Premier League relegation battle analysed with key fixtures over the next seven days

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Watford play Newcastle, Burnley and Norwich in the next seven days as the battle at the bottom intensifies. We evaluate the state of play in the fight for survival…

Just look at Watford’s next three fixtures: Newcastle (a), Burnley (a) and Norwich (h), all within a seven-day period, starting with their trip to St James’ Park on Saturday. Claudio Ranieri’s team currently sit outside the relegation zone on 13 points but that could be a different story at the end of this gigantic week.

Norwich, despite suffering six defeats on the spin without scoring, are still in touching distance of Watford on 10 points, with Newcastle and Burnley locked on 11 points, although Sean Dyche’s side do have two games in hand.

Here, we take a look at how their fixture lists to gauge who has the easiest run-in, assess the stats to find reasons to be hopeful and fearful regarding survival hopes and our tipster Jones Knows analyses the odds…

Watford

Position: 17th
Games played: 18
Points Per Game: 0.72
Relegation Sky Bet odds: 1/2

Average position of remaining opponents: 11.35
Average PPG of remaining opponents: 1.28
Key fixtures to note: 15 Jan: Newcastle (a), 18 Jan: Burnley (a), 21 Jan: Norwich (h), 26 Feb: Man Utd (a), 2 April: Liverpool (a), 23 April: Man City (a), 30 April: Burnley (h), 22 May: Chelsea (a)

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Reasons for hope

Dennis is a Menace. Emmanuel Dennis has contributed 13 goals and assists combined to Watford’s survival bid – only one player has more goal involvements this season, Mohamed Salah who is way ahead on 25. Dennis has certainly made his presence felt in his debut Premier League campaign, also conceding the most fouls (38) and picking up the joint-most yellow cards (six).

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That winning feeling. With four, Watford have as many league wins as the three teams below them combined. In Premier League history, only five teams have avoided the drop with fewer than eight wins (most recently Southampton in 2017-18, with seven). With over half of their season remaining, eight wins feels a lot more achievable for Watford than for any of their bottom-four rivals. As the table below shows, Watford also have the slightly easier second half to the season in terms of fixtures remaining.

Reasons for fear

Clean break. Watford are the only team in the top four divisions without a clean sheet this season, having made it to the 96th minute of their last league game without conceding before Tottenham’s last-gasp goal. The Hornets’ run without a Premier League clean sheet now runs to 29 games – they need one in the next few weeks to avoid surpassing West Brom’s all-time Premier League record of 34 games without a clean sheet, set in 2010/11. They are the only ones of the bottom four to still have to play Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea away from home still.

Home discomfort. Season ticket holders at Vicarage Road have seen 33 goals this season, but two-thirds of them have been scored by the visitors – 22 home goals conceded being the joint-most in the division this season. For Watford to survive, they need to tighten up at the back, their 57 shots on target faced at home also being the highest of any team this season.

Burnley

Position: 18th
Games played: 17
PPG: 0.64
Relegation Sky Bet odds: 8/13

Average position of remaining opponents: 10.67
Average PPG of remaining opponents: 1.34
Key fixtures to note: Jan 18: Watford (h), Feb 8: Man Utd (h), Feb 13: Liverpool (h), March 5: Chelsea (h), April 2: Man City (h), April 9: Norwich (a), April 30: Watford (a), May 22: Newcastle (h)

Reasons for hope

Hard to beat. Burnley have actually avoided defeat in more games (nine) than they have lost (eight) this season, something none of the other bottom four can claim. They have the best defensive record in the bottom half, conceding the same number of goals (27) as West Ham and Man Utd who both have their eyes set on potential Champions League qualification.

Max power. Once he returns from the ongoing AFCON, Maxwel Cornet will be crucial to Burnley’s survival hopes. The Ivory Coast international has the best shot conversion among the 27 players with five or more non-penalty Premier League goals this season, scoring six times from only 17 attempts.

Reasons for fear

Age concern. The starting XI from Burnley’s most recent Premier League game against Leeds had an average age of 30 years and 317 days, the oldest in the division this season and the oldest in the club’s Premier League history. With more games remaining than any other team, will Burnley have the legs to run away from trouble?

Losing Wood. With Chris Wood gone, Burnley have lost a player who has scored 28 per cent of their Premier League goals since his arrival in 2017. Only one of his team-mates, Ashley Barnes, has even reached double figures across the last five seasons combined, while Wood also leads the way for the Clarets this season for shots, touches in the box and aerial duels won.

Newcastle

Position: 19th
Games played: 19
PPG: 0.57
Relegation Sky Bet odds: 5/6

Average position of remaining opponents: 10.47
Average PPG of remaining opponents: 1.37
Key fixtures to note: Jan 15: Watford (h), Mar 12: Chelsea (a), April 23: Norwich (a), April 30: Liverpool (h), May 7: Man City (a), May 22: Burnley (a)

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Reasons for hope

Getting ahead. Newcastle have scored the opening goal in nine games, a figure bettered by only eight teams. Eddie Howe has a successful track record of coaching a Premier League attack – his Bournemouth side ranked seventh, ninth and seventh for goals scored in their second, third and fourth seasons in the top division.

