Premier League relegation battle analysed by form and fixtures

Could Fulham maintain their purple streak and secure safety at the cost of Brighton or Newcastle? We evaluate the state of play in the battle for survival…

Chris Wilder’s side are currently 12 points adrift from safety at the foot of the table, with the Baggies eight points behind 17th-placed Brighton – but Fulham have hit form and sit level on points with the Seagulls, with one extra game played.

Only eight points divide the Cottagers in 18th and Crystal Palace in 13th, which leaves all the teams in between in danger of slipping into the second tier come May: Brighton, Newcastle, Burnley and Southampton.

Here, we take a look at each club’s current trajectory in form, how the fixture lists compare and Paul Merson contributes his views…

Projected table

Current Points Per Game

Trending

Based on their current ratios for goals scored, conceded and points per game, the relegated teams would mirror the current standings with Sheffield United, West Brom and Fulham consigned to Championship football next term.

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Who has the toughest run-in?

From the current bottom three, Fulham appear to be the only side capable of escaping the drop – but Scott Parker’s side face a gruelling schedule with opposition averaging at 1.48 points per game. However, West Brom’s slim hope of survival look bleak with the toughest fixture list on paper.

Conversely, Southampton and Burnley fans will be relieved to see their sides have the easiest run-ins out of the eight relegation candidates, with Sheffield United also facing a more favourable schedule.

The emerging three-way battle?

Fulham

Overview

Position: 18th
Games played: 28
PPG: 0.93
Relegation Sky Bet odds: 15/8
Active cup competitions: None

Form

The chart below clearly reveals Fulham’s incremental improvement over the season – which has almost entirely derived from becoming almost twice as watertight defensively.

The graphic below provides a clearer indication of the true quality of chances created and conceded this term, showing the same average for expected goals scored (xG) and conceded (xGa). This data suggests the Cottagers have been only marginally inferior and, again, highlights how the defence is now up to speed.

xG basics

Remaining fixtures

Average position of remaining opponents: 9.4
Average PPG of remaining opponents: 1.48

Fulham have lost once in seven league outings and inflicted a sixth successive home defeat upon Liverpool last week. The upturn in form certainly bodes well, compared with the downward trajectory of 17th-placed Brighton.

But Parker’s side still face the second-toughest run-in out of the eight teams and host Manchester City this weekend.

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Fulham have the momentum

By Sky Sports’ Paul Merson:

“The battle to avoid relegation is so tight now, it’s unbelievable. Scott Parker has done an unbelievable job. I think he’s a top manager. When he first got the job and he wanted to stick with the players who had got them to the Premier League, they were a bit of a pace-less team. They didn’t have a lot of legs in the side.

“I look at Fulham now and I think they are a middle of the table football team. They have got it in them to beat teams. We saw them against Tottenham, they had enough chances and I think they will get out of trouble because they’ve got a result in them. The win at Liverpool did not shock me at all.

“We are all looking at Fulham and expecting them to win football matches. Before, we didn’t, and the pressure was off. They have to follow this up now.

“Whoever stays up, they have got to have that big win away from home – that head turner of a result. We have seen it with Burnley at Liverpool and also Brighton at Anfield. You take those results away and those two sides are in major trouble. It’s the same with Newcastle, they had that result at Everton.

“You need to pick up those results and I think Fulham will be the team to get out of danger. If you had have asked me that a while back, I would have said no chance, but now they have got momentum.”

Brighton

Overview

Position: 17th
Games played: 27
PPG: 0.96
Relegation Sky Bet odds: 4/1
Active cup competitions: None

Form

Brighton have been repeatedly labelled ‘unlucky’ this season, and rightly so. The chart below highlights the fine margins they have been maintaining at both ends of the pitch.

Statistically, Graham Potter’s men are this season’s anomaly. The Seagulls rank among the elite across a raft of metrics but the most striking is their expected goal returns. The chart below almost resembles inverted returns from their actual results – suggesting their finishing has been under par, coupled with numerous doses of misfortune along the way.

Remaining fixtures

Average position of remaining opponents: 9.2
Average PPG of remaining opponents: 1.47

Brighton are among four relegation contenders to have a slighter tougher schedule – but will look to pick up points between two three-game runs against current top-half opposition: the first from early April and in the final three weeks of May.

Brighton should be mid-table!

By Sky Sports’ Paul Merson:

“I look at Brighton and I think they are a middle of the table football team, if they had a forward. They will kick themselves if they go down because it will be because they did not have a forward.”

Newcastle

Overview

Position: 16th
Games played: 27
PPG: 1.00
Relegation Sky Bet odds: 6/5
Active cup competitions: None

Form

Newcastle’s form has dipped since mid-December and Steve Bruce has tried to inject a more attacking style after his side’s defensive approach began to receive growing criticism when results dipped.

Expected goals data almost mirrors the actual returns, but back-to-back draws have pulled them one point clear of Brighton with the same number of games played.

