Thursday, February 22, 2024

Will Saints survive? How things stand in the relegation battle with ten games to go

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Saints have played 20 times in all competitions since football returned from Qatar, 13 of those in the league. From the highs of victories at Goodison Park and Stamford Bridge to the lows of the Nathan Jones era unravelling, there’s always been something  to discuss.

Now though, we have the chance to take a step back and look at the wider state of play with ten games to go in the campaign. Last weekend’s 3-3 draw with Spurs has inspired hope but the situation is still rather bleak as Saints remain rooted to the foot of the table.

READ MORE: Could Kamaldeen Sulemana be Saints key after thrilling role in Spurs comeback?

But if there’s reason for optimism then it’s how quickly things can still change. Just two points separate Saints from safety and the gap between 20th and 12th is just four points, with Crystal Palace worried enough to sack Patrick Vieira. 

The opportunity for a great escape exists and the eight points collected under Ruben Selles thus far will give reason for belief. But it certainly will not be easy.

Daily Echo: Ruben Selles and James Ward-Prowse pictured after Saints' 3-3 draw with Spurs.Ruben Selles and James Ward-Prowse pictured after Saints’ 3-3 draw with Spurs. (Image: PA)

Here’s how things stand in the relegation battle ahead of the final third of the season…

20th: Southampton 

Last Five:

Leeds United (A) – 1-0 Loss

Leicester City (H) – 1-0 Win

Manchester United (A) – 0-0 Draw

Brentford (H) – 2-0 Loss

Tottenham Hotspur (H) – 3-3 Draw

As previously mentioned, Saints head into the international break chasing the rest of the league from behind.

In the relegation zone since the first week of November, the recent run of form under Selles has been enough to keep them within touching distance of 17th but they still find themselves looking up.

Saints had an opportunity to escape the drop-zone when Brentford came to St Mary’s but a toothless display and a 2-0 defeat ensured that they remained in the bottom three. And just when it seemed that they would head into the break with negativity coursing through their survival bid, two late goals against Antonio Conte’s side earned them a valuable point and a major dose of belief.

Coming into the second half of Saturday’s clash losing 1-0 to Pedro Porro’s opener, the strengths and weaknesses of the team were fairly clear. Porro’s goal was just the fourth conceded in five-and-a-half games under Selles while Saints’ failure to score meant they’d mustered only two goals in that time frame.

But moments after the restart Che Adams got Saints back on level terms before a flurry of drama in the final half an hour saw Spurs strike twice to make it 3-1 before Selles’s side came roaring back to take their late point.

The goals conceded will no doubt be a concern for Saints who have made strides to become more solid under Selles but the three goals scored will come as welcome relief after stale attacking displays preceding it.

The task now, in the final ten games of the season, will be to combine those forces and orchestrate the near-perfect performances it will take to earn enough points for survival.

At the rate of their season total – 23 points in 28 games or .82 points per game – Saints are on pace to end the campaign on 31 points, not nearly enough to expect to survive.

Fortunately, their points per game under Selles – 1.3 – paints a far more optimistic picture. Continue at the same rate and Saints will finish on 36 points – not enough to guarantee survival but enough to give them a fighting chance.

Since the 2011/12 campaign, it’s taken an average of 35 points to stay in the Premier League and with nine teams on 27 points or less at this juncture, it’s unlikely to take a vastly higher total this time around.

In their ten remaining games, Saints will likely require at least three wins to stand a reasonable chance with four victories the magic number to place them in a strong position.

Remaining Fixtures:

West Ham (A) – 18th

Man City (H) – 2nd

Crystal Palace (H) – 12th

Arsenal (A) – 1st

Bournemouth (H) – 19th

Newcastle (A) – 5th

Nottingham Forest (A) – 16th

Fulham (H) – 9th

Brighton (A) – 7th

Liverpool (H) – 6th

Average opposition position: 9.5

It’s far from the easiest remaining schedule for Saints as they face six teams in the Premier League’s current top ten in their final games.

