The relegation battle is heating up, and heating up fast.
Following Wigan’s 1-0 win against Norwich City and Aston Villa’s 1-2 home loss against Liverpool, both clubs find themselves on 30 points, the joint-second lowest tally with only QPR and Reading, both on 23, beneath them in the table.
Sunderland aren’t too far in front, on 31 after another depressingly listless display against Manchester United on Saturday ended in Martin O’Neill’s sacking and Paolo Di Canio’s hiring.
By mid-May, three of these clubs will find themselves headed down to the Championship next season. And inevitably, as they restructure their playing staff and finances to adjust to a much less lucrative league, their star players will be let go.
Let’s take a look at those relegation-bound players who will be up for sale at the end of the season, either for playing or for financial reasons.
Disclaimer: For this article we consider the aforementioned five EPL clubs. To keep things short, we will assume that Newcastle, Norwich, Stoke and Southampton (as well as everyone else above them) will survive relegation. Players out of contract this summer (like Reading's Alex Pearce) will not be considered.
Amidst all the talk of Wigan conjuring yet another end-of-season survival special and Harry Redknapp working his magic at QPR, everyone seems to have forgotten about Reading.
On 23 points and at the bottom of the table, Reading seem to be destined for the drop, even if ex-Southampton manager Nigel Adkins has been parachuted in to provide some hope.
And a player Reading fans definitely won’t be seeing next season is striker Pavel Pogrebnyak.
The Daily Mail report that he is currently on £30,000 a week. The Daily Mirror have his weekly wages as £65,000 a week. Whatever the source, Pogrebnyak is clearly a luxury that the Royals won’t be able to afford next season.
Ex-Liverpool youngster Danny Guthrie hasn’t made much of an impact at the Madejski Stadium this season, apart from a well-publicized fall-out with then-manager Brian McDermott over a refusal to play against Sunderland.
Guthrie was fined two weeks’ wages for his troubles, as the Daily Mail reports, which culminated to around £40,000.
This adds up to a financial and attitude problem that Reading could do without next season.
Now we get to the hotbed of international stars on sizeable wage packets that is Queens Park Rangers.
First from Loftus Road on our list is Julio Cesar, whose signature from Internazionale was as much of a coup as it was pure shock. He has taken his Inter form to London, where in recent weeks he has been an inspiration in goal for Harry Redknapp.
Given his lofty reputation and his fine form this season, Cesar will represent a fine capture for many a European team looking for a good goalkeeper. Indeed, Real Madrid were already linked in January in light of Iker Casillas’ injury (via Daily Mail).
Add to this Cesar’s reported £78,000-a-week salary (via Daily Mirror), and he could be off in the summer even if QPR survive relegation.
Also covered in the Daily Mirror report we cited in the previous slide was Robert Green’s £50,000 weekly wage, making Green a pretty expensive backup goalkeeper.
With international experience for England and a decent catalogue of clubs played for, Green could attract interest from mid-table and lower-ranked Premier League clubs, but QPR could find him much harder to offload than their current No. 1.
Ahead of the goalkeepers, a decent selection of defenders at QPR will be linked with moves away, and Stephane Mbia is one of them.
Linked with a switch to Chelsea and Fulham this January (via Express), Mbia has enjoyed a decent debut season in England, and his versatility would be a boost to many a Premier League squad: His ability to play both in defence and in midfield will come in handy.
Another expensive Mark Hughes recruit last summer is ex-Chelsea right-back Jose Bosingwa.
Bosingwa, supposedly one of the marquee signings last summer, has turned out to be a disaster, both for his lack of on-field impact and for his off-field demeanors.
His attitude problems have caused the QPR hierarchy many a headache, and his refusal to leave could lead to a huge payoff for the defender—currently on £65,000 a week—to cancel his contract this summer (via Daily Mail).
One way or the other, it’s clear that Bosingwa doesn’t have a future at Loftus Road and will be up for sale this summer.
Where does it end with QPR?
Not at Bosingwa, that’s for sure: Christopher Samba is yet another high-profile star who will attract attention this summer.
It was only two months ago that Harry Redknapp brought the Congolese giant to Loftus Road for a massive £12.5 million (via BBC Sport), but that hasn’t stopped transfer rumors from starting up again: Reports in early March had it that Samba was the subject of an even bigger offer from an unnamed Russian club just weeks after arriving in London (via Daily Mail).
Having impressed in England with Blackburn Rovers and now back on English shores with QPR, Samba, currently on a sizable wage package, will have no shortage of suitors this summer.
Yup, we’re still at QPR.
At this point, we can safely conclude that Tony Fernandes and Co. will have a huge task on their hands trying to rebuild their side regardless of Premier League status due to the surely perilous financial situation they find themselves in.
Another disastrous Mark Hughes acquisition—just almost as disastrous as the appointment of Hughes himself—is ex-Real Madrid man Esteban Granero.
Just a few months ago, the likes of Liverpool were linked with Granero (via Daily Mail), who is now languishing on the Loftus Road bench or in the stands.
Perhaps England just wasn’t the right move for him—see Borja Valero, the formerly anonymous Birmingham City midfielder—enjoying a career renaissance at Fiorentina.
Regardless, his hefty salary—which Marca report to be €4 million annually—will ensure that Granero is off in the summer. He will just be hoping that his European pedigree will land him another chance at a decent club.
Adel Taarabt has attracted the headlines since he walked through the doors of Loftus Road.
H had an all-conquering first season in the Championship was followed by an inconsistent year in the Premier League, and while he has seemingly returned to his best as QPR’s midfield talisman this year, it will surely be his last in Rangers colors.
His form has led to reported interest from all over Europe: Varying reports have linked him with AC Milan (via Metro), Barcelona (via Daily Mirror) and Manchester United (via Independent), all in the past few months.