Remaining fixtures

Average position of remaining opponents: 10.3
Average PPG of remaining opponents: 1.42

Newcastle’s run-in sits exactly in the midrange for difficulty but it still sounds menacing, facing Villa and Spurs before mid-April, followed by clashes with West Ham, Liverpool, Arsenal, Leicester and Manchester City.

Crucially, their final two games are against Sheffield United and Fulham. Indeed, that season finale at Craven Cottage could prove to be pivotal.

Not quite safe?

Burnley

Overview

Position: 15th
Games played: 28
PPG: 1.07
Relegation Sky Bet odds: 11/2
Active cup competitions: None



Everton
Burnley


Form

Burnley continue to maintain Premier League status and defy limited resources, but have once again been dragged into the periphery of a relegation battle this term. A recent upturn has coincided with similar improvement among their closest rivals, but Sean Dyche’s team remain at risk and need to maintain their steady flow of points to secure a fifth successive top-flight campaign.

Interestingly, according to expected goals data, the Clarets suffered from misfortune or wastefulness at the start of the season but have become increasingly watertight and clinical as the campaign has progressed.

Remaining fixtures

Average position of remaining opponents: 11.2
Average PPG of remaining opponents: 1.31

Dyche will be quietly confident with his side’s upcoming schedule. Having faced Spurs, Leicester and Arsenal in recent weeks, his side now have the second-easiest run-in. The Clarets will face only four other current top-half sides this term: Everton, Manchester United, West Ham and Liverpool.

Southampton

Overview

Position: 14th
Games played: 28
PPG: 1.18
Relegation Sky Bet odds: 66/1
Active cup competitions: FA Cup

Form

Southampton topped the Premier League only three months ago but the culmination of this season’s compact table and a decline in form since mid-January – suffering nine defeats in their past 11 games – has seen the Saints slip to 14th, only seven points clear of Fulham.

Expected goals data suggests Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side have reaped maximum returns from slender margins but the drop-off in recent weeks is stark – compounded by the humiliating 9-0 defeat at Manchester United.

Remaining fixtures

Average position of remaining opponents: 11.6
Average PPG of remaining opponents: 1.30

However, the fixture list appears to ensure the Saints will avoid a staggering slump to relegation with the easiest run-in out of the eight candidates. With 33 points on the board, the Saints could limp to safety but will need to overcome or hold some of their survival rivals when they clash in the coming weeks.

Crystal Palace

Overview

Position: 13th
Games played: 28
PPG: 1.21
Relegation Sky Bet odds: 25/1
Active cup competitions: None



Crystal Palace
West Bromwich Albion


Form

Palace are true outsiders for relegation and currently sit eight points clear of Fulham. An impressive first half of the season took a turn for the worse in mid-December – but the Eagles appear to have secured safety with their 34 points to date.

Expected goals data underlines how Roy Hodgson’s side are almost certainly exactly where they deserve to be and so often finish, escaping the serious threat of danger among the upper echelons of the bottom half.

Remaining fixtures

Average position of remaining opponents: 9.4
Average PPG of remaining opponents: 1.45

However, Palace do have a relatively tricky run-in with Everton, Chelsea, Leicester, Manchester City, Aston Villa, Arsenal and Liverpool to come. Hodgson will be looking to pick up points against West Brom this weekend, at Southampton next month and against Sheffield United in May.

Too late?

West Brom

Overview

Position: 19th
Games played: 28
PPG: 0.64
Relegation Sky Bet odds: 1/100
Active cup competitions: None

Form

West Brom could consider themselves fortunate not to be rock-bottom. The chart below shows the greatest gulf of inferiority across the campaign – having shipped a league-topping 56 goals, while only Sheffield United have scored fewer than their 20.

Expected goals data produces no surprises. The Baggies’ returns clearly reflect the true quality of chances they have created and conceded. Sam Allardyce’s clean record of keeping clubs up appears to be on the line.

Remaining fixtures

Average position of remaining opponents: 8.9
Average PPG of remaining opponents: 1.49

To compound West Brom’s woes, they face the toughest run-in. Chelsea, Leicester, Aston Villa, Arsenal, Liverpool and West Ham all await, before a season finale at Leeds.

The battle is on!

By Sky Sports’ Paul Merson:

“It’s an interesting battle now. It’s weird how it has worked because you look at West Brom and if they had have beaten Newcastle, all of a sudden, they looked like they might have a way back. We wrote them off ages ago, but it can quickly change.”

Sheffield Utd

Overview

Position: 20th
Games played: 28
PPG: 0.50
Relegation Sky Bet odds: 1/100
Active cup competitions: FA Cup



Leicester City
Sheffield United


Form

The Blades appeared to lose their cutting edge after returning from lockdown last year. The chart below reveals the average number of goals scored and conceded over a rolling five-game period and emphasises how the Blades have failed to ignite this season, missing fans and several key players through injury.

However, expected goals data suggests Chris Wilder’s side have only been marginally inferior for most of the season, which will provide little solace to their impending fate.

Remaining fixtures

Average position of remaining opponents: 11.0
Average PPG of remaining opponents: 1.35

On paper, Sheffield United face the third-easiest run-in out of the eight contenders – but they must still face Leicester, Leeds, Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton.

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