Amongst that difficult run is fixtures against both Arsenal and Manchester City while they end the season with a tough run against Fulham (9th), Brighton (7th), and Liverpool (6th). They will almost certainly need points against some of their tough opponents.

The good – or bad if you’re worried about your blood pressure – is that Saints also have a collection of upcoming games against the teams around them. West Ham, just after the international break, looks rather seismic while games against Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Nottingham Forest could prove decisive.

19th: Bournemouth

Last Five:

Wolves (A) – 1-0 Win

Manchester City (H) – 4-1 Loss

Arsenal (A) – 3-2 Loss

Liverpool (H) – 1-0 Win

Aston Villa (A) – 3-0 Loss

Inconsistent would be the word to describe Bournemouth’s recent run. It took until the fifth game following the World Cup break for the Cherries to claim their first point after the restart and until their eighth game to claim their maiden victory.

But that win was a massive one, away at Molineux to take a huge three points against relegation rivals Wolves. Heavy defeat to Man City followed but plenty have suffered that fate before they were seconds from taking something against league-leaders Arsenal. 

And in the continuously bizarre world that is the Premier League, Bournemouth then beat Liverpool 1-0 before being swept aside by Unai Emery’s Aston Villa.

In total, Bournemouth have taken just eight points since the World Cup – the same amount as Saints have amassed since Selles took over. 

Over the season as a whole, Bournemouth have averaged 0.88 points per game and if they continue at that rate it would lead them to just under 34 points. However, if they were to continue at their post-Wold Cup rate of 0.66 points per game, they would end up with just 31 points.

Goals have been a major issue for Gary O’Neil’s side with just seven of them in their last 12 games. But a spate of exciting signings in January including Hamed Traore and Dango Ouatarra will give them hope that those issues can still be resolved.

Remaining Fixtures:

Fulham (H) – 9th

Brighton (H) – 7th

Leicester City (A) – 17th

Tottenham Hotspur (A) – 4th

West Ham (H) – 18th

Southampton (A) – 20th

Leeds United (H) – 14th

Chelsea (H) – 10th

Crystal Palace (A) – 12th

Manchester United (H) – 3rd

Everton (A) – 15th

Average opposition position: 11.7

Armed with an extra game compared to Saints, the Cherries also have a slightly easier remaining schedule – on paper at least. Having just come through a gauntlet of games against Man City, Arsenal, and Liverpool, they now face only four teams in the current top ten.

Bournemouth’s fate will no doubt be decided by their games against the other sides in the relegation battle as they prepare for clashes with six of the other eight teams in contention including a final day of the season trip to Goodison Park.

18th: West Ham United

Last Five:

Chelsea (H) – 1-1 Draw

Tottenham Hotspur (A) – 2-0 Loss

Nottingham Forest (H) – 4-0 Win

Brighton (A) – 4-0 Loss

Aston Villa  (H) 1-1 Draw

Something of a surprise name in this list of relegation candidates, West Ham have followed up last season’s 7th-placed finish with a disaster this time around as they sit in the drop-zone entering April.

Despite undoubted quality in the team as well as big money spent in the summer on the likes of Lucas Paqueta and Gianluca Scammaca, the Hammers just haven’t been able to figure it out this season.

They started the campaign with five defeats in seven and have never managed to turn it around. Defensively, David Moyes’ side have been solid enough, conceding the fewest goals of any team in the bottom ten but scoring has been a destructive issue.

There will be an element of optimism around London Stadium thanks to their recent run of just two defeats in the last seven including wins against Everton and Nottingham Forest. Meanwhile, in three 1-1 draws over that span they conceded first before coming back to take a point.

Potentially working against West Ham is their continued participation in the European Conference League, adding games and possibly taking away from the Premier League focus.

Having played just 26 games, West Ham have two games in hand on Saints and if they continue at their seasonal pace of 0.92 points per game they will end on 35 points. But if they continue at the rate of their last seven games – 1.29 points per game – they would cruise to safety with 39 or 40 points.

