The English Premier League is due to hit our screens for the first time in three months over the coming days. The title race is as good as done; Liverpool are Champions. What isn’t so clear is at the other end of the table.
Southampton, who looked doomed after being hammered 9-0 by Leicester earlier this season, sit in 14th place with a seven point cushion on the relegation zone. Barring a complete collapse, you have to assume they, and those ahead of them, are safe for another year. That leaves six teams who are fighting for points. Here we take a look at the men key to keeping them up.
Brighton – Lewis Dunk & Adam Webster
When Brighton awarded Graham Potter a new contract just six months into his deal they looked odds on to stay in the Premier League. Look at their remaining fixtures now though and it’s not quite so comfortable. The first three games back pair them off with Arsenal, Leicester and Man United whilst back to back games with Liverpool and Man City lay in wait.
They need points in the bag and a solid defence will help with that. Dunk and Webster have been a fairly formidable partnership this season with Brighton’s goals against tally of 40 one of the best in the bottom half. They’re a threat in the other box too with an involvement in nine goals between them. More of the same will be needed from here on out.
West Ham – Lukasz Fabianski
Would West Ham be in a relegation battle had Fabianski not missed 11 matches through injury? Well, possibly not given what a poor run of form Roberto had when he filled in between the sticks. Fabianski meanwhile has proven himself to be a very reliable keeper since leaving Arsenal in 2014.
Their schedule is split between teams at the top and those around them and Fabianski will play a big role. His job is to be on form against the big boys and ensure no silly mistakes against the relegation rivals. Do that and West Ham will stay up with room to spare.
Watford – Troy Deeney
Deeney has been somewhat vilified over the past few weeks after speaking out on the return of football in a post coronavirus world. He has a chance now to fire back at his critics by dragging his team to safety. Their fixtures aren’t a breeze with Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal – the latter duo their final two games – still to come but when the chips are down there are few better leaders than Troy Deeney. It’s for that reason he’s our key man for Watford.
Yes, he might be their main goal threat too but when you see your star player putting his body on the line for the result then others soon follow suit. Even if it goes to the final round of fixtures Watford and Deeney will fancy their chances at the Emirates. How are your cajones, Gunners?
Bournemouth – Callum Wilson
Given that Callum Wilson and Josh King are the main two strikers on Bournemouth’s books, you might be surprised to learn that they’re one of the leagues lowest scorers. That’s why they’re down in the relegation zone and Eddie Howe will be desperate for Wilson to step up in the remaining fixtures. He’ll need to as well because games against both Manchester clubs, Wolves and Tottenham don’t immediately scream maximum points.
That said, they’ll be looking at facing off against Newcastle United and Crystal Palace in the coming weeks that are hardly prolific either. If Wilson can notch when it matters, it could see Bournemouth safe.
Aston Villa – Jack Grealish
Of course, Dean Smith’s main man is Jack Grealish. Quite honestly, how he’s still there I can’t quite fathom. This summer will see him leave regardless of where Villa end up but he’ll be desperate to part ways with his boyhood club still in the top tier. Why is he so integral to Villa? Well, for one he’s their top scorer and assists leader with nine goals and eight assists.
Beyond that though, everything goes through him. He’ll track back to win possession, offer an option when under pressure and provides an attacking threat. They might have a game in hand but if their opponents keep the Villa captain quiet then it could be the trap door for Smith’s men.
Norwich City – Teemu Pukki
At the start of the campaign, Pukki looked like he’d be the man to fire Norwich to safety. The Finland international has 11 goals to his name this season but six of them came in the opening five matches. He’s certainly capable of scoring goals though and the Canaries will create a few chances throughout the run in.
If they’re to have any chance of moving off the bottom and into the survival battle, then Pukki needs to find that early season form again. It feels more than a tad unlikely at this stage, as Norwich form is comparable to the worst team in NFL history. And you wonder how many squad members might jump ship when relegation is confirmed.
There you have it, the men who may prove vital in the relegation fight. Who are you backing to stay up?