particularly worrying for the Seagulls: Brighton are yet to register a win in 2020. This is a particularly woeful statistic when considering the opponents they have faced, which includes Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham, and have merely secured three points in total.
Graham Potter will be hoping that this break will be all it takes for his team to halt their negative trajectory. Brighton have tricky games on the horizon against Man City, Liverpool, Man United, Leicester and Arsenal, before facing the supposed ‘lesser’ teams in Southampton, Newcastle and Burnley; yet these all come at the end of the season when Brighton’s fate may be already sealed. If Brighton do end up securing Premier League safety, they will have the postponement of fixtures to thank above Potter.
While it is incredibly difficult at this stage to accurately predict which teams will reap the rewards of the enforced break once the Premier League resumes, weighing up the current form, injury lists, remaining fixtures is as good an indicator as any.
My predictions for the bottom five of the Premier League come the end of the season, stands as such:
15th: West Ham
19th: Aston Villa