Remaining Fixtures:

Southampton (H) – 20th

Newcastle (H) – 5th

Fulham (A) – 9th

Arsenal (H) – 1st

Bournemouth (A) – 19th

Liverpool (H) – 6th

Crystal Palace (A) – 12th

Manchester United (H) – 3rd

Brentford (A) – 8th

Leeds United (H) – 14th

Leicester City – (A) – 17th

Average opposition position: 9.5

On paper, West Ham’s remaining fixtures compare quite evenly with Saints. The Hammers still have to face three of the teams in the top five as well as six of the top ten.

They do though have games remaining against five of the sides battling against relegation including a massive final week of the season when they host Leeds United before visiting Leicester City. Those two could end up deciding West Ham and Moyes’ fate.

17th: Leicester City

Last Five:

Manchester United (A) – 3-0 Loss

Arsenal (H) – 1-0 Loss

Southampton (A) – 1-0 Loss

Chelsea (H) – 3-1 Loss

Brentford (A) – 1-1 Draw

Another team few would have expected to be in this discussion at the end of March, Leicester are in real trouble – regardless of what James Maddison says on social media.

The Foxes main issue is an obvious one: far too many defeats. Only Saints have lost more than Leicester’s 16, losing eight of 12 games since the World Cup break.

They appeared to be enjoying something of a renaissance through the start of February with wins against Aston Villa and Spurs but that all collapsed with four consecutive defeats to follow.

A draw away at Brentford to end this period of the season stopped the rot but Leicester and Brendan Rodgers are yet to really develop any momentum in 2023.

Sitting one point clear of the drop-zone, Leicester certainly have the quality to get out of trouble but performances like the recent one at St Mary’s provide ample explanation for their troubles.

A whopping 64% of their total points came in eight games through October and November and since the World Cup, they’ve averaged just 0.66 points per game. If they continue at that rate then Leicester will end the season in the Championship with a lowly total of 32 points.

Remaining Fixtures:

Crystal Palace (A) – 12th

Aston Villa (H) – 11th

Bournemouth (H) – 19th

Manchester City (A) – 2nd

Wolves (H) – 13th

Leeds United (A) – 14th

Everton (H) – 15th

Fulham (A) – 9th

Liverpool (H) – 6th

Newcastle (A) – 5th

West Ham (H) – 18th

Average opposition position: 11.3

Leicester have an intriguing remaining schedule. Of the league’s best sides this term, they only face Man City, Newcastle, and Liverpool. And of those near the bottom, they face Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Leeds, Everton, and West Ham.

On paper, the majority of Leicester’s remaining games fall into the ‘winnable’ category but for a team who has won just seven games this season that is easier said than done.

The final run-in will worry Foxes fans as Leicester visit Fulham and Newcstle while hosting Liverpool in between. That final day – at home to West Ham – looks rather huge.

16th: Nottingham Forest

Last Five:

Manchester City (H) – 1-1 Draw

West Ham (A) – 4-0 Loss

Everton (H) – 2-2 Draw

Tottenham Hotspur (A) – 3-1 Loss

Newcastle United (H) – 2-1 Loss

Just a few weeks ago, it appeared that Forest might be dragging themselves clear of trouble. They started 2023 with 11 points and no defeats in their first gifve games but have falled off a cliff since then, losing four and drawing two of their last six.

That run of form has plunged them right back into the mix, now just two points clear of the relegation zone. Steve Cooper and his side will take some confidence from the fact that those six included games against Man City, Spurs, and Newcastle but a 4-0 defeat to West Ham provides major cause for concern.

As with many of the teams in and around this part of the table, goals have been a concern with only Brennan Johnson (7) and Taiwo Awoniyi (4) getting on the scoresheet more than twice this season.

Any attempted points per game exercise is fairly useless with Forest as their season can be almost perfectly split into three parts. They started the season with just five points from their first ten before rallying to claim 19 through their next 11 games. But as mentioned, they’ve followed that up with two points in their last six.

Forest’s survival hopes will depend on which version we see for the rest of the season.

