Premier League relegation battle assessed: Who is going down?
Half the Premier League still embroiled in a dogfight; only six points separate Watford in 19th and Everton in 11th
Last Updated: 10/01/20 1:22pm
The Premier League title race already appears to be a foregone conclusion with runaway leaders Liverpool 13 points clear with a game in hand.
But the battle for survival is intensifying, with the arrival of Nigel Pearson at Watford having had the desired effect. Just six points separate the Hornets in 19th place and Everton in 11th.
As the Premier League returns this weekend, Pearson will be hoping to leapfrog Bournemouth to escape the relegation zone, live on Super Sunday.
The relegation landscape could not be more congested and it would appear that the old adage of hitting the magical 40-point mark applies this season for the first time in a decade.
Birmingham were relegated with 39 points during the 2010/11 season. That year, Wolves finished 17th with 40 points - they had 21 points after 21 games that season.
The last time a team needed 40-plus points to survive was in 2002/03 when West Ham were relegated in 18th with 42 points. Bolton finished 17th that year with 44 points, and they had 19 points after 21 games.
With rock-bottom Norwich not yet cut adrift on 14 points, could we be heading for the most dramatic, unpredictable relegation battle in Premier League history? We assess the endangered clubs, the key fixtures, and what might seal their fate...
Why could they go down? However unlikely it may still seem given their ever-present status and plethora of talented individuals, Carlo Ancelotti has a job on his hands to restore some pride first and foremost after the debilitating FA Cup exit at the hands of a severely-weakened Liverpool.
Everton must respond immediately to reaching a new low in their season to dismiss any claims they could yet be embroiled in a relegation battle under their esteemed new manager.
Many supporters will struggle to shake the sense of shame following the latest Anfield debacle, and should the results mirror much of the first half of the campaign, it is questionable whether many of the current squad have the required mentality for a scrap.
How will Everton respond to Cup humiliation?
Everton vs Brighton, 3pm - Saturday
West Ham vs Everton, 3pm - January 18
Everton vs Newcastle, 7.30pm - January 21
Watford vs Everton, 3pm - February 1
What could decide their fate? Everton will resume their search for a centre-back and central midfielder this January transfer window, but Ancelotti will be keen to see an improvement in attacking output, despite his claims he is not in the market for a striker.
The Toffees have scored just 24 goals in their 21 league games, with Bernard the third-highest scorer this term on two goals, behind Dominic Calvert-Lewin (8) and Richarlison (7). A lack of cutting edge has left the club well short of their season target of competing for the European places, and it might just suck them into trouble again.
Why could they go down? The outlook was bleak for Southampton after they were beaten at home to West Ham on December 14, a sixth home loss of the campaign, but Ralph Hasenhuttl's side have got their season back on track courtesy of their strong form on the road.
Victories at Aston Villa and Chelsea over the Christmas period have provided Saints with a launchpad for a better second half of the campaign, but keeping Danny Ings fit will be crucial to their hopes of survival.
Ings has scored 12 goals in his last 15 Premier League games, lifting Southampton into mid-table, but an over-reliance on the injury-prone former Liverpool striker remains a big concern.
Will Saints march into Spring?
Southampton vs Burnley, 12.30pm - February 15
Southampton vs Aston Villa, 3pm - February 22
West Ham vs Southampton, 3pm - February 29
Southampton vs Newcastle - March 21
What could decide their fate? A failure to find a suitable full-back. There is a vacancy on the right side of the defence after Cedric Soares announced his intention to run down down his contract.
Jake Vokins staked his claim by scoring in the 2-0 FA Cup third-round win over Huddersfield, but Hasenhuttl himself recently admitted that the 19-year-old was "not far along in his development" to play Premier League football at this present time.
The club's new director of football operations Matt Crocker and chief scout Martyn Glover, along with Hasenhuttl, will have already identified their targets but tightening up a defence that has conceded 38 goals this season is the priority.