Come May's end, it looks more than likely that the Moroccan playmaker will look to pastures new to continue his career.
While QPR’s striking ranks consist of several big names on big wages in Bobby Zamora, Andrew Johnson and Jay Bothroyd, it is Loic Remy who will most likely be their first frontline departure in the summer.
Goal.com report that Remy has a relegation release clause in his contract, that he is on a sizable £75,000-a-week deal at Loftus Road and that he regards QPR as merely a stepping stone en route to greater things in football.
With three goals in just five league appearances, Remy will surely be a key player in QPR’s bid for survival, but he will probably be made available for transfer in two months’ time.
Phew, so that was QPR.
Now onto third-from-bottom Aston Villa, whose playing squad fortunately doesn’t contain too much fiscal irresponsibility but does possess a few gems awaiting a return to the Premier League next year.
First is goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who was released just a summer ago but was brought back on a free transfer by new coach Paul Lambert and has gone on to establish himself as Villa’s first-choice goalkeeper ahead of the experienced Shay Given.
Guzan has been one of the few positives for the Villans this season, and his burgeoning reputation may see Premier League clubs make a move for the American international if Villa fail to remain in the EPL.
One of the few financial flops currently at Villa Park is ex-Manchester City midfielder Stephen Ireland, who Goal.com report to receive a £80,000 weekly wage.
The fiscal side makes it hard to envision Ireland continuing his stay at the Midlands club past the summer; the footballing side even more so: Ireland has barely made an impact this season.
Expect Ireland to be one of the first out the exit door at Villa Park this summer.
Up front is where Villa fans will expect most activity regardless of their Premier League status next season. First we’ll look at Darren Bent, who represents probably the easiest departure to take out of three.
It wasn’t long ago that Darren Bent was the most prolific English goalscorer in the top flight, but now Bent finds himself out of the picture as Villa fight for Premier League survival.
Stoke City were linked with an ambitious move in the January transfer window (via Daily Mail), and we won’t be surprised to see him move to a mid-table Premier League club attracted by his pedigree and reputation.
Young Austrian international Andreas Weimann has attracted plaudits for his hard work and clinical finishing this season, and as the season approaches its end, rumors have started linking Weimann with a Villa Park exit.
Whether Aston Villa find themselves in the Premier League or the Championship next season, they face a real fight to keep hold of Weimann.
Likewise their prolific Belgian frontman, Christian Benteke, whose expertly taken goal against Liverpool on Sunday took his tally for the season to 14 league goals.
Benteke’s Didier Drogba-like physical and goalscoring exploits for Villa this season have attracted much attention, with Internazionale (via Guardian) and Manchester City (via Daily Mirror) the latest to be linked with the powerful forward.
In a recent ESPN report, Benteke’s agent claims that his client is enjoying life at Aston Villa and isn’t looking for a transfer, but we expect a high-profile tug-of-war for one of European football’s most exciting strikers this summer.
Onto Wigan Athletic, with goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, while having lost his position to on-loan prospect Joel Robles in recent weeks, might interest EPL clubs in the summer.
Since his arrival at Wigan from Hamilton Academical, James McCarthy has impressed in the heart of the Latics midfield and has been repeatedly linked with a move away.
As one of the few high-profile names in Roberto Martinez’s squad, McCarthy could provide one of the easiest options for substantial financial injection should Wigan need it after a drop back in the Championship.
It has been a strange season as far as Franco Di Santo is concerned: five goals in the Premier League but a first international cap for Argentina back in October last year.
He has ceded the spotlight to Arouna Kone (more on him later) in recent weeks as Wigan up their bid for Premier League survival, but it was just December when Liverpool were supposedly interested in a move for the Latics frontman (Daily Mirror).
Given his schizophrenic form and reputation, we wouldn’t be surprised if Di Santo found himself still a Wigan player in the Championship next season but not too shocked either if he were picked up by another club in Europe this summer.
With 10 league goals in 26 games, it seems a bit late in the 29-year-old’s career to say that Arouna Kone has enjoyed a breakout season.
Yet, as the plaudits are coming in for his continued impact for Roberto Martinez’s minnows, it seems as if the journeyman striker has upped his reputation following an eccentric but productive season in Wigan colors.
That he has taken to life in the EPL with ease and claims to be unfazed by the pressures that come with a relegation battle (via Daily Mail) will only enhance his prospects for a move if Wigan fail to beat the drop.
His experience with clubs like PSV Eindhoven, Sevilla and Levante should see no shortage of suitors this summer.
First up for our fifth and last club, Sunderland, is Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who has starred in between the Stadium of Light posts this season.
They say that weak teams produce good goalkeepers, and Sunderland and Mignolet’s form this season prove that old adage yet again.
Liverpool have reportedly expressed an interest in Mignolet (via Express), who is just one of Belgium’s sizable "golden generation" playing in the Premier League.
Without a doubt, Benin international Stephane Sessegnon is the key Sunderland player who would attract the most interest—and the most substantial financial return—if the Black Cats don’t survive the drop.
Just a year ago, ahead of the 2012 summer transfer window, the likes of Manchester City, Tottenham and Arsenal were linked with a move for the dynamic playmaker (via Daily Mirror), and while Sessegnon has not been as impressive for Sunderland this season as he was last term, we would expect him to be made available by the club hierarchy this summer.
Prior to his season-ending injury, Steven Fletcher, despite raising eyebrows following his £14 million move from Wolverhampton Wanderers (via BBC Sport), provided the goals (11) to get Sunderland to their current league position.
His goalscoring pedigree in the Premier League with Burnley, Wolves and now Sunderland should be enough to attract interest from top-flight clubs in the summer if they need the cash injection following a drop down to the Championship.