Remaining Fixtures:

Wolves (H) – 13th

Leeds United (A) – 14th

Aston Villa (A) – 11th

Manchester United (H) – 3rd

Liverpool (A) – 6th

Brighton (H) – 7th

Brentford (A) – 8th

Southampton (H) – 20th

Chelsea (A) – 10th

Arsenal (H) – 1st

Crystal Palace (A) – 12th

Average opposition position: 9.5

After a fairly kind return from the international break in which Forest get Wolves, Leeds, and Aston Villa, they then face a supremely tough run against Man United (3rd), Liverpool (6th), Brighton (7th), and Brentford (8th).

That then leads them to a huge game at the City Ground, when Forest host Saints. Given perhaps the toughest remaining fixture list of any team in the battle, Forest will need their form to pick up immediately if they are to stave off an immediate return to the Championship.

15th: Everton

Last Five:

Aston Villa (H) – 2-0 Loss

Arsenal (A) – 4-0 Loss

Nottingham Forest (A) – 2-2 Draw

Brentford (H) – 1-0 Win

Chelsea (A) – 2-2 Draw

The Toffees floundering season was given a shot in the arm shortly after Saints beat them at Goodison Park when Frank Lampard was sacked and replaced by former Burnley boss Sean Dyche.

After taking just one point in Lampard’s final seven games in charge, Everton have racked up 11 in Dyche’s eight matches. There have been notable growing pains – 2-0 and 4-0 defeats to Aston Villa and Arsenal – amongst those. But they’ve also kept three clean sheets after doing so only four times under Lampard.

Under Lampard, Everton were rolling at a rate of 0.71 points per game which woud take them to 33 points from here. But under Dyche that number has risen to 1.4 points per game, enough to lead them to just under 40 points. Unless they face a major collapse, it seems likely that Dyche will keep them up.

Remaining Fixtures:

Tottenham Hotspur (H) – 4th

Manchester United (A) – 3rd

Fulham (H) – 9th

Crystal Palace (A) – 12th

Newcastle (H) – 5th

Leicester City (A) – 17th

Brighton (A) – 7th

Manchester City (H) – 2nd

Wolves (A) – 13th

Bournemouth (H) – 19th

Average opposition position: 9.1

The toughest run-in of any side thus far – on paper at least – Everton have their work cut out for them. Following the international break, they face three of the top five sides before also facing Man City and Brighton, the latter away from home.

Everton’s fate – while they can have confidence under Dyche – will likely be decided by their results against the rest, notably clashes with Crystal Palace, Leicester, Wolves, and Bournemouth. The final week of the season – against those two last teams mentioned – could end up deciding their status.

14th: Leeds United

Last Five:

Everton (A) – 1-0 Loss

Southampton (H) – 1-0 Win

Chelsea (A) – 1-0 Loss

Brighton (H) – 2-2 Draw

Wolves (A) 4-2 Win

Another side who have benefited from a change in management, Leeds have been something of a resurgent force since Javi Gracia replaced Jesse Marsch.

Those around Elland Road will be disappointed that they have Marsch his final game – a crucial 1-0 defeat to Everton – but the seven points taken in four games since will aid those negative feelings.

Leeds signed off for the international break with a 4-2 win at Wolves, a result that will give them a major boost. Those four goals were as many as they’d scored in their previous five games while top scorer Rodrigo notched for the first time since returning from injury.

Those factors, namely the positivity under Gracia and players returning from periods out – will give Leeds fans belief that they have what it takes to survive.

Remaining Fixtures:

Arsenal (A) – 1st

Nottingham Forest (H) – 16th

Crystal Palace (H) – 12th

Liverpool (H) – 7th

Fulham (A) – 9th

Leicester City (H) – 17th

Bournemouth (A) – 19th

Manchester City (A) – 2nd

Newcastle (H) – 5th

West Ham (A) – 18th

Tottenham Hotspur (4th)

Average opposition position: 10

Bang average would be the best term to describe Leeds’ remaining schedule. While they still face Arsenal (1st), Man City (2nd), Spurs (4th), Newcastle (5th), and Liverpool (7th), they also have huge opportunities with games against Nottingham Forest, Crystal Palace, Leicester, Bournemouth, and West Ham.

