They were tipped for the drop last season but managed to escape the dreaded clutches of relegation. Can they do it again this year?
West Bromwich Albion
Last season West Brom defied everyone’s expectations and actually looked safe for the majority of the season, even pushing for a mid-table finish. But after their 30th league match of the campaign, the Baggies never won another game and almost cost them their place in the top flight. Their main failing was a basic inability to find the back of the net, with the second lowest goal haul in the league. At the other end of the field though, it was the Baggies’ rock solid defence that kept them out of the clutches of the Championship. They conceded just 48 goals last season, with new signing Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans playing a key role. If the Baggies can find a way to contain rivals as they did last season – and crucially, find more goals – West Brom should be safe.
The Glaziers had an awful finish to the season after a triumphant start – and only won twice more after game week 17. An over-reliance on set-pieces without reward sent them crashing from their comfortable mid-table position down towards the dead zone at the foot of the table. Their FA Cup Final – captained by Socceroo skipper Mile Jedinak – against Manchester United was the only real highlight of 2016 for Palace... and they lost that (but it was by the narrowest of margins). They have bolstered the side with Andros Townsend and James Tomkins – but their rivals have also strengthened in the off-season. Wilfried Zaha turned heads in the last campaign and the Eagles will need even more from him to survive. Key will be finding a reliable goalscorer to lead them to safety.
Overshadowed by Leicester’s runaway success, Bournemouth’s been living out their own fairytale. After brilliantly working their way up the league system for the last five years, many expected them to go straight back down again – but they survived. Even the season-ending injury to goal machine Callum Wilson just seven games into the season (with five goals to his name already) didn’t derail their survival strategy... although they had to change tactics to a more defensive mindset to accommodate for the loss. A fractured backline at times almost cost Bournemouth dearly with only bottom of the table Aston Villa conceding more than them last season. In the end, a crucial win against Aston Villa guaranteed Villa’s relegation – and kept Bournemouth safe. If Wilson is back firing again and the defence improves, they could just surprise everyone yet again this year though.
They were lucky to escape the drop by just two points last season, thanks mainly to a decent run home with crucial wins against Chelsea and Everton. But for the most part, the Black Cats looked terrible and mustered up some ugly losses. Coach Dick Advocaat resigned after a season spent mostly fixed to the foot of the table, only sneaking up as high as 17th by the last day. With no current new signings and the releases made, it looks as if Championship football is destined for Sunderland next season – and their own fans would probably admit it’s overdue...
There were no shortage of relegation candidates last season – but beyond the four above, there were some stellar performances from clubs that could just as likely have faced the chop. Top of them all, of course was Leicester who only just dodged the drop the season before – but bounced back to take the title. West Ham were transformed under Slaven Bilic to qualify for Europe and likewise Southampton survived the constant plundering of their players and management to finish ahead of both Liverpool and Chelsea. Stoke City and Swansea never looked in danger and played attractive football to boot, and despite Watford’s impressive mid-table position at the end of the debut return season, it wasn't enough to keep coach Quique Sanchez in his job. As a sign of the owners’ ambition, he was replaced by former Inter boss Walter Mazzarri for this campaign. But can they all beat the drop this season?