EPL Clubs with the Most Still on the Line This Season
The English Premier League sometimes comes under criticism for its lack of competitiveness.
The title race is usually contested between two—at best three—giant, cash-infused clubs; the remaining European spots by the usual chasing pack of perennial also-rans; and it quickly becomes apparent who is in relegation danger, while the rest of the teams can settle in soporifically for another year of mid-table mediocrity.
But that characterisation is glib and not entirely accurate—perhaps more a reflection of the fatalism of disappointed fans than the reality of a dynamic and changeable competition.
In the second half of the 2012/13 season, there are several EPL clubs whose destinies come May are very far from assured.
Here are six with the most still on the line this season.
Newcastle fans know only too well that the storied club is emphatically not too big to go down.
Nor, this season, are they by any means too good.
Alan Pardew's side have been a shadow of the 2011/12 team that mounted a credible challenge for Champions League qualification. The clean sheets that were de rigueur last season have all but vanished, creativity is in painfully short supply and without a single away win in any competition, Newcastle are sitting an uncomfortable two points off the relegation zone.
And that was all largely before losing top scorer Demba Ba early in the January transfer window.
Even the most sanguine of Liverpool fans must admit to some sense of anticlimax in the Rodgers revolution.
The season has been marked by a sense of one step forward, two steps back, with inexplicably poor home form marring any encouraging sense of renewal—and putting a damaging dent in the points haul.
But 2012/13 could still be an invaluable turning point for the giants of Merseyside.
For too long, there seemed a sense at Anfield that Liverpool were just a step or two away from potentially regaining their championship credentials.
But after the past three seasons of underperformance and turmoil, there seems to be a more realistic assessment of the club's challenges.
This could be the season when Liverpool, under Brendan Rodgers, commits to an identity and ethos that can return the club if not to its former glory, at least to solid top-four contention.
Entering 2013, Arsenal find themselves still in a well-documented rut that threatens to mimic the long-term malaise at Liverpool.
Not unlike their once-great rivals, Arsenal seem mired in a decline that, while hardly terminal, makes challenging for the league more and more implausible every season. Under current conditions, Arsenal are a storied club whose glory days are very firmly behind them.
The procession of top players through the exit door each season confirms that status.
Which, on top of his pure playing value, is what makes it so vital for Arsenal to retain Theo Walcott. It is also why finishing in the top four is more crucial than ever.
If they do, they will buy some more time for the ongoing project of rebuilding a team eviscerated by high-profile departures.
If they do not, it is potentially one more step down the path to mid-table mediocrity.
Predictably, Spurs fans will be amongst those most ardently hoping Arsenal fail their all-important top-four test this season—and not just out of a sense of schadenfreude.
Tottenham have been hovering frustratingly at the margins of top-four credibility for much of the past decade but have managed only two fourth-place finishes in that time—one of which failed even to deliver the position's coveted prize of Champions League qualification thanks to Chelsea's untimely victory.
This year, under manager Andre Villas-Boas, Spurs have overcome a shaky start to the season to confirm their top-four potential. But a strong second half will be needed to show they can turn potential into results.
Queens Park Rangers
They have enjoyed a couple good results in the new year, and boss Harry Redknapp is putting on an optimistic show—at least publicly—about facing relegation, but QPR are almost certainly returning to the Championship next season after an awe-inspiringly awful first half of the season.
But near-certain relegation does not mean there isn't still much on the line for the beleaguered London club.
On the contrary, it raises the stakes.
Redknapp must use the January transfer window to address a problem that has dogged QPR this season but threatens to escalate catastrophically with relegation—a bloated, imbalanced squad with a dangerously astronomical wage bill.
As reported in the Guardian, many players' contracts contain no relegation clause—a safeguard typically employed to reduce wages—a situation that could threaten serious financial meltdown with the downgraded income of the Championship.
They're out of the Champions League, and the FA Cup won't sate the fans' and owners' newfound taste for glory—Manchester City need to put everything on the line to win a second consecutive Premier League title.
The old sporting cliche holds that the only thing more difficult than winning a title is retaining it. But that will do nothing to relieve the weight of expectation on a team assembled at such outlandish cost.
If we accept, as we have been conditioned to, that money buys success in the EPL, Man City should be romping home with the championship. Yet they currently sit seven points off rivals Man United at the top.
City—and particularly manager Roberto Mancini—know they have little margin for error in the second half of the season.