Relegation battle to remember: Six EPL clubs duking it out to stay above the drop zone
While the Premier League title race appears, at best, to be a three-horse race, at the bottom of the table there are six teams who already appear locked in a battle to avoid the drop.
With nearly half the season gone, none of Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Burnley, QPR, Hull City and Leicester City are on course to reach the often-quoted 40-point benchmark for survival. Analysts at these clubs are likely to spend the festive period number crunching to find a way out of their current predicament, but who currently has the biggest task ahead of them?
With the January transfer window comes the annual hunt for a goalscorer to fire clubs clear of the drop zone and this year will be no different. Only two of the bottom six teams have managed to register more than a goal per game, and Queens Park Rangers alone can boast representation in the division’s top 10 goalscorers’ chart.
The main reason that Charlie Austin has been able to keep pace with the division’s bigger names is the quantity of chances he is being provided with; only three players have taken more shots than the 47 he’s mustered so far, and overall only five top-flight sides have fired in more than QPR’s average of 14.1 per match. However, as Everton ably demonstrated on Monday night, this focus on attack by Harry Redknapp is leaving his defence exposed. QPR have conceded a league high of 30 goals so far, and tightening up at the back must therefore be Redknapp’s primary focus.
Beneath them, things are looking bleak for Hull. The club have spent much of the season on the back foot, creating the fewest chances and allowing the second most in the division, with opponents being allowed five shots more per match than Steve Bruce’s men are creating themselves. Their only saving grace has been the resilience of the defence, which has soaked up 11.2 shots for each goal conceded – the sixth highest in the Premier League – and allows Bruce to focus on the problems higher up the pitch.
Attacking should also be the main concern for the two other new arrivals, Burnley and Leicester, both of whom have already gone five consecutive games without scoring this season. Burnley have been the division’s most wasteful side so far, with the average of 16.2 attempts they have needed to score each goal more than double that of the 7.2 needed by the most clinical side, Chelsea.
The remaining two sides, Sunderland and Crystal Palace, have both struggled to finish what they have started. Despite leading in six of their matches so far, Sunderland won only twice and racked up an incredible 10 draws from just 16 matches so far, dropping fully half of possible points from winning positions. Palace meanwhile have only taken six points from a possible 15 in games where they have scored the opener: a lower proportion than anyone except bottom side Leicester.
It will be fascinating to see how these troubled clubs respond when the transfer window re-opens in January. In one of the more competitive seasons in recent memory, the relegation battle looks set to provide plenty of intrigue.
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Published: December 18, 2014 04:00 AM