Things are getting tight at the bottom end of the Premier League table following some topsy-turvy results all around the relegation zone this week. After a transfer window during which Newcastle United looked to improve all over the pitch, they were rewarded with a 3-1 victory over relegation rivals Everton on Tuesday.
Keiran Trippier announced his arrival back in the Premier League with a goal and an excellent defensive performance. Allan Saint-Maximin bossed the match with his dribbling and Eddie Howe had a Bournemouth throwback with Ryan Fraser’s involvement in two goals. But it felt like a new era when St James’ Park went into rapturous applause following the debut of new recruit Bruno Guimaraes.
Wednesday brought more winds of change as Norwich City’s 26th-second goal helped get a draw at home to Crystal Palace and Leeds United had a wild comeback to salvage a 3-3 draw with Aston Villa. Five points separate 14th and 18th in the league and with Burnley having games in hand on everyone, this is a race that will go down to the wire. Teams above 14th can’t rest on their laurels either as they could be dragged into the race as well.
Let’s take a glance at the bottom of the table as well as a closer look at each team fighting to stay in the top flight.
Premier League relegation race
14. Brentford: 23 points (24 games played, -14 goal differential)
15. Leeds United: 23 points (22 G, -16 GD)
16. Everton: 19 points (21 G, -12 GD)
17. Newcastle United: 18 points (22 G, -20 GD)
18. Norwich City: 17 points (23 G, -32 GD)
19. Watford: 15 points (22 G, -18 GD)
20. Burnley: 14 points (20 G, -11 GD)
Brentford’s roaring start to Premier League life is all but gone following a host of injuries to their defensive players along with Ivan Toney missing matches for suspension, COVID, and injury. Before David Raya’s injury at the end of October, Brentford were sitting in 12th place on 12 points. But Without Raya, Brentford have picked up only 11 more points. That number is only better than Everton, Watford, and Burnley which explains why the Bees have gone from a feel-good story to fighting for their Premier League lives. While they’re getting healthier on the defensive end, and hoping Christian Eriksen can improve their attack, a lot is being left up to chance.
Leeds United has become quite an unpredictable side. They’re only three goals allowed ahead off of taking Norwich’s title as the worst defensive team in the league, but with Patrick Bamford missing significant time due to injuries, Leeds isn’t scoring enough goals to hit the highs of last season. There have been moments such as Daniel James’ brace vs. Aston VIlla but individual brilliance can only go so far when Marcelo Bielsa’s system can be overrun at a moment’s notice.
Everton’s loss to Newcastle United is a bad one. But, similar to West Ham a few years back, the Toffees feel like a team that is too talented to drop. Frank Lampard’s disregard for playing a defensively sound team could come back to bite them but having a collection of proven goal scorers should keep Everton’s heads above water. If they can get anything out of transfer-window acquisitions Dele Alli and Donny van de Beek, Everton could be flying instead of treading water.
Newcastle feel safe even though defensively they’re playing a dangerous game. Trippier and Matt Targett should provide just enough quality to help at both ends while Guimaraes can be a game-changer if he can adjust to the Premier League. While Tanguy Ndombele is a cautionary tale for talented defensive midfielders coming from France, Guimaraes hasn’t shown a similar disregard to working hard to improve. The Newcastle project is all about buying in and as the players begin to believe that they can avoid the drop, the results will follow.
Speaking of belief, Dean Smith has all of Carrow Road and beyond cheering on his Canaries. Since taking over, Smith has played a younger Norwich lineup with Brandon Williams, Adam Idah, and Josh Sargent getting significant minutes as they’ve picked up 12 points since his first game in charge. It felt like you could put Norwich’s name in sharpie for relegation before his arrival but they’re now only one point below the dotted line. Defensive improvement has been the name of the game as the 20 goals that they’ve allowed in those 12 league games under Smith are a lot, it’s also better than six team’s tallies in the same span of time.
Watford and Burnley
Watford and Burnley are tough to judge but for different reasons. Roy Hodgson is a good manager who should improve the Watford defense even if it isn’t pretty while he does it and Burnley have only played 20 games, three fewer than 17th-place Norwich. If Burnley can turn things around — which they’ve been prone to do at the end of seasons under Sean Dyche — this picture could look very different in a few weeks as Wout Weghorst bangs in a few goals.
If I had to pick now, I’d have Watford, Burnley, and Leeds United as the teams that will head to the Championship for next season. But just like the top-four race, the relegation race is an ever-changing landscape so we’ll need to check in again soon.