All you need to know about the Premier League's relegation race

Two down, one to go. The Premier League’s relegation battle has its first two victims, with Middlesbrough joining Sunderland in falling through the dreaded trap door.

Relegation

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For everyone else in danger of dropping to the Championship, it is now, as Sir Alex Ferguson would famously say, squeaky bum time. All room for error has been exhausted, meaning nobody can put a foot wrong (and even that might not be enough).

But what gives this fight for survival such annual theatre is the knowledge that Murphy’s Law applies: what can go wrong usually does go wrong. As soon as you think one team is safe, they can just as quickly be sucked back into the quagmire.

Banana skins exist in unexpected places, too. No sooner was Sunderland’s relegation confirmed than they did the unbelievable and defeated local rivals Hull City, while Swansea toppled European-bound Everton, meaning the Swans and Tigers traded places on either side of the drop zone.

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As destiny would have it, Swansea now face Sunderland themselves at the Stadium of Light on Saturday (LIVE on SBS, Saturday 11:30pm) – and Crystal Palace, the other team in relegation contention, travel to Hull. You couldn’t make it up.

Although some teams have games in hand up and down the Premiership, all three of these teams battling to avoid the dreaded 18th place have played 36 games, meaning there are six points still to fight for. Here’s how it could break down.

Crystal Palace – 16th, 38 points

Matches to come: Hull (h), Manchester United (a).

Summary: Palace could probably survive even without breaking the mythical 40-point barrier. A win against Hull is likely at home, but they sure as hell wouldn’t want to lose. Defeat really would liven up the race for survival.

Who can save them: Look no further than the dugout. As we highlighted in this column last week, Sam Allardyce has never been relegated. And although Allardyce promptly took his team to a hammering at the hands of Manchester City, he looks to have rescued a dismal season for Palace. It wouldn’t be Big Sam though if he wasn’t trousering something for his troubles, with a rumoured payout of £5 million going his way for keeping Palace alive.

Prediction: 16th place, 41 points. Unlikely to require anything from the trip to Old Trafford.

Swansea City – 17th, 35 points

Matches to come: Sunderland (a), West Bromwich Albion (h)

Summary: The best draw of the three teams at risk, Swansea – who changed their manager twice this season – will back themselves to finish with a huge flourish after getting out of the drop zone last week. Hull’s shocker against Sunderland will prevent any thoughts of underestimating the Black Cats.

Who can save them: Fernando Llorente was given a touch up in the media by Frank Lampard regarding his work rate and his response was emphatic, bagging the winner for the Swans against Everton. A world class striker on his day, Llorente is now 32 but still has what it takes in the big moments. He’s scored 13 goals this season and will back himself to add a few more before the close of play.

Prediction: 17th place, 39 points. A win and a draw gets them home.

Hull City – 18th, 34 points

Matches to come: Crystal Palace (a), Tottenham (h)

Summary: It’s a simple equation for Hull. Defeating Palace is a must if they want to stay up, because Spurs – despite their recent slip-up – are too good to end the season on a sour note. There’s nothing worse than fate not being in your hands and that is the predicament Hull are perilously close to. Four points is probably the best they can hope for, with Swansea going winless in their final two games.

Who can save them: Oumar Niasse has been a revelation since joining the club on loan from Everton and after having his three-match ban overturned, perhaps the lanky striker can pull
something special out and become a hero in the north-east.

Prediction: 18th place, 34 points – relegated. The loss to Sunderland will come back to haunt them.

A silver lining for the loser?

Perhaps not, but relegation is potentially not as catastrophic as it once was. Thanks to the arrival of huge parachute payments from the most recent television deal, newly-demoted teams have been given a huge helping hand with their finances.

That means Middlesbrough, Sunderland and whoever else goes down will be instantly injected with £40 million next season, with £87 million on offer if you don’t get back to the top tier within three years. They are huge sums of money that soften the blow and provide an incalculable edge over promotion-chasing rivals.

But as we know all too well, falling from top can set in chain a series of events that will leave a club on their knees, which is why the threat of relegation is feared so deeply and the prospect of safety celebrated so much.


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5 min read
Published 11 May 2017 at 12:39pm
By Sebastian Hassett