Leeds’ fate could come down to Elland Road. Through the month of April they have four home games in five, playing Forest, Palace, and Leicester all at Elland Road. 

13th: Wolves

Last Five:

Fulham (A) – 1-1 Draw

Liverpool (A) – 2-0 Loss

Tottenham Hotspur (H) – 1-0 Win

Newcastle United (A) – 2-1 Loss

Leeds United (H) – 4-2 Loss

Julen Lopategui’s arrival shortly before the World Cup break has certainly helped Wolves, collecting 17 points under the former Sevilla boss compared to ten before his arrival. But Wolves still find themselves in trouble thanks to heavy doses of inconsistency.

Their record in 2023 stands at a respectable four wins, two draws, and five losses but four of those defeats have come in Wolves’ lsat six league games, capped off by their 4-2 defeat to Leeds.

They too have struggled for goals with Ruben Neves (5), Daniel Podence (5), and Adam Traore (2), the only Wolves players with more than one goal this season in the Premier League. That will be the problem to fix but a continued slip in form will see them fall, possibly to the Championship.

Remaining Fixtures:

Nottingham Forest (A) – 16th

Chelsea (H) – 10th

Brentford (H) – 8th

Leicester City (A) – 17th

Crystal Palace (H) – 12th

Brighton (A) – 7th

Aston Villa (H) – 11th

Manchester United (A) – 3rd

Everton (H) – 15th

Arsenal (A) – 1st

Average opposition position: 10

It’s by no means a simple remaining schedule for Wolves who face supremely tough away fixtures at Brighton, Man United, and Arsenal. Meanwhile, they are also on their travels for potentially the two biggest games remaining – at Forest and at Leicester. 

But at home, Wolves have a real opportunity. Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, and Everton to end the season at Molineux could prove the crucial run particularly with United and Arsenal both to play in their final three games.

12th: Crystal Palace

Last Five:

Liverpool (H) – 0-0 Draw

Aston Villa (A) – 1-0 Loss

Manchester City (H) – 1-0 Loss

Brighton (A) – 1-0 Loss

Arsenal (A) – 4-1 Loss

While some outside of South London might believe it’s slightly ridiculous to think Palace are in a serious relegation battle, those inside of Selhurst Park were so concerned that they sacked Patrick Viera.

That decision came after a truly horrific run of form following the World Cup break. Since the Premier League returned to action on Boxing Day, Palace have won just one of their 14 games, losing eight of them.

They’ve managed just seven goals in that period while going three consecutive games without a shot on target. Continue at their post World Cup rate – 0.57 points per game – and Palace are headed for relegation. That would leave them with just 33 points, a disastrous total considering they had 19 points entering December.

That provides enough explanation for Viera’s departure but the replacement has raised eyebrows as Roy Hodgson returns to the Eagles dugout. Now 75 years old, the former England manager has a seismic run coming up that should determine Palace’s future.

Remaining Fixtures:

Leicester City (H) – 17th

Leeds United (A) – 14th

Southampton (A) – 20th

Everton (H) – 15th

Wolves (A) – 13th

West Ham (H) – 18th

Tottenham Hotspur (A) – 4th

Bournemouth (H) – 19th

Fulham (A) – 9th

Nottingham Forest (H) – 16th

Avergage opposition position: 14.5

Well, well, well. It all comes down to this. You could certainly make the case that Crystal Palace have the easiest remaining schedule. Eight of their ten opponents are currently in the bottom half while they still have games against each of the bottom three.

In fact, Palace still have to play all eight of the other teams in the relegation battle. That gives them an opportunity.

With their current supremacy cimpared to the rest, just a couple of results should get them out of trouble. But those other eight will be licking their lips at the opportunity they have – the opportunity to really drag Palace under.

The fixture list means the possibilities are endless. 

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