Why could they go down? The third side locked on the same number of points in the bottom half of the table, Newcastle are in danger of being plunged back into crisis as a result of their escalating list of injuries.
Jetro Willems and Javier Manquillo limped off before half-time during the 3-0 defeat to Leicester on New Year's Day, while Jonjo Shelvey and Fabian Schar joined them on the treatment table.
Ciaran Clark (calf), Paul Dummett (groin), Jamaal Lascelles (calf) and Allan Saint-Maximin (hamstring) should all return at some point this month, while Matt Ritchie made his long-awaited return from an ankle injury in the 1-1 draw with Rochdale.
Are Newcastle over-performing?
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Will Newcastle be dragged back into danger?
Wolves vs Newcastle, 3pm - Saturday
Newcastle vs Chelsea, 5.30pm - January 18
Everton vs Newcastle, 7.30pm - January 21
Newcastle vs Norwich, 3pm - February 1
What could decide their fate? Newcastle are crying out for a goalscorer, but having spent £40m on Joelinton in the summer, will owner Mike Ashley pull out his wallet again?
Manager Steve Bruce could yet seek short-term loan solutions to offset any injury recurrences, while Ashley will be aware that business in January in the past has provided the side with a shot in the arm.
Kenedy and Martin Dubravka arrived two seasons ago to have the desired effect, and Bruce will point to the lack of firepower seen during three successive defeats as cause for concern.
Why could they go down? When owner-chairman Tony Bloom sacked Chris Hughton following finishes of 15th and 17th, it was entrusted upon Graham Potter to deliver his vision of converting Brighton into an established top-10 outfit.
But as the Seagulls headed into the new year, they had two points fewer than at the same stage under Hughton last term and were five points closer to the bottom three. The FA Cup third-round defeat at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday revealed a worrying lack of depth.
Potter will be the first to admit that his side's points return has not reflected their overall performances - a nasty habit to develop.
Brighton's form fell off a cliff at the start of 2019, and while their football has been pleasing on the eye, they may have to take a more pragmatic approach should they continue to linger close to the relegation zone.
Brighton's tense run-in
Brighton vs Manchester City - April 25
Southampton vs Brighton - May 2
Brighton vs Newcastle - May 9
Burnley vs Brighton - May 17
What could decide their fate? A shortage of goals. The club have been operating with only three recognised forwards in their squad since loaning out Jurgen Locadia and Florin Andone during the summer transfer window.
Glenn Murray was overlooked in the defeat to Wednesday, suggesting he could be on his way out, leaving Potter with just the inexperienced Aaron Connolly, 19, and top goalscorer Neal Maupay.
They could struggle if either get injured for any length of time during the second half of the season.
Why could they go down? On paper, the visit of Peterborough to Turf Moor represented a decent bet for an FA Cup third-round upset, but that was before Sean Dyche described his players as lacking "bravery" during the home loss to Aston Villa on New Year's Day.
The Clarets reacted with three goals inside the opening 23 minutes against Posh on their way to sealing a 4-2 win, and Dyche will now hope to see that clinical show of finishing replicated in the Premier League.
The growing fear among supporters is that a failure to create chances could hamper their hopes of consolidating their top-flight status for another season; in December Burnley managed just nine shots on target in six matches, and four of them came against Newcastle.
February to prove fundamental for Burnley?
Burnley vs Arsenal, 2pm - February 2, live on Sky Sports
Southampton vs Burnley, 12.30pm - February 15
Burnley vs Bournemouth, 3pm - February 22
Newcastle vs Burnley, 3pm - February 29
What could decide their fate? Burnley boast the best head-to-head record among teams in the bottom half of the table. Should they continue to pick points off their closest rivals, they will secure a mid-table finish.
Making fast starts will be at the heart of Dyche's team talks with his side having now gone nine games without scoring in the opening period of a Premier League game.
Of greater concern is the club's home form, with Burnley losing on each of the 10 occasions they have gone behind since a 1-1 draw with Southampton last February. Turf Moor needs to be restored as a fortress.
