The Boot

As we hurtle along the calendar year towards May, one of the most exciting times of the season is seeing which Premier League teams get relegated, and which ones find the quality to remain in the league. Yes, in soccer the worst teams in the Premier League live the nightmare that the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphis 76ers will unfortunately never have to face: they get kicked out off their top tier league and forced to play in the Championship, England’s second-best division of soccer teams.

Aston Villa relegated

One team has already ensured their fate: lowly Aston Villa. One of only a handful of teams who has participated in each Premier League season will see that record be wiped out. It’s probably for the best. The Villains have scored less goals as a team this season (23) than Tottenham striker Harry Kane (24). Sitting at 16 points with four games remaining, Villa are only five points clear of the record for the lowest point total in a season. They’ve had three men manage their team, and will probably hire a new one over the summer. A year ago Tuesday, Villa defeated Liverpool 2-1 in the FA Cup semi-final and on their way to avoiding relegation in the Premier League. Since the trouncing they received from Arsenal in the FA Cup Final, it’s been a very long year for the team from Birmingham.

There really are only three teams remaining that are in a fight to avoid relegation. Norwich City, which was promoted this past season, and two fierce rivals Sunderland and Newcastle United.

Sunderland and Newcastle are separated by 12 miles in the country’s northeast and it’s historical political rivalry is akin to the “Border War” rivalry that Kansas and Missouri share. In terms of soccer, the two teams have been playing each other since the 1880s. So there’s kind of a history. Recently, Sunderland has struggled to remain in the Premier League, but have escaped relegation after seemingly being destined for it with only a few weeks remaining in each of the last two seasons. Newcastle have been woeful since they parted ways with former manager Alan Pardew. Since he left in December of 2014, Newcastle have picked up only 42 points in 53 matches. The club somehow managed to convince the once Champions League winning manager Rafa Benitez to manage their team in March, with only one objective: don’t get relegated.

Norwich City were a Premier League side in 2013-14, were relegated, and then won promotion to pop right back up. Now they’re in another relegation fight. The team has had issues defensively throughout the season. They lost to Liverpool 5-4 at home in January, and were just this past week ripped up by Sunderland 3-0. There’s been injuries, most recently to Timm Klose, that have affected their ability to control the game in midfield, and they’ve invented ways of losing games. In October, clinging to a 1-1 draw against Manchester City, Russell Martin flew in front of a Raheem Sterling shot, intentionally using his hands to stop a goal inside of the penalty area. Martin was sent off and Toure buried the PK. That Liverpool game from earlier? They were once up 3-1, and even after Liverpool scored two to give them a late lead, Norwich scored early in stoppage time to seemingly pick up a point. But Adam Lallana’s goal for the Reds in the dying seconds snatched it away.

So where does that leave us? Norwich is currently safe with 31 points. Sunderland is in 18th  place (the last relegation spot) with 30 points and Newcastle sit behind them with 29 points. Should there be any ties on point totals, the tie-breaker is goal differential. Sunderland’s -18 is better than Norwich’s -25 and Newcastle’s -26. Here’s some thoughts on the final few games.

Sunderland

Sunderland’s advantage is that they have a game in hand on the other two teams. However, their remaining games are brutal. On Sunday they play Arsenal, still trying to hold on to a Champions League spot. While the Gunners allowed Crystal Palace to pick up a point last week, I don’t see Sunderland doing the same. Loss. They then play Stoke City in a difficult away match. Stoke looked to just be playing out the season against Tottenham on Monday, but they’re a team that takes pride in their home form, and at worst I see them getting a draw against Sunderland. I’ll give Sunderland the benefit of the doubt playing for their lives, and I’ll give them a point. Next up are two home games against two similar teams, Chelsea and Everton. You could argue that both opponents will be fighting to finish in the top half of the table, but compared to a relegation fight, there’s not much in it. Sunderland can draw with one and win another. That leaves them with a tough game away from home against Watford on the season’s final day. I think Sunderland draws them.

Projected point total: 36

Newcastle United

Newcastle’s schedule isn’t much easier. They play away to Liverpool this coming week, which is always a difficult place to win at. Newcastle did defeat Liverpool earlier in the season, but that was before Jurgen Klopp’s side found the confidence it seems to be playing at currently. I expect Liverpool to come away with a close victory. Next up is Crystal Palace, a side that has just not scored at all in the second half of the season. Newcastle fighting for their lives, and at home, this is an easy three points. Next up is Aston Villa, who are playing only for pride. Newcastle will again be bringing everything. Another win. The final game of the season is against Tottenham, who could be playing to win the league. It’s going to be difficult for Newcastle no matter what. I think Tottenham gets all three points unless they’re already eliminated from championship contention AND they decide to play easy so as to not pick up injuries before the European Championships. But I’ll say Tottenham wins.

Projected point total: 35

Norwich City

The Canaries have a week off to prepare for an away game at Arsenal, and I don’t see Norwich having the quality to come away with anything. They then play a home match against Manchester United, who has been playing better recently but have lost two of their last three away matches. Norwich needs the points. They’ll get one off of United. They then play Watford at home, which is a game I think they can win. Their season ends away at Everton, and knowing how porous both back lines have been this season, this game could end with as crazy of a scoreline as their game against Liverpool did. I think Norwich does get that win against an Everton side that has played poorly at home all season.

Projected point total: 38

That would mean Norwich is safe and it would be only the third time in the history of the Premier League that all three promoted clubs would stay up in their first season. Sunderland and Newcastle would still be able to enjoy the Tyne-Wear Derby, but in the lower division. As we all know, in sports anything is possible.

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