Match winners. Newcastle possess the division’s top dribbler in Allan Saint-Maximin (133 take-ons attempted this season), a pinpoint crosser in Kieran Trippier (1.9 chances created per 90 mins in his most recent league season with Tottenham in 2018-19) and have signed Wood who has scored the second-most headed goals in the Premier League (17) since joining Burnley in August 2017.

Reasons for fear

Leaking goals. Newcastle are the only team to have three different goalkeepers start three or more Premier League games this season, but none of them have helped matters much – their combined save ratio of 58 per cent is the lowest across the division. Forty-two goals conceded is the club’s most after 19 games of a league campaign for 61 years, since the 1960-61 season which ended in relegation.

Holding leads. Dropping 19 points from winning positions is a concerning record over the course of an entire season, let alone at the halfway stage. Only four Premier League teams dropped more than 19 points from winning positions in the whole of last season, while Newcastle themselves last did so back in 2004-05 (31 points dropped).

Norwich

Position: 20th
Games played: 20
PPG: 0.5
Relegation Sky Bet odds: 1/12

Average position of remaining opponents: 10.28
Average PPG of remaining opponents: 1.28
Key fixtures to note: Jan 21: Watford (a), Feb 12: Man City (h), Feb 19: Liverpool (a), 9 April: Burnley (h), April 16: Man Utd (a), 23 April: Newcastle (h), May 22: Tottenham (h)

Reasons for hope

The Great Escape of 2005. Worryingly for Norwich fans, 10 of 11 teams who previously reached 19 games with 10 points or fewer in Premier League history went down. But one did survive, West Brom pulling off the greatest escape in 2004-05. Boosted by the January arrivals of Kevin Campbell and Kieran Richardson, the Baggies survived by a single point after only five defeats in the second half of the season.

Avoiding ignominy. If survival currently seems like a big ask, Norwich might take more comfort from needing only two more points to avoid being bracketed alongside Derby in 2007-08, whose 11 points remains the fewest by any team in a full Premier League season.

Reasons for fear

A lack of goals. The Canaries have only scored eight all season, setting a new Premier League record for the fewest goals by any team at the halfway stage. They have played six games, having 56 unsuccessful attempts, since Teemu Pukki last found the net against Newcastle in November, leaving Norwich stranded on 399 goals in Premier League history.

The defence. Coupled with their goalscoring concern, Norwich also have big issues at the back, ranking bottom of the table for shots on target faced per game (5.6) and joint-bottom for penalties conceded (six). They have conceded 7.7 goals more than their xG faced, meaning they need to improve at both ends to hold any hope.

The punters view: Back Newcastle to drop at 6/5 with Sky Bet, says Jones Knows

If it smells like a relegation season, tastes like a relegation and feels like a relegation season, then it most probably is a relegation season. Everything we have seen from Newcastle United this season has screamed relegation.

The late equaliser to Norwich in a key battle at the bottom, dominating periods of games but failing win, countless refereeing calls going against them and an FA Cup giant killing to boot, too.

Despite the advantage of financial muscle against their three other relegation rivals, odds of 6/5 for Newcastle to be relegated with Sky Bet do make appeal for those looking for a longer-term punt for the remainder of the season to cheer on. The traders have all-but relegated Norwich with 1/14 quotes about their trapdoor hopes whilst Watford (1/2) and Burnley (8/13) are also odds-on in this four-horse race for survival. Burnley look too short to me.

I think that price significantly underestimates Sean Dyche’s experience and know-how in how to navigate this Burnley team to safety. The Clarets have been in deeper trouble than this but still came out the other side a Premier League team. In the 2018/19 season, Dyche’s boys were 18th after 20 games but won eight of their last 18 matches to finish comfortably above the drop zone on 40 points. The nucleus of that squad remains the same as does Dyche’s methods of creating unity within his group to attain results at key times of the season.

So, if Burnley are going to get out of trouble that leaves Newcastle as the value in the market at odds-against.

The expectation from the way their price is formed rests solely with their ability to wave the magic wand in January. Yet, despite having the financial clout, attracting quality players to join them with the probability of being a Sky Bet Championship club next season at around 50 per cent will be a very tough ask for the recruitment team. Trippier and Wood will help matters but the balance of their midfield and defence has been all wrong for years now. Without fixing that, results will continue along the same bumpy path.

I’m also yet to see many examples of the new hierarchy being able to make swift and shrewd decisions with much of their transfer plans being leaked out to various reporters in order to excite and give assurances to the fans. The owners are far too concerned with their own PR at the moment. With time they may learn to rein back on the openness on which they conduct their business but it’s not a way to run a successful football club.

At the current prices, Newcastle are worth an investment to drop.

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