Why could they go down? David Moyes has made the perfect start to his second spell as Hammers boss; six goals scored and none conceded from two games, the Scot has gone some way to appeasing those supporters who saw his return as a step backwards.
A staggering 77.5 per cent of fans on a Twitter poll said they did not support his appointment - and there is still plenty of work to do. In beating Bournemouth 4-0 in his first game in charge, West Ham secured their best Premier League home win in 15 years and with it ended a wait of almost four months for a win on home soil.
Moyes finally secured back-to-back Premier League successes for the first time as Hammers boss, 18 months apart, but it was only the side's third triumph at the London Stadium this season.
Only Bournemouth and Norwich have a worse home record, and this simply has to change.
West Ham's final four home games
West Ham vs Chelsea - April 4
West Ham vs Burnley - April 18
West Ham vs Watford - May 2
West Ham vs Aston Villa - May 17
What could decide their fate? Having accepted they made a mistake in removing Moyes in May 2018, David Sullivan and David Gold, the co-chairmen, cannot afford too many more bad decisions.
Things have unravelled before under Moyes, who said supporters "crossed the line" when they invaded the pitch during an infamous 3-0 home loss to Burnley in March 2018.
In turning to a back-to-basics appointment, Gold and Sullivan have sought an instant impact, and Moyes set his stall out by warning his players they will not be selected if maximum effort isn't applied.
Felipe Anderson, Robert Snodgrass and Ryan Fredericks all excelled in pressing the Cherries with the ball regained in the final third on nine occasions - their second-highest amount this season. Moyes will be demanding this on a consistent basis.
Why could they go down? A lack of bodies. Aston Villa have suffered injuries in key areas like none of their relegation rivals.
Despite almost matching Manchester United as the highest spenders in the summer transfer window with a £144.5m outlay, the conclusion of last week's meeting between manager Dean Smith, chief executive Christian Purslow and technical director Jesus Garcia Pitach may well have been that another highly active month is required.
Villa's £22m club-record signing Wesley and first-choice goalkeeper Tom Heaton will not feature again this season after both suffered knee ligament damage in the 2-1 win over Burnley.
They join the influential John McGinn on the sidelines, with the Scot absent for up to three months with a fractured ankle. The arrival of Danny Drinkwater on loan from Chelsea must be just the start for Smith, who is targeting players with Premier League experience. But it may not be enough.
Villa's crunch fixtures?
Aston Villa vs Watford, 7.30pm - January 21
Bournemouth vs Aston Villa, 3pm - February 1
Southampton vs Aston Villa, 3pm - February 22
Newcastle vs Aston Villa - March 21
What could decide their fate? Or more accurately, who? Jack Grealish has taken his game to another level in the past couple of months and an England call-up must surely only be a matter of time.
A slow start to the campaign by his own admittance, the 24-year-old has grown into his role as Villa's talisman, and his display in the victory over Burnley was his most complete yet in the Premier League.
Losing him this month would be unthinkable, but with Manchester United linked with a move, Smith insists he will stay at the club no matter what offers materialise.
"Our owners are very ambitious and want to establish us as a Premier League club, and to do that, you have to keep your best players," Smith said.
"We'll be keeping hold of Jack Grealish and people can keep looking but they can't touch."
Why could they go down? Eddie Howe's side have been in free fall since September. His injury-ravaged team have won just one of their last 10 Premier League games, and now sit a point adrift of safety.
Under Howe, they have rarely been in the Premier League's bottom three. Indeed, it is more than two years since Bournemouth last found themselves in this position.
The Cherries' poor form has coincided with striker Callum Wilson's 13-game goal drought, and the 4-0 loss at West Ham showed they are bereft of any confidence.
Bournemouth's pivotal month
Bournemouth vs Watford, 2pm - Sunday, live on Sky Sports
Norwich vs Bournemouth, 3pm - January 18
Bournemouth vs Brighton, 7.30pm - January 21
Bournemouth vs Aston Villa, 3pm - February 1
What could decide their fate? Bournemouth developed a reputation as a streaky Premier League outfit, going on five-game unbeaten runs only to then lose five on the bounce.
But that has not been the case this season, where good results against Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have proved anomalies rather than a springboard.
Their troubling run of form coincided with a mounting injury list prior to the morale-boosting 4-0 win over Luton in the FA Cup third round.
Dominic Solanke finally found the net in that game, and he will hope it kick-starts his Bournemouth career, while Howe will hope the return of David Brooks has an energising effect.
Brooks is yet to play this term following ankle surgery in early August after sustaining ligament damage in pre-season. The Welshman's expected return next month could just provide that bit of quality that has been sorely missing throughout this campaign.
Why could they go down? Watford have been very efficient and organised since Nigel Pearson's arrival, and a team unity has been rediscovered.
But they are another side that have struggled to collect points over the course of the first half of the season against their relegation rivals.
Watford took just eight points from their nine games against sides in the bottom half of the table - only Norwich have taken fewer (7).
To avert relegation danger, Pearson will hope to call upon the young Brazilian Joao Pedro from the off, with Watford's 17 league goals scored by far the fewest in the division.
Watford's critical April
Watford vs Southampton - April 4
Chelsea vs Watford - April 11
Watford vs Norwich - April 18
Watford vs Newcastle - April 25
What could decide their fate? So far, Pearson is yet to suffer a real setback, but he is aware one shall arrive. Good job he knows a thing or two about performing Houdini acts.
After all, it was at Brunton Park 21 years ago where his first season in management resulted in Carlisle retaining their Football League status thanks to Jimmy Glass' goal against Plymouth in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Premier League Bottom Half Head-to-Head
Pearson was at the helm with Leicester when seven wins in their last nine Premier League games kept the Foxes up in 2015, and the early signs are that he has cut back on the abrasive side of his personality after being handed another crack in the top flight.
The 56-year-old has brought improved instruction, direction and leadership in a short period of time; Will Hughes has flourished in a deeper role, allowing Abdoulaye Doucoure to join in the attack while Ben Foster has described him as being like a teacher who keeps the players on their toes.
But would the ignominy of exiting the FA Cup to Tranmere derail their momentum?
Why could they go down? Since the start of December, Norwich have been leading in all five of their home Premier League games, but they went on to win none of them, losing twice and drawing three times. It is a worrying trend, and Daniel Farke's side have fared even worse on the road, with five points from their 10 games away from Carrow Road.
Four of Norwich's next six Premier League games are away from home, meaning there is a real danger they could be cut adrift come the end of February.
Teemu Pukki has nine Premier League goals this season, but the Finnish striker has lost his sharpness since sustaining a fractured toe in the 1-1 draw at Leicester.
With just one win and five points from their last 16 games, Farke will be relieved to see the back of the hectic festive schedule, with Pukki now having the chance to fully recover.
Can Norwich still be in touch come March?
Norwich vs Leicester, 8pm - February 28, live on Sky Sports
Sheffield United vs Norwich - March 7
Norwich vs Southampton - March 14
Norwich vs Everton - March 21
What could decide their fate? Pukki has played more minutes that any Norwich player this season (1,869) - but the emergence of academy striker Adam Idah comes at a very welcome time.
The 18-year-old is expected to be brought into the first team following his hat-trick in the 4-2 win over Preston in the FA Cup third round, but Farke and sporting director Stuart Webber must be proactive in the transfer market.
The industry of Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell has enabled Norwich to remain just seven points off safety but as well as holding on to their best players, a centre-back must be brought in to shore up a porous defence.
Who are the bookies backing?
Norwich remain hot favourites to end their stay in the Premier League after just one season. The Canaries are currently 1/9 to make an immediate return to the Sky Bet Championship.
Meanwhile, Aston Villa are Evens to be relegated following their wretched spate of injuries, with Watford completing the tipped bottom three in the current market at 5/4.